San Francisco USA
If there is a dark and hostile power which traitorously fixes a thread in our hearts in order that, laying hold of it and drawing us by means of it along a dangerous road to ruin, which otherwise we should not have trod–if, I say, there is such a power, it must assume within us a form like ourselves, nay, it must be ourselves; for only in that way can we believe in it, and only so understood do we yield to it so far that it is able to accomplish its secret purpose.
– E.T.A. Hoffman, The Sandman
Seth says he’s on his way. He said so just before midnight and now its 1:30 in the morning. I don’t expect him to show up until 3am or 5am or 7am. He’s done this before. He’s said he’ll come over and then doesn’t show until hours later. He comes once everyone else in my building, the neighborhood, the entire city, falls into a state of slumber so complete, we find ourselves truly alone together. No one else has ever even seen us together. No one knows we know each other. We become the only people awake on Tuesday at a time in the morning that does not even exist for those who are asleep. We build upon the allotted number of hours in the night. When he comes, the night seems to go on forever. The little game we play is a matter of preying on one another. Right now he has the advantage because he’s not here. He hasn’t come yet like he said he would so I suppose I’m at his mercy because I’d rather he was here.
“On his way,” he said. Which is to say his way is the way he goes. His way goes on. The onward way is his. When words go through so many iterations, meaning collapses. The repetition falls flat and what remains is only an echo of an echo. That’s where art comes from – echoes. Sometimes, I feel like its not him I’m really after, but some kind of performance, as if he and I were an artwork, being created. “On his Way.” Is it true? Is he really on his way? I don’t want to lose sight of this. And how can I keep it here unfolding still, my hope.
If Seth came to me earlier during the hours when people are awake, it might seem like we were a couple. But I’d never call it that. And besides, I wouldn’t want to have an audience. I wouldn’t want anyone to know. I like secrets because they give me something to think about when everyone else is talking about one thing like the way hair grows on a newborn and my thoughts are somewhere else, somewhere unattainable. Behind the daytime, our hours stay hidden. And if my friends knew what I have been doing, they’d try to stop me. They’d think I have a psychological illness. Am I hurting myself? Should I be cured from this self-loathing that is so exquisitely my own and which Seth enables me to express?
In the hours I spend with Seth we don’t seek to remedy this. We spend our time doing cocaine usually or sometimes we drink cheap Chardonnay, listening to opera. If at some point we can find the edge of things, the edge of feelings, then we see something light up. We see the material of this behavior, like finding the paint on the canvas and seeing it for what it is, a trompe l’oeil illusion. That is enough. One time he tried to suffocate me with a pillow. He fucks with my head. I don’t care if we ruin ourselves. That’s why we meet when no one else is awake to criticize. Our time follows a different clock. Our time ignores the overbearing system, which insists on mindless cooperation. It is the only time we really have, to make of our time what we will, because it is actually so rare to be able to fill the time without any consideration for others.
I pinch my own nipple to stay awake as I lie on my bed. All around, I see things that I would clean up if it were the daytime. Toenail clippings. Eyelashes. Dust. Brown leaves in plant- pots. The tangled folds of blankets. I wonder if he notices these things. Thumbtacks in the wall with necklaces hanging down from them. Stacks of coins. Fuzz pills on my sweater under the armpit. A brochure about bookbinding. I rub my cold, callused feet against one another. My picture frames match the wall color, stark white. Blank index cards are stacked next to the blank CDs. Slatted doors. Plastic drawers. Cords lie on the floor that each draw lines from the desk to the printer on the other side of the room. Headphones hang on the wall. A USB cable and a gold chain bracelet are intertwined. A clipboard holds scrap paper with the blank sides up. Some of the cords lead towards hidden electrical outlets. A heavy curtain bears down on a weak curtain rod. Everything is held together with safety pins. His tie hangs on a coat hook. I don’t know if he knows I still have it. I get up and put it around my neck.
My face goes by in the mirror. I’ve already applied mascara to my eyelashes so they flicker, as if separating scenes in a movie when I blink. They’re like little black-feather-fans. From behind these tiny feathers, I gaze at the wall. My feet sink into the floor until I’m sitting cross-legged down there. I lay down with my eyes still swimming through the contents of the tiny room. As usual they pause on Olympia who is pinned up on the wall.
