Sidewinder by Liza Béar

BOMB 28 Summer 1989

New York Live Arts presents

Marjani Forte
Nov 15-19


PART 1

Life is full of strange turns. At the beginning of July the nearby Mango Gym, located within walking distance of where I live, closed permanently. Let me fill you in. A thin wood partition separates my habitat from the storeroom of an edge-gilding factory, the last manufacturing stronghold in a building that once housed twelve. Its products range from decks of cards of Leona Helmsley to gold-leaf editions of the Koran and the Book of Runes. For reasons familiar to inhabitants of such spaces, due to the vagaries of the zoning laws and to design peculiarities of the structure which I won’t bother you with, I have lived without running water to hand—without a three-piece suite, in official parlance—for more than seven years. A porcelain suite, that is, sink, tub and wc.

To reach the nearest faucet, I navigate a course between corrugated metal drums overflowing with shredded cardboard and skids loaded like ships with cargoes of unbound books, draped with undulating sheets of blue tarpaulin to guard them from the leaky roof, and awaiting a touch of gold.

Cave dwellers and legions of other New Yorkers, I believe, share this unfortunate predicament, but that’s another story. Or maybe it’s part of the same one. Hence the inordinate importance of the Mango Gym’s shower stalls to my daily well-being, and my utter consternation when the long-postponed closure finally took effect at the onset of the longest hot spell on record.

Hot spell is a polite phrase for the suffocating, noxious vapors that descended upon the metropolis and invaded all breathable space, it seemed forever. Ozone depletion in the higher stratosphere and ozone pollution at ground level vied with each other for frontpage status, the newsmedia trumpeted the arrival of the greenhouse effect and the commencement of the GE millennium, and an unbroken succession of ninety-degree days ensued.

About four weeks after the demise of the gym, I received a phone call from Astor, an acquaintance of some fifteen years standing. Astor is not someone I talk to on a regular basis, by any means (they had all bolted out of town or were lying low); he is also the only person I know who still composes his poems on the stand-alone, that workhorse of manual typesetters which surfaced at the vanguard of the cold type era.

During the seventies Astor and I each put out underground magazines, travelling in intersecting circles, circles of peers, and advancing copy from the keyboard to the printer to the bookstore and back again in these grand recurring loops of production. But our principle shared memory is of Salo, a potent Pasolini film we saw together at the Public. Since then our encounters have been infrequent and mostly accidental, though Astor is still a person I would not hesitate to approach in, say, troubled circumstances. Apparently the sentiment was reciprocal.

As I said, I received a phone call, whose relation to the closure of the Mango Gym will be revealed in due course. You see, it’s impossible to state … fact and meaning do not always arise simultaneously, and it’s only now they have begun to coalesce. Astor, whose tone is customarily light, was somewhat agitated: he had just returned from across the border, his companion of seven years had acquired a new lover while he was away, he was living in his office, he needed a place to stay. It could have happened to anyone. He had called me, quite simply, because my name is near the top of the alphabet. The implications of this swift expose were clear, but for the reasons already outlined above, the reader will surmise that I was in no position to offer hospitality.

As things go in New York, this kind of scenario is not at all untypical, so I filed it away in the region of the mind that stores such items.

Like a plateau that appears to stretch unbroken to the horizon yet casually conceals a precipitous ravine, in late July August lurks ahead, treacherous for the unwary, the intrepid or those merely bent on preserving their hard-won equanimity.

Next time the phone rang, Emil was at the other end. Emil is a friend and close associate, and for some time he has been trying to get me to scour the back room for a music track he once composed for a film of mine. The back room, constructed like the others from sheets of plywood drilled into two-by-fours, is where I cut, screen or store film, depending on the state of things. Storage is the most quiescent period. It’s a quietude I hate to disturb by rummaging around in old brown cardboard boxes for remnants of the work process, and so far I had always managed to put it off.

However, this was at least Emil’s third request and since he was about to take off for a recording studio in Seattle, I felt obliged to oblige. To my surprise, with a minimum of fuss, I quickly located what he was after amidst the myriad reels and cans, an original cut featuring trumpet, trombone and a talking drum. Buoyed by this minor archival success, I rang Emil to tell him and, as we live no more than five short blocks from each other, he said he’d be right over.

