you say potato, i say don’t sue me: Well, I’m thinking by now it’s “original” but I could be wrong. It could be uber, it could be stolen from LN James’ diary…you decide. At any rate, no copyright infringement is intended and no profit gained. Yet. Will someone please send me money?
HOLY CRAP, IT’S A TRILOGY!: And we shall call it the “Variations on a Theme of Codependency Series.” This is the final of 3 stories that began with “A Nacroleptic’s Guide to Romance” and continued with “A Lexicon for the Sunday Morning Sleeper.” Aren’t you glad I picked a short title this time? Anyway, this story refers to characters/incidents mentioned in the previous two. If you aren’t familiar with these stories, it might be advisable to read them first before proceeding here.
THANKS: I’m very grateful to B.M. Morgan for her comments on the draft.
God picks up the reed-flute world and blows,
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain.
Remember the lips
where the wind-breath originated,
and let your note be clear.
—Jalal al-Din Rumi
It had been good while it lasted, this numb, careless passage of time—unfettered, illustrated in her mind as a hackneyed image from easily a dozen movies about composers (Ken Russell’s Mahler, his Lizst, the old film about Gershwin with Robert Alda…), as pages from a music score fluttering past in an all-powerful wind, whipped into chaos, representing the whirlwind of time. However clichéd the image was, Danny coddled it close to her heart for its pure truth. Music written on a page was a calendar of sorts, tracking days in notes and states of mind in the rise and fall of passages; funny, she thought, how in the stasis of its written form—trapped in amber—this most elusive and disembodied of art forms could do that.
The passage was over, the song cycle complete on that day in Testaccio, when she bought the cello from Santangelo’s shop. It had hardly been surprising that, on her first day back in Rome, she would seek out one of the places she’d loved best in the entire city, and that was a music store owned by this ebullient Roman—a child prodigy gone astray, a former trapeze artist, fisherman, nightclub owner and bouncer. His squinty, bright blue eyes served as beacons in the magnificent wreck of his tanned, leathered face, a face dominated by a large and, according to Santangelo himself, frequently broken nose. (Name a celebrity living within the past 45 years, Danny thought, and Santangelo would claim he’d been punched by him—or her.) In college, she had seen a photo of the Czech writer Milan Kundera; the resemblance to Santangelo was so pronounced that she immediately assumed the old man was putting his prodigious talent for bullshitting into a venture—writing fiction—where it would blossom like a weed.
No, she thought, it was hardly surprising that she walked away from his shop with a cello trailing in her wake and the taste of a good Valpolicella lining her mouth.
The carrying case Santangelo had provided for the cello was probably older than he was. Only a few blocks away from the shop the wheels finally split off and rolled helter-skelter across the cobblestones like giant, mechanical ants.
Fuck. Danny looked in vain for a cab as the sun sizzled into her back. The streets surrounding the warehouses and the humble trattorias were bare. She glanced shamefacedly at the cello, as if it were a bad date that she simply couldn’t figure out how to abandon.
Come on. You carried one of these things for years. You can do it again.
She knelt and tipped the cello onto her back. Mother of God. A tide of vomit ebbed at the back of her throat; she broke out into a sweat. Nonetheless, she carried the thing across the piazza, almost crawling along the rutted street, until it literally drove her to her knees.
After delicately rolling the cello off her back, she looked
up. In front of her was the
Ostensibly, her father had called her to
Despite all the reasons for being back in
Kate possessed an almost encyclopedic knowledge about
religious architecture, and Danny was certain she would appreciate the splendor
of the churches not only in
She even remembered Kate dragging her to an Orthodox Greek
She stared at the
Scherzo for Stalking
It was a shock of blue, deep and jarring, lacking the soothing properties so customarily associated with the color, and it covered most of the wall. It appeared to seep out of the boundaries of the canvas, encroaching and laying waste to the other small figurative studies that lurked beside it.
In spite of her surprisingly conventional tastes in art, Danny rather liked it. What she didn’t like was the disgusting, newfangled martini that Walter gave her. There was some sort of raspberry liqueur in it; red curls bobbed on its surface, demonic little corkscrews that mockingly dared her to eat them. It was the latest thing, apparently, but despite the drink’s ambitions it accomplished nothing aside from making her feel incredibly dated and old.
