Cheesesteak Heaven

[img_assist|nid=909|title=Removed Sections, Simona Mihaela Josan © 2006|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=135]The cops were hungry. They had stopped for salads two hours earlier. Now they were hungry again, so hungry that instead of listening to radio calls or watching what streamed across their computer screen, they were daydreaming food, both of them picturing bags stuffed with burgers and onion rings, flipping the lid on a pizza box and smelling that beautiful grease and cheese.

“I want . . .” Nilda said.

“Don’t even start,” Raymond said.

“What? I can’t even talk about it?”

“I’m not into fantasy. I believe in the real thing. Talk is bogus.”

Nilda snorted.

“Do I talk? Or do I get?” Raymond said.

“Not that I am interested in your sex life. Because I am not. But do blow jobs count as actual real sex? Like in the straight world, it’s like just foreplay. You know?”

“You are too much,” Raymond said.

“What? What? I’m just saying,” Nilda said.

“Always finding fault with me.”

“You big fat baby. Stop whining.”

“Won’t be fat for long. Twenty-two pounds so far this slim-a-thon. Never fear, I will carry our team to ultimate victory, my sister,” Raymond said.

“I’m doing my part. I’m doing really good. It’s not my fault that women can’t lose as fast as men. We’re just built different. Ask anyone. Not one woman in the world can lose as fast as a man,” Nilda said.

“So? What’s the number?”

“None of your business.”

“I’m on your team, Nilda,” Raymond said. “Slim-a-thon team manager. Here to help coach you, get you up to speed.”

[img_assist|nid=910|title=Untitled (Moussio) by Neal Curley © 2006|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=100]“Speed up, asswipe,” Nilda said. “That call’s for us. Damn it. I hate domestics. I have to be the calming woman cop, take the man outside. Hate that shit. Son of a mother-fucking bitch, I hate that shit.”

“Do you have to use such foul language? I have a college degree. I didn’t become a cop to hear garbage in my ear all day long. I could report you, you know.”

“Go ahead. That would really endear you to your fellow cops, reporting that your partner used a distasteful word in your presence.” Nilda grinned, turning her head so that Raymond couldn’t see her. Men were so easy. And gay men were super easy.

“Have some consideration,” Raymond said. “Please.”

Now he’s begging me, thought Nilda. This guy is too fucking much.

They pulled up to the house. The front door was wide open. They were in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, an old part of the city where there were big trees and the houses were stately and large, with stone fronts and porches with white columns.

The woman was bleeding from her nose. She sobbed, held a fuzzy pink slipper sock to her nose and never took her eyes off the man. The man was fat, his belly hanging over his belt and his shirt gaping, buttons straining.

“Please come outside now, sir,” Nilda said her hand on her gun. The man scurried outside with her.

“I didn’t mean to do it,” the man said. “I’m just so sick of her putting me down all the time. I can’t do anything right. I lost it. I swear it was a mistake. A one-time thing. I will never, I swear on my mother’s grave, never do that again. Please don’t arrest me. I’m a CPA. I have an MBA.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Nilda said and she arrested him.

“Did you see how fat he was?” Nilda said to Raymond afterwards.

“Why are you always picking on me?”

“What? I’m talking about the man. The man.”

“I know what you’re doing. You never let up. You think I’m as fat as that man. I’m doing everything right now. I’m going to lose this weight.”

“You better. It’s not allowed, is it? To be gay and fat. Isn’t there some kind of oath you guys sign, to stay buff?” Nilda said. She was needling him deliberately. She was hungry and sex-starved and there was nothing she could do about either thing for the next few hours.

Nilda liked to fight with Raymond. They squabbled like brothers and sisters. She thought Raymond was a big faggy baby, sensitive about everything. He looked at Nilda with shiny hurt eyes when she got on his case. It made her want to fight more with him, make him out-and-out bawl. She used to make her brother Nestor cry all the time. She smiled.

“What’s with you? Happy now? Because you made me feel bad?” Raymond said.

“You talk too much,” said Nilda. “There’s something very annoying about a man who talks too much.”

“Sometimes I hate your guts, you know that? You’re a drag.”

“Is that the best you can do?” Jeez, that’s lame, Nilda thought. She wished he were more ruthless. If he really gave it to her, she would be distracted from the gnawing emptiness in her stomach.

“I’m hungry,” Nilda said.

“Do you bring your snack with you?” said Raymond.

