like facts. So yeah, death, and this is a fact, used to make me horny. Facts
feel like something you can hang onto, stubborn certainties, like: Night. Hot.
Down. Gravity. Death. They are immutable, with a physical beginning and a
physical end. Think about it. Eventually it does cool down. Day beams up after
Night. Even “Sticky” has it’s own kind of narrative.
not fiction, where we depend on the oral
cavity of the relater, the orb of the beholder, the kid with the ball. And it
is, of course, relative: was there a moon? Hmmm? Full or half? Who says? Below
what? Jugglers, stockbrokers, high wire acts, late night ‘Choppers’, ‘Juicers,’ and ‘Ab-Belts,’ we all agree, are tricky at best, smudgers and line blurrers.
“Trust Me,” some
character says, when you know they’ll run a game on you, and before you can
say, “Down is up?” you are out in the cold, my friend, looking in on your own
life like the little fucking match girl saying, “Wuuuuuh happen?”
listen, sure, magnification has its place, and yes, facts can be embroidered,
and yeah, why not? Souped-up sincerity has been known to work me, and work for
me, on occasion, but not since Captain Kirk in his black boots has pure fiction
done a thing for me.
also like assemblies of moments that have truth to them, or half-truth
to them, whatever, however they’re told, at least kind of facts. I like
things that happen, have happened, things that are. I do not like: homilies,
fairy stories, or folktales: Swallow a boy’s spit: and you’ll make a baby.
Tan with your mouth open: and your teeth will whiten. Make every one
smile: and you’ll be happy. Work hard: and the world will be your
oyster. Act like a lady: and you’ll be treated that way. Ha! Don’t
ever get married: and you won’t die inside. Huh? Stay with your own
kind: and you’ll be ok! What?
are the “inventions.” Pretend. Not good pretend, but bad pretend, the kind that
doesn’t involve a dress-up box, the kind of hopeful sentiments that represent
the lack of representation, if you get me.
So yeah, death (and this is a fact) makes me horny.
a body’s way of reminding one to be alive, the Frankensteinian bravado before
it’s all over. Not an infinite condition, whereas death, is truly finite. Come
on, if I stick to the facts, you know, this hanging on to being alive… Like
my dad kicking the bucket so young, that threw me for a loop. Needle dropped,
cyclone hit, and everything changed. So what I’m saying is, death, in almost
any face or form, has a def-in-itively weird effect on me. Finite conditions,
like facts, make you understand the world in a bracing way, a “take you
by the shoulders and shake you” kind of way,
life zeros in on the specifics, the details, and it makes you pay ‘attention’
kind of way.
time, imagine a seg-way here, but not today. It isn’t seamless and smooth, and
why should it be? My dad died yeah, yeah, yeah, and Uncle Chester died yeah,
yeah, yeah, and so will I, maybe, one day.
so. Sosuperdoopercooooool. I remember him. Hyper-miester, Chester. He wore blue
jeans, solid stiff denim, dark navy blue, scratch yer nails down the black
board kinda stiff, ‘so you could feel the little grooves’ way.
was fascinated so I observed. He was an adult but a mysterious one, like the
moon, high above, only able to be seen from one angle at a time. Sometimes he
was relaxed and laughing, you couldn’t imagine anything else, then others, like
he never even passed the sun: gruff, angry, and explosive. Other times he was
just distant, in his own head, but always kind to me. Daddio little beat-like
beard and a black turtleneck. And when he talked, he talked in that grand old,
grand old style, like the young cats with something to say that seemed to be
100 years old. You know what I mean, floating to heights above, looking down
and back, so he talked with his right hand dissenting, always waving away from
itself along with his words, like an insistent bat banging against the window
let me-in-let-me-out-let-me-in-let-me-out style. You get the picture, just like
him. He wanted both too, no?
read him and think they know a thing or two, as we all do; but how do you own
the idea of someone? Not through a book. Think about the idea of anyone we
think we know and then obscure that by 200 pages? The author gave you a “map”
of them? The inside of them? But it’s like the pirate map in the old movie,
with skulls and cross bones and dotted lines to the treasure chest. Hmm who
drew this and why? Is it just a decoy, like those ducks bobbing on the pond
that get your ass shot off if you swoop on down,
on in! The water is fiiine!” kind of ducks rhymes with, I have friends like
that! Well, used to.
it’s like this. When I was small, I’d read, so sweet and ashy blonde lazy eyed
and Iceland-like calm, ahhhhh, that’s when I met him. Married to my “Aunt,” so
blonde too, ooohhhh. Not so crazy as she looked, yahhhhh, a Pucci Lady in big-assed
sunglasses. Hairdresser messy. Brave and Big and Beautiful, they were. Oh yeah.