Once again Walter was pressed up against her, taking advantage of the unfortunate social rule that ex-boyfriends, even those dating as far back as college, can always violate one’s personal space whenever they please.
“You like this one,” he burred. The rough scrub of his unshaven chin brushed her earlobe.
Danny was certain that he wanted the crowd to think he was whispering some kind of unbridled come-on into her ear, the sort of thing he would murmur when they dated in school; that he continued to indulge in this fraudulent intimacy after they broke up was first out of desperation, then a matter of principle—futile, febrile attempts to swing her back from “the dyke side.” Now it was merely force of habit. “Remind me again—how much did I give you for this space?”
Walter pulled back, as if she had struck him. “Jesus. How many times are you going to rub my nose in it?”
“I’m just kidding.”
“I’m going to pay you back.” Walter never inspired confidence, particularly now. His idea of opening-night attire was sneakers, paint-stippled khakis, and a t-shirt. Danny did like the t-shirt, however. It showed a picture of an egg and a pint of cream; the thought balloons above the respective items read “Beat Me” and “Whip Me.”
She didn’t care about the money; she knew she would be lucky to get half of it back. It didn’t matter. Walter deserved it, she thought, for putting up with her for almost 15 years. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Whaddya going to do when Judith notices it’s gone?”
“Tell her it’s for my heroin habit and all the whores that I sleep with.”
Walter giggled. “Ah, what would that woman do, without you to continuously yank her chain?”
She didn’t want to think about her mother, so she nodded at the painting. “Yeah, I like this one. It’s the only one I do like.”
“I knew you wouldn’t understand his work,” Walter lamented.
“Yeah, I know, Walter. I’m so fucking stupid.” She thrust her half-empty glass at him. “Make me a proper drink, would you?”
“I’d settle for a simple G & T. Hold the sugar, hold the raspberry liqueur, hold the squiggly red things.”
“They’re licorice shavings,” he replied in a strangely supercilious manner.
“Am I supposed to be impressed with that?”
“Get me a bottle of
“Since when are the gallery’s patrons also the hired help?”
“Since the guys who were supposed to help never showed up. I’ve been the bartender all goddamn night, in case you haven’t noticed. Oh.” Walter turned on the worn heel of a yellow Converse All-Star sneaker. “And you’re the only patron, you know that.” His voice rose over the paltry din of conversation and old U2 playing on the boombox: “I’ll kiss your ass later. In front of everybody, if you want.”
In the garden I was playing the tart
She smiled in what she hoped was a ravishing, irresistible fashion.
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
Walter flipped her the bird and grinned.
“Am I your Judas?” God, did I actually say that to you once?
She headed up to the verboten second floor.
During the summer, Walter had bought the building with the intention of opening it as a gallery that September. What he did not count on were the numerous building, fire, and safety code violations that had to be overcome before the space could be opened to the public; he settled instead for a hasty opening on a gloomy, frigid weekend in December.
The renovations had not yet extended to the musty second floor. It didn’t matter much—at this point Walter was only using it for storage, although visions of tiny, overpriced apartments rented to desperate NYU students danced through his head. The space did have potential—like the downstairs floor, the east wall was a lovely, rugged exposed brick. But at the moment the upstairs rooms only held paintings, unused canvas, frames, and booze.
The windows were layered with frost and filth. The
neighborhood reminded her a little of Testaccio in
You were acting like it was the end of the world
Danny dropped the bottle. Glass and gin glistened in a beautiful smash-up at her feet, tinkling gently as it pooled, sharp and bright, along the floor.
In her first leap toward the door she skidded in the spilt gin; the glass crunching under her boots served as a safety brake of sorts, a jagged precaution. She stopped and allowed a vague sense of foolishness battle a painful yearning; either her bottled-up heart was exploding through her ears or Walter had cranked the music.
What will it accomplish, she wondered, to go running off after a ghost?
She galloped down the stairs, past the guy who looked like Ted from “Queer Eye,” (or was it really Ted? she wondered), swam by the blue painting, and nearly collided with Walter, who was now making the circuit armed with a tray of canapés.
