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Memory as Wind
Love is friendship set to music.
—Jackson Pollock

No, that’s not it, that’s not how it happens, it’s—

—because I’m here, have been for years and years, in the backseat of this Oldsmobile 88, top down, wind enraged, tearing along some country road at night, Jackson drunk at the wheel, Ruthie by his—

—the world all quick nervous giggles and skinfizz, the whirled world, the world like leaves spinning in a crazy autumn gust, only it’s not autumn, no, that’s, it’s what, it’s—

—August, where did the summer, nearly ten o’clock, yes, warm damp air cramped with overripe foliage, faint sea rot—

—except here won’t fit into time—

—this brutal unsteadiness—

—Ruthie going slow down, Jackson, honey, slow down

—only he won’t slow down, isn’t even thinking about slowing down, because he’s angry, he’s been angry on and off all day—

—because this should be a party, that’s what he, we should be having a goddamn party, he saying, because—

—because Springs, New York, is Springs, New York, because I’m here, because his wife is in Paris, because Lee won’t leave him and won’t stay with him, and maybe they’re getting a divorce and maybe they aren’t—

—because Ruthie phoned me day before yesterday, Wednesday, no, Thursday, it was Thursday, that’s—

—she in the city to get away from him a few days, clear her head, inviting me out to their farmhouse on Long Island to keep her company, keep her sanity—

—she needed her best friend by her side, she saying, someone to be with her, anyone that’s not, could I—

we have this thing between us, she telling me over the phone, don’t get me wrong, Jackson and me, we have this thing, anyone can see it right away—

—you’ve got to realize he’s my life, sweetie, I’m everything to him, it’s—

—that’s what scares me, I’ve never lived with anybody else before, a man, I mean, never lived with a, not like this, the intensity of him, the endless storm of Jackson, he goes off, you’ll see what I—

—I never know who he’s—

—sometimes my lover sometimes my father sometimes my collaborator sometimes my little kid and I can’t stand the—

—I don’t know what to do, how to behave—

—I’m rambling, I know, I’m sorry, I’m rambling—

—please just say you’ll come out for the weekend, a day or two—

—get away from the, it’ll do you, enjoy the farmhouse, see how I, we can swim at the beach, would you like that, the pebbled beach, Gardiners Bay, swim and drink champagne, wouldn’t that be—

—meet him, see his paintings, tell me what you—

—help me get a little perspective on everything—

—because, you know, he said he’s going to divorce her, that’s what he, he promised, I believe him, he’s ready, you can tell, it’s taken such a long time, but he’s—

—he just has to get all the finances in order, it isn’t easy, it’s—

—I’m twenty-six, how did this, him forty-four, good god—

—the whole thing’s mad and beautiful and unimaginable and I need to get my bearings, get a little, I don’t know—

—you can help, I know you can, I’m in over my head, sweetie, I’m the first to admit it, obviously I am, and I love it and I hate it and say you’ll come, Edith, say you will—

—because Thursday evening I’m on the phone with her like that, Ruthie’s voice churning like clothes in a dryer, and Saturday morning we’re boarding a train in Penn Station, me with my one tiny worn suitcase, tan with brown trim—

—everybody needs to know when she reaches out her hand there will be someone else there to take hold—

—a couple hours later I’m there, here, in the backseat of a shiny green soft-top, Oldsmobile 88, tearing down a country road like time is broken—

—I can’t remember what it’s supposed to—

—which way it’s supposed to go or how fast—

—Ruthie saying come on, baby, you’re scaring Edith, and for some reason I can’t stop giggling, I don’t know why, it’s terrible, I’m terrified, this isn’t—

—I can’t stop giggling and can’t stop struggling to think about anything else, about—

—about how Ruthie and I go so far back, that’s, yes, like we’re sisters, family, and you don’t let family down, do you, never, that’s what they say, despite the evidence, no matter what, you—

—Ruthie making twenty-five bucks a week when we met, twenty-five, collecting unemployment insurance, working behind the desk at that gallery on Fifty-Sixth Street—

—all she wanted in life was to be a painter, remember, she’d do anything, that’s what she—

—every day that’s what she told me, I’m going to be a painter even if it kills me

—how she gave off that uneasy smell, you meet it everywhere in the city, this combination of naked panic and need—

—chubby rats sliding across subway platforms and incoherence, restlessness and savage competition, Rome burning on every block—

—once you’ve lived in New York every other place feels like a mistake, that’s what they say, I wouldn’t, I’m not—

—only all Ruthie and I can afford to do is sit around her kitchen table on Sixteenth Street and talk about someday, the next big thing, because that’s all we have left to talk about, that’s—

—we used to call it hope—

—the kind you don’t believe in but pretend you do to make conversation and another week of nothing pass by—

—talk about makeup and movies in the scruffy fifth-floor walkup she shares with a roommate who plays cello and wears thick tortoise-rimmed glasses that make her look like a communist—

—her name, the roommate’s—

—Sandra, Sandy, yes—

—Sandra, Sandy, in possession of the best scam ever—

—three or four affairs going at once, handsome guys, faithful, all young, some married, others not, who cares, you only get one life—

—when things heat up she out of the blue announcing she’s pregnant, early days, no bump, no prospects—

—missed her, that’s what she, turning weepy, begging them to—

—you should see how they believe without question, power of faith, that’s why religion works, spooked and proud—

—coughing up the nine hundred for that trip to Havana so fast you—

—which is how she makes enough to play the cello, buy food, attend a concert now and—

—you’ve got to admire her, Sandy, how she can turn any day into an opera—

—the whining—

—the bogus morning sickness—

—making believe she’s tracking down the right doctor, the right contacts, arranging the travel, the busses, the flights—

—you should see their faces—

—a girl’s got to applaud a girl’s ingenuity—

—we all find secret ways to play—

—create our own prisons, earn our own parole, run and run—

—except us—

—Ruthie and me—

—we just sit around her kitchen table, drinking cheap red wine, smoking Lucky Strikes to lose a couple pounds, talking till one in the morning about—

—of course about men—

—about where we want to be in five years and why we won’t get there and how come only other people’s lives seem to make any kind of sense—

—because it was Ruthie’s passion for beauty parlors, their glossy rituals, that brought us together, imagine that—

—isn’t it—

—funny, the luxury of somebody lathering your hair for you, such a big deal—

—how you all of a sudden become the princess of everything—

—that indulgence of sitting under the dryer reading Vogue until you get bored and then basking in the application of your mascara, nothing more, not a thing, just that, the feeling of—

—which somehow sets better in the heat, the mascara, who knows why—

—zero to do on a weekend afternoon save lounge around like that—

—and me working as the receptionist and manicurist—

—we hitting it off right away, Ruthie and me, because we knew we were sisters, family, and family never—

—you make your own, don’t you, of course you do, the universe gives you one family and you spend your life making another, the version you really wanted all along—

—your own family in the end unfailingly proving a disappointment in countless ways—

—a something that went wrong at some point you never noticed until you look back and see what a bunch of smashed plates yours is—

—so you share some strands of DNA with somebody else—

—big deal—

—me still living in Washington Heights with my fretful mother—

—she who kvetches to the ceiling at dinnertime, all nerves and disillusionment in the face of the future—

