(no subject)



This is basically a writing diary where I write all kinds of stuff that will be immensely boring to anyone who stumbles across it.

Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

Old Cars and Adult Children

Way too early to declare “early spring,” but I must say this recent spate of sunny days and temperatures in the 40s has me hopeful.

I still need to work on my finances, but I am thinking that if I make sufficient headway, come April, I may think about purchasing a new-to-me car, probably a hybrid.

Which could make me more confident about road trips.

There are so many places I want to visit. The Gilded Mansions of Newport Beach!

For years, I attributed my increasing reluctance to drive on my eyes. I had cataracts! That’s what was making me so nervous behind the wheel.

So, I went to an optometrist.

After he was finished with all the tests, he stood there beaming at me. “For your age, you have remarkably good eyesight!” he exclaimed.

“But what about my cataracts?” I demanded.

“Well, you have mild cataracts. Everyone your age has some form of cataracts. But they’re nothing to worry about.”

Damn!

The reason I don’t like to drive has nothing to do with my eyes.

The reason I don't like to drive is because I'm a neurotic mess.

But now I’m becoming hopeful that the reason I don’t like to drive is because I drive an old car.

The little Saturn Ion will chug along forever. Mechanically speaking, it’s in terrific shape. Cockroaches will be able to drive it once humankind is extinct if they’re fitted with the right kind of prostheses.

So, I was thinking of giving the Saturn Ion to Lois Lane who does not own a car.

Until L staged an intervention. “No, Patrizia. Just no. I will not allow you to do that! It’s great that you’re so generous and all. But you can’t afford to give a car away.”

“The Blue Book value is pretty low at this point,” I said.

“Then donate it to the ASPCA,” L said. “At least that way you’ll get a tax write-off.”

###

Have not heard from either offspring in a while. (Having written that, I assume I will hear from both today!)

Am I an awful parent because I don’t miss them?

I love both kids to distraction and would cheerfully trade my life for theirs!

But motherhood for me was never a gig that came particularly naturally.

It is just very strange being this archetypal presence upon whom all sorts of deep psychological passion plays are projected.

Max’s birthday is coming up. In fact, it may fall on the very same day he is scheduled to retake the California bar.

I will be sending him a lavish gift certificate for dinner for two at the very toney Chez Panisse restaurant. In a card! With lots of “XXXOOO”s and very little other verbiage.

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Dinosaurs in Amber Plus Clusterfuckery and Scowly Molly Ringwold

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This may be the most wonderful thing I have ever seen: It’s a chunk of amber from the mines in Myanmar’s Hukawng valley, and that thing inside it is a dinosaur’s tail, which as you can see, has feathers

###

TaxBwana yesterday was clusterfuckery of the highest order. I suppose slack is in order: Opening day at this particular site, plus the site coordinator was new.

But, honestly.

###

Back in the day, I was an excellent charge nurse.

And the reason I was an excellent charge nurse is that I understand the need for system redundancy.

When you’re providing services to a relatively large number of people, something is always going to go wrong. And the secret to keeping things running smoothly is to incorporate fail-safes in advance.

This new site coordinator hadn’t programmed any redundancy. In fact, she’d actually scheduled clients for herself, which was really, really fucking dumb.

Because when things started to go wrong—printers stopped printing, software servers in some D.C. dungeon crashed; tax preparers had questions: Do half-time students qualify for the American Opportunity Credit?—she had to pry herself loose from her own clients to problem-solve.

Also, she is one of those people who likes to explain why it isn't her fault when things go wrong. Thus every interaction with her involved 10 minutes of useless chatter before she got around to trying to tackle the question at hand.

By 11:00am, we had a crowd of clients waiting to be seen. They were pretty pissed.

“This line is nothing,” the site coordinator told me, laughing.

And that really pissed me off.

As a former ER nurse, all my training is focused on how to keep lines short.

Of course, one could argue that we are providing a free service, and however long clients have to wait, it’s still better than coughing up $500 to H&R Block. (H&R Block charges you $100 per form, and the standard federal tax return is now four forms long. And don’t forget about your state return!)