“What the hell are you doing?” he cried.
“I’ll be back.” She burst through the main door, startling a couple who were just about to come in.
“I’ve never seen you run in your entire life!” Walter yelled after her.
And then she was on the street, running down to the corner and making the same turn that she saw Kate take, dodging bewildered people, ignoring the boys loitering outside a club who screamed “Run, Lola, Run!” at her as she flew by. She ran harder. She was not accustomed to pushing her body beyond any kind of limit—except when it came to drinking—but she ran until she wasn’t sure where she was anymore, until doubt settled in and she wondered if it was really Kate she had seen and not an apparition spurred by a bad martini, too much U2, and too much hope.
She stopped. Doubled over and panting, she gasped out clouds of air that hit her knees. Sweat cooled along her back as the night, sleek and dark, starry and chilled, poured over her. Is it stupid of me to think it means something, to see her again? It hurt to breathe. Does it mean I am still capable of feeling something?
When finally she returned to the gallery, U2 wasn’t playing anymore. However, Walter’s nostalgia for the early 90s continued unabated; he was now playing Bettie Seveert: Ray ray rain/if you feel the same/give me a sign…
He stood near the door with Saul, who’d apparently just
arrived. Saul wore a fur hat and a camel hair overcoat. Even after so many
years, there was still something about his urbanity that sometimes overwhelmed
Danny—as if he were too tasteful to exist outside his antique-laden
“What’s up?” Walter asked. “Think you saw Sigourney Weaver again?”
“No,” replied Danny, sullen and possessed of a strong urge to go home.
Saul smiled and tugged at the ragged cuff of her sweater. “Are you okay, Danno?”
“You broke a bottle of gin,” Walter threw in irritably.
She sighed. “Sorry about that.” Deftly she avoided meeting Saul’s gaze.
“And you didn’t even clean it up.”
“Fuck it, Walter,” she hissed.
“Well, if I wasn’t already selling my firstborn to you I’d really bitch about it, but—“
“Are you all right?” Saul repeated.
“Yeah, I’m—fine.” Danny tried to change the subject. “Is Ted still here?”
Walter frowned. “Ted who?”
Saul touched her cheek, steering her face so that their eyes finally met. Occasionally she was amused by Saul’s uncanny talent for reading her mind; most of the time, however, it either terrified or irritated her beyond belief, and this moment was no exception.
“Oh my God,” he blurted. “Danny, no.”
“What?” Clueless, Walter peered into her face. “Is she sick?”
“Goddamnit, Saul.” She pushed his hand away from her face.
“You saw her again.”
“Sigourney Weaver?” Walter asked hopefully.
“Not Sigourney Weaver,” Saul’s shout was directed at Walter but nonetheless caught the interest of practically everyone jammed in the tiny room. “The narcoleptic Jesus freak!”
For a group of about 30 art gallery attendees on a winter’s
“Wow.” Walter was awestruck. For him, a Kate sighting was as good as a Sigourney Weaver sighting; he had never met the fabled Kate, the only woman that Danny had ever pined after “like some dumb bitch in a Bronte novel” as Saul’s partner, Bart, had put it.
“I don’t know if it was her,” Danny muttered.
“Or perhaps you’re trying to convince yourself it isn’t.” Saul whipped his coat off with the assuredness of a man with a minion—and draped it over Walter’s waiting arms.
She sneered. “Isn’t that what you want, Saul?”
“What I want is for you to not go down this road again. Nothing will come of it. She’s straight, Danny. If she wanted to be with you, she would.”
“There are no straight women. Only degrees of queerness.” It was her standard retort, usually spiced with just the right amount of bravado and confidence. Now, she couldn’t manage it.
Saul issued forth a long-suffering sigh.
She wished she could tell Saul how she knew that Kate had loved her, had loved what they did together. When I first saw you I thought you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She could tell Saul, again, that Kate had said that, but she could not translate that tone of voice, rich and tremulous, spilling over into lust. Nor could she convey the eager, guileless conviction of Kate’s movement in bed; she was the student who wished to know and to be known, who desired the release of the knowledge that she always knew existed within herself.