—the past—

—the present—

—a little alarmed bunny rabbit, that’s her, convinced any minute the sky will fall and she will die a beggar sorting through trash cans in some alley in Hoboken, her children having abandoned her to the elements and her recollections—

—on the passage walls hang photographs of her defeats—

—my bully brother with the prolific-toothed smirk, eyes clear and cold and amber as a goat’s—

—how he used to steal my allowance and spend it on root beer Dum Dums because the putz knew I’d never—

—how do any of us survive childhood?—

—he shoved me under the covers, refused to let me out for air, the crush, the fear, the scrabble, like your apartment building caving in on you—

—we had some good times, too—

—I’m sure of it—

—even if I can’t recall—

—surely we once rode the Cyclone in Palisades Amusement Park side by side one Saturday afternoon, enduring each other—

—and Ruthie coming all the way from Newark because once when she was seven she read a biography of Beethoven, one of those written for kids, and on the spot decided she wanted to live an artist’s life in the big city—

—the only place you can do that unless you go to Paris, she said—

—and we both Jews, her grandparents from eastern Europe, me from Germany, that’s where I was, both of us growing up fatherless—

—hers sneaking away from the mess of his existence when she was a little girl, mine never making it out of the war, Berlin, the war—

—which is how we figured one night over a bottle of cheap red wine and pack of Lucky Strikes that that was probably why we both had a thing for older men—

—Freud never leaving any of us alone for long—

—me describing to her in detail my boss, Nicky, Nicky Nigito, what we had going—

—sweet Nicky of the five o’clock shadow at eleven in the morning, Italian biceps, knock-you-over-with-a-feather Old Spice—

—those fancy suits—

—oh my goodness—

—so what if he’s married with two little brats and this beautiful wife named whatever she’s named, Nancy, Nicky and Nancy, that’s, yes, who if the truth be known is a very nice person—

—you only get one life—

—use it like hell—

—which is hard to admit about the wife of the man you’re dating, but it’s true, she is, and we get along well, even if Nicky is the only real reason I keep coming into work—

—me having had no way to picture how sad a pencil lying by itself on a desktop could be—

—stack of manilla folders beside it—

—the dread of chipped red fingernail polish on a silk-stockinged woman’s pinkie—

—sleepless night-hornets, that’s what I—

—tedium that expands in your head till you can actually feel it pushing against your brain like some damaging animal—

—you can sense your mind withering—

—only you want to so badly—

— a few thousand cells every hour—

—how easily your life can be duplicated, is the thing, that’s what you—

—how easily you can be dead even with your eyes open—

—I don’t think I ever expected better from this world, but I don’t think I ever expected this, either—

can you hurry up with that, Edith, can you step on it a little, sugar

—that sham politeness you apply every morning along with your lipstick and rouge—

—or the cranky anorexic in a bleached Angie Dickinson bouffant with poodle strung out on bennies squirming under her arm—

—rat-dog’s black lips pulled back in wrath at you—

—mouthful of needle-teeth six inches from your face—

—that cranky anorexic proving who’s in charge, just for kicks, like that isn’t clear—

—like it doesn’t kill you a little more every day—

—just because her own life is so whatever it is—


—splintered into a thousand pieces—

—because Jackson isn’t slowing down, he’s speeding up, you can, the skinfizz, the wind, how it—

—me squinting against what’s to come, squinting and giggling, this new world I am, every me—

—we don’t like it, all the people I’m not—

—and so night after night Ruthie and I sitting at that kitchen table—

—headlights all at once flicking off—

—road going dark before us—

Jackson, what are you doing, baby?

—night after night ventilating about how much more exciting it is to be courted by an older man—

—anybody who’s tried it understands—

—how they’ve lived to a volume you can’t even—

—more charming, tender, smarter, sexier, wiser, too—

—more cultivated and appreciative of you than those snot-nosed little shits in their twenties, pardon my French—

—can’t even afford to treat you to a coffee and date-nut-bread sandwich at Chock full o’Nuts—

—jeez oh man—

—telling Ruthie all about how Nicky takes me out to classy restaurants—

—everybody knows his name, yes, Mr. Nigito, by all means, Mr. Nigito—

classical concerts—



—me, Edith Metzger from, imagine—

—we talk about the books I’m reading because he’s reading them, too—

—generous, caring, funny, smart, adorable Nicky—

—the feel of him beside me in the hotel room bed—

—his skin—

—those muscles—

—if he gets into an argument with somebody he never needs to raise his voice because he can level a guy with a couple words—

you’re the reason shampoo comes with instructions, isn’t it?, like that, such a, how can you not—

—sometimes I have second thoughts, sure I do, who doesn’t—

—we’re only—

—who isn’t?—

—the specialness sometimes souring, curling up around the edges like an old paperback, it’s just the way it—

—sometimes Nicky demanding too much—

—wanting my life to fit into his like a—

—but Ruthie, she can massage my worries away, remind me in that way she has how cute I am, petite, my pretty blue eyes, full lips, feathered black hair—

—how lucky any man—


don’t waste it, sweetie, she saying—

—she saying love, no matter what the terms, no matter how differently you define it from everybody else

it has its ups and downs, sure, look at Jackson and me, but you know in your bones it’s its own reward—

—who cares what anybody else, how other people, that’s their business, this is yours—

so let it go, Edith, seriously, just let it go, for once in your—

—make your desires into something you can flourish inside of because listen, honey, this is the fifties, we’re all writing our own screenplays now

—my adopted sister, that’s—

—Ruthie wrote her own screenplay in spades, surfacing from the Lincoln Tunnel, this twenty-six-year-old wide-eyed kid from Jersey—

—second afternoon in New York—

—she blusters into the first uptown gallery she stumbles across, right up to the first person she saw, who happens to be Audrey Flack, Audrey Flack, what are the—

—who just happens to be browsing, Audrey, and Ruthie goes excuse me, I think you might be able to help me, who are the best artists in the city right now, who should I know, in what order, would you say?

—without missing a beat Audrey answering Pollock, de Kooning, Kline, like that, they hang out at the Cedar Bar … you know it?—

and Ruthie: Can you draw me a map? and Audrey does, actually takes the time to—

—and Ruthie: thanks so much—oh, and one more thing—if I’m not, you know—where does he usually sit, Pollock, when he’s there?—

and there she is on the corner of University Place and Eighth Street like she owns the joint—

—you’ve got to—

stepping through the door into this crowded dive, she telling me, pea-soup green walls, cigarette haze, pong of urine seeping in from the toilet at the back—

—people huddled four deep at a long glossy bar, poor-casual, coarse, loud, wild—

—and there I am ordering myself the cheapest whiskey, daydreaming in a booth, maybe an hour, who knows, only out of the blue the entire atmosphere around me changing—

—because there’s Jackson thundering in, tired, ruined, shredded by life, pausing to look around, take us all in—

—shorter than I’d imagined him, thickset, rumpled tweed jacket, no tie, wrinkled polo shirt, balding, forehead old and furrowed, beard stubbly, and yet—

—and yet the most irresistible blue eyes, I could see them from, indescribable, like yours, sweetie, just like yours, I could see them all the way from—

—you should have felt the energy he was giving off, phenomenal, just phenomenal—

—this unbelievable aura, everyone in the place could sense it coursing through them—