My building is a cast-iron edifice with tall arched windows that face the rising sun and look out over a 19th-century churchyard, a pleasing conjunction of the planned and the spontaneous, of architecture and arboreal growth. Its sycamores and London planes are host to a number of species and bear graphic witness to the changing seasons. For some years now a triumvirate of vociferous jet black crows has made unannounced visits, circling the tree-tops in leisurely fashion and presiding raucously over the more common starlings and town sparrows, the shrieking blue jays, the turtle doves and the purple finches that comprise the rest of the airborne population. The aging trees, flanked by a chapel and a slate-roofed cathedral, arch over an eloquent disposition of tombs and gravestones, dotted with shrubs; their rarely disturbed placement approaches the serenity of a minimalist serial sculpture. A low reinforced wooden door in the surrounding red brick wall opens onto a narrow concrete path that extends a short distance across the grass, bisecting the installation, then stops abruptly. It’s a setting for real-life Vladimirs and Estragons. Chapel and cathedral, though of different denominations (one is Russian and the other Roman) appear to coexist peaceably; at crucial points in the ecclesiastical calendar the usually mealy-mouthed local loutery transforms itself into a procession of incense-swinging and chanting choirboys that passes from one to the other.

To get into the building, ordinarily Emil would stand across the street by the red brick wall and shout my name, I’d lean out over the window sill and drop the keys onto the sidewalk in a sock. He would then take the stairs or ride the ancient elevator to the sixth floor, and we would use a piece of business as an excuse to bring each other up to date on our hopes, our plans, our dreams or disappointments. Today, being on deadline and behind schedule, I abbreviated the ritual and went down myself. There he was waiting on the tarmac, with his dark lustrous eyes and exceptional Gallic charm, wearing a torn t-shirt and rolled up trousers, still straddling his bicycle; he took the tape from me and put it in the front basket. It was only as he pushed off from the curb that I remembered to mention Astor and his plight.

Did Emil know of a place? Of course Emil knew of a place. His own. He and his bride—they had been formally betrothed on the Eastern Seaboard—were leaving for three weeks on the first of August and then again for the entire month of September.

I relayed this intelligence back to a delighted Astor and, on the spur of the moment, suggested a recent Japanese release to distract him from the shock of his sudden displacement. We arranged to meet the following evening at a local theatre. Though he visibly enjoyed the film, about a virtuoso woman tax inspector who outwits a real estate tycoon tax cheat, he complained of having caught a chill, and we parted rather abruptly.

One thing led to another and within forty-eight hours Astor was securely installed in Emil’s apartment, and I was still showerless. This didn’t seem quite equitable, so it occurred to me that a facility must certainly exist on the premises, and that possibly I could avail myself of it through Astor’s good auspices. Astor voiced no objections, and I made my way there in no time.

Astor, whose erudition is balanced by populist affinities, was glued to a ball game.

“I’m not sure about the temperature,” he said without turning his head. In spite of the elevation, the water rushed out with tremendous force, and it was shudderingly cold. I hurried out and on home, eclipsing the idle banter that normally accompanies such a visit.

That week I was unusually busy for late July, and my schedule required that I be constantly mobile, tooling around the heat-drenched city on my bike, going to appointments, dropping off this or picking up that … When, a few days later, Astor asked if I had a movie in mind, all I could think of, with Psycho-like intensity, was the rush of water from Emil’s shower head. But I still had not finished my magazine piece and, feeling pressed for time, I geared myself up for breezing in and out of there with a minimum exchange of civilities.

Not so. When I arrived, Astor was seated at the kitchen table wearing a clean white t-shirt with bold black lettering on it, reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson. I had finally decided to acknowledge the existence of summer sartorially (instead of merely resenting it) by wearing a thin Madras cotton skirt, and a wide-brimmed Chinese straw hat to shield my head from the ravages of the midday sun. As I took off the hat, Astor announced he had something to tell me, but either because of my uncustomary attire or the provocative wording on his chest, or a combination of both, I sensed an anomaly in the air and stopped him short.

I withdrew into the salle de bains. This time the water was luxuriantly hot. I ran it hot and then ice cold. I was anxious to be on my way, but as I was picking my things, Astor again announced that he had something to tell me. By this time I knew exactly what it was going to be, and it was … an unambiguous proposition.

“I want to make love,” he said.

Having been put on the alert, I felt in a particularly lucid frame of mind. In such a moment a sudden flashback will come to the rescue and save you from the inanity or the terror of the situation. My savior in this case, absurdly enough, was a fragment of early Latin grammar. Declension. How did it go? Accusative, dative, ablative, the ablative absolute. It struck me that Astor’s statement lacked an explicit reference to an object, an object of desire, i.e. to me. I wasn’t terribly thrilled by the observation.