But Danny knew he wouldn’t believe her; there were times when she scarcely believed it herself.
Adagio: Miss Bronte, or the Idiot in the Attic
Two days later
The ancient state of pathos was as foreign to Danny as Sanskrit was to a fish; while she saw it in other people, she could not recognize it as something that ever touched her. Every ridiculous gesture—such as, for example, sitting in the frigid second floor of Walter’s gallery on a Sunday afternoon in order to stalk a woman she hadn’t seen for three years—was imbued with conviction and a bizarre kind of dignity.
As for whether others might view her as pathetic—and here Danny lowered a pair of binoculars and stared at the cotton-ball sky with naked eyes—she simply didn’t care.
The only price to pay for her obsession thus far was Walter’s perpetual ridicule. He thumped ominously up the stairs to her makeshift garret, sounding not unlike a villain in a third-rate melodrama. Certainly, she thought, he was doing it on purpose; all his contrivances to the contrary, nothing was ever completely accidental with Walter.
The heavy rhythm of his tread was accompanied by a trilling falsetto: “Heathcliff, it’s meeeee, Cathy, I’ve come home now…I’m so alone…let me in your windoooooow…”
Danny clenched her teeth. Kate Bush was the kind of girl she would have fucked and taunted in college. Or maybe, depending upon her mood, taunted then fucked. “Walter, do you know any music beyond the parameters of 1980-1995?”
“More like 1992,” he admitted, slightly breathless from stair-climbing. Danny sat on a barstool she confiscated from downstairs; he stood beside her as his breathing reestablished its gentle, regular pattern. “Maria brought some subs. Want one?”
Maria was Walter’s girlfriend—either long-suffering or exceedingly patient. Perhaps both. “No. Thanks.”
“Anything to drink?”
“You’d be warmer downstairs.”
“I like it up here. It gives me a better overview of the street.”
They were quiet together for almost a minute.
“I could tell Saul about this.”
“Go ahead. He can’t stop me.”
“He’ll hound you until you do.”
“You got a bad attitude, Junior.”
“I’m not—“ She raised the binoculars again, inhibiting any successful interpretation of her expression—although it wasn’t as if Walter could actually figure her out. “I’m not going to do this forever.”
“Well,” Walter retorted, quite naturally, “how long?”
“Until I get her.”
“Why is it stalking is illegal, dangerous, psychotic behavior when a man does it, but when a woman does it, it’s completely charming and romantic?”
“We know how to do it right.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
Danny dropped the binoculars and glared at him. “Try being silent.”
“Is that her?”
Her head snapped to window. She jumped up.
“Will you go the fuck away?”
“This is crazy. You’re completely wound up. Are you on something?”
“No!” Danny shouted.
“Oh my God—is that her?”
“Walter, I swear to God, I will kill you if you don’t leave right now.”
“No, seriously. Look.”
“No, look.” Walter pointed.
Blue and black, tall and lean, Kate moved through the street.
And she moved through the fair / And fondly I watched her move here / And move there. It
was her. Danny was breathless in remembrance of everything—her walk, her laugh, her hands skimming back hair from her face or
wrapped around a coffee cup. And she went
her way homeward /
With one star awake—
She reached out to touch the windowpane and stopped, as if the dirty glass would ripple like a pond and the illusion would shatter and disappear. As the swan in the evening / Moved over the lake.
Walter modulated his usual sardonic tone with a genuine touch of tenderness. “Aren’t you supposed to be running after her like a banshee?”
She looked at him. He smiled.
“Oh. Right.” Danny took off.
Either Kate was walking slower or
she was running faster, but this time Danny managed to keep her in sight; she
trailed behind her quarry, keeping a block between them, until, several blocks
later, Kate entered a warehouse-like building on
She had let herself into the building with a key that opened a heavy, gray steel door. Several minutes after Kate disappeared inside, Danny wandered over and peered at a row of buttons beside the door. Of course. Loft apartments. There was a “K. ANDERSON” on the second floor.
She looked up. The terminal velocity of a raindrop struck the side of her head.
