Dispatch 17 (Oct. 24, 1998)

     Soo, Gina’s Amazing Disappearing Roommate, wasn’t home as usual when I arrived at the co-op and also wasn’t present when the tape was made, Gina told me.
     When I got there, Gina looked as if she could barely contain her excitement. She had the regular-sized cassette tape in a rectangular tape recorder, one of the old bulky kind that sit on your desk and have a big orange "REC" button that you mash down along with the "PLAY" button. To be discrete, she must have hidden it behind some books or under the bed. It would be hard to miss such a big hunk of metal in such a small room.
     "I’m gonna go put in a load of laundry," Gina said, loading up her plastic basket with beige and yellow towels. "Go ahead and listen to it and I’ll be back in a minute."
     She left the room and I approached the tape recorder with a mixture of dread and fascination. She’d put the recorder at the center of the bed. I lay down next to it, staring up at the ceiling as my hand reached for the play button. I’m transcribing now, but during the first listen, I closed my eyes, trying to picture the scene as the sounds provided the narrative. This is what I heard.

* * *

     "No, come on!" It’s Gina, giggling and distant, her voice probably coming from the farthest point in the room, the doorway. Muffled footsteps on the floor and then the door closes behind Gina and her guest. His voice is soft when he speaks.
     "She’s not here?" he asks.
     "No, she’s gone for the weekend. She goes to visit her boyfriend a lot," Gina says.
     "That must be great, having the whole place to yourself." His voice is annoyingly earnest, eager to grasp on the barest hint of a conversation.
     "It’s nice to stretch out," Gina answers. "I can make a mess and I don’t have to worry about it until Sunday."
     "It doesn’t look messy," Conversation Man says. "I wish my place was this nice."
     "Do you want something to drink?" Gina asks. "I have some rum and some tequila. How about tequila shots?"
     "Are you serious?" the man says, sounding amused. "You have some tequila?"
     "You don’t like tequila?" Gina asks.
     "No, I love tequila, but I didn’t know you had any," he says. "So, sure, tequila shot sounds good."
     I’m starting to get a little impatient, wondering where this might be going. Gina answers that question for me as I hear a rustle of drawers and then the clink of a tequila bottle tapping glasses.
     "So you’ve only been here six months? Are you dating anyone or what?"
     Gina: Winner of the Most Direct Question of the Year Competition.
     Maybe it’s because I’m only hearing voices and maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it in person, but on tape, it sounds as if our unidentified male friend hesitates here before answering. "I go out," he says finally. "Not really dating anyone seriously. I don’t really know too many people."
     "What about back home?" Gina asks.
     "No, not really. I had a girlfriend, but we broke up before I moved here."
     "Oh," Gina says. "Here’s your tequila."
     The clink of shot glasses. I can’t hear them take the shots, but I imagine it.
     "What kind of music do you like?" Gina asks.
     "Everything. Except country, I guess," he says.
     The sound of footsteps and then the tiny bass "pop" of Gina’s stereo being turned on. A few seconds later, something soft and slow and Spanish is playing.
     "Do you want to dance?" she asked him.
     "Uh huh," he said.
     For a few moments there was nothing as they presumably danced in the room’s limited space. Then, barely out of sound range, he whispered, "You’re so beautiful, Gina."
     "You’re a good dancer, Andrew," Gina replied.
     The unmistakable sound of kissing followed briefly. I was beginning to get angry. I understood that this was part of our arrangement – that Gina was trying to do me a favor here by allowing me access to her private life. But who, exactly, was she performing for? And who was this Andrew guy? Was she lying when she said she loved Juan? This, I thought, must be what Gina calls devotion.
     There was movement again and then creaking as one or both of them hit the bed. More kissing. The music seemed to swell with the moment and I was getting nervous. My finger hovered above the "STOP" button, ready to cut it off, but some part of me was still giving Gina the benefit of the doubt.
     "Hold on a second. I’ll be right back," Gina said. "Do you want to get undressed?"
     "Uh huh," Andrew, The Man of Few (if any) Words, said.

