Author: Lawrence Kelter
Saving Cervantes is a story about a kiss and the man waiting an eternity for it to arrive. One day he sees her, the woman he can never have but must possess. He will give up everything to be with her; not all at once, but bit by insidious bit, until there is nothing left of the world he knows,and his only choice is to join her. What would you give to possess the one person you thought could satisfy your deepest emotional hunger?
Length: Full-Length Novel
Available in .mobi for Kindle, .epub for NOOK and most other e-readers, and .pdf.
“Love not what you are, but what you may become.”
--Miguel de Cervantes
Aaron Kurtz emerged from the storeroom to find night falling outside his bookstore. The dim light didn’t surprise him—he had an uncanny ability to sense the time of day. On most occasions, he was accurate to within five minutes, give or take. Having a precise nature, however, he checked his watch before hurrying to the cash register by the front window.
Looking through the store window, Aaron searched the sidewalk for the young Spanish hooker who had walked by his shop every evening for the past week. He checked his watch again—it was a full five minutes earlier than he had seen her walk by before. He rarely deferred to his watch; however, circumstances like these demanded the utmost accuracy.
Satisfied that he had not missed his opportunity, Aaron did a routine scan of the bookstore—there were only a few patrons inside; only one, a teenage Hassid, looked like trouble, browsing in the fiction section where he did not belong. Aaron knew that no self-respecting Hassidic family would allow their male offspring to study such heresy and that if this young man hungered for the words of Bernard Malamud or Phillip Roth, the undertaking mandated clandestine activity.
Aaron saw the young Hassid mulling about aimlessly—he knew the look, the wandering eyes and apprehensive posture; a sure sign that he was searching for the nerve to grab something.
The Hassid looked up to see if he was being watched.
Aaron smiled inwardly. The Hassidim, he mused, above and beyond, above everyone else, but not beyond an occasional transgression. Aaron had seen this countless times before—Hassids making up their own rules as they went along.
Aaron checked the time yet again and quickly scanned the sidewalk outside the store. He had maybe a minute, no more than two. Aaron weighed his options; he could babysit the Hassid and possibly miss seeing her, or he could write off the cost of the book—he chose neither. “Hey,” he called out to the Hassid. “You need help with something?” His eyes rose to challenge the suspected thief. The smirk on Aaron’s face indicated that he was impressed with himself for being so assertive. He had scant moments to resolve the dispute—the streetwalker had always been punctual.
The young Hassid placed his hand against his chest and tilted his head indignantly. His contrived gesture was itself the only sign of guilt Aaron needed. “You’re talking to me?” the Hassid asked in a manner suggesting surprise.
“Yes, you. The section on theology is on the opposite side of the store—you won’t find what you’re looking for over there,” Aaron said with complete disregard for subtlety.
“I’m not allowed to look over here?” the Hassid said challenging Aaron. “There’s a law that says I can’t look?”
Aaron glanced quickly out the window and then down at his watch. He hesitated a moment before dashing out from behind the counter and up to the Hassid. “Listen,” he said in an authoritative whisper. He glanced quickly at the other customers who were tuned into the altercation but were trying to appear disinterested. “They’ve got bookstores in Williamsburg, no? Good ones I’m sure—with lots of books on the Talmud and Judaic studies. So why come here?”
“You’re accusing me of something?”
“My money’s no good here?”
“Look, don’t be so brazen,” Aaron said, waving his finger in warning. “I know your parents won’t let you spend your allowance on books like these. Which one do you want?” he demanded impatiently.
The young Hassid’s eyes widened and then he began to cough nervously.
“Look, settle down,” Aaron continued. “I don’t want to embarrass you. Just tell me which one.” He turned back toward the front window for an instant, giving the Hassid a moment to calm down.
“This one,” the Hassid said in a concealed voice, his finger quivering in the direction of Portnoy’s Complaint.