But I really dislike being in situations where I have to witness that bargain poor people are always being forced to make: time for money

###

As we all know, I have a temper, and it became increasingly hard for me to control my temper as the day progressed.

Although I did control my temper.

Because what would have been the point of losing it?

But the effort was exhausting. I was practically comatose when I finally left the site at 5pm.

There were still lots of people on line when I left.

I can’t imagine they ever got around to being seen.

This particular TaxBwana site is at Locust Grove, an historic mansion that once belonged to Samuel Morse, the painter who invented the telegraph. I imagine the grounds close at 6pm.

When I got home, all I could do was to watch bad teen exploitation movies starring Mandy Moore.

Mandy Moore is really the consummate teen exploitation movie actress. So much better than scowly Molly Ringwold whose appeal I could never understand.

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I'm So-o-o Excited About My New Verb!

Dreamed my mother was still alive and, moreover (gasp!) a sympathetic presence!

And this was so shocking that I bolted straight up upon awakening.

A good dream, though. I would so much rather feel affection and compassion for my mother than hatred and fear.

Spent the day doing incredibly boring stuff for the client who will not quit me no matter how hard I try to alienate him.

In the evening, I toddled off to the first Garden Meeting of the season, helmed by the irrepressible Debbie.

The prune-faced woman was there again to deliver another rant about how she was the most compassionate woman in the world but she wasn’t about to conscience stealing by the homeless hordes who haunt Hyde Park! I’ve never seen these hordes myself, but she was there to assure us—for 18 minutes straight; I timed her—that they are there, a veritable zombie army, with pinwheel eyes and mouths like cavernous maws, slurking—a new verb I just invented that combines “slink” with “lurk”—their way toward the Community Garden with but one thought in their feebly flickering collective brain: to steal our tomatoes!!!!!

So we needed a lock!

Ensued another half hour debate about what kind of lock we needed. The prune-faced woman thought a combination lock—

“I’m on record as saying I think locks are a ridiculous idea,” I interrupted. “If people are so hungry that they would actually track down the garden—which is not exactly on the beaten path—I say let them have the goddam tomatoes. In fact, I say put a table out in front with tomatoes.

“But if you’re gonna have a lock, you need a lock with keys. ‘Cause the second time someone gets locked in the garden overnight, it’s not gonna be funny.”

Commotion broke out!

Debbie was actually forced to put the matter to a vote! And the lock got voted down!

Yay!

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If You Find This, Take It: It Was Meant for You: Chapter 3

Chapter 3

(i)

The wife was called Beatrice.

Shocking, the intensity of Henry’s hatred for Beatrice considering how genial he was in practically every other respect. Henry Miller was a man who could accost another man waiting at a trolley stop, offer him a cigarette and end up talking to him for three hours about The Sorrows of Young Werther.

The other man may never have smoked a Lucky Strike in his life, almost certainly would never have heard of Goethe, but at the end of those three hours, he’d be standing Henry to a five-course meal at Child’s Restaurant—a second serving of pot roast? Please do!— and pressing sawbucks into the hand that Henry held out to shake farewell.

That was just the kind of man Henry was.

He never mentioned the wife by name. I knew by his inflection who he was talking about.

She dreamed I was redecorating the bedroom,” he might say.

Henry was a big fan of Freud and psychoanalysis. And free association, and transference, psychosexual development, the id. Not so big on the Oedipal complex: “My mother never saw the irony when she called me a son-of-a-bitch,” he told me once.

“Dr. Fraud,” sneered Henry’s very good friend Emil Conason. Henry had a number of very good friends, and once we began seeing each other regularly, these very good friends would vie with one another to provide us with trysting locations. Emil—a Communist and a doctor—had an apartment on West End Avenue, the farthest outreach of genteel inhabitation, into which he crammed a wife, numerous small children, a medical practice, and room after room of useless furnishings—three-legged chiffoniers, broken pianos, wardrobes with fractured mirrors, sofas with collapsed springs—all of them coated in thick dust into which Henry traced our initials, surrounding them with misshapen hearts.

Sometimes, as we clutched and clawed in the throes of coitus, one of the small children would wander into the room to stare at us.

