Away Aloneby Fran Gordon
Let’s go back a few years before the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union, when I was on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in whatever state is most opposite that of grace, utterly ignorant, recently fired, watching my dog die in an apartment on 77th Street and Columbus Avenue, just across from the Museum of Natural History with its recreation of the cosmos, its remnants of thousands of years of lost civilizations, its cast of a skeleton of a rearing Barosaurus defending her young from an Allosaurus, its giant squid battling a sperm whale.
The dog’s dying was over in a matter of minutes—one, maybe three. He paused in front of the television, staring, as if in revulsion, and obstructed my roommate’s view of One Life to Live. Then, he began to shake, and an arc of ejaculate sliced the space between us and landed on my eyes. I was glad he didn’t suffer long. His keening call was cut off quickly by the fast-closing window of time and space. And he went out with a bang.
Pedro had broken up with me that morning, and Karl would soon come. And then there was my roommate, Guy. Guy directed reality shows. His most recent, Slightings, was based on high-profile celebrity snubbings. We’d met on one of my rare television incidents, wherein my hair was skunked so that I could play Susan Sontag in the Camille Paglia episode. The lens was vaselined. Revealing not a face but a mask of ghostly features caught in silver halide. A tourist of realities, I’d been the Marlboro girl in print ads for South America, for money. Sontag was one of the best looking women alive. And, a genius.
Urban legend then had it when Sontag’s apartment caught fire, she found, after a recent foray for truth and human dignity, that she didn’t have enough in the bank for a hotel. Her publisher enjoyed her lack of diffidence, a feeling so unshared as to make her one of the most maligned women alive. In the hearts of boys and men there is a dangerously exposed nerve that answers to the presence—or absence—of beauty. Like Ahkmatova, an intelligent woman’s beauty makes her seem, to hims, arrogant.
My father was rare, a sexist who loved and wasn’t threatened by a beautiful woman’s intellect. Perhaps he was, in thought not action, like Sontag’s ass-slapping publisher, a World War II vet who may have paid little for real books but bought no fakes, no J.T. Leroy (fake person), no James Frey (faked life), no the “best”: a former porn writer posing as an abused Native American (scalp that guy!). I suppose I could lie, say I read those books and they sucked. But I didn’t; the books could have been War and Peace for all I knew. As with Doestoevsky, Akhmatova, Pushkin, and Tolstoy, I was in love with the vet’s authors: T.S. Eliot, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Czesław Miłosz, Robert Lowell, John McPhee, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who spoke out against Stalin and was sent to a labor camp for eight years until he got cancer.
There wouldn’t be a warm corner for a whole month. Not even a doghouse. And fires were out of the question …Let your work warm you up, that is your only salvation.
Books kept me alive I think, in those years when I earned money pretending I was a real-life person in order to write fiction. But no one is immune to the pull of the “culture.” Solzhenitsyn’s reality show in Russia was cancelled due to low ratings.
Guy took me in after the cast car for Slightings sent to Washington Heights where I lived during the crack explosion, before 77th Street, was stripped of its tires and radio while the driver knocked at my splintered door (pasted with Victim Services alerts): Neighborhood Watch. Beware of Dog. Don’t Shoot.
The production was held up for half the day. Guy never blamed me. Instead, he “paid for my hotel.” “Why don’t you move into my basement for a few days, free of charge?’
“I couldn’t do that.”
“Why don’t you move in for $500 a month? I could use the cash. Reality’s just not what it was.”
He paid $2000, plus utilities. I did cartwheels in the basement, an entire floor with its own bedroom and bathroom! But there were some difficulties living with Guy. The day I was fired, for instance. I’d wanted to disappear. But when I turned my key in the lock of our door, I hear the strains of “Gypsy!” Guy, you picked a bad time to get needy on me. I thought about turning back, but with no place else to go, I opened our door, and there he was, dressed like Ethel Merman. Again.
“I just want a man, a real man, not a pansy boy. Why can’t I find one? I mean, I played football, I’m a pretty butch guy. Not in a forced or affected way,” he qualified, adjusting his breasts.
“Your date was a bust huh?”
