Photograph by Jeffrey Zeldman
by Laurie Stone
I am sitting beside a fountain off Broadway, designed like a waterfall. The sound of rushing water softens the heat. The buttery smell of pastries floats up from a nearby bakery. I sat here twenty-five years ago, reading “London Fields,” when the man I loved was dying. Today I missed my sister. I was arranging pillows on the couch, and a sound came out of my mouth. She has been dead for two months. I knew when the man I loved was dying I would remember it, but not this way. I am listening to Brendel play Beethoven. Two sparrows are standing in a jet and splashing around the way we used to dart into the lawn sprinklers. I wish you were here.
I am remembering Kate Millett and Lila Karp, who gave me books. Violette LeDuc, Jean Rhys, Doris Lessing, Colette, Simone de Beauvoir. I read all the Penguin books with orange spines written by women. Lila cooked a dish with chicken, potatoes, lemon and butter. She was beautiful and plump, and I was interested in her freedom to use butter. You can’t believe how good Kate was at teaching, how well she prepared, how much she knew, how funny she could be, how superior and frivolous, how hungry for gossip, her mouth sliding into the shape of a shark. Kate and Lila made rough surroundings elegant. They knew where to place things. I could not tell the difference between love and envy. Each emotion fed the other.
The person who is massaging me is small and lean with strong, square hands. She says, “I feel you have not spent much time as a human. Most of your life you have been a different kind of being.” I thinks she means an animal. She says, “I think you are an alien.” I do not want to disagree. I want to spend the rest of my life here. Earlier she said, “Are you modest?” I said, “No.” She said, “I can go into the other room while you change.” I said, “You don’t have to.” I stripped, and then all I could think about was stripping.
Last night Chris Kraus read from her new book After Kathy Acker, a long, layered meditative essay, really a monologue about how a female apartnik, such as Kathy and Chris, inserts herself with bravado into art conversations she would otherwise be excluded from, be sent packing from, be overlooked in. The book is about creating an idiom whose oddness teaches people how to read oddness. That is always the way with work that feels familiar and at the same time something we have never seen before.
I was outside a café when a woman approached. I told her I would watch her scooter. She was beautiful. She came out shortly and said, “They don’t have what I want.” I said, “What do you want?” She said, “One of those room temperature pizzas.” I said, “Oh, yes,” pretending I knew how they tasted. I was sitting on a bench with coffee from another place that was cheaper. The room temperature pizzas were made with puff pastry. The people who ate them were young and fit. Maybe they spent their days working off the calories in pastel clothes. The woman said, “I need to pee, and they don’t have a bathroom.” I directed her across the street to the place where I peed. Her front teeth were prominent in a way that was sexy. I said, “I’ll watch your scooter.” She said, “Really?” I said, “I’m sitting here, anyway.” While she was gone I thought about a man who had asked me to forgive him for three years. He had done something shitty, and then one day I didn’t care. The next time he wrote, I said we could be friends. I did not hear from him again.
I watched the Emmy Awards. I would have liked a little love for Fargo 3 and The Americans, two brilliantly quirky shows. Fargo 3 was beautiful and funny and painful. David Thewlis plays the devil as a bulimic in a desperate and meaningless feeding frenzy. Both shows are about the despair of imperialism discovering its emptiness. Veep is the funniest piece of dramatic comedy ever conceived for TV. I am happy to see love for Riz Ahmed, Donald Glover, and Nicole Kidman, who is moving in her disappearance into a role. I thought The Handmaid’s Tale was female-suffering porn. I think its win is meant as a boost for feminism and women in that hazy reading of victims as heroes.
A little while ago the flower guy said, “Hola,” motioning to me. He gave me a rose. I said, “Grazias,” and walked on. I went back and gave him a muffin. He gave me a second rose. It’s summer, and everyone feels wretched.
When my sister was diagnosed with cancer, we visited a surgeon, who was fat and gloomy. He held up a model of plastic lungs and with a ball point pen tapped the top of the right lobe he would remove from my sister. He said, “I may have to make a larger incision, about as long as this.” He wriggling the pen and said, “I may have to go in with my hands. It depends on what the lymph nodes look like.” I pictured his hands, fat and knowing, entering my sister. The surgeon’s father, too, had been a thoracic surgeon. I wondered if he had ever really had a choice.
A woman on the street said, “Try my glasses.” I said, “I think I’m afraid of them.” I have never been prepared for the eclipse of anything. She said, “They’re totally black,” and she placed them over my sunglasses. She said, “Look up.” I saw a sliver of moon. It was tiny. A cartoon moon. A banana. It seemed very far away. She said, “Wasn’t that fun?” I said, “Yes.” She was excited. We were standing in front of the Belnord, where IB Singer had lived. Everyone in Manhattan was there with a dog, and the heads of the dogs were all turned in the same direction. In time free food was offered, as it always is on Broadway. I wanted for nothing.
About the Author:
Laurie Stone is author most recently of My Life as an Animal, Stories. She was a longtime writer for the Village Voice, theater critic for The Nation, and critic-at-large on Fresh Air. She won the Nona Balakian prize in excellence in criticism from the National Book Critics Circle and has published numerous stories in such publications as Evergreen Review, Fence, Open City, Anderbo, The Collagist, New Letters, TriQuarterly, Threepenny Review, and Creative Nonfiction. In 2005, she participated in “Novel: An Installation,” writing a book and living in a house designed by architects Salazar/Davis in the Flux Factory’s gallery space. She has frequently collaborated with composer Gordon Beeferman in text/music works. The world premier of their piece “You, the Weather, a Wolf” was presented in the 2016 season of the St. Urbans concerts. She is at work on The Love of Strangers, a collage of hybrid narratives. Her website is: lauriestonewriter.com.