For two weeks I ejaculated blood. It felt necessary. I called my sister.
Eat charcoal, she said. Tincture of yarrow. You’ve depleted your essence.
I went to Miami. I spent several hours inside a parking garage admiring fragrances, testing handbags. Overhead the ceiling moved. Mirrored panels controlled by a computer.
That’s the installation, said the store clerk.
A woman in training to become a store clerk hid behind an alcove checking messages on her mobile smartphone. Later she would comment on a butterskin leather clutch purse, discuss its compartments.
It has a lot of compartments, she would say.
I ate lunch with a lawyer at an outdoor restaurant. Something vaguely Mexican, or else from the islands. The waiters radiated exhaustion. Some seemed on the verge of tears.
We drank water rank with lemon and synthetic sweetener. The lawyer talked about the situation in Tanzania.
Many of the people were hesitant to make wills, he said. They’d tell me, if my children know what they’re getting when I die, they’ll just kill me now. It was a fact: my children will kill me. For a refrigerator, for a goat.
A waitress apologized to a table for an error regarding the contents of their guacamole. Nearby, a man solicited sex from a child prostitute.
We walked along the boardwalk toward the water. At many of the cafes people were screaming or begging for food. Children stood on tables demanding candy or small animals. Fires broke out sporadically. A group of college students drowned a foreigner in a fountain. I began to find Asian women attractive.
A priest joined us for espresso at a shop selling convenient espresso machines. We stood at the bar. The lawyer spoke about his Methodist upbringing.
My parents were divided, he said. My mother wouldn’t miss a Sunday service. But my father, after they divorced never again did he darken the doorway.
The priest smoothed her hair. A homeless woman was trying to enter the store. A guard restrained her.
But I’m hungry, she said. I ain’t eat.
The guard pushed her away. A crowd began to gather. Someone threw a chair. Then someone hit the guard over the head with a brick. He went down and the crowd closed over him.
We should go, said the lawyer.
There’s a back way out, said the priest. I’ll show you.
I put another blanket on the bed and ripped out the ferns sprouting under the porch. I felt satisfied and talked with a man about proper lawn care. He had a scar curling up from the corner of his mouth and drove a pickup truck hitched to a trailer full of pool cleaning equipment.
I noticed a dredger anchored offshore pulling up sand from the ocean bottom to redistribute over the beaches, also that people had stopped setting up their voice mailboxes.
I was consistently hungry, especially at night when the dredger was the brightest thing in the sea. I kept promising to eat the rest of Carly’s key lime pie - promising to myself - but also kept avoiding it.
I saw two women cutting through my backyard holding drinks in colorful poolsafe plastic cups.
We’re just going over here, said the woman. We’re just cutting through to the Mazocco’s. They’re friends of ours. It’s ok.
I shut door. I was on the phone with someone in Los Angeles. Someone else arrived with an envelope full of pictures and apologized for being late. We looked at the photos together: a girl jumping on a trampoline; a man in a voodoo mask jumping on a trampoline.
After we had sex I put on a new shirt. Two days earlier I had been given the shirt giftwrapped as compensation for an old shirt that had been lost in Boca Raton.
Can you take me up to the store? I said. I need to buy cigarettes.
The next day I was at the mall. Standing in the middle of the mall holding a storage device sold to me by a sales associate in a track suit.
You’re giddy, said my friend. Look at you.
I looked at me. Standing in the middle of the mall. Holding a device. Talking about the past redistributed over the beaches.
Selected Google User Reviews of the Boynton Beach Mall, 801 N. Congress Ave, Boynton Beach, Florida.
A Google User:
Overall Very good
Reminds me of my childhood..it’s not the best mall in earth, but my favorite.
A Google User:
Overall Very good
Excellent service from the guys at Macy’s…..and there hot! !!!
A Google User:
Overall Poor to fair
Its the getto.
A Google User:
Overall Poor to fair
Knock it down! For the person that mentioned people getting killed in the parking lot comment… Doesn’t make it ghetto. People have gotten killed in Boca Mall parking lot and it’s no where near ghetto.
A cure for insomnia
Selected Netflix user reviews of ALPS. Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, 2011.
What an absolute waste of time viewing this film. It makes no sense. This is a Greek film about a group of people who start a business where they impersonate the recently deceased in order to help their clients through the grieving process. What a lame concept which no one in real life with any brain would agree to. I like many foreign films but this film is a cure for insomnia from beginning to end. I kept waiting for something to develop and it never did. GIVE IT A PASS OR WASTE A RENTAL LIKE I DID.