He bit his lip, nodded. “Look at me,” he said. “Do I give you any reason at all to think I’d want to spend an evening at Barney’s?”
“Not at all.”
“I just want a good steak, a few brews, and a man. I just want something hard, something safe,” he sobbed.
“I know, Guy. I know.”
I understood his needs, his means of escape, his ardent ambiguities. I had my own issues. I tried to hide these—and his sexuality from mother—but she nonplussed me, “He likes the doilies I sent you.”
In the moments following Clark’s, our male Dalmatian’s, fatal heart attack, Guy and my gender roles were traditional. I collapsed into a heap of helplessness; he remained in control. “Guy, do something! Please somebody stop it! Call the hospital. God… Clark… somebody!”
“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” played. Blinded by our dog’s semen, which was beginning to sting, I slumped, crumpled against the wall, just feet from where I’d soothed Ethel, then watched Clark die. Guy picked up the phone.
I cried like a baby. First Pedro, then my job, now Clark. Pedro’s leaving became an equivocal afterthought. The lost job meant I might have to work on more reality shows. And then there was Clark. Or, there wasn’t. Clark had been my solace, and now he was gone. Each evening, he’d rested his head, heavy as a large print Russian novel, in my lap as we sprawled on the carpet watching old movies (he’d stayed with me all night after we watched The Man Who Would Be King). My father had sent me a late-night PBS listing for the film, with one line: There are places we should never go. Clark’s body against mine promised protection, his look always said, you are the most desirable creature I know. It was a look one rarely sees on dogs. Often he’d grind his teeth. Sometimes, he lay there for hours, just panting, while his reddened member stood up, curious as to its neglect. Still, he’d lie with dignity. Guy brought us bowls of ice cream and knelt to scold Clark. He’d grab his snout. (Clark allowed no other man this.) “Stop that!” Guy said.
Clark, bored by these orders, offered a clipped explanation, low and cool—“Grrrrl”—then turned to share my ice cream.
Sure, it was disturbing, but it was Clark, and it was love. Besides, with my father a world away, I needed protection. Guy was generous, but he didn’t bite.
When Pedro came over, he sat in the corner, far from Clark. After the Snausages incident, he knew not to get closer. “Let’s go to bed,” he begged. “I have to be at One Life to Live early.”
Clark, magnificent in his musculature, stiffened and faced Pedro. His eyes—one brown, the other blue—flashed primordial fury. “Grrrr,” he said, low and deadly. “Grrrr.”
Although I was the subject of Clark’s unrequited passions, I was not his partner. Grief stricken, I still had to tend to Lois. She was a gentle, skittish Dalmatian, the object of Clark’s affections (if not his desires). They were dogs, straight dogs, and they didn’t have sex. Poor Lois. She was spared grisly details. Guy hid the body in his bedroom, then cleaned up the rug. I sat sobbing. Guy carried the travel cage up from the basement and placed it as far from the corpse as possible on the first floor of the apartment, eighty feet or so. Then he opened the back door and whistled for Lois; she ran across the five feet of green that was our yard, but when she stepped inside, her smile—from scaring the neighbor’s iguana—drooped. Lois began to shake. I pet her but she continued to shake; retreating willingly to the cage, she pulled the door shut with her snout, and there, she shook for days.
By the time I pulled myself together, Guy had already planned a wake for later that night. He selected music—Ennio Morricone to start with—and put an assortment of hors d’oeuvres in the oven (he cooked and ironed—I could only refinish furniture). Now he was on the phone. “Who are you calling?” I said.
“The many who have known and loved Clark.” Guy knew as well as I did that many had been bitten by Clark—few loved him. But the dead are always popular. And Guy was a casting director; actors who went to the opening of an envelope for the chance to run into him would go to the last rites of his dog. Plus, any party of Guy’s promised free drugs; our place would be packed. I looked at the clock, it was later than I thought.
“Shit,” I said. “I told Tang I’d meet her at Columbus by seven.”
“Well, hurry back, the guests will be here soon.”
