Perimeter

Frank Gatling

You were telling me. Quick hands. Open thighs. A black rain falling. You fell asleep and burnt a hole in the pillow. Then you woke up. And. The other was there. At first impression his bright shirt looked like racing silks and you thought of a jockey. And the sexual movements of a horse with powerful arched tendons. A Merce Cunningham dance routine slipped through your head. Before he touched you. Became your second lover of the night. A lover who performed without speaking. Eyes with perfect white dots painted on the lids. Like an actor. Skilled in a martial sort of way. With black hair that suggested to you a funeral knell. Odor of sweat and cologne. As you raised your knees at a sharp angle. And you were Godiva with the horse, or jockey, or merely the observer of the riderless horse in a military funeral. Again.

A clutch of keys dropped through the mail slot. The jingle followed by the clapping shut of the slot startled you. It was Jason returning your car keys. He had made a late night run to Maryland. With a gesture you calmed your jockey who went back to posting.

Out the morning window a cat has somehow gotten itself choked on a chicken bone in the alley below. It must be wedged in its throat. It paws frantically at its neck and rolls over on its back. I watch its slow death agonies in the cinders then go into the bathroom to shave.

But I dreamed of dwarfs again you say, nearly disappearing in the suds of your bath. You lean forward to cleanse a curved foot. Alan says that it indicates something stunted in me, that I need only to discover what, to expunge the dreams.

Resting on a stool, I watch you, more interested in my cigarette than in your obsessions.

And how long have you been having these dreams I ask.

Oh, since childhood you say, looking surprised that I didn't know. Something you had related no doubt while I was wearing an attentive face but thinking of something else. When you step out of the tub, some of the suds cling to your body, some slide across your skin. I hand you the towel with the phallic towers, magenta on seablue.

The man has come about the sewing machine. You have answered the door in a negligee. He tries not to look at you as you explain to him about the irregularity in the stitching. I watch from the bedroom where he is unable to see me. He is in his fifties and not the type to attempt anything, perhaps a disappointment for you. He leaves with the machine, and you return to the bedroom, coming out of the negligee and kicking one leg high like a majorette.

You asked me, those first times, if it bothered me that you had a second lover, something more than the casual affairs we have always permitted. I revealed to you that I was seeing on a regular basis another woman, one some years older than either of us, a wealthy woman who gave me expensive presents. You became hysterical. I explained that the double standard you were applying was hardly fair and that at least I allowed no intrusion into your private life by this person, as you did by inviting your jockey to drop by when you knew I was going to be in your apartment, and by your descriptions of your lovernaking with him. You replied that it was my clandestine tendencies that made our relationship incomplete, that you didn't give a damn if I courted this woman. I suspected you were only partly lying.

In the lavender afternoon just before dusk, we strolled in the park. You were wearing your fawnish personality, and tugged at my hand, insisting that we ride the carrousel, even though you knew that I dislike mechanically imposed motion. You selected a zebra with manic eyes and I stood by, clutching a pole, refusing to select among the grotesque animals of this wheeling menagerie. The calliope music was as painful to me as blows. You and some of the teenaged girls arched forward in your saddles, bringing your pelvises into contact with the hard polished wood. I feigned an interest in one of the girls and she goggled back with youthful arrogance, increasing her pubic antics in the seat. You were offended and refused my hand as we walked away.

I was listening to a Bach concerto when you came to my apartment with your jockey, who is actually one of your dancer friends. He rather smugly asked me if I ever listened to Crumb or Penderecki. I said only when I was somewhere where I couldn't politely avoid it. He smiled condescendingly. I was obviously something antiquated to him, perhaps even prosaic. The dots on his eyelids annoyed me. I recalled your telling me with some delight that he was a bisexual. I made no move to offer drinks, so you mixed some, daquiris on ice in the tall slender glasses of which I am particularly fond. You drank your drink and began to caress him in front of me, soon suggesting we should all three adjourn to the bedroom. I agreed but went into the bathroom first where I removed my shoes. When I heard your murmurings in the bedroom, I opened the door silently, slipped out of the bathroom, just out of the possible line of vision, and quietly left the apartment. In the elevator I replaced my shoes.

