It began as a sensation Greg told himself he had just experienced; so someone must be in the room, and if he opened his eyes, his father would be standing over him and would prod him again, using the blunt tip of his forefinger to stab him in the temple. "Get up." One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. "Take out the dog." It took him a second or more this morning to say, "Blackie's dead." He said it twice. "Blackie's dead." And though he was again living at home, in Astoria—in the basement apartment of his parents' attached, one-family house—at least he wasn't sleeping on the sofa-bed in the living room, where his father, Max, used to awaken him each morning, while his grandmother prepared breakfast and his sister Margaret (his half-sister, for the 450th time) was still sleeping and his mother, half-awake, stared at the coffee her own mother had put in front of her.
No, no, that life was that life. Today, Gloriana was arriving with her cello. Not to move in. It was as he lay spent on the couch last week that Gloriana had said, "I'm a satirist, and satirists can't be serious." She'd smiled (almost his . . . sister Margaret's smile), (but a cello, not a violin, not Margaret's squealing notes). "You look like a little boy there on your back." Gloriana's laughter trailing off in a contemptuous sobbing drone. "Don't match wits with me, Greg."
If he didn't open his eyes. If he remembered his mother Sophie's broad, impassive face in the upstairs window, his father, always wearing his teamster's peaked cap, hair turning white, a growling voice now dry, hoarse. If Greg could just enjoy this Saturday off from his cousin Marty's Insurance agency on Queens Boulevard, where he'd gone after the break-up (Miriam, "How can you just sit there doing nothing?" His sample case shut up like a stockbroker's attaché case, the smell of Scrubbing Bubbles and Windex in their West Side apartment like carbolic acid in that famous story about Venice. And later, when he was moving out, "Why would you go there, Astoria? God!"). If he took just a few more minutes in bed, before the radio came on, a woman's soft voice enumerating temperatures in Dallas, Denver, Seattle (at least he'd never traveled that far. Now anyone could buy over the Internet, where his irrelevance popped up like a menu). If he pulled the blanket up around his legs that had been thrashing all night. If he told himself his return to his parents' home, though he had his own rooms, his own entrance, was something he imposed upon himself, freely, with no implication about Miriam, who, after all, had been willing to move out of the apartment they were sharing. If he thought about Gloriana ("We'll talk about love later," her blouse open, her breasts unhoused), whose picture in a pewter frame smiled down on him from the antique end table she'd helped him select (not moving in, no, no), the scent of rosewater drifting across the room from her scarf left on the bureau, so that her presence wafted over him. If his mood were less (Mrs. Weiss, eighth grade, her smile favoring the red-haired brother and sister in the front row, the Kahn twins) subjunctive: no video rental overdue at the store on Broadway, around the corner from this house and this basement apartment once lived in by his . . . sister Margaret, who was now an entomologist, having given up music for bugs). If he didn't ask why he'd let Miriam keep the apartment in Manhattan, why at first he had moved into a furnished room across from Astoria General Hospital (when he could have slept in the room upstairs that still smelled of his grandmother, or on the living-room pull-out sofa, stab, stab, stab), awakened at night by the revolving reds of the ambulance and altercations outside the Emergency Room. If he hadn't seen his girlfriend from his teenage years, Florence Lacella, last week, her arms full, potato chips and pretzels shining forth in their transparent envelopes from the brown paper bags she hugged to herself; if he hadn't been shocked by the immediacy of remembering the two of them in her parents' living room, soul-kissing on the couch, the winter Olympics and hissing skis on TV, the ski lodges, the steam knocking in her mother's radiator like the puttering out of snowmobiles pulled up to the log building, her skin smelling of saffron.
He was sure it was saffron.
Within seconds he was on his feet, doing fifty runs, touching his toes. In the bathroom, he washed his face vigorously, brushed his teeth, pulled down the skin beneath his left eye. Pink aliveness. It was like the membrane around his heart. He pulled back the foreskin of his penis. Everything clean. Clean. On their first date, Gloriana had said, "Teach me how." In the flickering glare, the sound turned low, squeals and grunts of the video lovers audible, they lay naked on the bed. She asked if he thought those people were aware of the camera on them. If they were sincere. Now she wanted to leave her cello at his apartment, to practice there on Saturday afternoons. There was no room in her parents' home, since she'd moved back in with them.
