Brad reached the limit of his ability to deal with an abusive customer and used some of his most potent words in a voice overheard by most of the small software firm where he managed customer support. He and his boss talked after the incident and, although the reprimand was gentle, Brad grabbed Pedro, and stomped out of the down-town Boston office.
The fact that Pedro had accompanied Brad to work that day contributed to his short temper. Pedro was his companion for a few days nearly every month when Brad had hemorrhoids. They had been together daily for the last two weeks. He sat on Pedro, a toilet seat shaped pillow, to relieve the pressure on the tender tissues that came from stress, both mental and physical. Pedro kept the pressure on the outer edges of his backside and kept the center warm, floating, and free.
Pedro lived in a plastic bag from the Old Navy Clothing store. People required an explanation when they saw Brad with a white oval pillow, but he could take Pedro to lunch and no one paid attention to a man holding or sitting on a shopping bag. Pedro was at the office for several days before one of Brad’s coworkers demanded to know what he carried.
“You sit on a hemorrhoid pillow?” said Jeff, a friend and head of engineering. “My image of you is destroyed.”
“It’s searing pain, surgery, or the pillow,” answered Brad.
“Tough choice. I understand that hemorrhoid’s are caused by being a little too snug in the seat. I didn’t know being tight-assed could be corrected by surgery.” Jeff reached out and took a caramel from an old brown dish on Brad’s desk. “Have you considered the possibility that your condition is caused by stress?”
“I’m sure it is. I know this conversation is causing my ass to burn.”
“See, I was right. By the way, what’s your friend’s name? If you are going to spend so much time together, your pillow needs a name.”
Brad thought a moment and then said “Pedro.”
Jeff knew how the name was chosen. He had played the loyal sidekick Sancho in a local production of Man of La Mancha and Brad had played Pedro, one of the muleteers responsible for the seduction and rape of Aldonza. It was as good a name as any for a hemorrhoid pillow.
After his altercation at the office, Brad marched into the Blue Heron with Pedro and a firm plan to cloud his senses and ease his nerves by substituting stout for food. He dumped Pedro onto a stool at the bar, sat down, and ordered a Guinness from the little old Irishman the locals called “The Leprechaun.” The best Guinness was kept for the Irish who send their second grade of stout to England and Germany where people at least appreciated the stuff. The third and lowest grade was shipped to the beer wastelands of America and other uncivilized parts of the world. Brad had tasted beer in the pubs of Dublin, Kinsale, Shannon and the villages between so he knew the difference, but a Guinness was still a Guinness and an improvement on mortal beers.
While he worked on his third drink, he noticed a group of young women at a table to his left. The arms and shoulders of one, in particular, attracted him. She wore no jewelry and the only obvious makeup was her tan. The athletic shoes she wore looked more expensive than the rest of her clothes. This women golfed or played volleyball, or rowed, or swam or something else active and outside. Angry after his problems at work, and with mild throbbing pain in his seat, he found it remarkable that he noticed. When she looked up, he smiled and she smiled back.
It was enough to make him stop their waitress and buy drinks for their table. When their order arrived, the waitress pointed to Brad. It gave him confidence to be wearing his good hiking shoes and his favorite black t-shirt. He turned on his stool, pivoting on Pedro, smiled, and waved. A discussion took place among the women that he could not hear, but he understood when they started nudging the subject of his attraction towards him. After a little resistance, the young woman stood up and took four athletic steps to arrive at his stool.
“My friends want me to thank you for the drinks,” she said with a public-school British accent.
“You’re welcome. I’m Brad,” he said.
Brad gripped the cool hand she held out. “Nice to meet you. Sit with me and tell me your life’s story. Start at the point where your parents meet.”
“I should get back to my friends.”
“No you shouldn’t. They told me to tell you that they don’t like you anymore. They are too nice to tell you, but you make strange fish noises when you drink and they would prefer that you sit here with me.”
“I see. In that case, I will sit here and finish my beer.”
She sat on the stool next to him and sipped her beer. Brad and Pedro swiveled on their stool to face her.
“Do you live in Boston or are you visiting from wherever you learned that great accent?”
“I’m a graduate student at Boston College. The accent comes from Manchester where I grew up.”