“Tang was named for her newest hair color. People wanted new identities in New York—or, sometimes, they just wanted to exist in their own, the being they’d been born as, finally nurtured by the big city. Tang had been the star of a lingerie campaign until the director of the television commercials got her pregnant. She came into this world Marlene, the name I then coveted. That changed with childbirth to Mang, the only pronunciation her daughter, Tilda, could manage, so Mang let her be. Besides, she wanted no part of “mom.” Now Mang, a vegan, modeled furs exclusively. “Beats working at Woolworth’s.” She stood fifty-feet high over the Hudson, faced away from the Chelsea Piers where glamour girls and pretty boys bent low over married Long Island men, for a five or a fix.
In the basement, I reached for something black. Almost everything in my closet was still black. I’m color blind, like my Father—but that wasn’t the reason I was still wearing black. After mother told me I’d have to wear a black wedding dress if I had sex before marriage, I’d decided to make things easier for myself. But the night was for Clark, so I squeezed into his favorite dress, an old Betsy Johnson that wasn’t all black and was the widow Lois’s favorite as well. I remember the day I bought it—a splurge but worth it. I’d burst in, greeted Lois and Clark quickly, then ran to the basement to change. They hung their heads expectantly over the railings. I emerged before them in all their glory, showing them what they’d already suspected. Well, Lois knew I was human. If, as Nabokov said, Man cannot take too much reality, Woman, and female mammals, like lions, or Lois, have always been in closer contact with reality, just compensation for being deprived idealism.
The dress was Dalmatian, long-sleeved and short-skirted. It clung to my body, turned me sleek and sinuous. And there were so many spots! Tails wagged. We all walked proudly and, with Clark, safely in Central Park; I even wore heels.
At the sight of me again in dog, Lois in her cage stopped mid-shiver. She wagged her tail in remembrance of happier times. But after a minute, she went back to vibrating. I kissed Guy on the cheek, felt his own faint tremor, and left.
It was almost 8:20pm by the time I reached Columbus. Tang glared. “I was fired,” I said.
“Yes. And Clark’s dead.” His last moments played again in my mind. I shut my eyes but tears slit my lids.
“Oh my god, that’s horrible,” Tang handed me her napkin. It had orange lip prints.
“I know…well he was genetically predisposed to heart problem things…we were told…”
“I know, but he seemed so strong…so…grrrr.”
‘The drinks are on me tonight. Your money’s no good here.”
“My money’s no good anywhere.” I held up the credit card I’d left on a grocery store’s scanner to scramble its magnetic strip. During peak hours the bar staff was too busy to ring up the company for verification. We ordered two rounds of Johnny Walker Black and left a big cash tip. The drinks went straight to my head—it’d been almost been a day since I’d eaten. I reached for the bar mix, but the pretzel nuggets looked like Kibbles.
“We should go, “ I said. “We’ll be late for the wake.”
The wake was in full swing when we arrived. The Village People’s “In the Navy” blasted from the stereo and a line snaked around the ground level of the apartment, into then out of Guy’s bedroom, the viewing room. Guy dressed as the fireman in Clark’s honor and insisted that all guests pay visual homage to Clark, whether they wanted to or not. Fiona, an actress accustomed to a life of crying on The Guiding Light had fallen upon the body and could not be consoled. She’d never met Clark. I’d never met her. She came with Pedro. Guy insisted he come—and if he refused, Guy threatened to screen the only surviving copy of Penitentiary Pantings (starring Pedro Culo a.k.a. Pedro pre-soap). Guy demanded that attention be paid. Also, he enjoyed looking at Pedro’s bottom. “It’s too soon after the break up,” said Pedro—then brought a date.
He towered over Fiona. In my heels, I was taller than them both. Granted they were five-inch heels. Pedro lingered over Clark’s remains, then, after scanning the room to see if he was being observed (he was, by me), flicked ashes on the body. I walked away—it was just a body.
Tang had politely tried to refuse the viewing, but there she was, on line, a few feet away from the body. She shut her eyes, but because we still hadn’t had dinner, her usually perfect sense of balance was thrown off. She tottered on her Blahnik spikes, slipped on Pedro’s crumpled cigarette package, reeled toward the bed, and landed on Clark. Then, she screamed. Guy came running. He’d misinterpreted her horror of death as grief, smiled, and offered her a joint. Tang shook her head. I snatched the joint. “Can I get you a drink,” said Guy.
