Category Archives: Godardish

Notes for a Story about What Happened

photo by SG

I’m going to tell you a lie and you’re going to believe it. You will have no choice. I will tell you the truth, too, but that you’ll doubt. Also inevitable. The lie will be seductive because it is something you already know.

I didn’t love her.

I got the call on the train, at lunchtime, and believe it or not I was actually watching the news (the Nth iteration of it) on a ceiling-mounted monitor as I answered the phone, swaying with the train. A Hollywood coincidence. The Malaysian with his infuriating grin. I was thinking give me ten minutes with that cunt in his padded cell. I was thinking ten minutes and a hammer. I could do it in five. Hello?

-Is this Steven?

She was five foot seven, about one hundred and twenty pounds. I don’t know if they weighed her after; what the procedure is; what she even looked like. Put her on a scale in a plastic bag. I do know that she’d just signed up for a fitness course and that is what always angers me when I think about it, the time and effort she wasted. Getting back in the game. But then some stupid cunt with his grand ideas. His belief system. Some vast sea of stupid cunts with their million raised fists called a belief system.

Note: the fistfight we got into in Limbo.

Note: also, the argument in class with Herr Wieland about the word “Jew” in the story and how I then lost my job over it. He hadn’t written the story: I had. It was a published story. Wieland claimed the term was pejorative.

Note: tie it together. Something about violence. But what?

-Is this okay? Does it hurt?

-No, it’s good. It’s okay, it’s good.

-Can she hear us?

-She’s asleep.

-We shouldn’t wake her.

-Are you saying I’m noisy?

-I’m just saying.

-You’re sweet.

But I’m not. I am what I am, and I was doing what I wanted to her, without asking first, on the gold batik bedspread on the fold-out sofa in her borrowed living room, capitalizing on her position of relative weakness as a single mother of 28 without any real career prospects. New age music down low. Or a recording of the ocean with gulls dubbed in. The inevitable candles. The inevitably post-coital, anticipated-with-genuine-dread looks of searching depth. The kinds of looks that make one’s face feel as though it’s crawling with tiny people. I buried my nose in her hair. Went to the bathroom. Anything to escape those searching looks. Jogging with Ginger the next day, I was too out of breath to go into detail. I said,

“What can I say? The earth didn’t move.”

“For you or for her?”

He gestured at a rain-glazed croissant of merd on the sidewalk and we veered. We usually veer together; this time we veered apart. Significant? Ginger, whose man-of-the-world self-image has a tendency to grate at precisely the moment I most need his worldly advice, said, “Any woman who lets you fuck her in the ass is the kind of woman you should never under any circumstance fuck in the ass.”

“So the only acceptable option is forcible sodomy, in your opinion.” I was so out of breath that it ruined my timing and killed the joke.

“Were you wearing a condom?”

“Were you?”

When?”

“Whenever.”

Last night she came back to me again: most of her hair burned off and half of her face crunchy black. I was thinking I hope I don’t see any bone. Don’t let me see the bones. Any skull or ribs or lidless eyeball. She was trying to kiss me and I was forced to be honest.

It was August of that year that I bumped into Indra while walking along Golt Strasse. I hadn’t seen her since the early part of the last decade, but walking along Golt Strasse on a Friday afternoon is a reliable method for bumping into long-lost Berliners of a certain generation. The veterans of this fossilizing in-crowd still haunt the area on weekends, shocking (and reassuring) each other with toddlers and wrinkles and receding hairlines, waltzing towards the same precipice with touching synchrony, clearing the way for the next great wave.

I knew her from the golden age on the cusp between my boredom and my stupid youth, an appetizing girl whose last name I never caught, one of the faces I’ll always associate with my first few ecstatic months in Berlin, before my increasing familiarity with the language, and its native speakers, ruined everything. Beware the expat who masters his German. We had always flirted and nothing more. We never risked touching (each assumed the other had fucked or been fucked too much), but had sometimes exchanged a certain kind of laden look on the packed dance floors of an era during which it now seems to me we all had been rather hysterically afraid to go home.

And here she was sitting in sunlight. That same black-haired girl, now a woman, or old enough to claim the title, sitting on a bench in front of a restaurant a few doors down from the café I had always seen her showing off in, looking almost exactly as she had a decade before. Half-Indian, father German, she was a mischling, as the Germans put it. Coin-colored, round-faced, voluptuous under spectacular black blades of hair. I jogged to her, grinning, and was rewarded with a crushing hug that felt more genuine than what I’d expect. Bent by the hug, I smiled meaninglessly at a toddler seated near her on the bench, hoping the child wasn’t hers, but she was.

