The curtain, lifted: A row of nine dancers came out, four stage left, four stage right, Nunci our star up from under the stage on a lift; eight of them with black hair long and straight, Nunci the prima a brunette in blonde wig, but over the wigs, bathingcaps. Besides the peeking wisps of hair there was no way to tell them apart. The bathingcaps, the same. They wore matching swimsuits, too, two-pieces, tiny little pieces like polkadots coastered over the nipples, with a jungle stripe seamed down the crotch. Otherwise, they were naked, no flipflops, and flawlessly hairless, legs, underarms. They shaved daily, just before the show; that was in their contract.
They looked the same not just in costume, but physically. It was the dancing that did it—not that every woman who’s ever danced has looked the same, but the training does it to them, the discipline homogenizes.
Tonight wasn’t ballet, though, or anything classic, but a semblance of the Modern: All in a row, they touched their toes; facing audience, they stretched, a mimic or mockery of stretch; then, they looked up to the ceiling’s walks and, suddenly, goop—thick and hot white goop like the squirting of gulls—would drop through the air; they’d catch it in their hands, rub into their limbs; it was sunscreen, or tanning lotion, I don’t remember which. The dancers would rub the stuff into their bodies, languidly; they’d rub each other’s bodies. Or else, wherever it would hit them, the goop, whether on their sides or hips or thighs or faces, they’d rub and hump against each other, insinuatingly, without hands, small tight breast on breast, long leg to arm, keeping their faces motionless, even if struck; even when covered over with white, maintaining no expression.
This was the best of the choreography: unctuous albescent gops they’d smooth into their limbs in synch, then apply to each other’s stomachs and backs, bent over, in a kicking line like showgirls, though this wasn’t Broadway, not far Off.
As stagelights flushed the terrycloth towel backdrop lighter, symbolizing morning, the dancers leaned themselves way over to bare cleavage—as if to fall into the black pits aired between their breasts—to apply that lotion falling from above to the slick cracks between their toes—just then, the Sun emerged, who was Mark.
It was opening night, and I’d been sleeping with Nunci the slathered blonde/brunette since last fiscal quarter. I financed this dance, one of three producers, just so she could finally get out of depressive waterbed and play a part. I was seated in the front row between my other two producers, a superlatively fat lesbian couple who were also the choreographer’s landlords. That choreographer, Masterson, was a Scandinavian remorseless type who’d cast Mark his younger brother as the Sun. Mark might have been disabled, never knew for sure, victim of that syndrome of an extra chromosome. He scrambled out there on opening night, from stage right and screaming (protruding tongue), dumb face frozen in the spotlight that followed him shocked, his deficient limbs, hung with flaming yellow streamies flapping, limply flailing, a loud vision in bright white spandex, centered with a codpiece that concealed a penis so big and swollen it seemed to be breathing. He overshot his mark, screaming still, no dialogue I understood. The Sun went over stage’s edge, and landed in my lap.
I cannot tell you, down to dollars, how much I’ve been taken for, what price I’ve paid for love, and how highbrow that price, how snobbishly effete. Even the money itself had to be clean, intelligent and polite, it couldn’t darken your hands or conscience.
I’ve financed a 10th Avenue gallery to showcase the work of a gorgeous German painter with a penchant for scrupulously embarrassing browns; I once backed an eighty piece symphony orchestra, even paying for the overdubs of an auxiliary percussionist on rented tubular bells, to record a series of discordant splinterings this lissome Argentine insisted on calling a concerto for viola; I sought and bought big beefy hunks of bleeding marble from leading Sicilian quarries for the making of abstract sculpture so ugly that when I installed it in my bedroom I couldn’t sleep and had to drape the stuff with the utilitarian undies of the sculptress’ assistant sister (adopted, resentful, Chinese)…I’ve even subvented the publication of a novel called Nimbles; a slight, lightly fictionalized account of the erotic life of its authoress, a native Texan with excessive breast (nipples, aggressively depilated), but the hands—the writing hands—of a midget, who turned me into a character, Roy Richerzweig, scion of hedgefunds shadily invested in international commodities conspiracies, and privately something of a choreographer of lawsuits, class-action and tort. Here is the only sentence I remember: “[Roy] attributed his insatiable appetite for lovemaking to his daily consumption of three berry yogurts.”