Another work of euro trash. Performing zombies on novocaine are so incredibly dull to watch, it’s hard to decide whether the silly and pretentious writing is worse than the acting, or the other way around. Apparently, nothing decent has come out of Greece in over 2000 years.
If you queued this boring film based on DOGTOOTH and ATTENBERG you will be hugely disappointed as I was. The film is very disjointed and pathetically slow going. Also, the scenes are extremely darkly lit; obviously a metaphor for the dark story. Very frustrating, indeed. Skip this one, folks. Trust me!
The subtitles were too small and were flashed on the screen too briefly. I was making up my own dialogue; I turned it off.
He took Suzanne back inside and ordered an instant movie in which an older man pursues a high school coed. He saves her from a rainstorm, saves her cello. In the car they talk, the windows steamed, her teeth just out of braces. Her name is Jenny. She wants to go to college. His name is Peter. He tells her he has a degree in the university of life.
The other girls at school tease her. Jenny’s new boyfriend, what an old man. But in truth they are jealous. They know he does things to her body they can only dream of. At night, in upstairs bedrooms, a pillow twisted between their thighs, Jenny’s friends imagine Peter’s weight. He gives Jenny what boys her own age cannot. The thrill of access, experience. He takes her to clubs and concerts, teaches her to smoke and drink, introduces her to vapid older women whom Jenny admires simply because they have fucked.
Peter tells Jenny that he and his friends are not clever like she is, so they have to be clever in other ways. Jenny thinks this means worldly knowledge, travel. Really it means Peter is a thief. This is frightening and arousing at the same time. They make love in the backseat of his car, after which he proposes marriage. She drops out of high school before her final exams and runs away to another country. Her mother weeps in a dusk kitchen. Her father’s hands wait under the faucet for the water to get warm.
At a club one night a drunk woman tells Jenny that Peter is already married. That he lives in an industrial village with a mortgage and dogpile of children. Jenny clutches her uterus. She runs home. She tells her mother, I’m a damaged woman.
Her mother smiles.
Oh honey, that’s not true, she says. You’re not a woman.
Weeks of tears facedown on the bed. Her cat has kittens under the front porch but they drown in the winter rain. Jenny believes her mistakes have poisoned the world. I feel old, she says, but not wise. She remembers a picnic with Peter on a riverbank as she lowers herself into the hot bath, a straight razor resting on the edge of the tub.
Her father finds her. In his arms she says what she thinks will be her last words, All I wanted was everything. But with the running and the yelling and the sirens no one hears her.
It doesn’t matter. She survives. In the hospital the inspirational high school English teacher comes to visit her. She tells Jenny that she can do anything she sets her mind to. She convinces Jenny to sit for her final exams and apply to college the following year. To the joy of her parents, she does, and is accepted for the fall semester.
Associating her dream of being a writer with Peter’s lies, she chooses to go into nursing instead. While still an undergraduate she meets Harry, an economics major. He is smitten at first sight. Harry believes Jenny is worldly, traveled, experienced. An artist. Mostly out of boredom and loneliness she allows him to make love to her with the lights off. He comes in half a minute and asks if it was good for her. Jenny is frozen, rigid. She excuses herself to the bathroom and runs both faucets so he will not hear her sobs. A month later Harry proposes marriage at a Chinese restaurant. Her parents are overjoyed.
After the wedding Harry humors Jenny’s attempts at education for several weeks and then asks her to drop out of nursing school so they can start a family. Harry is prepared for a fight, for wearing her down slowly, but to his shock she agrees immediately. After she washes the dishes they make love for the third time.
The children come one after the other until they are four. Jenny’s parents are overjoyed. Her mother visits often whenever Harry is out of town on business. Highball gimlets at quarter to noon. Crunching ice she asks her daughter how she likes this new life.
Jenny tops off her glass.
I couldn’t be happier, she says. How could I ever be happier?
Her mother gets up to fix more drinks. She is getting old and farts often. The children keep their distance.
Harry is promoted and they live quite comfortably. The youngest child is diagnosed autistic and sent away. Jenny begins taking sedatives. Great quantities of benzodiazepines. Harry’s drinking picks up. Sometimes he does not come home at night. Afternoons Jenny drives by her old high school and watches the boys at football practice. Tousled hair and svelte bodies. She imagines their breath on her lips. Iron and wet leaves. A Greek nanny raises the children.
