| After Sammy and May broke up, he was left with the whip. He thought of throwing it away but kept it on the windowsill in his bedroom. There were little grains of soot he noticed every time he looked at it, but he didn’t dust the area. The shade he pulled down partly obscured the black crop, with its flap of leather at the end, shaped like the head of a cobra, but he knew it was there. The times he thought about himself and May, he saw an unwashed teapot left on a counter. When he lifted the lid, there was fuzzy mold pluming on sodden leaves and an odor that was acrid and sweet. When he went after her, he hadn’t known a whip would come into his life, but in another way he had.
He attended a performance of hers and approached her after the show, inviting her to a wine bar on Ludlow Street. He wasn’t surprised she said yes. He had an effect on women that he’d cultivated, a way of seeming interested in them almost enraptured while giving them space. He was interested in May: in her life as an artist and the manner she had of not needing to please people. He taught literature to inner city college kids, packaging the Western canon in Marxist theory. He didn’t think he belonged in academe, though he’d spent his life there. Every day he worked out until pain: lifting weights until his muscles failed, rowing until his calluses bled, running stadium stairs until his mind went bleary and he felt like a speck on a windowsill.
He could feel hope and sadness rise off May. He could feel her. It was uncomfortable. The bar they went to was dark, lit mostly by candles. They drank red wine and ate spicy rice crackers from a bowl. They talked about Shakespeare. She had been offered the part of Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Do it,” he said.
“You see me falling in love with an ass”?
“I see you playing someone not you.”
“I don’t like Shakespeare.”
“Then, you’re an idiot,” he said, making it sound like, “You’re adorable.”
He liked the way they were arguing. It reminded him of his brother, Jules, the only person he loved, now that his father was dead. When their family left Morocco and settled in upstate New York, they’d been the only ones around with dark skin. Jules hadn’t been taunted, but Sammy had been treated horribly, and it had been a shock going to school, because at home, with his mother and aunts, he’d been adored.
“I like Shakespeare’s view of love,” he said. “People are interchangeable. You love the one you’re with. Sex happens in moonlight. It’s random. Passion is the thing that can ruin you, the way it does Marc Antony.” Sammy’d had scads of girlfriends. He’d lost count. “Power’s what matters in Shakespeare.”
May sat up. “I don’t think people are interchangeable. That’s why we can keep doing the same things with each one, over and over, and it doesn’t feel like repeating.”
He wondered about the things May did “over and over.” He’d followed her career. In her monologues, she talked about sex casually, making teasing references to power games and something called “edge play.” It struck him that it was similar to what he did to his body in sports, pushing it to extremes of pain and then pressing past to an altered state. He liked pornography with Victorian settings lace knickers, disobedient students, riding crops but he’d never experimented. He thought he might like to with May that her larky manner would ease him. He was uncertain how much of women he wanted to explore. He’d shot up tall in high school and started lifting weights. Girls looked at him. He was a reader, and he would find a way to talk to the smartest girls, provided they were pretty. May wasn’t as attractive as the woman he was currently dating, Candace, a professor in the psychology department. May had a sense of style, though, and he found her sexy, not just her worldliness but her combination of containment and an air of having no secrets. He was willing to let go of Candace. It felt natural.
May ate crackers and asked about his life. His answers were wry and self-deprecating. He could see her mind ticking away. She was like a journalist, and he liked being investigated. Raking fingers through her ragged bob, she asked about his history with women. He was honest about the revolving door, seeing it as something of an accomplishment. She cocked her head to the side and extended her hand, and as he slipped his broad palm into her small mitt, she said, “Nice knowing you. I won’t be seeing you again.”
He laughed. “Why not?”
“You’re an arrested case.”
He gulped, a little stung, though it was enjoyable. “Can’t we be friends?” The thought appealed to him. He would have liked her as a friend, someone to tell his tales of loving and leaving other women. He could imagine May browbeating him and slamming the door in his face. The women he dumped never did that. They left the door open, and he sent them Christmas cards and sometimes called them on Sunday nights.
May narrowed her eyes. “Why would I want you as a friend if I don’t want you as a lover?”
“I’m good as a friend. It’s as a boyfriend I stink.” She seemed amused by his bragging. “I love people I don’t know. People in developing countries with fascist governments supported by the CIA. Someone with a houseboat that burns down. The boat contains that person’s earthly possessions. I get an email from a friend to send a check, and I’m right there.” He leaned in close. He could smell hot pepper on her breath and smoky perfume on her neck, like tree bark. He covered her hand and pressed down. She didn’t try to wriggle away, and he felt his chest expand. He felt suspended, the closest thing he knew to happiness.
She slapped a ten-dollar bill on the bar and walked out the door.
©2001 Laurie Stone and Nerve.com
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Laurie Stone is author of the novel Starting With Serge, the memoir collection Close to the Bone and Laughing in the Dark, a collection of her writing on comic performance. A longtime writer for The Village Voice and The Nation, she has been critic-at-large on Fresh Air, has received grants from The New York Foundation for the Arts and MacDowell Colony, and in 1996 won the Nona Balakian Prize in Excellence in Criticism from the National Book Critics Circle.|
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