the heart is broken and the dream is gone, annihilation is delicious.
- Steve Erickson, Amnesiascope
It was just a matter of time before he spoke to her. He had glanced
at her twice; now he stuffed one hand in his pocket and approached
her. She didn’t really want to talk, though if she had to
talk to someone, best that it be him: there was something about
the way he swaggered and especially about the way he played with
the stud ring imbedded below his lip that made her wonder. She
thought that he might ask her for a cigarette even though she
wasn’t smoking, but he was bolder than that.
look too old to be sitting here at this time of the morning,”
the boy said with a smile, and Caroline shivered. He brushed away
a few strands of hair to reveal beautiful green eyes, so offset
by the shaggy dark hair that Caroline wondered if they were real.
She was reminded of an Aztec statue with embedded emeralds for
eyes, and she shivered again and felt pleasantly disoriented under
his youthful gaze. It was as if he wanted to undress her but wasn’t
sure how to proceed.
She said with a pained smile, “How young are you that I
look so old?”
“Seventeen,” he answered too quickly. “It’s
my birthday today,” he added. The green eyes, the stud ring
that looked like a silver pimple about to burst, and his blunt
innocent honesty titillated a part of her that she had presumed
dead. It was just the flicker of desire, a faint memory awash
in pain, and therefore a desire born of need, but she held onto
it and allowed the lust to grow without tormenting herself with
issues of propriety.
old do you think I am?” she asked.
the boy answered, then hesitated. Appraised her. “No, definitely
not more than thirty.” She smiled again, surprised that
he’d guessed so accurately.
A gust of air burst through the train station and she drew her
coat tighter around her shoulders. “And what are you doing
here at this time of the morning? On your birthday?” she
The boy shrugged. He said, “I don’t like being around
when my brother comes home from work. He’s always tired
and in a bad mood, and today I feel like being happy.” That’s
makes two of us, Caroline thought, but she remained silent and
encouraged the boy to continue instead, with a nod, a blink, and
a slight hand gesture. “He works the night shift at some
company…” His voice drifted off and Caroline didn’t
insist. “So I’m just wandering. Came to get coffee.”
She reached out without thinking and toyed with his sleeve as
if inspecting it, then retracted her arm quickly. “Let me
offer you that cup of coffee for your birthday.”
your name?” he asked. “Mine’s Angelo.”
She might otherwise have told him that it wasn’t necessary;
but his name associated with his demeanor did actually mean something.
She tried not to show her surprise, stood up and gave him a quick
kiss on the cheek, and pretended not to notice him blush. “That’s
for your birthday. I’m Caroline,” she added, holding
out her hand. She looked up at him—he stood a half a head
taller—and he shook her hand timidly with a suspicious leer
glazing his penetrating eyes. Finally he lowered his head, unable
to maintain her stare. She kept his hand in hers much longer than
necessary, until he looked at her again, then she let it slide
out slowly so that he could feel the softness of her skin and
the brush of her fingertips.
She slipped her arm through his and mumbled as they headed for
the coffee stand, but Angelo disengaged his arm from hers and
left her momentarily flustered. He asked, “So what are you
doing here so early anyway?”
The deep rumble of a train departing covered her answer.
didn’t want to be alone. Penn Station is the only place
nearby guaranteed to be filled with people at six in the morning.”
* * *
Daniel was a cautious man in his early thirties, but his caution
was born of experience rather than a pure aversion to risk. This
caution also characterized his thought process which often made
people think he was dim-witted, but Daniel simply considered all
angles of a problem before making a decision, as if life were
an endless chess game, the rules of which changed at every move.
He had never been rewarded for risk or spontaneity, so he’d
embraced order and discipline. Exerting control gave him a sense
of achievement and contentment. He did not expect nor hope for
Every evening, Daniel left for work at exactly the same time,
and knew exactly when the cross-walk signs would be green and
when they would not, and how quickly he had to cross on red before
a car would come, and therefore how to optimize his time. His
return home was set up precisely the same way. He hit upon this
scheme when he realized that if he were to respect the lights
he would lose time, since crosswalk lights were evidently not
synchronized for pedestrians. In this way, he figured that in
the eight years he’d been working at Quality Escort, he’d
gained some eight hours and fifteen minutes.
