An Encyclopedia of Little Abominations

Emily Carter's flirtation with drugs led her from Park Avenue to a bad marriage with the festering streets of New York's Alphabet City. Now, in a collection of stories, Carter recalls the ABCs of addiction--and spells out the terms of a new life in Minnea

 

Emily Carter reads 9:00 p.m. September 10 at the Turf Club in St. Paul; (651) 617-9313.

Teddy Maki

Glory and the Angels

by Emily Carter
illustrations by Marry Fallon

He said he was an architect, and I believed him. He looked about forty years old, nicely done, Boston blue-blood accent, wrinkled seersucker jacket, premature white hair, like an early snow. He bought me vodka, insisted on ordering a name brand, said for fifty cents more why not drink the good stuff. I had almost no money that night, having paid the rent and gone to sleep for two days, so I told him that, whoever he was, I was glad to see him. It wasn't until I took a good look at his eyes that I saw how drunk he was. He was in the middle of a long binge, is what it looked like, the kind I've always secretly wished to go on myself, the kind of drunk that goes beyond inebriation into a state of almost genteel lucidity.

I knew that whatever we talked about, whatever happened, he wouldn't remember any of it.

When he talked he leaned his face into mine, far too close, and I took a good look at his eyes, which were lashless and pale blue.

My guess, he said, is that you have a very tall Yugoslavian boyfriend who deals black-market blue jeans behind the Iron Curtain and would kill any man who looked at you twice, without a second thought.

Close, I said. Danger is my acronym. Death is my boyfriend

Oh that's good, he giggled, putting up his hands movie marquee style, "Death. Is. My. Boyfriend." What's your name?

Gloria Bronski.

Gloria Bronski, do you know anything about cancer of the nerves?

Ah, I said, the old nine-to-five, the desire for excelsior...

Do you find me rude? He opened his eyes wide, aggression and ennui doing battle for his posture. Do you think you're a tough little bit?

I didn't answer him; I hummed along with the jukebox.

Listen, he clenched my hand, do you know Bess, the landlord's daughter, she's dead. Though she didn't die for me...He swayed, a cross between a wounded matinee gunfighter, you got me, and a cobra convincing some small mammal that its destiny was to be
his dinner.

What, he said, seeing some odd thing in my face, surely you're not afraid of me, toothless old bastard like myself?

No, I'm afraid you'll stop talking to me and buying me drinks and I'll have to go home. I'm afraid to go home.

Self-revealing truths, when said at a certain time in a certain way, become lies, harmless small talk, insomniac chatter.

Don't worry, he said, I never leave a damsel in the same state of distress I found her in. You know me, I'm a gentle troubadour. He began to sing in Spanish, the only word I could make out was "corazón."

Listen, Corazón, the bartender said, friendly as ever, you need to go home, or get some air, don't you think?

No, quoth the gentle troubadour, give me another one.

The bartender shrugged, exactly like I used to when presented with such a customer, and poured him another drink. But what did he pour? Club soda. With a twist of lemon, nothing else. If this guy wasn't drunk, if he hadn't been drinking, he was clearly mad in some frightening and confusing way that I couldn't begin to approach. Instead, I pictured his brain shiny iridescent black, like the back of a Japanese beetle. He put his hand around my arm, like a bracelet, just below the elbow.

Come with me, I want to show you something.

What is it? I asked, reluctant to leave the bar before last call.

It's Coney Island, he replied, not missing a second.

We walked outside and he went into the fruit store on the corner of Second Street. Apples, green pears, lemons, and purple grapes tumbled out of the bins like jewels, hosed down and shining, tended by the owner's son who worked with his kick-ass cash-register mother and father all night, and was up and on his way to law school in Queens every morning at six. When I saw those no-bullshit Korean faces and caught a glimpse of all that fruit spilling over abundantly almost out into the street, I was ashamed for myself, of my indolence, my bone-crushing indolence, until he came out with a bag of strawberries.

He moved under the fake white moon of the streetlight and popped one into my mouth.

You can have all you want, he said.

I sat in his car, watched the lights from the Kiev Diner on Seventh and Second. Yellow-gold and open all night. Soon to vanish.

The traffic signals changed from red to green to yellow to red and I thought about how nobody could afford to live here anymore, not anymore. I think I might have even curled up a little for a catnap in the back seat, drowsing off between eating strawberries.

He came down from his sublet about ten minutes later and tossed a piece of cloth at me. It was a bathing suit, olden style from the fifties, a one-piece thing with a fluted skirt and a purple plaid pattern.

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