Выбрать главу

There are times in my life when I wonder what is the struggle for, what is the sacrifice all about. There are considerations beyond the simple and obvious question of why are we nonprofit. They go deeper than that. They go all the way to the foundation of altruism itself. I wonder about that. I seriously pause some days — is it worth it? If there was a shade of truth that my father, whom I see to this day in his pajamas and untied shoes ready for me to get him ready for a board meeting, too embarrassed to have anyone but me know, had a goddamned thing to do with it I’d quit, naturally, quickly spontaneously and combustively with vigor dispatch and hortatory glory of distinguished men from good clubs and better backgrounds breeding will out, out, out, he had not a thing to do with a thing, not a whit with a whit, or I’m a monkey’s uncle, and I’m not a monkey’s uncle.

Miss Jacobs, please come get this coffee mess off my desk, prepare to retrieve lunch, Russian dressing on roast beef, and inspect the cups well before you take one step toward this office bearing liquids of any kind, is that clear, is it understood, is it clearly understood?

On thin ice, Miss Jacobs, Mizz Jacobs, her predecessor having had the misfortune to abuse the string and Dixie cup and be overheard remarking “gives the air of a man perpetually emerging from a barbershop” (she had literary aspirations, I’m afraid) — I asked who has the air of a perpetual emergent from a tonsorial parlor and she blushed. You understand. Let her go, let her go, let her go. Had to, had to, had to.

Miss Resignation

LISA SMOKED HER FIRST Bingo card unnoticed. She coughed, coughed considerably, but not as much as one might expect smoking cardboard, and her condo neighbors could hear her coughing through the walls, but it sounded not unlike their own rheumy hacking and gasping and they never fathomed she had taken to smoking her Bingo cards. She never won at Bingo and the decision to smoke the losing cards — not just burn them — was a deep, involuted response to her lack of luck.

She had a mynah bird that did not talk and that had lost so many feathers to his ineradicable mite problem that he looked more like a desert lizard than a bird.

Her refrigerator would regularly fail to close by one-quarter of an inch, which was enough to perish the perishable and the compressor.

Her curtain rods sagged in the middle so badly that her drapes slid from the sides of her windows into the middle of the span.

One day four of forty hair curlers refused to let go and she had to use scissors to get them out.

She had a beautiful daughter.

She could no longer effect a long-distance phone call.

The television one day blinked and then showed her a tiny, shrinking, green pupil in the middle of the dark screen. The repairman, whom she secured by yelling at as he drove down the street, said he could not fix her set.

“Why not?” she asked.

“It’s tubes,” he said.

Potatoes were a staple of her diet. One day she experimented with how potatoes bounce on linoleum. They bounce pretty well and are not damaged much.

Toast impressed her as a waste of time. Bread was already cooked; you eat it or you do not.

Socks, likewise, seemed superfluous, if one has shoes.

She liked football and was absolutely certain that she could have been an excellent off-tackle slant-type power runner in a wishbone or two-back set. 44 was her number.

Forty-four was her bra size, too. This had held her back in life, she felt.

The salt air outside had corroded the aluminum frames of her windows to the point she was afraid to open them for fear of not being able to close them. They, the frames, had little white pocks on them, reminiscent of chenille.

Under her sink was a rattrap she could not set, for her nerves, and a rat. She baited the trap for him and fed him, safely and humanely, from the harmless little copper bait seesaw. She wondered if the rat knew she knew the trap was just a … just a whatever a sprung trap you continue to bait is. Perhaps he thought it a rather cruel thing to do, or maybe he got a kick out of it, or maybe he just ate the cheese, period. It was hard to know what a rat thought. Once, she put a small wad of wet toilet paper on the bait seesaw and he ate that, too, or at least took it off somewhere with him. All in all, she thought of him as a good sport, a good sport under the sink, and took comfort in it. She resisted the idea that he ate in fear, held his breath before biting the cheese. But she resisted equally the notion of feeding him on a saucer instead of the little bait seesaw — that was openly feeding a rat. He was not a dog. The rat under the sink was not a dog. The rat under the sink who could eat on a guillotine and find a use for or even eat toilet paper was not a dog. You could discover what a dog did with toilet paper, wet or dry. A dog is no rat. The rat is in possession of a dignity of desperation, and not the dignity of desperation, for there are many dignities of desperation. There is the desperate dignity of smoking the Bingo card which represents your millionth consecutive loss at Bingo, which is not even a true gamble. There is the desperate dignity of sweltering in your apartment with its closed windows because the event of window-frame failure, caused by electrolytical erosion of aluminum, will admit of the whole, giant ocean but blocks away and of all the destructive power of the sea, its swallowed cargoes and lives and lighthouse failures and fogs and seas higher than ships and icebergs and scurvy and sailors spreading syphilis and the entire trunk of doom that is Davy Jones’s locker two blocks away. This is just one of hundreds of desperations of dignity, not opening your windows.

A dog may have dignity, but not a desperate dignity. No dog, save those very first ones to perceive the domestication plans, has ever been possessed of a dignity of desperation. It is arguable that the kind of poodle whose nails get painted purple by Lisa’s condo neighbors can have a desperation, often betrayed by its nail-clicking dancing irrational barking skin problems self-mutilation visits to dog psychologists etc., but this, too, is not a desperation of dignity. This is clearly a desperation of indignity, and why Lisa likes a rat under the sink, not a dog.


IN A FLOOD WE had, a poet I know came walking down the riverbank, just as I recovered from the river itself a woman — I was in it grabbing the good things a flood can bring, which might sound a bit dangerous but isn’t, really, if you place yourself on a sandbar, as I had, or in an eddy closer to the bank, as had a buddy of mine who’d come over to drink beer and watch the flood with me until we decided to get in it and grab loot — the poet asked me (and I know he was able to see that I was holding what he had to perceive as a drowned woman, he could see her back, broad and pale, as she rose up out of the dark water more or less into my arms, and I mean rather gradually and smoothly, as though she were tipping up on her toes for a kiss, so amorously and languidly in fact that I was not alarmed at the immediate prospect of kissing a dead woman, in fact the issue of her medical condition did not cross my mind, what crossed my mind was beauty, which Itself I thought I was beholding—Beauty—though in the upper corner of my landward eye I could see my beer buddy beginning to look alarmed, seeing me, as he was, stare without alarm into the eyes of what he also had to think was a drowned woman, without alarm hardly being correct, I should say without the kind of alarm one is expected to display in these circumstances, for I was undergoing a most profound alarm, a perhaps uncommon despair you can have if you find yourself, as I was finding myself, holding a woman so stunningly beautiful you do not even perceive that she is wet, let alone dead, and now I think that she was not wet: a heart-stopping dread comes over you that this will not last, this look she gives with her eyes that says we could have been an item, you and me, her eyes dark and a bit widened, widened you think by her precise knowledge that a huge love is possible here in all senses except the real, and you do not dare even kiss a woman in these situations for fear of somehow shortening or spoiling the little time you have, time which is already beginning to collapse as you see your beer buddy upstream starting to wade down, you can tell, to get you back to your senses, your time together which you elect to protect by letting her go back into the flood with one giant shoulder-slumping sigh of resignation before he gets there, and her flowing hair blends into the tea-colored water, and she joins the common flotsam of tires and cows and appliances and light bulbs, and your beer buddy stops, more stunned) — and the poet asked me, when she was gone, “Why is this water so dark?”