fiction · Uncategorized

The Joneses – working

 

“Jesus, we could barely see.”

“And that friend of Steve’s, the mechanic, or whatever he  was, he was sweet on you. Thought he was smooth”

“He was so greasy. Richard Gerehead.”

“The four of us drove to that all night rib place on the  south side. They had that bulletproof glass with the turnstile  thing to give you your food. Pretty scary stuff.  There wasn’t  another white person within miles.”

“Was that the night? I didn’t think the..”

“Sure it was. One of you dilletantes were pandering shots

of Wild Turkey. I got sick in the parking lot, remember, I threw up.”

“Oh god yes, but Maggie honey, you didn’t throw up, you  spewed. On the side of the car, on the building, all over the  parking lot. You regurgitated a substantial volume.”

“In retrospect it was rather disgusting.”

“It was none too pleasant at the time.”

“You could always drink like one of the boys. I used to be  jealous.”

“I can burp really loud, too. Wanna hear?”

” Mm… I think not. But you can really drink a lot. I  thought you might be out of practice. But the members of the  friday afternoon liquor clatch were fairly impressed.”

“They seem like a good bunch. They’re pretty funny. At least  a few lesbians. Mary, Dale.”

“That doesn’t bother you, does it?”

“Not really. Not at all. It’s not like anything was revealed  throught the course of the afternoon. It was pretty evident right  from the beginning. I didn’t have a lot in common with your gang,  though. Two rather different lifestyles. And the conversation was  rather esoteric. I couldn’t seem to recall much of the modern art  I studied. You have to remember I wasn’t an art major.”

“You probably should have been, Margaret.”

“No. Possibly art history. You know I’m not creative. My  mother went through a phase where she used to drag me all over  the globe wrenching culture into me. I was in high school so I  wasn’t all that hostile to it, but she was fairly conservative.  I’m lost after, say, Matisse. Cubism maybe. I could never tell  the difference between Braque and Picasso.”

“Don’t worry, neither could Mrs. Picasso. Have you gone back  to school recently?”

“No, have you?”

“A few months ago. Oh, do you know who I saw? Shaw.”

“Seminar in Renaissance Art. That was the first class we had  together.”

“That’s right. That’s where we first started hanging out.”

“So Shaw is still doddering through the shallowed halls.”

“Yep. Said hello, smiled. I could’ve been the ghost of  Eleanor Roosevelt, judging by the amount recogntion in his eyes.”

“That was the easiest ‘A’ I ever got.”

“Well I got one, too, but I think there may have been  some  confusion when he was doing the grades. Which of us was which.”

“I hated it when he called us The Margarets.”

“By the end of the semester we were kind of inseperable, but  he should have been able to distinguish us. You knew a hell of a  lot more than I did.”

‑God, I was so intimidated by you then. Half the art  department was as well. You were intelligent and sophisticated  and mature and of course funny and god damned pretty, too.

“What did you tell friends about me?”

“The women today? Not much really. That my friend from  college was going to join us. Why?”

“Oh nothing. You have quite a little sorority there. How are  they to work with?”

“Really great. They’ve all worked hard to make this thing  work. The idea of starting a workshop and studio from scratch  sounded rather incredulous when we first talked about it but  things have progressed nicely. I’m learning how to write  applications for grants, and I actually have an honest to god  budget to manage now and that makes the whole thing real for me.  This thing is so important to them. Especially the gay women.  They really are the backbone of the group, tremendously  dependable and considerate. A great need and sense for community,  I imagine because they belong to two opressed groups.”

“Artists and alcoholics?”

“Women and homosexuals.”

“I know. I was being facetious.”

“Don’t be. I’m not equipped for that right now. Remember I’m  the lightweight”

“It reminded me, remember when we went and saw that dinner  table thing exhibit with the group from school and we couldn’t  stop laughing?”

“Judy Chicago. Do you remember why?”

“Something somebody said.”

“Something you said. You never take credit for anything. You  looked around the room and then down at the table, shook your  head sadly and said something like ‘not a penis in the place.'”

“Well, I didn’t think it was that funny but you wouldn’t  stop and the more you laughed, the harder it was not to.”

“When we left the room you told the instructor we going in  search of some more diverse genitalia.”

“That’s when you were doing the stuff like Barbara Kruger.”

“I prefer to say I was influenced by her. Although I do  admit some of the ideas were lifted rather shamelessly”

“Are you still doing it?”

“Lifting shamelessly?”

“All that raising of social consciousness junk.”

“No, not really. I’ve settled on sculpture in my old age and  I don’t do any painting now. The women at the center can be very  political but what little work I do these days, work on art  rather than for art, is about space. I do sort of a cross between  Henry Moore and Judy Pfaff. That’s a joke.”