I sit on a park bench reading. A young woman who could almost be your double approaches me through some trees. Her step, the fall of her hair is so similar to yours that at first I believe it is you. I start to speak but detect some indefinable difference in the face. She passes without looking at me. I follow her with my gaze. From behind I can tell she is slightly heavier.

Occasionally you reroute your walks home, you say, to absorb as much of the variety of the city as possible. Once you pick a street where there is a cluster of porno shops and sex-oriented cinemas. The men on the street are sleazy and you feel a little frightened. A young black pimp winks at you and calls you dear. A couple of young white hoods with swept back hairstyles of the fifties accost you, blocking your path and wanting to know if you're looking for some hot action. One of them puts his hand on your arm and you begin to panic. He says he bets you're a red hot mama. The other one pats his crotch and says how would you like to go down on that, sweet young thing. Your throat convulses; you feel you're going to cry. You don't know how to handle men like these at all, having been exposed mainly to artists and intellectuals. Although your sexual experiences have probably been much more varied than theirs, you suddenly feel like a child, and you are terrified. The one holding your arm moves against you and you try to break away. His look of confident contempt is like nothing you have ever encountered. You are certain you are going to be raped.

In an instant though you are released and the hoods disappear with extraordinary speed. Feeling delivered but bewildered you look around. A policeman is approaching at a trot, having sensed immediately that your situation was not typical of this strip. When he gets a closer look at you he is sure you don't belong there. He is comforting and offers to walk a couple of blocks with you till you are out of this zone. You begin to cry a little, much to your embarrassment, and he gives you a fatherly pat. He is probably glad to deal with someone like you for a change, glad to exhibit qualities he must usually hold in check. Two blocks later you are once again in a section where you can mingle back into the typical human mixture of the city. Feeling like a schoolgirl, you thank him, and he warns you to be more careful where you walk. You turn another corner and begin to run.

My older lady friend has refused me admittance to her luxurious suite, speaking to me only through a space allowed by her security door-chain. She complains of illness but I assume she has another playmate inside. I stroll through the park, hoping to see your look-alike again, but am disappointed. I watch some girls throwing a Frisbee, taking pleasure in their leaps and turns. Their laughter eventually drives me away.

Your jockey, it seems, has even more peculiar habits than we had credited him with. Upon receiving no answer at your door, I decide to wait for you a while and let myself in with the key you have provided. I enter to find you in a red slip (part of your collection of erotic lingerie), bound to a straight chair in the middle of the living room, completely immobilized, with a rubber ball thrust into your mouth as a gag. Immediately I suspect that your friend is lurking about to watch my reaction to this scene which may be only a game gotten up by the two of you. Instead of releasing you immediately, I check out all the rooms to be sure he isn't there. Only when I'm satisfied he isn't, do I come back and pry the ball out of your mouth. You are breathing hard but trying to hide your distress. You defend your lover. He would have come back, you tell me, and besides he knows you come by daily so it wasn't as if he left me here to rot or something.

I go to the kitchen for a knife and start to cut the ropes binding your wrists to the back of the chair. No, you say, first the feet, so I obey. Then you slowly raise your legs so I can see there is nothing beneath the slip. You tell me to disrobe, and I do partially. Then, carefully instructing me as to balance and technique, you show me how penetration can be achieved without upsetting the chair.

I have warned you that your jockey is a dangerous maniac and yet you continue to see him. You scoff at me, telling me I am still living in the Victorian stagnation of my ancestors. You forget that it was I who introduced you, for the most part, to bohemia. You catalogue my faults for me, dwelling particularly on my secretiveness, my bookishness, and what you call my cloistered and anemic existence. I refuse to defend myself which enrages you. You call me a smug bastard and I leave, more in weariness than exasperation.

