Monday, February 12, 2007

Now for something completely different...

For reasons too complicated to explain here, I was recently reminded of this damned story, penned by me over ten years ago now. In fact, I think I wrote it shortly after my move to Los Angeles, while I was still nursing the wounds left by the breakup of my NJ band, the Evelyn Situation (up until that point the highlight of my artistic life). I was trying on an academic persona, and in the days after completing this thing I think I also was flirting very heavily with the notion of becoming a short story writer. As we all know, that didn't last -- I got sick of academia almost immediately, fell bass-ackwards into jazz and somehow ended up starting the group that is now my life's work. But I still have a fondness for this piece of writing (indebted as it is to my beloved Donald Barthelme), and not just because it roughly corresponded with the first months spent dating the woman who would eventually become my wife (no, the events contained herein are not autobiographical -- at least not entirely).

Anyway, here it is, in all its amateurish glory.

* * * * *

Violent Love

“I want to make violent love / To you ‘neath the moon above / I want to make violent love to you.”

-- Willie Dixon

The first night we made love, she bit her lip. It was nothing serious, really; we had just gotten down to our underwear (I hadn't seen a bra up close in years and hers was frayed at the edges, but that was okay, it accented her daring nature) when I inadvertently tickled her somehow and she bumped her chin against my shoulder and that's how it happened. I paused apologetically. At first she wanted to keep going but then she asked me to look at it, pulling the flap of pink skin down and making a face like a large-mouthed bass. I had to put my glasses on (the ugly, horn-rimmed ones; the only pair I own) to peer in at the cut, which was oozing a tiny dab of blood.

“I think it's okay,” I said, “but maybe we should go into the bathroom to be sure.” She thought that was a good idea, and after a close inspection, agreed that the injury was of little significance.

“It still stings, though,” she said. I offered her a band-aid but she turned it down. We decided to finish our lovemaking without the kissing. It was tough but we managed.

* * * * *

The next time, we were at my place, and I was a bit more prepared, a bit more wary of my own awkward physical bearing (I was still out of practice, after all). I wanted to prevent the occurrence of a similar incident. While licking one of my nipples, she accidentally knocked a hardcover copy of Anna Karenina off the coffee table and it landed with an unpleasant thud on my big toe.

She looked up at me, concern in her eyes, but I smiled weakly and waved it away, trying to get her to continue with her tongue. She did, for a few moments, but then the pain in my toe grew too great to ignore. We stopped and I removed the thin argyle sock. The toe was faintly purplish, like a tumescent grape. She dashed off into the kitchen, wearing only that dark blue tank top of hers, the one with the small hole in it (a moth, no doubt), and returned with a dishpan nearly full of ice and water, commanding me to immerse the injured foot. The cold was almost more painful than the bruise, but we both knew that there was no better way to keep the swelling down. After I was settled, she climbed back on top of me and we resumed our activity, the ice water sloshing with our movement.

The following Friday we both got out of work early, went to a twilight showing of Bonnie and Clyde, returned to my apartment, got changed into our on-the-town ensembles (I was stunned as she produced a black sequined gown from out of her old blue backpack), and then went to dinner at a fancy seafood place she had read about.

As it turned out, the third time we made love was in the ladies’ bathroom there, in the very last stall. She kicked off her shoes and hopped up onto the tampon dispenser, which was kind of narrow, so I had to use the pressure of my body to keep her there, and she had to put her feet against the opposite wall to give me a little leverage.

I should mention at this point that we're not skinny people. We like to eat and had just finished two whole lobsters between us, plus two slices of German chocolate cake, a Caesar’s salad, some bread, some cream of mushroom soup and a bottle of wine. Even so, we never expected the stall to topple over. She was licking my ear when it happened, but there was no denying the heavy metallic sound the end partition made when it hit the hard tile floor (the toilet, thank god, remained solidly in place).

“Are you hurt?” I groaned, trying my best to get off her.

“It's not too painful, but just painful enough,” she returned, wincing a bit, crawling out of the capsized stall, and grabbing her shoes. I tried to follow but immediately found that my left hand was useless.

“Hold on,” she said, grabbing my collar and dragging me to safety. I stood, but my hand, which was either sprained or broken, wouldn't quit its stabbing pain, and so she had to help pull my pants up.

“What about you? How bad is it?” I asked her as she was zipping my fly. She looked down at her side and observed out loud that she may have smashed a rib or two. We decided to get going before someone became suspicious.

Later, in the emergency room, I tried to take my mind off the pain and worry and guilt by reading Sports Illustrated (a special hockey issue). I had learned from a hulking RN that my hand was indeed broken in several places. He set the cast and told me to come back to see the doctor in a week, but I stayed in the waiting room while my girlfriend had her ribs looked at. I nervously asked the people at the desk how she was.

“She'll be fine,” said one of them, in between bites of a tuna sandwich. “Two fractured ribs; she needs to take it easy but the doctor says she can go home tonight.”

Half an hour later she came out with her backpack, showing me the bandage (exposing her navel, I had to kiss that, but ever so delicately), and asking to see my cast.

“How long will you need it?” she inquired.