Harry talks openly to his mistress on the phone. There are plenty of extra bedrooms but Jenny chooses to sleep in a bunkbed with her daughter. She moves a bureau into the room and a small television. She sits up late making her daughter watch movie after movie, too drunk and high to notice how the girl shrinks from her hands, her corroded veins. The nanny has a talk with her, tells her she frightens the children. Jenny fires the nanny and hires a new one who has no English. Again she changes bedrooms.
While visiting Harry’s parents Jenny’s father telephones to say her mother has died. A heart attack at the Methodist church book sale. Impossible to predict. Her heart simply burst. Jenny nods and hangs up. That night she lets two Frenchmen double penetrate her. Harry stops speaking to her. When they return home he leaves her. She does not contest custody of the children.
Sherwin looked at the clock. Four hours into the film.
What movie is this?
Suzanne told him to be quiet.
The years go by. Jenny moves to France, remarries, divorces again, moves to England and becomes a librarian at the local junior college. Alimony is most generous. She does not complain. She tends toward religion, the occasional black male prostitute.
Leaving the supermarket one afternoon a homeless woman stops her in the parking lot. She’s covered in yellow oil, her hair in dreadlocks, bath slippers on her feet. She asks Jenny for money. A few dollars. A hamburger sandwich. Jenny says she will not give her money but she will take her home and feed her to see that the money goes to food and not drugs. For some reason the homeless woman agrees to the terms. Perhaps she hopes to rob Jenny’s house.
They sit in the kitchen. The homeless woman eats several boxes of cereal, a quart of milk. She asks Jenny for fruit. Any kind of fruit. Peaches if you have them.
The homeless woman sucks the meat off the pit. The juice runs down her chin. Strips of clean skin show through the grime.
A flicker of recognition flashes across Jenny’s face. Maybe she knows this woman. She asks where she’s from, where she grew up. Around here, the woman says. Right around here. She asks Jenny to use the restroom and Jenny points down the hall, distracted, remembering a face, a name longlost, her eyes bright for the first time in a decade.
She washes dishes in the sink, looking out the kitchen window, tripping back through the years, far back to when the laughter of children rang in her ears, back to Peter, to the broken monuments of her dreams. The tears begin to fall. She remembers. She knows who the woman is.
She goes to the downstairs bathroom but it’s empty. She hurries up the stairs to her bedroom. The door is locked. She knocks. She knocks harder and harder. She pounds on the door, calling out the woman’s name to no avail. Finally she shoulders open the door and tumbles into her bedroom. The homeless woman is stretched out on her bed, an empty syringe not far from her arm.
Jenny throws herself on the body. Her tears wash away the filth and in a quick series of flashbacks we see that the homeless woman is actually her own autistic daughter, institutionalized so many years ago. In the flashbacks we see white rooms, sterile hallways. We see needles, fire in barrels, a rainstorm under a bridge. We see weeks spent watching Jenny from the supermarket parking lot. We see a human being who never had a second chance at life.
After the funeral Jenny sits in the dining room with the windows open. The white lace curtains lift and break in the breeze. On the table a bowl of peaches. The camera holds on Jenny’s face, the lines around her eyes, hair gone gray overnight. She knows irrefutably that the months with Peter were the best time of her life. The pain of losing him surpassed only by the delusion there would be better times to come.
Jenny blinks slowly. A dog barks, is quiet. Some kind of peace seems to pass over her. The lie that was her life dispels into the spring air. She pushes back from the table and takes the stairs to her bedroom. The last sound we hear is water running in the tub.
Sherwin shook his arm. His fingers asleep, fat and static. Suzanne was crying. Three thrity in the morning. He went to the coffee table for champagne. As he lifted the bottle a scorpion dropped from the ceiling onto the varnished wood. He stared at it for a moment, then he covered it with a waterglass and went back to bed.
The New Year
In the dream I learn that the spirit world is real.
I am lying on my back and a woman takes my hand, takes my other hand. She takes both my hands and pulls me in a circle on the ground. We spin fast and then faster. Then so fast we are not spinning at all: the room spins around us and we are the still center.
Colors fall away. There is only blue and black. A night ocean. The woman is weightless. She floats beside me.
Around us I can see spirits. Many spirits. Gauzy, floating, pressing in. They want to watch, to know me, to see who I am, to help me.
I say to the woman, Is this real?
Yes, she says. This is the real world.
In another dream it is revealed to me that animals are telepathic. When I wake up I see a man wearing a t-shirt that says COLD BEER, a woman spooning a paraplegic boy burnt hamburger. At the hotel a television news program reports three masked men have robbed a Radio Shack in Pompano Beach.