But I was clumsy, and making her suffer even more, because she was down in an inferno of her own creation, so far away from me that the sound of my voice made the hiatus seem worse. Then I tried to talk to her of other things, and I tried to make her laugh at my obsessions. Look lady, Arturo Bandini, he’s got a few himself! And from under the pillow I drew out Camilla’s tam-o-shanter with the little tassle on it.
“Look lady! I’ve got them too. Do you know what I do, lady? I take this little black cap to bed with me, and I hold it close to me, and I say: ‘Oh I love you, I love you, beautiful princess!’” And then I told her some more; oh, I was no angel; my soul had a few twists and bends all its own; so don’t you feel so lonely, lady; because you’ve got lots of company; you’ve got Arturo Bandini, and he’s got lots to tell you. And listen to this: Do you know what I did one night? Arturo, confessing it all: do you know the terrible thing I did? One night a woman too beautiful for this world came along on wings of perfume, and I could not bear it, and who she was I never knew, a woman in a red fox and a pert little hat, and Bandini trailing after her because she was better than dreams, watching her enter Bernstein’s Fish Grotto, watching her in a trance through a window swimming with frogs and trout, watching her as she ate alone; and when she was through, do you know what I did, lady? So don’t you cry, because you haven’t heard anything yet, because I’m awful, lady, and my heart is full of black ink; me, Arturo Bandini, I walked right into Bernstein’s Fish Grotto and I sat upon the very chair that she sat upon, and I shuddered with joy, and I fingered the napkin she had used, and there was a cigaret butt with a stain of lipstick upon it, and do you know what I did, lady? You with your funny little troubles, I ate the cigaret butt, chewed it up, tobacco and paper and all, swallowed it, and I thought it tasted fine, because she was so beautiful, and there was a spoon beside the plate, and I put it in my pocket, and every once in a while I’d take the spoon out of my pocket and taste it, because she was so beautiful. Love on a budget, a heroine free and for nothing, all for the black heart of Arturo Bandini, to be remembered through a window swimming with trout and frog legs. Don’t you cry, lady; save your tears for Arturo Bandini, because he has troubles, and they are great troubles, and I haven’t even begun to talk, but I could say something to you about a night on a beach with a brown princess, and her flesh without meaning, her kisses like dead flowers, odorless in the garden of my passion.
But she was not listening, and she staggered off the bed, and she fell on her knees before me and begged me to tell her she was not disgusting.
~John Fante, “Ask The Dust” pgs. 86-87