—a continuous low-grade electrical current—

—this reverence suffusing the air—

—premonition something important was about to—

—you know what I—

—and next there he is standing right in front of me, offering me a drink, G&T, I couldn’t, you’re new around here, aren’t you, him saying, like we’d already been introduced, like we’d already known each other years—

because I haven’t seen you before, he saying, tell me something interesting about yourself, sliding into the seat across from me, nothing about art, okay, not a fucking word about that crap, just tell me something nobody else in New York knows about you—

like we understand each other immediately, that cliché, I know it’s crazy, I know, I’m not stupid, I know it’s just movies, like that, but it’s not, too, if you know what I—

—all I wanted to do was tell him—what—what did I want to tell him—

—that I got his sadness—

—I’m sad in the same way—

—because it has something to do with being stuck in one body that can only occupy one place at a time—

—how our mothers’ smiles were lies—

—seeing how things have turned out in your life but being unable to reach back to your younger self and explain what’s going to—

—brace yourself, honey, get ready for—

—yearning to protect someone like him from the disaster called himself—

—I can see how your flesh is gone—

—flayed off—

—because I know something, baby, I know you have a life vivid and complex and injured as anyone’s and all I have to do is figure out the language to let you know I get that—

—the art business has eaten you—

—other people have undone you—

—and you’ve ruined yourself, look at, you threw yourself out of the plane simply to see what falling felt like—

—I’m not looking into his eyes anymore but studying his rough hands—

—fingers bloated from drinking, stained yellowbrown from chain smoking—

—how he speaks with them instead of his voice—

—these exquisite ugly birds rising up around his mouth—



—like he’s too self-conscious to finish a thought—

—like English is his third language—

—all you want to—

—he isn’t handsome, Jackson, no, not at all, don’t get me wrong, sweetie, I’m not saying that, he’s something else—

—what’s the word—


that’s what he, vital, overpowering, this walking fire alarm, this ambulance existence—

—and when he smiles this sorrowful aging man turns into a sweet little boy—

—next thing he’s across from me in the booth holding both my hands in his, palms up, examining them like some fortuneteller—

—I’m telling him about a painting of his I saw a few years ago, the first I’d ever come across, some gallery, I forget the name, the title, but the dynamism, how can you—

—I could feel it enter my body—

—that’s what I—

—studying the canvas made me get how his heart was in this continual process of coming apart—


—which is when he interrupted saying no fucking art, please, Jesus, I’ve had enough—

—critics calling him Jack the Dripper like he’s a joke—

—something you can look smart making fun of—

—an hour and we’re standing alone in my bedroom, everything silent and dark, Sandy out for the night to a, Jackson kissing me, shy as a child, like he doesn’t know exactly how to do it, like he’s never done it before—

—reeking of dead alcohol and cigarettes—

—kissing me like he can’t believe I could want somebody like him—

—every blink of us a new planet—

—which is when something comes over him, the alcohol, the hope, and we tumble into each other—

—become someone other than the people we had been three minutes before—

—on the other side of our skin this new plane widening—

—and when I open my eyes again he’s sleeping with me in my disarrayed bed, fetal, backed against me, snoring, my arms around his thick waist, that’s—

—me thinking I’m snuggled tight against the devil himself—

—a fool and a madman and a cowboy and a saint—

—I have absolutely no idea who I’m holding—


it’s Thursday evening and I’m on the phone with Ruthie and next it’s early Saturday morning, today, and we’re on the train together to Long Island, she already exhausted by what awaits her—

—forehead pressed against window—

—wishing a nap upon herself—

—me reading that new Pearl S. Buck novel about the last empress of China, it’s hard to, it goes on and on, all those paragraphs, that grayness, but everyone’s talking about it, so I—

—it’s the new Pearl S. Buck novel and then it’s Ruthie and me stepping down off the train into this staggering blue day at that cute East Hampton depot, red brick, green trim—

—me holding my suitcase, a few changes of summer clothes, my swimsuit, makeup, hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, perfume—

—the Oldsmobile already in the parking lot, top down, engine idling, Jackson in the process of climbing out to fetch our bags—

—this smoke of grogginess surrounding him—

—like he fought his way up from bed ten minutes ago—

—disheveled, sullen, face spoiled by loneliness—

—shuffling toward us expressionless—

—what’s the word—


—Jackson empty—

—Ruthie and him exchanging kisses like it’s some kind of chronic duty—

—and when she tries introducing me to him all he does is grunt—

—won’t meet my eyes—

—me holding out my hand to shake his and him shuffling right by, aiming for the car, carrying our bags and his pointlessness—

—throwing the suitcases in the trunk—

—slamming it down—

—which is when it hits me that Ruthie never told him I’d be coming along, that’s what, she’s springing me on him like some kind of gag gift, I didn’t—

—I’ve been expecting some big-deal artist, who wouldn’t, in spite of what she—

—suave, masculine, some pure embodiment of intuitive genius, because the newspapers, because Ruthie’s passion—

—only all I meet is her embarrassment—

—she’s worked so hard to look fresh for him, peppy, merry, this lovely white summer dress speckled with rosebuds—

—and there we are already having run out of anything to say to each other—

—the three of us squeezing into the front seat, me pressed against the passenger door, armrest jabbing my elbow, Ruthie leaning against Jackson, counterfeiting things—

—he lights up and I’m embarrassed for her embarrassment because the sunshine has turned repulsive above us—

—a dreadful lemon sky—

—only she refuses to drop her smile, devotes her whole being to plowing on with her feigned good cheer, it’s—

—I mean—

—Ruthie and I—

—we assume we’re on our way to the farmhouse—

—that was the plan, we all knew that was the plan, though as soon as he can Jackson pulls off the road and into the parking lot of some crummy redbrick bar—


—only eleven in the morning—


—Ruthie and I all nicely dressed, just in from the city, Jackson deliberately baiting her, trying to mortify me, except I’m not here for him—

—everybody needs to know when she reaches out—

—it’s family—

—that’s just what you—

—Ruthie going, why are we stopping, honey, I thought we were—

and him cutting her off: there’s nothing to drink at home, I want a drink, why should that be such a big—

the second you walk in you can smell this is where the defeated go, the ones who don’t own the fancy homes around here but work for those who do—

—the pool cleaners, the lobster fisherman, the drivers, the maids, the handymen who never seem able to locate enough work to make ends meet—

—gloom the sole lighting—

—mildew and discouragement—

—she choosing a booth away from the—

—the place already hot and thick, Ruthie and I ordering coffees, black, Jackson a cold bottle of Schlitz—

—I don’t know how I’m supposed to—

—so I become how do you say it—

—I become neutral is the—

—the three of us sitting there staring down at our drinks—

—which puts me in mind of how many times we die over the course of one lifetime before we really die—

—how we make believe each of those deaths is really something else—

—call them change—

—call them growth—


—we can try to become Buddhists like all those ridiculous beatniks down in the Village—

—making believe having sex with other men and wolfing peyote and writing nuts poetry is what Buddha had in mind when took his seat underneath the whatever kind of tree that was—

—some awakening—

—nirvana another kind of death, I suppose—

—it’s so funny, funny and pathetic, like Christ and Cosmopolitan and General Motors, though no matter how you cut it all it really boils down to dying—

—sometimes in a big way, sometimes in a way that completely demolishes your soul, and sometimes in a small way, like midges delivering hurt across your body every—