“This is Jinny,” said Indra, introducing me to Jinny, but not Jinny to me (most probably because she couldn’t recall or had never known my name) as I took a place between them. I toasted Jinny with a Coke I ordered.

“To once being young,” I said, but Jinny just stared and Indra corrected me. She tapped her temple. “To staying young,” she smiled. “Both of us.”

Which made me feel extremely old. Several times during the conversation, Indra touched my arm and stared unwaveringly in my eyes and invited me to visit her in Bali. She painted a dreamy picture of a murmuring sea and laid-back days and Caligulan disco nights and I was touched to realize that she was looking for a man.

“Anyway” she said, as I eventually stood to leave, “Let’s hook up soon. We should really do something. It’s so good to see you again! Ciao!”

Jinny waved back (note: as though prompted) as I saluted a jaunty goodbye from the corner. It was the end of my lunch break.

I’d lucked into this incredible corporate gig, teaching creative writing to the executives of a company called Eurologika. The CEO wanted his underlings not only to speak and write English fluently but to be able to do so creatively. He wanted them to do that supposedly American thing called thinking outside the box. A dreadful cliché, yes, but I had a year’s contract.

Herr Weiss, Herr Brückner, Herr Richter, Herr Gumpenhölzl, Herr Wieland, Herr Woyczechowski, Herr Sonnabend, Herr Schlegel.

The first day (the class was on a Friday afternoon, in a conference room with a view of the canal, when most people with good jobs were already wherever they’d be spending the long weekend) saw me facing down the bemused tolerance/ mild contempt, for non-famous artists, of the typical German of a certain class. If you’re so good, why haven’t we heard of you? What is it that you do, exactly, that a hundred other people off the streets, with a little time on their hands, can’t do as well or better?

I turned the tables on them: what is it that you do?

“We design and manage systems protocols for capital storage and retrieval patterns on the Hannover model,” sighed Herr Wieland, the youngest in the room, whose headset never, in the three months I knew him, left the bluish egg of his balding head.

“Can you repeat that in plain English?”

He couldn’t. Pressing my momentary advantage, I said: “Your race, your class, your sexual preferences, national identity, earliest childhood memories, religion, education and professional standing are all stories that you have been told, and that you re-tell to others, without having a clue what the techniques and mechanics of storytelling are all about. I’m surprised you’d rather be so sloppy and haphazard about something you will do for every waking moment of your life. And in your dreams, too, and long after you die, possibly. You will be storytelling, but you don’t even really know how to. Is that a satisfactory state of affairs?”

-Is this Steven?

-Yes.

-Steven, you don’t know me. This is Indra’s sister Padme.

I was on the train during the lunch break on the ninth Friday of the class. Classes were held from 14:00 until 15:00, then a forty five minute lunch break, after which another hour or so until I dismissed them to fly off to Ibiza or Gstaad. On this ninth Friday we were critiquing the first bona fide assignment I’d given them: write a 600-word story about another member of the class.

Note: every single story they handed in was about me.

Note: exactly 600 words each.

I was staring at that little fucker’s monkey-grin face on the monitor. I’d assumed it was Ginger, calling with a new number. I looked at the phone and said,

-Excuse me?

-It’s about Indra.

A light dawned as I frowned at the monitor. Note: It’s astonishing how much thinking we’re capable of in a millisecond. Goosebumps. The coroners had shipped the recovered cellphones to the next of kin.

-Wow.

-I second that emotion.

-Your English is pretty good, you know that?

-I had good teachers.

-Is that was this is about? Free lessons?

-(laughs) I’m so glad I called you. Are you glad I called you?

-Of course I am.

-You’re not just saying?

-Would I tell you if I were?

-What do you want to do now?

Note: again the dream. She’s burning and moaning and I’m wondering if it’s pleasure. Does it hurt to burn? In the dream I’m not sure. I turned all the lights on afterwards and watched a little television before falling asleep again. Coda?

(Work this in as dialogue-possibly ironic: I firmly believe that you fake your own reality. What is a lie but the truth with a little talent? What is life but death pretending? When a katydid pretends to be a leaf, do we call that lying? The hawk moth caterpiller resembles a snake, and I resemble a hawk moth caterpiller. I lie, I get laid, I move on.)

