for Nadezhda Alliluyeva
There’s a black stage at night and it’s illuminated by single spotlight. No real reason for it being there.
MR. BEAN BEAMED DOWN FROM ABOVE
It’s also an enormous cobblestone plaza on which processions form up, then disintegrate. And it’s stripped of what makes it what it is after 12am: a vision that simply boils down. For, to put it in more general terms, the void around any given thing is what lies on other side of copula––that which isn’t in place of own contours. Nadya takes stage and plays leading role. A singular tentacle sweeping along its edge and its left mucus behind. “There’s gore too,” is what they don’t say.
She received first and only message she would from them in personal office; it was beamed down to her in suspiciously concrete fashion, her old fax machine clattering into already-archaic life. A single sheet birthed by thin slit between two sandwich-halves of gray plastic: “u wanna be an angel?”
She nodded and headed out onto cobblestone square. The steps down from office and then to lead through vestibule were weathered mahogany. Each footfall threatened to send splinter through slipper.
The contrivance they sent was ovular––made of white light.
A second tentacle laps at stage and I remember catching sight of young woman in rear-view mirror. We’d been driving through swamp all day, sweat out from asses and backs of pants stuck to seats of tired leather––they were ornamented with creases and cracks. The way the moss bunched up and shot for sky reminded me of something specific, but I couldn’t put finger on what. When it was my turn to drive, hit a pothole too hard and the dude in the passenger seat wondered if I hadn’t “wrecked the suspension.” After this incident, no one could ever accuse the car of being “made of white light.”
But Nadya and the contrivance, they were headed for the suburbs where gravestones the size of small human children––a bit taller, but slimmer to make up for it––sat behind fences with wrought-iron gates and a single finger laid to bars makes hand smell of approximate nickel for days at a time.
Parties of private individuals were gathered on rooftops of tower blocks covered over with contractor-gathered pebbles, they were circled ‘round AC ducts and vents where steam and exhaust were sent to escape. With each incremental unit of progress, Nadya and those who’d reached out to her illuminated the faces of the people on those rooftops––it was a matter of chance who’d be in light at any given moment.
An older man with wrinkles ‘round his eyes stopped telling story he was in middle of when contrivance of white light passed over: “and in these delicatessens, y’see, in these delis… bodegas y’could even say… places where foodstuffs are sold on a need-to-buy basis… it’s where you head when you ain’t got any other options, like, y’forgot to go to the grocery store and now there’s nothin’ at home… anyways, the point is… they’d have chocolates by the check-out counter, which was less of a question of a need-to-buy basis and more an issue of, like, I guess what they used to call it was impulse buys…” the private individuals in his immediate vicinity enchanted by tale, he continues, “so, I mean to say, my weak point when it came to, erm, impulse-buy shelves by check-out counters was Lindt chocolate, I read that it helped lower your blood pressure and took that as a license to, well, chow down, I guess… behind the Lindt chocolates, I realized one day, were stacks of VHS tapes that they used to rent out at the store, even though I have trouble imagining exactly how that’d work, I mean, a meatball hoagie and, like, Gladiator on VHS?” and before the audience can laugh, the white light’s come for them and the man shuts up.
It was nice of them to leave her alone at the controls, Nadya thought. Nice she had the chance to get acquainted with the dials and dashes, numbers of pure white light deftly managing to stand out from a background that could hardly be described in any other terms and Nadya turned away at one point when it started to be a bit much for the ole’ ocular apparati, but the walls of the cockpit were same as the dashes, dials, and numbers upon the control panel–-all of it was white light and there wasn’t much of a chance for, like, retinal afterimages to scintillate at backs of sockets against dark background of whatever Nadya might be looking at. All that which was not white light––all that which allowed for shapes she stared at to dance around after she looked away––was view through windscreen, which was bowed rectangle that gave eyes leave to wander across sky and wait for afterimages to depart from retinae.
At one point, she reached forward with both hands as if to stroke what might, in a plane or on a train, be a panel made of mahogany and finished with quick coat of lacquer that afforded vessel aspect of plastic toys given to kids in imitation of wooden offerings. Nadya’s gesture was met with near-immediate disapproval and the white light that made up the counter into which the controls were inlaid seemed to flare up, engulfing Nadya’s hands in tongueless flame. Just after engulfment, it was as if her hands were mounted into air, as if the atmosphere of the cockpit had become amber or a sand trap and she couldn’t budge, but also didn’t feel flesh freezing or burning––it just kinda sat there. Now paralyzed, she waited for them to make contact and explain why she couldn’t touch the counter, yeah, that was part of what she thought they’d make contact about, but she was also curious to hear what they’d meant by faxed message, five words hardly being sufficient to communicate weight of total situation.
