“I knock and nobody answers?” said Duke. “That hurts, Doris. Considering.”
“People have expectations. You live, you die, you’re gone.”
“What’s all the wailing at the cemetery about? He was such a… I don’t know what we’ll do without… All of that?”
“You can’t see the subtitles. Last diaper I’ll buy for him. Get rid of the wheelchair. One less thing.”
Doris noticed that her robe was coming undone. I noticed too. She pulled it tighter around herself. “My question is, Why are you back? Really.”
“Business,” said Duke. “Your business is my business.”
“I don’t see what business of ours needs your attention.”
“You’re not looking hard enough.”
“What am I missing?”
“You think Fatman is happy?”
Doris can be like the weather on a spring day. The sun is out, the clouds roll in, next thing you know lightning is taking out the power poles. Two seconds later the birds are tweet tweet tweeting again. Doris looked at me. An I-could-kill look worked around her brow. An instant later she was tearing up.
“Charles,” she said. “What?”
“You’ve been great, baby,” I said. “Generous to a fault. I got nothing to complain about.”
“Of course there’s a but,” said Duke. “There’s always a but.”
But, but, but…
So easy to confuse the symptoms for the disease.
Regarding the symptoms: Back in the day — oh, back in the day! — back when we occupied our Frogtown love shack, when keeping the roof over our head did not require the assistance of the lawn guy, the maids, the handyman, the chief of staff, some other employees whose function is not entirely clear to me (and this is not to mention the high-priced mechanics for our high-priced vehicles, the gutter man who works only in copper, our painter who is harder to schedule than Rembrandt) anyway, back in the day, in the love department I was Old Faithful. Reliable. Exciting. You have to take my word. No sex tapes circulating in the dusty back rooms of the internet, at least not to my knowledge. Though the big men of this world might have learned a thing or two, had they been able to tune in.
What simple, stupid joy it was, collapsed finally on my back amid the messed-up sheets, watching the ceiling spin, listening to the locomotive-like clattering of my heart with Doris’ sweaty head on my chest.
Baby, you sure you’re okay? she said a time or two. Sounds like a marching band in there.
And me answering, I die now, I’m happy. Just like Nelson Rockefeller.
Not knowing the irony therein, that the price of Nelsonian wealth was the end of blissfully mindless fuckery.
How did it start? How do the worms enter the coffin? It’s an insidious process, practically unnoticeable, until what started out “looking so natural” inside that satin-lined box is something else entirely.
Excuse the melodramatics. What I’m saying here is that our life in the sack was a defining fact of my self-conception, my happiness.
Until it became a source of dread.
There I was in our football-field sized four poster, naked Doris carved into the canopy of Duke’s bed, the voluptuous living version snuggled beside me. And mid-act I would experience what — who was it, Marx? — dubbed in a different context the withering away of the state.
“What is it, baby?” Doris asked later.
“I don’t know. The pizza? The beer? Maybe some gluten thing?”
“Oh, Charles. I got to speak to the chef.” This was before we fired him. “The anchovies,” Doris speculated. “Maybe it’s too much salt.”
The chef. Damn the chef, I thought. In our Frogtown days I was the chef, not some twerp in his twee toque, offering Doris a taste of this and a smidge of that.
She had to speak to the chef. Luigi was in her employ, not mine. Her kitchen, her chef, her Thermador fridge, her LaCornue range. We could have put a kid through college on the price of the appliances, but all I wanted was to sweat again over a Kenmore.
Oh, the worms were then just beginning to nudge against the coffin walls. Wormish, my member rested against my thigh. Concerned, my partner, now also my landlord, breathed warmly against my neck.
Soon I heard the steady sound of her breath and the familiar trickle of her drool against my shoulder.
While I myself felt reduced, receding, a beggar at the gate. It only got worse.
“Always a but,” Duke repeated. “Here. Let me explain.”
Monday: “Despite his air of ridiculousness…”