Cats and Dogs
Anything I Want *
Shadow Life *
He Likes Pomegranates, Except When He Doesn't *
Ironic Coupling: Rosemarie London Reviewed *
Cats and Dogs
I live in a community of dogs. Dogs that bark and
howl at exchanging intervals through the night. There
are two on either side of me and the pair closest to
my bed keep me aware of their steady watch. My own is
quiet by neighborhood standards. And this morning she
twisted a leg chasing a cat out of her yard and has
been timid with the offending limb ever since. She's
not as young as she'd like to believe and this prairie
dirt is nowhere near as consistent as the poured
cement of The City.
I was given a reading assignment. I've been extended
a coveted invitation to "visit" a meeting of one of
the more established writer's groups in town later in
the week. I was told, via e-mail, to come prepared to
comment. There is a part of me that is grateful for
the correspondent's no-frills direction, disseminated
via e-mail. Just the facts. It was how I was used to
functioning. I didn't have to smile at my computer.
It was going to take some getting used to. Human
interaction. Pleasantries. I would have to re-learn
it. Take an at-home remedial course in praxeology.
In my study I watched the ornamental windmill outside
the window furiously spin while I waited for the story
to print. A gift, the windmill had been to NYC and
back. It was clear to me now, in my outer borough
backyard it worked far below its potential. And in
full flight, manipulated without warning by something
fickle and invisible, it seemed grateful to have been
returned home. It was windy, but was it windy by
Wyoming standards? I couldn't tell. I listened to
the house. To the flutter and bang of the collection
of cardboard boxes stuffed in a nook outside,
outliving their usefulness and waiting to be dragged
in portions to the alley on garbage day. Windy, yes.
But typically? It was clearly something I would have
to learn by trial and error in order to know.
I set out with my assigned reading and my
camera--stopping first at Kmart for some film and at
the last minute a bottle of water. I took 9th street
out of town thrilled to have the top down on the
convertible and had to check myself once or twice as I
would sometimes get lost in the canopy of clear and
empty sky. I was really here. This is where I live
now; I marvelled at my courage. I live someplace big
and beautiful. I could only hope that this place
would re-draw my polluted lines with whatever grace it
had to spare.
I would drive for a little bit, I thought, until I
found a place where both my car and I would feel like
resting. I pulled over the first time, because I
recognized jutting rocks and bent over trees that I
had visited before, to take some pictures of Wyoming
for my partner's son. Since being told that his dad
was moving to where there were cowboys, he can only
imagine hairy cactus everywhere . I wanted to show
him a bigger world than existed on Cartoon Network.
This was new. The approval of a seven-year old was to
me now a much more gratifying catch than the very
small habit-trail-like victories of Molly-Midtown, the
young publishing professional. I'm still ambitious
and sharp, I've just changed my perception of success.
The next time I got out of the car it was just after
someone passing in the other direction startled me. I
felt conspicuous, my New York City tags branded me
novice. I could have sworn I saw the driver shaking
his head as he rolled by. So, I joined the game and
laughed aloud at myself. There I was, zipped into a
brand new Land's End parka while everyone else in town
was stripped to t-shirts on this first above-50-degree
day. Standing poised with an instamatic to take
pictures of rocks and trees and a fence here and
there, I laughed and my voice was instantly stifled
by the strong cross wind like a hand across my mouth.
I steadied myself against the push of the air and my
boot slid a little in the mud pooled just off the edge
of the asphalt. I lifted my heel to assess how much
muck I would track into my car and saw I hadn't been
the first one through the mud. Dog? I knew it
wasn't; the pad marks were too rounded. Horse? Had I
lost all sense? Dog. It must be dog. With fleeting
looks around me I bent way over and measured the
stride afraid cognitive dissidence might strike. Ok,
so maybe this isn't the best place to sit. I returned
to my car and pulled the top up. To hide. But I
didn't turn back. I kept driving. The paved road
ended abruptly and the path, uneven and unimproving,
narrowed. I kept going. The idea that I would stop
and find a spot to read had vanished; it was just
about exploration now. I was Lewis and Clark in a
seven year old imported convertible.