“Out of the question,” I replied unequivocally. “That sentence isn’t complete. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Like I’m not in the room or something.”

I drew a blank with this incisive analysis.

“Besides, we’d have to take a test.”

Here, Astor was quicker off the mark. He’d obviously read my mind.

“What kind of test?” he said with a flicker of a laugh, “Latin?”

“To see if we’re compatible.”

“We’re compatible enough.”

And then, craftily, “You’re smart, I’m smart.”

I wasn’t going to succumb to such bald flattery.

“No, the antibody test, stupid. Where have you been.”

The fun was over. Astor sobered up instantly.

“I won’t do that.”

We left Emil’s building together and parted on the corner of First Avenue. As I cycled back, however, the image of Astor persisted, began to take form. I tried to keep it abstract. Astor is the shape of an elongated triangle, tall, broad-chested, and tapering at the extremities. He has delicate wrists and ankles, elegant eyebrows and otherwise fine though slightly irregular features. His expression is quizzical and at least a trifle evasive. Our previous bouts of sparring, though definitely good-humored, had hovered in a diaphanous space, a magical undefined realm that is not yet weighted by a before and after, the specious present. I felt this latest declaration was rather a drastic move.

At home I lowered the shades to crop out high-rises, condominiums, encased water tanks, belching smokestacks, and all the other verticals now marring my once-perfect skyline, so that only a solid bank of waving green foliage appeared in the window frame. The branches swept and bowed rhythmically before the wind, and at the center an acacia in bloom studded the green with its huge pink and white flowering blossoms.

I remembered matter-of-factly that boy-girl routines used to include silent looks in the pauses between sentences and, at some point, a look of deep recognition, a sort of terminal look that sealed your fate. Now, it seemed, all that had been pre-empted by fear and investigative research, tracing the historical tree of risk.

I attended to bits of business at my desk, but eventually my thought track returned directly to Astor’s proposition. In spite of the initial instinctive recoil, to my surprise I now observed myself, as though through a long lens, performing certain preparatory rituals, swimming laps and not eating.

On Friday I handed in my story and cleared the deck of other engagements. Astor rang the minute I got in. We had arranged to go to the early screening of an uptown movie. Imagine my annoyance, then, when on the subway up Astor informed me that he had made a five-thirty appointment. For some reason that struck me as decidedly inopportune, a wanton intrusion in the natural flow of events. I therefore met his attempts at subway Smalltalk with a stony silence. Since he did not seem to catch on, I was forced to analyze this fragile web of nascent sentiment against the infernal pounding of trains on the track, the thundering screech of brakes, a background snarl and roar.

The theater gave us some respite from the savage heat, and that was about it. This time I found the movie excruciating, with its yellow-tinted desert landscapes, oblique camera angles, and an unlikely cast of characters displaying the slowest screen responses imaginable . . I was sure it was a portent. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Astor, claiming a greater tolerance for the incongruous than I, would now and then shake with laughter. But when our arms touched imperceptibly on the arm of the seat, our fingers intertwined, and we let them stay together.

Later that night, I found myself lying awake in Emil’s apartment on Emil’s hard futon. I wasn’t the only one. Four and five a.m. are the zombie hours on an active city block. “It’s the time she stays outside the building, losing the weight, losing the appetite, to get a crack attack,” the man on the phone tells the man on the radio during a call-in talk show. He’s talking to the Bad Street Beat. “I’m trying to get her into a program.” One of his five children is whimpering within range of the microphone. A 292-pound woman is hiding 437 vials of crack in her brassiere.

Sleep came light and late, with many interruptions. From five floors up I thought I heard their interchange, or it might as well have been, accompanied by a battery of sound effects. Metallic clanking, lids on garbage cans, screeches, sirens, the shouts of young children, cars pulling up, strains of clearly differentiated voices, proclaim the uniqueness of place, and let me know I am not home.

 

Part 2

Get out of my house, said Astor. “I’m ordering you to leave.”

It pays to hold your ground. At another time and place, someone had made an identical request. On that occasion the request was accompanied by a threat. The threat was carried out; my shoes, thrown into the wood-burning stove, went up in flames, and being shoeless I was of course unable to leave, with long-term consequences that I do not regret.  

The night of the Tompkins Square riots, at Astor’s insistence, we had returned to Emil’s apartment before the charge of the mounted police. I was torn. These days, it’s not often you have the luxury of a choice between sex and political action. A choice of confrontations, both radiant with intensity, an intensity that blurs. Adjust the focus and sex becomes a contradiction while political protest remains … well, the necessary defense of the powerless.

