Like many writers, I feel centered when I write, or it might be better to say, when I don’t write, when I can’t write for whatever reason, I feel, frankly, de-stabilized. It’s dangerous for me not to write.
The first thing Evie’s father did upon arriving in Amsterdam was tighten the hinges on her bedroom door. “You could have done that yourself, honey,” he said, as though home repair was on the top of Evie’s “to do” list.
When really Evie’s first priority was what to wear to greet her father who had decided to “swing by” for a visit after finishing up some business he had in London. I could hardly believe the way she’d torn apart our closet, finally settling on my black Azzedine Alaia dress, my Tiffany pearls, and a cunning little pair of alligator sling backs. I hardly recognized her, seeing that as of late she had been favoring old lace slips, fishnets, and combat boots. But tonight, she looked like a future trophy wife. If you didn’t look too close. She had managed to scour off her black nail polish, but there were still faint traces of violet in her newly bleached white hair. Her father was, after all, still recovering from some awful surgery—not that you could tell, but still, one might assume he could only stand so much.
No, truth be told, the perfect outfit was second on Evie’s list of things to do. Her first priority was to get her new boyfriend, Billy, out of the flat before Daddy arrived. Billy was a ridiculous punk rocker she met at the Van Gogh museum—he was shoplifting postcards, Van Gogh’s Room at Arles (decorating tips, no doubt)—from the gift shop where she worked. She was afraid she was falling in love with him. Quel romance.
“I can’t believe it,” she would wail over and over again, usually after spotting some particularly cute guy. “It’s over. God, this can’t be. How did this happen? How could I fall in love?”
“I tried to convince you to get the shot,” I’d joke, and flash her my shoulder. A simple inoculation against commitment.
“No really, I’m doomed.”
“So can I assume Billy won’t be joining you and the family for the holidays?”
At this, Evie went absolutely pale.
“That isn’t even funny, and don’t you say a word. Daddy would hate Billy. He has no job, he barely speaks to his own family, and he’s a musician, which is just fine in the abstract—you know, my father has that whole, want-to-be-a-rock-star-in-another-life thing—but see, Billy isn’t dreaming. He’s not going to be some CPA who plays guitar on weekends in some hobby cover band with a bunch of balding armchair outlaws. He really wants to make it.” She paused. “And he’ll tell my father that.”
I can’t help myself, I laugh, just a little. It’s not that I don’t believe her, she’s told me stories of how her father used to torture her boyfriends—its just that Evie is starting to sound just like Billy with all of his eat-the-rich silliness, and not wanting to be with anybody who doesn’t “burn.” It used to be that Evie and I sounded alike, almost like sisters, everybody said so. I can’t tell you how many times people still confuse us on the phone.
I didn’t believe for one minute this thing with Billy would last. I mean, really. It wasn’t just that he looked like a 16-year-old delinquent what with his black sticking-up hair, (he styled it with Elmers, I swear) his holey black jeans and ripped tee-shirts and that silly wallet on a chain thing, which was an utter joke—who would want to steal a wallet that had absolutely no cash in it? This little affaire d’amour wouldn’t last because I knew my best friend, and I knew that what really mattered to her was the chase, and she had him. For heaven’s sake she had him every single night it seemed. Believe me, I wouldn’t introduce Billy Lang to my father either, but then again my father hadn’t met any of my boyfriends since he picked me up at tennis camp, and I introduced him to Russell Cole. Russell was 16 and I was 13. All my father said on the drive home was, “Is that the Coles of Boston or Savannah?”
I had to confess I had no idea. To me he was just foxy Russell with the nice butt and the fast hands.
Which isn’t to say my father doesn’t know men I’ve dated, he just doesn’t know that he knows them, it would be awkward, to say the least.
Oh sometimes when he is feeling particularly fatherly, say after he’s gotten my AmEx bill he’ll ask, “So, any prospects?” but this could mean anything, right? I cannot imagine he really expects me to tell him anything. And I wouldn’t.
It seemed every time my mother called me at college she managed to work into the conversation, “So, have you met any nice young men? Have you been dating?” Always in this chirpy Anne Landers voice, that is until she got tired of listening to me roar with laughter. It’s best that I keep my private life private. I just know Sunny would find fault with any man I brought home. Ever since my father left her, or rather us as she prefers to put it, she’s maintained, “You can’t trust men. Of course they make wonderful escorts, and one couldn’t live in a world without men, but on a cold winter night I’d rather the company of a dog.”