One time a boy child, after watching us silently, trudged off to a nearby corner to make pee-pee.

We much preferred to rendezvous in Henry’s own house on one of Beatrice’s frequent trips out of town with the child. There, Henry could indulge himself in post-coital slumber in his own bed, and I could review the items on Beatrice’s vanity table and deliberate over which one to snatch.

She had the petite bourgeoise’s taste in jewelry. A little strand of cheep seed pearls; a celluloid cameo; a filigree bracelet set, missing a few of its colored glass stones.

The pickings inside the drawers were not much better. Her drawers were cheap muslin; her stockings, heavily patched; her handkerchiefs, cotton scraps painstakingly embroidered with the initials BSW, had probably once been a school project—Henry had let slip that she’d been convent-educated.

I settled on a small cup. It was tarnished, so it was made of real silver. Perhaps it had been one of the things in Beatrice’s hope chest. Perhaps it had been given to her to celebrate the birth of the child that Henry showed no signs of caring about either.

I left her a tiny yellow candy conversation heart. Ask me, entreated the red dye letters on the front of the heart.

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If You Find This, Take It: It Was Meant for You: Chapter 3 (con'd)

Chapter 3

(ii)

“Oh God,” said red-haired Hannah. “It’s your friend. Who likes to read books.”

I looked over: There stood Henry on the other side of the velvet ropes that separated the bar from the dancing area. Swaying slightly on the balls of his feet, cradling a shot glass in his palm.

Marder had brought some business acquaintances to the Orpheum Dance Palace that night, and I had hand-selected the ladies at his table. Ones most likely to pass—at least, in the right light—as real human girls. Ones who would be amenable when it came to splitting the take.

At the words “your friend,” Marder’s ears twitched and grew an inch. “If he’s your friend, June, we must invite him to the table,” he said.

“So kind,” I murmured. “I would describe him as more of an acquaintance. He’s rather a dull man. Obsessed with the Nordics—Strindberg, Knut Hamsun. Not really our sort.”

“Oh, no,” Marder said. “I insist. Look at that domed forehead. Suggests well-developed intuitive faculties! Possibly literary abilities, too.” And he snapped his fingers as if they could somehow be heard over the relentless jangle of the steam piano.

But Henry didn’t need a sound cue; he’d been watching us intently, only pretending to be distracted. He pantomimed delightedly, Who me? and disappeared into the throng, materializing half a second later by my side.

I looped my arm through Marder’s. “Henry Miller, I’d like you to meet an old, dear friend—“

“Any friend of June’s,” said Marder.

The reek of alcohol was unmistakable.

“I see you’ve been enjoying yourself tonight,” I said.

“A birthday party,” Henry said. “Though I tell you—I brought a knife to a gunfight.” He grinned.

Marder grinned back. “Why don’t you two dance?”

“Oh, no—“ Henry and I said simultaneously.

I looked down.

“I’d feel as though I were intruding,” Henry continued. “And after you’ve been so gracious inviting me to your table.”

“I like to watch,” Marder said with a rapacious smile.

The steam piano was struggling with Bambalina. Henry had still not learned to foxtrot. “Well, he seems like a fine chap,” he murmured into my hair. “One of your admirers, I suppose?”

“He’s been very good to me,” I said. “He nursed me when I was very ill.”

“Was that the bout of consumption? Or the time you came down with diphtheria?”

“You mustn’t make him jealous,” I said. “He likes to pretend he’s in love with me—“

“Pretend?” Henry said. “What’s the difference between being in love and pretending to be in love? You look very beautiful tonight, by the way.”

“We’ll talk about this some other time,” I said and, by way of mollification, took one of the red roses I was wearing at my bosom and stuck it in his buttonhole.

“Did he give you those? Must have been diphtheria then. If it had been consumption, he would have given you camellias. Come to the theater with me tomorrow night.”

I squeezed his shoulder.

He danced me around to the faded velvet banquette where the girls sat trading gossip between dances, and I felt their eyes on me when he tried to kiss me. “Don’t,” I said.

“Tomorrow then,” he said, dropping my hands.

