THE LAST WORD: THE TARRED RAT ON 11TH AND FIRST
It’s June in New York City. No matter how sauced up and titled one is, no matter how close to rock bottom you are, it stands stiffly upwards, erected as is the salted ribcage of a beached whale.
This day the city was hot and worked in maddening clockwork synchronized to the pitter patter drumbeat of dogs pissing on trash bags pat-a-tat-tat-tat! Then rain. I walk through the great city like a boxer dodging the umbrellas it flings at me. The city as a whole writhes and swells like heaving pistons. They dig the heavy feet of Manhattan deeper and more firmly into the terra firma beneath the Hudson. The yellow motorcade is in a constant eddy. One must only raise a hand to get picked up in its swiftness. I have no prospects and am not, at the time, prospecting. Maybe just to write a few good… a few good…
It all becomes hungry poetry. There is the pang inside my gut which is not poetic. I crave two things: coffee and the headspace to write. As these thoughts drearily police my mood Charlie calls my phone. Hello. And just like that–! Good riddance. Sustenance comes not as crumbs or buttered bread, but as an extrasensory feeding frenzy replacing the digestive machine altogether. My belly is filled with the invisible meat of Charlie’s essence. I wash it down with a full glass of sweet wine from the blush of her cheeks. After the feast, I roam the hinterlands. All is rosy again. Or perhaps I take my first step around the bend to infallible cuckoo-ness. “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable,” said Seneca. Har! Har! And now my engines are oiled and greased for the miles ahead. Passersby become Martian and alien fauna to me. I observe from my space rover with delight. I do say, what a strange safari I’m on!
It’s nighttime and Charlie comes over and we drink beer and rum. It’s whatever I have. It was just a few nights before I spent the last of my extra cash on a frying pan to cook something up for her. I had to get the small one, otherwise I couldn’t have gotten any beers for us. So we ate our tiny meal prepared on a tiny pan drinking our normal-sized beers.
Tonight, she’s melancholic, exaggeratedly so. Like a theater player. She says she hates the whole scene. The clubs, the users, the shits. And squares. Squares, yeah! But am I a square? I’m a straight line, going on forever, unwavering, alone. She’s leaving the States tomorrow for Europe. Back to some place with more sanity, so she says. She needs consolation before her departure. Some petting on my part. Some boozing on hers. And mine, too. The city—New York—has finally swallowed her up and put holes in that iron hull of hers. She now swims in the belly of my allegory. Swallowed by the great whale beast. Bon voyage, darling! Just my luck. But what- ever, my straight line will extend forever, first around our little planet, Earth. Python constricting, squeezing out its molten guts. Then into the cosmos.
She spills sips of beer onto her white shirt in the same way I accept the rain when depressed or ecstatic. Those who go out of their way to shelter from it are the meek inbetweeners. Charlie confesses or maybe oozes, “I am not feeling anything tonight.” How sweetly English confusedly mixes with other tongues. She pulls the white shirt over her head and over the two small plums on her chest. Charlie is a lithe, attractive girl. She’s leggy, not a dull curve on her body, all of it impossibly packed in, stemming out from the shoes up. Her body is an encyclopedia of sex. Shit, I’ve never seen legs and hips like that. Words words hmmm…Long, slender, tight, taut, wide, round, a slope, a slope, one slope after another, sex, awkward?, no, pure lank! Beyond and then beyond that, I swear it. Sometimes it seemed like she had one hundred legs, sometimes just a single one, like a middle finger flicking off the forever flatness of the pavement, damned to never have an allure like hers. Sometimes it was just the two, looking fine-tuned to take those basket hips in and out of rooms, up and down walk-ups, around corners and into alleys, but never still enough to admire for long. Her eyes are dark, but not piercing. Instead, they seem to be directed inwards towards her own turmoil, giving an impression that she’s unwilling to allow spectators to poke their hoity-toity heads inside and have a look around. To compensate she generously displays her capacity for sexuality.
“I’m not crazy,” she finishes off from her last reflection.
“No, darling. Not enough time yet. One day us both.”
She is just a young girl. Charlie is only nineteen years old, or only a million years old, or a cosmic hundredth of a second. I’m a cosmic infant explorer. A relative baby compared to her.
She gives me a kiss. Just something soft and small. “That’s a thank you,” she says spreading herself out and closing her eyes so I am just a voice.
She murmurs, “You take such good care of me. I’m sorry I’m really not in a good way tonight. And you’re strange for letting me be here and not getting…”
“Fed up,” I suggest.
“Fed up. Sure, whatever that means.”
“I’m enjoying the show.”
Maybe, I think, I’ll even tease to take this final performance up a notch. The rousing heckler.
“Do you have more comfortable pants for me? What a wedgie I’ve gotten,” she asks.
“I do, sure.”
“Oh, forget it, I’d rather just take them off.”
Her long, slender, olive legs slide out and she dangles them in front of me like two bent, smooth branches. I admire them with my eyes. I could pluck one by one her toes like small berries. Her baiting reminds me of a girl I saw in the park who, with only her springtime, girlish smile (and tootling waddle), was able to inspire that sudden, aching eagerness for life.
Music, I think.
Music goes on.