“No. No thanks.”
Guy pulled a baggie of powder from his pocket: cocaine.
Again Tang waved him off.
“More for me.” Guy shrugged, reached again in his pocket, and with the flourish of a foot servant, presented her with pills, blue like a robin’s egg.
“No, really Guy, I’m fine.”
Next, he produced a garden hose that leaked black fumes from its nozzle.
I hadn’t seen that before. Might have to try it.
Tang kissed me goodbye and headed quickly for the door.
Lois seemed less spooked. She’d always liked parties. Now, the distractions dulled her pain. She even stopped shaking to watch a couple kiss, then turn and stare at the green blasting behind them in the blender. I wondered, for a moment, what it was.
Lois knew what was what in Guy’s bedroom, and, head tilted, she puzzled at the line of people that waited, wanting to be on its verge. She was content to stay in her cage. Guests tried to feed her through the bars. But Lois, with her little round belly, refused food.
My dead grandmother’s portrait, laden with lines of cocaine, was passed around—“like a sack of potatoes” I could hear her say—in death her life turned upside down. When the lines of cocaine were gone, Pedro cut more across her face.
“Do you know that creep?” A thirtyish boy, much older than I then, shifted beside me on the couch.
He pointed to Pedro.
“I’m not sure.”
“That bastard took my part. That was my role in One Life to Live.” He turned to face me. His eyes were green, hard in a confused sort of way. I was a sucker for green eyes. “I’m Karl, with a K.”
Karl seemed anxious, overconfident. I wondered if he would’ve dumped ashes on my dog.
“Do you smoke?” I said.
“Uh, no, I’m trying to quit.”
“Me too.” We both lit up. He looked toward the bedroom. I hated that damn dog, but Guy’s a good guy.”
“Clark was a good boy.”
“Yeah right. Bit me twice when Guy lived near me on 72nd Street.”
“You still live there?”
“Yeah. Want to come see my furniture sometime?”
“I refinish furniture.”
Karl squinted like Clark. I never knew if the look meant to change, capture, or destroy the object before it. I considered this, considered Karl, lit another cigarette; and thought it was all the same. Species, go figure. “What else do you do besides act?”
“I train dogs.”
I was silent.
If Guy had given me a go at Clark when he was a pup, he’d have never gotten that way.”
“Clark was a good boy.”
Later that night, I saw Karl’s new furniture. He’d rammed a lot of wood into so small a space. “I like Mission,” he pointed to a long-armed rocker. “But it doesn’t seem right for my lifestyle.” He confessed that his fiancée had vacated when he’d been fired from a Broadway show. While he shopped for Stickley, she slept with his replacement. Eventually, she left altogether.
I awoke the next morning sprawled atop Karl. He seemed surprised to see me and feigned being squashed by my weight. My arms were bruised. I had a headache. I remembered darkness, brine, the intensity of us like a box of eels hurled onboard. To thrash until we dried.
I needed air, orange juice. My grief increased. I dressed quickly and left.
At home, Guy sat on the couch atop rumpled sheets. Lois, still shivering, huddled beside him. “C’mon Lo, you gotta eat.” He coaxed her with fresh salmon from Zabar’s, but she nosed more than nibbled. “Hungry?”
“Yours is in the kitchen.”
I noticed the den had been spot cleaned and vacuumed. Still, the cryptal smell clung to it. “It’s so stuffy in here.” Guy spoke with his head lowered. It wasn’t the space but his skin that restricted.
Outside, the day was gray. Inside, a fine white dust covered every surface. I ran my finger along the sideboard, tasted. My tongue felt weird, I stopped feeling, my beleaguered throat (oh no …) became comfortably numb. Still hungry, I went to the kitchen. The glasses and dishes had all been washed, and on the counter a bagel awaited. I took a bite—then noticed the bedroom, its barricade: an overstuffed cow-print chair burned by butts laying on its side like an anthrax victim. I knew then the body would cause problems for all of us.