I was sure that I had been this far before. Not in
my car--I had only been here for a visit, my breath
heavy with whisky--but in a beatup pick-up with my mom
and her then boyfriend. It had been the middle of
winter and for a while we lost the road and almost
rolled the truck, which at the time would not have
upset me too much as long as if after the heat still
I stopped again to take a picture of a pile of
rocks. I rounded the car and was about to step
through a patch of sage when more paw prints caught my
eye. I looked around me and thought of Karen Blixen's
word. Somehow I didn't think "Shoo" would work quite
as well for me. I realized how unprepared I was. I
didn't even know what one did when confronted by a
mountain lion. It was hilarious to me really. I
mean, I'd just been on the check out line at a Big
Kmart. Drive just a few miles and you're out of your
sanctuary and head long into someone else's. "Molly,"
I thought, "You're not on 51st Street and Sixth
How many times had I sat next to a psychopath on the
IRT subway, who at that moment was choosing to be
quiet in his chemical unrest, and felt "safe." Safe,
because I was equipped and ever-prepared for the
unpredictable wilds of the city. How useless I felt
now. But how courageous I was for simply being here.
For reverse migration. I would say just that: " Oh,
mountain lion, I am more courageous than you know."
Next time however, I might leave a note on my kitchen
counter as to where I'd gone.
Anything I Want
By RoseMarie London
I bounced around in a steam cloud of my own perfume--the tail end of a cigarette was stuck in
the goo of the spilt melonball between my fingers. Dance floor lights flashed primary colors
under my feet and I saw him looking. Through yellowing palm fronds over the shoulders of
people who were trying hard to entertain him, I swung my long hair around and set a zigzag
course toward the bathroom and out of his easy view. I could feel his chase and wondered if
he remembered meeting me before. I didn't attribute a reliable memory, or good listening
skills for that matter, to someone of his ilk.
Having a gait that liked to shout was the scarlet letter I was proud to own even though it
ostracized me from most things and invited others; having to step over people like Cheetah
Chrome hunched over his own sick at the curb outside of the Mudd Club too soon in my life
for example. Men saw me as well-behaved and cooperative and not so curious that it got me
into trouble. This made me a suitable ornament. That I dog paddled where others were
drowning--even those twice my age--made me interesting.
I tended to also wake up faithfully late for first period, sit in homeroom licking the salty skin
at my wrists and wander from class to class until I felt too stale to stay. So many were the
post cards from school documenting my cuts and absences that the mailman would rubber
band them together. I thought that if the Board of Ed were smart it would look into a Bulk
Rate discount. I think if I weren't so amusing I would have driven my mother mad--and that
is all I will say about that.
I first met Eric on a Saturday afternoon at a local rehearsal room. I can't recall what broken
promise had brought me there; when I think back on it, it is with the suspicion that the
introduction had been orchestrated for someone's amusement. He had offered me a piece of
Trident Original Flavor. I think I was so fascinated by seeing him as not just a picture on an
album but in an extra dimension, that I didn't notice the easy coincidence of the afternoon,
and I still didn't bother to question it when an hour later he offered me a ride home.
Jokingly he'd asked me if I'd like to go for some ice cream or go roller skating or something.
But when I laughed, he noticed how wide I could open my mouth and was quickly across my
lap searching his glove compartment for a pen. He wrote his phone number on my palm,
using my life line as a guide.
The bathroom was packed of course. It was standard practice to cut the line with the plea: "I
just want to use the mirror." Behind a graffitied stall door, I balanced over a sluggish bowl
hearing the repetition of his name and stood at the basin in a steady drizzle of someone else's
hairspray listening to a chorus of strategies for capturing him before last call. Through the
propped open door could be heard the room's audible disappointment when he caught *me*
by the waist on my way out. "Let me buy you a drink," he proposed. "One that's not so
I covered my mouth self-consciously--sloppily--anxious that he could smell the Grenadine
coating my tongue. Behind me in his leather trench coat he guided me by my elbow; I began
parting clutches of people with the deft of a locomotive's cow guard. He brought me to a far
corner of the bar away from the DJ and the dance floor, nearer to the cigarette machine and
underneath an AC vent. Our hairstyles were almost identical and, suffering a heavy-handed
application of hair spray, whole chunks shifted unflatteringly in the down draft. In the murk
particularly, we looked strikingly alike.