“Really?” I say. “You’d rather a dog in your bed than a man? Oh Sunny … .”
This of course just frosts her. I can’t help myself. I love my mother, but she’s just so easy to torment.
By the time Evie has opened the red wine her father brought, and poured, her father has finished fixing the hinges, and is surveying the rest of our apartment like a contractor. Evie still hasn’t opened the gift he brought, its just sitting in the middle of the table, driving me nuts with curiosity. My father’s graduation gift to me was the summer rental of this flat in Amsterdam—not exactly easy to wrap, but a very good gift.
“Hey puss,” Evie’s father says, “do you, by any chance, still have that tool box I gave you?”
The phone rings, and Evie shoots me this look like don’t you dare. “Let the machine get it,” she says. I know she thinks it’s Billy. We don’t even have a machine. I wonder for half a second if it might be Gerhard, but I don’t care if he calls or not.
“Of course I have it.” She says, “some girls have hope chests, I have a tool box.” She keeps it under her bed. Her father gave her the tool box when she went off to college, you know, a go-forth-and-be-independent gesture. She’s got one of everything in there; we used to use the pointy screwdriver to open cans of condensed milk when we were in our Turkish coffee drinking stage.
Toolbox in hand her father repairs the latch in the bathroom—“just a little wood putty and a screw”—and by the time he’s finished his second glass of wine he’s patched and rewoven our window screen. “That hole will get bigger and bigger until one morning you wake up with a pigeon in your bed, or a squirrel.”
I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t say, “Or worse, a Lang.” But I wouldn’t do that to Evie, not in a million years, even just teasing. We don’t make each other feel bad. Some nights we lie in the dark and just talk and talk having these conversations where you find yourself saying things you didn’t even know you thought, confiding stuff you would only tell somebody after you’d slept with them.
I don’t tell her that I think Billy is a big poser—after all the boy went to Brown and he lives in a squat and plays in a band called the Seven Plagues—that incidentally, only has three people in it—I figure that they’re still auditioning for lice, pestilence, and locusts, and oh yes, a bass player who can turn water into blood. To me, Billy is just another one of those once-preppy boys who, because he has a cock ring in his sock drawer, now thinks he is living on the edge.
But because Evie is my best friend I never complain about how Billy and his roommate Franz, the drummer for the Seven Plagues, just drop by at all hours of the day and night unannounced. I don’t dwell on the fact that Franz throws up on people and then steals their wallets. A common pickpocket.
Billy insists that Franz is a revolutionary. “He’s just reacting to the wholesale destruction and commodification of his city. Tourism has turned his homeland into a gaudy sexual theme park. It has no soul anymore. Franz is an artist, man.”
Franz is also the band’s manager. His vomiting had paid for amps, a new drum kit, etc. I had a little scandal with Franz once. Evie dragged me to a Seven Plagues “show” which really was just the boys jumping up and down in a smoky little club, screaming like lunatics. Afterwards, the boys were understandably thirsty and in need of forgetfulness, so we all went drinking. At some point during the evening Evie and Billy peeled off, and I found myself alone with Franz, going in and out of bars looking for a place that sold decent hash. We were just strolling along when all of a sudden, Franz stops and throws up all over some guy in a Planet Hollywood jacket. Unbelievable. It was horrifying, but very funny. Of course the man froze, and for a split second I was certain he was going to throw up too. The trick, Franz told me later, was to hit your mark square in the back so they can’t see too much of the vomit, but can absolutely smell it. Otherwise, you run the definite risk of them throwing up on you. Which is truly disgusting. The trick was to boot just enough to allow you license to touch them, and rifle their clothing—understandably, they desperately want you to wipe your vomit off of them. You could even be a little rough, all in the interest of sanitation. I never even saw Franz lift the billfold, but for the rest of the night, drinks were on him.
Later at a bar he’d said, “You know, a pretty girl like you could make a nice chunk of change … you could lift their fucking contact lenses.”
For half a second, with his hand on the inside of my thigh, I thought about it. A barfing Bonnie and Clyde but with good sex. Me, a former debutante. I loved it! Just the fact that he even considered it was charming.
