Joyland

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by Julia Gruson-Wood

I can’t say that I could convince myself that I have ever wanted anything so badly as that stuffed horse. I can’t really explain it. Except to say it feels sexual. * * * He told me I was a silly girl. Maybe because I didn’t do much. Maybe because there wasn’t much to do. But not “doing much” and “being silly” are very different things I’ve always thought. It’s not that there wasn’t much on my mind. On the contrary. My mind is like a sequin that distracts me from the willy-nilly banality of this lacklustre humanity. It’s just that I refuse to pretend that I want to contribute myself to any aspect of it. Pretend that I care about whatever it is that happens outside of this voluptuous comfort of mine. And why would I want to? Why would I bother to strain myself to even the slightest of inconveniences to create some kind of marriage between me and the rest of society? I might as well dress my evening-gown of a mind in tattered slacks. I can’t help that I am too amused by my own meanderings to make these kind of self-disrespecting choices. Insecurity is so dreary and pedestrian anyway. I love lying around and thinking up stories and outfits and outings while smoking my cigarettes under my satin sheets, maybe flipping through a book only to discard it like a dinner napkin, or maybe I’ll fancy turning on an old movie where the people dress in shiny fur jackets and have manicured smiles and twinkling nails and expensive romances, and even the dramaturge and the scoundrels and the bad behaviour and the darkest dirtiest liaisons are sensational and good-looking. But sometimes I can’t be bothered by my movies or my literature or even my chocolate because my shimmering mind catches my attention and I can’t possibly ignore it. And then I dream my own dreams that are beautiful and luxurious and colourful and glossy and terribly, terribly expensive. And I am not a penny ashamed to breathe as a creature whose cosmos exists in the circumference of the art that only I can see; the art curious to the intimates of my glamorous guts. But when all of this gorgeousness is going on inside me any outsider would think that I am just a girl sitting and staring at the wall, acting like some mindless feline. Yet I cannot explain to you how positively silver all this dreaming makes me feel. And he says that he doesn’t understand me, that I am a silly creature. Just nonsense. Because of course there could be no other possible reason why that syrupy little man of mine loves me so. That man I’ve got is deliriously gorgeous. And he’s got one of those big jobs that makes him crazy and busy. And thank god for that. If he were a creature of privacy like myself then I would never get to be with my solitude. But then again, maybe if I were not allowed the privilege of living in servitude to impulse — in servitude to the pulse that bursts neon blood when my reverie reaches into my sinews and holds every iota, every speck of science inside of me, by the neck — maybe if this were not so, I would not have gotten into this trouble with The Horse. Oh but pondering over the disparity between what has happened and what could’ve been is futile (not to mention unattractive). Even still, sometimes I can’t help but wonder. So silly are these men with their cell phones and their screaming and their late nights and their fussing and their Victorian delusions. And they think all women are nothing but weeping uteruses! Imagine! I could never convince myself that I would never not be amused by their madness. Such irrational creatures are these company men, plagued by The Masculine Disease (which is — of course — nothing but the most dangerous strand of whimsical, vertigo, femininity). Don’t they know that all of their theatrics is one big feminine production? What is aggression and anger if not emotion? I keep my face serious when I talk to these men but I am never not giggling in my mind. If I showed them how silly they are I fear they would break. They’re so fragile and frail after all. That silly man of mine with those silly serious furrowed brows who says to me in that silly strict tone, “You’ll never understand how fucking hard work was today, kiddo. Just once it would be nice if you could have dinner ready for me on the table,” and then continues to go on with this, that and the other, which I can’t be bothered to repeat because I can’t remember because I of course have the wits about me not to listen. It’s all rubbish anyhow. But I always offer him a bite of my chocolate with some of my whisky, or remind him of the crab cakes in the fridge. He always just brushes this away as if he thinks my earnest taste for cuisine is ludicrous. But I ask you: what does he think I eat all day? These are the foods that I like and I think it is rather big of me to share. Maybe this is why my fingers are stained yellow, from all those cigarettes that I need to make me silver again from this boring grey man. Oh I am gloomed that all this criticism may impress that I don’t love him. Oh! But I do! We are so marvellously in love that I often think this romance will kill me! But my man has the heart of a loofah it is true. If it weren’t for me there would be nothing in it. We both know he needs a “personality” (that’s what he always says, “you are such a personality, my silly silly girl!”) to jump-start his languid pulse. He needs me to fill in the gaps and make him feel bubbly and magical and moist and supple. Thinking of this never fails to make me blush. Romance is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I like that he’s a loofah because I am always the famous one and he never, with any of his actions, jeopardizes my position as such. He trivializes me and every little thing I do but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t admire me and think I’m glamorous. But there is one other thing. One other excuse for the affection I have for that humdrum little man of mine. Her name was Esmeralda. Esmeralda was my best friend and most sophisticated companion. My man bought her for me because, he said, “if you don’t