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|By Carol Novack||
The young woman has a job editing articles for a trade magazine. Theoretically, she could tell you anything you might want to know about camping equipment. Actually, she doesn't read the stuff; she checks for grammar, punctuation and spelling, and has to cut out words and phrases so the copy will fit. She tries to eliminate phrases like "maximum comfort," "economically priced," and "guaranteed for life." She knows next to nothing about what kind of tent you should purchase if you're going to be camping in Yellowstone National Park with your ho hum dog and three kids, so don't ask.
Truth is she doesn't want to go anywhere and doesn't want to be where she is. She split up for good with some guy over three months ago after one of those on again off again agonizingly prolonged attempts at permanent pairing, ho hum. She can't decide whether she hates the man more than she loves him or whether she ever liked him or loved him anyway, but she's in a black hole over it. The thing she thinks about most is when she'd make his favorite roast chicken and he'd complain she hadn't cooked it long enough. And he'd complain about his crazy mother who'd never cooked him anything. Calling the guy a bastard is too easy. She's trying her best not to fool herself too much.
On this hot and irritatingly humid summer Friday, the young woman and her boss take off a little early and go to a trendy new bar that's supposed to be a replica of an 1880's saloon. The boss is fashionably anorectic with a voice like a cello's and has an after hours habit of swinging her long chestnut mane languorously from side to side; she also has a matching, chestnut colored Siamese cat. It seems that whenever they go out together, the young woman ends up alone at one end of a bar; shes the one wearing the long black, high collared cotton dress, even in August, wearing it because she feels fat and worn and believes that black makes her invisible, although she also thinks maybe black makes her look sexy cause that's what it's supposed to do.
So the young woman's nursing her third or fourth sex on the beach which nobody bought her of course and the boss is talking to this immaculate specimen of American maleness sitting next to her, you know, Wall Street navy blue suit, light blue striped shirt and red tie with tiny blue amoebas. His face is composed primarily of horizontal eyebrows and a mouth like two pickup sticks and ho hum he's been buying the boss Sapphire Blue martinis with little white onions, no umbrellas.
Next thing the young woman knows she's into her sixth or seventh sex on the beach and her boss isn't in sight; she might've said something about leaving a while ago, but the young woman isn't sure, so she gets down from her stool and makes a grand tour of the bar. By this time, the crowd is thick, sticky, and predictably boisterous. Somewhere a jukebox is featuring one of those pop stars with a babyish voice singing oooooh ooooh babeeee do me like you done me. The young woman would prefer Otis Redding sitting on a dock. She's nostalgic for her college years and all those people she may never see again, but she can only vaguely recall them anyway, particularly the guy with the red hair who drank Southern Comfort and tripped on LSD while he was playing jazz piano. Pathetic, she thinks ho hum really stupid.
Actually, the young woman's starting to feel as if she were standing at the edge of a subway platform waiting for the right moment to jump, just that moment when you see the tracks pale with the light of an oncoming train. She can't call the old boyfriend cause that horrible "girl" he's been seen with might answer the phone and she shouldn't anyway, and she's not ready to go home to her studio apartment which she hasn't cleaned in weeks, and she can't call her best friend who just got engaged. That's just about when one of the ugliest men she has ever seen starts talking to her, if you'd call it that, like talking?
If you asked her now, she'd be unable to remember his name and his features are a blur. She recalls he's on the short stocky side, with greasy dirty blond hair, blotchy skin, and eyes of no discernable color that look as if they belonged on a corpse. Definitely off eyes. But she might be hard pressed to identify him in a lineup with other ugly men. Another drink before she allows herself to launch into an incoherent conversation.
What they speak about is mostly him. He says something about painting houses or doing construction but she's not really listening, trying to extricate herself politely; after all, he can't help looking that way and being boring too. He won't go to foreign films because he hates subtitles, talks incessantly about baseball teams, and thinks it's "cute" that she goes on protests. So she tells him she has to leave, she's hungry, and she has to visit her aunt in the hospital. He spends the next half hour or so trying to convince her to go to his place in an unfamiliar and scary neighborhood she's avoided; she'll get to ride his motorcycle and then he'll feed her. Then they'll listen to his fantastic collection of disco records and he'll give her a ride home after all that. The guy hasn't bought her a single drink and the thought of disco unnerves her.
Well, by this time she's thinking why not if he feeds me. There's something about this whole person that's awry but she can't put her finger on it; and at this stage she's not sure that she really gives a damn what happens to her. She really doesn't; she can't get the point of herself straight. She feels numb, as though she's been sleepwalking for years. The mirror behind the bar reflects a face hardly recognizable as hers. The face appears to stretch across the entire length of the glass, streaky as a poor paint job.