Kate hadn’t married James—that much Danny knew from Bart, who kept abreast of Page Six, and her mother, the Livia of the local Republican Party. At the time it hadn’t mattered much to Danny; pursuit was madness, and she had to stop. If she wants me, she’ll come to me, she thought; it was a mantra of quiet desperation that she repeated it aloud to anyone who would listen—disinterested acquaintances at parties, the guys at her local Starbuck’s, the women in bars sadly and strangely fascinated by tales of true love. She stole consolation as a furtive and desperate lover would forbidden kisses in public places.
But Kate had not come to her. So she had moved on. There
were new clubs, new restaurants, new galleries, new songs, new
diversions. And new women: An attorney who liked to meet in hotels. A jewelry-maker who lived in
On the building’s east side, facing an alley, was a fire escape.
Regardless of retrospection, Danny knew the minute she seized the fire escape’s ladder that it was plainly stupid, blatantly criminal, and beyond insane to attempt breaking into Kate’s apartment. The rain began to fall in a steady, slashing torrent. The black metal of the fire escape grew slick and shiny; clumsily, she wrapped her body around the first-floor landing like a drunken gymnast. But somehow her grip faltered; the strong nimble fingers that coaxed beauty out of a cello were simply too delicate and precise to play a fire escape.
She fell. It wasn’t very far, but far enough to do damage. Pavement, meet collarbone.
Lucidity was barely maintained during a brief cell-phone conversation with Walter: Pain barked at her heels. She spoke through clenched teeth. He assured her that help was on its way. She knew that meant he would call her mother. She passed out. When next she woke a policeman was shining a light in her face—even though it was broad daylight.
New York’s Finest, she thought, before passing out.
Over the next few hours she had bursts of clarity—a hospital corridor, the nice Indian doctor, needles and bandages. The next thing she knew, she was in the soft cocoon of her mother’s BMW, drooling on the plush back seat, sitting in a muffled, morphine bliss.
Judith sat beside her in the back, eating baby carrots; they were a coping mechanism, a substitute for cigarettes—she always kept a Ziploc bag of them in her purse. Normally the deafening, frantic crunch of them was enough to make Danny matricidal—although, admittedly, it never took much for Danny to attain that state—but in the soft world of painkillers, the noise sounded as pleasant as freshly fallen snow under a boot.
Her mother stopped crunching and sighed.
Here it comes. The thought slurred across Danny’s mind.
“You know,” she began, “if you are to ever convince me that lesbian relationships are healthy, you simply must stop doing things like this.” She sighed again and packed away her carrots. “I mean, really, Danny, didn’t the girl have a doorbell?”
The notes of Danny’s laughter escalated in a gentle frenzy not unlike Ravel’s Bolero. She laughed until her collarbone throbbed all over again.
At home that night, she stared at the cello she bought in
Coda: Sunday Morning
Danny knew Andreas’s back as well as she knew any part of her own body; after all, she’d spent close to ten years staring at the slope of his shoulders, the sag of his corduroy jackets. Whenever she worked with him, he stood half the time with his back to her, focused on the music. The other half he criticized her physical approach. Your wrists are too tight. Play through your arms, not with them. When your body seizes up, when it is stiff, it means you are searching for the seat of your power in the wrong way.
Over and over he made her play a passage from a Caetano Veloso version of a song called “Fina Estampa”—a snippet played con rabbia, a challenge to her stamina. Clearly Andreas didn’t think she was ready for Bach or Brahms or—God forbid she should even think it—his precious Elgar or his sainted Sainte Colombe.
She sprinted over the notes. In their familiar burn, the strings against her fingers yielded their old secrets, whispering intimacies softly hissed in the exhale of the bow’s crossing. When finally Andreas told her to stop, she was limp and sweaty.
He was pleased. His nicotine fingers rested affectionately in the damp nape of her neck. “It is a good start. You haven’t forgotten much. But promise me one thing.”
She looked at him with feverish eyes, an adoring disciple out of a Renaissance painting.
In turn he glared at her with Old Testament wrath. “Don’t ever stop again.”
Snow sanctified the city; that it was Sunday as well enhanced this vaguely non-secular mood. It fell in a pure pointillist haze. Everything would be white, if only for an hour or two, as everyone crept toward quiet and unknown destinations.