“Didn’t get it. Sorry.”

“It’s quite all right. I’m working on some things that are  emotional, maybe even a little visceral. I’m using lines and  shapes that are gradual, eroded, smoothed and earthy, materials  like burlap and stone, and putting them in relation to a small  focal point, a collision, a small spot of brightness and artifice  and synthetics. I want to describe abruptness. I’ve been using  painted metals but maybe I’ll try to incorporate something more  tangibly artificial. Maybe mixed media. Small works, in fact they  seem to get smaller all the time. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m going  to converge with Stella, but I think they come across as very  sincere. I’m proud of them. I’ll show them to you some time.”

‑I should have known you’d turn quiet if I started talking  more than two seconds about I was working on. I guess it bores  you now. Although the all that raising of social consciousness  junk remark was kind of derogatory. And I know you won’t come  over and see the works unless I kidnap you.

“Visceral. You sound like Joe Sculptomatic.”

“Yeah, that was one of his faves.”

“Al keeps some beer in the fridge. Do you want one?”

“Only if you’re having one. Thanks. How’s he doing?”

“Al? Fine.”

“Is he still with the phone company?”

“Yep.”

“That’s good.”

“I’m really glad I came out with you guys. It was fun.”

“You know I’m still short help. I can’t pay you much, but  for a couple of days a week you might find it interesting.”

“I don’t think so. Al doesn’t like me going over to that  neighborhood. In fact, he said something to me this morning.”

“Are you kidding? It’s gentrifying like mad.”

‑He really is aware of nothing. The shortness of your  reponses about Al makes me uncomfortable. Of course that’s the  way he answers questions. He’s not a bad guy. I’m sure he treats  you well. But would you still come to me if you were having  problems? Probably not, but who else is there?

“What did you think of the bar?

“It was great. It’s going to be beautiful when he’s done  restoring it. What was his name?”

“Mark. Uh, I like him. He’s interesting.”

“He may or may not be interesting but he is certainly  adorable. He reminds me a little of Sculptomatic. Better looking,  of course.”

“He’s nice.”

‑He doesn’t look anything like Steve, Margaret. What’s the  point of talking about him? Boys remain one of your favorite  topics. Al is almost stupefyingly handsome. As opposed to being  merely stupefying, I guess.

“He seemed to pay a lot of attention to you.”

“We talk a lot, but it’s platonic at present.  That’s more  sophisticated than the truth, but it sounds good. I think he may  be a little shy.”

“Well I’m not surprised he’s a little hesitant, seeing how  you travel with a roving pack of dykes.”

“Jesus Christ, Margaret, what is wrong with you? Do you say  things like that to get a rise out of me? Those are my friends.”

“You would have laughed if Joe Sculptomatic had said it.”

“No, I wouldn’t have.”

‑Although I probably would have. Perhaps I’m overreacting.

You’ve always been irreverent and I guess sexual tolerance is a  kind of sacred cow with the people I know. But I’m not convinced  that’s what you were aiming for. How you and Steve terrorized  that school. But you know he would have said it just to be funny.  There was a haughtiness to your humor, superiority. He just liked  to make us laugh. He wouldn’t say it to be mean. God, you said  that with such disdain.

“I’m sorry then. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“So do you still work for your Father?”

“Three days a week.”

“What exactly does his company make again?”

“Custom tools and machinery. Pretty fascinating stuff, huh?”

“Oh yeah. What’s up with… Are they still fight… uh,  seperated?”

‑I hope I’m not being insensitive. I’m more tired than drunk  right now, but screw it, I blurted it out. Friends get to do  that.

“Their divorce is almost final. It really has been a while.”

‑Not from my lack of trying.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not a problem. They’ve been unhappy for a while. Other  than to play Catholic, there’s really no reason to stay together”

“Are they speaking?”

“Yeah. They get along pretty well these days. She’s only  condescending part of the time and he doesn’t have to go to the  opera, so they’re doing alright.”

“I always liked your dad a lot. He’s down to earth. He’s  hilariously low key.”

“But for all the success he’s still a joe and that always  frustrated my mother. Beer and ballgames. She’s in Europe now.”       “But she can travel to Europe because he’s made a bunch

of money.”

“She doesn’t look at it that way. She got married instead of  college or a career and, even though I can’t tell you why that’s  his fault, she manages to resent him for it anyway. So now she’s  going to be happy. Of that she’s convinced.”

“Has she adjusted to the concept of Al any better?”

“Resignation. Maybe better than that.”