Olympia. Take that word and unfold it. It’s an unfolding word. Any iteration of Olympia is packed with countless contradictions. Form lashes out at content. It is an endless duel. And yet I can only approach Olympia from a great distance, as a satellite. I have to see her as though she were something apart from me, outside of myself. It’s because I can’t see what he sees. I look at her as if I were Seth, looking at me.
It is Manet’s painting of Olympia, painted in 1863. It displays a prostitute, a rich French courtesan lying in pose, copying the pose of Titian’s Venus, painted in 1596. She looks out, square to the viewer’s gaze with a look of certitude. She accepts flowers from a dark skinned slave. A reprint of the painting is framed on my wall. My father picked it out of a stack of prints from a street peddler outside the Louvre. He took me to Paris to visit my great grandmother’s gravesite. He and my mother had just divorced. I was only nine, but I remember him choosing Olympia. It was odd of him to choose a naked woman as a gift for me. In the familiarity of my room my eyes land on her unintentionally. This room is the only room that can’t keep secrets from me.
Not a day goes by without the vision of her face appearing in my head between sips of coffee or the sight of her arms, while I walk by parking meters along the sidewalk. Here in my room I indulge again, seeing a bouquet of flowers painted pink, white, green, held by the slave who is painted as but a shadow of thick paint next to Olympia’s blinding porcelain complexion. Whore. Olympia accepts what she can take from suitors and from slaves. Prostitute. Supplicant for previous artworks, repeated artworks that disseminate over time. She’s holding a pearl. This painting caused a scandal, they say. To declare this whore’s portrait a piece of art was an outright insult to the established protocol for true, pure, sanctioned art. And with the burgeoning modernist impulse, this protocol suspended in thin air, becoming an unattainable edict, an unsupportable construct even though Manet painted rich fabrics in an overly planned composition.
Isn’t she pretty with those glittering eyes, glittering jewelry, and porcelain skin? She’s the representation of a real-live model who waits for the painting to cease so she can let down her hair and unlatch her choker from her elongated neck. She can accept kisses up her arm, laugh at desire, run with desire, fondle Manet’s desire, and then steal his paintbrush to paint the face of a
clown on him. When alas, his masterful paintbrush drips down the side of his legs, she lines her legs with stockings and stuffs his money in her purse. Olympia, the sweet delicate thing, who is situated on a pedestal, must have performed wondrously on the elaborately staged bedding for Manet’s delight.
He must have acted on a lark. He simply understood how the goddesses of the past were the whores, transvestites, and suicides of the future. The canvas is a Trompe l’oleil illusion. He did what the authorities told him he shouldn’t have done. By doing so, he opened the hatch into the future where the walls accept the filth of each anus and injury as expressive communication. Decency was destroyed by a few strokes of paint bristle. Voices murmured in the art-pulpit, voices that instructed the painter to denounce his own work. Voices organized an orderly fascist future to ensure that no such indecency would slip through. Each artwork would be catalogued and approved based on standards. Pornography would not be accepted into the official record. Pornography would be exiled to the dark corners of the collection, the bathroom stalls, pages landing in the living hands that jitter with excitement, enclosing a member that erupts onto the broken floor. Manet’s Olympia lands in an uncertain space. It lands somewhere at the end and somewhere at the beginning. And still I wonder in vain if his depiction of the slave is meant to be ironic.
When you are not fully awake and you haven’t slept for hours and too many hours have already past to try to sleep, your mind goes into a sleep-like state. The person inside of you slows down into a rhythm as gradual as plant growth. An empty pocket of time appears and you realize it increases by halved increments and will continue in an eternal half-life of time. If pressed for answers to trivial questions like those that they ask at airports…do you have any liquids in quantities greater than 4 oz, you might answer with a delayed response, pondering such scrutiny over liquids. You might answer with a question…no, but do you have any solids greater than 4oz?
I realize that its possible he won’t come over to spend time with me. I’m no longer certain whether she is inside of me or outside of me. He keeps saying he’ll only be 10 more minutes by text message, but that was hours ago. Now it’s nearing 5am and the window of opportunity is almost lost. I’m not even sure if its really him anymore sending the texts because they feel more like an automated reminder just to keep me up, keep me waiting, to induce this odd state.