Back at the apartment I made him take a bath. I did. I filled the tub up so high it was positively sloshing over and I got in with him. We laid in that tub for a long time, not even talking. I did make him use soap and brush his teeth with his finger.
The next morning it was sort of cute, the four of us getting up together in the apartment, calling in sick to work, eating pancakes Billy made. It was sweet.
Anyway, now I am seeing Gerhard. Gerhard is an art dealer. He has a real job. Evie hates hates hates him. She thinks he should call me ten times a day and tell me how fabulous I am. She thinks he doesn’t appreciate me. I can just tell.
Evie’s father finishes fixing the hole in the screen, and sinks down into the cushions of our badly-stuffed couch. He doesn’t even ask what happened to the screen. I guess he doesn’t want to know. I wonder if Evie would tell him that she kicked it in the other night at 2:00 AM when we found ourselves locked out.
Even though I was absolutely exhausted I’d dragged Evie out for a drink. She was in a blue funk. I’d staggered home from my job at a small private art gallery, where I was basically paid to sit there, hand out price lists and cross and uncross my legs, to find her curled up in the armchair eating Cocoa Puffs, listening to that godawful mopey music (I swear that played backwards, those Cure lyrics say, Make yourself hideous), and cutting her hair. These days the look was Tinkerbell by way of Attica. It was because of Billy that she’d cut off perfectly nice light brown hair, bleached it golf-ball white and streaked it purple. It was because of him that she’d started tricking herself out like some street urchin. The metamorphosis was certainly not lost on her father. When Evie opened the door the poor man looked stunned, though he held his tongue admirably. “Wow,” he said, “tell me about the hair.”
Evie said, “Do you like it?”
He said, “Do you like it?”
The very picture of parental diplomacy. I just cannot imagine.
In any case, Ev was depressed because last week while Billy was off playing screeching guitar and nowhere to be found, she had a scandal with one of her art-student boys. One with green striped hair and a pierced lip, a budding abstract expressionist, I believe. Maybe, just maybe, she touched his peepee.
Evie thinks it is perfectly acceptable to get completely naked with a man, then say, “Oh let’s just kiss.” It’s true. More than once I have heard her out in the living room talking some guy out of date-raping her on the sofa. Forget being a painter, she ought to work at the United Nations. Of course, I knew she was upset, but I just couldn’t let her get all tied in knots over this silly little fling.
“Blame it on the make-out sweater,” I said. The make-out sweater was a white angora sweater, so impossibly soft it felt like fur. Boys couldn’t keep their hands off it, and once they petted they were powerless. All my roommates wanted to borrow it in college. It had an incredible track record.
“Yeah right,” she sighed. “That damn sweater.”
“It’s past tense, darling,” I said. “You did nothing wrong. You and Billy are just dating, after all,” I reminded her. “Anyway, Billy didn’t call. He hasn’t called in two days.” I stopped myself from saying anything else, but it was hard.
Evie took it all in. First she looked just pained and then she looked grateful, so absolved it was almost sad. I have never understood the need to inflict guilt on one’s self.
“If I get off this sofa,” she said, “will you buy me a mai tai?”
How could I say no?
Arm in arm we strolled along the canals checking out the hookers disguised as female tourists milling around as though lost (who can resist a lady in distress?), vinyl flight bags hanging from their shoulders, stuffed, no doubt, with Jesus dildos and nipple clamps. After a few beers and a little space cake we bought ice cream cones and tried to find our way back home. Amsterdam is a fabulous city to get lost in. We’d follow what seemed a familiar canal until we were hopelessly turned around, and then we’d backtrack, at the time it seemed a great adventure. Some sailors ready to ship out the next morning on leave actually attempted to waylay us for a nightcap, but by this time we were too too happy holding hands and singing that silly children’s song, “They all went down to Amsterdam, they all went down to Amsterdam, Amster, Amster, shh, shh, shh … .”
Back home we soon realized neither of us had keys, and so we climbed up the fire escape and Evie kicked the screen in. It’s an absolute miracle we didn’t fall to our deaths. I always forget how nice and homey and sweet it feels when Evie and I come home together, just us two. Like girls. Evie put on water for pasta, then fell asleep on the kitchen floor. I made a risotto, then woke her up, and we ate it in my bed with the TV on.
“Amster, Amster, shh, shh, shh,” we sang, flipping channels.