—like this, like here, like in this booth, this charged hush as if you’re waiting for something to blow up while the bartender makes mindless chatter with the drunks and my best friend stares into her coffee cup as if it were a gateway to some better reality—

—tendons in her neck stiff as crowbars—

—that smile fixed on her face the most joyless, stubborn, and suffering thing I’ve ever seen—

—let’s go, she says out of nowhere, bright, bubbly, fake as Formica, come on, honey, let’s go home, I want to take a shower, change—Edith, too … right sweetie?—we want to enjoy the day, it’s steaming in here and we were sitting on that stupid train for—

—yeah, sure, Jackson saying, sure, lemme just order another beer here

—which he does, which means we have to watch him drink it, which means taking a sip, staring down at the table, taking another, like that, sometimes closing his eyes and resting his cheek on his fist so long I can’t figure out if he’s asleep or—

—watching him smoke two more cigarettes—

—prove how well he can buddy up to the bartender, this skeletal-faced guy with long slicked-back gray hair and a gold front tooth on the left side and no tooth at all on the right—

—you know he smells like month-old sheets—

—I’m sorry but you know it—

—and those three drunks bent low over the counter as if listening to its cryptic communiques, already having departed our solar system for the day—

—which is when time begins stretching out in my head like desolation, debris accruing, you can taste it perforating our thoughts and speech—

—imagining something—


—holding hands with Nicky, that’s, our table by the stage in the Village Vanguard, him teaching me before the lights go down how to inhale the aroma coming off your scotch before putting your lips to the—

—what refinement looks like—

—how did we get—

—what the signal? what the noise?—

—the Oldsmobile wide and long as a battleship rolling past small farmhouses with gray weathered shingles and peeling black shutters—

—black and white cows paused in fields the color of lush ferns, heads raised, chewing stupidly—

—our motion gradually clearing my thoughts, the fresh air, the damp sun-warmth, Jackson reaching over and flipping on the radio—

—Duke Ellington waking up in the middle of Passion Flower

—the slow piano—

—the honeyed alto sax—

—floating down a country road floating free of time—

—and before you know it crunching to a stop in this gravel driveway—

—Jackson’s two-story dark-gray beat-up wood-frame house—

—two towering silver maples sheltering it, sprawling cherry tree, boulders growing out of long grass—

—Ruthie explaining to me as we stroll across the yard, Jackson maneuvering ahead of us with our suitcases, the place was built in the 1870s—

—Lee and he paid five thousand dollars for it, only five thousand, borrowed, Peggy Guggenheim, naturally, Jackson’s default being the edge of financial ruin—

—not even heating back then—

—not even an indoor toilet—

but look, sweetie, she saying as we sweep through the front door—

look, isn’t it fabulous?

—and everywhere inside white light, white walls, green plants—

—shelves lined with jazz records—

—chunks of driftwood gnarled on the coffee table, atop wobbly stacks of books—

—and on the walls Jackson’s paintings: immense, glorious, staggering, awash in restless vigor—

—yet how can you not help noticing the greasy pots and dishes and oily glasses and silverware batched in the sink, scattered along the counter, hoarded over the days Ruthie has been—

—and nothing by her anywhere, by Lee, how can you not help, not one piece, that’s—

—which is when it strikes me Ruthie must have taken them all down, rearranged herself into these walls—

—Jackson must have let her—

—because Ruthie is Ruthie—

—Jackson, Jackson—

—because she is nothing if not ambitious, competitive, endlessly taking stock—

—we’re all writing our own screenplays now

—in the midst of that she scooping up my right hand and leading me upstairs to my room—

—which is Lee’s room, how could it be anywhere else, the one she has all to herself when she’s here, some time away from him, studio and stability—

—the surfaces covered with shells harvested on their beach walks—

—scallops, yellow jingles, whelks—

—what words—

—slow down, Ruthie saying from the front seat with greater determination now, why are you doing this, honey, headlights off, wind enraged, car plunging through black—

—which is when I shut my eyes and—

—and sense myself rising, levitating out of my seat, abandoning this century—

—somewhere my giggles falling away behind me, replaced by a low whine growing in the back of my throat, nobody else can hear—

—I can’t control it—

—every cell a thunderstorm—

—but I’m also unpacking in Lee’s room, hanging my clothes, freshening up, heading downstairs in this adorable light-blue cotton sundress, ruched bust, white polka dots, tiered skirt, Nicky’s favorite—

—Ruthie already having begun cleaning up the counter after making us lunch—

—tuna-salad, cheese, iced coffee—

—Jackson somehow all at once a different creature, I don’t, wide welcoming little-boy smile across his, realizing for the first time I’m here too, turning to me at the table as we take our seats and asking so what are you involved with, Edith?

—his hands reaching out for both of mine, somber, tender, looking me directly in the eyes, squeezing gently, saying let me feel your tragedies

—a softening, a mischievous grin, you know what, he saying, we’ve got to celebrate Ruthie’s homecoming, your visit, it’s time for a celebration, don’t you think, look at us—

—what a great day we’ve got stretching out ahead of us

what do you say we—

—pushing back from the, disappearing, returning with a bottle of gin—

—at the counter he makes us all G&Ts jammed with ice shards—

—a toast in my—

—and we are laughing, Ruthie and Jackson telling dumb jokes, he announcing after a while okay, come on, bring your glasses with you, I want to show you around outside, Edith, prove to you how this is the best afternoon ever—

—out the back door, lawn sloping down to dense salt marshes, blue herons wading, an osprey hovering, cedar groves on the horizon—

—the three of us there lingering, icy drinks in hand, condensation wet on our fingers—

—and me so relieved this afternoon has resolved into itself—

—the one we were supposed to inhabit—

—Jackson just this easygoing man, enlivened—

—my best friend releasing beside me—

—you can feel the tension evaporating off her like perspiration as he points out the spot in the heavy brush where he catches sight of a family of red foxes—

—asking us both to bring our free hands up to cover our eyes—

there you go, I’ll do it, too, like this, okay, just listen—

—take in a breath and just listen, take it all—


—can you feel this?—

—can you feel where we are?—

and he’s right, it is, we can, we didn’t know what happiness was and now we do—

—we’re congratulating each other we’re still here—

—we’ll always remember the three of us poised like this—

—we make our way back to the farmhouse to shower and get into our swimsuits, Ruthie a black one-piece, mine white covered with large red polka dots and perhaps a bit more revealing than—


—Jackson fixing us another round—

—we return to the lawn, lean back in the grass beneath the cherry tree, lazy, talking about nothing—

—relishing the absolute nothingness of it—

—demonstrating how sometimes sentences don’t do anything more than show you how little you need them—

—or maybe they seem to say a lot, but not in words—

—simply by their expressing the same straightforward idea over and over again beneath them: we’re content, isn’t that enough

—that’s when the idea flies in—

—he heads back toward the house, shuffle having vanished at some point along the, that’s, I hadn’t, he’s almost graceful, that’s—

—he hardly ate a bite for lunch, merely picked at a slice of cheese, worked his gin and cigarette, yet it’s brought him back to life—

—Ruthie’s home—

—everything is okay now—

—and a minute later here he comes, camera in hand—

—asking me if I wouldn’t mind snapping a couple shots of them—

—record the rightness of this juncture—

—what the three of us have found together—

—that’s the way he—

—so sweet—

—he stages the scene, sitting on a boulder hunched forward slightly in his striped short-sleeve sailor shirt, khakis, brown loafers, no socks, chest hollowed out, left leg bent at the knee, right stretched almost straight in front of him—