And now, Daniel thought desperately, he was now piddling away
some of this temporal gain in a useless early morning conversation
that he had no real desire to pursue. His long black hair flowed
over his broad shoulders and large chest, themselves weighing
on a flimsy dining-room table. Daniel cradled the phone, sipped
his decaf, twirled in some sugar, dripped some coffee on the table-mat.
And tried to make shapes with the stains.
called to see how you were.”
Daniel hadn’t asked for any reasons, he just wished she
would hang up.
you wanted to catch me off guard… I’m fine. You know
don’t know..., and you sound like you’re pretending.
You were always good at that.”
I was always bad at pretending.”
you’re not alright?”
was doing okay until you called. Why did you call?”
I care about you,” she answered.
No, you don’t… You should care about yourself, you
know... Never mind. I’m fine. You don’t need to worry.
I’ll be okay, so I’m fine.”
you’re confusing me.”
sorry. It seems obvious.”
Ah, you’re thinking of me, of my feelings… Yes, you
were always too good to me, weren’t you?”
was not thinking about you, I’ve done too much of that.
But you’re absolutely right: I’m not a good person,
but I tried too hard to be good to you, and that’s not what
Her voice adopted a new tone, almost frantic. She said, “Yes
it is! It is what I wanted!”
You need to hurt to feel alive because you no longer think you
deserve someone who is kind.”
Because the truth hurts? But it’s a different kind of hurt,
isn’t like you, Daniel.”
don’t know what else to say... I won’t change, you
know, as much as I’d like to—maybe someone else will
be hurt enough already to appreciate…” He stopped
and held the receiver away from him, looking at it as if it personified
the woman at the other end of the line. Then he said: “This
is useless. I should have known better than to date someone...
one of the girls. Please don’t call again. I'll see you
never have a happy relationship,” she said.
Daniel hung up without responding. He stood up and poured his
decaf down the drain. Then he brushed his teeth, flossed, rinsed
his mouth with fluoride wash, and slept for several hours.
* * *
Angelo pulled the covers up to his chin, not because he was ashamed
of his nakedness but because he felt a cool breeze across his
chest from the open window. Caroline had left the bedroom a while
ago and Angelo now heard the sound of percolating coffee. He let
out a sigh. This wasn’t his first time with a woman, certainly,
but his other experiences were now dulled and seemed insignificant,
brief moments of personal satisfaction without concern for the
other. Caroline had taught him how to give a woman pleasure, and
after the initial frustration at being told what to do and when
to do it, he discovered the heightened sensations of delayed satisfaction,
of seeing the other person’s body ripple and undulate under
his touch. “You’re beautiful,” she’d said,
and that was something else that initially put him ill-at-ease:
talking during sex. It seemed unnatural, seemed to swathe the
act in the harsh light of reality. But she insisted and he relented,
and eventually he shed the inhibitions that arrogantly he thought
he didn’t have. “You’re beautiful too,”
he had murmured back, though painfully, as if he were telling
her that he loved her and knew it wasn’t true; not that
he didn’t think that she wasn’t pretty, it just seemed
such an intimate statement. “Thank you,” she said,
“thank you for saying that. Maybe I can believe it for a
moment.” Confused, he had lowered his head, and groans soon
replaced words as his stud ring brushed up against her inner thigh.
Caroline came back into the room and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Well, thank you again, beautiful boy.”
I see you again?” he asked.
you want to?”
don’t know.” He didn’t want to be unkind, but
he expressed his awkward feelings more harshly than he wished.
He got out of bed and slipped on his jeans. “Probably best
not to,” she said, and sighed. “It’s a crime.”
worry, I won’t tell.”
She laughed. “Oh, I wasn’t thinking of that...”
Then she added ruefully: “You’re a thoughtful boy,
but don’t be too nice.”
sure I could if I tried,” he said, deciding that he didn’t
want to see her again.
no… Not with me. You don’t know me,” she said
sharply, and walked out.
Her apartment was small and dark. The front door gave onto the
living room with a stove in the right-hand corner. There was one
bedroom, and a toilet separated from the shower by a screen door.