“10 more minutes,” then 45 minutes later, “10 more minutes,” then an hour later “10 more minutes.” This is torture. It is not unlike guards who keep their prisoners from falling to sleep with drops of water or with little jolts of electricity once on the hour, every hour. These text messages do this to me, put me in a state of tortured sleep-loss.
The sun has begun to sneak into the sky and I already miss the darkness. I know I’ll probably only begin to suffer the result of this sleepless night when I’m at work, when I’m called upon to remember the collections data of my boss’s most bankrupt clients, the ones who I’m supposed to convince to pay him for work done months ago. I’d rather be trying to convince them to donate to my liquor fund or my refrigerator fund, or just try to get them to pay my rent. Instead, they conveniently leave the country for nine months. My boss’s photographs sit in his client’s portfolios and they collect dust. The patrons of these designers have run dry of funds. And my boss is no less dependent. The invoice I sent months ago for payment sits in a file cabinet somewhere. But those are all daytime concerns and I have a buffer of four hours before they should even cross my mind.
Manet wasn’t the only one who painted Olympia. Other painters liked what he did and they wanted to take it further, to play around with his ideas and use her for their own purposes. One
of these artists was the American born Italian painter, Cy Twombly. His Olympia is strange graffiti on a giant canvas stretching the length of a hall. I saw it in Houston in the Menil Collection. The painting does not depict a person. The fleshy colored spots appear like stains, bloodstains mixed with urine and cum. He writes in charcoal or anything nearby, an available pencil, graphite, or perhaps a sharpened stick dabbed in dust. He writes in an almost illegible script, “Fuck Olympia.”
He wrote it and people understood. “Fuck Olympia.”
Smear the blood from a derelict woman’s body, like a dismembered peach. Or worse, from our own self-inflicted knife wounds, expressions of somber disillusionment. Death, Morir. Olympia will crumble, shatter. Something of hers is bursting in a quake of somber violence, unperturbed. Destroy a canvas, destroy a canvas, life is a canvas, morir. Scatological graffiti lingers like traces of abominations, shit on the floor, shit danced upon with violent feet, slipped on, stumbled upon, crashing to the ground from high, high above. Death is a canvas too, a fallen canvas pulled off the erect wall. There is a stage full of mythological ghosts who are scribbled away, painted over, erased. These are the departed gods of classicism, ripped from the canvas and set free like a flock of pigeons who provide a harangue of birdcalls, licking our ears along with sirens and screeching utility. Mechanical ghost cries tear the sound from the canvas, clipping the canvas into an evening gown to house defecation.
Under the vast canopy of a canvas there is room to smear the traces of these excretions. Pull them over the fibers to create a big memory of the walls’ utility, a place to wipe your hands clean in public. The perceived walls of a city become new walls of a cave, enclosing our memory of bison, and there we spill our own blood for the forgotten creatures and yank them out of our veins, sharing blood on the surface of an art-work. Death, Morir.
Olympia lunges into the valley looming like a plague, a million faces in one face, a goddess, a foul goddess to be fucked. This face, this sour face erased, scribbled out, blotted out, forgotten under the trace, the lingering memory was just the ludicrous violent mess-making in feigned lust, a destructive lust to spoil a peach the defecation on a peach, the mistaken peach, rotten. Red as a fresh corpse, Olympia’s face is a million fresh corpses, lying in the sunlight where they will dry into a vast artwork, pulled from the precipice to lie flat on the ground, soaking into the soil, sinking into the mud.
Fuck a dialectic of high and low or life and death and with each exhale, let a cursing utterance climb up the canvassed walls to infuse them with structural weakness. Whispered ‘Fucks’, breathy ‘shit-heads’, yawning ‘cunts’ aimed at Olympia, the soft fortunate beauty that blinded us into retaliation.
Like I said, I saw Twombly’s painting in Houston. This was where my dad received treatment for cancer last Christmas. They had to cut into his skull to reach his sinuses, where the cancer had manifested. It is a matastasizing cancer that will likely spread, but his Radiologist hoped that with this procedure, it would not spread to his brain.