I expected to see him standing near the balcony staring at me when I got back to the table but if he was, he’d let the crowd disguise him. Swallow him right up.

“Well, I must powder my nose!” red-haired Hannah announced. “June! Come with.” And she dragged me to the water closet, which wasn’t a closet at all but a cavernous chamber with one foul pedestal and a broken sink. There were one girl there already, furiously dabbing at a stain on her white dress.

“Jesus, can you believe?” the girl said. “He spent on me. Be shootin’ his load all over me new dress.”

“And that’s why I only accept fast dances,” said Hannah, squatting on the pedestal. “When you add up the laundry charges, the extra money’s not worth it. Dangerous game, you’re playing there, June. You have it pretty good with Marder. He never even touches you.”

“I didn’t ask him to come—“

“Bitch in heat don’t ask the mad dog to come round neither,” Hannah said. “But he finds her. All I’m saying is be careful.”

“I don’t need your advice,” I said.

“No?” said Hannah. She retained her good humor. You could always rely upon Hannah to retain her good humor. That’s why I chose her so often to sit at the tables I organized. That and her red hair which naturally inspired the interest of those gentlemen predisposed to believe, As above, so below.

“You need this, though,” Hannah said. She had one of those swivel-up lip salves from France. Lipsticks, they were called. It was bright, bright red. The way it rose and retracted in its gleaming gold case reminded me of a cock.

Hannah painted my mouth in a perfect Cupid’s bow, and stepped back to admire her handiwork.

I tried to kiss her.

She slapped my hand. She was laughing, but the slap was meant to hurt.

And it did.

“Make up your mind, girl,” she said.

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If You Find This, Take It: It Was Meant for You: Chapter 3 (con'd)

Chapter 3

(iii)

Periodically, the wife would get fed up with Henry’s shenanigans, take the kid, decamp to upstate New York where she had relatives.

Henry never announced these departures, but it was easy enough to deduce when they happened: For all the unprepossessing physical appearance, Henry was a bit of a dandy: liked his shirts to be pressed in just the right way; wanted the crease in his trousers to be razor-sharp. Presumably, this is one of the services the wife continued to provide him because in her absences, mustard stains appeared on his ties, his jackets rumpled, he might wear the same shirt and trousers several days in a row.

He also grew randier. In a way that was difficult to describe but made clear that however strong his aversion, he didn’t deny himself the pleasures of the marital bed. When his wife was out of town, he closed his eyes when he made love to me. Henry was a man who liked to touch, and the most casual stimulus could make him hard. He had only to sit on a park bench on a balmy spring day and somehow, the warmth of the sun, the mosaic of the leafy trees, the chirps of the birds would cause him to sprout an erection. Giving that hard cock what it wanted didn’t mean a thing to him. It was just another body function. He could have been filling his belly. Or taking a shit.

Presumably, screwing the wife was as meaningless as flushing a toilet.

When she was in town, when perfunctory need was adequately serviced, he stared at me throughout the act with those strange, changeling eyes that seemed to shift color with each thrust, each swivel of his thin hips, each infinitely slow pullback, as if willing me to follow him somewhere. But I didn’t want to go.

“That Rasputin thing you do? Annoying,” I told him.

He laughed, but he didn’t stop.

I liked it, but I didn’t like it.

When that thing took hold of me, and I looked down from the ceiling, watched myself contort, heard my voice make sweet moan, I felt humiliated.

And that made me want to humiliate him.

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If You Find This, Take It: It Was Meant for You: Chapter 3 (con'd)

Chapter 3

(iv)

I hadn’t seen Henry Miller in a week, but he’d written me every day. No justifications or excuses for the disappearance. Just sheet after sheet of onion writing paper covered in his oddly schoolboyish script:

Your burning eyes and your long white columnar neck haunt me as I write this. You, my dearest darling, are a witch, an enchantress. I am happy to snort for you, my Circe; to rummage through forests, hunting for such truffles as may delight your appetite. I’ve been thinking of “disenchantment,” the process by which male civilization has sought to free itself from the magic of women like you.