She leaned toward windscreen and angled head down. The earthy fields below were a dull brown-and-green iteration of honeycomb, which must’ve meant that the contrivance’d taken her up pretty high into sky––beyond the point where clouds could block out moon. Plus it was full tonight, the object that hovered over Nadya and these others as a boast regarding the sorts of heights that could ostensibly be reached by gods alone. Each star was a needle that’d been pricked into sky’s flesh and semen-like sap blooming out of it in singular drops that clung to leaf-like surface of sky upside-down above honeycomb below… as if the sky were one huge leaf shorn from banana tree and pasted to whatever’d lain beneath it before (plus: if there had been anything before). It would’ve gone against their agreement if the drops’d actually dripped down and the damage they might’ve been forced to inflict by the merciless pull of gravity drawing ‘em away from pierced source. As far as Nadya was concerned, the drops that refused to fall would always hover there as theoretical upper limit for human capacities and endeavors.
So, at a certain point, when these limits no longer seemed so distant, when it was if their contrivance were fated to be among stars and, perhaps, to lay more pricks of light into banana-tree leaf of sky, Nadya’s stomach dropped, her knees quaked, and her nostrils burned a bit when she inhaled. Yes: on one of the VHS tapes also spotted by the old man behind the gourmet chocolate bars on offer, a fleshy-faced Englishman and his dog––both molded from distinctly inhuman clay––, they were making trip to moon because, or so they suspected, it was made of cheese. This, Nadya knew, was a very old lie––that the moon was made of fermented dairy that might be edible to humans. Cultured food came into being as function of microbial life and the moon was a rock in a big black refrigerator, a moon in the big black, a moon in the black, a man in the black black black…
STUNNED BY THIS LAST THOUGHT, NADYA THINKS BACK TO THE STAGE SHE’S LEFT, CARRIED AWAY AS SHE’S BEEN BY AN UNEARTHLY CONTRIVANCE OF WHITE LIGHT. AND ALSO: ONE DAY, SITTING ON A COMMERCIAL AIRLINE FLIGHT TO MIAMI, THE TV SCREENS WERE LINKED UP WITH THE NAMES OF THE TICKET BUYERS WHO’D PREVIOUSLY BEEN ASSIGNED TO THE SEATS IN FRONT OF WHICH SCREENS SAT. EVERY SCREEN IN MY ROW SAID MY NAME AND MY NEIGHBORS AND I LAUGHED ABOUT IT––“HELLO, MAX! WELCOME ABOARD!”. AFTER THAT, I DISCOVERED THAT EVERY SCREEN ON THE PLANE WAS DISPLAYING IDENTICAL MESSAGE. I WASN’T SURE WHAT TO MAKE OF IT.
Back on earth, a second tentacle traces path across stage and the inky black of environs seems to suggest it misses Nadya; it is enfolded unto self in eerie state of repose, mourning the leading lady’s temporary absence. When the second tentacle has done its work, it’s beamed back into sky––its trajectory opposite of Mr. Bean’s.
Nadya’s used to proximity of moon now, it’s right out there, as if she’d entered into its orbit, as if Nadya might make superhuman Hulk-sized fist and bust through windscreen, then hook cheese knife into moon’s outer face and edge off dainty slice––“when you, like, slice the cheese too thick, you don’t really taste it, y’know…” Even punching through windscreen sounds better than hands hovering in the genteel flames that’d enveloped them so long ago, pins and needles also beginning to infiltrate extremities; she tries to jump into the air, but finds that her feet are bolted to ground. And the ground is of the same white light as the walls and the control panel and, again, it’s only the sky that allows Nadya to rest her eyes, the approximate shapes of the infrastructure of the ship she’s staring at in here reproduced out there in broad swathes of sea-green after-image that more or less papier-mâché over moon and stars. But the paradox is that when she stares at moon for too long, its own livid white is an additional after-image that contends with those from inside of ship and, even though she’s not sure if there’re actually nerves back there, Nadya imagines her retinae beginning to smart and tries to focus on the fields of stars behind moon that are no affront to visual field.