I saw Rothko’s non-denominational church in Houston, too. It’s a church that is painted all black. When I got back to San Francisco from Houston, I dreamt that everything in my house was painted black, like the Rothko chapel. I was in a room full of people, but I was the only one standing. Everyone else floated waist-high, horizontally, like floating logs, bumping into one another. People’s arms and legs rolled towards me, bumping my body, each shaded to the utmost degree. I stood at the center of the room, looking around for someone. I saw my father off in the corner and waded through people to get to him. When I reached him, I tried to lift him into
upright position. I lifted his hand and it was a heavy stone, which dropped like a paperweight back to his horizontal side. I woke up to see Manet’s Olympia on my wall. I prayed to her. Give me back my hope, Olympia, soften my injuries. But she only said in reply, “Death, Morir,” My trip to Houston resulted in seeing Olympia’s estranged godlessness through the eyes of Cy Twombly. She became for me nothing more than a fortune-teller’s scribbles on canvas. I know that my dad will likely die from his cancer. I’m waiting for it. My mom is waiting, even my grandmother. We wait in sustained lament.
I also wait for my lover. I keep texting him back. My words drop into an abyss. The names I write to him aren’t nice, but at least I mean no harm, I only mean to tease him. I call him dirty girl-names like “cunt,” “bitch-slut,” “knife-wound.” But he ignores these messages. He writes back asking if I’d like him to bring a dildo to strap on and fuck him with. I don’t know if he’s serious or not. He’s probably been with someone else all of this time that I’ve spent waiting, maybe even a boyfriend. He’d take anyone who he could practice a different set of scripted lines on. He needs an audience, I guess. Then he’ll come to me with what’s left. Who knows whom his other lover is. It could be my neighbor, my boss, my best friend. It’s been almost two years now. And still, it feels as if we’ve only just begun.
These have been confusing years for my parents who keep asking about my love life. They want me to tell them if I have boyfriend or not, if I’ve been dating. It seems that now more than ever, my dad wants to know that maybe I’ll have children someday. In part I think its because he’s afraid I might not. In part it is also because he’s begun to die. I don’t quite know if he believes he’ll survive the cancer. It is an uncommon form of melanoma in the sinuses and there have only been about one hundred similar recorded cases in all of medical history. I know his wish for me is to ensure that he lives on, in me. And all of the while, underneath my adamant abstinence from any portrayal or depiction of courtship to ease my parent’s minds, there was this: Seth and me and our little rendezvous.
Perhaps the times we meet are less real to me than those other parts of my life like my job and my family because there is no proof of him except for his tie. The secrecy of it makes it more like a dream and certainly the state of mind I’m in when he rolls around makes it less real to me due to sleep-loss. I feel like the hours we spend together are exiled from my other hours. They are hours imprisoned by his determination to exclude me from his regular life and confine me to those few hours before the break of day, or just after dawn.
There is another Olympia painting I know of, painted by Jean Michel Basquiat. His Olympia is less discreet than Cy Twombly’s, if there could be such a thing. He explores the filth that Manet didn’t even know he had kept intact. The painting is called Three quarters of Olympia Minus the Slave and I saw it in New York City during my first year in college. As if my father’s trips to museums hadn’t been ample introduction, I decided to study painting. As Basquiat’s title suggests, there is no black servant in the painting. Basquiat’s whore is a man. It is a transvestite who touts an almost-etched coat of arms above his head. There are almost-hands painted in completion but they are disassembled lines. There is no black servant. Perhaps it is supposed to be the vision of the room seen from the black-servant’s perspective, a parody of Manet. There are no flowers. There is not a pose. There is just an ugly piece of art that contrasts stunningly with Manet’s pretty little thing. The rich, white courtesan is dismantled in Basquiat’s depiction. She is long forgotten. There are mismatched eyebrows. There is no head of hair. An inscription reads, “Woman dry her neck by Edgar ©.” The French word, “Absinthe,” is only almost legible. It is painted over in big scouring gestures of white paint. There is red paint, too. There is blue paint, too. It looks like some kind of bitten thumb aimed at the French.
The abjection, the casting away of Manet and his Olympia, is like the gesture that Manet wanted to make but couldn’t because he was first and foremost a Frenchman. But Haiti was the country where some of Basquiat’s ancestors lay dead, a country ruthlessly fucked by the French. There is no grace in Basquiat, only big ugly gestures to make a scene, a vivid piece of art that nearly mimics refuse. If this refuse is where Olympia landed after she was pillaged by the future, there is nothing but a disassembled mess and squiggly lines. There is a face with a row of teeth and mismatched eyes. This is Olympia, this man is Olympia, this bald-white-sketch-of-a-man is a French-like thing.