It began with Isaac Newton and his Laws of Universal Gravitation. Newton himself thought his most important work was in alchemy and numerology but the male rationalists around him discredited his metaphysical insights, drew a hard line through the middle of the Seventeenth Century and called it enlightenment.

But you and I are primed for the Alchemical Renaissance!

So much for metaphysical discussion and on to something sweeter. You're a passionate person, my Circe. A very rare and precious thing. There are few who open their passions to the wind and the elements, few who put on their feelings instead of their armor and go forth in the world. There are few who think to themselves: The ride is worth the falls. I believe you're one. And I am too. Hence the secret agent, the duplicitous angel who does not fear to tread.

Tell me more about you. I'm fresh and untrammeled. You can make of yourself whatever you want to me.


Pages and pages and pages. Who could read it all? Why didn’t he send me books or flowers? Or money?

The letters had all been delivered to the house in Bensonhurst. I paid my brother Sammy to intercept them. I’d begun telling my taxi drivers to drop me off in front of the El at the corner of Third Avenue and 42nd street before my stints at the Orpheum.

Sammy was standing in front of the El’s stairwell. It had only been three days since the last packet of letters from Henry Miller, but the fresh packet in Sammy’s hands was two inches thick.

Sammy shook his head when he saw the cab. “I think maybe I’m a sucker for letting you off so cheap.”

“If I see any signs that you’ve tried to jimmy them open, I won’t pay at all,” I said.

Sammy rolled his eyes. “You’re late. You think I don’t got more important things to do than wait around for you? That fonferer is so dull, you’d have to pay me more to jimmy them. I read enough of his stupid shit the first time.”

I’d chosen this spot for our rendezvous because of the automat just five yards away from the stairwell. I loved automats. I loved how each dish was displayed in its own little box; I loved how the boxes were parts of an vast grid like a sagittal slice through an enormous steel and glass beehive. Automats were well lit; there were never any cooking smells.

“Creamed spinach is very good here,” I told Sammy. “I’ll treat!”

“Is it kosher?” he asked.

I laughed. “If you’re joining the army, you’ll have to get used to tref,” I said.

“Is that what you’ve done? Joined the army? Some uniform,” said Sammy.

“They like us to look a bit risqué at the jewelry department at Bonwit Teller’s,” I said. “How’s Papa?”

“Papa,” said Sammy.

“Does he talk about me?”

“Oh, yeah. Nonstop. We all do. Because nobody has anything better to do than to talk about you.”

“No, really. Please. Tell me about Papa.”

“Papa,” said Sammy. “Papa is a luftmensch. Same as ever. Same as Henry Miller. I’ll pass on the creamed spinach.”

And then I had to run up the El stairs, pretend I was taking the train, spy from the platform till I was sure that Sammy was gone, surveil the platform to make sure he hadn’t followed me up there.

I was late when I finally arrived at the Orpheum Dance Palace. Nestor raised his eyebrows, but said only, “Gotch yaw Norwegian stevedores looking for a good time tonight. SS Juvel docked this morning. Fuckin’ Vikings! Thirty-six hundred tons of phosphate. They unloaded it all.”

Florrie and Hannah were both very excited.

“Time to go fishing!” Hannah sang.

Florrie was lacquering her gnawed-off fingernails underneath the nappy velvet banquette. Hannah had bought another one of those French lipsticks. “Tangee Carmine,” she told me. The mirror in her compact was cracked, so she’d done an inexpert job applying; the lipstick had gotten all over her teeth. It looked like blood.

But the Vikings only wanted to dance with me.

“They have plenty of blondes and redheads in Oslo,” I told the girls with a shrug.

The Vikings were surprisingly deferential. They didn’t speak English. They didn’t know how to foxtrot. They didn’t know how to tip. They were giants; I rested my forearms on their ribcages and shuffled awkwardly while they swayed in place and rested their chins in my hair. They were very far from home, and the knew it: Loneliness rolled off them like impenetrable mists from a fjord.

A disappointing night, and halfway through it, I felt a prickle in the back of my neck. Someone staring at me.