“Glamour” with a Capital G, before I knew what glamour was, but whatever it
was, I knew right away “It sure takes the edge off.” Fiction-y fact, in
its own way. See, I used to be a sucker for it! (Sure used to be, junkie-for-it
me, walk straight, shoot H.) Clueless as to what chaos mixed with polish means.
That’s rich. “Glamour,” it’s just “physical amplification!” Right? The flick of
a cig, the cock of a head, you know? Pain is only a funny story that you skate
bravely across on your way to the Next. Big. Thing.
yeah, I remember when I heard that Chester had died. I didn’t know what to do,
so I pulled out the only nice clothes I had. I am dressing up in my icy squat
trying it all on, to be Glamorous, to be brave. I ended up in a light cream
satin silk shirt made in 1940, dipped in icing lace. I bought it when I was 12
or so, second hand. I supposed I looked like Jean Harlow in it—a dead girl
blouse, ceremonial moment, deathly, now nipples poking out cold and nosey like
an incongruous wedding cake with bad news. I was just about as sad as there are
ways to spell it.
know what to do. A big girl now, big and horny but never corny, 5’4 and 7 stone,
with 18 bumpy years under my black and yellow snake belt. Scared of men but not
pretty boys, pretty enough, I hear you all saying, on top of it all, not too
scared I guess. And that’s not a lie.
hurt in an “old familiar melody” kind of way, you know?
know the tune you can’t remember the words to, thumping on your backbone making
breath tight, hard to catch up with myself and sing, talk, or even cough. My
mother called me and said, “Well, Chester died.” Or did she write it in a
letter? Or did she say, “I have bad news, darling.” I can’t remember. I didn’t
have a phone back then, so maybe I called her from the stinking, piss and
cigarette smoke smelling red phone box on the corner. The one they mug you in,
if you’re not on your toes, and got some icicle chilly type O in your veins. Cold
and broke with some pool table and beer money, tried to call Mum in Spain,
dropped coins on the floor scraped up black gooey cigarette ash under my torn
fingernails, trying to get it into the phone. Forgot to put on my coat, hands
on arms hugging myself, legs blue-white map of blotches. Couldn’t talk to my
mother. Felt All Alone. Chester, the only man left in our lives, family, Uncle
Chester to me. This after our own man left us cold, so did the rest, aunties,
uncles too. So Chester was ours, ours alone, and a man who was smart and strong
and ours. So, ok, it was Truly. Awful.
I got this news, it made me want to go and find someone with soft skin, a soft
mouth, to kiss all up, until every trifling bit of softness was gone so I could
get to the hard part. So I did, and yes I’m alive. Right? I knew I was
still here. Looking for the dull queasy heat that made my stomach ache, and
then I ate that up too.
remember, Chester, funny and beautiful, me too, nine years old. He let me drink
sips of red wine from a glass with diamonds cut into it. Lesley fed me slivers
of my first avocado. Creamy little wings, butterfly green, delicious, sexy,
before I even knew what sexy was. I remember the next day in the small hotel,
with the wire-haired dog; I hid in the bathroom, cold tile under my small cold
feet. I was sick from all the rich food, diarrhea. My mother was mad at me,
when they came in to change my sheets.
Couldn’t speak to these grown ups.