“No.”

It wasn’t his house and I wasn’t dressed. Besides, ‘order’ is not a word to which I normally jump with alacrity. I’m not sure there’s even a proper occasion for its use except in a tightly structured, hierarchical, military situation, which this certainly wasn’t.

“I’m putting your bike on the street. No one does that to me.”

I knew he wouldn’t because we were five flights up, so I stayed right where I was. The bedroom was separated from the passage by a screen door, equipped only with a rather flimsy hook and eye mechanism to hold it shut. Definitely an asset, now that war had been declared, because it meant I could observe the enemy. At least, I could see if he was headed in my direction or carrying any implements.

I also gauged that Astor’s wrath was not so intense as to make him liable to rip the door open, which he could have accomplished in one swift gesture, or to attempt anything so melodramatic as to grab me and drag me by the hair through the front room and onto the landing. For one thing, he would probably fear the adverse effect of damage to the door on his security deposit; secondly, the landing was right in front of the super’s apartment, and he certainly didn’t want to reduce his chances of a permanent habitat in the building by provoking a scene. Never underestimate the motivational force of real estate.

Astor has a lot of things I don’t have, never have had and probably never will have—a Rumanian passport, a private income, parents who stayed together, a cock, an intimate knowledge of military history, and a gadget for holding the telephone directory.

I hung up the wet sheets and turned the fan full on to dry the spot on the mattress where the water had spilt. I figured that would give Astor time to chill out and me a chance to make a civilized exit.

 

Some days later, green trees and water seemed alluring, and I called Astor to see if he wanted to spend the afternoon boating in Central Park. Astor was imbibing a bottle of rum, he didn’t want to go anywhere. He referred to the incident, and it was clear he was still angry. There was even a note of hostility in his voice. At least, the affection and unbridled admiration which he had formerly professed were markedly absent.

“I don’t know you very well and you didn’t make a very good first impression,” he now declared in a 180-degree turn.

I found the remark rather pedagogical, but didn’t say so. To me three days is an eternity, certainly a long time to hold a grudge.

“Remember,” he said, “that fight we had on Sunday morning?”

“We didn’t have a fight. I emptied a glass of cold water on your head.”

It was true, I’d done it more to wake him up than to refresh him. We’d reached a certain point in the proceedings. The point at which a crescendo leads to a grand finale for him and then, if it hasn’t happened already, it’s supposed to be your turn. It’s traditionally a situation for a lot of give and take. I had at first tried to make a helpful suggestion. Astor choked when I broached the subject, then rolled over and got out of bed. Well, masculinity has its privileges. I guess over the months I must have forgotten.

“You made an assault on my person,” Astor was saying.

It’s good to keep a sense of perspective. In the wake of the recent manic outburst of police billy clubs on unprotected heads, which we had avoided to get into this, the unexpected solemnity struck me as out of place.

“That’s not what I would call it,” I ventured mildly.

“Well, what would you call it?”

Given the circumstances, it had seemed like a healthy thing to do. After all, it’s more than two decades since Simone de Beauvoir and Masters and Johnson. I knew he had lived through that epoch, same as me.

Desire, though, rides on an incoming tide. It’s hard to halt its advance. It wasn’t until about two weeks later that Astor struck back—venomously. By then the see-saw logic of need had asserted itself. We’d gotten over the first hurdle, or so I thought, and were learning to play the instruments of each other’s bodies. With that came a kind of physical rapprochement that was never verbally articulated. But the normal ebb and flow of a sexual rapport was bizarrely complicated by Astor’s erratic sleeping and waking patterns, what he described as his 48-hour days. The deployment of this schedule meant that twenty-four hours of razor sharp yet whimsical alertness, in which he would swoop and swerve like a bird in perpetual motion, dart from topic to topic as if from tree to tree, would be succeeded by a twenty-four hour, nearcatatonic slump. Any attempts to get together, subject to these rigors, would wilt and invariably wither away.

“Do you want to do something on Wednesday?”

“Wednesday? I won’t have had any sleep, I’m going to be feeling like shit, I can’t make any plans.”

That weekend, Astor retreated behind the barricade of his phone machine into an opaque, mutinous silence. It was obviously time to switch technologies—and reorient. I borrowed Claude’s camcorder, and early on Sunday morning made my way to the encampment at City Hall Park. I had gotten to know some members of that pioneering community over the summer. Pioneering and inspired, a community that eschews the career advocates to rephrase some of the original tenets of democracy for itself. Brushing aside my reservations, they treated the camera as a form of address, with the confidence of mavericks, the grace of natural performers.