It’s at precisely this moment of intense frustration––pinioned between the eye-blind of flying contrivance and that of moon, while also attempting to shake blood into her prickly, petrified limbs––that Nadya begins to wonder why she walked out onto Slavic piazza of cobblestone in her slippers, why, when she saw the ovular contrivance landing in front of her––a private flight––, she didn’t hurry right back into office and replace fax machine at rear of closet she’d dragged it out from, back to its proper place propping up old Stalin family photo albums. It’s at this moment of bewilderment and self-interrogation that an invisible intercom clicks on in the cockpit and a voice that sounds like nothing and no one at all asks: “you wanted to be an angel?”
Nadya nods and, to her great relief, finds that she can once again move her arms and legs. Having learned her lesson as regards the touching of any and all apertures, she steps back from the control panel and nods again. “Yes,” she pronounces, “I wanna be an angel. I think… I mean to say… I hope I’m ready to be an angel.”
The intercom clicks back on: “good.”
A door opens behind her, it sounds like a hatch opening or closing in a sci-fi flick, like air being expelled or hydraulics performing glorious labor, and––oh Joy of Joys!––the corridor it leads into is dimmed light and now: as if her retinae were being bathed in milk or aloe vera.
“I wanna be an angel,” Nadya says, then steps out into corridor.
THE TV WAS FLICKERING ONTO POPCORN CEILING, THE LIGHT GETTING FUCKED WITH BY FAN’S SWINGING BLADE. SOFT ORANGE OF SUNSET OUTSIDE BLED INTO SODIUM LIGHT FROM LAMPS ILLUMINATING CARS PARKED BY LOW CURB AND YOU HAD TO SIGN INTO APP EVERY THREE HOURS OR SO TO RENEW LEASE UPON SPOT, THE CITY GOVERNMENT OR THE MAKERS OF THE APP PREFERRING TO ENCOURAGE NEAR-CONSTANT OFFERINGS AND SMALL ACTS OF DIGITAL DEVOTION: A CHECK MARK BEING SLASHED INTO EMPTY GREEN CIRCLE NEXT TO LAST FOUR DIGITS OF CREDIT CARD––THEN YOU’RE SET. LATER: THE BIG BANG THEORY BEAMED ONTO WIDE SCREEN AND THE AUDIO TRACK KINDA SNUCK INTO DREAM HAD DURING BRIEF NAP: SPINDLY FREAK NAMED SHELDON PLANNING THERMONUCLEAR DESTRUCTION OF GREATER BOSTON AREA PLUS HE WOULDN’T FUCK HIS GIRLFRIEND AND SHE WAS SCRIBBLING DOWN FORMULAE FOR POULTICES THAT MIGHT ALTER NEUROBIOLOGY OF WILLING SUBJECTS.
The car cut odd geometry through swamp. With each turn of wheel’s bald rubber, the water’s lip rose closer and closer to where it was fated to overflow onto poorly clipped fields of grass into which big spots of dirt were etched by time and lack of proper care. Eventually, the alligators would surf the rising water and be borne into Miami, the water towers at city’s outer perimeter to mark the final height of where liquid on land would rise to. But it was dryish on that day and we were listening to Latin dance hits on the radio, fuzzier when we off-roaded through a copse of palms or willows. When other dude was driving nearer to evening, there was point when he almost drove through recently laid pavement, the pylons blocking path not present in usual number and only one by roadside. But he stopped in time and veered to left. And we were borne out of swamp by time night fell and on way back into Miami where we were staying in Art Deco boutique hotel on South Beach, a raucous sushi restaurant in the lobby––an NYC chain––and Serbian bouncer keeping those who imbibed too heavily more or less in line. We parked by low curb and I downloaded app to pay for spot––could only do so in three-hour increments, which was annoying, but it was free from 3am to 9am––parking was––, so would just have to be up by 9 to pay for spot so’s not to get ticket. We’d try to find a parking garage that allowed for ins and outs during day tomorrow.