It was just like old times. I hated thinking that one day we wouldn’t do this.
She got under the covers. “Tell me again,” she said as she was falling asleep.
“One more time.”
“You did nothing wrong,” I said, and tucked her in.
Things felt so incredibly comfortable, and safe, and easy, that I considered telling her about what had happened with Gerhard—why he hadn’t called me in days, and why I was jumping out of my skin whenever the phone rang. It was bothering me, and I hated being bothered.
I wanted to tell her that Gerhard had invited one of his friends to watch us having sex, but I knew she would just die. I nearly died, at first. It wasn’t like he said, “Hey do you mind if my friend watches?” Of course if he had I’d have said, “Are you out of your mind? What do you think I am?” And I would have missed out. Evie would freak if I told her the whole thing turned me on more than it did him.
It sounds completely unbelievable to say it just happened, but it did. We were in the back room of the gallery—we often had sex there, there was a four poster bed, and a gorgeous Tuscan-tiled bathroom. But I suppose I should have guessed something was up by the way Gerhard was actually moving around. Usually I was on top, but that night it was one minute on my back, legs in the air, then he wanted me up against the wall, then doggie style. Then, at some point, I turned my head and there was Peter, this sculptor friend of his that he represents, sitting in a chair inside the doorway. I never even heard him come in. I had no clue how long he’d been sitting there. I started to pull away, of course, but then I saw how Peter was looking at me, how into it he was getting, and I thought, I will never be this young again. It’s Amsterdam. Nothing that happens here counts.
Ultimately I don’t think Gerhard even came, I think he faked it, but I did. I did and it was amazing. I never imagined I could do such a thing.
And I never imagined that I’d want two men at one time. That I’d be looking at Peter looking at me while Gerhard was inside me, and I’d wish that Peter’s cock was in my mouth. Who could imagine that? But I did.
That night I could have done anything. Gerhard knew it, Peter knew it. Maybe they’d talked about it earlier, maybe the plan had been all along for the three of us to have sex. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I just know that while it was happening I felt good. For the first time there was enough, like everything I wanted or needed was being taken care of. I was filled up.
I know it should have made me sick, but it didn’t. It didn’t. It was like something just opened up inside me. It was good, believe me. But I could never tell anybody, not even in confession. I could never tell Evie. Not that I was ashamed. I wasn’t. I just knew I couldn’t make her or anybody else understand that the thought of having sex with just one man seemed boring now. And the thought that I would never ever have sex in front of another person again, that prospect made me unreasonably sad.
Evie and her father are sitting together on the sofa, he’s telling her about some dinner party he and her mom threw recently, her sister came down and they roasted a suckling pig, and there was dancing in the backyard—a real suburban bash. Evie’s head is tilted, she’s listening and laughing at all the right times, they look so Hallmark it’s just amazing. I excuse myself to no one in particular, they’re too caught up to even notice, and go into my room to smoke a cigarette and change. I wouldn’t smoke in front of Evie’s father, absolutely not. I still cannot get over how Jackie Onassis was never ever photographed smoking. She never smoked in public. No one outside her inner circle even knew she smoked. I can’t decide if it shows incredible restraint, or incredible self-consciousness. Instead of the long black skirt and fitted jacket I’d picked out earlier, I decide to be festive, why not, and go for the Nicole Miller cocktail dress—low cut, off the shoulder—after all I am not the daughter. I am a person.
The walls of this apartment are thin like tissue, this is how I know that Billy told Evie he loves her and wants her to move in with him—into his squat—how ghastly is that? Squat. Classy with a K. Just the word squat implies public defecation and people sitting back on their heels staring into sooty little pits where they roast pigeons. Because the walls are so thin I could hear the silence that followed his invitation, but I don’t know, perhaps she whispered her answer.
Because the walls are so thin I can plainly hear Evie and her father arguing in the living room.
“Listen, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared,” her father says, his voice rising.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Evie says, like she’s joking, but she’s obviously not.
Evie doesn’t say anything. The big problem with eavesdropping you can’t see anything. It is such a tease.
“You asked if I felt good, if I was a hundred percent, and I’m answering you honestly.”
“Okay, okay enough honesty,” she says. “But you’re fine, you said so, you said the doctors said everything is fine. Right?”
“For now, yes. I have no reason to think otherwise, but …”
“Mary Beth,” Evie calls out, I hear her standing up. “Hurry up, or were going to be late.”