have another breathing pulse around, my dear little lamb, you are surely going to stale.” Imagine! Oh that man has a wild imagination! Well, it just so happens that this one idea of his turned out roses. Esmeralda was svelte and beautiful and perfect and sleek and poised and spiritual. Esmeralda snuggled with me. When she was wrapped around me in her gentle, soothing way, my mind exploded into the most genius and glittery and good-looking stories. It is outrageous to think that a pony could’ve been so spectacularly docile. And to think that he purchased her because he thought she would draw me out to the stable for a fresh little prance with the hopes of this leading me to endure other exterior outings! It summons me into fits of the most marvellous giggles, truly it does. For Esmeralda and I shared the same soul. Our dreaming guts streamed together like waves. Locked mutually in this silver world, I have never felt closer to any creature born outside my mind. But I was drunk off the warmth of this dear camaraderie and naive to the brutality buried within our union. It was Esmeralda that turned me curious and caused this peculiar anarchy inside me that trampled every nook of clarity I formerly authored. This is how all the fuss began. One night my man decided to take me out for dinner. If it weren’t one of our wedding anniversaries I would have refused this trying request at once. Of course I know such occasions are rubbish. But I cannot bear to let this on to my man. He’s just so sensitive and moody in that irritating feminine kind of way. Leaving Esmeralda and my bed and my cigarettes — which are best consumed in my bed — for even a second is not a beautiful thought. And if it weren’t our anniversary I would have used my fleshy curls and my sugar eyes to “woman” my way out of it. If it were any other occasion I would’ve done like I always do. I would’ve told my man, “Man, I’m so tired. Why don’t you take off your shoes and leave your stress and your tension (the lies, the lies I tell!) at the door and come into my glorious feminine bed.” You can count on it always being the same with that silly man. He hesitates (pause), shakes his head (pause), meets my gaze with a smirk (pause), gives a silly little laugh (wait for it…), before diving into our conjugal soil — this king-sized marital ashtray of mine. But I digress. The place he took me was so sterile I bet the silly fools spent the evenings polishing the air. I did not like it one bit but I was wearing my mink and being looked at by all the gents which gave me the luxury of making aloof, like I didn’t give a care. And my hair was tied up high while looking wavy and smooth at the same time, which naturally made me feel sacred in that sanctimonious aesthetic kind of way. And so I didn’t mind so terribly to be without my cigarettes or my Esmeralda under the spell of my satin imagination for just a few hours. But then she happened. “The special tonight is Horse stuffed with tuna tartare, glazed with a mango reduction.” Horror streamed over me like a tidal wave. This place served HORSE?! Immoral! “Excuse me,” I said to the waitress before meeting her eyes, “but I would sooner eat you for dinner than place a piece of cutlery in even so much as the same nation as any horse.” I looked up at her then to amuse myself in her reaction. But she, this waitress of mine, shattered that polished atmosphere into a galaxy of microscopic sparkles. Her cream-buttoned shirt smoothed its way down her blown-glass curvature. Her bare neck allowed me to witness the infinitesimal muscles and salmon-thin bones that only peeped to their existence from behind the luminosity of her Klimt-golden skin; it whispered to an intricacy more complex than any math. The genius of her, the logic in her that could never by anyone be quantified, made even my toes blush. With eyebrows thick and rugged like a starless city sky and a head that boasted the immaculate geometry contained within its glorious circumference, her piquant lips lazed on her face with the innocence and the beauty of sleeping rose petals. It was impossible not to inhale her. She travelled directly to my dreams. She was so…aesthetic. And even if she were never anything other than a waitress she would also always be famous. Because she was beautiful in that ethereal kind way. That kind of ghostly iconic way. The kind of way that gets underneath. Inside. Fissures. Fuses. She had already seduced the marrow of my bones, the glossy needlework of muscles that throb the red of my organs, before she gave any reply. And I found myself in that wretched circumstance of wanting her enough to need her. But I looked at my man while everything in me sharded up, every thought of my existence splattering like a Jackson Pollock. That silly man of mine was probably consumed by the wave of my hair and his fantasy that the wits contained within it was where his woman (his dear silly woman), who had a soul that was soft and fuzzy as a cotton ball, existed. I let him keep his precious delusion. But then I saw The Horse. It was being carried out to the table beside us. The way it was roasted made it look so politely and majestically moist that it emitted a bouquet of insatiable possibilities only to be found in the most profound textures that twist even the ugliest creature into piousness over a want, over a mystery. Because there’s no sublimity more affecting than depth. And depth is nothing but the presence of magic. This horse had it. And it was mahogany, which made it seem elegant and sophisticated and I would not hesitate to say, writerly. How could I live without consuming it? The mere idea of refusing it felt like my death. I was so overwhelmed with my desire, my appetite, that I knew I had to feed something. And I knew very well which expensive preferences to weigh out as most principled. I did not eat the horse — not then. But the next evening I went into the restaurant while my silly man was on overnight for his business, and I took that waitress home with me. Every gesture she made was poetic. There was nothing in her that was ordinary. Even her pores seemed chic. She was pure