There she was, glittering. From a table at the back of the large ballroom
in the midtown hotel, he saw her upper torso and her head above all the
other heads at the fund-raiser; her nervous shoulders, her smooth,
lightly powdered throat, diamond necklace, the coiled potential of her
long, raven hair. Her speech drifted past his head like a gentle wind. The
reassuring cadences of this speech tonight were the very ones that calmed
him when she lay on top of him on the living room rug during his attacks
of nerves. He knew the checks would come out of the pocketbooks tonight,
the redundant and comforting certainty of the fundraiser.
Most of the top executives in his firm had come. There was Bosquet, one
of the other young VPs, several tables in front of him, his favorite VP
aside from himself, a good egg, handsome, with impeccable Nixonian hair.
Ah Bosquet. Good feeling toward all fellow men, fellow persons.
But something had gone wrong. Up onstage, one of his wife’s bare, white,
hairless arms had been amputated, except there was still a hand at the
end of it; but the hand was attached to this little stubby arm. His
throat closed up. Sweat poured down his face. He needed a set of keys to
grip tightly in his hand, but she had all his keys and, come to think of
it, his checkbooks. Then he realized that the shortness of her arm was an
optical illusion: her arm appeared foreshortened because she was pointing
it directly at him. “Dan?” she asked. She had finished her speech. “Stand
up,” she said.
Later, in the cold Arctic motel, he would wonder what had brought on the
paralysis. Everyone was looking at him and he couldn’t make his legs
move. He laughed and urinated freely down his trouser leg. Lacking keys,
he gripped his wine glass until it broke in his hand. Blood dripped from
his fingertips. He knew it was really the deep, death-bound devotion of a
good marriage, and not some hostile, jealous drive to embarrass him that
made her step from behind the podium, jump down off the stage in her
black pumps, and rush toward him with tears in her eyes. Still, he would
make her pay for it.
“Darling,” she said, in the ballroom, while everybody watched. She had* * *
his face in her hands, and to the extent that he could forget where he
was, which was not much, he was comforted and aroused by the touch of her
fingers. He beckoned her ear toward his mouth. He found himself gently
licking her ear. There appeared on her face the outward display of the
most deeply felt confusion he had ever seen, followed by what looked
like, in facial vocabulary, the realization that she had done something
wrong. Sixty people were on their feet in a circle around Dan, who was
seated in his own urine, and Tara, who was bending over him in her tight
dress with her soft, fragrant shoulders. He whispered his request. Those
people nearest his mouth heard only the word “ice.”
After buying the wheelchair, the skins, and the thermal underwear, they
journeyed to the northernmost motel in the world. On the trip, he made
her haul his lame weight as often as possible, joking, “I’m pregnant,” or,
The first hours in the motel room, which they did not intend to leave
for two weeks, were taken up with free-floating mutual panic and
affectionate hostility. “I can’t believe I made you do this,” Dan said.
“Now you’re gonna leave me.”
“No, don’t say that. Those are not acceptable words between us even as a
joke or, I don’t know, a salvo.” Tara scanned the room, which was big,
with cheap orange furniture and small windows looking out upon harsh,
bright ice and snow. “I’m cold,” she said.
“Me too. Burn some money.”
“Are you cold all over or just from the waist up?”
She laughed. She ran across the room and leapt from the floor directly
onto his shoulders, knees first. Her knees pinned his shoulders to the
bed. His arms went numb. She reached behind her and unzipped his fly.
“Oh no, don’t do that, that’s a really bad idea, I don’t want to find out
whether that’s — Oh. Oh my. Oh yes, do that. Wow, that is
She climbed off him and went to inspect the kitchenette. “Hey!” he said.
“I guess the invalid-swain combination is not a turn-on,” she said.
“I didn’t know you could be this cruel.”
“You didn’t know I could be this cruel?”
She walked by the bed and he tried to grab her. She dodged him easily.* * *
In the morning, cold air trespassed upon their unhappy dreams.
“Oh my God!” Tara said.
“Look at your feet.”
“I can’t find them. Describe them to me.”
“Are they not under the skins?”
She lifted the heavy skin they were using as a blanket and slid her body
out from under it. She stood at the foot of the bed in her rainbow silk
thermal attire, her dark, uncombed hair scattered about her shoulders.
She shoved his cold, blue feet back under the skins. “Did you feel
anything when I did that?”
“What did you do?”
“Jerked you off.”
She made coffee and bagels and put them on the rusty bridge table where
they foresaw eating all their meals for the next two weeks. She hauled
her husband’s inert body out of bed, dressed it, and placed it in the
wheelchair at the table. He ate the naked bagel and drank the coffee.
“This is good practice for having a baby,” she said from somewhere
behind him in the room. “You can’t move, I satisfy all your needs, you’re
not grateful, you’re a useless blob.”
“What are you doing back there?”
“Writing a letter.”
“What does it say?”
“‘Dear Mom, I’m in the Arctic with Dan. His legs are paralyzed and he
told me he wishes everyone in the world except us were dead. Did you and
Dad ever go through this kind of thing? Please write soon.'”