“Ah,” the ultimate jerk-off manual. “I should have known.” Just released and already three copies are missing—only paperbacks, thank God. Aaron put his index finger on top of the book and rocked it off the shelf. “Here,” he said as a bead of sweat ran down his forehead. He slipped the book inside the Hassid’s long black coat. “I feel for you,” he said, which of course he didn’t. “You read it and you bring it back to me without a mark. Is that clear?”
The Hassid nodded in assent and placed his hand over his coat to hold the book in place against his chest.
“You so much as dog ear a single page and I’ll make you pay for it… Now please,” Aaron said, “get out of here—I’ve got a business to run.” Aaron shook his head unhappily. “Stupid. Stupid,” he muttered, commenting not on the adolescent’s need for shower material but on his own decision.
The Hassid made straight for the front door with Aaron right behind him. He looked back just once as he slinked off down Flushing Avenue. Aaron wasn’t watching him, he was looking in the other direction.
Aaron scanned the length of the avenue and then checked the time once more, worried that she had somehow slipped by while he was involved with the Hassid. Another long moment passed. Aaron spit on the sidewalk. “Shit.”
A bus pulled into the stop across the street. Aaron watched as it emptied; mostly neighborhood men in suits carrying the evening paper on their way home from work. After a moment, the bus rose on its springs as its load lightened. The doors closed. He heard the release of the heavy airbrakes and the loud noise of the engine that drowned out all other sounds as it pulled away, broadcasting a gray cloud of exhaust across the avenue. It seemed to Aaron the noise would never subside, but eventually it did. Behind it, Aaron was able to pick out the distinct click clack of high heels, which was easily distinguished among the footsteps of others who were walking down the avenue. Her gait had a pronounced rhythm of its own; a tawdry melody that called attention to itself. He had only experienced it a few times, but already it elicited a kind of Pavlovian response. He looked without turning his head—recognition of her blue mini dress was already instinctive, as it was for the white lipstick and matching go-go style vinyl boots.
Aaron pretended not to notice her and quickly ducked back into the store taking his position behind the register where he could observe her through the window without being seen.
Time seemed to linger as she drifted by, long enough for him to commit the details of her figure to memory—first the arrogant contour of her breasts and then the cling of the cheap fabric as it slid up and down over her rear end. He could feel himself behind her, doing what he had never done with any woman, doing what he had always dreamed of and doing it endlessly: ecstasy, perfect in its simplicity.
She was walking toward Bushwick Avenue where the whores congregated in the streets and the alleys alongside the sweatshops, soliciting businessmen driving home from lower Manhattan.
He had never seen her there, but desperately wanted to. He had hoped for the guts to drive by in the evening when the streets were swollen with throngs of inexpensive whores and their pimps. He got into his car after dinner every evening that week and went as far as starting the engine, but never more than that. He would sit in the car with the engine running, fighting the temptation to throw the gear selector into Drive. The prospect of being spotted among them had caused him to abort his plans; but he would drive through the area in the morning on his way to the store. He would take note of the seed-laden condoms, cast in the gutters, ample fuel for a day’s worth of fantasy.
She was young, in her twenties by Aaron’s assessment, and still without the telltale marks the streets bequeathed to these women. She didn’t look like a junkie to him, but then, what did he really know of these women or of any women for that matter? Only that she was the embodiment of his every sexual fantasy and fantasy was all Aaron had ever had.
The jingle of the bell over the front door stopped his heart and released him from his trance. She was standing in front of him, searching the store, close enough to touch, yet completely unapproachable. Such serendipity; it was impossible for him to comprehend—unfathomable. Sweat began to run freely down his temples. He quickly neatened his appearance by running his fingers through his unkempt mop of dark brown hair. He tucked his shirt into his pants, pulling it tautly over his belly.
Can I help you? Aaron was desperate to say the words, but couldn’t. Instead, his heart throbbed, pressing against his ribs like a swollen bladder, bloated and ready to burst. Can I help you? His second effort was equally benign. He scrunched his toes until they hurt, hoping the pain would jar free an ounce of guts. “Yes?”