“About a month. How are you?”

“It doesn't feel too bad. Luckily no organs were hurt, and the whole thing should heal pretty quick,” she said valiantly, as we walked out to the car.

* * * * *

Here was what happened the next four times: first she dislocated her shoulder (that was when we did it in the back seat of my Nissan Sentra), then I got poison ivy (we were returning to nature, a recurring fantasy of mine), then she got the flu (outside again, one particularly damp and rainy night), then I broke my leg (she wanted me to wear her fishnets and stiletto heels, and, being a good sport, I did, although it didn't really do much for me; afterwards, I was thirsty, and, without stripping, headed to the kitchen for some apple juice, but when I got to the top of the stairs one of the damned heels broke and down I went). It was a bit overwhelming.

After some soul-searching, I wrote her a long letter saying how I had never wanted to hurt her but how it always seemed to happen anyway, accidentally, and that maybe (I sighed) she'd be better off without me. I delivered this to her when she was laid up in bed for the second time that month (a mild case of food poisoning--I had purchased the chocolates at a reputable place and we both thought they looked and tasted great but for some reason they made her sick). She gently kissed my bandaged eye (an accident with her vibrator) then read the letter carefully, leaning over in her bathrobe, running her hands through her unwashed hair.

When she was done, she looked up, her eyes misting a little. Then she reached into the nightstand drawer and showed me that she had already written a letter of her own, which, I soon discovered, communicated more or less the same thing.

Needless to say, we were both crushed.

* * * * *

We agreed to separate amicably -- maybe something about the moment was wrong, we thought -- and to see what happened in a few months, or perhaps a year. I quickly became miserable, feeling that somehow I had been jinxed by my animal nature, cheated out of the only relationship that had ever actually meant something to me. Life became tedious. Other women expressed interest in dating me; they were pleasant enough, I had to admit, but what of it? They hardly had her panache, her enthusiasm, her zest for… life. Ah, what was the use! She was gone, and she wasn't coming back; we were both probably a lot healthier, and that was the main thing.

At least that was what my friend Albert said. Albert, who owned a collection of guns, was basically telling me to forget her. He came over to my apartment one night, balancing a stack of action movies: "Come on, nothing like a little gratuitous violence to take your mind off that business." Thinking a change of pace might do me some good, I succumbed. The evening went like this: Arnold Schwarzenneger was falling through the exhaust of a jet place, then he was pulling shards of hot iron from his chest, then (as the Terminator) he was getting his arms and legs torn off, and still he wouldn't die.

"No," I thought, fed-up and peevish, "I just can't forget about her."

* * * * *

After three agonizing months I lost my patience and decided to take a cab across town to her apartment. All I really wanted was to see how she was; I promised myself I wouldn't push for any more than that, although when I smelled the familiar scent of her neighborhood, my resolve weakened a bit.

I thought perhaps I should turn back. Still, I couldn't go away without at least saying hello, so I went up to the old brick building and rang the bell. She answered, looking as beautiful as ever (if a bit more cautious) in raggedy dungarees and red kneepads. At first she seemed surprised to see me, but then she invited me in, waving her arms and talking excitedly, and offering me a glass of apple juice, which I bravely accepted.

"Your nose! It's healed!" she said affectionately, adjusting her glasses.

"Yeah, it's amazing what a little plastic surgery can do. And I see your chicken pox left no scars."

“Well, just one,” she said, smiling and dragging me by the hand into her spacious living room. “But look what I've taken up since.”

The sofa and chairs and television had been pushed together in the middle of the hardwood floor and there beside them was a mess of boxes, some open, some closed. "I was planning to give you a call. I got you something." She grabbed one of the boxes and offered it to me. Inside was a set of very treacherous-looking rollerblades.

"I hope they're the right size. There's some protective gear in that other box."

As she talked, she strapped on a dark blue helmet. I didn't know what to say. I had heard of the dangers of rollerblading. I looked down at the box, trying to picture myself in a Mountain Dew commercial.

"That's… really… fantastic. Thanks. Thanks a lot. Uh, I guess I'll see you in the park sometime?"

Sitting on the floor, pulling on some heavy green socks, she paused. "Of course you'll see me in the park. But you don't understand."

"Understand what?" I asked.

“I think we ought to get back together,” she explained, turning to her own pair of rollerblades and lacing them up. “That is, if you want to.” Standing, she pushed off and began moving slowly about the room, tracing an oval around me and the boxes and the island of furniture, the skates humming along the hardwood floors. She was good, and I had to keep up a slow pirouette to maintain eye contact. I got a little dizzy.

“Yes, there is a certain amount of risk involved,” she said, raising her voice a little over the sound of the hard plastic wheels, “and maybe we would only end up hurting each other again, perhaps even worse than before (although that, I think, is highly improbable). Anyway, we’re wiser now. Life is too damned short anyway and as long as we are careful, and take precautions, we can't be blamed for the fact that it is also risky.”

Having said this she rolled right over to me and made a pretty damned good stop, for an amateur. We immediately fell into an embrace, she accidentally bumping my chin with her helmet and I accidentally scratching her face with my beard.

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