She noticed a crowbar in the half-open drawer of the motel’s cheap
writing desk. She thought of slamming the back of Dan’s head with it.
“There’s a crowbar in the drawer,” she said.
“What are you wearing?”
“Gray cardigan sweater, black lycra ski pants, fluffy brown slippers.”
“What’s the weather like outside?”
“Are you blind now too?”
“My neck is stiff.”
“I’m going to write more letters.”
“What? I can’t hear you. I’m deaf.”
“Don’t make so many jokes. I can’t handle this many jokes.”* * *
Dan woke up alone thinking of Bosquet, the other VP at the fund-raiser.
Had Bosquet ever been as humiliated as Dan had been? The one enchantment Dan
possessed — money — Bosquet also had. But it was Bosquet’s lack of a
public degradation in his life that Dan begrudged him, not his wealth.
Dan did know that if one person has a penny, another can’t also have that penny,
which knowledge often bred in rich people an anxious competitiveness with
other rich people, but Dan had transcended that. For one thing, he did
not mistake wealth for wisdom. But niether did Bosquet. The question was,
How would Bosquet hold up under a ballroom urination?
Another good question: Where was Tara? He screamed her name. No answer.
All alone. Exactly how he had felt at the fund-raiser. He screamed her
name until he was hoarse. He sat up and tried to pull some pants over his
legs, which were like two long, intractable meatloafs. He put on a
full-length white fur coat and wheeled himself out the motel door. His
wheelchair jammed in the ice and he fell face down. The air temperature
was forty degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. He dragged himself toward the
motel office, twenty-five yards away across the ice. He thought he
wouldn’t survive, which would be his own fault for treating Tara as a
servant, like the guy who is mean to his dog in Jack London’s “To Build a
Fire.” He grappled toward the motel office and wriggled across the
threshold. The office was so luxurious that he thought he either had
arrived at the office or was dead. The silver carpet was so expensive!
The moose on the wall. Tara shouting into the telephone, “Bosquet! I love
you! Please, Bosquet!”
“No!” Dan was on his belly in the doorway.
“Dan,” she said, startled. Now the knowledge ran all through him that* * *
had been stored until now in his dead legs. She dropped the phone and
rushed to him. She stood above him and saw his teardrops repelled by the
thick, soft, brown, waterproofed leather of her snowboots.
Tara and Dan lay beneath the skin on the bed, weeping from the cold. “I’m
breaking under the strain,” she said. “There’s something you don’t
understand. Your success, you know, is immanent in you. You are your
success. If you are here, it is here, even if you are a cripple. My
success is the way I am in contact with other people.”
Dan discovered that despite the mind-boggling, unassimilable betrayal in
the motel office, he could still listen to his wife, or think he was
listening. “I know,” he said. “Your success depends on your keeping in
touch with your community.”
“No, my success is keeping in touch with my community,” Tara
said. “You know, Dan, I’ve realized something on our journey. The way you
and I are together — call it the North Pole way of being together — I’m
the cripple in that. You think if you just throw money at me I won’t also
need a life. I can’t stay here.”
“Let me just send up a flare over here in this conversation,” he said.
“Half an hour ago I crawled into the office as you were telling Bosquet
you love him, or was I hallucinating?”
“Oh, that? I was trying to call anyone from that phone. I really
did feel as if they had all died. The first person I got through to was
Helena Bosquet, only Helena wasn’t home, Bosquet was. So I just — he
became, don’t you see, the representative of everyone out there. I poured
it into his ear, my love for all of them.” (This happened to be true, though it felt
like a lie as she was saying it.) “It was crazy, I
know. I’m going crazy up here.”
Dan truly believed her. His heart was really melting. “You’re right,” he
said. “My love has been all wrong. We have to get out of here.
We must go
back and apply the world to our wounded selves like a gigantic poultice.”
They hugged each other hard and, an instinctive overture, she ran her
fingers lightly across his thighs. He felt them. They were now the couple
who had everything. They held each other and fell asleep. After an hour,
they woke up thinking about the important relationship-time they’d logged
under these skins. They wondered if they ought to hollow out an area of
their house — storage, this was usually called, the attic, the junk
closet, “the crawlspace, honey” — and develop the flotsam of a career in
love, as in, “I can’t believe we still have this. Imagine, the
things we thought worth saving. We save everything.“
“Okay now, you get out of bed first, Mr. Paralysis.”
“Please. It’s been nice but I gotta get outta here.”
“Can’t move anything now. Arms.”
“Danny, cut it out.” She turned her head and took a big piece of his
bicep and gnashed it. “You feel that?”
“All right I’m at peace with this. We’ll see if this lasts. My peace,
that is. I think it will. I feel different now.”
“We can still try to leave if you want.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
Dan had limited neck movement and he turned his head enough to see her
face above the discolored blanket of skin. Her face had become naturally
pale, resembling her soft, lightly powdered face on the night of the
fund-raiser. Bright, soft, cloudy Arctic light came in through the
windows. “Let me see your shoulders,” he said.