“Ooooh, that’s sweet, Stevie!” She’s up and dancing. Up and up she goes. Elated. She’s up high on the cushions, but might as well be tickling the ceiling—she looks fifteen feet tall to me now. Or am I shrinking? No. I’m growing now, too. Our collective dancing takes up the whole apartment. Soon we’re going to be sprouting out onto the fire escapes, the metros, the basements, people’s nostrils and fingernails. All over the city it’s electric bouquets like ours. Growing and popping, neon and hot. Newborn gyroscopic glow worms, fifteen feet tall and drunk. At times, the city is a paradise for the down and out. Getting so enraptured by the headiness and hotness, thinking how sweet it is to be on your feet, all go go go, ooey gooey music in the background coming from somewhere…where is it coming from? Everywhere. Even out of the ground. That slick swooshing of passing cabs is music. And those cabs are filled in twos and fours with people listening to the music. All headed somewhere with the music.
Then our music stops. Oops and oh well. Bébé, n’oublie pas la langue maternelle du silence. We revert back to our normal size. Five-foot-eleven for me. Five-foot-nine for her. She daintily gives me her two lips to kiss. They taste like salt and butter and skin. When she blushes I coax her, prodding here and there, trying to garner different reactions like a collector. I’m seduced by each one, which incites me further and further. Should I provoke a sob just so I, too, can cry in ecstasy?
“I’ve got to go pee,” she says.
“Sure, pee away! Don’t be long or I’ll fall asleep.”
“Fall asleep and I’ll murder you!”
“Be a doll and tell me where a good long knife is?”
“Next to the spatula! Now pee. Put on some clothes. Meet me downstairs.”
There’s a bar below my apartment that even shares the same address. That’s what I tell people.
“Ohh, you mean I can’t go like this!” She tears down her underwear, flashing herself. “We can drink for fucking free like this! I’m not acting too crazy for you—am I? Baby, I’m feeling crazy.”
“Keep it up! I’m scary crazy myself…just watch,” I tell her.
“Wind me up! Wind me up! Scare me!”
“Go pee and put that thing away! Come downstairs.”
“Arf!” She growls—grabbing at herself.
I’m at the bar below. Victor, the bartender, is a friend of mine. He knows when I come in on a good one, I’ll have this big grin on my face. It’s two AM and the place is getting empty. Tonight I have the big grin, ear to ear. “I’m waiting for Charlie to come down, Victor. She’s on a helluva ride,” I tell him. “Can’t wait,” he says. Before any action, Margot, the waitress, comes up to me and leans over on the bar. She’s sturdy, some sort of rocker-girl type and big chested, too.
“How come your friend doesn’t come see me anymore?” she asks. “He’s a funny fuck. I had to throw him out of the other bar when he came to visit me by himself. Got so drunk he couldn’t stand up. A real funny fuck.”
“You were feeding him drinks, I bet (I know)…and what do you mean? I’m sure he’s busy. He’s a busy guy.”
“Oh that’s a load of rubbish, I texted him these nudes and he’s all, ‘Yeah! Yeah! Show me those tits! I’m gonna dooo bad things.’ All sorts of that dirty junk. But when I tell him, ‘Come see me, baby’—radio silence.”
“Hmm. I don’t know,” I say leaning inwards and away towards the bar, not wanting to talk more.
“Huh. Whatever! Send him a picture of my chest now,” she says while laughing.
“Okay, c’mon quick.” I take one of her leaning on the bar for her to send to him.
Victor sets down our drinks.
“Where is this girl anyways?” He’s asking.
“She’ll be cruising in here at any moment now—the whole city in her wake. Maybe too much power though. She hasn’t specialized it. So the poor girl got flattened out, spread thin, and dried up.”
Cooly, good old Vic responds, “The city will get you if you don’t get it first.”
Right on. But no one gets it first. The colossal guzzler.
But anyways, one drink drunk, no Charlie. Both drinks drunk, no Charlie. Where’s Charlie?
Back upstairs. I find her. She had drank enough for the both of us and cleaned the joint—or at least sprayed it full of Windex. She’s in bed passed out. Next to her, I try to sleep too. She endlessly jostles. Is she made entirely of elbows? Around four AM I finally conk.
I dream of a night in Paris, October, we’re at Le Bar Dix on rue de l’Odéon slugging wine in these clay mugs. Soon drunk on that same wine, or maybe drunk off the bartender singing his song (which I couldn’t name, and never will). He sprays his Windex on everything and anything—Shit, monsieur! That stinks! We ditch the joint and find ourselves rooting on a new friend Mathilde while she scrubs red wine from her father’s rug, on her knees and a cigarette loose on her lips snowing ash on the stain. “I want to learn, but reject idea of studying! You can write that, mister writer,” she tells me with her lovely Franco intonation.
I wake up late, eleven AM. No Charlie, off to those faraway lands, I imagine. Goodbye, my sweet, crazy lunatic. Maybe today I’ll swallow some rocks into my gizzard to help digest her into words. Those words I’ve been trying to write…I begin to walk through the neighborhood.
On 11th and First there’s a rat that’s flattened and tarred into the pavement. My jeans are equally stuck to my legs. The mugginess during the day is unbearable and makes seekers of us all. Usually my mentioning of seekers means I’m talking of poetic things, things unable to be touched by the well-balanced persons, things with words like apostasy, romantic alchemy, and artistic vertigo, death and blindness. But not when the inside of your thighs is drooling. You see: the city-seeker is much more…of the multitude, as they say, and so are the words. Seekers of a break. Of a drink. Of some goddamn shade and a ten-thousand-BTU unit that doesn’t crap out. And now for me, another lady. Last one was perfectly good. Heck, great! I’ll miss those legs. Maybe they can reach all the way across the Atlantic. Some girls make you feel like the architect. But Charlie made me wonder if we are all just spunk-filled historians. Acting as fleshy vehicles of data meant to collect and carry on yottabytes of information. Autonomous hard drives for some little green men. Well, the joke’s on you! We’ve just been down here picking at our teeth with our pricks in our hands looking up at the stars.