Run of the Play
by MARK ARTURO
New York at the start. Windswept jack-o-lanterns, the mighty gamble.
She wore all kinds of things. Prim dresses, outdated lingerie. I saw her on stage. She was in Cyrano at the National Theater. I always hated that play. It didn’t make any sense to me, in a world where everyone generally knew who everyone else was.
I waited for her, expecting other admirers. There were none. The play closed at the end of the month, the newspaper said it was “a spirited revival in the way that a glass of tap water can also be said to have spirits.”
She let me into her apartment and she assembled herself on the rug Indian style, breathing deeply, before she changed. I had a bottle of something she had put in a cooler for me. My shirt was almost soaked through. As soon as she was in her new things, I was undressing her, like that. She stopped me when I was having trouble with a certain latch, and she explained that if she screamed No! it meant keep going, but if she said anything in French, I should leave.
I finally got the latch, so I said, “The more costume changes there are in an act, the less likely I am to be interested in it.”
Fucking was like a high-wire act for the first bit, until she relaxed. She could really control her breathing, and she was athletic – not like, limber, but she could slam down on my cock from almost any angle, and she always did me the courtesy of pretending I was so big it hurt. I knew immediately that nothing like this was possible with the third lead in Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.
When we came back to her flat after that, she never changed. Her sweat was redolent of chamomile. I did like that she would listen to me, but I never got a big head about it. I knew she had other men, but she did not see them after her performances. I was there, I know.
It felt like most people we knew were actors. She possessed loads of friends, she would wave to them along the avenue. She did not stop to talk to them, and when I asked her why, she said, “Je sais les hommes de un autre existence.” Her French was poor. I spoke it better, but not in front of her.
Her apartment was a hole but mine was not much better and if I suggested taking her there she would pretend to cry. I did not really want to, so I said okay.
One day I came in late. She had a very severe look, the sort where you know apologizing isn’t going to get you to the place you want to go. I thought she was going to tell me to be on the other side of the door, but instead she asked me if I knew the story of the man with the golden arm. I shook my head, so she said, “He lifted everything, until he could not even lift his own arm.”
Figuring if she wanted me to get lost, she would have said so in her perverted French, I said, “Who’s troubling you?” It turned out to be some lope who lived a few floors above her. I went to take care of it, but she held me back and brought me to bed. You know what happened after that.
More often than not she was a mess when I got there. I couldn’t tell if it was to add spice to our sex, or for some other reason. Her stomach got a little larger, but I did not know what that meant either.
Finally once when she was asleep, and the night had been a particularly bad one, I tiptoed upstairs to find this wretch. I make it sound like it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, when I have never once decided something like that lightly in my life. For one, I had been looking at the ceiling all night, thinking of the man with the golden arm. And also, I had already half-unscrewed every doorknob in the building – in case I had the wrong room, or I had to hide.
Once I saw the light I knew whose room it was. I lowered myself to the ground, carefully unscrewed the doorknob and peeked in. A man held a small boy, perhaps only three or four, in his arms. He rocked the child back and forth, singing a lullaby. His voice, low and soft, kneaded up in itself. He sang,
La lune trop blême
Pose un diadème
Sur tes cheveux roux
La lune trop rousse
De gloire éclabousse
Ton jupon plein d’trous
An older child came out from a bedroom, holding his little sister’s hand. He asked where his mother was.
Mark Arturo is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.