She continued to search the shelves from afar, ignoring Aaron; determined it seemed, to make a book selection from great distance. She opened her bag, withdrew a crushed cigarette, lit it, and took a long drag. With the cigarette dangling from her lips, she placed her hands on her hips and began tapping her foot.
Aaron was smiling like a boy of twelve when she turned toward him, accelerating the pace of his already feverish heartbeat.
She stared through him as if he were transparent, plucked the smoldering cigarette from her lips, and blew out a billowy cloud of smoke.
Aaron waited patiently for the plume of smoke to dissipate and for her to speak. She didn’t. She turned abruptly and left without saying a word.
Aaron sighed as she passed by the front window and then out of sight. The young Hassid hustled past the window a split second behind her. Aaron could see Portnoy’s Complaint clenched tightly in his grip as he shamelessly encroached upon Aaron’s fantasy.
Aaron switched off the lights, touched the mezuzah and kissed his fingertips before locking the front door. He reached up on tiptoes to pull down the metal security gate and felt a spasm kick him in the lower back. He grunted as his fingertips gripped the metal handle. “Piece of shit,” Aaron swore. He curled his fingers to bring the handle into his grasp, enabling him to slowly lower the gate. His chiropractor had instructed him to tighten his stomach muscles when pulling down the security gate because his back had already gone out twice before for exactly the same reason. He had trouble remembering to do so. To Aaron, the physical condition was something that existed, but did not warrant his attention. Each night he would wrestle over the decision to lower the gate or not. Who in this neighborhood would rob a bookstore? Why do I bother? But Aaron was a prisoner to his paranoid insecurities and locked the gate religiously.
He was hunched over and limping as he came upon Pepe Barone’s Accu-Tane, an independently owned gas station, whose name Barone had concocted in the hope of attracting local motor-headsin search of super high octane gasoline for their souped-up cars.
Barone had his head under the hood of an Oldsmobile Cutlass, snapping ignition wires onto the distributor. He looked up as Aaron approached. There was a curious expression on his face. “Hey, Jew, what happened?” he asked.
“My back,” Aaron said, squeezing his lower back between open palms, the fingertips of each hand pointed toward each other. He grimaced with pain.
“Whatsamatta, you fall?” Barone asked, wiping grime from his hands on a tattered rag, a remnant of a plaid flannel shirt.
Aaron remained silent until he was face to face with Barone. “I was reaching for the security gate.”
“Again?” Barone shook his head in dismay. “Ah. Jew, you in terrible shape. You ought to get some exorzise. Why you don’t try some sit-em ups?”
The pain was getting worse. Aaron felt nausea in the pit of his stomach. He had no patience to discuss a lifestyle change with the immigrant mechanic—exercise had never been on his agenda. “Is my car ready?” Aaron asked.
Barone waved his hand at Aaron in a dismissive manner. “Dat little tick, tick, tick noise? Dat’s a nutting—maybe you need an adjusta you valve liftuh.”
“What tick, tick noise?” Aaron asked angrily. “I’m talking about that loud groaning noise the car makes when you turn the steering wheel—it sounds like the wheels are going to fall off.”
Barone turned his head on an angle. “You not tell me to road test you car. You said you had a noise—” Barone shrugged. “I found you noise. It’s a short ride to your house in Brooklyn. You no worry, okay?”
“Ah, for God’s sake,” Aaron snapped angrily. “Just give me the damn keys.”
“Sorry, Jew, I feel terrible—you bring back tomorrow—I fix.”
“I keep telling you, my name’s not Jew,” Aaron said angrily.
“I call everyone, Jew.” Barone replied, grinning sheepishly.
Aaron didn’t waste any time searching for the sincerity in Barone’s response. He had his own name for Barone—he called him the gooch. In his mind, it was the same as calling him a wop. “Just give me the keys.” Aaron ended his demand with a low, guttural moan.
“You should take some aspirin, Jew—maybe a hot bath.”
“Thanks for nothing,” Aaron grumbled under his breath. He extended his hand impatiently. “The keys?”
“They’re in the car,” Barone said, dropping back under the hood of the Cutlass. “See you tomorrow, Jew."