I wait a second, best not to appear like I’ve been spying. In the living room her father is at the far end of the couch doodling on the back of a magazine. He looks annoyed.
“I’m ready,” I say. She is looking at me to save her. “You’re right, we best go if we’re going to make our eight o’clock, I say, tapping the spot on my wrist where a watch would be if I could ever hold on to one.
“Is this the restaurant you were talking about taking your father to?” Evie asks, and as soon as the question is out of her mouth I can tell she regrets it. Obviously she thinks my father not visiting bothers me, but it doesn’t. The restaurant is beautiful, intimate tables, big flower arrangements, oil paintings, a few lesser Cézanne charcoals. Evie and her father choose to sit with their backs to the terrace; I get the view.
“My father just got remarried,” I explain, “for the third time. And can you imagine, my new 23-year-old stepmother doesn’t want to spend her honeymoon in Amsterdam with her husband’s 21-year-old kid?”
“Oh,” her father says, not like a word, just the sound, as if the idea of a 23-year-old wife hit him in the stomach like a fastball. I can’t really remember what Evie’s mom looks like, pretty I thought, but I’m not sure. She’s certainly no 23-year-old.
Her father moves the knot in his Ferragamo tie. Lovely. As though he’d never thought of dallying with younger women. They all do. When I was a child my father’s passion was babysitters. Once, when my mother was at Canyon Ranch, he actually had one of them dress up as the tooth fairy and slip money under my pillow. She reeked of Gilbey’s. To be fair, he figured I was asleep, but really.
Everybody has something.
“You know what’s rich?” I say. “Megan, and I, that’s my new stepmother’s name, we used to date the same guy at Andover, Chip Barton—he’s into bonds now, lives in Darien.”
“My God,” Evie said. “Are you joking?” I hadn’t mentioned the part about Chip before. I really just remembered it myself.
“I know. Couldn’t you just die?”
“So.” Evie’s father turns to her, “Have you been able to find time to draw?”
He’s uncomfortable I can tell. I hadn’t figured him for the puritanical type. Maybe it’s that he doesn’t look old and stuffy. He’s tan, his dark hair is a little longer than the norm and just touched with silver, so he looks like a liberal politician or an aging actor who still wants to get the girl. He coughs, and for a long second we all just sit there.
“Yes, some, not much,” she says. “You know I’ve been working a lot at the museum, it’s inspiring, and of course terrifying to be surrounded by such amazing work.”
“She ought to work, she’s good,” I say.
Her father smiles at me, “We think so, but you know, we’re prejudiced.”
“I still have trouble with hands. Everybody has to keep their hands in their pockets or behind their backs; anxious people in china shops,” she says, “… that’s my specialty,” and with that she elbows her wine glass off the table and on to the floor.
“Don’t worry,” I say, “it just increases the value of the rug.” This is what Evie says every time anyone spills something on our floor. It occurs to me, judging by her father’s smile, that he is the source of this saying.
By the time dessert is served—chocolate decadence, and creme brûlée, we are all toasted. Not on purpose of course, but we do seem to go through a lot of wine very quickly. It’s that kind of night. It becomes clear that Evie is drunk when she nearly falls off her high heels (my shoes) on her way to the ladies room. While she is in the loo her father and I look out at the city below us, there is a pack of Christian missionaries—mostly teenage boys in cheap blue suits—trooping over to the Red Light district to spread the good word.
“Jeez, if anybody is converted down there, I’ll never forgive myself for forgetting my camera,” her father says, “Damn it anyhow—watch, we’re going to see a mass baptism in that canal.”
Left alone with Evie’s father, I suddenly feel a little shy. Before I know it Evie is tottering across the restaurant toward us, with her hands slightly out at her side like a tightrope walker. As soon as he sees her, Evie’s father starts to stand up like he wants to rescue her, but it’s obviously a matter of dignity, and so we both just watch, and sigh with relief when she finally plops down in her seat.
“I can’t believe I didn’t bring my camera,” he says again.
“Oh daddy,” Evie says.
“Hey, you’ll be happy you have those slides one day,” he says. “The memories …”
“No, no, no, memories. Now, I don’t want to talk about it,” she says.
“I was talking about taking pictures,” he says. “Honey.”