Herr Schlegel, who looks like a JFK who’s made it to his 70th birthday with thick white hair intact and now only dresses in black, is confused. He is Herr Wieland’s picador, just as Herr Brueckner, with his off-puns and aphorisms, is the rodeo clown who breaks things up when I challenge Wieland’s arrogance; Wieland’s default pretense that any information he doesn’t already own is trivial. Everyone else is the audience. The coliseum. Schlegel says, “This story of yours, Herr Instructor, is it true?”

Note: classes were cancelled after the 12th week, but I was paid for the year.

“Define true.” At which, of course, Herr Wieland snorts.

“Did it happen as you have written it?”

“Does that matter?”

“If it is fiction, it is mere pornography. If it is true, I think, in all honesty, one must say the writer has no shame.”

“By revealing his truth, the writer reveals the reader to himself, Herr Schlegel. It’s a sacrifice we’ve been obligated to make since before Mr. Joyce.”

“Nonsense. There is nothing of me in this story!”

Wieland picks up his copy of the stapled pages and flips them until he comes to an excerpt, which he reads with such excitement, such theatrical disgust and sarcasm, that he can barely pronounce the words, let alone contain himself.

It’s the posture of submission that turns you on: the oiled flesh, brown as furniture, rich in the flamelight. The ass up and the head down with all that hair gushing forth, gushing out, a fountain of crude oil spilling over the edge and pooling on the Persian carpet at the foot of the futon, the face inclined politely away, gasping at the wall in a prayerful rhythm, the grunts of assent or helpless recognitions. So many groans are just prayer, and so much of prayer is just begging, and almost all begging is the music of pain. Her guttural prayers and my flickering shadow on her wall and those glistening streaks of her mud on me: what’s more exciting than that?

“Goatfuckers.”

Ginger, with his Jesuit upbringing, says “Don’t start.”

“Don’t start what?”

“Don’t start that intolerance shit.”

We are back in Limbo, our old club, after two months of swearing off the smoke and the sweat and the alarming influx of rich kids in from Zehlendorf, simply because there is nowhere else to go. Twice we’d tried places where the sensation that hit us like a wall of digital locusts as we entered couldn’t even be identified as music. We’d tried places that looked and smelled like the decadent version of daycare. Sheepishly, we returned to the passé nightspot we’d sworn off, and three Turkish types in payment-plan suits and pastel loafers, sunglasses mired in their highly flammable jet-black hair, have pushed across our view of the dancefloor, tugging their blondes by the rings in their noses. Two are blondes, actually, and one is not.

I finish my drink. “What intolerance shit?”

Ginger says, “Oh, come on. Remember the day Indra flew back to Bali? You were so fucking relieved you bought me dinner. And now you’re playing the grieving fiancé. Boo fucking hoo.”

I pretend not to hear and move onto the dance floor, parting a metaphorical curtain, doing my American dance. Loose in the shoulders. Impossible for Germans and alien to Asians and instantly identifiable. That and my very good shoes. I dance from the periphery in, eyes on myself, easing towards the center. The three Turks and their escorts are trying out their modern dance lessons in the middle of the crowd and I am locked on the best-looking girl in their menagerie, the taller, thinner, slightly embarrassed and attractively reticent one in dark slacks, gold pumps and ruffled white collar and sleeves. She can’t be older than nineteen. Tossing her hair. They must have kidnapped her. First you look, and then you look away, and then they look, and then they look away. There’s a rhythm to it until your eyes meet and you can all but predict the future.

.

children are not the future: the old are, obviously; are you stupid?

photo by SG

The hour was late, so late that he could expect either to witness unquiet ghosts walking the halls of the hundred year old house or fetching harlots fellating donkeys on internet porn. Okay, “fetching harlots” is grandiose. But he had an education. He wasn’t some whatever in overalls with plaster on his knees. He was unhappy with his girlfriend and what else was there to do? Other than be a voyeur to a donkey at this late late hour. Or watch the ghosts walk. Or let the ghosts watch porn.

He ejaculated to the volume-down sound of braying. He realized that he’d reached a sort of low point and the aftermath felt exactly like eating a stick of butter. Or two. You just want to back away from your own saturation. To masturbate to a brief film about a pretty girl putting a donkey’s penis in her mouth and gagging explosively on half a pint of probably caustic semen means what about how one feels about either pretty girls or donkeys? But what a great word.