 * * *

It was on the return trip from City Hall that I met Deirdre.

When I first saw her, it was 95 degrees, the thirty-third in a succession of ninety-degree days, and the ozone alert was in effect. Deirdre, a white kerchief over her head, her dark grey cotton shorts and a grey tank top setting off a muscular, long-limbed body, was slumped on the curb holding herself in pain. I was cycling down Bleecker Street, wearing a yashmak for protection against the smog. As I passed the Broadway/Bleecker intersection, with my peripheral vision I caught sight of her extended arm retrieving a waxed paper cup from the corner wastebasket. I knew it wasn’t for a drink. Deirdre hauled herself to her feet. She could barely stand. I braked abruptly and, in defiance of mayoral injunctions, fished a dollar bill out of my pocket and dropped it into the cup. After all, I rationalized unnecessarily, I had just spent four dollars on rabbit pellets and alfalfa for the survival of a much humbler being. Theoretical, hard-core socialists frown on this type of behavior as band-aidism that only helps to perpetuate the system. I resigned myself to being a creature of impulse and intention, whose surges of sympathy, prompts to action, or intermittent stabs at political agitation have not yet caused the armature of capitalist society to buckle. But then, nor have yards of correct ratiocination.

I pedalled on, but Deirdre’s radiant smile in appreciation of this modest sum stayed with me all the way home. When I prepared a pita bread sandwich for my lunch, I found myself fixing a second one for her, filling a bottle with iced water and returning to the spot where I had left her.

This time, Deirdre was sitting up eating chunks of watermelon out of a plastic container and nibbling on a candy bar. She immediately took a long drink of water from the bottle and complained of acute pain in her side.

When I came back again with some Tylenol, Deirdre was lying on the sidewalk, her head under the mailboxes in front of the Blue Willow restaurant, moaning and drifting in and out of consciousness. She had passed out from the heat. Another passer-by was standing over her. We conferred briefly and the other lady crossed the street to the phone booth. An EMS ambulance arrived in record time, strapped her onto a stretcher and lifted her into the vehicle. When she told us there was no relative we could call, I scribbled my phone number onto a scrap of paper and placed it in her hand.

Two days later, I received a collect call. The operator insisted it was from someone called Marjorie, but I could discern Deirdre’s voice correcting her in the background.

I found Deirdre without difficulty in a large barren ward on the tenth floor of Bellevue Hospital, at the point where the corridor wall paint switches from cerise to lemon yellow. The room had several windows overlooking First Avenue, a coin-operated, high-slung TV, a small cabinet with drawers, a hospital table on wheels, a telephone and a red vinyl-covered armchair for visitors. There was no door and no curtain on the rail to separate its occupant from the encroaching gaze of passers-by.

Deirdre was curled up on the bed while a bag of glucose solution dripped into her intravenously. She was pleased that I had come. I pulled out some items gathered together on my way up, sheets of paper and a pen, a Hawaiian shirt, a toothbrush, coconut oil, and juice and grapes from the health food store.

“All this stuff,” Deirdre commented. She pounced on the grapes immediately, but said she would save the juice until I got her a sandwich from the cafeteria downstairs—tunafish on a roll, not avocado and cheese like the one I had made for her—and a Butterfinger. She laughed.

When I returned Deirdre was fast asleep, and I left the brown paper bag on her table. Since I did not identify myself as a relative, to the nurse at the nurses’ station who snapped at me I was a nonentity or worse. Deirdre’s condition was highly contagious, access required gloves and gown; she advised me not to place myself at risk. A call to the attendant physician reassured me to the contrary.

“Why didn’t you stay?” Deirdre reproached me on my subsequent visit, wearing the mandatory protective garments. She showed me what she had written on the notepaper that I had given her. It was a spirited account of our initial meeting, with not one spelling mistake.

“It’s so good,” she exclaimed as she bit into the tunafish sandwich from downstairs, “where d’you get these?”

She told me a little about herself. Her mother lived in the Bronx, her brother was in jail, she’d never met her father. She’d had a job once, during the Nixon years, and two apartments in her own name. The first was burned down, the rent mounted up on the second. If she ever had another one, she’d hold onto it like a clam. She’d been living on the street for four years. She’d been off men since then. They poked at you while you slept on the subway. Even the transit cops would. Mind you, she added, she wasn’t so keen on the girls either. But she’d met some nice people. The owner of the Blue Willow or of the xerox shop halfway down the block would occasionally pay her to sweep the sidewalk in front of their establishments.