—such a grin, hard to believe, such a sense of pleasure—

—yet those eyes puffy, squinting to locate the camera, squinting to locate the world outside himself—

—Jackson here and not here at the same—

—you can tell he’s trying to talk himself into the joy he should be feeling—

—except it doesn’t matter—

—Jackson sheepishly glad to be where he is—

—just this and this and this—

—calling Ruthie over, who snuggles close with that insistent affection of hers, willing her love into the moment—

—draping her right leg over his lap, legs spread a bit more than strictly, left bent out to the side and behind her for support, both arms wrapped around Jackson’s left biceps—

—steadying herself—

—that’s what she’s secretly—

—Jackson’s right hand beneath her thigh—

—left gripping her knee—

—claiming her—

—you can see she wants the picture to look one way, but it has come to look another—

—how there’s something strained in their poses, clumsy, lopsided, this pair of entangled marionettes—

—Ruthie smiling proudly, convinced it’s all hers now—

—you can make it out in her eyes through the lens—

—that’s what she’s—

all this, all this, all this

—so I count back from three to one and click—

—freeze how they want other people to see them—

—holding each other a bit too urgently—

—ceaseless promise—

—shot through with expectation, that’s what they’re, yes, an entire lifetime in a single—

—how deep the surfaces are—

we can’t improve upon this immensity they’re saying—

—and so the image happens—

—and so the instant turns into a tiny square of film—

—and with that I see my chance, ask if it might be possible to visit Jackson’s studio out in the converted barn, that’s—

—I understand completely if not, of course—

—but it would be such an honor if—

—which sends Jackson hurrying back into the house for another drink and Ruthie and me on our way across the lawn—

—where I hear myself telling her what I’ve been wanting to since I arrived, how I understand everything now, the way she feels about him, his complicated grief, openness, vulnerability, bullish self-absorption—

—how sorrow forms part of his sense of love—

—have you seen the way he looks at you when you’re looking somewhere else, me telling her as we, the way he waits for you to talk so he can hear your voice—

—you can tell with every gesture how much he adores you—

—how frightened he is you’ll leave him someday for somebody else—

—I didn’t think I would, but I really like him, me saying—

—I’m so moved by how clear it is you two have been waiting for each other, how you’ll be together until the end of your lives—

—and with that we step through a door into a tabernacle of light and color and I come up short, forget what I’m—

—because the way sunshine floods through the overhead skylight across his unstretched canvases tacked to the walls, across the floor, his huge brushes, turkey basters, sticks lying tarry everywhere—

—on some paintings he has sprinkled sand, sand, who would have, added these bits of string, these nails, cigarette butts, keys, it’s unbelievable, I don’t—

—he’s made painting into something more than itself—

—a category of sculpture—

—yes, that’s—

—his footprints petrified in thick black splashes dried across wooden planks—

—everything covered in Jackson—

—Jackson rhythms, Jackson vitality, Jackson anguish—

—there’s so much of him in him—

—too much—

—you sense all that weight he has to carry and it nearly crushes you—

—and so you ask Ruthie where his sadness and rage go when he’s done with them for the day, what did they give him when they were with him, what does being done with them mean when he is never really done with them—

—and first thing you want to do upon entering this space is leave it, return to the farmhouse, find him and put your arms around him and tell him it’s okay, Jackson, everything’s okay—

—ask him how do you possibly survive from one day to the next?—

—which is when I feel the gin beginning to glow in my veins, hear myself telling Ruthie things I’ve never told her before, told anyone, not even my own Nicky—

—things about my childhood that seems like someone else’s—

—how could I possibly have been that little girl and now this woman, standing here after standing there, it doesn’t, no, there are just too many events crowded into each of us—

—why do we have to recollect them all—

—the blue movies of memory—

—the burning resin—

—I know people are good at forgetting, you see it all the—

—except we simply can’t forget enough, can we, no matter how hard we—

—that’s in his work, too—


—Ruthie’s hugging me because she sees what I’m seeing, too, and she feels so good against me and I don’t ever want her to—

—whispering into my ear—

—what is she whispering—

—she’s whispering it’s time to go back, sweetie, we need to get ready for the beach, doesn’t that sound nice, a little swim before dinner—

—and we’re crossing the yard in the opposite direction, arms around each other’s waists, salt marsh scents, wilting grass, muggy sun—

—this is what you feel like when you’re new—

it’s what his paintings do to everyone, she saying as we, somehow they open you and wreck you at the same time, otherwise you’re not paying attention—

—otherwise you’re just passing by them on the way to somebody else’s in some gallery—

—they make you want to save him, don’t they—

she speaking quickly, like she needs to tell me everything about her life in the next thirty feet—

—how last month he was able to get them tickets to Waiting for Godot, middle orchestra after a romantic dinner, only something imploded when the play started—

—every line made him wince—

—every phrase came in at him like a mortar dropping from the sky—

—and when Alvin Epstein stepped onto the stage as Lucky, long white frazzled hair, bowler, beaten, Jackson began to cry—

softly at first, but then he couldn’t stop himself, it came harder and harder, until he was heaving in his seat, everyone turning to see what this grown man

so loud people actually started to shush us

in the end we were forced to get up, excuse ourselves all the way down the aisle

the looks on their faces

I couldn’t bear it

out of the theater, back to my apartment

it was

he’s that man, Edith, and the one who in the midst of this fight we were having about him pretending in public I’m a stranger, he slapped me across the face, I didn’t even, no warning, the unmitigated shock of it, the humiliation and fury

followed by days trying to make it up to me, ripped down to the bone, despising himself, we don’t, you know, not anymore, he can’t, the alcohol, sweetie, it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t

he starting to show me how what Lee and he have isn’t so much love as accommodation

an unspoken contract

but then she came across my white scarf beneath the seat in the car last month and detonated right there

insulted, furious, heart smashed

he told her everything, somehow thinking it would quiet her down, which of course it didn’t, how could he even

Lee demanding he make a choice, her or me—

—make a choice or she would divorce him, break him, destroy his life—

—who would take care of him then, who would

he still tells me Lee will come around, he believes it, he does, he says she will learn to act like an adult, that’s what he says, can you—

—Lee has had it her way for so long, he says, and now it’s his turn to get what he

but all those Jacksons

I couldn’t explain it until you were here—

—you had to see for yourself

wait, she says, walking into the house, the Ruthie who was just speaking merging into another as she opens the screen door, phony smile sliding back into place, that miserable hopefulness she keeps wrapped around her like chain mail—

—leaving me in the living room while she strikes out in search of him upstairs, reappearing a few minutes later to report he was sleeping, he’s groggy, waking up but groggy, a nap, he’ll be down in a, and then we’re off

—only we’re not off, no, half an hour wears away and Ruthie climbs the stairs again, more hesitant this time, braced against the, me browsing the records lining the shelves, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Fats Waller—

—plucking one at random, studying the images on the sleeve, reading the, slipping it back, plucking out another—

—considering how they’re part of Jackson’s paintings, too, these albums, this music—

—jazz become visual improvisation, propulsive syncopation—

—energized and injured, that’s how Ruthie says it—

—and here I am, standing in their living room, in his, finally catching on, you can hear his paintings as well as see them, the sound nearly too bright, the splatters nearly too loud—