Couldn’t speak to my mother.
were in Paris. There were French windows but no French toast. Well, as
you know, I am a fan of the absolute and we were absolutely there. So, well,
good. But Paris was not glamorous or grand; it was a town that was gray and
aloof and only vivid with Lesley and Chester. I would feel something thrilling,
something different, with them. Like rules didn’t seem to apply. There was lots
of laughing, lots of talking. Lots of chaos. Chester was hanging out
with Leroi, Haynes not Jones, I think, and maybe a man who was called Melvin. We
all ate at Mr. Haynes’s soul food restaurant near Place Pigall. He got me a
Shirley Temple and life was sweet. Then I remember we all went shopping for a
safari suit for Chester. The suits were hanging in rows from the tall ceiling,
saluting us, above our heads. Each suit, sand colored soft material, with their
flapped pockets and epaulets, all slightly different, little colonial ghosties
of their former selves somewhere near the Luxembourg Gardens by way of Kenya? And
I remember the hundreds of details, all so similar and all just a little bit
different, with buttons and pleats for days. It was a very serious purchase, a
decision taken with time. This is when I learned: and I must remember; details
was the order of the day, don’t cha know. Che was a god, and Chester
had just met with a man called Malcolm X in the Plaza Hotel. But was that the
time in New York? Maybe? The times mix together, but I do know that his name
rattled my mother. Negligence on her part to pay attention “to the details,” it
occurs to me. Like those books she didn’t want me to read: Edna O’Brien,
Chester’s books too. Too racy, too adult, too real? But I sneaked them. Pink
Toes, a “Best seller in France,” someone said. Even at nine years old that
impressed me, and confused me: why not a best seller in America or England? This
was before I learnt about the French obsession with anything remotely African,
colonized, exotique, and the American aversion to it. Jungle fever vs.
what? Jungle Fear? Jungle Jim Brownskie, knock, knock on effect that is just an
old unwavering stab of nothing different, nothing scary, nothing that turns
over the rocks, letting unsaid things come out. All too close to home, oooo don’t
let him in. Knock-knock-knock-knock. Now it’s all just all Disney-Eminem and
Jay-oncé all the time, flattened out into ubiquity, with no understanding,
booty jigglin’ bobble heads on our mantle piece, or on top of the TV, depending
on your zip code.
realer deal: I was 3 years old the first time when I met Chester. I can’t see
him, I just feel myself looking up and feel him looking down, then him lifting
me up, feeling safe with Lesley and Chester, scratchy beard, I remember that. The
second time I was nine, the same age as Harriet the Spy. Something clicked
inside my head. I felt smart and strong, just like Harriet. It was tricky for
me knowing my (hilarious, beautiful, crazy, thrilling) Aunt Lesley, his wife!
Glamorous and married, hmmm confusing. I felt them, murky, up ahead of
my 9-year-old face. In afternoons when my mother was busy seeing her old time
friends, we would sit at cafés on the Left Bank, and I would drink a lemon pressé, Lesley and Chester, something stronger. Chester would
pretend not to understand the waiter, and I loved that. He said the French were
rude, just like me pretending not to understand my mother’s complicated moves. So
I also learned that from him, a lovely example of the truth of the untrue.
just do what we do, as we do, as if we have “choices.”
if you think about it, you know ideas are almost as solid as facts. And
having ideas made me feel like an almost-person. Feeling poised around my
almost-relations. Something added up. That is how it’s all remembered. My
mother, my father, Lesley, Chester, showing me how to be grown; it is mixed up,
you’re right. Then twelve, staying with them in Spain after daddy died.
a little fish! Swim under again, try the whole pool this time,” Chester
chuckling, Lesley looking on, I remember them. I remember death, and I remember
feeling sad and acting brave. I remember Chester lying out on the lounger, this
time in red-and-white checked gingham trousers, laughing at me in the pool,
trying to cheer me up, voice slurred more by his strokes than whiskey. Many
days spent by the pool and in the village. His refuge.
In the moment that I felt Chester dead, I remember feeling an airy slippery
feeling. I remember sitting in the pub, not telling any one about my “loss.” I
didn’t have any way to tell the story of Chester. Strong, then skinny, sick,
turning the tables and him now tricking me into sneaking him whiskey sips,
winking at me when Lesley wasn’t looking and raising his glass conspiratorially.
Later, Chester dying: yelling, kicking, and cursing at apparitions from lives
ago. Then, what it meant, and how my dad was gone before, my ragged family
all-falling away from me. I felt transparent, alone. Mother fucked off and
gone, and me, pretending to be tough, worldly strong, don’t give a shit with my
pint of lager and nice red lips.
