Friday, August 28, 2009
#1 – LAST GASP
Everything is fine now, I thought – just as everything began, once again, to change. Everything is fine now that I have this exciting new girlfriend named Jacquelyn who lives and works in this rich place. It is only one big room but the room is 30 feet across and has a two-story high ceiling and grand pillars and huge wavy curtains and 10-foot mirrors and arched windows looking out on 78th just off Fifth Avenue.
An exotic new girlfriend near the Carlyle, where with famous photographers she has working breakfasts.
She was so right for the life I wanted as I turned 50 and was living nowhere, and it had become a very cold November. So right that she was both French and Jewish and came from the same Algeria Camus knew – Jacqueline, who had risen high while very young running Magnum, and now, still at least a decade younger than me, had her own photo agency – Bastion Photos – and was often in such a hurry she had to fly on the Concorde. But her eyes had time for bold invitation and an otherwise hidden dreaminess. Everyone except a therapist thought this girlfriend solution to my life was wonderful news. I had just begun trying out therapy.
I didn't call her Jack-eh-lynn as in Jacqueline Kennedy. I called her Jacque-leen – which was how her name came out as I was going through a thankfully long ejaculation inside her. The French pronunciation, which seemed to make all the difference. Hearing it from my mouth in the course of sex, Jacqueline decided I really knew French and was too modest to speak it much.
Everything had seemed so awful just before we got together – no marriage and no place to live. No real base , not even new book contracts such as I used to cling to. But sex came easy now, as it had not in just passed years. It was good to be out of that dead marriage. At the end, my wife had been threatening to cut off my penis, which might have been hyperbole but she came from a culture in which this was thinkable. Cut off my penis so I could not cheat on her, though actually I was innocent except a one-shot B.J. on the Rocks with a smooth girl slipping out of a strapless dress in the back room of an Asian bar. It is true I had made plans in my head to be really unfaithful, actually taken some halting steps in that direction – a phone number, a meeting in another part of town. But I had wasted the chances for a real affair. And anyway now the marriage was over, and sex with Jaqueline did come easy. And for the first in years I was sleeping without pills.
Though it had been a dry period, living the live of a cliché figure just out of a marriage – going from a fleabag hotel room with a rusty hot plate to someone's kid’s bunk bed to a slick borrowed loft off Union Square, then another loft, with no bath or shower, in a dirt encrusted commercial building on Canal Street, and now a furnished room with a cold linoleum floor in Chelsea. And trying to put together a plan for a book I did not want to write about great rivers of the world. The agent for the project, Hal Dart, said he noticed the change in me – noticed how everything was all right now. Hal really liked the exotic combination – French, Jewish, Algerian – and he was high on the French way of pronouncing her name.
Through the night every night at Jacqueline’s there be faxes, telexes, voices on answering machines telling her of the movements of important people her photographers could follow – Prince Don Carlos, the daughters of Grace Kelly, Michael Jackson, whose Thriller album was still on top.
And beneath it all she was appealing enough so that it seemed important to hide my shallow American dislike of her unshaved leg hair.
She tells me about the most romantic line ever written in the history of France. Napoleon starts his retreat from Russia and sends off a runner to Paris with a note for Josephine. "Back within the month," the note says. "Don't wash."
On her VCR, the first one to which I had been a party, we watched, from bed, "Small Change," Truffaut's take on childhood and child abuse and surprising kindness. It had not been in theaters for years and was not released yet in a form the public could buy or rent. But the husband of one of her famous photographers had the tape and loaned it to Jacqueline.
While watching the scene where the schoolmaster tells the children why an abused boy is being removed from his home I start to cry, which is something I never do। Were you an abused child? Jacqueline asks, for which I have no reply. Jacqueline says I am quite right to cry. And without tears of her own she tells me about her grandmother in Algiers who used to shove her into the shower and beat her black and blue. I add nothing.
Before I leave in the morning we get into the bathtub together। I let her think that bathing together is something she is introducing this non-French person to.
On New Year's Eve we decide handle the occasion from bed – and I find myself mute. What am I supposed to do now? I lie there. She sits on a pillow right, her thigh up against my head, her nice breasts high above me, my ear against her bare thigh. She is looking down at me, and she is soft and shiny and smells as good, I think, as Josephine or some woman purely out of fiction. Beyond the moments of intercourse, I do not know how am I supposed to feel. And what about this night? What am I supposed to do at midnight? What should I say? What sort of occasion is this for us?
We are always in her big, high room off Fifth Avenue. She never sees my cold room down in Chelsea off Eighth. One day follows the next and at best, I think, this is like one of those Goddard films – but the despair is not Goddard's satisfying despair. It's empty.
Another night she is reading to me from her favorite book – Lao Tse – which sounds to me now like gibberish but, as is so usual with me, I do not voice what I think. Again I can come up with nothing at all to say, and my mind wanders. I am wondering if I could ask her to shave her legs. I am thinking we should do the bath again.
She is reading aloud the words of Lao Tsu as filtered down to a Modern Library edition:
"The foolish man is always talking. The wise man keeps his silence."
"I think of you when I read this," she says.