Harlot.

-But donkey should be an adjective.

His girlfriend, Gwenda, asleep downstairs, was a lawyer. Sleeping a lawyer’s off-the-clock sleep, her spare-time sleep. A fitness fanatic with a nice enough body but a not-entirely beautiful face. In fact she was plain. In some lights she was not even that. Let’s be frank. While her worked-on biceps and trim waist were no illusions, her substantial bust had turned out to be somewhat of a mirage when he’d unwrapped it, greedy hands trembling, unravelling the bulges into lots of cotton wadding and air.

-What was the name of that song about vaginal moisture? A big hit. Early ’60s.

There’s cheap porn for those who like women and expensive porn for those who don’t and plenty for those who aren’t sure. Very few are sure. Like almost everything, it’s funny when you think about it because, think about it, the point is, okay, you sit through a film, not always short, waiting patiently for the payoff which is basically some male (human or dog or donkey) ejaculating. The chowdery or birdshittish or gasoliney semen, emitted by the spoonful or the cup. You’re saying you find this interesting.

Which is fine.

He was no male model but he was a lot better looking considering his gender than she was considering hers. In fact he was the best looking man she’d ever touched. Which may not be saying much etc. His relatively good looks were not an issue, initially, or, that is to say, they were an issue but in such a way that Gwenda benefitted from it. Call it Affirmative Action of the heart.

When he first saw her wearing that camelhair coat which rhymed almost religiously with her waved and buttery hair in the muted light of the subway tunnel under Christmas carols and timed festive electronics and everything. That stuff in the air called childhood. He knew straight off she wasn’t what you’d call attractive but she was something, in the aspirational competence of her effects, the hairshape and lipthickness and bustle-swell of the coat in its bosom, promising so much, though what, exactly?

-Da Do Ron Ron.

He used his sly system of saying hello to open things up. His system was I mock myself internally like Burt Reynolds while doing it but also he was quite serious in using that mustache voice he used that usually worked though the smallest part of him (the part he thinks of as his original infant humanity) felt silly. Hammy. But it worked.

-People are afraid of great actors.

It took him weeks to admit everything about her actual face to himself. By the night of full disclosure, when the makeup had grazed or sweated off and the roots had grown in and the wave had frazzled to lustreless wires, he was already, however, dangerously intrigued. He wouldn’t say smitten. Smitten was the word he was saving. “Smitten” he was guarding in a box.

-He had trained himself to speak in a lower register.

-He tweezed his eyebrows regularly.

When he made the decision to give off certain signals indicating he wouldn’t be averse to becoming the thing labeled boyfriend in her phonebook, it was with this in mind: that looks aren’t everything. And they aren’t. Weren’t. Are they? Were they? After the seven different kinds of hell his many moviestar-model-grade girlfriends had put him through, from his eighteenth year clear until the year before the night he pleasured himself watching a harlot giving pleasure to a donkey, he had come to the conclusion that a sweet-natured, forgiving and generous personality would be a welcome change in a bedmate.

No more dragon ladies, ice princesses, black widows or femme fatales. From now on: plain Janes and peppermint Patties. The Girl Next Door in an ugly suburb. He felt a sudden hunger for a lot more gratitude and much less condescension and coming to the conclusion that a ‘homely’ girl was the answer to his prayers felt like growing up. A Bar Mitzvah of sorts.

“Finally,” he thought to himself, as he kissed Gwenda’s wounded little underbite face that very first time after that sappy movie, a snowflake intact on her eyelid as he drew himself near, “you’ve learned your lesson.”

The smell of pine needles. His smile stuck shark-bulged in a blue ornament.

Things were great with Gwenda for the first few months. She laughed at many of his jokes and treated him to a detailed recap, every evening, of the day’s rich legal adventures. He discovered that during sexual congress on her living room carpet at a certain distance and angle from the floor lamp in muted light in the missionary position she resembled Meg Ryan, a famous actress of the era, but only in his suffused pre-orgasm deliria. This was a pleasant discovery.

He met her sister (slightly better looking but still rather homely though he did toy with the idea of etc), did most of the cooking, accepted expensive gifts and wondered if getting Gwenda pregnant was out of the question. He was toying with the voluptuous thrill of throwing his life away. The only thing that gave him serious pause was the thought of an ugly baby. Half-ugly at best. Accusing him with Gwenda’s small eyes and high forehead.

He shuddered.