Church or brunch—take your pick. Danny sat at the fake Eames kitchen table in her apartment. Absently, she tugged at her pursed lips and wondered how best the day could be wasted. Her coffee grew cold. It was earlier than when she usually awoke, and she blamed the snow for this. Her street was normally quiet anyway, but the snow made the outside world downright silent. There wasn’t even the sound of shoes hitting the pavement.
Might as well go get the paper. She pulled on boots, a sweater, a suede jacket. From the deli she would phone Saul. He was typically awake by now, and perhaps he could be convinced to brunch earlier—after a certain amount of complaining, of course. All the good places don’t open until 11, you know that!
Downstairs, she opened the front door and was struck by not only the cold, which pinched and prickled her bare cheeks, but the sight of Kate leaning against the stone railing.
Kate looked genuinely surprised to see her, as if she had no idea that Danny still lived there. Her mouth parted but no words came out.
“Hi.” Danny didn’t know what else to say.
The soft fluctuations of her lips finally produced sounds. “You’re awake.”
“Yeah.” Danny took a couple steps down, her bare finger plowing a fringe of snow off the rail. She barely felt the chill. This is what you’ve waited for. This is what you want. “The—snow woke me up.”
“Weird, I know.” She was now one step above Kate—and hence, on eye level with her. Snow settled starkly in her black hair. She looked remarkably unchanged, as handsome, beautiful, and beguiling as ever. “You’re here. Why are you here?”
“Oh,” Kate said again.
“Didn’t think this far ahead?” Danny hoped she sounded teasing and not confrontational.
Kate shrugged, resisted a grin. “Never thought you’d be awake before on a Sunday.”
“You know,” Danny intoned, “we’ve got to stop stalking like this.”
She laughed, and it was beautiful. Oh God, how I’ve missed your laugh. “At least I didn’t fall off a fire escape.”
“You know about that.” Danny was instantly dismayed. “I wasn’t sure if you did.”
“You know me—oblivious. I didn’t know until my neighbors told me that night—‘There was a crazy woman trying to climb the side of the building and she fell. The cops and the ambulance were out there. Didn’t you see?’ I didn’t. Then they described—you. I knew it was you.” She paused. “I called your mother around Christmas, to see how you were.”
Bitch! “She didn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t expect her to.” Kate removed a thick, stiff glove
from her hand. Danny found the gesture simultaneously brazen as a striptease,
given the weather, and yet primly erotic. When Kate’s cool fingers wrapped
around her hand she could only think about how she didn’t deserve it. She was
the beggar mistrusting the pot of gold at his feet. And when Kate kissed her
hand with soft, dry lips she disbelieved even further, and called the entire
world into question. Is it really snowing?
Is this really
Kate’s eyes were closed, as if in prayer, and she kept Danny’s reddening knuckles pressed to her lips. “I don’t know how to do this,” she finally said. Her voice rubbed against Danny’s skin, like a cat.
“It’s all right. Neither do I.”
“It will end badly.”
“Yes.” She thought it best to agree with Kate; pessimists, she knew all too well, dislike the counterpoint of sunny dissent. How did I suddenly become optimistic?
“I haven’t changed much,” Kate admitted.
“It’s okay. I have.” Danny opted for full disclosure. “Well, a little, I guess.”
“And that would be enough for both of us?”
“I don’t know. It might be worth finding out. A little may be enough.”
Danny wasn’t sure if Kate was frowning at the answer she gave, or at the increasingly roughened state of Danny’s left hand, which she caressed and scrutinized like a too-affectionate fortuneteller. “You’ve been playing again.”
The truth was she played too much, as if trying to exhaust that hidden reserve of years when she did not play. She had a bloody blister on the ring finger of her left hand. “Yes.”
Kate nodded at the building, at the cello somewhere within. “Will you play that thing for me?”
She would play for Kate. She would continue to play, always. And this particular piece—performed with the accompaniment of a snowy morning and an unmerited state of grace—she would play until she got it right, and perhaps even beyond that point, perhaps until the end of her life. Da capo al fine, she thought. From beginning to end.
h o m e
d a r k b l o o m i a n a