It’s clear that he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to have this conversation in front of me. Thankfully, the waiter appears at his side.
“Sir,” he says, “would you or your wife care for a cognac?”
“Your wife,” the waiter repeats, nodding at me. I start to laugh, but catch myself when I see the look of shock on Evie’s face.
“Oh, no,” her father protests. “This is not my wife.”
“Ah, too bad,” the waiter says, then with a shrug, he turns and saunters away, not the tiniest bit embarrassed by his faux pas.
“What a cretin,” her father says. “I ought to…”
He won’t. I’ve seen my father reduce waiters to tears, and Evie’s father just isn’t the type.
“How ridiculous,” I say, but it isn’t. It isn’t ridiculous at all. “Did you see that dreadful caterpillar moustache?”
Evie reaches over and takes a sip of her father’s wine. She glances at me, then looks away. It’s awkward, it shouldn’t be. It should be funny, but for some reason it’s not, or at least not now. Surely one day, if we ever speak of it again, we’ll laugh.
“Well then,” Evie says, a smile frosted on to her face, “let’s get out of here, shall we?”
Evie holds tight to her father’s arm as we walk back towards the apartment, maybe it’s the wine, or maybe it’s the shoes, or maybe she thinks I might try and steal him. If I was another kind of girl, I might be hurt, but I’m not. I’m not. I just feel like telling her, Fathers like me. Just now, I am remembering how as a little girl I got invited along on more of my friend’s family vacations than anyone else. Cancún, Gstaad, Hilton Head. The fathers were always nice to me. I laughed at their jokes, and they bought me lift tickets. I told them they were getting too skinny, and I got an all-day pass to Disneyland. I liked fathers and fathers liked me. Why had this never occurred to me before?
Maybe I get a little lost in this thought and take a wrong turn, or maybe it’s just that we are all looped, but before I know it we’re right smack in the center of the Red Light district. Not that it matters, after all, one shouldn’t come to Amsterdam and miss out on this wonder, but for half a second I feel a little uncomfortable, and then I think it’s just that Evie is uncomfortable. The only one who appears uncomfortable is her father. I like this. We are alike, both of us like adventure.
The buildings in the Red Light district seem closer together than in any other part of the city, like they can’t help crawling on each other. Their facades are absolutely gray, almost papery looking, the result of pollution and perhaps all those post-coital smokes; the floors and floors of heavily curtained windows lit up with yellow light, make it feel like a hive. There’s an undeniable heat in the air, an illicit buzz that draws you in regardless of how uptight you are.
Evie’s father had untangled himself from her grasp and was now walking ahead of us. If you had noticed Evie staring at him, frowning and hobbling to keep up with him you’d never even guess that he was her father. He could be any man.
Tourists moved silently across the bridges of the canal, peering into windows, slowing, but not daring to stop, to commit, or appear to bargain shop; after all one never knew what fantasy might appear just around the corner. A 30-year-old shaved angel in red leather, an unbelievably obese young girl in a see-through teddy. It is all so cinematic.
As we walk deeper into the center, more women began to appear in the doorways, lounging against the walls, like baseball players in a dugout, perhaps talking shop, and sizing up the crowd, or exchanging stories about their kids, how they weren’t invited to speak at their kid’s Career Day. It’s strange but they seem so comfortable, superior in some way to the rest of us.
Behind us in the distance I could swear I hear the far-off sounds of those boys praying, a dull and distant howling, following us, their coyote yelps of conversion echoing in the canyon of streets. You’d think they’d just give up.
I hurry to catch up with Evie’s father. My shoes are so slippery it’s like I’m skating on the cobblestones, for an instant I reach out and take his arm, he seems surprised, but he doesn’t pull away.
“Look,” I say and point up at one of the yellow and gray windows above us, the large liquid outlines of women luring men to their quarters thrown up on the walls. A shadow of a woman taking off a man’s coat loomed above us, his hands moved like bats, swooping onto her breasts, then he wrapped his arms around her hips.
You can’t not watch. There it is, it is impossible to look away, but of course I barely have his attention before Evie interrupts.
“Dad,” she says incredulously. Her father is mesmerized by the couples shadows, spread out on the wall, getting huge and hazy becoming a dark indistinct mass as they move away from the window. “I can’t believe you.”
“I’m fading,” she says. “Let’s go back, okay? We can have a nightcap at our place.”