THE DEEPER THE HALLWAY HEADS INTO GUTS OF SHIP, THE MORE NADYA FORGETS TO FEEL AFRAID AND SHE’S JUST CLENCHING AND UNCLENCHING HER HANDS, FEELING HOW NICE IT IS WHEN BLOOD RUNS THROUGH ‘EM UNIMPEDED. AT A CERTAIN POINT, THOUGH, SHE DOES HAVE UNPLEASANT REALIZATION THAT ALIEN’S VOICE DIDN’T REALLY SOUND LIKE NOBODY, BUT BELONGED TO SPINDLY FREAK FROM TV SHOW, LIGHT FROM WHICH WAS FUCKING WITH FAN. THIS REMINDS HER OF FACT THAT BOSTON IS IN IMMINENT DANGER OF THERMONUCLEAR ANNIHILATION AND SHE WONDERS IF IT WON’T COME FROM CONTRIVANCE OF WHITE LIGHT.
The room she finally enters. A reprieve from the dimness of the hallway that, in its turn, was a reprieve from the eye-blind of the cockpit. No one in here, but a PA in corner on her right. Hard to guess precise dimensions of room, but, like, it’s when Harry Potter dies and filmmakers turn the squalor of London station into: the meme of dominatrix with big-bellied dude on leash, latter on all fours, and they’re both being stopped by cops in hi-vis, that plus waiting for track number to show up, scrawled by dots of orange light on LED screen, or maybe David Cameron ordering a pasty from West Cornwall Pasty Company, then, finally, Harry Potter walking into fluorescent space and meeting all of them at once, but also none.
That gets wiped away and the space up here can’t be fathomed, but Nadya sees island cut out of fluorescence of room: something like an examination table and it’s oldest trope in book––that aliens are obsessed with fathoming inner spaces of human body with anal probes or colonoscopy cameras, Nadya’s thinking about that plus Harry Potter––not yet had a colon cancer screening ‘cause she’s 31, so it isn’t exactly time for her to do so anyways.
Spindly freak’s voice back out through PA and the light in my hotel room moving from wide screen at wrong frame rate or whatever it is that makes images look like screensavers, he’s on there too and talking about a five-year plan to level Boston and turn it into a kolkhoz. Nadya’s wearing a nightgown––I didn’t mention it before and, just as fan was fucking with soft orange light upon ceiling, so too did the sound of Sheldon’s voice conspire to remove dumb details from my preliminary descriptions of setting and characters––and voice comes through PA and:
“If you wanna be an angel, then let down that dress… erm, I mean… those pajamas… that nightgown? Whatever it is––let it down.”
And Nadya slides out of slippers, her nightgown down, plus looks nervously at island of creamy light in fluorescent room.
“Step forward and lie down, please.”
As she approaches examination table, the voice in her head is congruent to dude speaking out of PA. Both of them getting kicks from ordering her around and she’s small and dark––looks like Caucasian bride approaching bonfire in context of inexplicable bridenapping ritual. Her toenails are overdue for a clipping and she hoists her behind up onto table, her wrists bearing much of the weight of the mounting, then scoots back and lies down. The creaminess of whatever the table’s made of feels like marble against smoothness of skin; there is no contradiction in terms here.
Back on earth, the total emptiness of the piazza and a third tentacle caressing edge of stage. The darkness and the boards to be aped upon no longer miss Nadya; they are Nadya. And tentacle strokes stage ably, boards quivering and bowing out with extraterrestrial wet.
Alas: the description of forthgoing events up in contrivance of white light hovering next to moon’s hard cheese would be unnecessary and risk dulling the melancholy blade of Nadya’s fate. The pleasure she found lying in wait just behind her toned abs––and the marching-band music that soundtracked her calisthenic routines by way of phonograph: record containing voice that lays down workout routine––, plus her breasts too small to bounce. None of this could counteract fact that she was in process of becoming angel. Her thoughts throughout the probing procedure, however, these are worthy of note––unlike logistics of action performed by tentacle, as those can easily be found at one of several URLs, brought to life by intrepid Japanese animators. In any case, what she thought:
And it’s Sheldon standing in Bostonian ruins and his plans are grandiose, what with the state now having “withered away” and so on and so forth. He wanders from one building’s skeleton to the next and he’s listing the objectives that will have to be attained to bring these facilities up to snuff. Yes, Sheldon speaks with Koba’s voice and he’s got a five-year plan he’d like to get done within next five months, even as reality of decimated Boston’s radioactivity offers challenge to his vision. He returns to apartment in vicinity of MIT he used to share with other nerds; everyone now dead, but building still intact. Nerds propped up in formerly preferred positions out in sitting room––“hello friends, how strange to see you’ve become corpses”––, Sheldon disquisitions to ‘em and he speaks just like Koba used to talk to Central Committee.
