It is the first day that New Yorkers scale the streets sans jackets and cashmere scarves. People appear nearly naked in their bodily shapes. Shelley follows the path beside Terrace Drive to the center of the park, I Heart New York bag swinging from her forearm, when she spots him. He’s shuffling along the sidewalk with his wife (always with the wife now), the aging but still pert blonde woman leading him like a walking stick around Bethesda Fountain. It’s been fourteen years since she met Mr. Roop Gupta, since the economy tanked, and since he’d started her in this line of work. His age is showing in the growing hump beneath his cardigan. Mr. Gupta was her first client, of sorts. It’s his touch that she remembers first.
HELLO, DOWNERS GROVE!
All right, ladies! Woo! Are we having a good time? I can’t hear you, I’m sorry. ARE WE HAVING A GOOD TIME?
Most of you still refuse to answer the question, which is a shame. But I did hear you back there on the far right! What’s your name, pretty lady? Jacquelyn? Thank you for committing to having a good time, Jacquelyn! Toby, head over there and give Jacquelyn a beer koozie, on me.
That’s on me, Jacquelyn. Hope you enjoy.
Amber lay with her back on the purple yoga mat, her legs pressed together at a perfect 90-degree angle. “Exhale,” the teacher said, “And bring your legs down slow, like you’re moving through peanut butter.”
I am always moving through peanut butter.
Amber kept her eyes on her flexed feet until they disappeared behind her chest and stomach, until they touched the floor.
What is the next thing?
“Now raise your legs back up. Slow, slow. Your legs are a butter knife, slowly spreading peanut butter on bread.” The teacher recited her speech about slow, exact movements being the best way to build muscle.
Move slow. The world is peanut butter. Honey. Molasses. Cookie dough. I can’t see where I’m going. I can only move slowly. What is the next thing?
The class worked their cores until Amber felt like she wanted to throw up. But she went along with it. She kept doing it anyway.
What is the next thing?
Kent asks, “Pearl, is it?”
He sweeps my bangs aside, undressing my face because every bloated and balding forty-year-old at the Chateau Marmont thinks he deserves a teenager whose breasts haven’t even started to sag.
Ever since my oldest sister, Goldie Lively, starred in this summer's Die, Die, Die—which grossed a billion dollars worldwide, no big deal—so many ass kissers are spilling from her crack that I get some residual smooches here and there.
“I just love your shoe-less hobo look,” Kent says, his voice whistling through his nose job. I look down at my bare feet, frozen on tile. “You really have the arches for it.”
On Monday nights, Shelly goes with Jack to this bar called St. Mark’s that used to be a dive, but is suddenly and without explanation, cool. Now, Hollywood-types fill the leather booths, with their mussed up hair and good shoes, discussing who’s getting deals and who’s getting fired. Shelly sees it every day, in outdoor cafes all down Third and Beverly, the agents leaning back in their chairs, adjusting baseball caps, thumbing cell phones.
Dag Gilliam wakes in a mildewed hammock on the tarpaper roof of his Culver City vitamin shop, Body Temple. The dawn air has an October bite he feels deep in the lungs. Even in the butter box mirage of California, nature tries to slap you once in awhile to take notice of her.
Dag pushes his lean six-three through a couple half-assed sun salutations, but cramps quickly from the night of awkward sleep and a two bottle hangover. He is an angular, reasonably handsome fellow, but often taken for older — a receding tide of thin grey hair adding years to anyone’s guess.
All of a sudden there was a small business in the house that sat on the corner of Richmond Road and Hanover. It was the little bungalow-style place that had been home to a photo lab and before that a local bank with a drive-thru window along the side where the carport used to be. It was also, a few people say, headquarters for the Republicans in the last mayoral race. Even though that race was non-partisan, we all knew who was backing Berryman. But overnight, the way condos go up and churches are torn down, the way long-distance friends lose the ability to pick up where they left off, the eaves of the building were painted red, the white siding got whiter and a sign appeared: Decision Makers.
He called me from a payphone in New Hampshire. He didn’t like the mountains in New Hampshire. He didn’t realize there were so many of them or how they closed in on the village like a bully.
The kind of mountains that aren’t really mountains, he said. The kind you wouldn’t want to paint.
I don’t paint anymore, but he likes to believe I still paint, the way I like to believe he will make it big in L.A., so big he can come back here.
New HampshiretMassachussettsConnecticutNewYork and then Pennnnsssyyylllvaaaaaaannniiiaaaaaaa, he said. That’s what it felt like getting to Lancaster. There was nothing in Lancaster, he said. Except a buggy. It made him think. He had never once thought about the Amish, but now that he had, what the fuck? Why do they do that? The insides of the buggies looked cavernous, unsafe for the women, and who knew what kind of crimes were being committed inside those things.
The month Donny’s dialysis machine broke they both began to feel like their lives had settled somehow, like now the entire power grid could fail and only so much would change for them. Leanne used to spend evenings watching him prepare it and then they would both sleep twelve hours while it hummed and pumped warm sugar water into and out of his abdomen. In the daytime they were normal. Donny would sit with Jean in the kitchen and Leanne would think about how surrounding yourself with women seemed like a reasonable, appropriate kind of healing. They would drink small glasses of orange juice and eat lettuce and vegetables and different types of grilled meat and fish that Leanne shopped for every day. She would ride with Jean in her car and Donny would stay home reading medical journals online. At night Donny would summarize clinical trials and research studies done at universities.
The Koreatown mission started like any other sunny four o’clock in Las Vegas. Yes, the sky was clear, the traffic humming along Charleston, Martin Luther King. Yes, we were on to Lynchburg Lemonades at a table at the Four Queens but we all called it Dixon’s for no reason that I could remember. Yes. Captain Rick was telling jokes and counting quarters, our heads rattled with new speed and our mouths were puckered— it was a very positive feeling. And also, there was the cashier. Bosscat really liked her, the cashier girl with the natural red hair and the unpainted nails. She wouldn’t look at him. What’s her name, at least. At least give me that, he shouted. Nobody paid us any mind.