colour, pure glamour and I was being killed by an art that breathed in, around and for me — not forever, but for a generous instance. This is when the “affair” began. Oh! How I love that word! The waitress was some kind of unearthly abstraction and even when she was sweaty and vulgar and would smoke cigarettes like an amateur and even when she would stumble to take off her underwear and even when her hair would clump and knot to one side, she did never not look like one of my dreams. I could never feel lonely with her because she was just that beautiful. And I did not once worry about my man “finding out” because he was too busy with the long hours and the stress of his company life. That was not the problem. The problem was as much as I delighted in this gorgeous affair, I could not stop thinking about The Horse. I wanted to bite into it and feel the juice mellow out in my tongue. I wanted to cut it firmly with a sharp knife and feel its quality force transcendence within me. I wanted to taste that smell that was haunting my heart. But Esmeralda held me back. Soon thinking of The Stuffed Horse became an obsession. Fixation. Madness. And as Esmeralda would nuzzle into me while I should have been dreaming in indigo, I was instead possessed by mind-loops of eating The Horse. And then I was possessed with the most violent kind of fury: the fury of restraint. Esmeralda’s presence began to irritate me. The touch of her feather-soft mane against my skin felt like parasites penetrating my surface to infest my bones. My gutteral repulsion for Esmeralda caused me to feel an impossible melancholy and guiltiness that I seriously doubt any other living creature has experienced. I kept asking my waitress about The Horse. I was sneaky. I’d feign reminiscing, always beginning by bringing up the first time we met. Then I would stumble over the particularities of the quibble we got into about The Horse. “Please, find out what exactly that special was. Without it my memory of our first meeting is as punctured as Swiss cheese,” I’d beg. “Please, my glorious female, it would give me so much joy!” I’d leave it at that for a little while. Long enough for her not to become too suspicious. Long enough to distract her. To lick the outline of her arm like a smooth green shiver that continued right down to her fingertips before catching her in my mouth. And while I watched her squirm, I’d lift my eyebrows lustingly but thinking also of what I would ask once I’d lazed her out. Knowing more only intrigued me more. I started indulging in this scene with The Horse more intensely. I needed to know where they got it, how long it needed to roast, every spice, ingredient. I found myself fantasizing about eating The Horse, despising Esmeralda, and then calling my waitress to come over. And I would ravish her in hopes that it would satisfy even a particle of the power my appetite seized over me. But I would still feel that ringing opaque hunger that was coming from an alien craving that could not be satiated. Soon I convinced my waitress that I needed to relive our first meeting. Really I could not go another day without knowing I was going to eat The Horse. I couldn’t take it anymore. The Horse was the only thing in my dreams. I hadn’t looked at Esmeralda in weeks because the last time I did, my first urge was to eat her. And besides, there is no point in mincing words, by this time I hated that damn pony and I thought, “to hell with my honour. I must eat Horse!” My appetite infested me. It hovered over the closest thing I have ever felt to real love and named it as its prey. Since The Horse was a “special” my waitress had to orchestrate a day in which it could be featured again. It was not easy. But she managed to do it. And finally the night arrived. I had to tell my man where I was going and naturally he insisted on joining me — though he was suspicious of my desire to leave my domestic solace. I had to resign myself to the idea of having to sit across from that man while I indulged, finally, in my thickest longing. Of course it did not bother me in the slightest that my waitress and he would be in the same environs. That silly man of mine would never leap his mind to fancy me hungry for the erotic of a woman. He was just too feminine to understand this advanced kind of logic. So I went (with him) and ordered it. I felt the wave of pleasure that comes with a desperate need for relieving about to come upon me. But my man seemed shaken, traumatized by my behaviour, my decision to eat Horse. He looked at me in an authentic way that I had never seen before and that didn’t seem feminine at all. Usually he makes his grating dim-witted conversation about this or that or the other — but not now. He sat cold still and even his breaths carried the weight and immobility of a rock. Something profoundly heavy was going on inside him. It made me anxious. But I made pretty and sat like I always do, like those women in a Degas. Waiting for that Horse. Just waiting to finally taste it. I could see it. From the other side of the restaurant. Coming toward me. My waitress was holding it. My deepest capacity for sensation spread and drooled and all I was at that moment was unadulterated anticipation. That man of mine looked at me and then looked at The Horse and then looked back at me with a hatred so wide it felt nauseating. Then he walked directly to my waitress, grabbed the plate right out of her hands, took off his shoe with his free hand, threw it on The Horse and lit a match to its plate. And he looked right at my quivering waitress with The Horse aflame in his hand and said to her, “You are just the waitress. What do you know about love?” I was frozen this whole time. The Horse was ruined. And this violence to my desire overwhelmed me with a vicious kind of sorrow. A dirty kind of grief. The kind that quickly becomes dangerous. The meanings and the mess of the evening and the varieties of loss seemed too chaotic, too dynamic for me to grasp. I needed to leave. I ran all the way home. And unlocked the door. And went into my room. But I should not have been alone. I should not have been alone.