A Story Problem

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A Story Problem by Darcy Cosper


Let x = x. There are things to solve. There are many variables. There are elements to be accounted for. There are trajectories to identify. There are forces to be reckoned with.
     Your answers will count. You must show your work. Pay attention.
     You are at a party. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that it is a large party, it is a large city, it is deep summer. Let us say that there are many people and that they are restless in certain ways and dressed with intent and the room is big and less than bright but more than dim.
     The party is very large and crowded and the music is loud and heat is close and pressing and the women twist their hair up off their necks and pluck at their shirts and people flap their hands and everyone says to everyone else, It’s so hot it’s so hot.
     There is only one person in this room you have fucked more than once. Let him be represented by the letter A. You were with him for years. It was not so long ago. He leans against the wall, you see him in pieces through a mass of people. He is talking to a woman, B, who is a close friend of yours. She is the former lover of C, a close friend of A’s. Three of the four of you once shared a bed, a night, made certain exchanges, ignored consequences.
     C is on the other side of the room, talking with D, frail and sleepy-eyed, a childhood friend of B’s who C tangled with for a month before some resistance brought things to a halt. Standing with them is E, sultry, sulky, once wooed and tumbled by A, the only time you know of that he stepped out on you. She is large and absurdly beautiful and angry tonight and you travel along her gaze to a corner of the room. She is looking at F, who has fucked B, D and, long ago, G, who is talking to him while she waves to you. J brushes past and his hand lingers at your waist and he is with the girl he was cheating on when years ago you let him seduce you and now she is his wife and K, whose marriage is falling apart, comes to drop a kiss on your brow and asks you to dinner the following week, and he is with the woman he would not harm though he wanted to when you tried to seduce him and didn’t sleep for weeks imagining the length of his body and the shape of his face, and you are all smiling and dazed and everyone says to everyone else It’s so hot isn’t it so terribly hot let’s have another drink.
     Later you will talk to F, lean, dark-eyed, and he will let one finger come to rest on the delicate sharp point of your hip and E will come in her lovely rage to slip between the two of you and she will not cast a glance back to acknowledge the space you occupy nor will you move. Later F will take E home and return to the party and G will tell you that E is another in the string of women F has been with between the sheets, and for a moment you will imagine fucking H, the man who broke E’s heart — you will imagine this not out of malice but out of a desire for continuity.
     Later still, G will leave with a boy who pressed you against the bathroom sink, and you will wonder how many more people each of you would have to fuck for the sake of perfect symmetry. You will wonder what is to be added to this equation tonight.
     Let us say that you are at a party and it is a dense late summer night and the weather will never break, never, and your shoulders are bare and slick, that there is a hand resting on one of them, and the hand belongs to a man and there is a wedding ring on this hand. He is standing beside a woman who is not his wife, a tall woman who gave you a slow, appraising smile that made your breath catch when she arrived. Now it is later, it is late, and this tall woman hands you a glass of wine and slips her arm around you and leans to kiss you, and when your wet mouths part the man who is married lets his hand slip from your shoulder and stares and asks Are you for real? And she tells him No, we’re just a projection of your desires and you think that she may be right.
     Let us say that everyone has had a certain amount to drink, and that you are watching L, a round-eyed cupid-lipped girl introduced to you by B, a girl who has pursued your friendship with a force that unsettles you. Tonight she is an object propelled and drawn by the heat of others. You watch her careen from one group to another, easing herself into the crevices that separate their bodies. Later tonight, so much later, she will kiss A, and he will walk away from her into the dark and call you from the street. And when he calls, one of the people in this room right now will be in your bed, and together from the tangle of sheets you will listen to the answering machine absorb his confession and his anger and his love. You will wish to be alone, you will regret nothing but the rawness between your legs, the rawness of your mouth, the ferocious roughness of the hands that gripped you tonight. You will stand naked in the dark at the door to your apartment and wave goodbye.
     Let the letters not yet assigned stand for variables, individuals, situations you don’t know, can’t see.
     Now solve for these things:
     The weights of wine and ice and bourbon.
     Melting points and breaking points.
     The salt content of sweat, of semen. The surface area of naked skin.
     The equal and opposite reactions.
     The distance from all centers, the gravitational pull of bodies, the relation of objects.
     The velocity of desire.
     The probability of grace.
     The sum of longing.
     The space between us.


Darcy Cosper is a writer and book reviewer. Her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Village Voice, Nerve, and GQ, and in the anthologies Full Frontal Fiction and the forthcoming Sex & Sensibility. Her first novel, Wedding Season, was published by Crown in March 2004. She lives in Los Angeles and New York.
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©1999 Darcy Cosper and Nerve Publishing