“Manchester. I’m moving it up on my list of places to visit. I would love to hear your life story. Remember to start where your parents meet.”
“Haven’t you heard that you can not ask a proper British girl personal questions unless you are her confidential friend?”
“No. That’s why I need to visit Manchester. How do I become your confidential friend?”
“First we need a proper introduction. Then we would meet socially over the course of several years. After this, we would share small confidences. For example, you might tell me in strict confidence that you don’t care for lime gelatin. Knowing that you had confided in me, I would feel free to tell you that I loath the color of my mother’s napkins.” She paused and pushed her long hair back over her shoulders. “If we keep these small secrets for several years, trust grows, new secrets are shared, and we find that we are confidential friends.”
“It must take years for a man and woman to learn enough about each other to get married. It’s a wonder that the English are ever able to reproduce at all. Are there any short-cuts?”
Bridget thought for a moment. “There is one way. You would need to tell me something about yourself that was either so embarrassing you would never want it revealed or so illegal that you would be imprisoned for life if I told the authorities. With this information, I would be honor-bound to immediately treat you as a confidential friend.”
“Can I just tell you my life story instead?”
“No. You are much too eager and the price is too low. I need to know that you have revealed something truly abominable before I can tell you anything about myself.”
“I’d prefer having something illegal to reveal, but my father caught me at every minor thing I did wrong as a kid. It didn’t allow me the freedom to progress naturally to petty theft, burglary, and then violent felony.” He paused and then smiled. “I’m forced to tell you the second most embarrassing thing I can think of about myself. You may run for the door after this, but I’ll risk it.” Brad shifted his weight on Pedro, took a deep breath, and adopted a serious face. “When I was eight years old, I regularly walked in my sleep. One night, I got up to go to the bathroom, but missed a turn and ended up in my parent’s closet. My father and mother woke up just in time to see me pee on my dad’s best shoes. The next morning I didn’t remember a thing.”
Bridgette nodded and said, “Assuming that this did not become a regular part of your behavior, your confidence was excellent. It is not so horrendous that you have scared me away, but it is sufficiently embarrassing that you will need to rely on my discretion. I’m a little disappointed that you did not tell me the most embarrassing thing about you, but a little mystery is always very appealing. It’s only fair now that I tell my life’s story, but I’m afraid that after this build-up, it is bound to be disappointing.”
Bridgette told him how her parents met and courted, about her years in public school and then at Oxford, and a little about her younger brother and sister still in England. She told him about playing goalie for the soccer team at Oxford and, more recently, on a club team in Boston. There was nothing really extraordinary about her background, but Brad was not disappointed. He listened to her accent and watched her hands accompany her speech for as long as she was willing to talk.
When she ran out of material, Brad felt obliged to say a little about himself, covering only the basics. He’d grown up in Newton, just outside Boston. When it came time for college, he decided to try the West Coast. His degree was in computer science from Berkeley. It had been harder to find a job in Boston, but he found that the pubs were too far apart in California.
As the late afternoon became evening, one of Bridgette’s friends came to the bar to tell her they were leaving for dinner. As her friend returned to their table, Bridgette told Brad that it was time for her to go.
“Is there a Mr. Bridgette that I need to challenge to a duel before I can see you again?”
“Currently unattached. How about you?”
“I’m married with eight children, but they are very understanding about my dating. Can I call you?”
She took a pen from the bar and wrote her name and telephone number on a napkin. “I wrote my name on this so you won’t confuse it with the other telephone numbers you collect tonight.” She pushed the napkin across the bar to him.
“I came in here angry and depressed, but now I’m feeling pretty okay. Better than okay, actually. The beer helped, but I think your company was what really did the trick.”
Bridgette looked at him a moment and then asked, “Do you want to get some dinner? My friends are going to Bertucci’s to get Pizza, but I’d rather go to Betty’s Wok and have noodles.”
“Betty’s Wok is my favorite,” said Brad.
“Or we could go to China Pearl if you would rather have Mandarin.”
“China Pearl is my favorite too.”
“An easy man to please. Good. Let’s make it Betty’s; we can walk from here. I’ll tell my friends to go on without me.”