The guy lives on a street of vacant lots and dilapidated brownstones. His apartment's on the first floor of one of the brownstones and smells like stale cigarettes and rotting food. There's a guy watching a small television in what appears to be the living room. He grunts at the ugly man, who steers her into his bedroom "to show" her "things." There's a dart board over the apparently unused fireplace, which is cluttered with cigarette stubs and newspapers. The single bed is unmade; the window shutters are drawn. She thinks the poster above his bed is meant to depict the Madonna on a crucifix, but the woman looks like a female version of Superman stripped of his pants; a burning bush encircles her vagina, which exposes a pulsing, red clitoris.
The ugly guy points out a framed award he received from some vigilante gun club for being able to shoot straight. She doesn't see a single book in the room, just lots of motorcycle and girlie magazines. He chooses a record from a heap on the floor and places it on the turntable of his stereo system, which dominates at least a fourth of the room. He adjusts the volume, plays the disco loud. He's squatting to fiddle with the knobs; for a moment, she thinks he's a goat.
The young woman suggests going into the kitchen to fix something to eat. Reluctantly, he leads her there, and opens the refrigerator. She peers inside, sees something that looks as if it might've been cheese, two six packs of Pabst, a bottle of ketchup, and a nearly empty jar of mayonnaise. He hands her a beer and extracts what might've been a head of lettuce from the vegetable bin. "No good," he says hed thought of making tuna fish salad. But there's scant mayo and no tuna fish. She can hear sitcom laughter wafting obscenely from the television.
The next part of the evening is even more of a blur than the preceding part. Somehow they're back in his bedroom sitting on the bed and then she's lying on it, pinned down by his arms.
The young woman knows she must've said "I have to go home now" several times, and struggled to get away from him. She knows she must've been polite, and she must've attempted to explain she didn't know him well enough. She might've said, "I think I've had too many drinks," "I have to visit my aunt," "I have to go to an abortion rights demonstration tomorrow morning." Whatever she said drew no response.
Next thing she recalls is her panties are off, he's pulling his pants off, and he's forcing himself into her. There's no point in struggling; he's stronger and it doesn't matter anyway. She now knows why they call this sort of thing "screwing"; she's so dry it hurts like hell. He hurts like hell grinding into her and the room is spinning around the blasting bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling and she can't get away from this maniac and how did she let herself get into this, let him get into her.
What an idiot I am, she thinks.
After the guy's finished, he lies beside her, lights a cigarette. He says, "Why don't we go away together? I've been saving some money to go down south and start a turkey farm." He says, "I know you'd like that, but you're a little spacey, you know. I don't know...." She lies there, wondering if she should humor him. She can't seem to move. At some point, way into his monologue, something about his cousin doing time in Alabama, she manages to sit up and find her underpants. As she's putting them on, he puts his hand on her shoulder and asks her where she's going. He lets her go to the bathroom. The young woman sits on the toilet, hunched over, elbows on her knees. She can't pee and is wondering if she'll pee blood. He's standing in the hallway by the door when she comes out. He grabs her by the waist cause she looks as though she's going to fall.
Back in his room, the ugly guy tells the young woman to lie down on the bed. She closes her eyes and tries to think up pleasant childhood memories while he's screwing her but all she can think of is the time she apparently said or did something mean to a girl at camp and got stung by a wasp when she put her hand in her pocket. She tries to pretend she's swimming in the ocean. She tries to pretend she's hallucinating this guy. She tries to pretend she's in love. But the guy's skin smells a bit like asparagus pee and his every touch bruises a different part of her.
The young woman looks at the ugly guy, who has fallen asleep. The cast of sleep has lent an innocence to his face, a startling perspective, possibly absurd. But she doesn't look too long, dresses as quietly as possible. She's about to leave the room when he asks, "Oh, you're going?" "Yes," she answers, "go back to sleep, I'll see you soon." "Crazy broad," he responds, but he doesn't stop her.
The young woman doesn't know if or where she can find a cab. She actually considers returning to the apartment to ask the guy to give her a ride. If you were to ask her how she got home, she has no recollection.
No matter how hard she tries to forget, she recalls, sharply, her awakening the next afternoon. I felt like a fish that had swallowed one of its own bones. She recalls her awakening, makes light of it, dons her shades.
Carol Novack is the publisher of the edgy and enlightened multimedia e-journal Mad Hatters' Review. A collection of her short writings ("inventions") will be published in 2010 by Crossing Chaos Press. Works may or will be found in numerous journals, including Action, Yes, American Letters & Commentary, Anemone Sidecar, Diagram, Drunken Boat, Exquisite Corpse, Fiction International, First Intensity, Gargoyle, Journal of Experimental Fiction, La Petite Zine, LIT, MILK, Notre Dame Review, and Otoliths, and in several anthologies, including Online Writings: The Best of the First Ten Years, Heide Hatry: Heads and Tales, and "The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets. Ms. Novack was awarded a writers grant from the Australian Council of the Arts when she was a Sydney resident; she also authored a chapbook of poems. Works have appeared in translation in French and Romanian journals. Her CD, Inventions II: Fictions, Fusions, and Poems, is available at CD baby.