Jill Rapaport / 2 Prose Pieces
One summer I felt things closing in. Felt "I'm old, dying, over."
That summer was marked by things as various as the dissolute woman walking down Eighth Avenue speaking into a disconnected red phone.
It was marked by proofreading at night, by perfect weather, by great products, from mood sticks to cheap blenders.
Marked by long shadows, the western sun, gold parapets, 14th Street, a church sale.
By "Drunk & so what?" spray painted on the side of a coffeeshop.
That summer was characterized, too, by the group of women I glimpsed in the Galaxy Diner as I passed. They wore heavy makeup and moved their lips slowly.
It was characterized by museums, by tomatoes.
It was characterized by a lot of crying in early August, then remembering that every August I cried a lot, in what must have been deep depressions that I refused to term depressions until that summer.
Isolation, dread, an unexplained incident.
By raw vegetables, by paralysis.
That summer was the summer my mother had to get an eye operation. For the first time she would be able to read without tiring quickly.
The end of smoking cigarettes, the beginning of a monastic good health I could not enjoy. I felt underdressed, vulnerable, emasculated without my cigarettes.
That particular summer I asked myself why in any case I would have wanted to go on living. I said maybe I should have gone back to smoking cigarettes, died of lung cancer, maybe I should have accepted what I was, a degenerate who lacked "moral" integrity, lacked the simple will to be human. A drifter, somebody who didn't matter, among many other drifters and nobodies who didn't matter.
That particular summer I watched The Maltese Falcon colorized and though, as a film student, I should have understood long before, I understood only now why black and white was not just the absence of color. I understood why tough-guy talk had pertinence for us all, and that the tough guy would in fact send all of us "over."
That summer I could not stop dreaming and that summer I found all dreams ominous.
I realized the song "Hot Blooded" was by Foreigner, not Bad Company.
An aunt died.
The street became so strange that on the curb in front of the donut shop one saw sterile alcohol swab wrappers lying pristinely.
The famous serial killer was caught on Long Island. His face stared at me from magazine covers I passed on my way to the store.
I developed a passion for cucumbers and black coffee which helped when all I wanted if I thought about it was to die, and a cigarette.
One summer, on one of many sultry, lonely, despondent, transcendent days, I made the authentic discovery that there was nothing I wanted.
The verbs "to be," "to do," and "to have" brimmed with personal significance.
One summer the quality of summer itself seemed to have been rendered liquid. The memories of old summers imposed themselves. There were books, clothes, machines, and perfumes. These fell into my lap as if in a dream of gratification.
One summer there was a lot of water, a lot of sunshine. The country was submerged in one thing or another.
A few buildings fell. One old cup broke after fifteen years.
I bought a navy blue silk jacket for twenty dollars, took it home, forgot about it. A bottle leaked in a cabinet.
One summer I came into money and bought an island and an airplane, a fleet of horses, a redwood forest. I became the latest in a long line of persons to learn that money did not buy happiness.
Then I woke up, without the money or the possessions, fucked up and feverish as ever.
I was overstimulated and at the same time paralyzed. I was not "fun to be around." I lacked focus and ran like a decapitated bird in one direction and then another.
One didn't automatically "get better."
I had it all and lost it all. The two conditions undulated, alternated.
There was nothing to hate, nothing to love. The great serial killers always turned out to have been children.
I snapped the cord of my existence to date and got rid of the ulcerated wrinkle, only to find that, without the wrinkle, I was back where I had been at eighteen, when my father was still two years from untimely death and nothing was more important than caloric starvation.
That was the summer that I stared at pencils in the hands of blind panhandlers. I searched for the smallest and most random square of existence with which to begin, relearning perception the way stroke victims relearned kindergarten speech.
That summer I was everything and nothing, the air and earth yielded a cruel blend of manic abundance and staggering deprivation.
Beholden to the tiniest and the greatest, I moved through that summer under a spotlight of dim gold.
That summer I lost myself, the summer didn't end, it continued and continued aberrantly, without ever seeming like summer.
And then, that summer, when it seemed I would die in the height of it for the sheer inability to see any other way out, the nights grew suddenly cooler, and I slept for a long time, dreaming of what lay underneath the summer sky, and of what, if anything, I'd be like when summer ended
The Queen of Spain
Tonight again stuff surged past me with the velocity of fighter planes. Coming home my head banged from too much beer. A young guy with bruises hollered at the police, who waved him away. He screamed that he was not a boozer, hadn't had a drink; he ordered them to read Neitszche.