One night, after the snow melted and all the childhood had vanished from the warming air, they fought rather passionately over something disproportionately trivial and she revealed herself, like a rainbow-colored cocoon splitting to reveal a fearsome black butterfly, as a strikingly effective bitch. Ugly faces are better at bitchery than beautiful ones, regardless of what the beautiful prefer to believe. He gazed upon the mask of her sarcasm-twisted features and thought: “She’s a bitch and she’s ugly,” and that’s when it dawned on him.

He said, “Do I look fat in this?” and her silence spoke volumes.

2.

Dearest Nate:

Perhaps I’m hallucinating on a grand scale, but when I go out in public and observe human beings at work and at play, I don’t see very much of this post-gendered world of yours that you defend against my arguments, as hard as I try (even squinting). For the most part, I see women/girls dressing up and/or pushing prams and I see men/boys horsing around, ogling cleavage, and scratching themselves. When I attend ‘fancy’ functions for people with better jobs and higher educations, I see women dressing up…and men ogling cleavage (and very discreetly, from time to time, scratching themselves). My married friends are either sexually bored-with-each-other and stable, or cheating like minks and totally comfortable indulging in passionlessly vicious verbal punch-ups in front of company.

I’m not saying I’ve never observed this state of PC Dyad Grace you seem to be eulogizing with your pep talks…I’m saying that PC Dyad Grace as I’ve observed it is generally larval, and, approximately six months into a relationship, moults its golden skin to become the twin brown moths of the lovable slob and the tolerable nag (before time gradually prefixes each adjective with an ‘un’ and an ‘in’, resp.)

The day I stumble into a happy, egalitarian, romantically sex-healthy relationship, I’ll lose about 70% of my friends, who will rightly consider my new found bliss to be a freakish and unforgivable betrayal. As post-humanly above reproach as my mate and I will be to each other, I’m hoping he’ll still get an atavistic thrill out of the fact that I can twist open jar lids, without much effort, that he couldn’t dream of budging. And me? I’ll get an atavistic thrill out of the way he looks dripping naked and pink after a shower. Anyway, you may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Hope this letter finds you safe, warm and very dry,

Ain’t college life wonderful?

(The sarcasm of a spoiled brat, I know)

3.

Thursday evening I am on my way home from the studio. It is about 9pm. Half a block from the front door of our apartment (the large one, the old one with high ceilings; the one Ingrid inherited from her father), I pass a figure, a noirish cartoon of mercury arc light and shadow wedged in a doorway, a little guy with a cell phone, Italianate, pleading in heavily accented German, “I love you, I love you, please…please…tell me what I must do.” It’s a scene from a movie with subtitles I’ll never decipher and sub-plots I’ll never know. And yet it’s the oldest movie on Earth. It’s pre-Colombian, pre-Christian, pre-English.

I love you, I love you… please…

I’ve been there, I’ve cried for love, I’ve never pleaded, I’ve never begged for it, never offered to die or kill for it, but I have cried real tears, tears that felt like they were cut right out of the jelly of each eye with a dull blade but always I was shrewd enough to know that begging never helps. Some of my ex-girlfriends, the ones who no longer speak, who don’t answer my calls and letters, who duck me on the street or actively propagandize against me five, ten, fifteen years after the fact might call me a womanizer. Simply because I didn’t stop at any of them in the long search for my happiness.

What am I, a ball on a roulette wheel?

I’m sure they ascribed it to a short attention span, or adolescent sexual whatever it is, the fact that I often showed signs of restlessness a month or two into it, but nothing could be further from the truth. Both parties (I sound like old Gwenda here: the plaintiff and the defense) are well aware when the fit isn’t right, but only one party ever seems to have the will or the courage to admit it and utter the magic phrase that will dissolve the contract.

-I love you, I love you…please…

The desperation in that guy-in-the-doorway’s voice: I’m haunted by it. It could power an Edward Albee play. A gypsy camp. The energy of an ego collapsing. He reminds me of what it’s like to be young, although he isn’t so young, he looks a bit like Peter Lorre, but being young is being desperate. In my middle-aged wisdom I know too well that if things don’t work with a woman, she isn’t The One and if she isn’t The One, why bother wanting her so much? The answer to that mostly rhetorical question, speaking from experience, is prestige. Prestige plus sexual intoxication, although sexual intoxication is so closely circuited with prestige that it’s technically inaccurate to list them as separate values. Who knows what Peter Lorre’s girlfriend…or ex-girlfriend…looks like. We can’t say with any certainty what his scale of reference is but it’s clear from the force of the pain in his pleading that this woman is a commodity he desperately wants to keep. A beautiful woman is a poor man’s Porsche.