‑What a joke the wedding was. How could you go through that  whole traditional Italian wedding craziness? I can’t believe you  let Al talk you into that. I get a pain in my kidneys every time  I think about it, up and down, calisthenics on the altar for two  hours after drinking all that beer.

“She asked about you last time we talked.”

“Really? I never thought your mother cared for me.”

“Apparently you made a lasting impression. She said,  ‘Whatever happened to that friend of yours, the painter from  college? What was her name?'”

“That’s particularly charming.”

“Don’t be hurt. She probably remembered it was the same  name. I sure she had just forgotten mine at the time. That’s  not true, at least I don’t think it is. She never paid much  attention to my friends. She really liked Sculptomatic though.”

‑Oh, for Christ sakes, fine, I’ll tell you about him.

“Steve has been living in Alphabet city, in New York for  almost two years, although he has sold a couple of larger pieces  recently and hopes to move to a safer neighborhood soon. He gets  a steady if meager income from bartending, which he dedicates  faithfully to rent, food and beer, although not in any consistent  ranking. He is still working in metals, but now paints signs and  symbols or writes poetry on the harder forms. He is making  sporadic appearances in Soho, as well as having work shown  regularly by friends in the East Village. He may get a  fellowship, in which case he’ll go to grad school, but isn’t sure  it’s that important. He sent me a picture and he looks healthy  and pretty thin…”

‑There’s really no expression on your face. It must take a  lot of effort to look that indifferent. Are you jealous of him,  or even me, for that matter?

“…his hair is very short, for reasons of efficiency he  said. He loves it there and wants me to fly out and visit him,  but I can’t afford it right now, but he says if I send some work  out he’ll get it shown. He had a girl friend for a while but  doesn’t anymore. He says he doesn’t care so much for the women he  meets and he’s lonely sometimes because he doesn’t have many  friends, which works out nicely, according to him as the  loneliness can be sublimated into the work…”

‑After he said that he brought you up. He worked so hard for

your approval. He laughs about it, but he was fairly bound to  you. It wasn’t enough to throw him over, you had to sleep with  his friends, too.

“…He asked if I still saw you and how married life was  working out.” ‑And still I was blind and thought that was  some kind of sophistication.

“What was that all about?” ‑Your laughter is disengenuous.

“Just filling you in on Steve.”

“I really don’t care what he’s doing.”

“That’s bullshit, Margaret. You’ve brought his name up five  times just since we’ve been sitting here and you were talking  about him in the bar as well.”

‑We were so close and then I don’t see you for a year. But  maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. You treated me poorly on  occasions, depending on who was present, if it suited you. I’ve  always suspected you of shifting loyalties to suit your purposes.  And of ranking people.

“He’s just someone we have in common.”

“We have lots of things in common. We’ve been friends for  more than five years.”

‑I’m too drunk or tired or something to conclude the  thought, but I’ll just leave it hang there. For ambiguity, for  interpretation. A lesson for life learned from art? No, a lesson  learned from you. You could always play the silence, you had the  strength to let words dissipate slowly.

“I’m not in love with him anymore.”

‑No, I don’t want to hear about it even if it’s true. I  don’t care that much about that now and neither would  Sculptomatic. But I seem to need some kind of admission.

“I didn’t say that you were…”

‑Am I hurt because you really aren’t a friend anymore? Yes,

rejection, but…

“…but he does retain some kind of significance for you.  You’re all but fixating on him.”

‑I don’t want revenge or torture. I’m sorry if your rankings  no longer apply. But you’re the one who gave up. You did!  I know  you’re mumbling another disclaimer. At least you’re smiling. I  have to get out of your lovely home soon. I have so many  important things to do. Laundry, for instance. It may be a little  mean to be silent right now, but I feel warm and languid. Yes,  I’m disappointed and a little betrayed, but why dwell on it?

It’s so much nothing.

“What did you tell your friends about me?”

‑Your voice sounds like a dry wind. The sunlight coming  through the curtain, strafing, sets on my shoulder. If I lean  over slightly and let the beam fall on my face, I won’t be able  to see you. The sun burns giant crescents in my retina.

“Little, why?”

‑It’s still in here, very quiet when we’re not speaking. I  suppose I will go over to workshop tomorrow morning. No one will  be there and I can work on the books.

“Because I overheard one of them say, something like, ‘Of  course she can drink…'”      I hear your voice but I really am  blind here, the sun is so bright and I can almost imagine the  coolness outside and I can almost imagine your eyes looking at me  from across the table, those beautiful eyes, a blue that I  envied, where I sought approval and I can imagine that that is  the color of sadness.

“‘…she’s a housewife.'”

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