The sink was so small and narrow that Angelo knocked his head
against the wall when he tried to wash his face. By the time he
was dressed, Caroline had fixed coffee and was sitting at the
living room table. He remained standing.
know,” he said, “it’s not good to have the outside
stairwell right opposite your front door. Bad vibes. You should
put a fishbowl somewhere in the room. Takes away the negative
Shui. My brother swears by the stuff.”
think about it... Well, have a cup of coffee and get back to your
brother’s. You’ll want to be going home now. Your
brother should be home by now, right?”
Angelo nodded and reached for the coffee. Caroline almost took
his hand but thought better of it, and turned away.
* * *
A whiff of fresh basil reached Angelo as soon as he stepped through
the doorway—tangy, almost bittersweet. Daniel had carefully
blended olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and pecorino—all
in measured doses. Now the water was boiling, frothy with salt,
and Daniel slipped in the spaghetti as Angelo opened the refrigerator
and drank from a carton of orange juice.
have you been up to?” Daniel asked his brother.
Daniel laughed forcefully, discomfited by his brother’s
deadpan expression: pasta never failed to light a fire in Angelo’s
eyes, yet his brother hardly cracked a smile when the bowl was
placed before him.
Eating pesto was their ritual, and the closest Angelo came to
feeling his mother’s presence—a mixture of smell,
taste and texture which captured her essence. He loved his brother’s
pesto, and Daniel’s claim that it was only a pale copy of
their mother’s original dish only enhanced the ideal image
which he had formed of his mother’s cooking, indeed of her
persona. Everything about his mother was notional for Angelo;
there were no memories, nothing concrete to hold on to, and pesto
could always be summoned, reborn from consistent ingredients...
Pesto was more powerful than the few photographs that lay scattered
around the apartment, more personal than the few remaining objects
that had constituted her life: a pair of ceramic ducks, a video
tape of Zorba the Greek which Daniel had not had the heart to
throw out, a Qahatika headdress which their father, Mario Saccane,
had brough back from one of his trips to Arizona.
Mario was a traveling salesman... Was, or is, or had been—Daniel
had no idea. He had no clue as to his father’s whereabouts.
Perhaps he had died in an explosive car crash which had also destroyed
all chances of identifying him. Perhaps he had decided one day
not to return, and now led a bigamous life among the pines of
Wisconsin. Daniel’s favored version was that he had been
mugged in downtown Denver, stumbling home from a comely waterhole
where he’d sought to wash away the homesickness that overcame
him after a few weeks away from Brooklyn. He’d put up a
fight, and been knifed and robbed as a result.... This was the
story Daniel had told Angelo when, at six years of age, his brother
had clambered into his bed just past midnight to ask about their
parents and death.
Their mother, Angelina, had died in childbirth, without ever seeing
her husband again, without Mario ever knowing that his wife was
pregnant. After Daniel’s birth, they had been told that
she would not be able to bear another. And for sixteen years,
that remained true. Then a miracle occured, a miracle with devastating
consequences, a truly poisoned gift. Angelina recognized the symptoms
a few weeks after her husband’s final departure. She recognized
the miracle and refused an abortion, willing to play the sacrificial
lamb if indeed the doctor’s worst fears were realized—but
neither Daniel nor his mother imagined that in this day and age
someone could die in childbirth. Later Daniel would say that his
father’s unexplained and unexplainable absence sapped whatever
strength his mother had to avoid the tragedy: the doctor delivered
Angelo from a dead woman’s ruptured womb. “We can’t
hope for more than one miracle, Daniel,” Angelina had told
her eldest son before dying. “That would be asking too much
Daniel’s own Christian sentiments were tainted (in his mother’s
eyes) by years of martial arts practice. He preferred to think
of spirituality in terms of cosmic balance—the ying and
the yang. But since the “miracle” of his bother’s
conception cost him the life of his mother and the presence of
his father, his sense of equity was sorely tested. It was a high
price to pay indeed. At the age of seventeen, Daniel acquired
his parents’ home, his parents’ car and a newborn
Balance was restored to some extent over the next few years. Though
born at barely seven months, Angelo was a strong, healthy boy
of seven pounds who required little additional care for a premature
baby. The owners of a local Italian diner where Angelina worked
assisted Daniel in every way they could: the owner arranged for
his brother—manager of Manhattan-based Quality Escort—to
hire Daniel as a chauffeur (his large build and knowledge of martial
arts played in his favor), his wife took care of Angelo during
Daniel’s long nights at work, and the cook provided the
growing young man with illimited access to his kitchen. Two years
later, after finishing high school, Daniel was earning a large
enough salary chauffeuring around high-class call-girls to allow
him to move to Manhattan, and acquire the services of a live-in
As soon as Angelo was old enough to eat solid food, he showed
a consistent preference for his brother’s pesto, and eventually
it became the required dish to celebrate the boy’s birthday
and honor their mother’s memory. On the occasion of Angelo’s
seventeenth birthday, Daniel stretched his cooking skills and
made a strawberry cheese cake. He served them a slice each and
sat down to face his brother.