What I remember is this: I remember the taste of sticky cool yellow and white
beer, soapy in my mouth, soft going down, and finding a face that would (in
fact) look a little like him. So he could be the other half of a perfect
couple, like a Christmas tree ornament with snow inside and us frozen, just
like that, holding hands forever and ever and ever, swirly in the snow.
Then suddenly from across the room there he was! He smiled at me, pretending to
take my picture, an intricate and persuasive introduction, if you know me. I
made fun of him saying, “You don’t have any film in that camera,” and we were
go to a house party on a street under a moon. Samuel Palmer kind of scene
outside, the air is droplet smoky wet and cold, glossy silver light on a misty
tarmac curving lane. I see our long shadows scatter and turn the corner, and
behind the door, red dark carpets on the thick, slow moving floor and yellow
paper lights and smooth purple music all up inside, dancing me around, “All
around my belly, Like guava jelly.” Tart and sweet. Reet petite, swinging low
in a blues, back room, shebeen style, sweet and vicious, I hear you say, hey,
why not. It’s not a lie.
Easy, silent feet on that thick, soft floor got something whispering in my ear
and winding up my waist. That’s all a girl’ll need when all those unwelcome,
bracing, finite facts come knocking at her door. Let’s make a little chaos
a little later. His room was dark and small, and he didn’t put on the light,
frosted glass in the window, like a hospital with side-hinged windows, slim
metal casings, cheap chilly thin glass it made a glow like snow light, ice
windows. In the moment, pulls me to him, warm-strong-eager like. Stops, looks
in my eyes and squints, a question mark in his leading eye, topple to mattress
onto floor. Feel muscle curve, him. Feel smooth belly, me. Numb pain ebbs out
as warm pain ebbs in. I see photos, black and white, thumb-tacked behind him,
faces look at me and daytime scenes of known people, known to him, his family
and friends? Reminding me that I’m the stranger in his room. Gentle. Skin
smells of powder and smoke. Mouth as soft as I’d imagined and long eyelashes
curled like a girl.
hot, with lines and lines of spit and sweat. I let him. Lying in a bed with his
saliva on my skin thinking about facts, like the bubbly glass in the windows,
how it diffused the streetlights, and the dark eyes in his photos, and
wondering how he got the scar on his shoulder, preoccupied with the
irreversible fact of death. Still not mourning my father’s death, that pushed
down so far that I could only feel Chester being gone. I feel his hands on me
and still he was dead. I feel him biting my lower lip and still he was dead. I
feel him hold my hips just so and Still He Was Dead. I telescope out of myself.
Being “I” was unbearable and inside that “me” are little scraps of vinyl
scratching out my throat, can’t talk. Fact not fiction, he was dead; I was not.
So I felt teeth on my neck instead, a good sharp shiver like cats, hearing his
breath in my ear. I can’t quite forget why I’m in this single bed. I’m staying
awake and alive right? And here, here, like he wasn’t, just not here anymore, a
dark thing to grasp, irrevocably gone. Tough, right? He probably thought
I was holding onto him, as he was slipping through my fingers. But he did not
slip, if you get me, he took my picture with his head. Of me and what? Am I now
“known”? You know, a person now? Real and three-dimensions, full on? Am I a
fact? I am pulled back to the “outside” of me by the fact of 98.6 degrees, of
Flesh, Blood and, sounds like an old Motown tune. Moving in that universal
movement, sticky, tidal-like all over again, comfort rocking me steady.
while he was sleeping, I was like a little girl playing vampire nurse, secretly
curling my fingers around his wrist to feel out his pulse. I felt the velvet
throb, tap-tap-tap, under his skin, spelling out:
“I’m. Still. Here.” And inside my head I tapped back quietly,
There we were, in an unfamiliar place, rocking the rock, they way one does. Doing the do, the way one do. Being alive, not dead, not right, not wrong. Infinite. Being infinite.
Sarah Pirozek wishes she was Christopher Hitchens, imbued with the spirit of ‘68. But she was born too late. She will settle for being Sarah Pirozek.