I maneuvered my Viking around. There stood Henry Miller, leaning on the wrought iron railings of the balcony, beaming delightedly.

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If You Find This, Take It: It Was Meant for You - CHAPTER 3 (con'd)

Chapter 3

(v)

I made him wait.
I danced some more with the Vikings. One of the Vikings had English enough to grin at me, pound his chest, and repeat, “Olav. Olav. Fuckee?”

I pointed at the banquette where Florrie was furiously smoking her tenth cigarette and shooting me side eye. She might be desperate enough to go for a hand job.

I danced with Dr. Dao, an elderly Chinese herbalist and entrepreneur whose latest venture was a teahouse in a converted foundry off Sheridan Square. His real passion was poetry, poetry that rhymed. He wrote reams and reams of it and was perplexed that so many of his favorite English words—purple, silver, wolf, dangerous—had no phonetic familiars.

“Plagerist, spontaneous, psychosis,” I suggested as the steam piano chugged through The Sweetheart Waltz, and Dr. Dao whirled me round and round the floor.

Dr. Dao danced well. I liked to imagine him learning how to waltz at some Christian missionary school, although come to think of it, Christian missionaries probably frowned on dancing.

I danced with Lenny, Bruno, Johnny, Bick, men I would normally never dream of dancing with. I allowed Lenny, Bruno et al liberties I would normally never dream of permitting. A paw mashing the side of my breast. Stubby fingers dawdling on their way to the crack of my ass.

I peeked up at the iron balcony from time to time to see how Henry Miller might be taking all this.

But he’d vanished.

Only to reappear once again when Florrie and I finally left the dancehall a little after 2am. He was standing by the all night newsstand, waving a folded copy of The New York Journal, nose to nose with Al the Newsie, a crooked little bum famous throughout the Deuce for his singular hatred of all humankind.

“Not possible to stop the Bambino when he’s on fire,” Henry was saying to Al.

Al spat “I ain’t worried. Ole Casey’s got his number.”

“Sir! Are you willing to back that allegation up with a few clams?”

“Shit! I’m willing to spot an entire fuckin’ ocean—“

Henry stopped arguing when he saw me. His face immediately assumed the melancholy expression of one upon whom the world was continually playing a series of malicious but undeniably imaginative tricks.

Florrie glared at him, looped her arm possessively through mine.

“June, June, so inopportune, to meet my fate in a dark saloon—“

“Hello Henry,” I said.

Henry looked down ruefully at the newspaper. “I’ve wrinkled it, I’m afraid. I’ll pay for it—“

“Nah, just take it,” Al said, and this was so out of character that Florrie gasped and dropped my arm.

“I believe this is our dance, Miss Mansfield!” said Henry, swooping in on my other arm. He marched me quickly to a waiting subway station. I nearly broke a heel.

“This isn’t my way home,” I said.

“That’s because you aren’t going home,” Henry said. “Or rather, you are going home. For the first time. You’ve never been home before.”

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If You Find This, Take It: It Was Meant for You - CHAPTER 3 (con'd)

Chapter 3 (vi)

The wife was out of town, Henry informed me as he fitted his key into his front lock and pushed the door open. Out of town for a very long time. In fact, she might never be coming back.

“Did you bury her in the backyard?” I asked.

“Confession is a form of self-indulgence” he replied.

He tried to tell me where she’d run off to after the knockdown, drag-out, no-holds-barred battle they’d embarked upon when she discovered him writing a letter to me. The fight had gone on for a week. There’d been rages, snarls, slaps, tears, vituperative denunciations. Desperate endearments. One morning, she’d actually crawled to him on her knees in an effort to win him back; he’d had to pry her clutching fingers from his trouser leg—

I wasn’t interested.

We were laying together on the marital bed. I don’t think he’d changed the sheets because I could practically smell Beatrice on them or what I thought was Beatrice. She smelled like sweat and rotting fruit with an under-whiff of garlic.

“So, what? You’re saying this is our hideaway now?” I asked.

“That’s right, my love. Our castle. Our little slice of Brooklyn paradise. Our miniscule wedge of Williamsburg heaven. There’s a cookery book in the pantry: One Hundred and One Ways to Prepare Manna. You have such delectable lips.” And he applied a gentle downward pressure to my head.