—the force of his body roiling through them—

—until there’s a clump on the stairs and I look up and there they are, Jackson first, Ruthie behind—

—he’s still woozy, he’s stopped seeing me again, stopped registering the house he’s shuffling through, like some old homeless guy searching out an unoccupied park bench in Washington Square—

—making himself another drink at the counter, bleary, staring at the floorboards three feet in front of him—

—one minute, seven—

—the day frozen as we watch him—

—at last shuffling over to the fridge, G&T in hand, wordless, extracting three steaks on a plate, shuffling out to the grill on the porch—

—Ruthie’s eyes meeting mine as he passes us, me smiling, sending her support, what else can, our eyes meeting like that, and then out of nowhere she shrugs like what can you do?, crosses to the stereo, puts on Billie Holiday—

—Billie pleading with someone somewhere to send back her man, all that weariness, all that unhurried regret in her—

—which for some reason as I place the silverware puts me in mind of how a tiny mayfly with its long thin gold-green tail and transparent triangular wings settled on the tabletop next to my plate last week while I was taking lunch at the back of the salon—

—where did it, must have been male, yes, adult females living less than five minutes, five minutes, that’s what my mother—

—it must have been a male in the process of, listless, unmoving—

—I simply watched it as I ate, felt the need to keep him company, I don’t know, just let him know something living was sharing his conclusion—

—Jackson banging through the screen door, steaks crackling, a lightness suffusing him, the drink having helped land him back into himself—

—and there we are, the three of us, an improvised family sitting around the dinner table, Billie replaced by Thelonious—

—Ruthie sipping red wine, telling Jackson the story about how we first met, he curious, focused, asking for details, what we were wearing, what the weather was like that day, how much does a perm cost anyway—

—and stepping onto the porch painted white beneath the silver maples to smoke and watch the light going metallic around us—

—Ruthie and me with our black coffees in hand, Jackson a beer, deciding how we might spend our evening—

—he revealing the invitation he received yesterday from Ossorio, Alfonso Ossorio, the rich poofter artist and collector, heir to some Filipino sugar plantation fortune, Jackson’s buddy, patron, I hadn’t heard of—

—a benefit concert at his place, The Creeks, the old Herter estate, forty rooms in a Mediterranean villa right down on the water, flower terraces out front, Persian
garden in back—

it’s spectacular, Ruthie saying, delighted, so damn classy, let’s go, honey, can we?, can we?, that’ll be our party, we can dance, it’ll be a kick

good god, no, Jackson saying, the dark reentering him, I don’t want to see anyone, holy christ, all those humans, I can’t take the, all that pretension and noise concentrated in one room, what a fucking, let’s just stay here and watch TV, you can make us some popcorn, maybe there’s a movie on, doesn’t that sound—

they mounting a seesaw, those two, Jackson remarking if Ruthie wants to go so bad he’ll go, naturally he’ll go, sure, he loves her, what did she, he’ll do anything for her, he wants to make her—

—but she hearing what he’s saying behind what he’s saying and replying no, no, it’s okay, honey, seriously, we can just stay here and host our own little party with each other

—a switchback, her tone ratcheting up, I’ve never heard—

—then this a sharp knife entering her voice, you don’t talk to me when we’re out anyway, you’re too embarrassed, always goddamn protecting Lee, you just flirt with the other girls to … it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t, forget it, let’s just stay here

—and Jackson all at once empty, expressionless, taking in Ruthie’s words, letting each fist of them hit him in the chest, turning to me as if Ruthie hasn’t spoken, as if she isn’t even there anymore, asking politely what I’d like to do—

whatever is fine, me saying, neutral, I’m just glad to

—the conversation unwinding like that over the next I don’t know how long—

—one forever followed by another—

—me even assuming we’ve left the subject only for it to return ten minutes later, veer away again, return—

—the evening becoming an ache inside me—

—the bizarreness of the—

—Jackson finally raising his head and declaring okay, it’s settled, we’re going, those exquisite ugly birds rising up around his mouth, he rising with them, going inside to call Alfonso, let him know we’re on our way—

—you can hear him slurring, speaking too loudly, then back with a fresh G&T in hand, condensation spidering down the, saying it’s almost nine, music begins at ten, we’ve got to get a move on, let’s—this’ll be fun—I know it will—it’ll be totally radioactive—

—chugging the rest of his drink as he moves toward the car—

—Ruthie and I holding back a couple minutes to freshen up, me asking her side by side at the bathroom mirror do you think he’s all right, you know, how he’s been—

and Ruthie laughing at me, giving me a little hug, oh, sweetie, don’t you worry about him one bit, he’s a great driver, he’s fine, he can hold his, you’ll see, we’ll be—

—we’ll stop somewhere on the way and get some food in him

—and next—

—how did we get here?—

—the signal—

—the noise—

—and next we’re packed into the front seat of the Oldsmobile, top down, on our way to The Creeks, excited, nervous, I’ve never been to something like, a mansion

—the ride lowkey, comfortable, night settling in around us—

—Jackson awake, attentive—

—it dawning on me as we roll along that I’ve been worrying about nothing all day, look at us, I’m a fool, Ruthie’s right, we’re out for a nice, that’s all, yes, en route to a party, what could possibly be—

—which is when I find myself closing my eyes, letting my body little by little slacken into the specialness that’s arriving from all directions—

—becoming part of the air—

—the lavish fragrances—

—how can we bear being surrounded our whole lives long by all our dead selves—

—I see why our minds gave us the power to bury them—

—except that’s when it—

—I sense something off—

—the gravitational forces rearranging—

—the car has what, has started slowing down, that’s, the how, the why, my eyes opening to discover us weaving side to side as we crawl along, the Oldsmobile decelerating—

—me at once wide awake—

—Jackson’s head bobbing, lips parted as if about to speak—

—he’s suddenly struggling to stay awake—

—Ruthie’s spine frightening straight—

—she reaches out, palming his shoulder, shaking lightly as we sway through town from one side of the main street to the other—

—thank goodness there aren’t any other—

—on the far side rolling to a complete stop at a fork in the—

—and next thing—

—and next thing nothing, just us sitting there, engine idling, crickets shrilling, apprehension skittering through me like a hundred beetles revealed to daylight—

—Jackson slumped at the wheel, face pasty—

—Ruthie and me feeling him failing us in various ways—

—waiting for something to—

what’s the matter, Ruthie asking at last, gently, are you all right, honey?Jackson?—what’s the—

—yeah, yeah, him saying, voice gummy, I just wanna to stop for a second, I, um, just—

while he’s speaking headlights creep up to a stop behind us—

—a police car, that’s, a police car, the driver’s door already swinging open—

—jelly-belly cop extricating himself, stiff, taking his time to stretch his lower back before strolling up to Jackson’s side, scanning him, us—

—you make out recognition emerging across his features—

—they know each other, Jackson and—

good evening, the cop says, anything the matter, Mr. Pollock?