Sitting at his little kitchen table, Greg severed the fibers of a pink grapefruit with the serrated knife. He allowed the tart meat of the grapefruit to cool his tongue that lately he had been pressing into the roof of his mouth. If he allowed his tongue to go limp, it lifted itself, trembling. This morning's fried egg (the slick, membrane-covered yolk, the soft round body of the unborn) that he now penetrated with a corner of whole wheat toast was an attempt to reinstate the old Greg, whose mouth did not fill with saliva when he held his tongue motionless. The Greg who used to open a sample case and dissertate on his products.
He brushed his teeth again, washed the dishes, picked up the brown video case containing the tape that had scenes of men entering women from behind, slapping the women's buttocks so that a redness like chapped skin appeared. When Gloriana asked if she could slap him there, he'd said, "Certainly not." When she said, "Then do me," he refused. He'd kept the tape an extra day, intending to watch it alone. But now he was glad to return it, wondering what the woman behind the counter thought, while her teenage daughter, a blond girl working part-time, ripe in her t-shirt (flutter, smile), thanked him.
The BMT elevated train clattered into its Broadway stop. He again saw Florence Lacella. She'd remained thin and still walked with her feet pointing outward. Opposite the stationery store, she stared, then cupped her hand over her mouth, then smiled (dimples, the dimples). "Imagine that," she said. Her blue eyes, as in the past, still strayed from the face of the person she spoke to, looking over the person's shoulder, then into his eyes, then away. Greg rolled his eyes (an old tic, a saccade in search of a text), jerked his head to one side, and tried to laugh. He remembered that it was she who had pursued him when they were fifteen. He'd sit on the curb, looking away, while she tousled his hair. She liked to talk about her day at school. When her father died, she wept quietly against Greg, and he feigned sympathy when all he felt was repugnance. He didn't care how she felt. His own mother had just told him that Max was her second husband. Her first husband, Greg's real father, had died young. He didn't want Florence on him. "Imagine that." Donald, once his best friend, now her husband, worked for the phone company. Two children, boys. Yes. Well. "Imagine that."
Gloriana said, "It's unfair." She sat on one of Greg's three kitchen chairs, the cello upright between her legs, the bow dangling from her left hand. She plucked a bass note and frowned. "Mother wanted a girl and got me—uh!—because father didn't care. He just had no force." Her eyes wavered and she pushed her glasses further up her nose. "And don't tell me about babies." Her lids fluttered, and her indulgent smile reappeared. "Aren't you afraid of babies?" She executed several thrums on the cello, imitating the sound track of a silent film. She grinned, her lips pressed flat, her eyes shut. She and Greg had met at a Wednesday evening Adult Education business course at Bryant High School, the final exam for which they both ignored, after their first date on New Year's Eve (her low-cut dress, a yellowish warmth extending to her throat, her mother and father nodding shyly. He shook their hands, taking in the mother's shoulder-length white hair, the red-brown Indian face. The father tall, light-skinned, with a postage-stamp black mustache. Employed as a shipping clerk. Disappointed by Gloriana's withdrawal from college. He was always shaking his finger at her. "Education. Education." Her mother asking, "Are you happy, Ginger?" using her nickname).
It was the second week she'd been coming to the apartment, leaving the cello with him. (Greg was relieved to be away from Miriam's vegetarianism, her soft tones that had seemed so sympathetic, her lank hair and complacent artiness in their apartment on West 83rd Street, her poetry readings. She'd been drawn to his dark good looks but discovered that his narrow face and prominent eyes, at first so poetic, were just the paper-thin covering of an ordinary soul. Then his company folded.) Now he wondered how Gloriana could ever be self-supporting, losing jobs at the rate she did. She had worked in McDonald's. She'd lasted two months as an office temp, a job that concluded when she was caught writing sly notes to accompany correspondence. She'd clerked at Barnes & Noble. (Miriam worked in Shakespeare & Co, on Broadway, the store extending down 81st Street, its literary criticism section the noisy floor above a tiny repertory theater in a basement below—the theater where Miriam had taken him to see pieces by Beckett: a large room draped in black, the seats black, the production of "Footfall" allowing only a crack of light as a robed woman paced back and forth, a voice asking, "Will you never be done revolving it all?" And Miriam in black, invisible in that airless place.)