He ordered two Jack and Cokes. "Isn't this a school night?" he said, handing over my drink.
A few times he touched the back of my neck where the hair was still soft. Sometimes I said
things that he would use the next few minutes to tease me about, charming himself with his
own wit. It was too soon for me to know I could fight back and where that would lead. He
bought me drinks until it was difficult for me to stand. I recall laughter and applause as he
carried me Scarlet O'Hara-style up the undulating stairs to the street. It must have looked
unbearably graceful; I was, after all a sum total of 95 pounds.
I draped myself across the hood of his 924 while he opened the door. I caught the smell of his
fear as he fit me with great care into the cockpit. At the corner he had a red light to decide
whether to go left or right. He jiggled the gear-shift, let the car roll back and forth. He
looked left and then looked at me looking at him. I smiled a torch-song smile. My short
dress had ended up a tourniquet around my hips. I knew my face was dewy and my make-up
smeared from dancing and then cooling under the insistent breath of the AC. I looked used
and hoped for a moment under the streetlight it might add years.
But he turned right, away from the red neon beacon of the motor inn on the very next
corner. I flung my head against the seat in a teenage huff that came naturally.
"What's the matter?" he laughed. A slight lisp whispered in the vacuum seal of the car.
"Urrgh." I demanded, crossing my arms.
"What, did you think I was going to fuck you? Are you crazy?"
"Want me to be? When you're my age you can be anything at all."
"Then be patient."
"Life is short, you know." I advised, looking at myself in the side-view mirror.
He pressed a button and both windows went down. The night air roared at a new
opportunity. My hair slapped my face. I didn't move to restrain it. I sat, with my hands
purposefully at my sides, red-fringed white pools on the black seat. 20, 30, 40 miles an hour
up a side street. I listened to the timing of the engine. It clicked like an egg beater. I couldn't
see his feet, but I watched the back-and-forth flex of his thighs and the exchanging grip of his
hand as he turned onto my block and shifted down, all the while imagining something else.
"You'd better go to school tomorrow," he warned.
"It's not your fault I'm out late."
"It's only with my help you got home at all."
"You think?" I sat unmoving. He was going to have to shove me out.
He pointed at his gold watch. "It's very late." We listened to insects chirping in the hedge
row and a hook and ladder's siren rise and fall.
"Where are you going to go now?" I asked. He looked surprised by the question. From a
twenty-year-old it would mean one thing, and from me, he suspected it meant another. It had
the tone of a girl who collected experience and was afraid she was going to miss something.
"To sleep, probably. It's late."
"I thought you might go back." That was it. I could see it; I'd hooked him with the
innocent bit and I hooked him because he could tell I knew how to lie too.
"Good night, you knucklehead."
I made a face, and then I climbed across him with a spider's agility before he even realized,
before he could object. I slipped between him and the steering wheel and was teetering on
my spike heels in the street beside his open door. I could see him reinflating, a little off
balance. I leaned into the window and offered one more time: "Want me to get back in?"
I watched his tail lights grow weak and listened to the engine fade until it was nothing more
than my memory that I was hearing.
Dear Diary, have I got something to tell you. Imagine if I trusted you to keep a secret.
By RoseMarie London
I came away looking like a Greek widow, a fisherman's wife, a dish rag. Blame it on
the weather. Blame it on my desperation. Whatever it was, this is truth, somewhere there's a
photograph which illustrates the contradiction of that day.
It mattered, how I looked. You see, it's that he's not from around here. His skin is
smooth and warm-weather kissed. There is a deep puddle of rust at the hollow of his throat.
And how I normally look is not normal for him. I have that New Yorker's aggressive way of
wearing black. Later, once again, we will address this difference. The difference of place.
He'd been waiting, just a few minutes, he said. A measure of time from a man who
never knows what day it is. I'd circled the squat building in a rain just beginning. The air
had been too thick to sustain itself--gooey drops splattered my windshield as I came around
again, speeding through the swoop of an illegal right for a second time. Shoeless on the
break, I waited in a full parking lot for someone whose reverse lights taunted me to back out.
My signal ticked. My wipers swished. My hair got shorter by the minute. I flipped the
defroster on blast. My trip meter had added twenty-four miles since I filled up the tank 40
At the last minute I swapped shoes, hopping from one foot to the other beside my open
trunk, grateful I'd brought with me a change of mind. I know myself perhaps too well I
thought slapping through three or four small lakes before reaching the lobby office.