—and with that Jackson performs a magic trick, it’s incredible, he returns to this spot, this hour, his speech clear and firm, hey, Howard, how’s it going? no, no, we were just talking, trying to work out what the heck we want to do with the rest of our evening, you know how it—

Jackson shamming light laughter—

—those two launching into a chummy conversation about wives and dogs and summer heat, the party at Alfonso’s, the breakfast menu at the general store—

—I can sense how tightness is everywhere inside Ruthie as she gauges our circumstances, figuring—

—yet you can tell Jackson knows exactly what he’s, we’re in good, he’s guiding us through the risks with grace, having done it so many times before he makes it look, it’s evident, it’s harrowing—

—before long the conversation winding down—

—before long over—

—the two of them shaking hands—

—Howard wishing us all a good rest of the—

—and we’re off, cautiously pulling onto the road in front of Howard’s brash headlights, Jackson maneuvering carefully, until the police car turns onto another road—

—and when we come across a bar, the Cottage Inn, where the negroes, a burger, a plate of fries, burnt coffee, anything to bring him back—

—in the parking lot he fumbling, trying to free himself from the, each movement deciphering a tangled line of trigonometry—

—Jackson this deep-sea diver in a bulky suit—

—he holds on to the door—

—pushing himself up slowly—

—one step after another in lead boots—

—wobble-shuffling toward a phonebooth outside the—

—mumbling to himself as he—

—methodically dialing The Creeks to tell Alfonso we’ll be a little late, we need to pick up a bite, it’s been a long—

—but Alfonso can’t come to the phone right now the maid must be telling him on the other end of the line, he’s already introducing the musicians, she’ll give him the message—

—because when he hangs up Jackson shouts shit, we don’t have time for, we’ve got to get moving or we’ll miss the concert, you wanted to go and by god we’re—

—I can’t, I don’t know how, Jackson, he’s shucked, it’s—

—I look at myself getting out, putting the car between him and me, telling Ruthie still in the front seat I’m not going any farther, I’m sorry, he’s loaded, he doesn’t—

—I’m going to call a cab, Ruthie, we need help, we need to—

even as Jackson thunks in behind the wheel, yanks shut the door, seals himself in an airtight chamber apart from the facts, chin sunk to chest—

—and then passed out, just like that—

—only to wake with a jerk five seconds later, muttering I don’t feel so—I’m not so sure we should—I think—I think—

—he opens the car door a few inches and throws up, long shiny strings, some splashing across the gravel, some down the side of his seat—

—and passes out again, breathing wet, fitful, Ruthie beside him, arm around his shoulders, cradling him against—

—comforting him like her own child though you can see she’s computing, coming undone inside, we’re stranded, we’re—

—I try not to, but can’t help it, everything’s gotten so out of hand, I start to cry—

—feeling like someone who’s never skied unsettled at the top of a steep run—

I’m sorry, I say, can’t you just—

Jackson flinching alive, startled to find himself where he is—

—with us in the middle of this evening—

—he bursts into consciousness shot through with rage, glaring at Ruthie but seeing her, wrenching away, shouting get that bitch back in here Lee or we’re not going anywhere, Jesus Christ, Jesus fucking CHRIST, I’m FINE, I just needed a little—

and to me get in the goddamn CAR, Ruth, GET, IN, THE, CAR, NOW

—me standing there in the parking lot like an idiot, crying and wiping my nose with the back of my hand because there’s nothing else to wipe it with—

—receiving the night caving in around us—

—Ruthie saying, her voice nourishment, come on, sweetie, it’s okay, everything’s going to be okay, really, just get in the car and we’ll go home, I promise, you get in and we’ll go straight back to the house, right, Jackson?—

—you drive, Ruthie, me saying, I don’t want to be in the car if

—and she oh, sweetie, I can’t drive, you know that, I don’t know how, I’m a city girl, just get in the car and we’ll—

—only you can hear something invading her when I don’t move, something—

COME! ON!, she flaring, good god, get in the goddamned CAR, Edith, or we’re just going to sit around here all fucking night, is that what you want, crapping up the whole evening for the rest of us, this is RIDICULOUS, he’s fine, stop making such a goddamn fuss and GET! IN! THE! FUCKING! CAR!—

and there I am alone, snotting all over myself, cars crammed in at all angles around us, how did this—

—and look at me, me watching myself simply give up, give in, pushing and pushing and then buckling—

—sometimes there’s just too many voices to fight at once—

—so I do what Ruthie orders, her tone, the color of it, its grim anger hustling me back—

—even as I hear myself asking again you promise, Ruthie? you promise we’re going straight home?

—Ruthie saying yeah, yeah, sure, take it easy, just GET IN, we’re not going to any goddamn party, tonight’s done—

I can’t believe how merciless—

—I step up into the back, all the way over, as far away from him as possible, wanting to trust someone—

—my gooey hands comforting each other in my lap like a pair of blind kittens—

—we three sitting still for a long breath in this blaring silence, this electric static, which is when—

—which is when he does it—

—Jackson jamming the accelerator to the floor, gravel spewing out behind us, tires grinding down into pebbles for purchase, he as shocked as Ruthie and me by the choices his body is making—

—the Oldsmobile fishtailing onto the main road, hurling toward the, how did we, into the enraged wind, into the air dense with moist leaves and sea rot—

—me giggling, appalled at the noise of myself, I don’t—

—and so I do the only thing I—

—I imagine the pink marzipan Glücksschwein, the lucky pig, anything, yes, that, the pink marzipan Glücksschwein extended toward me in my mother’s cracked palm on Christmas morning—

—our Washington Heights apartment, last night’s cabbage still tanging the air—

—just the pink pig, the palm, my mother’s distant cousins hanging shadowy in the background—

—they helped us when we, the affidavits, three years’ wait, Roosevelt doing all he could to keep us out, saying we should stop with the Jew sob stuff—

—everyone knew—

—my mother’s distant cousins crowded side by side on our swaybacked secondhand couch, washed-out maroon, velvet sheen, I forget their, my relatives, how could that—

—they lived one floor above us—

—took care of us when we—

—Roosevelt hating the Jews as much as that little vile man in the dwarf moustache—

—everybody admiring me in my new bunny suit—

—I’m modeling it before them, hands curled paw-ish to my chest—

—my mother having sewed pink socks onto my pink pajamas, pink floppy washcloth-ears onto my pink hood—

—my one and only present this year and the best ever—

—me soft and safe and proud inside—

—like wearing your bedding—

—my mother having tested out her new skills as seamstress because those were the only skills she could carry with her across the—

—she, my brother, and I disembarking amid a seethe of us with nothing but those and that single suitcase between us, the one now yawning on a chair upstairs in Lee’s room, tan, brown trim—

—because that year there was no tree, no candles, nothing fancy, it didn’t, precisely one gift apiece, and—

—how many memories ago was that?—

shut up, you sometimes want to tell them, go away, get lost—

—the pink marzipan lucky pig extended in my mother’s cracked palm while her oldest cousin—

—what can I recall about him: these lilac lips moving amid a thorny gray outbreak of beard—

—he telling us about how in the Middle Ages farmers with fertile swine were considered successful, the swine themselves thereby growing into signs of prosperity—

—even today when leave-taking you can sometimes hear Germans wish you Schwein gehabt

have a pig, may good fortune be with you—

—because one pig could see a whole family through a harsh—

—my mother’s cousin explaining, teaching me without teaching me how to become more goy—

—we were practicing namelessness—

—because if you can’t be seen you can’t be—

—three years’ wait—

—the pink marzipan pig wore a green marzipan four-leaf clover on its green marzipan collar because, my mother’s cousin explaining, that’s all Eve could secret out of the Garden of Eden when God deported her