That night’s premiere party, “unqualified success.” I ate, drank, flirted widely, posed for photographs with the fallen Sun, gave interviews galore. I bummed cigarettes, drank too much, got fat on birthday cake (the stage manager’s, brava!), and talked too freely with the press. Their cameras had documented, transmitted, blithely. The Sun’s rush, the teeter, the topple, mid-air, landing grimace, me astoundingly unhurt. The only thing that’s never filmed is how you feel inside. They loved the Sun, the press, the cast and crew, they adopted him, as a surrogate or mascot, plied him with hugs and kisses and concern, despite whispers at the bar. Can’t have people taking tumbles, especially not premeditated, it was suspected, choreographer-brother directing him to fall to attract publicity, fill seats. My fellow producers sat tensely hunched around a table, planning to replace him, find another shiner. Not because of critical reception, or because defects irritated them, but for insurance purposes. The Sun was a liability, maladjusted, a ranting yelling risk. Problem is, I sided with the solar from the very start.
That night I was intimate with Nunci in the club’s bathroom, but went home with dancers 2 and 3 who, though they looked different from how they looked onstage, were still identical. They told me what a great thing you said to that reporter, which thing, which reporter, perquisites and praise, you’re so good in front of cameras, supporting Mark like that. Soundbytes so vital, so important for the show. They talked to me but kissed one another. We set the alarm for the morning news.
When we woke in my bed next morning amid fuscous, scatological oils, and sculpture decked with bras, we were all over the talkshows, talking. Me spitting whiskies, puffing away, an arm around my beaming bro, the retard. Cut to reveled swirls of glitter, strobe. Neon, with the thwack of bass. Then again, me unadvisedly loving, smiling, making officious jokes and innuendo to the microphone woman, just a girl. By the time I had 2, 3, and 4 who joined us for breakfast out of my house (Dancer 4 had come by after watching, to congratulate me nude), the phone was ringing, it was the evening shows—the late shows—wanting to interview, have me on with the Sun to tape that afternoon, would I be interested, as if they had to ask. These were my nine hundred seconds of fame—and I had to share. They were mutual, like the moon; I had to be gracious about it, make nice.
Curtain? I can barely remember that there was anything before it. A day of powderpuffs, applying makeup to the forehead sheen, green room sandwich trays with veggies wrapped in plastic netting, a last check of my fly; banter with the Sun he perfected quickly for a deficient, but exasperating for even average mental life. Though the Sun’s brilliance was that you couldn’t tell which he really was, normal or a freak. I knew which was me, however: I missed Nunci’s seven calls, had dinner with an agent who said he wanted to represent my interests; the first time in my life I didn’t pick up the check.
As I watched myself in bed—television—with 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 (and six’s name I remember thinking was the same as three’s or, better not), they told me they thought it was so sensitive of me to have cared for the raving Sun, to have defended him the stupid idiot from the lesbian producers, incompetents themselves. I was so very kind, said the dancers, touching, first time in my life, I was eleemosynary, pitiful as pitying, altruism incarnate and so, safe to have group sex with. The television host asked what the Sun and I liked to do together, and before I could answer, the Sun jumped up, sat on my lap and posed, smooching at my cheek. Then again, our famous picture flashed up between the tangle of bodies on my bed, and I looked, on screen, like a transvestite mother, seated suffered in the front row because of minor handicap, dim eyes or faint of hearing, cradling my whiteclad babe—an overgrown infant in brilliant spandex, joyously just taken off the Cross.
