It was hot summer when Ena and Manny fell into a routine that including one another. The assumption of spending weekends together, what used to be called “going steady” happened slowly, a gradual testing of the waters and when finding that the other was still okay, it yielded to a yearning that lasted straight through to Sunday.
None of the easy technological contrivances that help to bridge the gap were available to them as a couple. Ena didn’t have a phone, which proved to be more of a hindrance then she could ever imagine. For instance, it was challenging to connect with potential employers. Now that she had a reputation for taking on jobs that involved physical labor, now that she had established herself as a reliable, hard working hand, she was hungry for change. She went looking for work that didn’t involve strictly male co-workers who had a tendency to assume she was “easy” and therefore fair game for groping and other sorts of rudeness.
They still met every morning at the train station, but now there was a schedule, each encounter was planned down to the minute. Set your clock for ten minutes and watch them touch, kiss and share the headlines, the big news, both recent and anticipated. And then, before saying goodbye, they planned their next weekend outing.
There was much to consider. Being from the mountains, Ena wilted in the heat. She didn’t she know how to swim, nor, did she know the city. Manny offered her a menu of options, ways to spend their weekends. He assured here that there were many sites to choose from and all were free.
On this one Saturday, she chose the Bronx Zoo. “The real zoo”, Manny told her, which wasn’t free, an unpleasant shock for Ena who felt uncomfortable when he offered to buy her ticket. Until now they had gone strictly “Dutch”. Even Steven. As she stepped aside to consider this, her gaze locked on the sea lions lolling in the sun then tumbling into the water. Ena’s stomach fell, slipped downwards, as Manny, for the first time since they’d met, put his arm around her and drew her close. He leaned down, smelled her hair.
At first it was an experimental foray. Resting a hand on her shoulder. Noticing if she shivered, straightening her back to meet his hand, drawing her neck in line with her shoulders. Or would she shrug, wave him off?
Instead, she settled, relaxing into the warmth of his hand. By the time they hit Madagascar, it was a thing that they were now doing — touching each other. Manny’s hand curled around her waist. They walked past the gift shop without breaking their stride. The reptiles didn’t appeal to her, though if you had asked him, he would have been happy to make the detour. There is something intriguing he thought, about alligators. Ena scanned the landscape, exhaled decisively. Manny knew enough to know that she was thinking “no”, but still didn’t trust him enough to say so. So they walked on.
But at the sign for the Congo Guerilla Forest, they made a left. Again, in sync. It started to rain moments before they rushed in. The primates also swooped inside. A hot wave that smelled like hair and sweat and something like musk rode the thermals in the vaulted room straight towards them.
She pressed her back against his chest, his stomach, his hard on.
From then on, Congo Guerilla Forest, CGF or even just “Congo” was code for all things sexual. (Photo: Tim Duch)