Oh Melissa stop it. Don’t be an evil bunny, Claude tells Melissa Dogg. Melissa gets the message but digs her nails into Claude’s tummy anyway. Oh, evil. Oh, bunny. That isn’t funny, bunny. I am so hooked on you.
And yet you hate my ways. Well, that’s how it goes, you never can really tell. For instance the other day with Michael. You acted so weird.
Jealousy. A compliment when you consider.
When you consider he’s my brother it isn’t such a compliment. Did you dig fucking your sister when you were itty bitty?
Oh mean, bunny, mean. Claude never fucked his own sister. It would never cross his mind. One thing you can say about Claude. He’d fuck his mother but he wouldn’t fuck his sister.
But he loves fucking bunny, isn’t it. Isn’t it with his floppy dickie.
Here we are, thinks Melissa Dogg. Bunnies in Hell. Being with Claude is somehow like being in hell. Roasting away without redemption. That leg. I should turn on the Sony and let him listen to himself. Bunny madness of two bunnies in hell. Beautiful face, just like a dummy. Claude’s funny but he’s a dummy. No Coke in the, no Coke for Miss Blandish. Only gin. Perfect way to spend your 33rd birthday, getting swacked with a dumb bunny.
“C’mon, bub. Tell me lies.”
“You’re beautiful. You’re supreme. You’re the top lay of New York.”
“No, real lies.”
Across the street from Sylvie, Ella would be putting onPetrouchka, her fave. Oh Ella let’s. Let’s what honey bun. Let’s go to the ballet. Now Ella could call, that could spark things. Oh bunny get off me, oh bunny go home baby.
If we got married. No, Melissa, it’s boring. I mean forget it. I will vomit from boredom if you mention this. I swear by my mother.
You never had a mother, Melissa replies. She shields her face from him with a slender hand with pink nails. Claude kisses her nails and pushes his face into her shoulder.
Stop muzzling or nuzzling me or whatever you call it Claude stop it. Eat me out or something I won’t have to look.
Oh yummy bunny. You have great tits, kiddo.
Right, the Pointer Sisters. Oh Claude you’re sick. You’re brilliant and handsome but, I have to tell you, deep down where the icky fish of your mind really swim, you’re sick. Besides it’s time for my what do you call it—.
Your Happy Birthday Call. Did I tell you about Ronnie?
Wrong Ronnie, bunny. Ronnie Ripples.
Ha ha. I haven’t seen Ronnie Ripples since his Flying Magical Goon Show in 1977. Or ’78 I forget.
I did. I saw Ronnie Ripples two years ago when The Wicker Man was playing. At a party with Janet.
Ronnie Ripples is boring.
Right you are, bunny, for one million dollars. Ronnie Ripples is boring. But Ronnie anyway told me and Janet if we wanted to see what a Ronnie Ripples movie with a million dollars would look like, to go see The Wicker Man.
I don’t recall The Wicker Man, Claude. Hand me the—
Don’t smoke in bed. You’ll burn us.
Not the way I do it, bunny. Oh that tickles, don’t put your finger. Is this your balls? That I’m squeezing?
Don’t do it, bunny. My toes will invade you.
No toes, bunny. You promised no toes. What else did Ronnie say.
Ronnie said, let me see. Oh, the next week. I remember. It was raining like mad and we passed up a good party downtown because we thought well, let’s check out The Wicker Man, so we went and—
And Janet said it was a piece of shit so you automatically agreed with her.
Up yours, Cleopatra, I make up my own mind. It was a piece of shit, we were unanimous. And we’re leaving the theater and Janet who’s very age conscious anyway, Janet says, Ronnie Ripples must really be senile if he thinks thisis—
Oh God, Melissa squeals. Don’t do that.
Then I’ll do it like this, or like this. Feel good? And then we ran smack into Ronnie right in the lobby. And Janet and I both said in the same breath, “My God, it’s magnificent!”
Well, I would too. Otherwise … Ronnie might put the voodoo.
Ronnie put the voodoo on Charlie Elliot. Charlie Elliot has a file drawer full of death threats from Ronnie. Ronnie threatened him with mutilation and death.
Charles Elliot deserves mutilation and death. Some people do, you know.
You have to believe in the voodoo for the voodoo to get you.
Uh-uh, bunny. Wrong again. Ronnie put the voodoo on Max once and Max tripped on the stairs, breaking both ankles. And Max is almost a Jesuit. Sweetie? No kneesies, you promised me no kneesies, goddam it I’m serious stop it.
I know something bunny don’t know. Claude takes Melissa’s cigarette away from her and crushes it in the tray. She sniffs his armpit, a warm smell.
