Roberto and Darek were tall, blond, blue-eyed. Roberto was from Gdansk, Darek was from Warsaw. Darek was better-looking, with a square jaw and a flawless body. “Body of a god,” his sister used to say, with a voluptuous shiver. “Torse de gladiator!” Roberto was taller, bigger, and a little chubby. He had a slight double chin and a baby face, and he was a proficient womanizer. Before he came to stay with us I knew only his happy voice on the telephone or answering machine. If we didn’t pick up the telephone, he would yell on the answering machine: “Czesc, Pan Darek, Roberto mowi!” Or sometimes, when we were lazy: “Guys! Hey, get up guys, kurwa! You always in bed, too much sex, guys!” Roberto came to stay with us in the summer of 1991, and he quickly morphed into The Houseguest Who Wouldn’t Leave. He became our constant companion. At first he did not have a key to the apartment, and so he would show up directly after I got home from work. He parked on the street and waited for me in his truck, in the late afternoon. I would come home exhausted at 5:30 or 6:00, and haul myself up the stairs into the broiling second-floor apartment. No sooner had I kicked off my shoes, dropped my things on the floor and poured myself a glass of cold water then the doorbell would ring. It never failed. I’d go back down the carpeted stairs, open the old creaking door, and look up at the towering figure of Roberto grinning down at me. “Hi!” he would bellow. “How’s eet going?” He usually was carrying a bag of groceries, and wearing a pair of black sunglasses that made him look like an enormous insect.

For Darek’s twenty-fifth birthday, Roberto and I took him to a Polish restaurant in Mountain View, Eugene’s. We got all dressed up, me in a blue minidress, Roberto with a liberal dose of Fahrenheit, and Darek in his dusty Communist-era suit coat, and we got in Roberto’s blue Bronco. Roberto drove fast, giving the impression of total relaxation as he held the wheel languidly with one hand, a cigarette between his lips. I watched the speedometer with morbid fascination as it climbed to ninety miles an hour. Then suddenly it dropped to sixty. I glanced up at Roberto to see what had caused this. He was looking out the window at a little red MG convertible in the left lane. It contained a brunette in a black miniskirt. I could see that her legs were very long, since we were up high in the Bronco and she was closer to the asphalt in her MG. Roberto sped up until we were right next to her. He took a drag from his cigarette and smiled at her. She smiled back. They did this little dance for several miles, until finally Roberto pointed at an exit sign. The brunette shrugged, and Roberto stepped on the gas and got in the far right lane. To my amazement, she followed him. I looked at Darek. He was watching intently, as though he himself had a stake in the outcome.

Roberto pulled into a gas station, and the red MG followed in less than a minute. Roberto got out and went over to the car to make his transaction, which consisted of him smiling a lot and looking casually at the ground and talking. Then he came back to the Bronco for a pen and paper. “Jackpot!” he whispered triumphantly. The conquest. Darek nodded respectfully at Roberto. This was a man-to-man exchange, as if I was an invisible girlfriend and not actually there in the Bronco with them. I felt sick and wondered if Roberto had ever observed Darek doing the same thing. Or was Darek the acolyte in this equation? But I was hopelessly in love with Darek so I put it out of my mind.

The brunette called Roberto back, but he lost interest quickly. He moved on to other women, on other freeways, in nightclubs, bars, street corners. When the three of us went out Roberto would disappear, trotting after a pair of stocking-clad legs. Darek and I would park ourselves at the bar. He would set me on his lap or keep a proprietary hand on me as a sign to other men. After one drink I would joke to him that I was going to tattoo his name on my ass. After two drinks I would press my face against his chest and make him put his hand under my shirt. After three drinks I would despair. “I love you,” I would whisper. “I love you awfully.” Darek suffered my devotion, while looking up and down the bar to see which women were sitting alone. Eventually Roberto would show up again, and we would review the evening’s accomplishments and phone numbers before staggering drunkenly back to the Bronco.

After sleeping on my couch for three long months, Roberto left at the end of that summer and moved back to Poland. He was a cad to other women but not to me, and I missed him. Now Darek and I were alone all the time. He watched other women and didn’t bother to conceal it. He spent hours in the bathroom, spraying perfume and doing his hair and admiring his own reflection. I told him I loved him. I told him I hated him.

I never saw Roberto again, but sometimes I caught the scent of his perfume on the street or in a restaurant. I’d look for his tall figure in the crowd, hoping, but he was only a phantom presence.


About the Author: Dylan Brie Ducey's work can be found in The Pinch, decomP magazinE, and Pear Noir!, among other places. She herself can be found on Twitter, @dylanbrieducey, and on Facebook.

Story Song: "Jestem Kobietą" by Maanam