I’ve never known a single woman who made you describe her pussy to her while you had it in your mouth, but this was standard operating procedure for men, all men, even Henry whom one might have imagined would know better. He wanted to hear how beautiful his cock was. How its quivering length set a new standard for perfection. Why, hummingbirds could sip those few drops of clear fluid trembling at its apex and redouble the iridescence of their wings!

Then that was over.

I took an Egyptian cigarette from the tin I filched from Marder and lay on my back in Beatrice’s bed, blowing smoke rings.

“Why do you smoke those things?” he asked.

“I like them.”

“Don’t you think Egyptian cigarettes are a bit… pretentious?”

I ignored him.

After a few minutes, he got up from the bed, went to the dresser, fished out a tiny black leather sleeve and a miniscule hourglass.

The sleeve contained 13 ivory dice engraved with black and red letters.

“Do you like word games?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never played a word game.”

He nodded briskly. Rolled the dice. Turned the hourglass on its end.

“A.E.E. L. G.D.M.P.O.R.”

He studied the dice for a second.

“Eel. Age. Ego. Mad. Dam. Rale. Rape. Rage. Game. Gape. Dream. Drape. Grope. Ledge—“

“You forgot lop. And gal,” I said.

Henry shook his head. “Only five words to a combination,” he said. “And the combinations are by length.”

The hourglass ran out.

“Now it’s your turn.”

I rolled the dice.

I. G. S. N. Another S. A. J. K. U. L.

“Oh, you’re lucky,” Henry said.

“Lucky?”

“You rolled an 'ing'. And S! Two S’s.”

“Sin,” I said. “Gas. Ass. Gin.”

The hourglass ran out.

“Very good for the first time,” Henry said. “It’s not an easy game. But the fun thing about it is that it doubles as a kind of personality test. You know. Divinations! Revelations about the very fabric of your soul. Just look at the words you chose! Sin. Ass.

“Those were the words that were there,” I said hopelessly.

Henry chuckled. “Yes, but there were other words there as well. Sun. Ask. Jug. You didn’t pick them.”

I was mesmerized by the game. I wanted to play it all day and all night. I never wanted to do anything else but pursue this dialogue with the ghosts in my mind who were hampered from communicating with me in any other way than through the anagrams formed by Henry’s dice.

Eventually, though, Henry got hungry.

“Do you cook?”

“What a question!”

“Never mind. I cook.”

I didn’t want to struggle back into my clothes. He offered Beatrice’s dressing gown. It was a shapeless thing made out of cheap satin that might once have been a color like lilac though repeated washings had turned it grey.

I insisted on bringing the dice and the hourglass with us.

“Move over, Dr. Frankenstein!” Henry said. “Or should I say Mary Shelley? For I, too, have created a monster.”

There were eggs in a bowl in the icebox. A large bratwurst next to the bowl.

“Is that made of pork?” I asked.

Henry kissed the tips of his fingers. “Noah should have brought 10 pigs on the ark!”

“Pork disagrees with my digestion,” I said.

He raised his eyebrows and reached for a potato.

I was surprised to discover how hungry I was.

I gobbled the food down.

But all the while, I would not stop rolling the dice and reeling off words. I made Henry do it, too.

After a while, Henry said, “I think it’s time to raise the stakes.”

“What do you mean?”

“Every game has winners and losers, my ineffable love. Including this one. Of course, there are various ways to separate the winners from the losers, but let’s keep this simple, shall we? The winner is the one who has the most words. And to the winner, belongs the prize.”

“What prize?” I asked.

His eyes wandered guilelessly from my face to my figure.

“Oh, I’m sure I can think of something.”

I lost.

Three times in a row.

And that is how I came to be sitting on Beatrice’s kitchen table, wearing Beatrice’s dressing gown, which had come loose so that it no longer covered my shoulders and breasts; my head flung back, my legs flung wide, my fingernails digging into Henry’s scalp, as he knelt before me applying his agile lips and tongue to my pussy as Beatrice walked through the door.

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