I am 33 this very moment. Melissa Dogg, 33. And when I think about the past 33 years, something makes me really queasy. Part of history. Not big, not microscopic either, a tiny chunk of Our Nation’s History. And oh how lean Claude still looks, he works out secretly perhaps out of vanity.
Ronnie Ripples killed John Lennon.
What? Melissa lights another cigarette for spite. But still. Oh Claude who told you that.
Well. This is a scary story, my bunny. Who was the very first famous person to pop up at the Dakota after and gave interviews. Why, it was Ronnie Ripples, none other. And Ronnie you see had a very evil fight with Yoko in London or Paris five years before this and then he put the voodoo on her.
You’re giving me the creepies, dummy. And then what.
And then he brought his Flying Magical Goon Show to Honolulu and guess who he met.
Whom. Oh come on. Not Chapman.
Ronnie did it with suggestions. The old subliminal joy ride. Sub-vocal implants. He did it to that baby faced killer in LA also, don’t forget.
Claude honey, all killers are baby faced. You also have a baby face, come to think of it.
But I don’t have the killer instinct.
Well, neither did Chapman if what you’re saying. I don’t believe, well, maybe I do.
It’s wiggy, no? And then when Coppola was doing that Napoleon number, the Abel Gance thing at Radio City.
Oh, did you go to that?
Yeah, I went with Janet, and you know whatsis, Coppola’s front man, said Ronnie had showed up at two orchestra rehearsals demanding that Carmine Coppola open the opening night by playing “Imagine.” And like dedicate the whole Napoleon thing to John Lennon. So finally they threw Ronnie out of Radio City Music Hall. Imagine.
Somebody said Barry Manilow could have done a much better score than Carmine Coppola.
That’s what Janet said.
No, you said it. You always repeat just exactly what Janet says.
But just think, if it’s really true. Ronnie could voodoo all of us. One day you’re walking down the street and blam, some hypnotized freak blows a hole in your stomach because you once looked crosseyed at Ronnie Ripples.
Ronnie’s an asshole. I don’t believe any of this. Talented, even brilliant. But an asshole.
This heat is just. You’re not really reading this, are you?
Why, you think it’s too sophisticated for me? I happen to have majored in philosophy, dumbo. Even if all you ever talk about is making fucky.
Melissa elegantly stretches out her limbs, her shoulders dampen the cool pillow. If she were alone, let’s say. Call Michael, call Ella. “My father,” Ella would say in her crispest voice. “My father was a captain of industry.” My father, Melissa thinks, summoning a vision of Elliot Dogg which pops like a soap bubble before coming cleanly into focus, my father was a fisher of men.
We Doggs, she begins telling Claude. We Doggs came over practically on the fucking Mayflower. But Claude muzzles again against her breasts, his bony face mottled with sweat. He has a nice long slippery body, like hers, like a snake, it feels long against hers in the bed although they are both short. And she likes the feel of him inside her, when he’s still, sometimes he thrashes around and she just endures it for his sake, getting nothing but his pleasure. It’s strange how someone else’s pleasure can be your pleasure even when he is hurting you.
How can I stand it with you? she wonders. She tells him, too. How can you hurt me like this? Yesterday, for instance, making her wait not one but three hours, for a dinner date, no woman puts up with that, how could they, it’s humiliating, and the worst was him not even calling, in the end she called him.
You give yourself a little thrill, he’d tell her each time, you know what I’m like and I don’t blame you for being disgusted but you love it anyway. I fuck you over and you forgive me, what else can you do, you can’t hurt me by getting mad. It’s true, she thinks: if she got mad he’d just walk away from her as if she were crazy. As if he didn’t even know her. Was she giving herself a little thrill?
Sometimes she rationalized it: Look, Claude (addressing him in her head) I like getting it from you and it’s too complicated to find other people. So I put up with your bullshit. It doesn’t mean I love you. But she could pry this issue apart between her fingers in this deadly heat and find in its center an abyss so profound that its very breath chilled the room.
He said things like: I love your ass, I love your tits, I love your cunt. He would never tell her: I love your shoulder, your knee, there was nothing dirty about them, it would sound too romantic. If anything, Claude was a realist. Melissa became a realist once a month when she paid bills, and once in a while, no, more like every other day, every other day something simply horrid would happen, something to destroy her faith in people, like this business with Claude yesterday, she waited three hours, starving too because the refrigerator was full of roaches. The roaches had invaded every crack in the apartment while she was in Montauk, and she didn’t know how to talk to exterminators, she’d tried three different ones. “My apartment needs to be exterminated.” That didn’t sound quite right. “I need extermination.” That was too definitely off, somehow. And Claude was, is pathological that way. If he decides not to see her he’s too fucked up to say so, he leaves her in her little one bunny hell to stew. It’s not that she needs him, either. She needs him like she needs to get her period twice a month.