As she walked over to talk to her friends, he stood and picked up Pedro. The Guinness was starting to wear off and he was a little sore, but he thought he could walk as far as Betty’s. When Bridgette returned, she glanced at his shopping bag, but did not comment. He prayed that she would not ask why he carried it, miles from the nearest Old Navy Store.
The Leprechaun caught his eye on their way out and winked. On the street, as they passed his clean, red Jeep Wrangler, he opened the door and threw Pedro into the back seat. Brad’s stomach lurched as he saw Pedro hit his basketball and roll out of the bag and onto the floor. He glanced at Bridgette and was relieved that she was facing away. For the first time, he noticed that her grey hooded sweatshirt matched his own. He smiled, caught up, and continued walking, his shoulder next to hers.
In addition to being nutritious and fortifying, Brad knew that large amounts of Guinness tend to make the bowels more eager. As they strolled the last few blocks to the restaurant, his lower intestines began to percolate. By the time they reached the restaurant, his need was urgent. He excused himself and headed for the restroom as Bridgette found a table for them.
The stall was covered in strange symbols; the porcelain fixture the instrument of conversion used by a Spanish Inquisitor. What used to be a beautiful and purifying experience had become a deadly chore. As the last day’s meals passed like broken glass, his eyes filled with tears. He whispered the simple prayer of pain.
He buttoned his pants, washed his hands, and held the sides of the sink, taking deep breaths, trying to focus. Brad knew that outside, Bridgette was waiting at a table with oak chairs and that Pedro was blocks away. He considered running back to the Jeep, but he knew that he would be seen. There was no explanation to offer other than the truth and he refused to tell Bridgette about his relationship with Pedro.
Grimfaced, he straightened and walked out of the restroom towards the table where Bridgette sat looking at a menu. He pulled out the chair and paused for a moment to study the seat and determine the best strategy for arranging himself. Sitting down, he shifted to left-cheek, trying to keep the weight from the inflamed center. At first, he thought it might help, but as Bridgette lowered her menu to speak, he knew that without Pedro, there was no respite from the pain.
“I’m going to have the Wonton Soup. Do you want to share an order of Chinese broccoli?” she said.
“I haven’t looked yet,” he said.
He picked up his menu, covering his blood-drained face. His eyes ran over Egg Noodle, Mandarin Noodle, Mai Fun, Lai Fun, Chow Fun, Wonton and Roast Chicken or Roast Duck or Roast Pork, but the torrent of pain impulses flooding his mind prevented him from translating the words into memories of tastes. He did not know the waiter was there until he heard Bridgette order.
“I’ll have the Wonton Soup with Roast Chicken and an order of Chinese broccoli.”
He lowered his menu to the table and saw Bridgette and the waiter watching him and waiting. His hand dropped to a random place on the list of noodles with his finger pointing to an item listed only in Chinese characters.
“I’ll have this.”
“The Chef’s Very Special Soup. Rice noodles and beef intestines in red curry,” the waiter recited as he wrote the characters on his pad.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” said Bridgette.
“Sure. It’s my favorite,” Brad answered. He tried to smile, but it looked more like he was squinting into the sun. The waiter left to fill their order.
“Are you all right?” asked Bridgette.
A brief lucid thought formed in his pain-soaked mind; this was his opportunity to say he didn’t feel well and gracefully exit. Pride, pain, and the shame of his association with Pedro obscured the sensible alternative to his current situation. He snapped his answer almost immediately.
“Yes. I’m fine.”
She drew out the vowel sounds as a question the way a woman does when the word means that it is definitely not Okay. Brad understood the tone and wondered if she learned the inflection in the U.S. or if it worked the same for the British, a deep thought for a man in too much pain to comprehend a noodle menu.
“I’ve really enjoyed living in Boston, but I miss my family, especially my brother and sister. How long has it been since you’ve seen your brothers?” said Bridgette.
“Not since Ireland,” said Brad. At the Blue Heron, he had told her about his trip to Ireland with his brothers a month ago. He shifted his weight from his left cheek to his right cheek. He wanted to sit on Pedro, or stand up, or lie down, anything but sit in this unyielding chair to face this beautiful inquisitor.
“Where do your brothers live?”
“Two in Austin. One in LA.”
A long silence was followed by another long silence. Brad sat with his hands folded in front of him, his thumbs pressing rhythmically into his hands. The muscles in his face flexed as he pressed his jaws together. It was too early in the relationship for silence to be ignored.