There is no culture to feign, any longer. There is just a brash gesture to aim at the long, lingering past like a missile. Launching missiles to cover the past in paint gestures, not kidding. Not struggling under the heavy-handed dissipation of arms that forces nations into secret retire. There is no bureaucracy in Basquiat. There is just a handy gesture dragged over the surface with fucked-up concentration. There is no black servant. There is no over-arching adherence to aesthetic wit. His wit is defiantly ugly, blocking out the pretty whores that run rampant all across the other canvasses. There is nothing to incite desire or lust. This canvas incites a wide- eyed laughter. This art is a funny thing, fucking with the past.
At 6:45am Seth sends a text that says, “Here.”
I go down to open the gate for him, down the three levels of stairs that lead to my bedroom. He is on his bike. He has a bottle of wine and he’s smiling. Sort of. He says he’s been riding his bike all night. He says he came from a strange party. He acts very self-important.
“You’re strange,” I say.
“You’re strange, too,” he replies.
For a second, his eyes are a blank stare. I only notice because I’ve been haunted by a blank stare. Eyes, cheeks, the fragile skin below the eye, the skin draping cheeks, jaw, stretching over a chin. The eyes are calm, too calm, too distant, vacant. This is the face I have been anticipating. This is the face that will be the look of death on my father, soon. I look into windows and see this face, in the eyes of a cat or a child, faces so plain their eyes merge with the background, pinned to the backdrop, unchanging. When I look into the mirror and this face appears performing a trick of the eye. It is a moving face, an animation staring back at me, but it’s not me. The disconnection of his blank stare from my thoughts makes my mind go blank. That face and my thoughts stand in utter separation. No trail of thought could be salvaged from the tiny electric currents that go quiet when it is before me. And now I see it in Seth’s eyes.
One day I visited home and my father walked beside me. I tried to say something to him as we walked, anything, but the blank stare that I could see in his eyes kept me in a state of stupor. I could not pick up on any of the threads that were woven with our superficial hellos. We had no news to explain, or I had no way of explaining it. I had not seen him for months. We went to lunch and before we ordered I stepped into the bathroom. The mirror looked at me from across the room. It kept my memory concealed, buried into a tight, flat corridor behind that head of hair in the reflection. I faced my reflection and she blinked again. She reached for me, feeling the mirror, searching for a way out, a way to reach through the borderline, to me. Her finger pointed at my left eye and it turned, touching my own finger and our fingers locked together in symmetry like the wings of a butterfly. I put my hand down, but hers remained, scratching at me, sucking me in, and I coughed. I ran out of the bathroom and looked at my father with wide eyes. I gave him my blank stare, my death wish. He has it still, knowing he’ll die soon.
I take Seth upstairs. Ever since I cut my hair, we have the same hair-do. Upstairs, in my bedroom, he sits. He begins to open a bottle of wine.
He says, “We need glasses. Get us glasses.”
I hate to follow his orders, but I do anyway. When I come back, he’s got my camera ready and he says, “Sit down over here.”
I say, “We have the same hair. Did you ever notice, before?” He acts appalled, “You’re right – “
He takes a picture of our hair side by side as he balances a glass of wine in his teeth. Hair overlapping hair, we don’t know whose is whose. I don’t know why he only drinks white wine. I offer him Fernet, but he won’t drink it. I offer him whiskey too, but no. Apple Juice? Out of the question. As I aim with the camera, his hand lifts up to me and then it is upon me. His fingernails gently scrape the skin of my arm, leaving tracks. My skin writhes. I want to push his hand away, but I don’t.
Maybe there are other people who behave worse than this. For me it’s bad, anyway. I know I’m being bad. I’m going through my worst time, in a way. The suspension of death hangs over my head each moment. These hours with Seth are to help reach for it. They are the means for me to travel towards my father’s death, in slow motion, in waiting. I’m in a zone of loss, predicting loss. It is my own expression of loss, via decadence. But the loss hasn’t come, yet. It is suspended. I’ve known about the cancer for over a year now.