Frankly, Ella would tell her, if you behaved the way he does you’d have twenty men grovelling at your feet. All of them richer than Claude incidentally. And that was exactly true in the old days, Melissa used to be smarter about these things. Ella acts dilatory to everybody except her faggot friends and girlfriends, all men have to be reduced to jelly. Even George. Maybe Melissa could even work up to it with somebody like George, somebody so important he needs a little humiliation to keep him human. But Claude isn’t worth humiliating, that’s the degrading part. He’s a beauty, empty in the manner of beauties, and the way he sniggered at the book on the night stand: he’s read it, too, Melissa is sure he has.
Claude, honey, don’t go so fast.
Oh sweetie we can slow down, we can slow right down, this is how I like it, like this, slow, like this, you like it this way?
Uh huh. Why are you wearing Chanel 23? Oh Claude. Nice like that.
Baby I always wear it.
Ha ha. That’s great. I always wear it, that’s like Ginny Rhodes. When she got her nose done, right, she beat everybody to the punch, she went right up to anybody who looked sideways at her and said, Oh isn’t it fabulous this is the way my nose used to look, it got broken years ago and I never had time to get it fixed.
Johanna Lawrenson’s nose was so naturally small that the girls at school used to come up and tell her, “Nice job.” Claude pull out just an inch, no no, just an inch, oh magnificent, Claude I love you I really do, let’s keep it like this, just like this, don’t move, oh your dick drives me nuts, do you like Ginny Rhodes, Claude? You wanna ball Ginny Rhodes?
Are you crazy? Just you, sweets, only you.
Claude pull out to the tip, pull out to the rim, Jesus.
I don’t want to come yet I don’t wanna come. Yet.
Melissa thinks of Michael yesterday, laughing in the sunshine, his new tooth sparkling or so he imagined as he smiled in an unpracticed way. When he lost his eyetooth he simply stopped smiling, now with the cap he hardly stops. Words are just words, he said. Words are just deadly words. Melissa can reduce almost all the bad trouble she’s had all her life to the deleterious effect of deadly words. What a wonderful animal is man, she thinks. A few words sprinkled here and there sets him bashing skulls.
Claude comes. He makes a baby inside her. Melissa gasps and groans obligingly, she decides to go all the way and digs her nails into the tight flesh of his back, she makes her noises, Melissa comes for him in that special way she can fake that makes him say nobody could have faked that one. She would like to have had an orgasm, in any case. If he could keep it hard a bit longer. Now for the spermicide, never mind, it can wait. Cradles his damp head in her arms. And this arm, the left one, has been going numb unaccountably for weeks, not deeply numb, not dead numb, but tingly, and this pressure on her heart. Well, she ought to really see a doctor, she keeps letting it go, letting it go, convinced it’s multiple sclerosis and in three years she’ll be in a wheel chair. It happened to Patsy, it will probably happen to her, she’s the right age and with the life she’s had it would be the crowning glory, physical immobility. Plus she’s done more drugs and cigarettes and alcohol than Patsy ever dreamed of. I’d blow my brains out, Melissa decides. But that’s what Patsy wanted to do at first, Patsy was suicidal for a year, two years. And then something else started happening to Patsy, a kind of obstinacy.
Claude’s the type that couldn’t face it, Melissa reckons. Claude would go howling to his grave. Claude would die whining about the unfairness of it. “I was so good looking!” She could hear him now. And here and there looking down the gray threads in his hair like friendly little winks. Patsy still looks great, she hasn’t shrunk away. Her legs have become thinner and a bit bluish and she tends to bruise herself dropping things on the numb parts. So what? All most people ever do is sit down or lay down and Patsy can do both. Maybe that’s how Patsy finally saw it and that’s why she can stand it now.
Ohh honey I’d do anything for this.