But before I could broach this, the phone rang. “Karl, buddy!” Guy raised his eyebrows, covered the phone. “He likes me—maybe I’ll get lucky.”
“You want to speak to who?” Guy noticed last night’s dress, mine, and covered the phone, “You got lucky.”
“I wouldn’t say that—and I don’t think he likes me.”
Guy handed me the phone.
“No I have no plans,” I said to Karl.
“He’s my kind of guy,” said Guy. “He’s a man’s man—you know?”
Karl showed up that night with flowers for us both. He sniffed terrier-like at the air, poked at the barricade, then placed his hand on Guy’s shoulder. “It’s not right man. Clark’s not in there. He’s gone—you know?” Guy stared into the orchids, then cut a white rock to quiet Karl. I lit incense to cover the musk. Karl cracked open the bottle of wine he’d bought.
Guy popped a VHS of old Star Trek episodes into the VCR, and brought out two pairs of Spock’s pointy ears. “These are real! I bought them in L.A. at Christies,” Guy put one pair on and gave me the other, too big for my small ears. I handed them to Karl.
“This isn’t reality, this is fantasy,” Karl mimicked the voice of Uhuru, and pointed his finger as phaser at Guy. “You wanted excitement? How’s your adrenaline? Now get in the closet.”
“No. You get in the closet,” said Guy.
“No. You get in the closet,” said Karl.
I got up off the couch and stood in front of the television. “Do you want to watch, or what?”
“Or what,” said Karl.
I stared at him, one eyebrow up.
“Okay, okay,” he said, “Wow, Uhuru is hot for that space chick.”
The doorbell rang; Guy got up to answer it. Karl snorted one last line and slipped the mirror beneath a couch cushion. “You better stop with that stuff or you’ll suffer space lag.” Cocaine cock dismayed me.
“I’ll be Captain Kirk,” Karl said. “You can be the intriguing female life form.” Before I could say Sulu, he’d dragged me into the kitchen. The neighbors, a couple from Heidelberg, consoled Guy in the foyer. But they couldn’t hide their good cheer. Clark had terrified them. The younger woman had gone into paroxysms at the sight of him with her poodle’s sweater in his jaws. The poodle had slipped out unscathed. I apologized and brought over a roomier sweater, just in case.
“You shouldn’t have,” Guy said. “What is it?”
“Clark’s favorite,” said the elder.
Except for a sniffle, Guy was silent. He tried to keep the girls in the hall, but, compelled by the barricade, they pushed past.
“Mein Gott! Guy! Er hund ist los.” They spoke of transmigration. Guy kept his distance.
Meanwhile, by the blender, borders were being blurred. Karl groped beneath my skirt. I thought about the girl’s gift, its need for refrigeration. “What is head cheese?” I said.
“Meat.” Karl procured a filet knife, and slashed my only pair of La Perla panties. I groaned. He picked them up, stuffed them in my mouth, and kept his hand there. I breathed hard through my nose, and the world turned blue. I was unable to bite. Full of my taste, unable to breathe, I looked pleadingly at him. His gaze was fugitive. Like a constable’s, it said move along now. His eyes held nothing for me. Their green was not the Nile; it was like lawn—a green the color of compromise. I heard the crack of a belt, but I didn’t laugh as in childhood. Instead, I turned to grab it. “You’re too fucking tall,” Karl said. I kept my shoes on. He plunged upward—and let go his grip. His moan was brief and explosive, but it didn’t sound so ecstatic—more like he’d just purged his bowels.
I couldn’t come with a dead dog in the next room.
I looked behind and saw Karl’s cock glisten beneath the fluorescent kitchen lights. I had his, our, knife. The German accents beyond confirmed my dread: the girls had heard. Ashamed, I had to get out. The girls, in the hall, tried to stay. Karl put his belt on in the kitchen entrance. Guy said, “I feel a Grand Mal coming on.” and walked the girls out. Still holding the belt, I looked at Karl and pointed to my underwear, “Pick those up.” Then he followed me to the basement.