thought a long time about what present to give you, Angelo. You’re
now the age I had when our mother died. It’s time to set
you free, so to speak. I figured you had little use for a car
in Manhattan, but you could certainly benefit from some traveling.”
Daniel slid an envelope across the table. “This is a promissary
note: as soon as you finish high school, you’ll be able
to cash twelve thousand dollars to travel for a year. I figured
that if you choose your countries well, and travel light, you
should easily manage on a thousand a month.”
Angelo stared at the envelope but didn’t take it. “What
am I going to do for a year, away from here, away from you?”
he mumbled. Daniel did not answer. Finally Angelo looked up at
him, and Angelo noticed a green glimmer of something new in his
brother’s eyes: it was the realization of the world opening
up before him, and it was the very reaction that Daniel had hoped
* * *
Caroline bent over the table mirror and caught her reflection
briefly before snorting up the white line of crystal meth powder.
It was someone she did not recognize, and she quickly turned away
from the confrontation. The mellow hum from the speed gradually
subsided as she adjusted her auburn wig and laced up her knee-high
boots—laces meant more time removing the boots, and therefore
less time actually having to pleasure the client. The speed allowed
her to make it through the night without too much self-deprecation.
She stepped out onto the sidewalk, and the limousine pulled up
right on time. She settled in the backseat.
Sheila," said the driver. “Where to?”
Caroline took a sip of bottled mineral water, debating whether
or not to respond. “Do you have to do this, Daniel? You’re
not just my driver anymore, no matter how much you try to pretend.”
been driving you for over a year now. You only told me your real
name three weeks ago. It hardly hangs in the balance.”
told you a lot more than that. It should count for something.”
Daniel did not respond. Caroline looked out the window at the
revelers on 14th street. “So? Where to?”
B and Fifth. New client. Probably a trendy loft.”
Caroline continued to stare out the window at the string of lights—traffic,
neon, strobe and store fronts—unable to muster the energy
to avoid the game played between them, the game that erased the
intimacy they had known.
“I wouldn’t worry about this one. He seemed quite
bold in his desire for a submissive female.”
It was always the meek ones of which they were most wary, and
those who pretended to understand only too quickly that there
were limits. Such suspicions had helped Caroline avoid any traumatic
experiences. A state-of-the-art alarm system and the promise of
Daniel’s subsequent visit were any boundaries overstepped,
managed to disuade further any over-eager customer. As a call-girl
willing to comply to the dominating urges of the young wealthy
Manhattan elite, Caroline had carved herself a niche within Quality
Escort. She could charge more and work fewer nights. And taking
light punishment was no toil; it was in fact the only way she
could envision selling her services. Being treated as an object
allowed her to forget her situation, and to deceive herself into
believing that she was not in control. It had not always been
so, but such was the price she paid for broken trust and shattered
They arrived at destination just before midnight. “We have
ten minutes,” Daniel said. He liked to send up his girls
on the hour, to better keep track of time. Tariffs were based
on periods from fifteen minutes to an hour (though an early ejaculation
could effectively cut the time short). The dominating types almost
always asked for an hour, and sometimes they were rough and sometimes
they couldn't perform. Caroline didn’t care either way:
it was just an additional invasion and discharge from which she
had learned to distance herself, and time in the bathroom to clean
up allowed her the opportunity for an oft required speed bump.
slept with your brother,” Caroline said. “He came
up to me this morning at Penn Station, told me it was his birthday.”