You’re wrapped around each other in bed, auras blended, indulging in sticky warm penetrative intercourse. That high clear chime of addiction you detect above the mechanical comfort of humping is the thrill of possession. You’re thinking, as you pin her gently by the wrists, decorating her perfect face with a garland of worshipful kisses, “She’s mine, all mine, only mine.”

-Maybe she’s a 19 year old girl from the suburbs of Minnesota who looks like Grace Kelly and pees with the bathroom door open, charming you with her bravery. Because what if?

-Maybe she attends a tony hairdressing academy where half the instructors are snobby vain homosexuals who walk as though they’re wearing capes and the other half are aging heterosexual operators, sinewy-single and baked-looking, Roy Scheider in “All That Jazz”.

-Maybe they all hate you, you, a poor boy, a college boy who drives a fifteen year-old rust-scabbed hatchback and owns just three pairs of scuffed shoes who gets to fuck this flickeringly cinematic blonde and all they can do is glare when you drop her off in front of the academy on a brilliant August morning with a lingering kiss plus nuanced references in posture and smirk to sexual taboos that were breached the previous night.

-Or maybe that morning.

-They glare through the green glass walls of the provincially fancy, faux-Manhattan wellness and hair salon and if they could know that you and she had spent the summer in a menage-a-trois with your most recent ex, a tall brunette with cut-glass features and a mild gas problem, a heretic with something to prove in her second-hand suits from travelling salesmen who ranged from Iowa to the Dakotas to Missouri and Illinois, all three dancing together to Bauhaus in neoned clubs and sneaking mathematical fucks in the toilet, they’d hate you even more.

-You want to call me “sexist” because it will feel good.

-We all want to feel good.

Like many young Bohemian romantics, I believed in an anthropomorphic Universe when I was too young to know better. I believed in a Universe that was both aware of my existence and concerned with the delicate work of guiding me with signs and nudges through the maze of its horrors and rewards. Like many middle aged men who have subsequently suffered the scarred disillusionments of common experience, I went from the comfort of my lyrical animism to the bleakness of abject disbelief almost over night: the ‘Universe’ became a vast black mechanical box of perfect coldness and harsh light and I was nothing but a molecule bouncing around in it.

-She’d do a mild kind of hotdogish fart and dare you to say something.

-He wrote none of the above. The above is an impersonation in a deep-yet-fey voice. This is still a third-person narrative. This is still Gwenda and this is my story.

4.

From the age of nine, she’d adopted her Aunt Aggie’s husband Nate as the adult to listen to and emulate in general and follow around like his somber little potbellied squire. When she was free to do with her time as she pleased, she chose to spend it in Uncle Nate’s company. The comedy that she and Nate presented to anyone who might catch them entering a room together or walking up the street in tandem to buy the morning Tribune, two chins lowered and four hands in four pockets, was far from apparent to her at the time. This strange rapport with Uncle Nate, to whom she wasn’t even related by blood, was baffling to the adults in the family but clear enough to her, if not to Nate. Nate was the first person on the planet Earth who’d asked her opinion on an important issue and she’d appreciated that.

They’d been sitting on packing crates after lunch. Nate had come over to help another one of his wife’s sisters to move and his future shadow and his future shadow’s mother had been conscripted, too. It was a depressing little apartment they were gathering into boxes and the one to which all the boxes and furniture were going wasn’t even far enough away to play a good game of running bases between former and future front stoops. It was right next door in a long block of red brick buildings with green paint on the trim. The dented rain gutters and the fake shutters, screwed to the wall.

She was seated in what she thought of as a grownup slouch on a packing crate in a warm spring breeze from the open door when Nate, who was seated on the adjacent packing crate, reading a magazine while everyone waited for the caretaker with his pickle-reek to come and confirm on a checklist that no fixtures had been stolen nor walls violated by nails larger than a certain size and that working lightbulbs had been left in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room sockets. Nate looked over his shoulder at her, obviously disturbed by something he’d just read.

“Let me ask you something, kiddo. Honestly. What does God want from us humans?”