Gloriana had just taken a part-time job with a photocopy store. Though Greg was sure his mother looked down from her window every time Gloriana walked up the driveway and knocked on the door and later used the key he gave her (not moving in, not), his parents had said nothing about his guest. And again, last Saturday night, he'd not been able to penetrate her. Gloriana's hymen, intact, could not be broken. In a desperate moment, and with her consent, he had tried to penetrate her with the eraser end of a new #2 pencil, with no result. A muscular wall resisted him. She protested that his efforts did not hurt and that he should continue. He found himself sitting on the floor, dazed, his erection wavering, his face flushed. She said, "Oh, silly, come here, right here, by me." She patted the mattress. And pulling the blanket over them, she took him in her mouth. Later, in the dark, as he sat on a kitchen chair, opposite where she lay supine on the bed, she chatted while she masturbated. Though she had already brought him to climax, he was annoyed that she was accomplishing the same thing for herself. He seemed to have no part in it.
The snowfall in the first week of February
was deep, and Greg was feeling poorly—a lingering, low-grade fever,
his throat scratchy. Last week, when he'd come home to find the canisters
disturbed on his kitchen counter,
he deduced his mother had been in to clean. Or snoop. (In childhood,
his . . . sister Margaret kept insects in jars and fed them moldy table
scraps. Their mother washed floors every other day, making them gargle
Listerine, always spreading the smell of bleach and pine oil.) When he'd
gone upstairs to pay the rent, he asked his mother politely if she'd
been in the apartment. She threw up her arms, sat down, aggrieved by
his accusation, and wept. His . . . father Max said, "How could
you?" Then Max coughed unpleasantly, phlegm rushing to the surface,
but Greg didn't know if
And there was the scene with Gloriana. She told him why she'd been almost expelled from college before she dropped out. A woman instructor, an overbearing, flat-faced blond, had complained about her behavior, the way Gloriana would stand up in class or leave without permission and then come back in. "Life in this culture will be very difficult for you," the woman had said. Then Gloriana slapped the woman's face. "We argued about truth," she told Greg. "That fat old blond doesn't know any of my truth." She laughed. "I hope you don't tell him everything I tell you," she said. Greg thought she meant his penis. So he snickered. But Gloriana sat with the cello between her knees, gloomily tuning it, ignoring him.
Greg had been feeling low since then, and now with the snow, the fever began to bloom into something flu-like and delusional. He'd confessed as much to Gloriana on the phone. When she arrived with a paper bag filled with things, he felt relief (but for some reason was remembering Miriam asking him, "Do you think ghosts have genitals?" It was the first time he'd observed something unreasoned in her. Something weird. "God, you have no sense of humor!"). But it was no funnier than his mother telling him as he graduated high school that Max wasn't his real father.
Gloriana made him lie down, saying, "Baby's sick." She made a long crooning sound (Miriam humming to Schumann lieder. Her black stockings. Her Kahlo t-shirt. Her lips against his ear, as if for endearment. "I'm leaving you, Schatzie.") He heard familiar sounds, Gloriana pouring something into a sauce pan, heating it. Then he heard a pop as of rubber tubing turning inside out, a cap squeaking and being screwed tightly into place. She kept her back to him, turned, extinguished the light, and approached his bed. He heard the loosening of her clothes, their soft collapse to the floor, and as she approached and leaned over him, he inhaled the sweet odor of her body, giving off its heat as companion to his fever. She offered her breasts that in the dark by instinct he found, burying his face in them, kissing, muttering, while she soothed and stroked his febrile chest. Then Greg heard the pop of rubber again, and she was saying, "Poor baby." She closed his hands over the warmed baby-bottle and pushed it toward his mouth. "Take it," she whispered. "Take it. You'll feel better." For an instant he held the nipple to his mouth. Then he pushed her from him. "Go away! Are you crazy?" He leaped out of bed, dragging the blanket, standing now by the front door, staring through the small diamond pane of glass at the snow gathering in the driveway. He pulled the blanket around him, his face hot with shame, fever, his feet emerging cold between the tip of the blanket and the floor. He said, "I can't do this." "Are you angry?" she whispered. That she was hurt, or could be hurt, had not occurred to him. He was dizzy. And disgusted. She left, late as it was, and in the snow.