I fingered my hair in a mirror just beside the check-in desk and in a moment, less than
that, he was behind me, filling up the frame.
We held on amidst the plastic potted palms and dusty silk floral arrangements in
tangerine and fuchsia. Held on, under the buzzing florescent light. We didn't much care who
saw. Yesterday, two years seemed like forever and now it didn't seem much time at all--
rather, at last, it was a waste of time to argue.
Waiting for a room assignment, we sat beside a thermos sticky with complimentary
coffee and a plastic bowl of individual servings of half and half which reminded me: I had a
best friend in high school--I mean best friend--who couldn't resist the urge to peel off the foil
and knock them back like they were something better.
He filled the styrofoam cup just for something to do. Nothing could begin until we
could close the door behind us. The waiting wasn't as bad as the sheets of rain which
drenched us on our way to the small room that looked dispiritingly over-used. He set to work
arranging his things in precisely the same way he had in his room the day before and the one
before that. Lighting exactly the same light, ticking things off a mental list. I gave him space
"How would you define convenient?" I asked framed by what was just outside the still open door.
"Convenient. How would you define it? For instance, right now, I'm feeling like it."
"What would you like me to say?" he resigned before dropping something off
inside the bathroom.
I promised myself I wouldn't misbehave. I'd coached myself in the car, conducting the
biting dialog there instead of perhaps here, trying to use it up. But sometimes I Love You
comes out sounding like hate.
I'm loyal to words.
Actions can always be faked, but words are a binding contract. I invariably choose mine
with inspection and imagination. Six months ago when he challenged me to an invisible duel I
abandoned him. No matter that it broke my heart. If he wanted something, if it was a tangible
need, then he could very well ask for it and I would give it. Simply. Gladly. But he wanted
me to come to him on my own. No.
"No. You do realize now that you have to tell me what you want. I won't guess
or presume to know you that well."
"But don't you listen to me?"
"I listen to your face when the lines around your eyes shift, when you bite your lip
and I know--but I cannot hear. You must say it. Now where, how, do you want me?"
Controlled words at the end of flailing arms that trademark many of my soliloquies. All in a
somewhat damp black cocktail dress at 9 o'clock in the morning.
I waited while he showered. He'd been all night traveling. I sat on the bed, reclined,
then sat back up. I listened to him under the water. And to the water's gentle notes nearer to
the drain. He reappeared with a towel around his waist. Haphazard--not arranged. He
stopped at the sink, combed out his hair, brushed his teeth, shook an aspirin out of a bottle.
He toyed with the blow dryer for just a moment, enough to lighten his hair a shade or two,
aimed an aerosol can under each arm and tipped his head back to drop Visine in his eyes. His
toiletries were in one of those clear plastic rolls that hang up and have compartments from
small to smaller to smaller still. He knew exactly where everything was and put everything
back in its place. He was a man on the move. He slipped into a pair of silk
shorts and sat across from me on the other bed.
I asked him, "Are you afraid?"
"Nervous. I always get nervous when I'm with you. I haven't slept, I've been
bouncing around since we spoke. You know how I get when we come close."
"I'm coming over there," I warned. "I'm going to come close." I got off the
bed, leaving my shoes behind. My shoes on the floor. My glasses on top of the armoire and
my diamond watch beside the styrofoam cup with a crumpled cigarette butt in it now.
I was collecting and preserving--these are quiet activities. I will need later the ability to
recall with significant force the simple way that he is big and I am small; his kiss, consuming
conscientiously lipsticked lips with the relish of young fingers in paint, not just the prelude but
the glue and the punctuation. I carefully catalogued all the things which had made me so
desirous from being long without.
I was so quiet. So quiet, he remarked woefully, "I don't do a thing for you. Do I?"
And I laughed. It wasn't even really a laugh it was a noise like a laugh but really little
more than a smile and a gasp.
"Don't laugh. I hate it when you laugh to yourself. It' makes me insecure."
"I'm happy, " I accused. "I'm amazed. I stare, and you try and pretend you're
not the captor. I laugh, and you're displeased. What can I do? You don't read it when I
write it down even if I could make it rhyme like Cat In The Hat. This focus is the only way I
know how to show you."