Obviously, in retrospect, it was a rhetorical question. It tickles her now to think that her relationship with Nate (dead ten years next Friday) had been based, initially, on a misunderstanding: a nine year old’s misapprehension of the proper protocol for dealing with a rhetorical question. She’d taken the apparent request for input seriously, flattered beyond any previous value that she’d managed to experience, and worked on the problem with Jesuitical diligence all day, carrying boxes of silverware and small appliances and bags of linen out one door and right back into the next one like a robot, silent, frowning, lips very vaguely mobile with a secret symposium convened to address Nate’s question. At the end of the day, when every item in flat A had been transferred to identical flat B and the grownups were vetting the notion of ordering two or three large pizzas as an unprecedented treat, she approached Nate when they had a moment alone and said,

“He wants us to stop.”

Who wants us to…?”

“You asked what God…”

Uncle Nate was genuinely impressed and so perfectly deserving of his new shadow that he suppressed his first impulse to get his wife’s or sisters-in-laws’ attention in order to announce, “This kid’s a damn genius! Did you hear what she just said?” He played it cool instead.

“Could be,” is all Nate said, with raised eyebrows, and from that day they were almost a father and daughter arrangement. Maybe closer than that. Like salt and pepper; snow and hot cocoa: Nate and his special little Gwenda.

-He taught her the surefire method for charcoal fires.

-He taught her that arm wrestling is all in the wrist.

-He taught her to think before saying thankyou.

-He taught her that Bruce Lee was genuine and that David Carradine was bullshit and that a faculty for detecting the difference could be applied to almost anything in Life.

-Why does Time consume perfectly happy children for the sake of producing all these wretched adults?

5.

I once quipped to someone that suicide is a lot like smoking or drinking: if you don’t try either before the age of nineteen, you probably never will. But I didn’t know what I was talking about when I made that witty remark and there’s some evidence to suggest that the wittier the aphorism, the less it will actually apply to real life. It would have terrified me to know back then that so many years after the remark, I would have nothing and no one and no apparent reason to live. Despite my money; my professional success; my knowledge.

Burdened and blessed with the kind of intelligence that made me the little star of my grammar school and had me bagging college-level reading scores in fifth and sixth grade, I am living proof that while it may be the case that the moderately above average in intelligence have the world on a string, the freakishly gifted are in for tons of trouble.

I remember fresh workbooks were handed out in the first week of second grade, intended to last for half the school year; however, knowing no better, I completed every exercise in my workbook by the end of the day, oblivious to whatever it was the teacher was droning on about at the blackboard while I breezed through the (to me) elementary exercises. All the answers I had filled the blanks with were correct, but rather than being amazed, Mrs. Johnson was angry. And rather than feeling special as a result of my feat, I felt guilty and ashamed.

Any hope of ‘fitting in’ was lost long before that point, and so what it occurred to me to do was apply my intelligence towards money-making and a solid position in society.

Now what?

6.

-A photo of Gwenda at 15.

She had a mild crush (her only foray into what could have been a life-affirming lesbianism if only she were wired that way) on the girl who took the picture and wrote tons of poetry that summer.

i.

a plum is waiting

at the center of the world

for just the right tongue

ii.

is a plum a plum

before you have eaten it?

or just a theorem?

iii.

this plum got warm in

the sun and smelled better than

every one of us

iv.

refrigerated

cinematographically

blue plums at midnight

v.

these plums are famous

for never being those but

what if you mixed them?

vi.

this artist painted

nothing but plums until he

finally got one right

vii.

don’t pay me dollars

pay me in plums but just one

very lovely plum

viii.

la petite mort is

the state of brief amnesia

of the plum just loved 

 

7.

I cried shamelessly in the presence of the doctor and her very young trainee nurse, the first time in my life that I had let myself cry in front of strangers. Part of my blubbing was lack of sleep (the contractions came at 5 a.m.) and part of it was the pain I knew that my lover had gone through to bring our child into the late morning light of the sun. But most of it was mingled grief and gratitude about the distance I had come to the first day of the life I’d always dreamed of. With the circumstantial poetry of so many significant coincidences in this life, the birth happened on the first sunny morning in a months-long block of cold gray gloom. The tears in my eyes as I looked at her refracted brilliant sunlight. I had packed CDs for the birthing room that we never had a chance to use but, still, some delirious hybrid of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and Bo Diddley’s Little Girl blasted in my head as I wept and my daughter came forth and the Past made its exit with a blast from my beloved’s operatic screams and yes, yes, yes, our baby girl is beautiful.

-I am smitten.