In the first week of March, Greg's . . . father had his larynx removed. Max's sore throat and hoarseness had been diagnosed as cancer. Greg's mother merely shook her head whenever Greg and Margaret (by telephone) (blond hair, something of their mother's impassive face, their . . . father's blue eyes) tried to convince her that Max had plenty of future. Early diagnosis. A lightning surgery strike. And the little white flap Max would wear over the hole in his throat, from which his esophageal speech would issue, that croaking, dry parody of Max's former growl—it would be like an eye patch. But all their mother could imagine was changing the wet gauze. She shuddered. She'd heard about men who smoked cigarettes through a button-sized aperture in their throats. When she wasn't crying, she stared into corners, or scrubbed her kitchen counter until her arms gave out. The possibility of using an electronic device that looked like a remote control box for the TV, something Max could press against his throat and that would produce a robotic voice not unlike the voice in the automated subway at the Atlanta airport ("The train is leaving the station please hold on") that Greg had once traveled on, Max would not consider. He wrote on the white pad kept near the bed, "I don't want to sound like a machine." Once outside the room, Max's wife collapsed into her (yes!) son's arms. The attention his parents required would come mainly from him, since he lived below, and since Margaret's work mandated travel to places like Costa Rica and she was busy with the children of her friend Klaus (there was talk of Eastern Europe, Prague). Greg found himself dreaming of Margaret. He'd awake remembering her long legs, his . . . sister in her underwear, Max scolding that she was too old to run around like that. Greg remembered how he'd think about her as he slept on the couch, waking with an erection that wilted when Max began prodding him, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, "Take out the dog."
Gloriana had begun to suggest that Greg was involved with someone else. She intimated that Greg reported on her activities. That he was in league with a former teacher of hers. When Greg confided to Marty in the insurance office—careful to keep his voice low, so the secretary Mrs. MacMillan couldn't hear him—that his sex with Gloriana was mostly oral—with some digressions toward the anus—Marty, a little embarrassed, said, "That's great." Then he said that business was very slow. They'd have to pick things up somehow, get more clients. Leaning over his desk toward Greg, built like all the men in Max's family, Marty showed muscular arms even through his shirt sleeves, the definition that comes from four days a week at the gym. He seemed menacing. Greg nodded and tried to puff up his old enthusiasm, the kind he had on his old job when he'd boasted he could sell solar roofing to the homeless in cardboard shelters.
But Greg watched more videos than ever. He discovered other rental stores. Everything he did, after all, was legal. And people made a living from it. This woman, who fetched videos from their shelves behind the counter, went home to cook dinner. Watched inane family programs in the evening. And in some quiet moment, when the children were asleep, she took her man in her mouth. Thinking about these things, he was prone to small accidents, like dropping his coffee cup at the office. No matter what he attempted in their lovemaking—anal intercourse, his cunnilingus—Gloriana merely giggled, though she would occasionally lean back and say, "Make love to me, Greg, show me how." It was always Gloriana who brought herself to climax. He seemed to be an instrument of her fantasy, and he was beginning to feel wrong. Something was wrong everywhere. Sales were declining. People were cutting back on their policies. Stocks were sluggish. There were rumors of Federal and State cutbacks.
Twice a week, Greg visited his mother and Max, offering to bring take-out food that his mother always forbade. "You never know what they put in things." In the beginning, Max would nod, point to the white pad hung from a string around his throat, and lift his hands as if to say, "What can I do?" In spite of Greg's protests, his mother made dinner, something mild and easily digestible, and they all watched TV for a couple of hours. Greg detested the news programs and documentaries they were addicted to, and once Max became adept at esophageal speech and less shy about how it sounded, his words articulated from the hole behind the gauze sounding belched and alien, Greg found himself once again chewing his tongue. He began to dread the consequences of constantly chafing himself in this way. Cancer. When he went down to his apartment, he switched on one of his videos and fell asleep amid the muffled gasps, convinced that everything was feigned. One morning, his back stiff, the tip of his tongue sore from a night of catching it between his front teeth, he looked at himself in the mirror. He seemed so haggard. A darkness beneath his eyes. A kind of V where his eyebrows habitually contracted in a frown. He realized he'd sunken into a routine that had not improved.
