categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour
Gessner arrived for a little R and R in the midst of his burgeoning book tour. My Green Manifesto is getting good attention, and it was Dave’s turn. We hadn’t had anything but a virtual cocktail hour for over a year and it was great to clink glasses. The conversation ranged from deep to silly, from sad to hilarious, and we really didn’t stop talking, usually over one another. Much of what we say is about our work (in fact, we filmed a couple of conversations, one sitting on a log in the stream: stay tuned). His at the moment is the preparation of his next book, Tarball Chronicles while publicizing the current one. Mine is attending to the final edits of my novel, which I started four years ago. It’s about 400 manuscript pages at this point. At one earlier juncture it was over 600. Characters have been cut, scenes, set-pieces, decades of action. I’ve done a lot of rearranging, and looking back over drafts I find paragraphs and sentences and even phrases that have been airlifted out of disaster zones and set down safely in new chapters. I also find passages and scenes I rather like, stuff that doesn’t fit anymore. Herewith, a selection of outtakes, offered with no context, just that they are all orphans. The voice is that of my protagonist, David Hochmeyer. The timeframe skips around. None have much to do with the book anymore:
We paused in the stained-glass stairwell, like standing in a church, each on our own level, Emily above.
“Maybe for your vacation you can come up here,” RuAngela said to me.
We’d promised one another everyone would take a break before we opened the restaurant. I explained all that to Emily, said, “Six days, I’d go crazy.”
“When will this be?” Emily said.
RuAngela gave her the dates.
Emily gave me a long look. “Join me in Jakarta,” she said.
We made love all over, amid and among, a dozen little beds to choose from, dozens of little couches and settees and tables and counters and tubs and waterfalls, really, whitewater warm as blood.
The one person Benedikta was harder on than my sister was my sister’s nemesis. “These are the men she marries,” was the only response to my maunderings.
I just wanted the dancer to be okay, I said. I wanted her to have the best in life. Wanting that didn’t mean I wanted her. I had no desire to see her at all.
“You speak in opposites,” Benedikta said. “A hundred eighty degrees off truth.”
But that was no more true than the thing about fairy tales, so far as I was concerned: I never thought about the dancer, I said. I hadn’t seen her for over a decade, hadn’t heard from her. Quite true: the notes I got came from her butler.
Lupa didn’t have to say it: she’d had a breast reduction, and her figure was clearly different, no less pleasing, more pleasing in fact: her chance at health had been restored.
Well after midnight, I started on all those maddening buttons packed together on her blouse, little pearly things like teeth, a hundred of them, a beautifully tailored garment, each loop a fresh challenge to my big fingers.
“I usually just yank it over my head,” she said.
But an unveiling deserves ceremony, and it wasn’t like she’d picked the shirt for no reason. I dragged it out, button by button, a deliberate exercise as we kissed.
As for my own shirt, there were only the usual six or seven buttons, and Lupa had it open quickly, ran her hands up and down my chest. “I always loved the expanse of you,” she said. She lay her cheek on my belly, which wasn’t so awfully big after all. Another bottle of wine was not advisable, we agreed.
She went to the kitchen, selected another white from her wine fridge (“A different appliance for every bad habit”), uncorked it, poured it, only twenty buttons to go. We drank and only slowly did I get that she was stalling. She even started in again on my belly, kissing her way down. But I stopped her, brought her back, kissed her face, kissed her mouth, kissed her neck, worked those last buttons till the garment fell open, helped her off with it, helped her off with the little chemise beneath. The surgeon had done a quite beautiful job and I said so.
“You are our first man,” Lupa said.
Plenty of parking everywhere in industrial SoHo. At 130 Broome I rang cryptically marked doorbells at random till an irritable Italian man covered in paint came down in an enormous service elevator.
“What does this asshole a-want!” he said, softening as he took in my height, always an icebreaker.
“Dancers?” I said, made a comical bit of an arabesque in illustration.
At that he smiled broadly, pulled me into the elevator cage, slid two layers of gate shut, pulled a lever, and transported me without further conversation skyward and to a pair of doors with a big numeral five painted on them, the right place, not even nine o’clock yet, all the dancers asleep in various heaps of bedding on the polished floor, all but one, a young-looking teen boy who looked as if he’d been crying. He smiled shyly from his pillows. I gave a wave—I knew how he felt. I found Emily’s corner, an array of couch cushions beside a rusting pillar, took my pants off on impulse, took my sneakers off, slipped beside her in boxers—not so much as a hitch in her breathing—fell asleep immediately, woke perhaps an hour later to her sober gaze.
“I’m sorry,” she said, awkward in all things.
Meanwhile, downstairs, the family car was being towed.
The Palazzo Venditti was a labyrinth, an endlessly complex love-offering from a duke to his duchess, including a once-exclusive hotel that had gone more than a little threadbare, and this is where the company had been put up, those vital young dancers among a number of ancient guests who seemed permanent fixtures. Emily’s rooms were all dark draperies and rococo furnishings, attractive in a dusty kind of way, more curatorial than romantic, vaguely smelly. We’d had a really splendid dinner at a place the theater manager suggested, and we were both logy with wine and food and rehearsal and travel. We tried some kissing, but it seemed to come more from memory than passion, the erotics of all those little blue aerogrammes notwithstanding.
“Who gets the bed?” Emily said mournfully. It wasn’t even nine o’clock, barely afternoon at home.
But we both climbed in, tangled our legs, passed out.
In the morning we lay on the feather mattress of her tall bed eating from the basket of breads and fruit and charcuterie someone had delivered. I made as if to look in my suitcase for a book we’d mentioned, found Mom’s ring, kneeled with it naked at Emily’s bedside, and finding myself tongue-tied merely handed it to her. She looked at it with interest.
“My Mom’s,” I managed.
“Shit,” Emily said taking it. “This is worth, like.” And then she saw my face. “Oh, no,” she said.
“I just thought.”
“Oh no, David, no.” And then, a little pleased despite herself: “Please don’t even say it!”
She put the ring back in my hand, hurried to dress, gave me a cursory kiss on the forehead. “Class,” she said, and hurried out.
I lolled about for an hour or so—she would come around, I thought, she always had—then got up to put my clothes away. In the fine armoire I discovered a man’s smoking jacket. And then in a drawer by the sink I found a toothbrush, big foreign orange thing, worn bristles, tube of denture adhesive, if I was reading the French correctly. Some former tenant of the room, of course, nothing to fear. But then, in the drawer by my side of the bed, reading glasses and a Zippo lighter bearing officer’s insignia. Under the bed, black socks twined through a twisted pair of Emily’s familiar underpants.
I wrapped his glasses and military Zippo in a pair of my boxers, put the package in his drawer for him to find, then stuffed my rucksack, simple enough, left the hotel.
Benedikta knew things, and not only about oddball spirituality. She told me about her other patients, intimate stuff: one had been in a car accident and lost her maternal instinct, walked away from her young children and her marriage; another had leapt out of an eighth-story window and been caught by a palm tree, which broke both her arms but saved her—the tree was on Castañeda Street and the woman’s sweater was still tangled in its fronds two stories up (I often looked up as I passed—the sweater was blue with large white buttons); still another client had found his wife wearing his clothes one afternoon and had slowly had to accept her as a man, had himself begun to dress as a woman.