“It’s cold down here.” I slipped into black leather pants, gave Karl’s cock a perfunctory lick, and strapped his hands to my bedpost with his belt. Then I did a few cartwheels, went to brush my teeth, brought the electric toothbrush back, and eased it, backward, up his ass.
“What the fuck?” His cock jutted.
I bound his erection with my panties then straddled his stomach. Unwrapped him and threw the serrated black silk on a lavender-carpeted floor.
But when I withdrew the device, he moaned and his hips rose.
I took off the leather pants, and knelt, my head over his sex. My thighs were slick; I lowered myself onto him and came. “Oh no,” he said. “Ohh oh ohhhh.” And followed. His face full of disbelief, “No.” He’d been emptied. I’d fulfilled my desire, and writhed, shameless, ashamed. Guilty.
“Witch,” he said.
I left him tied there. Went to sleep upstairs on the floor.
“What’s up?” said Guy.
“Take the couch.”
“No. No. I’m good.” I drifted off. When I awoke, Karl was freed, standing in the foyer.
“Get rid of that damn dog.” He slammed the door.
I lay still, nose to the rug. Guy slapped my bottom with Variety. “Bad,” he said. “You’re bad.”
I found no work the next day. When I returned home the next day the smell had diminished, but the barricade remained.
I moved the cow and crept into the bedroom.
The bed was made, a box by its foot. Guy had wrapped Clark’s remains in layers of plastic and sealed them in the airtight bridal chamber where he’d stored his Sophia Loren Houseboat ensemble.
Days passed. The widow Lois grew thin. Guy let the laundry go; another funky smell wafted. I gathered his shirts and went to the dry cleaners. Mark, the owner, had a Dalmation named Chester. I invited them both for dinner that night.
By the time Guy got home, I was covered in grease burns. The eggplant parmesan fared worse. “I wanted to make you something special.”
“Oh—my—god, you killed Karl.”
“I invited Mark and Chester over.”
Guy looked relieved. “Why?” he said.
“Mark, for you.”
Lois sneezed three times when the guests arrived. Mark stank of solvents, and Chester needed a bath. Guy led them out in the yard to play. I watched from the window. Guy seemed taller. Mark, softer. Chester nosed Lois’s butt; she snapped at him; he nosed; she snapped… She scratched at the door, came back in, and crawled into her cage. Kept paws over nose as if to quiet sighs. Chester pissed in the corner. We all picked at the eggplant, then went to get ice cream. Mark bought us each a cone, plus a dish to bring Lois. “Gee, thanks buddy,” said Guy.
“Sorry about Chester. How about we go to the park next week, sans chiens,” Mark winked.
Guy was radiant. “Cute,” he said on the way home. “Still, couldn’t he have just said dogs in English?”
The next day we drove to a puppy farm in Westchester. Without thinking, we settled on the only male pup—fat and dopey. We called him Bubba and gave him to Lois.
At first, she was annoyed. But Bubba distracted her; his needs sapped her sorrow. We all went on walks through Strawberry Fields; the leaves were turning brilliant reds. I dragged Bubba half the time, carried him the rest.
Guy did less coke, wore more cologne. Mark kept him busy, but still smelled of solvent. I worried about combustion. Ate dinner every night from a box. Chicken salad. Seaweed and I’m not sure what, something chewy. Fried dumplings. Feta tomato noodle salad. Bless the Korean delis. They feed us and, with their lights on all night, cut street crime in half.
After the something chewy I was still hungry, so I made myself a box of macaroni and cheese. The orange powder clumped perfectly. I finished a dish and fell asleep, seeking safety in flannel footed pajamas, Dr. Dentons, size 14.
“That’s not a human child, that’s a dog!” Karl snapped.
I shot up from the couch. Bubba blinked in incomprehension. He must have waited until I was asleep to cuddle up. “How did you get in?”
“The neighbors let me through the front. Your door was open.”
Shit. Guy must have been late for another date.
“What are you wearing?”
He looked hard at the flannel. There was no easy access.
“You look ridiculous.”
I was silent.
“I should start him young. Watch…” Bubba looked away. Karl called Lois. “Sit.”