"Mmmm, I love the way you talk. Kiss me."
"If I kiss you I'll get lost and not come back."
"Kiss me then. I like the way you can kiss my soul. I feel it's like--I remember--"
he became more and more urgent, "--yeah, this is how it's supposed to be."
"This is it," I gasped. "What makes me want to touch myself." My hair brushed
his face. I welcomed the prideful smile--the way his green mermaid eyes began to swim--and
that he buried his face so I wouldn't see. After a long while he told me, "I'm trying to breath
all of you in. He reclaimed his hand and covered his heart. "I want to fill my lungs with you
for later. Trap you right here."
"Did you finish that glass of water?" I wondered.
"Would you like some? I can get up, the sink's just over there."
"No. I'm fine."
"I don't mind. I would be worth it just to hear you ask again."
"What? I say it funny?"
"You say everything funny."
"Not where I came from."
He let me have the little bit left in the glass. "You are always so well groomed." He
declared like it was something he relied on. A barometer.
"I had my manicure on Friday, beside Carolyn Bessette."
"The new Mrs. Kennedy."
He shifted onto an elbow letting me drop away. "You should stay away from her.
People like her get shot at."
I didn't know what to say.
"I worry about you."
I almost laughed again.
"I worry about you." He said a second time and stood, hiding behind his lighting
I looked up to see him. "I'm fine."
"I know. I know," he said, walking over to draw back the heavy curtain. The sky
was white. It was pouring rain. I jumped onto the far bed to look over the cement balcony to
see if my car had been stolen and watched the water churn in the tiny in-ground pool between
the parking lot and office.
I've been standing at the fork for so long there's weeds tangled around my legs and bird
shit on my head. I have to crane my neck to gaze down the path I want so much to take since
I'm still facing the direction of least resistance. Down this far road in my imaginings, he's
astride an old Harley and it's ten years ago.
The floor trembled as the commuter train rolled past. "It's the train," I pointed to
answer his look.
"Where are you? Which direction?"
"What's that?" He motioned opposite through a dirty cloud of his cigarette smoke.
"A water tower."
He dropped the curtain back into place and held out his hand. "How long have we?"
"Not very. Before I die," I tell him, "I want a ride."
He Likes Pomegranates, Except When He Doesn't
"In the dictionary *lumpy jaw* comes just before *lunacy*, but in life there are no such clues." Lorrie Moore, Anagrams
We are writing partners. Co-collaborators. We used to be lovers; the kind that has little to do with love, everything to do with excess. And that kind of love gets used up quicker than you might think.
Now the portent of my creative success keeps him awake.
"It's nocturnal harassment," he tells me. And it is with an almost imperceptible shift in his chair and with a raspy voice which denotes the certain pleasure of his having been given either permission or an excuse, he tells me too that the male animal is not naturally monogamous. "A pride of lions for instance," he continues. "The male will have many mates and mate often while the female is faithful for life."
I close my eyes. God bless cable, I think. "That's me," I surprise him. "The male. I am Leo." My stare invites him to disagree. He sits back and defends himself with crossed arms, thinking about this. His smile goes and then returns to a smaller degree.
We're opposite, a round table between. Much weakness of heart and strength of character holds us apart. And around and around ideas and cries of spirit circle wildly blurring the edges.
He's in a black turtleneck. Very black. A vortex. Suction. I stuff my ears to keep from getting in too deep what he thinks I'm beyond sensitivity to. I'm sun deprived and he fiddles with the batteries to my flashlight.
Sit back. I tell myself. Fold some stray hair behind the curl of your ear. Take a cooling sip of water. Swallow. Let certain questions dangle in the air.
Our apartment consists of foyer, EIK, library (a hallway of four sparsely-stocked shelves with questionable literature; a closer look reveals a few books that were mine), living room, bath and boudoir. I stepped back around this last particular turn to look away from my own reflection in a full length mirror across the carpeted room. I'd been startled to find myself already inside.