Her head hung low as she checked her nails. “There’s
quite a resemblance.”
didn’t know you fucked for free. Or didn't you?”
Caroline looked up and into the rearview mirror. She breathed
in deeply and steeled herself from further hurt. “That’s
not like you, Daniel. You’ve always been good to the girls.”
That doesn’t make me their damn therapist, or their caring
and protective older brother. I can get fed up too… But
you’re part of them, you know... Why do you set yourself
not damaged in the same way.”
of us are damaged, Caroline. We all have a cross to bear, that's
our sins to expiate?” Caroline smiled ruefully. “How
are those day classes at NYU going, by the way?”
midnight, Caroline. Time to go.”
She opened the door and stepped out. “You don’t have
a cross to bear, Daniel, just the pain of loss, like me,”
Caroline said. “But yours was much greater, and still you’re
a fucking saint,” she added, gently closing the car door.
The client was a talker, one of those annoying types who felt
inclined to lead some sociological study, or who believed they
were cool asking a call-girl about her past, thought they were
treating her like a human being. “What got you into the
business? Can you do it out of pleasure sometimes?—Oh! Of
course, I don’t expect you to do so with me, I was just
curious...” Caroline didn’t particularly mind the
questions, and Sheila had all the answers: “My parents were
drunks, my father abused me. So did my brothers for that matter,
they organized gang rapes with their friends. It put money on
the table and I came to enjoy it—no pun intended. It was
the easiest way to cope, I guess.” That’s what they
wanted to hear, and their faces flushed at the mention of pleasurable
gang bangs. In the end, it didn’t matter if they believed
her or not; it was just foreplay.
Caroline was tired tonight, however, despite the speed, and she
had no desire to talk. She could no longer efface herself before
Sheila, and suspected that her encounter with Angelo was part
of the reason, part of the problem. It was the first time in almost
two years that she could remember Caroline acting so assertive.
As her client twisted her nipples and belted her back and clasped
her neck and sodomized her so eagerly—this one had no trouble
getting a hard-on—Caroline no longer felt any justice in
being abased. Annihilation was no longer delicious. Angelo had
not enabled her to forget her condition and how she paid the rent;
he had managed to make her unable to forget it. She couldn't decide
whether it was a blessing or a curse. Yet if Angelo was the flame
of discontent, Daniel had been the spark, of that she had no doubt
now. As her head banged against the bedstead of minimalist design,
and shortly after when her client spewed dollar signs, Daniel’s
image appeared to her as her construed redemption, a religion
invented to touch upon her lost divinity, a pure spirit sculpted
as her savior to lift her out of her misplaced love of Love and
draw her once again into the rollercoasting conundrum of loving.
The pain of such a realization, of such an apparition, was so
intense that it eclipsed any amount of suffering that she had
ever experienced with a client.
She had told Daniel the story of her life on their first night,
and it had sounded like fiction. It was poor fiction: she could
only summon the facts, those she believed were still true, but
she could convey no emotions. Neither of her parents had been
drunks, though they regularly polished off a bottle of vintage
wine each night—at least on the nights her father was home,
which, as a high-profile corporate banker, was not very often.
Caroline played tennis and rode horseback in a respectable Connecticut
neighborhood. She achieved a sufficent grade point average, scored
high enough on her SATs, and rounded out her academics with enough
appropriate extra-curricular activities to gain entrance to Wellsley
College where she spent four glorious years on a magnificent campus
delaying the choice of a career. She had a few boyfriends in high
school, but didn’t lose her virginity until her sophomore
year in college—and the couple dated until they got their
degrees and he went off to Japan on a Fulbright Scholarship. No,
she had no reason to complain about her idyllic upbringing. The
only resentment she harbored against her parents was their wonted
dissatisfaction: when she was top of her class, they claimed her
grades could have been higher; when she ended high school as the
salutatorian, they suggested that a little less play and a little
more work would have made the difference; when she invited her
college boyfriend home for Thanksgiving, she sensed her parents
would have preferred a Harvard boy to one from Boston University
on a student loan; and her father never disguised his displeasure
at spending a hundred thousand dollars for a degree in art history.