This was the same photograph that made the morning paper, and the mornings’ after that. I did radio, too, we did, rush-hour, drive-time, then in the afternoons again a television program taped the Sun and I (he in costume, as always, and maybe even in character still; me as me but in an incongruous suit) taking a walk together in the Park, and this was the Sun’s concept, holding hands. Then, sharing a molten sundae. Hotdog gobbling from both ends, gulped. His brother was always off on the sidelines, coordinating, just out of frame. By now I was certain he’d put the Sun up to this. The Sun began wearing sunglasses, third evening, right about when his counterpart had set. Darkness. Even if a sun wore glasses, I thought, it wouldn’t wear sunglasses.
Once I tried to write a novel myself. Everyone tries to write a novel, at least a book, at least once, everyone thinks or likes to think that they have a novel in them, a story that only they can tell that’s never any story at all, even if autobiography, called memoir, just vanity, preening. Everyone does it once, like having a child, which I haven’t done, or having sex. And thinking your child is the best, that sex with you is better than with anyone else.
I’m unmarried, obviously, and have no delusions about the quality of my life, which was excellent, or about my ability to preen:
I wrote my novel or began it on the backs of financial papers I’m sent, which tell me how much is left of what my father left me, how much interest it’s accrued last quarter—stocks go up, go down, go up. I never read them, these papers or prospectuses. I have four pages, though, four quarters written, taken me a year.
So far the book’s about (but I don’t like to plan ahead): a superhero, a regular man, nothing really special about him except that he makes money, he can’t help it. That’s his superpower, it’s inadvertent, he can’t not make money, anything he does, he does it with a profit, even ten minutes in the shower or on the toilet, his portfolio like the universe expands; if his hands feel a quarter in a pocket, when he reaches in again to touch himself, thin lining, there’s a roll of bills, and not singles or fives, hundreds, thousands, and he’s so proud of himself but the tragedy is that nobody, or nobody he talks to, in his neighborhood, anyway, seems to think that’s special, nobody’s particularly impressed by his power, even if unintentional, and that makes him sad, depressed (counseling, I joke that he goes to the same shrink as The Hovering Mother, The Indelible Man; prescription drugs, etc.), and then he stops even talking to the unimpressed people, forget donating money to them as he’d done previously to their worthy charities for diseases and peace, and talks only to himself instead and to those whose causes want but don’t deserve his money, sycophants like the woman who wanted to auction her baby online as an art project and wanted him to sponsor the legal due diligence, or the man who was into DJing in unexpected places, like hospitals, and in public restrooms, and needed new speakers because the cones of his old were water-damaged, smashed.
I’d slept with the entire female troupe by the end of our first week (it was only me and Nunci in previews). Every night the Sun rushed up to stage’s lip, knowingly, as if, always stopped in time, held himself from falling. Amid gasps, titters, no sunset. I, expectedly, was ensconced in the front row. My fellow producers, disgraced when reports of their dissatisfaction with the Sun were leaked, didn’t bother to show anymore, and so I had two extra seats, two front and center tickets to give out, but I left them empty, tore them up—I was too humiliated to be sat next to, too embarrassed to be seen.
Despite, the Sun and I were everywhere. It was better outside the theater, not by much, but workable, at first.
As summer turned to fall, the show was still selling out weekends, which wasn’t bad for Terpsichore. Though to keep up the interest, further engagements were scheduled, circled on my calendar in a red that should have flowed from wrists:
The Sun and I threw, and caught, the first pitch of The World Series. I wanted to pitch but the Sun couldn’t catch, was afraid of the ball and cried until they let him throw and he threw but wildly to the left, and squatting me in a sweaty mitt had to crawl around, buttocks roaring in the air, rooting with my free hand to retrieve, with an entire stadium of thousands laughing, even if encouragingly. A good sport. A loser. With such calm, perceived, such tolerance, I still could sleep with anyone I wanted, with the stadium whole. Baseball employs no cheerleaders, unfortunately, so I took home two college students, a beer girl. I was considered, sensitive. Husband material and so, father quality. We opened a Midtown corporate headquarters, the Sun and I, cut gold ribbons at Soho outlets. I did—the Sun didn’t allow himself to handle sharps. We even went on a game show one night, and would have won the jackpot grand prize together if I’d been allowed to answer the final final question (how many moons does Jupiter have? and the Sun says, I think seven hundred and thirty).