She climbed out on top of the skins, naked. She had bathed just before
making the call and her skin was still pale and clean and glowing from
within like some pagan marble orb. Her body was full, whole,
unforeshortened as she crawled around above him on the bed, as if a woman
were meant to be seen by her husband only in this strictly Polar
condition of light. Gradually she allowed every aspect of her breasts to
be touched by his tongue, over which he retained intricate muscular
control. He was able to notice with his tongue the way that her breasts
emerged cleanly and roundly from the rest of her torso and the way that
her nipples, distinct, round unto themselves, repeated in miniature the
grand formal movement of her breasts. She presented her shoulders for the
slow inspection of his tongue. He was face-up on the bed. She stood and
yanked him by the ankles so that his feet and lower legs hung off the
side and his wet tongue, his only mobile organ, was situated at
the geographic center of the bed. She moved the surface of her belly over
this remarkable small wet writhing organism barnacled to the dead mass of
her husband. When it became dry she let it spread out and water in her
labia, and then she gave it her inner thighs to work on, and her knees,
and her calves, and her ankles, and the arches of her feet, and her toes,
and back up to her thighs, and this was no easy work for her, and she was
gasping with the effort. Again there was the need for watering, and she
let his squirmy tongue dawdle in her crotch, and she sort of relaxed and
hummed and sighed, rearranging herself now and then over his tongue,
which was still soaking in the necessary liquids.
In one of these rearrangements she noticed his penis, too, was in working* * *
order, and now she was not relaxed, she was frantic, scrambling, and very
soon she managed to lower herself down onto him. A few fast, easy
lowerings and raisings caused an uncontrollable shaking in all her
muscles and she huddled down on him for tighter, stronger movements and
grabbed some part of his impassive flesh with her teeth and hands for a
few last moments of deep, squalling effort and release. He knew some
extraordinary expenditure had just been made by himself because he was
panting, which he experienced only as hot air leaving his mouth in short
gusts and cold air coming in.
For the next several days, every part of her body she could get his
tongue on she did. During this major industrial exposure to flesh, his
tongue lost some of its delicacy. At times it was beyond parched — a
swollen and seared meat. Tara took swigs of tapwater from the motel
kitchen sink without swallowing, knelt above him all hot and bothered,
carried her mouth down to his dry spot, poured her water there, and then
used his tongue to paste the water once more all over her skin before
climbing onto his erect cock, up and down, fast and good with low hums
and high curdling little cries at the end. She had taken to springing up
immediately after sex and racing to the hot motel shower while Dan
remained naked and dazed on the stripped motel bed, his flesh covered
with large, pointy goosebumps to which he was completely oblivious.
This had turned into a sensual vacation. For several days of their
marriage, the long lick and quick fuck were the only things Dan was not
impotent to do. But he was impotent not to do them, which may have been
why, one cold afternoon while inadvertently working himself up into a
frenzy in their snowy vaginal kingdom built for two, Dan noticed his
mouth was uttering a string of words particularly masculine and foul,
culminating with that bad, blunt word referring to a certain part of his
Tara felt the whole long, sick Arctic weekend build up in her at once.
She took the crowbar out of the desk drawer, raised it above her head,
and then threw it on the orange nappy rug in disgust. She said she would
leave the motel because she didn’t want to kill him. She also said she
would leave the marriage. In the motel office, with nothing more than
vehement talk and seventy thousand dollars in cash, she persuaded the
motelier to give her his four-wheel-drive vehicle. She drove away.
Dan managed somehow to throw himself off the bed. Dragging himself* * *
forward by means of his chin, he arrived after an hour at the crowbar on
the carpet. There he burst into tears for not being able to split his own
skull in two. He cried himself to sleep.
Dan woke up naked and freezing cold. He jumped to his feet and ran to the
motel shower, where he let the scalding water soak into his skin. When he
was dried and dressed he realized he could kill himself now. He didn’t
want to any more. But he did whip the crowbar into his own head in a
failed effort to beat himself unconscious.
Tara motored southward in the 4WD. Her hands were shaking badly and she
felt woozy, as if in sympathy with Dan, who by now had smashed his face
with the crowbar so many times that the skin had folded in over his eyes.
Tara pulled a U-turn on the highway. Dan, body awareness at an all-time
low, had missed his head with the crowbar the last few times, and had
taken instead to bending over and wailing on his shins with the hard
piece of metal.
Tara walked in.
“You’ve come back!”* * *
They sat on the bed and exchanged vows. He begged her to walk him to the
car immediately. She stood up and tried to help him to his feet and he
said, “My legs, they’ve gone dead again. Just kidding!” He sprang to his
feet, his eyes covered with swollen flesh. They set off in the vehicle.
“What checkbooks do you have on you?” she asked while driving.
“Chemical, MannyHanny, Citibank.”
“How much money total?”
“Whatever the FDIC limit is for each. Two hundred thousand, I guess.”
“Sign me three checks for two hundred thousand each. Clean yourself out.
“Because, you see, that’s going to be our arrangement. You keep giving
me a lot of money and I never leave you.”
“What are you going to do with the money?”
“It doesn’t matter. Throw big fund-raisers. Anything I want.”
“What if I don’t give you the money?”
“That’s not part of the arrangement. You do give it: that’s the point. Start
“I can’t see.”
“Do your best.”
And so they drove back to boring old New York.