Friday, August 19, 2005

Nausicaa in New York (an excerpt from The Edge of the World)

Like a having a dog hump your leg, it felt odd at first, having this stranger touch me. But in an instant I found myself detached from what was really happening, imagining that I was watching myself from a distance like an actress watching a movie in which she is the star, an actress performing a scene in which she is having an affair with a married man who is no longer attracted to his wife.

Suddenly I was someone and somewhere else, a young woman in Los Angeles—a secretary, in fact— seducing her boss, Mr. Eliot, who after years of devoting himself to his business discovers in himself a desire to be free of everything his business demands of him. He had begun by having an affair with me, a situation which he believed would invigorate him but which in the end left him feeling more lifeless than ever.

After a few months his wife finds out about his indiscretions, and with her and his children now shunning him he peers out the window of his office as his secretary sits in the next room typing up a memo. Opening the window, he climbs onto the ledge of the building, looking to the sidewalk twenty stories below. Kicking his right foot out from the ledge, he then leans forward in a gesture which, despite his sense of dejection, is more an act of curiosity than of despair. Falling, he hears the sound of traffic growing louder and, just before he hits the ground, the sound of a woman screaming accompanied by the slight clangor of a minor car accident a few feet away from where his body finally lands.

It might have been a scene from a movie, but then again it might have been from real life—a scene I'd either witnessed or read about in a newspaper. But whether it was from fact or fantasy, that was what I felt, what I perceived, in the space of a minute during which a strange man felt my breasts. It was a sad story, I suppose, but just as I wasn't one to cry at the movies, neither was I one to cry in real life; and when the peep show window began to close and the grey haired man withdrew his hands from beneath it, I found that I was ready for the next film, the next tabloid report, the next suicide, and the next mid afternoon fender bender on a busy city intersection.

I got off work at midnight. .

Walking out the door of the House of Blue Lights, I went to the corner of 43d Street and Broadway, where I stood still, regarding the neon signs, the illuminated billboards, the headlights of cars, the persistent opening and closing of doors, and the sometimes faint, sometimes blaring noises that accompanied everything. The scene there reminded me of a carnival just before closing, of that time when the throngs of people, eating cotton candy or toting the stuffed animals they'd won for their sweethearts, had begun to dissipate.

That was always the time when the lights of the merry-go-round and the ferris wheel seemed at their brightest, when their movements seemed the most frantic—because you knew that very soon everything would be dark and still. Indeed, it was always the moment right before the end when life was at its most vivid—or at any rate that how it would be in the best of worlds. And this gleaming intersection, with its bursts of light, its lost noises, and its prolonged stance of twilight, seemed to indicate that I was approaching ever closer to my ideal, and that I was, finally, after many wrong turns and false endings, on the right path.

I stood there in its midst for what must have been an hour or more before I began to feel tired and cold. Opening up my bag, I took out my jacket, put it on, then headed south on Broadway. I kept walking until I reached Madison Square Park, where, at the corner Broadway and 23d St., I sat on a bench facing east. The clock on the tower of the building across the way showed that it was after 2 AM. I stayed there for another hour before I began walking again. Going down Broadway, I passed through Union Square, walked past all the closed stores and restaurants near Houston Street, continued on past Canal Street, past City Hall on down to Battery Park, where I rested again, gazing across the water towards the lights of New Jersey and the Statue of Liberty.

It was there, pushing my bag to the opposite side of the bench where I sat, that I finally lay down. Using my bag as a pillow for my head, I fell fast asleep. My dreams that night were altogether pleasant, filled with visions of the lights from Times Square, visions which made me feel as if I were floating, as if in my sleep the waters of the Hudson had risen above the railings surrounding the park, sweeping me down through the narrows and out to the ocean.

When I awoke the park had begun to fill with people out for a Sunday morning stroll. I picked up my bag and headed uptown again, this time passing through Chinatown where, at a small shop on Bayard St., I bought a knife. It was a beautiful weapon, with a long silver blade which curved up delicately at the tip, and a red wooden handle upon which was carved the image of a dragon. I had decided that even if I never slept in the park again, it was a good idea for me to carry some kind of protection—especially for those occasions when, after leaving the House of Blue Lights, I would be walking home alone late at night.

Because that was how I had planned on getting around New York—by walking. Not that I was afraid of what might be going on in the subways or on the streets, for that matter. It was just that by walking, and staying away from subway trains, buses, and taxis, I would be better able to control my distance from people. And although on the subway the knife would be a necessity perhaps, like food or water, I concluded that on the streets (or wherever I found myself) it would grant me a kind of luxury, a sense of privilege that even an elegant apartment or a fancy clothes could never provide me with.

Slipping the knife into the inside pocket of my jacket, I continued uptown until 31st St. where just off of Fifth Avenue I found the Wolcott Hotel. With rooms there costing fifty dollars a night, it was the cheapest place I'd found so far save for those places where I'd have to share a bathroom. I gave the clerk fifty, leaving another fifty for a deposit, then got on the elevator to the seventh floor. On opening door 717 I saw that my room was utterly plain but clean. With a single bed covered by a white bedspread, a somewhat rickety nightstand on top of which was a phone, and a dresser on which sat a lamp and a television, this room would do for the moment.

I set down my bag and went to window. Raising the Venetian blinds I saw that I was looking out the back of the hotel, opposite the back of another building, and turning my head up I could see a small rectangular portion of an overcast sky. Standing there at the window, I kicked off my shoes, took off my jacket, my shirt, my bra, then reached down to pull off my jeans and my panties.

I lingered there for a while, listening to the sound of a man's voice from across the way. It was a deep, raspy voice, the voice of a man who at one in the afternoon was already drunk. I lifted my arm and ran my hand from my neck and down between my breasts to my stomach, still gazing up to the sky as the voice grew louder. As soon as the voice stopped, which took about a minute or two, I went into the bathroom and turned on the water in the tub. When it was full I stepped inside and sat down in the warm water, reaching between my legs. Lying back, I gazed up at the ceiling as I rubbed myself, feeling my muscles tighten.

I closed my eyes and started to groan, sending not a plea but a message, through the ceiling and all the rooms above me, and on up to the heavens—a message saying that whether I was in the company of a man or else totally alone, I would always be a woman of strength. Recalling a time many years ago when I was somewhere else, I considered how the "loss" of my virginity had not been a loss at all but a triumph—a triumph in which my body's experience had at last reached the level of experience I had gained with my mind. And lying here wet in this distant room on a Sunday afternoon, I reflected how even if I were never again to be with a man, I would carry this dual knowledge of mind and body with me, the strength and wisdom that would insure I would never be lacking and would never be at a loss.

From a novel in progress

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