The wine was a 1997 Beaujolais with a husky flavor that caught me by surprise. I didn't expect the deep, buttery spiciness of it. Isn't that just like a French wine, I thought, to come creeping up on you and smack you upside the head, then start making out with your date right in front of your woozy eyes.
No, no, I reminded myself, that's a French MAN.
Not that any Frenchman - or woman - could have come between me and Liesl. I was her mildly concussed, but nonetheless heroic knight in shining, coconut-crusted armor, and she, she was my maiden fair, my slavish lover with an appetite for the unconventional in the boudoir and for the even more unconventional in the dining room. The menu, apart from the Beaujolais: kale steamed with pepper and bat guano, and some noxious sort of slippery, fleeting, eel-like thing that kept trying to get away from me, in a coriander sauce. There were some Thai accents too, but this was 1999, before everyone and their kid sister was eating Thai food in trendy New York dojos four nights a week. Also, dinner smelled as if her poodle had urinated over all of it.
"Do you like it?" Liesl asked, her voice as buttery and husky as the Beaujolais.
"No," I replied. "Not at all."
"Well you have to eat it anyway," she laughed coyly, "or else there's no dessert."
I had had some trouble before determining when Liesl was being literal and when she was making a sexual double-entendre. There was an incident in Central Park a handful of years ago involving a hot dog, three packets of mustard, and a flowing, flower-patterned, ankle-length skirt that she still had hanging under plastic in the hall closet as a warning to me of the dangers of my own stupidity. The point is, I didn't know what she meant by dessert. But it was Valentine's Day, and I decided to play along.
"Mmm," I said, "I can't wait." Inside, I thought, please Zod above, do not let this dessert involve seaweed.
Liesl had achieved a cult following of sorts for her ability to inject seaweed into the most mundane of activities. That was, in a roundabout way, how we met. In a former life, as they say, I was a marine biologist, and Liesl was a pink-mohawked protester with a painful East German accent. One ill-chosen remark about the Nazis later, and she was at the vanguard of herds of people blocking my parking spot, hanging signs outside my office, and taunting the dolphins at the aquarium with what she called "Gestapo fish," a vile concoction of seaweed, chum, and possibly some of what we were eating for dinner tonight. Things got ugly at the aquarium one morning, there was a coma (mine), and when I woke up, she told me we had fallen "een luff."
I remember chuckling at her, which hurt me considerably. This woman is precious, I thought. Her brand of self-deception certainly didn't come around every day. But more than that, she had handcuffed me to the bed and threatened to start fracturing my phalanges one at a time until I capitulated about the "een luff" thing - a trick which I thankfully later developed quite a taste for. Her cooking, on the other hand, I didn't find quite as palatable.
"This is disgusting, Liesl," I said, spitting out kale and coriander.
Liesl's face darkened. "Eat," she said.
I clung to my glass of wine and drank it like a starving man drinks food. "No way," I said. "This is worse than the time you made me eat brain!"
"Eat," she said again, more menacingly this time.
There was always a point in the yin-yang, give-and-take, pork-and-beans, Amos-and-Andy, Mutt-and-Jeff, back-and forth of our relationship when I wondered how much I was reacting from my own deeply held opinions, and how much I was reacting simply to resist her momentum. In eight years, I had virtually lost the ability to distinguish between the two. Sometimes, you're just drinking a glass of Beaujolais because you want to, and sometimes you're doing it because it's the only thing on the table you can possibly put in your mouth without gagging. And then there are times when you drink your Beaujolais just because you can see it's pissing off the woman you love, which means the chains and nipple clamps are going to be making a sudden and violent appearance.
This was a little of all of them.
Before I knew it, I was clamped firmly between Liesl's meaty upper arm and her ribs. I clawed and bit at her, vainly fighting to escape - but not truly fighting that hard. I tripped her and we both fell headfirst into the wall. She yelped as her free forearm caught the doorknob on the linen closet. I knew I was in trouble then. She dragged me to the bedroom and swept my legs out from under me with a deft kick. Then she rolled me sharply in the direction of the bed, and the next thing I knew, I was bound to the headboard with thick, fuchsia-colored, decorative rope. I heard her swearing in East German as she left the room, leaving me struggling furiously against my bonds.
As she applied the saltwater solution to my abdomen, now ripped bare of its formerly confining t-shirt, I thought about how lucky I was to have someone like Liesl on Valentine's Day. I bit down on the rubber bung in my mouth just in time, before the first jolt of electricity ripped through my happily overwrought nervous system and made my body go rigid. Then I thought, wait a second, how can someone swear in East German? Don't they just speak regular German there? Another jolt hit me, and I felt so loved, so warm, and so grateful to have this blessed, torturous woman in my life, and also, I was grateful not to be eating her dog-piss food anymore. I really did like the Beaujolais, though.
Then came the diarrhea.