Saturday, December 18, 2004

A Midnight Monte Cristo

In the summer, the nights could be so hot that I took to storing my pillows in the refrigerator during the day and only removing them just before bed. The cool touch of the fabric never lasted for more than a few minutes in the balmy night air, but the momentary relief more than justified the diurnal struggle to replace a carton of milk or a summer sausage in the cramped confines of the icebox.

The time that Webber arrived at my house looking for a place to store his last remaining fifth of potable bourbon it was so hot that the label peeled from the bottle of its own accord. A tequila or port man, I could be counted on not to imbibe the sweet dark, liquor while he was at work, and certainly his family had no cause to suspect me of hiding his contraband, so I was often his cache man in this way in those days.

At the door, I nodded my assent and Webber went to cram the bottle into my fridge, tucking it into the fold of the goose-feather pillow.

Dunn was over already and had some lines he wanted me to look at.

I was happy for him. It had been several weeks since I had been able to get anything on paper and I went pouring over his thin, recalcitrant penmanship, barely suppressing my envy.

But, following my personal mandate to reveal whatever might be concealed by more or less confident men, I immediately mentioned my envy to Dunn and he laughed that great, ejaculating laugh of his that it took me several years to believe was not a fake.

Webber ambled out onto the veranda and leaned against the entryway, eating pecans that he picked in twos and threes from his pocket. He had had some success with a dusky brunette in the previous week and I asked him about her. He deflected the question, which meant he had either slept with her or hadn’t. He stuffed another pecan in his mouth and Dunn scratched my cat - the white one - under the chin.

I told Dunn the lines were good; something about cars and rivering waterways. I resolved to Joyceify some of my own stuff and see what came of it.

We discussed without seriousness the merits of some cafés within walking distance and finally decided to drink the bourbon and be done with it.

Later, some puritan girls came by and we pretended to make sexual overtures at them and they pretended to be offended. Webber smoked his Monte Cristo cigar and Dunn spoke jubilantly of eggs, and after comparing a nondescript couple walking by on the sidewalk to a Duras novel, he admonished them to “look it up sometime.”

Eventually Webber had to get home and Dunn, too, said his goodbyes and ambled off in the wrong direction - drunk into his Falstaff persona. I shut my door to the sound of him screaming at invisible suburbanites or submarines, I could not tell which.

The girls had left hours or minutes before and I fell asleep on the sofa trying to play my old ukulele, the one missing the top string.

The last thing I remember was deciding that I would remember the astonishing idea I had for a short story without writing it down. In the morning I had forgotten all but the memory of the idea.

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