“The city looks grim today, fellow nerds, and it’s hard to imagine a future for it that isn’t cockroaches wiggling out of foundations in search of unannihilated Twinkies. An awful cliché… I know, comrades, I know… It’s difficult to imagine how we’ll house workers here, how we’ll remove the corpses of those citizens who were lost to the blast… When the radioactivity’s going to dissipate––this is a question that also plagues me… I fear that it’s seeped into the soil. That the groundwater is fated to contort the limbs and faces of Bostonian children born to labor here for centuries to come…”
NADYA TOO ABOUT TO CUM: THE FIRST OF MANY ORGASMS.
“I imagine hordes of radioactive children bridled to mills and waterwheels in Cambridge by where Harvard used to be. I imagine the cots to be set up in the basement of the Massachusetts State House, the Old North Church, the Old State House… the collectivization of the miraculously untouched Prudential Tower and the kommunalki that are to eat through skyscraper’s guts. The Paul Revere House also untouched and that’s where I’m to keep my kept women: plump middle-aged maids from empire’s satellite republics and biographers with rightist agendas always suspecting them of being my lovers without any concrete evidence thereof to hand. Yes, the Paul Revere House shall be my dachas both near and far. I imagine fat ears of wheat ‘pon the expanse of the kolkhoz that was once Fenway Park; me broadcasting Bill Burr to the whole empire and weeping with him when the Red Sox are defeated. Before I knew what it was, I also imagined TD Garden being turned into a kolkhoz, imagined we might grow rye there and milk cows, but that was a pipe dream, as it turned out to be an enclosed space. More bunks in TD Garden, then, and maybe it’s to be a prison. Other landmarks and the grain to be grown, but first worth noting that my thermonuclear device destroyed the Millenium Tower, the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, the John Hancock Tower, and the Prudential Tower. I’m unsure as to the fate of the Massachusetts State House, but, like every other intrepid filmgoer in the world, I hated the rat against its background in The Departed. I imagine radioactivity eventually coming out in the wash and the city becomes productive and glorious; it seethes with labor.”
NADYA CUMS AGAIN AND IT’S REVEALED THAT THE TONAL RHYME BETWEEN HER HUSBAND AND THE SPINDLY FREAK IS THAT BOTH SPEAK LIKE THEY COME FROM GEORGIA: ONE IN THE USA AND THE OTHER IN EURASIA. NADYA LIKES TO IMAGINE SHELDON’S FACE IS HER HUSBAND’S NOW AND RINGS OF MUSCLE TIGHTENING AROUND SQUISH OF TENTACLE.
Stalin’s done speaking. Nadya writhes around on examination table––exhausted. The contrivance of white light eases its way down to earth and WHY IT IS THESE SORTS OF HEIGHTS CANNOT BE KEPT TO. She remains in place, she cannot cease wriggling her hips, the marbled light below her buttocks is slick with sweat, and Sheldon/Stalin speaks out through the PA:
“If you wanna be an angel, then kill yourself,” Nadya hears this, but takes no note of it with body’s motion. More like: the words become a part of her and that’s that. “If you wanna be an angel, shoot yourself in the chest with that gun your brother gave you. Wait until after a row,” voice enunciates last word ironically, “wait until I flirt with one of my friend’s wives and you get jealous. Make it look like a soap opera. Neat and clean––melodramatic too.”
Nadya begins to speak so’s to ask if the tentacle might come back for one final pass, but stops herself; she’ll pray to get fucked like this every day once she’s in heaven––once she’s become an angel.
As ship makes way back to piazza, it must pass over tower blocks once again. The old man recounts how he discovered ryazhenka, a very delicious kefir-like beverage made of baked milk, in the same bodega where he took inventory of the VHS tapes. “This was quite a surprise because, erm, it wasn’t much of a place… was hardly Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s… wasn’t by Brighton Beach… this discovery was, well… I guess I’d say it was somethin’ of a small miracle.” This time, he doesn’t bother to stop when the faces of his listeners are burnished by weird white light.