“I don’t want a mother-fucking apple,” Nilda said. She found the apple in the glove compartment, opened her window and threw it out. “I want a cheesesteak with fries.”

Raymond took his hands off the wheel and held them over his ears.

“Please,” he said.

“Please nothing. Take me to Cheesesteak Heaven,” she said.

“I will not.”

A call came in for them to respond to a robbery in progress.

“I hate those,” Nilda said. “God, I hate those.”

“What exactly do you like? You hate domestics, you hate robberies. What do you want?”

She thought about it, turned over everything she had done on the job in the past week, month, year. Raymond sped toward the robbery. He was a good fast driver and knew all the shortcuts, so she let him drive.

“I like drunks,” she said.

“You’re kidding me. You never know what they’ll do. They vomit on you, throw punches.”

“Drunks are easy,” she said. Nilda was lazy. She mostly liked riding around in the car.

“Not to me.”

“That’s because you try to talk to them, reason with them. If they give me trouble, I just give them a crack and they lay there like babies.”

Raymond shook his head.

When they pulled up to the liquor store, there were already a bunch of other cops there and the robber was handcuffed and in the car. Nilda and Raymond hung around for a while talking. Nilda took off her hat and undid her ponytail, leaned against the car. Single, single, married, don’t know, married, she them counted off. Finally Nilda and Raymond got back in their car.

“He was cute,” Raymond said.

“Which one?”

“The one you were working it for.” Raymond imitated Nilda tossing her hair around.

Nilda wondered if she had been that obvious. She had been trying hard to open that knot she felt inside since her last husband left. Whenever she thought of his face, she made herself erase it and picture a white rose unfurling slowly inside her heart. I need sex, she thought. If I don’t have sex soon, I am going to die. Love is too much to ask for, but sex is a reasonable request.

“How do I get some?” she asked. “I don’t even know how to get it. You get it all the time. I was married for the last seven years. I forget how to get it. Before him, it used to just come automatically.”

“See how you are? Make fun of me, tease me, curse at me, then you want advice. Now you want me to help you. Why should I?”

Nilda was very hungry. Suddenly she couldn’t think about anything else.

“Pull over,” she said. “I want to drive.” Nilda never wanted to drive.

“What are you talking about?” Raymond asked.

“Take me to Cheesesteak Heaven or I’ll take myself,” Nilda said.

“Think about what you’re doing, Nilda. Is this going to solve anything? Are you going to feel bad later?” Raymond said.

“I have two hungers, Raymond. Two very bad hungers. And yes, it will solve something. It will solve my stomach hunger, Raymond.”

Raymond sighed. Just like riding with a fucking old lady, Nilda thought. She sighed back at him loudly.

He put on the blinker and turned toward Cheesesteak Heaven.

“Look, here’s the deal. If you want sex, you go get sex. If you don’t need it that bad, just wait it out,” Raymond said. “You pay a price either way. Which price do you want to pay?”

She hated him. Mr.Got-It-All-Figured-Out. Mr.Gay Man, Sex-Anytime-He-Wants. Well, plump middle-aged straight women do not have dance clubs to go to where men line up to give them satisfaction, she thought. He got a lot of action because he was a cop. Gay guys loved that cop thing, even if Raymond was fat. She bet he went to the bar in his uniform and that’s how he got so much sex. Men would run the other way if she did that.

“What price do you pay, Raymond?” Nilda could practically taste that cheesesteak now. Her mouth was full of water, waiting.

“Don’t you think it takes a bite out of my soul every time I have sex with someone I don’t love? Don’t you think a little something dies inside?”

“Mother-of-God. Let me out of this car,” Nilda said.

Cheesesteak Heaven was crowded. She stood in the back, reading the menu board over and over, breathing deep. The only choices on the board were the size of the sandwich and the toppings. Do I want hot peppers? Do I dare have a large? A large is very very big, Nilda thought. Can I handle it, after weeks on this stinking diet?

It smelled so good. Everyone was smiling in Cheesesteak Heaven, the cooks slapping the meat around on the grill, the wrapping crew as they squirted cheese stuff on top and rolled the cheesesteaks in tin foil, the cashiers handing over the bags to the customers, bags that were instantly grease-stained and dripping. The customers were the smiliest, though. The ones who just got their bags clutched them to their chests, never mind the mess. The ones perched on the stools hunched over their food, because they couldn’t wait to bring it home and eat at their own kitchen tables, eating with both hands, dripping ketchup and fried onions all over the place. They looked really happy.

“Nilda, come on,” Raymond said. “There’s a fight out in the parking lot.”


