M came by today against my wishes. She knocked and I answered. Two days ago, when I left to buy a window shade, I locked the top lock, which I never do. I did it to keep her out of my apartment. (She has – or had – just the bottom lock key.) Today she returned that key, although it’s possible she made a copy first. Did she really do this? I doubt it. Will I keep locking the top lock? Yes, I probably will.
We sat at the kitchen table and talked. It took less than five minutes to get to the usual place. The usual place is: She shuts down because of something I say or don’t say, or more often, say but say wrongly. Also the thing I say or don’t say or say wrongly is something crazy – crazy in sense of being something that couldn’t possibly (to my mind, at least) cause a person to shut down. Then she storms out. She stormed out quietly this time, which I appreciated.
In the beginning (six weeks ago!) it struck me as strange that the beginning felt like the end. Why does the beginning feel like the end, I kept asking myself. Now I know why: Because it was also the end.
It’s two a.m. in the 14th Street subway station. A woman, a blond in a dark coat, leans against a pole and possibly cries. She’s wearing nice shoes – black, fashionable – and dark pants that I can only see the bottoms of. I can’t tell for sure she’s crying because she’s facing away from the platform and because her hair comes down past her shoulders, hiding her face. Her arms are crossed and she appears to be shaking a little.
I’ve been pacing up and down the platform, walking three or four poles past her in each direction to disguise the fact that I’m trying to tell if she’s crying.
I think she is. I’ve considered saying something to comfort her, but everything I can think of is presumptuous and intrusive.
I once comforted a woman who had been hit by a car and was lying the street with a broken leg, crying in pain. That was different, though, because the woman was obviously crying and her leg was clearly broken and she was unmistakably lying in the street.
Sadly – and shamefully, I think – the Brooklyn library system has endured a long series of funding cutbacks that have ravaged services. Still, the central branch – a magnificent Art Deco structure shaped to resemble an open book, with the back of the spine facing Grand Army Plaza and mirroring its curve – is just blocks from my apartment, so I often stroll over to look for something to read.
Yesterday I arrived with a list of five books to take out.
The first, “After Midnight” by Irmgard Keun, was not in the catalog.
The second, “Artificial-Silk Girl,” also by Irmgard Keun, was listed as on the shelf in Fiction. I looked in Fiction but it wasn’t there. I asked the librarian if it might be elsewhere, and she checked her computer. It was in New Arrivals, she said, so I looked in New Arrivals. It wasn’t there.
The third book, James Dickey’s “Deliverance,” was listed, like “Artificial-Silk Girl,” as on the shelf in Fiction. However, like “Artificial-Silk Girl,” it was not on the shelf in Fiction. I asked the same librarian if it might be elsewhere. No, she said, it should be on the shelf in Fiction. I asked if books are often not where they should be. Yes, she said. She had a nice smile.
The fourth book, “De Profundis,” Oscar Wilde’s prison-written, book-length letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, yielded the same result as “Deliverance”: on the shelf in Fiction, yet not. I mentioned to the smiling librarian having noticed in the catalog that other branches have copies of this book. Could a copy be transferred from one of those branches? Yes, she said. It costs fifty cents. You write your address on a postcard and the library mails you the postcard when the book arrives. Said cards are obtained from the something librarian up front. I went to the something librarian, who explained that as of December 11th, the library stopped providing this service. I told her, politely, that her library sucks. The way I say it was, “No offense meant, but this library really sucks, you know?” I know, she said. She had cool glasses.
The final book, “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell, was, like its brethren, not where it should be, which was on the shelf in Fiction. I asked the smiling librarian if it might be elsewhere, and she looked on her computer. Yes, there was a copy stored in the basement. How do I get this copy? I fill out a slip and give it to the something librarian up front. Ah, the something librarian up front. I filled out a slip and gave it to the something librarian, who suggested I return in fifteen minutes. To pass the time I read an article in “Tennis Magazine” about the Best Strokes of All-Time. Andre Agassi’s backhand was not mentioned anywhere under Backhands, which I found outrageous. I was fuming, but it was kidding kind of fuming. Then I returned to the something librarian up front, who informed me that “Down and Out in Paris and London” was not in the basement. I told her that the best way to find a book in her library was to have it fall on your head. I said this nicely, of course, with a smile.
You’re wrong, she said, that’s the second best way. The best way is to trip over it while looking up to see if it’s about to fall on your head.
We laughed then, the something librarian and I, oh how we laughed.
I believe I set a record today for total amount of time spent with one’s forehead on one’s desk. I didn’t keep track, but I’m sure it was well over an hour. I would stay like that for five minutes or so, then realize what I was doing and pick my head up. Later I would find myself with my head back on the desk.
Yesterday, when things were at their worst, it occurred to me that if I could write an account of what was happening at that moment, an account that consisted of nothing but our dialogue and some basic stage directions (“She runs to bathroom, shuts door. He follows, opens door, turns on light. She is standing there, bent over. He turns off light,” etc.), it would out-Bergman Bergman.
How exactly do you drown yourself? How do you prevent yourself from keeping yourself afloat when you’re there in the ocean with the ocean all around you?
I can see getting tired. I can see having your arms become so exhausted you can’t lift them anymore. But I can’t see not using them to begin with, I can’t see giving in like that.
It’s like holding your breath. At some point you’re going to breathe again, you can’t make yourself not breath.
Of course when you jump, once you jump, it’s over. You fall. But with the ocean, the ocean holds you up. It pulls you down and holds you up.
It’s the falling that scares me. It’s when you’re in the air and you know that in four or five seconds you’re going to run out of air to fall through.
What if in that moment you change your mind? What if you suddenly see that you were mistaken, that in all this time of wishing, you never understood what you were wishing for?
I imagine this happens all the time. Because how can you know for sure until you’re actually falling and it’s too late to change your mind?
Of course they’re all falling. Because there’s always a point when you pass the point of no return. From that point on, you’re falling. Even drowning is falling. Even shooting yourself.
Of course when you shoot yourself, you’re only falling for as long as it takes the bullet to leave the gun and slice through your brain. How long is that, a hundredth of a second? So it’s a kind of falling you never experience.
Unless time slows down to where you have time to think something. A single thought. Like, say, I did it.
Or more like, I – .
What is a thought less than I?
My button fell into a toilet full of pee. I’ve been having this problem for months now: the button falls off when I unbutton. It’s annoying. It’s the button on my favorite pants, the one above the zipper, the one that, together with the zipper, holds my pants shut.
What’s happening is that the little hole into which the button goes has torn or worn slightly, so that when I unbutton the button, the button pops out. Sometimes I don’t notice it until I feel the button roll down my leg or wedge against my thigh. Other times, like today, it pops out straight into the toilet.
The moment I realized that the button was gone and where therefore it must have gone and what therefore I would need to do to retrieve it was not, as you might imagine, a happy moment.
My great-aunt died today. Or yesterday, I forgot to ask which. I am to speak at her funeral tomorrow. In my family I have become the designated speaker-at-funerals. Earlier today, while telling a colleague this, I wondered aloud who will speak at mine.
Apropos of nothing, a woman outside is screaming: “You did not want to tell me. Shut up. I’m speaking. Shut the fuck up. You stupid motherfucker. Shut the fuck up. You dumb bitch. I something your fucking head.”