But she had trouble believing that such behavior, and her concomitant
resentment, could have formed the root of her later acts of self-destruction.
She graduated from Wellsley excited with life, and moved to New
York intent on getting a Masters of Fine Arts. Her father happily
allowed her to pursue two more years escaping the rigors of “real
life” with an honorable occupation, though he did occasionally
suggest that she should not stop at a Masters—if her wish
was to teach, well, why not become a Professor? Caroline had little
real wish to teach, though she understood its value as a safety
net; no, she wanted to paint, and dreamed of seeing her work in
one of the Soho galleries. And paint she did, but recognition
was not forthcoming.
She accepted early that her life had not provided what she believed
most artists created from: pain and suffering. So she adopted
William Blake as her role model—he wrote of bliss, she would
paint happiness—and in college she dabbled in marijuana
and LSD to “expand her consciousness”. Having obtained
her Masters degree, however, she knew it was time to experience
a more mundane side of life: at twenty-four she cut with great
anticipation the strings attached to her father’s purse,
and accepted a teaching position at a local elementary school.
For the first few years, she painted little, with the excuse that
she needed time to adapt to the more rigorous demands on her time.
Her social life, however, was exemplary for a New York bacherlorette,
in other words gratifyingly active, and eventually she met a recent
graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, a rookie at the New
York Times, and an aspiring writer. They stumbled at first, as
he dumped her unceremoniously with a fleeting kiss on the cheek
after two weeks, stating that he was not ready to commit. She
called him back after two months of sobbing and managed to change
his mind—and soon they never spent a night apart. Within
a year they were living together. She should have been wary of
their inauspicious start, a friend later told her. Caroline, however,
was certain she had found the man she would marry and whose children
she would bear. He was kind and giving and fun, and sometimes
Then the blame poured forth one Sunday evening, suddenly, like
a dam rupturing: he felt too much pressure to become a father;
she was no longer painting and he hardly wrote; the excitement
was gone from their lives, it was just work and a few candlelit
dinners, and the occasional party with some very settled friends...
He was not cruel. There were tears in his eyes when he told her
all this, and he blandished his rejection with hugs and kisses.
He said it was so hard to consider parting ways because he loved
her—but not passionately, and he wanted passion in his life.
She was his confidante and best friend, which is why he had believed
for so long that it could work, and he could imagine a comfortable
existence with her—but he did not want comfort. “I
should never have let things get this far. Now I know that I cannot
let them go any further. Our relationship would only become intolerable,
and then there might be children. I know I thought we would but...
It would hurt even more, wouldn’t it?” That was his
valediction, and he could not realize how painful it was, for
it meant that he had never loved as she had. She had given herself
over so entirely to him, and had been deceived. His deception
was that much more destructive for being unintentional, and it
was so complete that she could not envision ever trusting such
emotions ever again. She had read that love was “simply
complicated”, but it hadn’t been that way with him.
Theirs had been too simple, and he had been unable to live with
that. She had not accepted that it was over at first—she
had overcome his doubts before—but in the midst of her promises
and attempts at reconciliation, she saw a gleam of pity and relief
in his eyes as his stroked her hair and said: “I’m
sorry... But you’ll be okay, you’re strong.”
He wanted to believe it, and she let him; but she was shattered
and found no strength, no faith, no belief upon which to draw.
Her heart had been fallowed. Annihilation could begin.
Caroline hung onto her teaching job for several months, during
which time she experienced ever more frequent cocaine binges,
a drug not hard to find in the upper echelons of Manhattan society,
but one she had always frowned upon as being mind-numbing rather
than mind-expanding. Now, it became the only substance capable
of lending some veneer of emotion to her life. The binges were
followed by heavy drinking to assuage the crashes, and soon she
was coming to school hung-over. Eventually she was snorting lines
between classes. She yearned for night time when she would roam
the streets until the hunger—for coke, for love, for life—passed.
One night, fresh out of tears and with no hope of ever regaining
control of her life, she decided to take a leave of absence from
which she would never return and give herself over to the destruction
of her life.