Karl rubbed her belly.
Bubba put his head in my crotch.
“Bubba!” Karl yanked him away.
I grabbed Karl’s balls, squeezed, and did not let go. “You leave him alone.”
Karl dove on me.
Bubba squealed and wriggled off the couch.
Karl was rock hard. I unzipped his pants.
I rubbed his belly.
His hips jerked forward and he whined.
I stroked lower.
Bubba responded with a sneezed hurumph, then went to the couch to sniff the cum. He looked at Karl, one eye drooped. “Sit, Bubba!’ Karl pushed his backside down.
I nipped Karl on his hand. Bubba growled at him. “Good boy,” I told Bubba.
Karl scrubbed the sofa after pouring salt on the spot. Bubba lolled, licking it. “Stop!” Karl demanded. Bubba snapped at Karl’s offended hand. Left as it turned out.
I scratched Bubba’s ears and gave Karl a washcloth wrapped around ice. Guy walked in before he could cover the wound. “Bubba do that?”
Guy paused, then turned to me. “Dr. Denton’s?”
Guy tilted his head. “Don’t you guys ever go out?”
I dressed and we went to see Fatal Attraction. It bored me.
I still wonder why Karl was compelled by me. In love as in literature, choices amaze.
But that was not love, and this is not literature. Perhaps, my sensibility—overstimulated by loss—predisposed me to new emotions.
We were on the edge of a precipice. The eighties were winding down. “Don’t look at your feet,” said Karl. The crowd below pogo-ed and pulsed, Trio babbled from above, Da Da Da. Guy had brought us to the party; we were finally going places. Caesar, an artist who did sets for Slightings, was our host. The Meisel gallery had just given him a show; to celebrate, he booked a dozen young boys in briefs to act out history. “History is a roadmap,” said Caesar. But men don’t like to ask for directions, I thought. We’d blown in at the Ides of March. Karl recoiled. His character on One Life to Live had that week been felled by a chandelier, shot at three times, and pierced by a poison dart.
Karl knew I wouldn’t embarrass Guy in front of his friends. He could get away with his discipline. Anorexic arms linked in Sapphic touches circumflexed the balcony—Caesar has stolen a bunch of dummies during his stint, several years before, as a window dresser at Barney’s. The rail their arms made was never meant to bear the weight of a real body. Karl pushed me against this rail and yanked at my underwear. “Why did you wear these?” he held them in his left hand. “I told you not to.”
He raged at the incompatibility of his requirements with those of the outside world. He balled and reballed my panties in his hand like a page read over and over that remained incomprehensible. Then, he let them drop through the seemingly infinite space to the crowd. I felt vertigo. Karl pulled me back, hard on him, hard, then he gripped my neck and began to squeeze. I don’t like being choked. The lights around the dance floor blinked out a warning, their flash signaled the end of a way of life. Off in the corners, men wanked like children.
You’re hurting me. I couldn’t speak. The railing gave way. “Stop hurting,” I said as we soared. I saw black spots. When I saw the baluster skid atop the wave of dancers—I knew we’d gone too far.
On the day of Clark’s funeral, Guy and Mark took Clark to be buried near the Hudson, on the land by Mark’s country home. Lois fell for a Dalmatian from Brooklyn named Brutus. She had a few happy months before she died giving birth to nine speckled pups. We nursed them with eyedroppers. Mark stayed less in Manhattan and more in the country. In time, he went back to his wife. Guy took the pups to New Orleans to live near his mom, around less disaster. Eventually, he found a position producing the local news.
Sometimes I shiver and wonder why it’s not me who’s gone.
Oh—I survived the fall with a broken leg. Karl broke both his arms, and his character on One Life to Live was reduced to playing an accident victim in a body cast. It could have been worse.
Fran Gordon, founder of the National Art Club's PAGE reading series, also directs FDU's MFA in Writing reading series. Her novel, Paisley Girl was a finalist for QPB's New Voices Award. She teaches in The New School Writing Program, and for The Pan African Literary Festival. Classified, written for Gordon's father, a liberal agent of defense intelligence examines the intersection of public events with private lives.