“What is going on here?” asked Bridgette.
“Nothing? You are being a bit of an asshole.”
Her inadvertent metaphor was too powerful for him in his current condition. He tried frantically to formulate a reply, but he could only think of nonsense, so he said nothing.
“I’m going to go catch up with my friends at Bertucci’s. Goodbye, Brad”
Bridgette walked out of the restaurant. He looked at his folded hands, refusing to move until she was out the door. When he looked up, the waiter was sliding their order onto the table. He stared at intestines swimming in curry broth.
Brad felt his head begin to clear as he walked back to his Jeep. He arranged Pedro on the driver’s seat and sat down. On the drive home, he imagined Bridgette in uniform, her strong arms outstretched to block a shot on her goal.
The next morning, too sore to sit down at work, he stayed home. He was free of the stress of dealing angry customers, but his living room offered little diversion. Daytime television made him feel more pathetic so he turned it off, sitting on Pedro with his head in his hands. With no distractions, the perception of pain amplified. Tears began to form as he contemplated a lifetime of agony and the loss of all of his friends except the false one, Pedro.
For nearly twenty minutes, he sat in this attitude, until he heard boys playing soccer in the park across the street. Suddenly, he stood up and walked briskly to the telephone. Calling Dr. Savanishman’s office, he insisted on an early appointment. Pedro arrived with him and tried to support him while he waited. He described his symptoms while the doctor snapped on rubber gloves, but when the examination began, Brad’s moan sounded like it issued from a Medieval dungeon.
“You have some small hemorrhoids, but they shouldn’t be causing you this much pain. I’m not sure what’s going on here so I’m going to call Dr. Bender, a colon and rectal specialist and surgeon, and see if he can see you right away.”
Brad remembered that Jerry Seinfeld once commented that regardless of how disgusting a part of our body might be there was a whole group of doctors who would specialize in it. Now he knew that this was only half the story. When you needed one of these specialists, they became gods. He picked up Pedro and headed to Dr. Bender’s office.
Brad was immediately impressed when Dr. Bender chose to use an anesthetic before an examination which lasted only a few minutes.
“You have an anal fissure. Basically, it’s a tear which in your case is about an inch and a half long. This part of the body is one of the richest in nerve endings so it can be very painful. We can wait to see if it heals on its own or do surgery within the next few days.”
“Can you do it now?” said Brad.
The next afternoon, Brad’s friend Jeff drove him home from the hospital, still groggy from the general anesthetic. For the first week, he could not sit, so Pedro leaned against a wall. Brad used the Old Navy bag to line a trash can. After a week, he returned to work. It was painful to sit, but he refused to share his seat with Pedro.
He changed positions at his company, leaving customer support management for a position working for Jeff in engineering. It was a little less money, but he rarely had to talk to customers. His neck, shoulders, and sphincter no longer flexed when he entered the building in the morning. After a week of morning Yoga, he was able to keep a straight face through the entire class. One of the few days they asked him to help a customer with a problem, he quietly lectured the angry man on meditation techniques.
On the one month anniversary of his surgery, he sat down on his couch without a twinge. Pedro still leaned nearby, sullen and exposed. Brad picked up the pillow and wrapped it in a paper sack; stapling the ends of the bag the way an Eastern European would put coins on the eyes of a corpse to prevent it from rising from the dead. He stuffed the bag into the back of his closet.
Next to the telephone, a napkin sat for weeks. He dialed the number on it and heard a British accent say “Hello.”
“Hello Bridgette, this is Brad. We met at the Blue Heron a few weeks ago.”
“I remember, Brad.”
“I feel bad about how our night turned out and would really like to see you again and explain.”
“There is an explanation for waspish behavior other than poor breeding? I don’t think I’m ready for another dose.”
“There were some circumstances that night that I think I can explain, but it’s not something I want to do over the phone. If we can get together, I promise I’ll tell you the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me.”
After a long pause, she said, “Is it humiliating or degrading?”
“Good. I’ll meet you at Betty’s tomorrow at seven.”
To Brad and to Pedro, may he rest in peace.
Copyright © 2001, Scott Daniel
All Rights Reserved