On a day when I was particularly depressed, I was accosted by four panhandlers in a row, each with his hunger or hospitalization story. Often I give these people money, but on this day I refused, even though I had just cashed a seventy-five dollar draft from my mother who likes me to enjoy the material standard of living I was brought up in. Finally, I was approached by a bouncing, jive-talking street type who told me he and his buddies were trying to collect enough for a half gallon of wine. Attracted by his openness, I handed him a five dollar bill. He looked at it and smiled and said, with this, my man, I can outfit an entire company of guerrillas. Look for the revolution tomorrow. Che will rise again! Right on!

I went off musing on just what were the possibilities lurking in the undercurrents of the city. How much of the catalyst to power was economic, how much psychic. Which waited for which.

I have had my phone disconnected. It is only partly to make myself less accessible to my friends and acquaintances. I a1so dislike calls from people trying to sell things, which are impossible to avoid entirely even with an unlisted number due to the new computerized digital dialing system where every possible number in an exchange is covered. The thought of having an answering service to avoid these intrusions is somehow distasteful to me, smacking of self-importance And there have been those breather calls, ostensibly from you and your sadomasochistic jockey, which began just after I announced that I could no longer see you if such a presence was to go on infecting your life. It has occurred to me that without the phone, people who want to get in touch with me may begin actually appearing at my threshold, a prospect I do not find at all attractive. I have installed one of those gadgets that looks like a mini-telescope in my door so that I can see who is on the other side of it without revealing myself or even asking who it is. When I listen to the stereo now, I do so with headphones so as not to betray myself through noise. Sometimes I leave the apartment by the fire escape. I have acquired some very strong elasticized rope of the sort used in gymnasium conditioning rooms, which makes it easy to let myself down. I merely loop the rope around a metal bar with a special slipknot and then pull it free when I've reached the ground. I am becoming rather apprehensive about attracting attention this way, however; also, there is no feasible way of reversing the process without leaving the rope tied there permanently which would be an invitation to athletic burglars whom I have even less inclination to meet than my friends. Nonetheless, these clandestine exits do cut down the risk of lobby or hallway encounters by an appreciable percentage. I will probably abandon this method in favor of disguise as I am beginning to find the presence of the rope in my jacket pocket rather cumbersome.

You told me once that, like animals, we should cut ourselves free of all parental connections once we are capable of fending for ourselves. You chided me for accepting money from my mother. When I pointed out that your parents were paying your way through various dancing courses you answered that you were as yet incapable, whereas I who was five years older and established in journalism and fiction, had no excuses for allowing myself the extra comforts brought by the handouts I received. You said my acceptance of these gratuities was as puerile as sucking my mother's breast. When I became angry, you laughed and accused me of bourgeois prudery and filial piety. You told me my feeling of offense showed an overt and decadent sense of decency regarding my mother's flesh. You said most married women were whores who screwed for material convenience. You added that you would soon break all family ties and remain incommunicado.

I saw you and your jockey coming out of a bistro where a lot of the young crowd go to have coffee or beer and sit on the floor listening to guitars and folk-singing. I stepped back into a cul-de-sac to observe. The two of you went into a bizarre series of Grotowski-like dance movements. A few people watched your sidewalk choreography and applauded. Some of them seemed to know you. Then I noticed you were both in whiteface. At first, in the dusk, I had recognized you by your postures, hair, and clothing.

You were strikingly graceful in the outdoor recital on the Cathedral grounds. You danced excerpts from the Firebird. A mutual friend introduced us. We strolled through the colonnade stopping in a cafe for Jamaican coffee and croissants. Your laugh was soft and carefree, your eyes alive. Exuberance not overdone. Later we made love. The dusk light from the window bathed you in violet. When the streetlamps were lit, we made shadow glyphs on the walls and ceiling.