Gloriana held him to the Tuesdays and Thursdays she came to practice cello, something his mother began to comment on. And he'd seen Florence Lacella twice more, once on the corner of Broadway, and once, incredibly, in her copy service job on Queen's Boulevard where he'd quite at random stopped to make a photocopy of someone's term policy. When she smiled at him across the counter, his heart fluttered. He flushed. He was so stricken he had difficulty speaking. All he could manage was, "Well, well." Something in the intelligent movement of her hands, the friendly light in her eyes, her competence as she instructed a girl how to produce two-sided copies, created in him a longing. He remembered how she had pursued him. He wanted her back. But he recalled how Donald had slapped him in the face when they'd argued over a safe call at third base. His best friend. "Listen," he said, "why don't you and Donald join me for dinner some night?" Florence smiled her usual smile and said she'd ask Donald. She exchanged telephone numbers with him. He left almost happy for the first time in weeks. But there had been no call, and he looked worn out.
"Let's just call him Professor Y," Gloriana said. She had finished playing something resonant by Saint-Saens and decided to confront Greg. "You know who I mean. Of course." She tilted her head back, lifting her face to the light, her eyes closed. Something flat in her features, something too serene, the drone of her voice oddly matched to the tone of her instrument. She looked bedraggled. "Oh, Greg, you know. How often do you write him? Just tell me that." He wondered how much of all this was a joke, like the baby bottle. But she told him about Professor Y teaching journalism in an evening course she'd been taking at LaGuardia Community College. "You'd think he was in some kind of Castle!" After praising her writing, Professor Y had suggested a liaison that she rejected. He began to fail her work. She accused him. There was a scene. She left the course. But Professor Y left little messages for her everywhere, confessing his love for her, sometimes in the editorials of the Times or on subway posters. Her mail, at her parents' apartment, had been steamed open, read, and resealed.
One night, tired of being pursued, she met Professor Y at the college after his class, told him to leave her alone. He pretended not to know. Using a ruse, she obtained his telephone number from the department secretary and called him. She found out his home address and stood outside his apartment building in the east Sixties in Manhattan and accosted him, when his arms were full of groceries (he loved potato chips. Greg thought of Florence, her grocery bag full, his heart empty). Finally, there was an episode with the police. "How he acted," she said. "As if I couldn't see through him. The way I see through you." Greg felt a great heaviness. She smiled at him, seeming relieved, pleased with herself, and came to where he sat, pressed his head against her womb. "Poor baby," she said. "I'm not angry with you." (All he could think of was his mother saying, "You know, Max loves you like his own son." And the evening he told his . . . sister he'd been adopted by Max, and she'd said—blond hair falling over one side of her face, thighs gleaming from a day at the beach—"But I love you. You're my brother.")
The next morning, Greg's mother was at his door. Max was spitting blood. She kept making fists and hammering at the air, at an invisible barrier, biting her lower lip, and stamping her foot as if crushing an insect, though she continued to stare at something behind him, as if the problem were there, in the framed photo of Gloriana. When he got upstairs, he saw the cherry moistness of his father's lips, like those of a boy who'd been kissing too long, but the pallid cheeks, the trembling hand, the near gargle of Max's attempt at speech threw Greg into a dead calm, a nerveless efficiency, as he told his mother to call the doctor. If no one answered, they'd go to the Emergency Room at Astoria General. For the first time in weeks, his head was clear. His father was hemorrhaging. There were things to do. He looked up at the hung photo of Max standing in front of the company's tractor trailer, eyes squinting in the sun like a sniper's. He stopped his mother from giving Max water. "Maybe we shouldn't do that." "But what else can I do?" Max waved her off. Greg said, "See? We don't know." The doctor told them to meet him at the hospital.