“It should be a sad moment when the highlight of your week
is finding the secret stash of a careless coke dealer,”
she told Daniel that first night. “That should be when you
say, ‘I’ve hit rock bottom’—but when such
an event is the highlight of your week, you certainly don’t
stop to consider how sad it might seem to others, those who can’t
possibly know what it is like to find three days worth of bliss
for free. Only when you’ve snorted up what at first appeared
like an endless supply do you begin to glimpse at the wretchedness
of your life—but it is certainly not sadness that you feel—it
is something much farther into black on the color spectrum of
despair, yet more complex—since you can’t quite shake
the memory of those moments of acute euphoria. And you push away
despair with the strength of a desperate soul hell-bent on finding
the means necessary to rise above the doldrums of a mundane existence.
Unless of course you emerge from such a three-day binge discovering
that you’ve become a high-class whore.”
Caroline stumbled into Quality Escort one evening, and found work
much more suited to her current disposition than teaching. She
reveled in the debasing job interview where she was asked to undress
and masturbate, and her ability to efface her surroundings and
achieve orgasm—however faint and faked—immediately
impressed her future employer. It was no blow to her self-esteem—she
had none—and such debasement became a need.
She soon acquired a sense of resigned peace. She kicked the cocaine
habit after her first disastrous night on the job, when she crashed
in the middle of a whipping and and ran out before her client’s
time was up. Angelo presented the case to their employer as “virgin
jitters”, and another girl hooked up her with speed. Within
a few weeks she had organized her life around a three-night work
schedule, and though she seldom saw any of her friends anymore
(and her parents thankfully had retired to Florida the previous
year), she spent her days shopping, visiting museums, going to
the movies, reading a great many novels, and waiting for that
moment in time when this period of her existence would end—as
she knew it surely would.
* * *
They sat in the corner of a large Greek diner on Houston, wiling
away the hour until Caroline’s next appointment. While Daniel
tackled a greasy lamb gyro, Caroline picked at a simple green
salad without much enthusiasm.
“Still on the speed?” Daniel asked.
“You know I don’t touch it off-duty.”
“It can’t be good for you though.”
“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I don’t
do cocaine anymore... Besides, you don’t really care, do
“I do, Caroline, that’s what you don’t understand.
But you made me realize that I’m done caring.”
Caroline motioned to stroke his cheek, but withdrew her hand and
ran it through her hair to remove her wig. “That’s
not true Daniel... Don’t let that happen. Please…
The real problem between us, the one you can’t face, is
that you couldn’t stand seeing me go up to all those apartments.”
“Of course I couldn’t! But what was I going to do
about it? That’s who you were when I met you—and I
don’t expect anyone to change. Not for me.”
“No-one changes anyway really, you’re right. But with
you, I thought for a moment that I could recover what I once lost.
It can still be found—unlike your mother, or father. It
could still work between us.”
“You’ve got to stop hating yourself.”
“If only I knew why...”
She wanted to cry, she wished she could, but her eyes remained
as dry as that part of her which clients attempted and sometimes
succeeded to violate. For her heart, however, there was no lubricant.
“I don’t know either... The only thing I can offer
you is—how. You’ve only been doing this a year, it
wouldn’t be that hard.”
Caroline understood what Daniel was suggesting, and what he was
asking of her: dispense of Sheila, don’t show up for work
tomorrow, sleep through the night... But that didn’t mean
she could do it.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday. It’ll be busy. Maybe I’ll
take off next week.”
“I’ll try and be there when you do,” Daniel
Caroline stood up and put on her wig. “I guess it’s
time for the next one.” She smiled, but it didn’t
quite break through her still beautiful features, and she knew
Daniel was searching for it. Thank you, she thought, thank you,
Daniel, for not saying ‘if’.
has been dabbling in writing for twelve years, and finds it a
much less expensive, though more solitary avenue of creation than
his limited film-making attempts. He is currently working on a
novel that takes up the lives of the characters in "derailed"
(and those of four other major absentees), set in a post-apocalyptic
America. One-page website (under construction): www.idipfilms.com.
© 2004 by Eric Grant