A door closed. I wasn’t sure which, maybe a closet or the main door. I heard the shuffling of clothes and then silence for a bit. No, I take it back. Not just silence – the sound of shallow breathing broke it.
     A few seconds later, the door opened again. Footsteps and then giggling. From Gina.
     "What? What is it?" Andrew asked, sounding as nervous as I felt listening.
     "I can’t," Gina said, her continued giggling framing her words. "You’re too…"
     "What?" Andrew asked again.
     Gina stopped laughing, but the trace of a smile in her voice remained. "You’re too small, Andrew. I’m sorry. I can’t. It’s not, you know, enough."
     "Are you serious?" Andrew asked, his voice seeming to shrink along with his prospects.
     "Yes," Gina said, sounding as polite as if she were discussing her favorite color. "I can’t do that with you. Did your girlfriend back home ever complain about the size?"
     Silence. If air, and the silence that hangs upon it could speak, I think it would have screamed from the twist of tension in that moment.
     Andrew didn’t say anything else. The sound of rustling clothes came back along with the creaking of floor boards as he must have shifted from foot to foot, putting his pants back on.
     "I’m leaving," Andrew said in a small, pitiful voice that seemed to come light years away from the confident tone of just a few minutes before.
     "Okay. I’m sorry, Andrew. Take care, okay?" Gina said.
     The sound of a slamming door marked his exit. Gina took a deep breath in the empty room and then giggled again.
     The clatter of the tape recorder being turned off marked the recording’s end.
     I pushed "STOP" and waited for Gina to come back.

* * *

     "What the hell was that?" I asked as she walked in, holding an empty laundry basket and a jumbo box of Tide.
     "It was a practical joke," Gina said.
     "It was cruel," I said.
     "No, I didn’t tell you the whole story!" she answered.
     "I can’t wait," I said.
     "I just met him that night, but I already knew who he was. He was from near my hometown," Gina said.
     "You didn’t tell him that?" I asked.
     "He was the boyfriend of one of my best friends back home. But he’s been cheating on her ever since he started going to school here."
     "How do you know all this?" I asked her.
     "Letty, my friend, told me. We set him up. I ran into him outside his dorm and let him ask me out. Then I brought him here," she said, smiling a proud smile.
     "I don’t get it," I said. "Your friend knew about this?"
     "It was her idea to tape record it," Gina said. "She wanted to know once and for all if he would cheat on her. And he did, so I humiliated him."
     I didn’t know what to say. The idea, the planning of it, numbed me. I thought it was a stupid thing to do, but also justifiable in a strange way.
     "What if he got angry?" I asked. "What if he attacked you or something?"
     "I had pepper spray in my pocket just in case. But I didn’t think he’d do that."
     "Why not?"
     "Because he’s a coward," Gina said. "He’d rather lie than just break up with Letty and be honest about it. A guy like that is afraid that someone will figure out his lies. So he wouldn’t date a really strong woman. He’d be too afraid."
     "So Letty’s not strong like you?"
     Gina paused for a moment before answering. "No," she said finally. "But at least she’s getting rid of this guy."
     "You kissed him," I said.
     "I had to," Gina said. "But it was just acting. Like being in a play or a movie. Better than that, because it was for a good friend."
     "Oh," I said, because that was the extent of my vocabulary at that moment. I knew why she did what she did, but not how she could do it. How she could kiss someone she obviously disliked and then try to hurt them through some sort of second-hand revenge.
     But I couldn’t help thinking of this Andrew guy, this pathetic person who’d broken some girl’s heart back home, and who left Gina with his (undersized) tail between his legs unaware of what had really transpired.
     I thought about guys who have dicked my friends and me over. The ones who don’t call or the ones that call too often or the ones who can’t commit because it would get in the way of their next conquest, and most of all the ones that just lie, not because they have to, but because it’s easier than being honest.
     I began to see beyond the immaturity and coldness of the tape into something cathartic and a little bit amusing. I must have laughed without realizing it because the next thing I knew, Gina had an arm around my neck as she sat next to me on the bed. She was beaming.
     "See?" she said to me as I finally returned a smile. "I knew you’d like it."