Zepha’s Ride

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Zepha's Ride - a column in fiction by Genevieve Field

I. Goldensmog Gets Wet

I’m all wet. Been hosed down like a twitchy-cunted bitch in heat by a
committee of censorious stormclouds gathered above the East Village. I’m
soaked down to my carefully-chosen thong — Natori lace in
goldensmog — and matching bra (total cost to destitute, Gold-card
carrying zine editor: eighty-five dollars). The cracked, hallowed steps

to my ex-boyfriend’s apartment still have a familiar shake to them, but
he has painted a target around his buzzer. The bull’s-eye is a collusion
of red, orange and purple that is the color of my bedroom walls, my
bicycle, the birdcage in my kitchen and the throat of the bird inside it;
the color of the three eyeshadows blended on my lids. My index finger
frets, hummingbirdlike, over the buzzer and withdraws. I have the
sensation — heart racing, chest clogged — of being caught shoplifting.
But there is no wadded up baby-T, no breathless security guard, just me.
Me, who spent the better part of college burning tiny holes in this
guy’s heart like a cheap bedspread.
I sit my ass on the edge of a
step, floored by my cruelty.

Then I snap out of it. This will be a good thing, I tell myself, a
healing thing. Besides, I’m not here to stir things up, just to pay the
most talented artist I know to take my picture for the cover of my zine.
And, yes, Rocco happens to know that under the lens, the skin comes right
off my bones (easy as darkmeat), and that my snaky, sinning underself
likes to wriggle in the light.

Rocco takes his time to buzz me in. Maybe he had to say goodbye to the
black-haired Lulu who bursts out the front door, swinging a sidelong
glance at me from crowlike eyes. Since me, Rocco’s been with a string of
French salesgirls from a boutique where we used to go to admire the
costumes (I thought), and as I peek at raven-woman striding away
in white leather tubedress, I recognize her as one of them. A perverse
part of me hopes she recognizes me too, and that she’s taking note of
every inch of me, up to the shade of my rouge à
which I apply while looking into a compact propped on
the intercom box.

On the eighth floor, a salmon pink door opens and Rocco’s slouch fills
the frame. He is one of the few people in New York who has a history on
me. Through two years of college we languored, content in each other’s
dirty rooms. We smoked pot, watched Fassbinder movies and always,
eventually, screwed. But I never could stand his small hands and there
was no changing that. We broke up shortly after I “followed” him from
California to New York. Our final month together was relatively painless,
whiled away in the therapeutically stark rooms of Soho art galleries, in
steamy-windowed diners with his art school friends who never slept, and
in his cubicle bedroom where we negotiated between his lust and my
indifference. Once I had my bearings, I ended what he called “our mutual
love affair with you.”

“Hi,” I say, trying to breathe like I’m not out of breath from climbing
the stairs. “I’m soaked.” Heat rises to my face. Clearly, we are not
friends. I am sensing something of a bouncer/clubber dynamic. I’m on the
sidewalk side of the velvet rope, shivering in high heels that hurt my
feet and twist in the cobblestones.

Rocco says “It doesn’t matter, come in,” and disappears down a dark
hallway. He reappears with my old Special K beach towel, which is now
stained with malodorous darkroom chemicals. Handing me the towel, he says
without a trace of humor, “Don’t even think about taking that back.”
Busily drying off, I feel his eyes move down me to the puddle forming at
my feet, and back up to my smeary, diverted eyes.

That was always the difference between us. He, staring holes through thin
skins that blush and prickle; me, forever pretending discretion, stealing

impressions of people’s bodies, their intimacies, even their car wrecks,
through my peripheral vision. Ten or twenty pounds heavier and sporting a
powder blue work suit, Rocco, once a young-Elvis-look-alike with his
asphaltic pitch of hair and fawn-lashed blue eyes, now prematurely
resembles the King in his later years. I have no idea if I’m looking
better or worse now, in my almost-late twenties. At least I’ve learned not
to straighten my hair. Rocco pours two cups of coffee,
adds half-and-half to mine (pointedly not asking) and leads me into his

The stark white walls are covered with women, colorful and subdued, all
hair and flesh and fabric and eyes and hips and laughing teeth and open
palms and sharp elbows. The series he took of me naked through the glass
walls of a greenhouse is up — moist green fronds stroking my blurred,
root-pale limbs — as is an eleven-by-fourteen of the back of my head,
half-shorn in a tomato-red barber’s chair. I’m happy to see myself here,
like an old friend at a stranger’s party, but I’d rather not give him the
pleasure of watching me stare at my own portraits. Besides, I’m afraid
I’ll see in shameful measures what is true of all us amateur models — we
feign oblivion to the camera, as if it captures us unawares, but all the
while we are high on the envy we want desperately to invoke.

The only thing to look at besides the flesh-bespunked walls is the bed,
completely stripped. Nice touch. He listened when I said I wanted Raw. He
flips a switch under an umbrella and eight a.m. light saturates the
stained, baby blue mattress. Somewhat gingerly, I sit on a corner and
begin to shed, combat boots first, and slowly. I untie the laces,
pressing the small of my back into an alert arc, lifting my chin just the
littlest bit, hoping he will pick up the camera and shoot. I used to
love to lean back — in tall, wet grasses; on stacks of pillows; in my
best friend’s lap — and stare into the click and whir of the shutter. It
occurs to me, this was how we fucked. Just shoot, I will him. He picks up
the camera and begins.

Read the next installment of Zepha’s Ride.

Genevieve Field and