“I swear to God. Come on.”

“If you are just trying to get me out of here, I am going to kick your ass so hard,” Nilda said. He’s probably serious, she thought, he’s too straight-laced to make up anything having to do with work.

They took their time getting to the fight, hoping it would be over by the time they got there. It was two men, rolling around on the concrete, hitting each other with one fist and each holding a bag in their other fist.

Raymond sprang into action, putting himself between them, using recommended moves from police academy classes. Nilda watched him think, set his position, try a move, get knocked over, get up and think, flip a page in the academy training manual and try again. He has the worst instincts in the entire fucking world, she thought.

“Police. Stop. We are the police,” Raymond said. He looked at Nilda.

“Police,” she rolled her eyes and repeated.

“Hey!” Raymond yelled louder at the men, who were rolling more than hitting now.

Nilda stuck her baton hard into one guy’s stomach, snagged the bag from his hand. He gasped, jumped up.

“Thas mine,” he said.

“And how drunk are you, my man?” she said.

“Drunk? Not me. Only had two,” he said. “Then I got hungry and came over here.”

“Two dozen drinks? That’s a lot, my man,” Nilda said.

“Did I say that? I’m tired. I meant to say I didn’t have nothing to drink tonight. Maybe one.Thaas it, one beer.” The man was having a hard time standing up. He swayed a few times, then sat down on the pavement. “Can I have my cheesesteak? I’m feeling faint. I need food.”

“Are you going to fight anymore?” Nilda held the bag over his head. She opened the lip and let out the smells.

“No, ma’am, officer. No no no.”

The other man was holding his head. He lay flat on the ground with his bag squeezed between his knees.

“And you? Are you going to keep fighting?” Nilda said.

“Don’t take my bag. Please don’t take my bag. I’ll be right up.” The other man struggled to sit up. “I’m okay. See I’m fine. I’m just going back to my room and eat my dinner. All quiet.” He clutched his bag under his arm now.

The cops got back in their car. Nilda wanted to go back in and start over, but the sight of the dirty bag between the drunk’s knees turned her stomach.

“Should we have just left them like that? What if one of them had car keys?” Raymond worried.

“Those guys haven’t owned a car for decades,” she said. “Stumblebums. Relax, RayRay.”

“Please call me Raymond.”

“Please call me Raymond,” she mocked him. She was trying to get some friction started, craving a distraction that would kill the last hour of their shift.

He clammed up then, drove without talking for a solid half hour. Be that way, Nilda thought. She laid her head back and closed her eyes. Raymond smelled so good. Say what you will about gay guys, they smell damn good, Nilda thought.

She opened her eyes. “Raymond, this is serious,” she said. “I need to find a man. Tonight. You need to help me. I mean it. This is a truly desperate situation. Do you get it? You are a gay man from birth and you are starting to smell good to me. I need some help here.”

Raymond smiled.

“I am not kidding around. I think I just crossed some kind of sex starvation threshold. When you start thinking about sleeping with a gay man, you are a woman in deep trouble.”

“Seriously? What am I supposed to do? I don’t know anything about where straight women go to get some,” Raymond said.

Nilda stared him down. Raymond got rattled.

“I’ll make some calls. I’ll call my sisters,” he said.

“Forget it. Thanks a lot, dude.”

“What? What? What did I do?” Raymond asked.

“Useless. You are useless to me,” Nilda snarled.

They drove silently back to the station. Their work shift was over. Raymond hesitated getting out of the car.

“Want a hug?” he asked.

“No, Raymond. I don’t want a hug. I want a lot of things, but I do not want a hug from you.” Nilda felt like crying. She felt so needy. “Go home, useless.”

“That’s not nice,” Raymond said. “You know I would help you out if I could.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Maybe a good dinner will cheer you up. Why don’t you go out and get a nice healthy dinner somewhere? Treat yourself.”

Nilda changed her clothes, got into her car, and drove straight back to Cheesesteak Heaven. “I’ll have a large, with hot peppers,” she ordered. She breathed deep. “It smells so good in here,” she said out loud to no one in particular.

“Isn’t it amazing?” the man next to her said. He smiled.

Nilda smiled back.

“We don’t have cheesesteaks back home in Indiana,” he said. “I can’t wait to rip into one. It smells so darn juicy.”

“I’m Nilda,” she said. “And your cheesesteak is on me. I insist.”Kathy Anderson, a South Jersey resident, was awarded a fellowship for fiction from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

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