The living room had an antique bureau with mirror, which, despite its unquestionable beauty, seemed awkward in its habitat. The hardwood floor was swathed in an acquired-by-marriage Persian rug of deep reds; more shades than I had lipsticks to match. And strung across the kitchen door and tied in place at either side with gold cords were harem beads softly clacking from the invisible motion of their cat. The seating, a burgundy widewale corduroy sofa/futon and a delicious looking over sized easy chair/chaise in claret chenille wide enough for two, was arranged for entertainment for which one received a monthly cable bill and not conversation. So I kept my head swiveled unnaturally to the left, his Dianetics paperback on an end table stood sentry between us.
It was perhaps that he felt already bare, or instead wanted so badly to undress, that he scampered here and there lifting things to show. A picture, for instance, from New Year's Eve buried in a glossy pile. A careful choice which spoke more of what had been held back.
We crouched at his open refrigerator sorting through the organic produce that is delivered in a wooden crate right to the door every Monday. We traded back and forth passing over hands and under our curious noses something green and leafy; I thought dill, he suspected fennel. There was something exceptionally ripe about that moment. Side-by-side, close, fondling fruit.
He ordered soup. So I did too. I wanted furiously a glass of Chardonnay. They didn't serve alcohol. That he was happy with just a pitcher of water made me feel like a sweating addict and I coiled from the steaming mushroom barley just in case. I took off my glasses to eat.
"Can you see me, now?"
"Yes." I answered plainly. "I can see you, just not the particulars on the No Parking sign behind you." He twisted in his chair to, what? make sure there actually was a No Parking sign. Or to measure his own ability to see beyond my minor infirmity. He'll never forgive me for being too lazy to care for contact lenses, I mused. Is it that my computer doesn't judge me, that the solitary of what I do allows me to be less distracted by the siren song of the bathroom mirror and thus all the remedies that follow?
"Can I tell you?" I say. "I've been having this recurring dream that I'm in a run away elevator that crashes through the roof of a building. The car is always crowded and I can very clearly feel my fear, but I'm rather resigned to the outcome despite the fact that everyone around me is panicked and screaming."
Holt interrupted confidently, "You wake up before impact, right?"
"No, that's what's weird." I settle out of my excitement and reach for the water glass that I still wish was wine. "We go flying out the roof, like Willie Wonka, and then I wake up."
"I think that's positive."
"Well, people usually dream about falling and here you are going in the opposite direction. Isn't up always positive?"
"I never thought of it that way."
"What about your dreams?" I delved.
"Falling in love. I miss it."
"Ah, yes the days when love lasted only twenty minutes and then you were on your way."
"That's part of it. My ego and I have not been speaking. It's been a long separation and I miss the conversation. He wonders what's happened to me."
"At least he's willing to forgive you for the abandonment."
"Yes, but he expects me to work on it and offers no suggestions."
Three days later Holt's on the phone because for the moment he's captivated by, as he puts it, this "Poetry in a Box thing" that an acquaintance has introduced him to at a dinner party. "Have you heard of this?" he asks as incredulous as though we were talking about the light bulb. "They are little refrigerator magnets, hundreds of them," he educates me. "These different words, these great words!"
He's excited. I try to calm him down. I tell him that my refrigerator is too littered with hundreds of little magnets; that mine are Shakespearean Insults. "NO! No," he corrects me. "These are poetry. I'm going to lay them on the floor," he goes on. "And this is how I'll compose!"
Now, I can see the floor that he's describing. In my mind, I can color in the room around him. I know now just where he's standing from the echo of his voice. I liked it better before when there was no truth to it--when it was entirely of my making.
I tell him as kindly as I can that he first has to know what all the words mean before they can be of any use to him. But alas, for the moment it seems my usefulness has been usurped by a Box O'Words. Who knew?
RoseMarie London is Associate Editor of the Queens Historical Society Newsletter, which is funded by the City of New York, Department of Cultural Affairs. She has contributed to both analog and hyperspace publications. One of her stories was chosen for Sparks Best of 1997 issue. RoseMarie lives in New York City and narrates in complete sentences.
When I'd checked my coat the place was empty; I couldn't see
all the way inside, but I could tell. There was little vibration
coming from within.
"I wonder," I spoke surrendering the length of my coat. "There's
a scarf in the sleeve--did you see a lone guy come in here? Bad
"There's someone at the bar," she said handing me a plastic
number. "But I didn't notice his skin."