Nadya sleeps like stone for ensuing nights. Waking up writhing––with soaked undergarments. And outside upon piazza: there’s a black stage at night and it’s illuminated by single spotlight. No real reason for it being there. A single tentacle stroking its edge and she shivers.
She bides her time, yes, she does what the voice told her to do. Finally, there’s a November night upon which branches are too frozen to be whipped ‘round by wind and Koba flirts with Galya Yegorovna at dinner, then is off carousing with high-ranking friends at one of his dachas after supper. Nadya returns to chambers. Puts on nightgown. And slippers. Writhes around one final time on bed thinking of tentacle inside her. Asks herself if there’re aliens in heaven and, if so, “do they have tentacles???” Looks at popcorn ceiling––an anachronism, I know––thinking of a power line wrapped in yellow insulation; ‘tis a very bitter banana. Shoots herself in heart with pistol once gifted to her. Doesn’t suffer.
What ensues after she’s gone is painfully predictable. Great man’s depression at the loss of little wife––“much younger, I mean”––is no part of this story.
But the old man on the rooftop of contractor-gathered stones, his tales are a part of it. And the dirt that cannot be cleaned from the corners of his listeners’ eyes. And the sanitary conditions in their flats down below. And the views they have of the destroyed heavens in the AM out their single-paned windows––glass can’t keep heat in during winter––, the celestial sphere transformed into tie-dyed hellscape and it’s the fumes from the foundries that do it, but “it’s beautiful all the same.” Sometimes, when they open their windows just after waking up and are drinking chipped mugs of NesCafé, the ceramics and coffee both from long before, the wafting spirits make their heads buzz pleasantly––like the bitter banana in Nadya’s deathly vision––; they think the sunrise even as they see it.
“The drive through the swamp, well, I’m sure it’s hard to imagine it now… hard to imagine the cultured-milk drink at the bodega and the VHS tapes behind the chocolate bars, plus what they meant to me. Still, though, y’gotta see that we’d reached the city and, the day after gettin’ set up in that boutique hotel… after we figured out that it wasn’t the app we were s’posed to use to park car, but a garage just ‘round the corner––now I could sleep easy without having to wake up at 9am to renew lease upon spot… the employees of that garage, Cuban as far as I could discern by way of own mediocre Spanish, treated me like an apprentice valet and, in the days that followed, had me park in increasingly challenging spots on the fourth and fifth floors of the structure: annoyed when I didn’t immediately manage to spin wheel with necessary speed and alacrity so’s to maneuverer into spot backwards, me sometimes coming, like, dreadfully close to side-swiping cars I was sliding by. Anyways… on that first day out of swamp and into city, we set out to find a nice slice of beach where employees of the club, erm… I guess I’d better paint the whole picture, set up chaise lounge chairs for you by jamming umbrellas into the sand and wavin’ ‘em back and forth with wild lack of precision to get ‘em down deep enough to stay steady. They also bound the chair-cushions dirtied by others’ leisure around with beach towels––an act of approximate sanitation. You were a member of Soho House is how we got access to these facilities and I sat there reading A Little Life, a book no one remembers now––something like Oliver Twist mixed with Martyrs, the latter a VHS tape they conspicuously didn’t keep at the bodega––, I had to move umbrella and chair every 30 or so minutes so’s to stay out of the sun––to keep my feta-cheese skin from goin’ crab red––and you kept wanderin’ off to get cups of water or go pee by the changin’ room,” one woman wanders away and across rooftop of contractor-gathered stones, disappearing through door painted over in greasy black paint; these are stairs down into guts of building. Her apparent lack of interest is warning to old man and he picks up tale’s pace. “Feet clad in white slip-on Onitsuka Tigers: that was me. And you were wearin’ slip-on Sperries; you’d worn ‘em infrequently enough that they didn’t bomb the environs when you slipped ‘em off. We trudged a third of a mile over to a fancy hotel bar where they also served Asian dishes for more’n they were worth: Peking Duck sliced and we laid it into floury pancakes before dribblin’ ‘em over in a thin sauce––like, damn was it the perfect mix of sweet and salty…” he takes a beat, then sighs, looking as far as he can off into horizon so’s to ascertain if he might still catch sight of Nadya and her contrivance of light. He cannot and all they’re left with on roof of tower block is cosmos laid bare by chemical. “After dinner, we made