Once there, they walked down a long corridor where several people were stalled on gurneys, an old man with his knees bent, wrinkled shanks exposed, his backless gown hiked up, a woman lying on her back, moist hair in disarray, wisps of it stuck to her forehead, one hand behind her pillow as she stared at the ceiling, her pose nearly erotic. They passed by the small admitting office, Max pressing the pad against his throat, Sophie saying, "Don't talk. Don't try to talk." On a long bench were two policemen, and between them a thin, wild-looking man in his thirties who looked at Max, muttered something, and began to laugh. He bent over and continued to laugh softly. Greg said, "Hey, fuck you! Shut your mouth." The policeman with the blotchy face told him not to pay any attention. The man was here for psychiatric observation. He had just dropped his pants in a grocery store and had walked out onto Broadway to wait for a bus. And now he was singing something Greg recognized from Janis Joplin. Or was it the Stones? Gloriana was right. He didn't know anything about music. All he wanted now was to smash this pitiful fool in the face. "Just watch your mouth," he said, wagging his finger.
Dr. Biondi arrived and examined Max and told them it was to be expected. The throat, reacting to radiation therapy, would bleed from time to time. But they'd been right to call. Greg realized he was two hours late for work. He thought with relief of his job, his neat little desk, the harsh, dependable Mrs. MacMillan, who threatened to throw out anything not in its proper place, while she tended the coffee maker and showed Greg how many errors he'd committed today in spelling or usage. ("Their going to see." "Wo'nt." "A person misses their place." Missus MacMillan.)
The following Saturday, Gloriana was waiting for Greg in the apartment, having used the key he'd given her soon after their first date. He had just come back with a new video, but finding her there, he felt dispirited. "I think I'm pregnant," she said. Sitting down, he began to laugh, lowering his head to his knees. Irritated, she said, "You think this is a joke? You and him?" Greg sat back in his chair. They were back to Professor Y. "It's just not physically possible for you to be pregnant, Gloriana! Are you nuts?"
"How do you know so much?" she said, roused to a kind of anger he'd not seen before, though she didn't look at him in any direct way. Her face flat, golden-toned, Asiatic, raised to the light, her eyes closed. "Afraid of little nigger babies?"
"Hey, fuck you!" He was yelling.
"I'm going to kill myself, Greg. I really am. Are you going to help or not?" She opened her eyes and smiled at him demurely.
"What about your cello?"
"Oh, you can have that. You can have everything. You and him. You always had all of it, anyway. What chance did I ever have?"
"How can you be pregnant?"
"You know, Greg, you just don't believe enough in me. I mean my power. Uh!" She became annoyed, turned away from him, raised her face again to the light. "You think everything is the body. You're just so . . . dumb. How do you know I'm not inside you the way you are inside me, after I do you?" She laughed.
He yelled, "Okay. Do it, just do it! Kill yourself!" He demanded she get out, wanted her to take the cello but allowed her to leave it until next week, feeling stricken himself as he watched her meander dejectedly down Thirty-Second Street toward the bus stop. He had suddenly broken up with her. At least it wasn't like wondering with Miriam how he had failed. She had only herself to blame.
He took a hot bath. His body flushed and tingling beneath his terrycloth robe, he inserted a video and lay back to think how many were the women he'd known. He used present tense and changed were to are. "Are." A vague memory of something he'd read on is—man in white lab coat offering cardboard roses, allergic people sneezing at them—stirred, turned, flickered. A small star in his mind receded. Memory. Is. He salivated from a gland, but who would know? Who would know it was him this minute shifting the forces of nature? Letting the saliva gather in his mouth, swishing it through his teeth, imagining the froth of it turning upon itself, while Florence Lacella, his almost-wife, was (under pink blankets) turning in bed at this moment, and now his saliva reflected (stop. change.) (corresponded to) the disturbance of air caused by her shifting body: because whether she knew it or not, Florence was connected to him across all of Queens. And the plump woman in the video, on all fours, looking at him over her shoulder, could be Gloriana. Or Florence ready at last to receive him ("Do!"). Or to take Donald in her mouth.
He needed something. (His . . . sister Margaret, a bug in her mouth, "See how it can live in there?")