Him and me, like this. We’re locked together in the physical world, in hell. Claude’s cock exits from my part of hell back to his. People think doo doo talk and feeling wangos and titties and puss puss is heaven but surprise, it’s hell. It’s here to make hell seem alluring. I know it, Claude knows it, all God’s chilluns knows it but ain’t nobody telling, not today, no thank you. Not with the bomb and. Pump pump pump my heart, oh Claude my heart, and there was blood in my shit yesterday, I mean the turds were streaked with it, the blood was kind of embedded in the turds. I’m bleeding internally, my arm’s going numb every ten minutes, my heart aches and not because of you, I’m sorry to tell. If I give up drinking and smoking and speed and Valium and coffee and believe in you again my God, please God, if I pray to you all the time day and night on my knees, oh merciful Lord please keep me out of a wheelchair, but would it be all right if I’ll pray lying down on this bed or sitting up because if I pray on my knees I’m afraid my legs will begin going numb and then nothing will be able to save me, not even God. God usually needs some practical help in these situations, I’m weak I know I’m terribly weak and a vain silly person but I will reform, and God, if you must take someone, please take Claude. I’d visit him and plump his pillows and play mah jongh with him just like I do for Patsy even though I hate mah jongh. There’s no true harm in me, God, and you can’t say that about everyone. Look at that snake, Vern, Ella’s tame dinge, what he did to me in that situation with Louis, one day we were smutties over cocktails and I said I’d fuck Louis anywhere in a phone booth even and Vern said, Oh but he’s married and I said, I hear that’s no obstacle in his case, and do you know the next day Vern repeated it word for word to Louis’s wife Teeny while he did her hair, for Christ’s sake, that kind of thing takes real guile, real malice. Whereas I have only bogus guile, fake malice, it all dissolves with a smile or a kind word from anyone I hate, with me they’re chums again right off, I forgive, or shit why I have forgiven all these bastards I’ll never know. But perhaps it means I’m good. Ella banished Vern from the house, Ella’s a brick. “This stinks of racial bitterness, I’m sorry to say.” Her father the captain of industry probably owned most of Vern’s relatives, well, so what, but we’re not the type of people who’d do a nig nog the way Vern did me for a lark, probably to wangle “insulin” from Teeny’s little bag. Every hairdresser north of Union Square knows Teeny’s little bag as intimately as the subway system. At least he’ll always be a hairdresser, that’s balm on the wound. It’s funny too because Louis started phoning me late at night from the office right after the incident, Teeny never could shut her mouth and I suppose she let it drop disgustedly, that I’d fuck him in a phone booth. I wouldn’t though, I wouldn’t fuck anybody in a phone booth, that’s just hyperbole, I wouldn’t even fuck Louis in a bed. He’s too cute for his age and nobody trusts that kind of cute, not even a dumbbell like me. Men who look like boys at 37 drink blood on their lunch hours. And Louis owns clubs, a gangster’s trade. Not that that makes him Hitler or anything but still. I wouldn’t. Unless. Someday pretty soon Claude’s going to want someone else’s hell. Especially if this numbing out thing is serious. Because I honestly don’t see him grinding crocks with a bloody cripple night and day, not Claude’s style. Claude thinks he’s a thoroughbred out to stud, shooting his pedigree into equally titled quimsies. And I’m sure he’s from trash. A few days ago one of 110th Street’s very rare blue eyed Puerto Ricans stuck a pistol in Claude’s face, Claude talked him into leaving $50 for carfare. Total loss $375 plus a Cartier watch, Claude says he wasn’t scared at all and I can believe it, it’s like Michael said about Rita when she was late for lunch. Business lunch so she’d gone to the Chem Bank machine in Sheridan Square and drawn a few hundred. Then this skinny spade followed her for six blocks and finally presented her with the proverbial blade approximate in size to their celebrated private parts. She had to go back to the machine after that and never missed a beat, cancelled her cards from the pay phone at the restaurant. People with lots to do are too busy to press charges even when they catch the goonies which they don’t.
If Claude would get out of here. Call Michael and have giggles or Ella for drinks. At this moment Ella must be pouring vodka into a tall glass and looking into Nona’s windows in the building next door. “No, that girl has something special,” Ella insisted on it. And of course it turned out true, four-fifths of the world’s manganese really is something special. “Now how,” I said, “did you happen to find that out?” Ella pointed at the Social Register on her coffee table. “I always let my fingers do the walking, dear.” Oh Claude honey don’t you have hogbelly futures to drop on the market this afternoon, I really want to get on with my happy birthday. I mean this is nice, I’ll never get another prince as good as you maybe if this arm stuff pans out the way it did with Patsy and I spend eternity in a wheel chair, although who knows, Rita used to be this frumpy dike on speed and she’s parleyed her little talents into an empire, it might work out the same way for me before the atrophy sets in and then I can buy all the wangos and prickies and dickies I want and still be fresh for cocktails by four o’clock every day, it could work out like that for me too. You never really can tell. People like us, as Michael says, we’re not the type fated for good luck but we’re blessed on our birthdays, and today I’m 33.
Excerpted from the novel The Family Dog by Gary Indiana.