"Ok. How `bout the ladies room?"
Over a stainless steel cone, I shook the water off my hands and
flirted with the mirror to assess myself with a practiced
distraction. There it was, the deliberate smear of good cosmetics
that seldom needed re-application--and that achingly familiar
look one gives oneself at 32. If this had been an introduction I
would not have been able, if asked, to guess correctly the color
of my own eyes. Because of these disconcerting, mildly-
educational thirties-things that have happened to my body, which
make me careful to only sleep with a peer, I turned my back on
myself, leaving without self-acknowledgment.
I set out for the bar, taking deep conscience-cleansing breaths
before filling the stool beside him and revealing my Amex in one
fluid movement like an actress in a favorite role. As soon as I
crossed my legs he started to jiggle the ice in his vodka.
"What's that?" I pointed into his glass. I wanted to be sure he
was drinking drinking. Usually the exquisite tension of our lost
love filled the spaces completely, like deep breaths. We found
each other's company when searching for renewal, but it was like
reliving a plot in a movie whose ending you already know. Tonight
we faced each other in the uneasy state of everyday failing in
our respective marriages; we began almost at once crunching ice
between our worn complaints and sour disillusionments.
He'd just come from some chic salon and cocked his colorful
high-and low-lights like a bird; it had been years since he'd
shorn his inspiring Rapunzle mane and I shouldn't have been so
rudely distracted by what was no longer there. But I was, enough
for him to squeeze some of my thigh pressing against his knee and
call me "fleshy."
Still, neither of us had crossed the other completely off the
We moved to the lounge to order; he had the sea bass on a bed of
spinach and lemon slices and I chose a Caesar salad playing
Russian roulette with Salmonella to roil his stomach for fun.
He couldn't even watch me eat it and so I got bored with it and
and left my well-picked-over plate beside me on the reproduction
fainting couch. I had not survived the complicated arrangements
to meet only to endure his recitation of the purported physical
benefits to my trading carbs for protein. But, I'll take one of
those Nat Sherman's, thank you.
When he put down his fork he took a deep breath and pronounced a
cut-off time. Normally I would enjoy the irony of his attempt at
self-discipline--finding endless amusement in how effortlessly I
could cause him to break his own rules. This evening however, I
was without the sweet apprehension to dread its end. There was
disinterest and clarity where there once had only been an
invitingly muddy vortex. It was like arriving at an amusement
park with a strip of tickets only to find your favorite ride
under construction; I felt off course.
I can only stay out till such-and-such, he'd assured. Their cats
had urinary problems that had been keeping him in the apartment
monitoring excrement for a week. Last Tuesday his wife had come
home with an animal communicator and the usually unaffected
kitties began to circle with immediate interest, excited to have
a translator. The group gathered in the living room amid the
cluster of bordello-looking floor lamps that were trying hard to
be a serious collection. Here the feline brothers were able to
voice their opinions on a myriad of issues. His wife busied
herself taking notes and collecting food and toys from various
rooms for a pass-or-fail grade. I'd be thrilled too, I suppose,
for the opportunity to be so sure of everything.
"They seemed very clear," he told me, "on what they wanted to
eat, what was helping them and what they would rather do
"Well, aren't you?" Frankly, I didn't really know what to say.
"She told us, the animal communicator, that Willow, the bigger
cat, is my creative partner and he's the one who helps me catch
"There goes my name from the liner notes."
Sitting down again--having side-stepped between his knees and a
low table--I mentioned, "By the way, the bathroom stall's full --
door locks with a deadbolt." But my suggestion was intercepted
by a waitress in a slinky dress who'd slid her tray beneath her
breasts and in front of his chin to ask if she could help him
with a selection. Dessert? His head bobbed from me to her to me.
I sat back to better frame the shot and through a plume of blue
cigarette smoke hinted to her with a casual note that her tip
relied on my generosity not his.
"Proprietary, not jealous--I remember," he laughed his little
self-satisfied laugh that made his lip curl like a surprised
"She's cutting into my time," I said, when she bent-over again
to relieve her little tray of our drinks.
Shamelessly enlivened by her plastic surgery, he asked, "Have you
seen the Pamela-Tommy video."
"Got it as a gift."
"I understand it is very beautiful. Lots of posing. And from
what I heard they should be so proud."
