is dedicated, with fond and sober admiration, to Joseph Faria)
The Adoration of the Phalloi
Mike talks a good game. But what's he like in the sack race? George is
musing. He muses despondently, Sorrows-of-young-Werther-like, a cigarette
smoking between two slim digits, face turned to the angry sky. Hunched
in his garden seat on a windy bleak Montauk day, the wind slapping up
booming whitecaps, George muses that Mike is a fast learner and has learned
most of his tricks from yours truly. When it comes to the fairer and weaker
sex, George has a decided edge: a face full of secret pain. Mike's Drunk
and Mike's drunkenness are both tiresome. Yet he can say: I write!
And that's what draws women to him, like flies to spilled syrup.
George sighs, tosses the butt, gets up and goes
slowly inside, feeling creaky and dismal. This life could be a Fellini
movie -- it's dull and random enough. He's holding the base of his spine;
Jesus, it smarts. That's what you get when you sit down and muse on life
for too long. Jacko trots after him, tail whickwhacking.
In his leather and shining wood study, George
slips a book out of his handsome bookcase and stares at it. It's a book
of short short stories he wrote when he was a young buck. The jacket design
is simple: a sailboat climbing a wave. The book is titled, Flotsam.
He flips it open to the first story, "Life Jackets," and reads:
Tim tossed Adrienne the life jackets. She
caught them and stood there pushing her lower lip out as he made himself
busy with the mainsail. He worked as deftly as a monkey. His long toes
gripped the deck as he unwrapped the sail and jerked it up the mast with
a series of sharp tugs. Adrienne, tanned and uncommonly beautiful, slumped
against the wheelhouse, staring at her husband with open disgust.
Come on! he shouted. Let's get cracking!
She dumped the life jackets at her feet
and sat on them. Tim was huge against the sun. He worked with a controlled
fury. All his masculine instincts seemed, when he was on that boat --
The Mackerel -- to come alive, and his wiry frame to blaze with an impish
George muttered, "Shit, shit, shit," and slipped
the book back into its place. He slumped in his club chair. Jacko trotted
over and laid his long, black-flecked muzzle on George's knee, panting
rich bursts of dog breath. George patted the dog vaguely; Jacko's silken
fur did not console him for his life's losses or his ongoing misery at
his failure to write, but it was still a pleasant enough distraction.
He pulled the skin of Jacko's jowls up and down with his fingers, stretching
it out like a rubber Freddy Krueger mask, and suddenly thought wouldn't
it be funny if under all his silky, windblown, Science-Diet shiny fur,
Jacko was actually as thought-tortured, as sad, as clever as he?
Polly Hogarty mounted the cracked-leather
bicycle seat with a smooth motion, tossed her hair, and flew off down
the winding road beside Asquanash Bay. She was a dark, intense, quiet
girl -- at twenty one just hitting her intellectual and erotic stride.
As yet, she was owned by no man, yet tormented all she knew with a hoarse
laugh and that witchy way of crossing her bare legs.
When not pedaling her bicycle on the winding
roads along the coast, Polly liked to ride horses into the sunset, clatter
clatter clop clop along the recursive paths of her father's breathtakingly
large wooded estate. She had been living in the mansion on Asquanash Road
for two weeks already this season, yet had met no one but the candyseller
and the tottering old man who stamped her postcards for her in the box-like
Post Office on Main Street. Today, as she pedaled in the clean, windwebbed
air, she smiled and breathed in deeply of the breezes tugging on her linen
shirt and her shorts.
It's all good, man!
Mike ushered June into the Jag and shut the door
with a gentle and knowing smirk, checking first to make sure she had swept her
bare leg in. She smiled at him through the windshield as, shaking his keys,
he came around to the driver's side. While he started the Jag, she raked all
of her thick blonde hair to one side to brush it out in stiff, wrist-limp strokes.
They screeched out onto Asquanash Road for
a swift drive to the Lobster Pot. Mike could already taste those lobster
tails, warm and delicately sweet; in his grinning mind, he was already
sipping a glass of Puligny Montrachet. A perfect cap to a morning of hard
lovemaking on the creaking sleigh bed. Mike's mouth still tasted June's
exquisite parts; his groin felt as if it had been smeared with raw honey.
The perfume of June was all around him in the thrumming car, as the great
green trees flashed metronomically past.
He closed a hefty hand on one of June's
hot thighs, and she rewarded him with a squeeze of welcome -- pressing
his fingers improbably tight. Howdy there, hey.
Mike risks a glance at June's tits pushing
out her rabbit fur sweater just as he takes a blind curve, smashing the
wind-wake of a truck as it blurs racketingly past. He glances up just
in time to see the dark pretty girl leaning forward on her wobbling bicycle
as if to peer anxiously into his, Mike's, eyes.
The windshield, thump, explodes.
Mike is standing on the brake.
The Jag fishtails all over the road, then
straightens as a resinous pine trunk leaps out of space, bowing as decorously
as a samurai preparing to death-duel.
Mike doesn't feel the crash. He wakes up
to the hissing of the broken radiator as it fumes water. The Jag is crumpled.
He is stretched out on the hood, covered with glass fragments. He gently
disentangles his ankle from the steering wheel and slides to his feet
on the asphalt. The sun burns down on him. Birds are chattering gaily
on a pine branch high above his head.
June, he thinks.
He wrenches open the side door and bends
down to look. She's sitting still, her fragile head thrown back, eyes
shut, pencil thin lines of blood on her cheeks and forehead. Yes, she's
breathing, oh thank you God.
Mike straightens up, wincing at the pain
of torn ligaments, and shades his eyes to gaze back down the road the
way they came. He sees the twisted bicycle, its back wheel still spinning
-- and then the pretty bicyclist, slack as a rag thrown on the gravel
shoulder, lying utterly still.