our way over to bar of same complex and posted up with gin martinis, unhappy to discover that the olives speared in drink weren’t pitted, which was, like, kinda unexpected. I bit down real hard on the first one and nearly chipped a tooth. What happened next was two expensive lookin’ girls, which, I mean: natural lookin’ nose jobs and hands smellin’ like Aesop hand cream––a real fancy brand, their corporate HQ’d rent out these tiny lil’ storefronts in the most expensive neighborhoods of any given coastal American city or European capital. Well, this was Mercedes and her friend, is what they were named as far as I care to recollect––the friend’s name havin’ more or less slipped my mind. After two more martinis each, all dirty and ornamented with olive spears, it was time to ascertain who would do whom where and the two full-sized beds in boutique hotel would’ve been cramped and squalid, this you and I agreed upon by way of single exchanged look. To make a long story short, Mercedes and friend trusted that neither of us were, like, serial killers or sex criminals and Mercedes took me to her dad’s condo on top floor of luxury building downtown––a Chase exec, he obviously wasn’t home––, whereas you and friend were permitted use of one bed (or both) in boutique-hotel room. Prancin’ around perimeter of condo with its marble floors, Mercedes was excited to hear I studied and wrote about Russian shit… her dad was a history buff and, back when she was maybe 12 or 13, she’d watched some History Channel doc about Stalin with him. She said she’d really felt for his wife killin’ herself like that. Mercedes was 24––that night in condo she was. Her eyes were almost black––that brown, I mean to say. I sat on a white-leather couch right at center of sitting room. She paced ‘round me in circles and the walls were windows. The lights shooting forth from light fixture and through window blotted out the water and I couldn’t see its wave-dappled surface. She asked me if I’d read a book called A Gentleman in Moscow. I’d been assiduously avoiding it, but said I had and, plus, I’d really dug it.”
“We made love against white leather squelching expensively once per thrust and I suspect she was surprised at the pleasure she found lying in wait behind her Pilates-toned abs––just a hunch. I was surprised at her skinniness, but liked clutching at her ribs through the, I guess I’d say, veininess of her Spanish skin––like rice paper, but darker and less liable to tear. Y’could see her blood pumpin’ as her heart beat. She was a total angel and that’s, like… well, I s’pose that’s what the world used to be like. It was a nice week, anyways.”
His listeners nod knowingly, then proceed one by one through the black-painted door, tiny flakes of paint drifting down to ground each time it opens or shuts.
Once everyone’s gone down stairs, the old man says one more thing to self and it’s almost inaudible to me:
“A week with this, like, total angel and I somehow left my copy of A Little Life in her dad’s condo. I wonder if she ever started it or managed to finish it… wonder what year it was when the harsh white light from Miami condos shootin’ through their window-walls ceased blottin’ out wave-dabbled water…”
He sighs, then proceeds through black-painted door as everyone else has already done. The chemical cosmos is already beginning to wake up as he drifts off upon pilled blanket of what’s practically army cot.
In those final moments before sleep, he sighs when he realizes that he doesn’t really miss his old life anymore.
‘For that was someone else’s life… someone else’s cock… someone else’s copy of A Little Life… all the pageantry of that life belonged to me no more’n, like, Mercedes’s dad’s apartment belonged to me… life as a rich dad’s condo where we do a couple of lines of blow before fuckin’ in furniture-destroyin’ fashion, then leave behind whatever paperback we’d been readin’ on the beach in the AM… life as the ensuin’ quest to get that book back…’ is what he thinks as his limbs jerk once, then twice, then three times.
And regarding the question as to whether Mercedes had ever been his girl: she had never belonged to anyone.
And that was just the way he liked it.
— Max Lawton lives in the servants quarters of a Hollywood Hills home where, upstairs, Wyatt Earp used to throw sex parties for silent-movie stars. He wakes up early and takes dictation from spirits; currently, they are reading the lost manuscript of Sade’s Les Journées de Florbelle to him. Max’s translation of that celestial dictation is forthcoming. Max dreams of writing Caligula or Ben Hur-style pornographic epics: musicals to be shot in Technicolor. The whole of Hollywood will soon be colonized by those productions until there is no difference between the city of Los Angeles and a pornographic epic in the style of Ben Hur of which Max is the author.