"Well, you knew that."
"Well, actually, no. What made you think I would?"
"I just--well, in your travels; you did spin in that circle for a
"As did you." I reposted over the plop and sizzle of a doused
cigarette. "There's one of Aric and I--somewhere." I tricked
the conversation back my way.
"Who has it now?"
"Couldn't say. When he died no one would let me back in to pick
up the pieces of me."
"I didn't realize he was into that?"
"I'm sure he felt it a job requirement--who knows? At the time I
was too young to realize I should be paying better attention."
"Young, but not inexperienced," he teased.
"To your eventual advantage, if I remember your face as clearly
as I think I do."
"What do you think would have happened if we'd gotten married?"
he asked the ceiling. "You think we would have made it?"
I wasn't drunk enough to completely ignore his floundering about
how to get home. "Share a cab with me or don't," I shrugged,
tipping less than I would have naturally which felt more
dangerous than anything else I'd done this evening. I fingered
around my bag for the plastic numeral I would have set aside if
forethought had ever been my strong suit.
I dragged my coat over the counter and wrapped myself up in its
generosity, closing him out--viewing hours were over. In the
street I stopped the first yellow thing I saw.
Sliding into the open mouth of the Mid-town tunnel I was aware he
was talking but I had too many other ideas to index. When we
stopped on his corner I realized, if I'd chosen to acknowledge an
almost imperceptible hesitation, I could have followed him
upstairs. But I didn't. And my decision only concerned me in
that this inaction might weaken the link--diminish the current.
Regardless, some fish will always swim upstream.
Ironic Coupling: Rosemarie London Reviewed
He Likes Pomegranates Except When He Doesnt
Anything I Want
Rosemarie Londons stories exhibit the ironic and erotic quality of courtship and relationship. Flirtation is treated as though it is the lightest, easiest of matters but reveals an underlayer of seriousness in the story. The scenes are playful but some characters play for keeps.
Anything I Want describes a flirtation between a teen-aged girl and her music idol that is packed with nearly instantaneous summaries of the images that each character uses to build up a hopefully-attractive front for the other. "I looked used and hoped it might add years." or "Having a gait that liked to shout " shows the young womans bold thoughts.
In flirtation, visual cues are everything and must be displayed elegantly, expertly. The cue must appear near enough to perfection to pass as such and win the prize. In Shadow Life, the woman is late for her date and feels disheveled. London quickly and efficiently calls up images that elucidate character and setting: "We held on amidst the plastic potted palms and dusty silk floral arrangements in tangerine and fuchsia." Later the man is "hiding behind his lighting a cigarette."
Perhaps because it is the anticipation, the courting, the flirting that makes the story, consummation is not so important to the story. In He Likes Pomegranates, Except When He Doesn't, the story is about a couple whose flirtation has faded. The story is exquisite in its detail but the details are more mundane quibbles, devoid of the promise of passion, almost melancholic.
London rejuvenates old love in Mating, a story of two former lovers who agree to meet in a lounge. The story is her best in my opinion. The writing is consistently beautiful and economical in its succinct revelation of the essentials of scene and personality. For example, the woman checks her makeup in the mirror and the scene is vivid:
"There it was, the deliberate smear of good cosmetics that seldom needed re-application--and that achingly familiar look one gives oneself at 32. If this had been an introduction I would not have been able, if asked, to guess correctly the color of my own eyes. Because of these disconcerting, mildly-educational thirties-things that have happened to my body, which make me careful to only sleep with a peer, I turned my back on myself, leaving without self-acknowledgment. I set out for the bar, taking deep conscience-cleansing breaths before filling the stool beside him and revealing my Amex in one fluid movement like an actress in a favorite role. As soon as I crossed my legs he started to jiggle the ice in his vodka."
Londons point of view is always the womens. Men can be desirable despite their vanities. Her characters do not complain but face each other with curiosity and intelligence. On this level, her advantage is the fresh and original view of relationships that she brings to the story.
Londons advantage in style is on the word and phrase level, composed of quick flashes that suggest the erotic, completely and succinctly. In the voice of one of her characters: "Actions can always be faked, but words are a binding contract." Londons elegant and efficient language creates the action. We look forward to seeing where she takes us next.
by Jim Strope