Close up on Polly Hogarty, covered with
dust and blood streaked. BUT STILL BREATHING.
Incident on Asquanash Road; Or, The Decrepit
Exterior, sunlit day. Mike Desmond pieta-posed
over the nubile, stilled form of Polly Jean Hogarty, tears flooding his
Windshield glass is scattered about like
rice outside a wedding chapel. Twin smears of tire rubber besmirch the
shimmering asphalt. Apart from the drone of frantic bees and Mike's half-choked
sobbing, the only noisemaker of any appreciable volume in this scene is
the hissing of the Jag's concussed radiator as it spews forth a froth
of steam and water.
Mike finally gets up and wobbles back to
the accordioned Jag. Homo erectus alcoholicus! He looks inside.
June, blood-smeared in the shotgun seat, is still out like a light. He
thrusts himself away from the wreck, stumbling into the thick-scented
shade of pine woods. He wades a salt marsh. He untangles himself from
clinging strands of barbed wire. He's sober now and he's sorry. Sorry's
not enough, Mike recalls his dear old unrepentant con man of a Dad
saying as he bursts anew into a crying jag of Rigoletto-like intensity.
George, who has been luxuriating in self-doubts
all morning in his "seaside retreat" overlooking Asquanash Bay, is shocked
out of his sequence of scowling, lavishly painful remembrances by the
sight of Mike Desmond -- long, unshaven face studded with broken glass,
trousers in tatters, crumpled and dark-stained shirt-tail out -- tapping
bloody knuckles on the sliding glass door.
George swishes to the door, silk-robed,
and slides it wide -- Mike pitches in racked by dry heaves; sobbing; bleeding
profusely; stinking of potables.
What would Miss Manners have to say about
this? George muses as, deft-handed, he fixes up Mike with half the contents
of his bathroom First-Aid kit.
Twilight. Mike and George swirling brandies
at the picture window. The bay is streaked blood-red. Soft gusts of wind
ripple the lawn grass. Two empty, bleached deck chairs face the sea sadly,
like slumped orphan brothers. Jacko sits at attention nearby, a frayed
rubber ball in his panting mouth.
Meanwhile, June Jaynes and Polly Jean Hogarty,
having been discovered by a puttering family in their yellow Volvo wagon
and rushed side by side like coma-sisters in a bleating ambulance to the
Emergency Room of St. Agatha's, are sleeping off the effects of the highest
grade of pharmaceutical morphine: Dilaudid, administered by drip.
June's condition is listed as critical;
Dr. Brandynose, the cigar-puffing surgeon,
determines after a brief consultation with the Punjabi radiologist, Dr.
Macaw, that he is going to have to saw open June's elegantly shaped skull
to relieve the pressure from the bleeding, then spray the exposed layers
of brain with powerful antibiotics.
When an intern informs June's mother of
the plan, she dead-faints into June's father's outstretched arms, and
stiff-uniformed nurses rush from behind the counter to assist.
Polly Jean's father, John Hogarty, the big time
movie producer, takes the red eye out from the West Coast, where he has been
wheeling some deals and courting Whoopie Goldberg for his next big film project.
He arrives, disheveled but freshly splashed with spicy cologne, in the glowing
emergency room at 6:00 AM., where the Jaynes are celebrating quietly the success
of their daughter's brain operation.
Mike is curled up snoring on the sofa, Jacko balled
at his feet. George, seated in one of his club chairs, is turning the
pages of a thriller. It seems that Hitler's head was frozen by high ranking
SS Officers and transported to Paraguay, where it awaits revivification
at the hands of an unscrupulous doctor who specializes in bringing deceased
dictators back to life.
Mikes wakes with a start. His mouth is wet.
He remembers what he has done. The drunken wreck, the crumpled June. The
dark haired girl, tragically limp, tossed like a rag from her bent bicycle.
Will you call St. Agatha's? Mike
timorously asks his best friend.
He looks shattered, his face all shifting
fragments of emotion: grief, wonder, shame, fear, fear, fear.
George flicks open his cellular, pokes numbers.
His wrist is hard and tanned, strapped by a glittering Rolex band. He
sits back, one leg crossed elegantly over the other, his wool trousers
pulled in a sharp crease. He asks about the girls, then brushes at imaginary
crumbs as he frowns and listens.
Yes. Um hmm. Hmmm. Yes. Um hmm.
Mike is pacing, his dark hair stiff and
wild as a bird's feathers in a gale.
George flicks the phone shut, inserts it
like a folded napkin into his breast pocket, and acknowledges Mike's wildly
enquiring stare with an arched eyebrow and a twist of his lips.
You're off the hook, my friend. It looks
like they're still alive. Both of them.
Mike drops like a sack to his knees, spreads
his fingers across his face, and sobs.
Mike falls asleep again, his hands thrust between
his knees. He dreams he's in the Jag, the road slipping underneath, and
looks up to see Polly framed in the windshield. He jerks the wheel hard
left, but it won't go. The car plows into the fragile-boned girl, whose
head explodes in a spume of red, like a sledgehammered watermelon.
Christ! Mike shouts, jerking upright.
George is standing there, his face bright
with concern, holding Mike's shoulder in a strong grip with one hand and
proffering him a glass of fritzing club soda with the other.
Morning. George sits stiff shouldered, a
dark jacket spread Italian style over them, in one of the deck chairs,
smoking contemplatively as he watches the sea sparkle below.
Mike crosses the lawn barefoot holding a
bottle of beer and plops down in the other chair. He's wearing a pair
of George's chinos and an Izod polo shirt he found in a drawer. He tilts
the beer to his mouth and sucks. George, shaking his head in grimly amused
disgust, smiles to reassure Mike that life is still beautiful.