Two men with round, insolent eyes peered at me from the shadows. I felt the killing spirit. I felt the stuff surge, forward and backward. Had been inundated all day long. What did it matter what I could withstand?
I invented the future, here in my little head. Tall streets, mountain passes, long flagpoles. Words that look like what they are. The lobes of the brain.
I watched women old enough to be my mother content themselves with nothing, the tabloids, curlers, slavery.
The young women carried guns, had babies, died.
Men were either killers or killed.
Some huddled in the shadows, happy not to be seen by the killers and their prey. They had next to nothing, just the shreds of clothes they wore, a butt, pieces of garbage they tried to move in the streets.
I had rooms, vistas, orchards, valleys, mountains, oceans, the gold of eons rippling through my fingers, always more when some big chunk cracked and drizzled away.
Had oceans, seas, huge rolling tidal waves. I rolled in the surf, way out and back again, bouncing along the surface of the heavy, rushing water.
Here I had everything, the crushing weight of too much stuff, abundance, the plenitude of undulant paradise, choking me.
Nothing stayed away from my gardens, my orchards, seas, valleys, oceans, giant deserts and rolling dunes, nothing could be kept out of my world, which encompassed much more than the world at large.
My enormous skies, which dwarfed the atmosphere, dipped and soared above me and below, saw themselves reflected in the shining sands, the marble runways, the booming vastness of the ocean deep.
Little me, dwarfed by the vastness of my surroundings, the massive force of what I carried and possessed.
I was quite unhappy. I could not live up to the magnitude of what was mine.
I wore black lacethe mantilla of Phaedreand walked uptightly through the lemon groves, the acres and miles of cultivated gardens, outside of which boomed the endless spaces which my property thronged.
My men and women, horses, wild animals, whales, flying monsters of the age of excess surged to be near me, but not too near me, they sensed my unvoiced command to keep distance, not to bother me in my dour mood.
My aircraft carriers carried jumbo jets. One stopped at my unstated wish, bent to have me step aboard. I chartered the voyage to a major sun, dragging my caravan behind me, wild promethean horses bucking and charging. The whole of my possession drooped and swerved in my foamy wake, coming after me, determined to keep up, as I raced them mercilessly into the implosion that was mine, to keep, forever, all day long
I tapped the high hat, stepped on the pedal
Here in the ferocious stratospheres the men with round eyes were behind me, their heads snapping, whiplashed to a bugging froth with no possibility of parole
I cracked the whip of gold
The goofy young ones and the police flipped upside down in the deep holds, miles above earth and the closest moon
The empress of all phenomena on her golden ride, presented with two aspirin by the chief steward of the ship
All of my golden clouds, rice paddies, primordial redwoods gleaming in the sunlight cast by large, wild, whipping stars
My body peeled away and deserted me, afraid of me, the golden monster surging to the fore
Tonight again the sun shone, came to me, golden, kneeling before me in all my deluded splendor
The wet streets' smell peeled away, ran off, deserted the beautiful substitute earth that was my unutterable playground
Ate a Pop Tart filled with rubies, cracked the whip, drove the horses on and on
Tomorrow was Friday, I had to make miles glow in the deluded heat of the sun on its epileptic journey
Called up Mom and told her I was all right
"Are you sure you're getting enough rest?" she asked, as the phone fell away, blazing into eternity
Drank Perrier for a hangover, in flying goblets of tempered filigree gold
The horses whinnied, their glorious manes whipped the air
Jupiter singed my jeans, the big dipper flew me a wine cooler, hair of the dog
Even the ancient Greeks did not foreshadow modern majesty, the guys on the street, the involution of the flipping rubber saucer that was now
It all came to meet me, presentation-crazed, hungry for the stroke of my scepter, the transformation promised by the golden ball jiggling in my palm
Trapped inside rushing abundance, foaming at the mouth for my sayso, it came bubbling and slopping at me, I who gave centrifugality its force even though I wanted to escape and rush around with them, it, or whatever, not be trapped inside the eye of my own storm
My navel pulsed, and my abdomen throbbed like a hit drumskin
My drinking buddies slept in pieces, the eyes of the guys on the street exploded, everything was as I had wished, back when first I pronounced those words of unbreakable opal and diamond:
TABLE OF CONTENTS NEXT