Seth patterns a line of cocaine on the back of a book of Pasternak’s poems with the title, My Sister – Life. In Seth I find a strange sense of possibility. Seth is the agent that pushes me to embody the deployment of the death that I know belongs to me. He rolls a dollar bill into a cone the width of a nostril. Somehow in my slippery logic, I’ll be the death of my father. It’s both an honor and a curse. I’m tearing apart my bond, my familial bond, and replacing it with something recklessly worse. He dips his head toward the book, positioning the cone over the line of powder. This is rebellion, kind of. It is rebellion mixed with inevitable loss. My dad is almost dead now. It’s coming like a storm. Or this is the storm. The dust flies up the rolled bill as Seth sniffs. It disappears and he falls backward onto my pillow the book still dangling in his hand.
“I love this book,” he says. He passes it to me along with the dollar bill.
I haven’t told Seth that my father has cancer yet and that he’s dying right now, as we sniff cocaine. And the reason is that I don’t know if he would care. When I finish snorting my line, he grabs the book back from me and starts to read as if performing a soliloquy. Through other texts or paintings, we rehearse life. Art becomes us as we become it. I want him to stop reading it, but he can’t. He is so full of the sound of his own voice and his overly emphasized syllables with their thick, thick crust of speech. After he’s done with the poem, he drops the book on the floor and starts searching in his bag for his tobacco and rolling papers.
Seth is getting older. He’s in his thirties already. He has dark under eye circles and an almost insulting smile. But there is charm somewhere. He rolls a cigarette and then sits back on the bed, lifting his legs up and stretching them out. He leans back like James Dean, like he’s practiced this pose. He smokes in my bed.
“Call me Olympia,” I say. I pull my sweater over my head and drop it on the floor. I walk over to my vanity and put on a necklace that my grandmother bought me from Tiffany’s and I spray perfume on my wrists. Olympia slips like a djinn into my body.
“Do you know about Olympia, Seth?” “No. Tell me,” he says.
“Olympia is the name for whores who have been appropriated by artists, eaten up then spit out. Both immoralized and immortalized.”
“Come here,” he says.
“I’m the same Olympia, a round version of Olympia. An Olympia cut out of middle class ideals and a conditional loss of morale. Tear me down, Seth. Toss me in the trash, like a scrap of paper, an unfinished bit of pornography.”
He smokes a cigarette, letting the ash fall onto my bed until it is gone. I sit down beside him, twirling my hair around my finger. He rolls another cigarette. When finished, he says, “Give me a light. Is this all you wanted to do tonight? Sit around fantasizing?”
“It’s not easy being me,” I say. I stand up on the bed and wave the flame from the lighter at him. “Put your mouth on my cock,” he replies, softly. He says it while smoking, not even taking the cigarette out of his mouth. Soon he’ll ask me to light another for him. Then he’ll ask me to go fetch him a different outfit from my closet for him to put on, something more comfortable. He’ll ask me to prepare him a line of coke. I put my mouth around his cock and it grows, as cocks do. It grows for a while and then it plateaus. Nothing really happens, but he stays hard for a long time. I lean back and stare at him.
“Turn around,” he says, “I came here just to remember you from behind.” “Remember?”
“I want to be sure I remember you,” he says. “But you see me all of the time,” I say.
“I won’t be able to, soon. I’m leaving San Francisco. I’m moving to Vegas.”
Moving. The thought bounces around inside the walls of my skull. Without him there would be none of this.
“But how can you move? I need you,” I plead. “You hardly know me.” “Is that what this is about?” he asks. “Turn around. Give me the tripod.” He puts up the camera.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” I say. “You’re an asshole. Do you know that?” “Put the camera here. Here take some of this,” he hands me a tiny plastic bag of coke. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I say.
“Take it. Come on. What’s the matter with you?”
I take it and dip a key into the bag. I sniff it up my nose from the key tip. “Turn on the camera,” he says.
“I don’t think its such a good idea,” I say, without much conviction.
“Fine, do you want me to do it? Is that what it is? You want me to turn on the camera. Fine. Fine, I’ll do it. Turn around.”
I turn around. He puts his hand over my mouth and fucks me in the ass, slowly. It hurts. It goes in and then pulls out. In and out and hurts the whole time. But in a way, in a terrible way, I think that I feel something. But then again it might just be the drugs. I wonder if I’ve confused loving him with needing him because of the drugs. I may have even confused him with my father. I confused death with waiting. I confused art with life. I confused too many things.
We rest, sitting back, laying down. He still has not come, but the camera has run out of batteries. “I think the problem is that I am repressed,” I say.