On the street you saw a trio of dwarfs, two males and one female, shaking tambourines and gurgling out a song, all dressed in red and white. You were transfixed. At certain pauses they whirled in a cylindrical flourish. Your hands were clenched together, absolutely still. You said, at last I've seen them, and ran over and dropped several loose bills into their basket, receiving a nod from the men, a curtsy from the woman. We walked rapidly away, your hair flying, your eyes distant. The evening was filled with pre-rain moisture. That night you were unusually sadistic in bed, raking me with your nails and biting as we made love in the pitch dark with the rain slanting heavily past the open window.

I have ceased to see my older lady friend. She was an expert lover but there was a certain feeling of degradation in it for me. It was not that I minded being paid, indirectly with the gifts, most of which were easily exchangeable for cash--gold cigarette cases, rings and such. In fact the last time I saw her, I lifted twenty dollars from her pocketbook. My revulsion came actually from the sensation of being a living dildo. When she found my phone had been disconnected, she sent me a wire: PLEASE COME NEED EXPERT REPAIRS. I have no intention of going but I do plan to send her a vibrator.

In my dream, you and your lover have hog-tied me on my bed. The room is on fire but the flames seem to be in your power. He is a real jockey in this, cap and all. With a malevolent leer he strikes the soles of my bare feet with his quirt. You have faded into the flames. I recognize the jockey as Satan. He exits by the window. The flames are now threatening. My screams escape as powerless whispers. I awake soaked in urine and sweat. The telephone rings persistently. I arise to answer it, soon realizing it is no longer there.

I sit staring into the alley between my building and the one next to it. The scene might as well be blank. There is little to behold other than brick, glass, iron, and garbage cans. I think of the cat that died there and wonder who or what disposed of its carcass. It is as if his death or life never actually occurred. I am overcome by a sensation of solitude, unsure if there is any other life in my building or the opposing one, in fact in the city or anywhere. I am suddenly jerked out of my solipsist reveries by the realization that a young woman just across from me is bathing with her shade only partially drawn, so that I can see her torso but not her face. With her cloth, she gives especially long attention to her breasts, stroking, lifting, and squeezing them. She must surely know she can be seen, but her attentions to herself are so personal as to be embarrassing to watch rather than arousing. Eventually, she gets quickly out of the tub, and I have a brief frontal view before she takes a towel and moves to a spot where I can no longer see her. I hear a guitar playing somewhere and notice the smell of something cooking. It is as if the place had suddenly sprung back to life, and these indications of animation become suddenly more depressing than the preceding blankness. I move from the window and light a cigarette.

When I told you I would no longer be able to see you as long as you continued in your relationship with your jockey/dancer, as your passion for his peculiarities left me feeling at best as a time-filler, at worst as a victim and unwilling voyeur, you became violently abusive, deriding me for my prudishness and my inescapable bourgeois upbringing. I did not reply, hoping the ludicrousness of your own hypocrisy would eventually become clear to you. You threw a book at me and I made what I hoped was a dignified exit.

I have not seen you since our quarrel. I am perhaps a little sorry you can no longer contact me by phone, as a reconciliation is something I have had hopes of. I wonder now if the breather calls were really from you. Once, you came to my door and banged and called my name but I had just smoked a very strong pipeful of grass, and was in too distant a state to
deal with anyone at the moment. Later, I was unsure whether your visit had been an actuality or merely an hallucination.

I sit in the park reading. I can hear the calliope music but it is at too great a distance to disturb me. The light is becoming nearly too dim for me to make out the words on the page with comfort. There is no one nearby so I light up a joint and sit inhaling its vapors. The effect of the drug makes the usual unreality of dusk even more acute. I feel secure, and certain that I understand intimately all the connections and workings of the universe. Physics and biology seem no more than a child's puzzle during this delusion of lucidity. I look up and see three forms coming over a rise of ground through some nearby trees. I hear their murmurs before I can distinguish them clearly. Then at once I am startled. It is the None of you look at me as you pass. I do not turn to follow your motions.

 

Links Atticus Books Richard Peabody Mondo Lucinda Ebersole Gargoyle Magazine Online Catalog Paycock Press Use this image map to navigate our site

| Paycock | Catalog | Gargoyle | Lucinda | Mondo | Richard | Atticus | Links