I noticed her complexion had improved from the hospital treatment, and they’d taken her off the IV solution.

It being nearly the end of the summer, and at least a month before the first check of the season, I was getting really low on cash, so the next time I prepared a sandwich for her at home, and we shared the two halves of a cantalope. I noted that Deirdre’s pillow had no pillow case and that, unlike the other patients, her floor still hadn’t been swept or washed. It wasn’t hard to imagine why.

“I can eat this and still be hungry for my dinner,” Deirdre announced, and I was momentarily cheered by the ferociousness of her appetite. But for the first time I noticed the limpness of her left hand, and Deirdre explained that a truck had swerved into her at Lafayette and Bond near the women’s shelter.

“They turned it into a mental health clinic, I can’t even go there to take a shower any more. Here, I can take six showers a day.”

Deirdre’s mother was supposed to visit her on Sunday.

“Maybe I shouldn’t come,” I said.

“Oh no. I want you to meet her.”

“When?”

“That’s the thing. My mother is totally unpredictable.”

Deirdre was coughing.

“They took an x-ray today. There’s something going on there too,” she said, pointing to her lungs.

The next day was Sunday, and I ran into Astor on Second Avenue on my way back from Tompkins Square. I’d arranged with a liberation theologist, active on the Square, to screen The Battle of Algiers in the bandshell. Astor was walking uptown with his clipboard. The top sheet was sprinkled with notes, and there was a section in a box, entitled “A Root Cut.”

“I’m going to copy this onto a separate page,” he informed me with the triumphant air of someone who has just made a decision.

I smiled. Closer up, I saw that the pallid blue paper had rounded corners, the small clusters of words were at wide intervals from each other. It was a nice-looking page.

“Don’t let me stop you.”

When I got home, however, a wave of anger surged up inside me. Hadn’t there been something else? I put on my helmet and set out again, heading straight for Astor’s customary haunt. Not finding him there, I returned to Emil’s building. A neighbor let me in. A short while later, I heard his tread on the stairs.

Astor was in a complicated mood.

“This has all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of the last one,” he pounced immediately.

“The last what?”

“The one I just got out of.”

Comparisons are pretty tedious. I made a well-what-do-you-want-me-to-say gesture with my hands.

“Let’s go for a walk.”

We headed west. On Lafayette and Bond we passed some people sitting on a stoop.

“There’s another thing. The other day you borrowed a quarter from me to give to someone on the street.”

“So?”

“That’s money you don’t have to give!”

I pulled a quarter out of my pocket. I could hardly believe my ears. Maybe the Koch admonishments had had more of an effect than I ever dreamed of.

“Here. You can have it back.”

“That’s not the point! I don’t care about the quarter.”

He tossed the coin over his shoulder into the street with exaggerated carelessness. I left it there.

On Monday I regretted not having picked it up. I thought of Deirdre in her isolation ward with no coins for the TV and only a very old issue of Time magazine for entertainment. I searched my pockets for loose change, and headed over to the Jefferson Market branch of the Public Library to select some books that might interest her. Romance novels and people’s life stories, she’d said. Just to make sure, I dialed her room number and let it ring before making the trip uptown. There was no answer. I’d missed her. From patient information I learned that Deirdre had been checked out. Her doctor had another version: she’d eloped in the middle of the night, leaving a trail of scant possessions. The doctor was sorry. A very sick lady, he wished she’d finished her course of treatment.

The trees across the street are now denuded. In the wind the branches make a rustling sound as they scrape against each other like long dry fingers. Entrances and exits being pretty important, Astor and I are no longer friends, alas. I doubt we’ll remain on each other’s mailing lists. We joked openly about our ideological disparities—or at least, tried to. I like the fact you’re different, I would tell him, I mean, have different values. It throws mine into sharper relief. I clicked channels when Bush accused Dukakis of blurring housing and the homeless. Failing to make connections, to acknowledge cause and effect, is a typical divisive tactic of the right.

I ran into Deirdre outside the Bleecker Street subway once again, wearing a skirt and sweater. She accosted me cheerfully enough, reciting my phone number with a grin. And then she vanished into the catacombs of Broadway-Lafayette.

Liza Béar writes and makes films, she is currently teaching at Columbia.

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BOMB 28, Summer 1989
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