“No. I don’t think that’s it. You’re not repressed. Where are the matches?” “Are you sure?” “Listen, you have no taste,” he says, pointing to the cotton nightgown I’ve given him to wear, smiling, “but you’re not repressed.”
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to do anything anymore. I don’t think I’ll survive it. I don’t have anything to survive for. I don’t really like doing anything. I don’t really want to be here or anywhere, anymore. Maybe its that I want to die,” I say.
“You worry too much,” he says, rolling another cigarette.
“Maybe what I need is to die and come back to life again. Or maybe never really die, just to make myself believe that I can start again. I don’t want to think anymore. I don’t want to think about the filth that has built up inside of me. Maybe I just need to die, but not really die, just sort of go away for a while and come back again.”
“Listen. You just stay here. You’re fine right here. I’m the one who’s going,” he says. “I know. You said so. But I – don’t go,” I say.
“I’m going. For good, I’m going. You know I’m moving in about a month, and I’m not coming back.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” I ask, helplessly. “Listen, it’s got nothing to do with you.”
“But how do you know? I want to tell you something.” “Give me a light?”
“Listen to me. I want to tell you something. I worry about you,” I say, not quite knowing how to say it, “I worry about my body, for example. I have no idea if I’ve contracted a disease.”
“Don’t say that.” “How would I know?” “Don’t say that.”
“Don’t you think I know about the others?”
He laughs when I say this. He laughs heartily as if it were nothing. “What others?” he asks with his awful smile.
We spend another hour sipping wine, reading lines of Pasternak and dressing in different outfits from my wardrobe. “I’m Russian,” he says, “Pasternak is real Art.” We sniff a few more bumps of cocaine, undressing and redressing until all my clothes are scattered on the floor. And then we spend more time fucking. Ass fucking. All the while, I know that what we are doing is not heroic or even very sexy, coating our emotions under the guise of art. With Seth, I pretend to indulge in books and in art, all the while swimming in self-loathing. I wonder if he would rather be in the arms of a man and if he just comes to my house to appease me as some kind of compromise for his lack of interest. Perhaps in some way, he likes my attention. Or maybe he simply likes my ass.
The voice in my head is telling me that the artistic ideal crumbles like a broken shell over the brutal reality. Just before exiting my house, Seth motions for me to come say good-bye. He is leaving me to my own devices to scrape together the semblance of hygiene and work-wear for the new day. He whispers the word Olympia into my ear.
“Seth,” I ask, “What does Olympia mean to you, right now, this morning?” I just want to hear him tell me something, anything, to hold on to before leaving me.
He ponders for a moment and says, “When did you last realize that no one knows who you are anymore?”
He voices it as a question in general, into the stillness of the air. Perhaps he has posed the question to me, perhaps to himself.
“Ach,” I sigh just before the shrill sound of my alarm interrupts my thinking. I jump at the sound. We both look over at the clock. It shakes furiously on my nightstand.
“I have to go to work now,” I say while the alarm continues to ring.
“Spin round, wooden doll,” Seth says, putting on his dark sunglasses. The ringing seems to grow louder. At once it was if there is only darkness where Seth’s eyes had been. I search for his eyes for the last time, but they have fallen into nothingness behind the blank surface of his opaque lenses. I keep staring at him as my heart pumps louder and louder and a wash of blood blooms
beneath my cheeks. It is the last time I’ll see him. The minute hand shifts to its next increment. The alarm quits ringing. The lenses of Seth’s glasses stand erect over his eyes like the blank black panels of the Rothko chapel. Silence slopes between us. Perhaps I say nothing because I’m afraid to disrupt the apprehension that hangs in the air amidst Seth’s stale cigarette smoke. We hold the next minute between our gaze in silence, neither one of us moving. We stand stiff as two walls containing an abandoned courtyard. He finally lifts his hand to embrace me. I politely kiss his waxy cheek. My lips are afraid. His hand grips my neck with abandon or even frustration and then it releases. I quietly dismiss him for the last time by whispering, “Goodbye, Seth Coppelius.”
He nods and says, “Wish me luck.” “What for?” I ask.
“So I don’t end up dead or lonely.”
“But you already are dead and lonely. I see it in your eyes.”
“That’s why I hide them. I don’t want anyone to see how dead I am,” he says as he lifts his eyebrows from behind the glasses. His cold voice follows him out the door while he continues with his dismissive joke, “dead, dead, dead…dead.” I look out the window and think of the future