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

Wear it and be wonderful, he told me.

Oh no, I bitched, you don't really want me to wear this thing.

Yes, he grimaced and started the car, and there I went again, floating over the Williamsburg Bridge while he tried to connect with the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, heading out toward Coney Island and the Atlantic Ocean....It seemed so silly, pathetic even, but I knew what was waiting for me back at apartment 6-C, Pitt Street, and it was no joke. I decided not to go back there until the light was full blaring afternoon and there was no chance of being able to think about what I was going to look like sitting alone in that apartment when I was seventy years old and didn't even like cats.

My friend was talking about Beethoven as he drove, pushing his free hand through his snowfall hair. I'd like to be able to look him in the eye right now, he was saying, and tell him "Ludwig, you don't have to be afraid. I am your friend." Women don't like Beethoven, do they?

I don't know much about classical music.

Because he was ugly, ugly shows in the music. Let's face it, a woman wants a man with a little glamour to him, she wants a handsome man above all else.

I flashed a mental picture of him sitting drinking club soda in some cafe in Barcelona, watching the slowly diminishing back of a familiar female form as it disappeared down the sunny dusty street on the arm of a slender young bullfighter.

The image was hackneyed and horrible, it needed something stronger than club soda to make it work. I began to shake.

Look in the back seat.

What?

Look in the back seat, he didn't exactly shout, but merely raised his voice.

I did what he told me and there in the back under the beach towels was a fifth of the good stuff, which he didn't drink, so what was it doing there? It must've been a present for me.

After the first swallow I began to notice the houses peering over the parkway as we drove by. Seagulls described thin black arcs around the silhouetted chimneys and roof antennas.

When we got there it was five-thirty in the morning and except for a stray jogger, looking mechanical and disoriented on the boardwalk, we were the only ones there. The parachute and the roller coaster stood behind us like giant wind-polished skeletons, and the apartment buildings as always faced the sea: weary sentries, ossified guards to a kingdom of air.

I threw a large towel around myself and wiggled out of my clothes into the purple plaid bathing suit.

Are you going in? I asked him.

No, I'll just watch.

He sat there on the towel, on the beach, in the middle of a hot August early morning with his wrinkled jacket and his tie not even loose.

There was something in his eyes that was too abrasive to look at, his gaze when it fell on me was like a scrape.

I took some more vodka as an antiseptic, afraid that whatever he had was catching, and walked down to the water.

After the first moment of chill it was hardly cold at all. I dove under and held my breath for as long as I could, coming up gasping and treading water as I looked at the city on the shore. A city with everything. Coney Island its own set of fragile ruins.

I walked slowly back to where he was sitting, aware that he was watching me walk, watching me walk toward him in that bathing suit. He didn't turn his head when I sat down next to him but continued looking toward the water. I could have easily told him what a middle-aged run-of-the-mill loony toon he was and how he'd go back to his job in the architectural firm on Broome Street and they'd all laugh at him about the circles under his eyes and wonder if he'd fallen off the wagon.

Instead I said nothing at all because I didn't quite know how to phrase the words into the kind of acceptable and even flirtatious contempt I could usually use to my best advantage. I squeezed the water out of my hair and so didn't hear what he said next.

What?

He changed neither the direction he was looking in nor his expression, but I had the feeling he was speaking while doing something else, like trying to breathe through a rock instead of through air.

She's not coming back, is she? he said.

I thought about it.

No, I answered him, I don't expect she is.

We looked out in the same direction, out just beyond where our eyes could see, right behind the blue line of sky meeting water was the place where they'd all gone. All the people who weren't coming back. They were full of the grace of their various abandonments, they were far more beautiful than we were. I asked him to please drive me home.

 

"Glory and the Angels" is reprinted fromGlory Goes and Gets Some, © 2000 by Emily Carter. Used with permission from Coffee House Press (Minneapolis).

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