Getting up, he rummaged through the small drawer he'd given to Gloriana for her odds and ends, and found a pair of panties. He put them on, stroked his silken buttocks, moved his hand down into his crotch, then up over his stomach and chest. He didn't know if what he felt was an autistic (something); a ripple from the air around her bed ("it's me, Florence," he said, "it's Greg"); a slow vibration of disappointment, where, in the apartment on Ditmars Boulevard she shared with her husband and two children, Florence (formerly Lacella) Murphy leaned against that husband, Donald, formerly Greg's best friend. And Donald was odorous and sour, half-asleep, breathing noisily after a night's drinking. Florence's stream of desire was now aimed at him, Greg, this very minute where he lay on his back, bulging in his panties. Or was he, this minute, causing her to remember his tongue exploring the cavity of her mouth years ago in her mother's apartment, just as Donald was waking up and inserting his own? But what could occur without Greg's presence somewhere? How could Florence have ever forgotten him? How could she not be thinking of what they'd had, and what they'd missed having?
He rolled out of bed again. In the video, a thin brunette woman was on her back, a dark-haired lover licking into her cavity, the music rising to a tinny crescendo. The image of his father, gauze on throat, was so vivid he turned, expecting Max to be there, as if he were in his father's video. Everyone watching everyone else. He felt his excitement wane. He stroked his buttocks. Then found himself at Gloriana's drawer again, withdrew the tube of lipstick, and smeared his lips with the purplish tint she said was almost right for her. And for Florence?
He lay back on the bed. Slid off his panties. Donald's hand, on its way to Florence's V, the hand suspended in the air, and Florence's intake of breath keeping her lungs full and frozen, because he, Greg, would not allow the next movement to occur. (Miriam, "You don't have to leave, I will." Someone else's semen trickling down her thigh.) He held them all fixed in time, his mother weeping. Just now he was causing Donald to ask Florence how often she thought of Greg. A trick, after (do) all. What is? Even when he made love to Gloriana, such as it was, his hands sliding over her hips, what proof had he at that moment either of them was real? His erection inattentively languishing while Gloriana reminisced about mother washing her there in the bathtub, age four, little Ginger (hot, slippery).
(Respond.) If Florence were not thinking of him, but causing Donald to caress her; if he telephoned her now and she lifted the yellow princess receiver to her lips and he asked her what Donald was doing. If he said shhh shhh when he heard her groan. To hold her . . . (reorder. conjugate.) Was. What might not enter with his semen? (He'd call in sick tomorrow.) Oh, now he'd lost his place. And it was dark. He could not argue away time, the blue fog of it, the cars rustling past on Thirty-Second Street, sound of silk brushed over the back of a chair (cool). His turning down the sound of the TV had no effect on the glow of objects in his room, nor on the traffic lights of Broadway, where Gloriana must be waiting for the bus.
Fixed. The pausing of Donald's hand above (pubic bristles) (showing through Miriam's leotards). Failure. Or will. Someone's power. He'd challenge this dimming, this falling off, this drift of nerves (hands floating away from his wrists, his penis detached, revolving free of gravity, suspended like an astronaut's ballpoint pen). No longer his. He groaned. Somewhere he was in error. ON hER PARenTS' CoUCH, iN bRA AND panTIEs. It floated back into place. Do. Gloriana there in the video he and Florence watch together (Margaret rolling that wet bug around in her mouth, letting it slip between her lips into her hand), a strange man entering Miriam, mother still weeping. And the dry, croaking sound from behind the flap on Max's throat. Ah, slippery the world. Lubed. Finally.
He would. He would. And (touch) that childhood story he'd told to Gloriana (ginger, green horseradish, sashimi, he salivated): third grade. Winter. The school with narrow halls and unshatterable windows behind steel gratings. His feet wet because he'd refused galoshes and defied his mother, letting the snow melt out of his pants' cuffs, making puddles under his chair. The wigged (slipping, old) crumple-faced Mrs. Hare, the translucent upraised hand. What is that? Wee wee. Her dry voice: lean your head back and spit upwards and don't move, stupid—you belong with the Specials. His own saliva spraying above him, falling down onto his upturned face.