—four-leaf clover in her tight sweaty fist—

—just like you and your small suitcase, my mother’s cousin explaining—

—a little sliver of paradise in our fumbled world—

—how I loved trying to will myself into believing—

—tasting heaven once a year—


—the tangible glimmer of flawlessness on the tongue—

—chewy almond paste and powdered sugar—

—my giggles modifying into low moans and those low moans into a Christmas song, stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, the way we learned to—

—because I don’t know how to hear this other thing reeling around me—

—my father—

—how the skin goes away so quickly—

—we becoming obsolete from the inside out—

—I’m thinking please give me more than this night please as I rise, stand shakily, gripping the back of the front seat for balance—

—my mouth opening—

—a voice I recognize as my own chanting stop the car! let me out! stop the car! let me out!—

yet he doesn’t even slow down, just flicks the headlights off, flicks the headlights on, interested to see what will happen—

—what creation might look like under different circumstances—

—and behind my voice Ruthie’s, her hair deranged in the wind—

shut up shut up shut up and sit the fuck DOWN! you’re making everything worse!



her words impelling Jackson to push the car faster along a straight stretch of deserted road unfolding before us—

—lights on, lights off—

—lost in delirious speed—

—our galaxy finally having left him alone—

don’t do this, honey, please, don’t, please, Ruthie pleading—

—only he already having deserted us—

—gone on ahead—

—leaning forward into the speed, shoulders hunched against the, trying to lift off the runway into another more breathtaking realm—

—eyes all at once wide open—

—me standing behind Ruthie, faltering, shrieking LET! ME! OUT!

—shocked to watch the me of me trying to climb over the side of car—

—devoted to abandoning this disarray—

—the velocity storm trying to push me back down—

—and the straightaway falling behind us, the road curving left, concrete to oil-black asphalt, the whomp, the car bottoming hard, jumping the crown—

—a sharp shove right—

—the me of me thrown sideways across the backseat—

—tires catching soft shoulder in an outburst of gravel and dirt—

—and Jackson yanking the wheel too hard, overcompensating, the Oldsmobile lunging into brush, swerving on and off the edge of the—

—one hundred feet, one-fifty, trees flinging past—

—he clenching the steering wheel as if the horns of a—

—in awe before this terminal eccentricity—

—and then—

—how did?—

—he just—

—Jackson just lets go—

—the ugly birds rising up around his mouth—

enough is enough

—you can see that’s what he’s—

—it’s all he can take of this goddamn fight—

—and he breaks into laughter—

—the car careening off the—

what the fuck good is this planet anyway?

—plunging through underbrush—

—left fender wrenching two young elms—

—and we are shooting backward through scrub and trees down a slope in a dark charge—

—this ripping, scraping, crackling—

—this whoosh

—the precipitous jolt—

—and we—

—we are—

—what are we—

—we are airborne—



—the battleship flipping end over end—

—and Jackson—

—he’s learning to fly—

—Ruthie learning to fly—

—me seizing at the, seat gone, scrabbling for hold—

—the thought firing through my mind no feeling is the last feeling, and then all of a sudden it is—

—which is when someone turns the sound down on my life—

—I’m living inside a silent movie—

—the night strobing around us—

—the Oldsmobile flipping slower and slower through the—

—relaxing to a halt in midair—

—and, incredibly, starting slowly to flip in the opposite direction—

—up the hill—

—Ruthie dropping back into her seat, screaming in reverse—

—Jackson landing behind the wheel, weightlessness unmade, laughter fleeing—

—the car gushing out of the trees, off the shoulder, regaining the road, the shoulder, the road—

—and my eyes are closed again because of this spectacular night air—

—this realization settling in around me that we are finally on our way to the farmhouse, just like Ruthie promised—

—into sleep, dreams, only somehow upside-down—

—I will tuck myself in to Lee’s bed—

—pull the chain on the lamp—

—wandering into—

—except behind my eyelids there’s Jackson gliding three yards off the ground, head first, a human projectile, fifty feet in less than a second, fully aware, inquisitive, beguiled, astonished at the tree shooting toward him—

—skull bursting in a black-red spray—

we all die at just the right time—

—except those of us who don’t

—that’s what Lee’s painter friend Paul Jenkins, long white hair, incendiary white beard, will say early next morning—

—he reaching over to pick up the phone in his Paris apartment—

—nothing in mind except the silver sunlight fogging the room—

—Lee, coffee cup in hand, halted in a half turn at the light-flooded double windows—

—unable to make out what’s being said, though already intuiting—

—because cellular membranes—

—the kinetics of—

—love’s thermal transfer—

—she demanding before Paul has even hung up that Jackson return from the dead—

how fucking DARE you leave me, you fucking bastard—

even as she takes her place alone in the front pew at the funeral service four days later in the Springs Chapel, having flown back on the first flight—

—refusing to sit with the Pollocks—

—ordering them to the second pew so she can claim sorrow’s spotlight—

—Lee’s only expression one of relief as the pastor reads an irrelevant passage from Romans 8—

God never allows pain without a purpose

—all that farcical wisdom—

—Willem de Kooning leaning toward her as he passes by afterward, whispering it’s over—

whispering almost as an afterthought I’m number one now, sugar

—unaware that within a year they’ll be sleeping together—

—and with that I land within Ruthie—

—coming to consciousness among the sweetness of mulch and leaves—

—the atrocity in my lower torso so shattering I’m convinced my spine is broken—

—able to rotate my head only enough to puke—

—viscous spill trickling down my neck—

—the me of us delicately reaching up to check my face—

—determine how much of it is still intact—

—because I can no longer see—

—blood filling my eyes—

—I’m leaking everywhere—

—my nose, my jaw, they’re nevertheless still there—

—I’m nevertheless still here—

—shot through with the distinct impression I may still exist—

—that farcical wisdom—

—her arms, my arms, our hands—

—I can’t move—

—the awareness reaching me that here is a densely wooded area, an incline, a massive tree—

—here an exquisite light illuminating the scene through a cloud of dust—

—I’ve never been closer to the earth—

—from the car, its headlights, resting on its side, windshield smashed, passenger door swung wide, limp like a broken steel wing—

—time returning in increments in the form of the Oldsmobile’s jammed horn—

—a siren up on the road—

—and several years later a pair of heavy brown leather boots one foot from my face—

—this man’s voice asking what’s your name, miss?—

and me where’s Jackson

—and he who’s Jackson?—

and in a fluster the blanket, the stretcher, people running in from all—

—no, that’s not it—

—they’re not here yet—


—it’s just this little girl kneeling beside me dressed in a pink bunny suit, hands curled paw-ish to her chest, asking do you believe in god, lady?—

of course I do, yes—

—well, the little girl saying, you can stop now—

—she pointing one of her paw-hands in the direction of the overturned car—

—and the us of me following, rotating her head, ours—

—squinting to make out through grainy haze, yes—

—in that breath recognizing what’s left of the what I wasn’t lying at queer angles beneath the inflexibility of the world—

Lance Olsen is author of more than 30 books of and about innovative writing, including, most recently, the novels Skin Elegies (Dzanc, 2021) and Always Crashing in the Same Car (FC2, forthcoming 2023). He teaches experimental narrative theory and practice at the University of Utah.