I gave up drawing the bathrobe and I didn’t feel guilty.
Until I did.
I arranged pillows on the bed in your general size and shape and leaned into them through long, hot afternoons while scolding myself for not being more productive.
In a fit of ennui I made myself draw a bathrobe for you. I obscured the robe behind the ladder-back of a chair and suddenly understood my friend’s impulse to imagine something new behind her gate.
I had already been convinced that if I thought about you while I drew the robes I would do a better job.
Another way of saying this is that I believed that if I had sex with talented and interesting people, I would be more talented and interesting. There are formulas that corroborate this bad logic, which makes it no more accurate. Continue reading
No terrain is impossible for the Urban Cyclist. His powerful legs drive the pedals down in alternation, right, left, right, left, calculating the degree of incline by the strength required of his thigh and calf muscles for each complete revolution of the front sprocket. The soles of his feet and palms of his hands read each vibration transferred from the tires to the handlebars and frame, making microadjustments to his direction and balance at a speed faster than thought. The initial uphill stretch when he first leaves the house is short and serves to lubricate his joints and warm up his muscles. He quickly reaches Reservation Street. Its sloping cobbled lanes are separated by a grassy central reservation. Five blocks to the Strip. Knowing every inch of the way like the back of his hand doesn’t make the challenge any less dangerous for the Urban Cyclist. From one week to the next, so much can change. A resident might decide to have a new driveway put in so they can park their car in the garage more comfortably, and may have to deposit mounds of sand, gravel, and cement in the middle of the sidewalk, an example of the kind of mutant obstacle for which the true Urban Cyclist must be prepared. There are dogs that shoot out like rockets from behind walls to try to snaffle a bit of their favorite food, an unwary cyclist’s shin. Even trees, an apparently peaceful and inoffensive element of the natural world, from one week to the next push out branches and roots, which can obstruct the Cyclist’s path. Weeds sprout from the sidewalk, concealing pebbles, holes, and bricks that can catch one by surprise and cause serious accidents from which only the most skilled, experienced cyclists emerge unscathed.
This block was new to me, but its warped cornices, crumbling lintels, and broken, zigzagging fire escapes could have been ripped from my memories. The people seemed familiar, too: the woman in curlers, cigarette dangling from two fingers, leaning out a first-floor window to gossip with a neighbor on the sidewalk, a potbellied mayor holding court on a nearby stoop. Older boys with gleaming biceps who slouched in lawn chairs and played video games on a television hotwired into the streetlight. Teenage girls in suffocatingly tight jeans who caressed the rusting finials of a wrought-iron fence and kept an eye on a horde of children—black and Spanish—who ran screaming through an open hydrant.
I stepped aside as a girl, maybe seven or eight, tore past me with a water balloon. I used to be one of these kids, I thought, oblivious to the crushing heat: exactly what that made me now, forty years later (and acutely aware of the heat), I couldn’t say. Though as much at home here as anywhere else in the city, I viewed the street warily. We shared a history of sorts, but history—my history—was at best a pleasant dream from which I always awoke with an unsettling sense of loss. I had no reason to be nostalgic. As for the future, that too had always been filled with questions, which led me to suspect that, in the hours and days ahead, I would still be chasing ghosts.
Three nights after I left the Arctic Storm, I heard my name as I passed the Salty Dawg. I looked back. A small, thin man hurried after me. His walk had something hopeful, almost jaunty, in it, but his face looked tired under its graying stubble.
“Buy you a drink and we’ll talk about a job,” he called. The skipper of the Arctic Storm came out behind him, shouting, “Damn you, Jay, you’re stealing my deckhand. You’re gonna work for me, aren’t you, sweetheart?”
I let myself be herded inside, strangely elated at the thought of fishing again.
Nina got directions and headed out near the border of the province, to a village covered with undulating waves of snow, about a hundred kilometers from Rogozhin. Ksenia refused to go—her eyes ached from the glittering snow and the blinding sun—and Nina rode with a driver by the name of Vitya in a Barguzin-model van that was white and smooth, like sweet ice cream. Kirill had hired this Vitya especially for Ksenia’s side trips and allocated funds for it, but Ksenia tended to drive herself and keep the money. At that point Nina hadn’t realized that Vitya was destined to become the ambassador for all adoption in Rogozhin. The effect he had on the Spanish couples eclipsed quiet interpreter Nina and efficient Ksenia, whom the clients rarely saw and mistakenly called “the lawyer,” an error she never corrected or laughed about. Vitya was so strong and handsome that when they saw him for the first time, even the most nervous were instantly calmed. He was like a liberating warrior on a military poster. Some of those moments made Nina slightly embarrassed.
“That Vitya is so handsome,” Ksenia said that evening. “I used to think about it, like, what if I got together with him?”
“Did he hint at it?” Continue reading
Hell is truth seen too late.
— Thomas Hobbes
He knew they were doomed as any couple in the history of rotten love. He’d known it long before, actually, and yet he’d driven out here anyway, to this land of barbequed ribs and noxious air, and magicians and cretins and drunks.
The same imbecilic logic of old had held for them, as well: if they ran fast enough, they figured, if they put distance enough between them and their filth, they might still have a chance at life.
But though they’d only dragged their filth along, it wasn’t till the moment he appeared before her in his tee shirt stained with gravy and cheese, his face painted blue and teeth all black—a 240-pound fiend covered in tattoos—that the extent of their imbecility had obtained in full, the repulsion in her eyes, had he somehow doubted, its awful confirmation.
She was in the bathroom, turning herself into a “sexy gothic Martian.”