Still, the No Reservations hostess from the hot new seafood restaurant; an aspiring model, plus-sized Afric women’s fashion. But I had had enough of such emolument. Not missing Nunci with the brown/blonde hair, and buttocks like bathingcaps, but feeling ridiculous, talked down to, condescended into the pit, the flaming understage of immaturity, bottomless self-consciousness; the Sun beating his way into my crowded bedroom in the mornings—over the phone—asking if I wanted to take a yacht around Manhattan, a helicopter tour, or spend the night mixing signature cocktails at a club not even opened. Dance club. Nightclub. Same same, different night, women as thin as brass poles, as soft as velvet. First it had been his brother calling, Masterson, then the Sun directly, his people, a teenaged Hispano personal assistant. He said (the Sun, the Rico), we should be in the movies together, over breakfast, brunch, lunch. He wanted to open a restaurant with me or start a brand of sauces, dressings for salad. Microwavable pet foods. He’d get stoned on painkillers, then I’d be convinced he was disabled, autistic; one night he did this, he stood on a nightclub’s bar, took out his penis and yelled, I’m a retard, a tardy tard turd while flicking his huge—huger than mine—wang around and around and I was supposed to take this with a smile, indulge almost fraternally, support, protect. Like a girlfriend, or boxerbrief. The only equality you can grant a disabled person is hating them, I think, and hating them for the very fact of their disability. Dislike was so yesterday, I thought. Stop rationalizing; I made a show of wiping with napkins, tipped the tender in fifties.
I took the Sun home, went to mine alone: Put him in bed with his ripped magazine clippings, his inflatable sexpets of actresses we had just partied with, sad. His brother was snoring on a mat on the floor. Next season he’d direct a comedy about dead presidents, and he wanted to cast us, was sucking up to the Sun, now it was him begging favors. No dancing, Masterson had said, only a line or three of song. I wanted to step on his head, pillow him dead. Restraint. The script was being used as his pillow.
Next morning I called the Sun, which was a first, had him meet me in the middle of a snowstorm at the diner on his corner, not like the flashy places we’d begun frequenting with celebrity waitresses and megastar busboys, where even the dishwashers had cults and followings, but unprepossessing, wobbly yolk eggs and taters burnt for less than it costs to ride the subway, or around that; I hadn’t ridden the subway in years. The Sun was there first, which I’d planned on, because he had no control, had already ordered, was busy gorging.
I sat down, waved off the waiter. Not even coffee, didn’t need the menu. No carbs would detain me.
I fixed the blankness of his face in my own, said to him, I can’t see you anymore.
No one will sleep with me, they’ll all hate me, but this has been enough.
Jam spilled out from the Sun’s mouth to plop down as sweetening pulp in his coffee.
Today we go shopping for clothes!
No, I said, this is it. I don’t want to see you, I’m done with nice. With the sympathy, excuses, smiles, too many smiles. I’m over you, I’m finished. Don’t call me, don’t find me, ring ring, don’t even leave a message on voicemail, goodbye.
I stood up.
The Sun said, We can get earrings and tattoos!
I said, I want you out of my life, searched for the five bucks I’d prepared in my pocket, found ten, slammed them down on top of his toast, walked out to the icy street; hot inside my head. I walked blocks before I realized I was walking home. Static white, but also falling from the sky. I calmed, loosened my stoop, shook out my hands, looked around. People, normal people, unplugged. Abled. No cars on account of snowfall, no street, no sidewalk, only frozen whiteness, total, clear. Bundled children tossing out snowballs. Making new men and women from purity, making snowmen and snowwomen to return to purity, to melt. Stores, this early, closed. I browsed the world, caught a glint. The sun was following, just behind. I slipped, walked faster. Reflected there, there, in every shop window.
Joshua Cohen is the author of Four New Messages, Witz, A Heaven Of Others, Cadenza For The Schneidermann Violin Concerto, and others. He lives in Brooklyn.