“All right honey,” her father says. He’s obviously annoyed. We were just starting to have fun.
“It’s been a long night, I guess. Jesus, I’m all turned around here. Can you get us out of here, Mary Beth?”
“Of course,” I say. Even though I was supposed to be leading, her father hurries ahead of us, taking in all the sights. Gerhard always had to walk slightly ahead of me too, and it made me crazy. Would it kill a man to walk beside me?
I wonder what Gerhard would do if he happened on me here with Evie’s father. Maybe he would make a scene or follow us. He would be jealous. I knew Chas Wakefield would protect me, he’d put his arm around me and tell Gerhard to fuck off. He wouldn’t ask any questions, he would just defend my honor. He wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
“God, I hate this place,” Evie says, hurrying to sidle up alongside me. “Men ruin everything.”
“Oh right,” I say. “You really know.”
“What?” she says.
“That Billy, he’s really a fabulous catch huh?”
“What’s wrong with you?” she says in a low, don’t-you-dare voice.
“Come on Ev, you’ve got to admire the girl’s spirit,” I say loudly.
“Absolutely,” Evie’s father says, sounding for one sick second like my own father.
“Why don’t you just call Billy and have him pick you up?” I say. “Oh darn he doesn’t have a phone. How would you live without a phone?”
“What are you talking about?” she says. I am about to ask her when was she going to tell me she was moving out, but I notice that Evie’s father is getting too far ahead of us.
“Oh god,” I begin to moan, bending over at the waist, clutching my stomach. “Owww,” I moan again, but louder.
“Jesus,” Evie said. “Do you think you’re going to be sick?”
I don’t answer her. I moan again, holding tight to my middle. I don’t even lift my head until I see the tips of her father’s shoes.
“I just need a moment,” I say, so stoic. Concern flickers in his eyes.
“Jesus, are you all right?” He reaches out and touches my shoulder. I nod up at him. He cares. “Maybe we should we get a cab, or …”
“No, I’m fine,” I insist. “Really.”
“Can you walk?” he says.
“Oh absolutely,” I say.
He takes off his suit jacket. “Here,” he says, handing it to me like a rescue blanket.
“No,” I say.
“Please,” he says. “I insist.”
“I’m better now,” I say, slipping my arms into the slippery silk-lined sleeves, which are still warm.
Evie wraps her arms around her, like she’s cold, but it’s a warm night. She just doesn’t want me to have anything.
“All right, buckle up kiddos,” I say. “It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Despite feeling a little drunk, and light-headed I set off quickly towards the short cut, an escape route Franz once showed me, a dark and twisting alley way. Chas is close on my heels as I take off down an unlit and slanting side street, turning the corners quickly. It’s far too narrow for cars and barely wide enough for two to stand abreast. It’s an adventure. I bet he is loving this. Even though I can’t see I plunge ahead madly, arms out testing the dark, then I stumble stretching out my arms, bracing myself for the fall, but I recover my balance. I think I hear my name being called. The alley makes a T and I take the left. I can hear Chas close behind me now, he is also moving fast, hurtling along like he can’t stop himself, like it’s a game. I hear him stop at the T. I wait, trying not to breathe too hard, pressed up against the wall. My heart is pounding like I’m afraid, but nothing is wrong. I don’t need protection.
Chas peers around the corner, and seeing me, grins. He collapses against the wall across from me, and leans there, eyes closed, panting and out of breath, half-smiling half-embarrassed, as if he is asking me to be patient with him, as if this sort of thing never happens. I move over to his side, I turn my head toward him, both of us resting against the wall. I swear I can hear the echo of those evangelizing boys baying at the moon. Who among them could resist a girl like me who just wants just one thing? As her father struggles to catch his breath, his eyes find mine, and there I see that eagerness, that same blank and grasping desire I’ve seen in so many men’s eyes.
I watch as my hand moves to touch his chest, as if to stop him.
—Elissa Schappell writes the “Hot Type” column for Vanity Fair and is a founding editor of the new literary journal Tin House. She has been a senior editor at the Paris Review and has contributed to numerous magazines, including GQ, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, nerve, and Spin.
Like many writers, I feel centered when I write, or it might be better to say, when I don’t write, when I can’t write for whatever reason, I feel, frankly, de-stabilized. It’s dangerous for me not to write.