Read an Excerpt
Slashed To Ribbons, In Defense Of Love
"It's about time you decided to wake up! We have a brunch at one o'clock, as you very well know."
Gary was up, dressed, sitting across the room sipping coffee and smoking a cigarillo. He'd been out: the Sunday Times sat unopened on a nearby chair.
"It's almost twelve now. A cab will take at least fifteen minutes. If we can find one. Go shower. You know you take forever in there."
Behind Gary's head, sunlight came in through the skylighted dressing room and pushed through the flecked fibers of the shoji-screen. Spence could see the gold flecking on the rice paper very clearly toddy. The undulating fields of lacquered flowers were backlighted-bright as persimmons. Gary's face was in shadow.
"I want you to know beforehand that this brunch is extremely important to me. Arnie has invited Seitelman, the Oriental Art expert. I've been trying to get near him for months. I want him to come look at those Monoyarna scrolls I picked up last month."
Gary exhaled blue smoke. It floated into the sunlight, turned gray then yellow then gray again. He exhaled again and a second cloud rose to meet the first in a billow. It spread thinly, forming a tiny tornado around the head of the smiling Shinto statue precariously perched on a wall shelf. The Shinto idol kept smiling; it never seemed to notice the smoke descend again and form a flat halo directly over Gary's head. Spence noticed though. He laughed.
"I'm not kidding, Spence. Arnie's gone to a lot of trouble to get Seitelman. And it will take a lot of tact to keep him there. So I don't want any interference from you. Is that clear?"
Gary exhaled forcefully and broke the halo. He began picking at the edge of the cup he was drinking from, as though it were crusted with something. It was his favorite china-from the Northern Sung-and invaluable. Spence never touched it. He only used china that could be dropped: or thrown. Gary frowned. Spence turned over in bed.
"As soon as you've met him, go to the other end of the room or table or wherever we are. And stay there. And, Spence, do try to keep your pin-sized knowledge of art to yourself. No one is interested, I assure you.
If Gary weren't dressed, if he were still in bed, he'd be vulnerable. Spence was bigger, stronger. He'd roll Gary over, pin him down, wrestle with him: anything to make him shut up. Sometimes fucking helped. But Gary wouldn't fuck now. He was dressed already. He'd been up for hours. Up, smoking one cigarillo after another. Up, drinking one cup of coffee after another Up, scheming about the art and Seitelman. Up, thinking, thinking, thinking.
"I don't even know why Arnie and Rise invited you. I suppose as a compliment to me. Either that, or they think it's the enlightened thing to do."
Enlightened, my ass! Spence thought. Ah, enlightenment. Spence could see it all. He and Gary were on the Johnny Carson Show. Johnny was asking Gary about his career as New York's most successful male model in decades. Gary was saying how boring it all was-boring and superficial. The only real benefits, he would admit, were the money he made, the investments-the hoteI in the Colorado Rockies the model agency he owned on the Coast-and the freedom it gave him. He was such a prig he wouldn't realize Johnny was looking for a sensational expose, hinting at it with all those sly innuendoes and lousy one-liners. Gary would begin talking about Oriental Art, detailing the difference between Kono and Genre, and those with Ukiyo-E. Johnny and his audience would be bored stiff. In desperation, the talk show host would turn to Spence and ask if he shared Gary's interests. "Only fucking," Spence would answer. Tumult.~DeIight. The camera would remain on Spence as he went on, describing the last orgy he attended, holding Johnny and the audience rapt. Enlightenment ruled all!
"Don't think I'm going to ask you to behave at this brunch. I know that will only incite you to turn it into a three-ring circus."
Spence turned over again. The sunlight was above the Shoji-screen now, creeping towards him along the arabesques of the Shiraz carpet. More sun came in through the side windows lightening up the dark corner where Gary sat in his Regency wing-tipped chair, next to the little Hepplewhite table. Everything Gary had was either antique or invaluable. Everything but Spence.
"Seitelman doesn't socialize much. Arnie says he's very sensitive. So even you can fathom that this brunch ought to be as pleasant as possible.
Gary's head was in the light now. He shaded his eyes. His arms, neck and face were a perfect tan from Long Island summers and Caribbean winters: so evenly tan he could be a Coppertone advertisement. Spence was tan too. Spence also passed his summers at Amagansett, his winters in Dominique or Palm Springs or St.Thomas: they were all interchangeable by now.
"The other guests either know you already, or have been warned. Try not to lecture Rate Halliday about Jung today. She's the psychoanalyst. Not you.
Spence leaned over the bed, opened one of the drawers built into the bedboard, and lifted out a flowered Cloisonne box. A gift from Gary. Everything was a gift from Gary. A tiny silver spoon was attached to the side of the box by a silver turnaway hasp. Spence removed the spoon, opened the box, dipped the spoon and lifted away a tiny mountain of snow white powder. Gary always kept cocaine in the house. He said it was the only civilized drug: it cost an arm and a leg, and you needed a bushel basket of it to get hooked. Spence propped himself up against the pillows, held a finger to one nostril, inhaled through the other one; then reversed the process.
"Christ! Spence! You're not even awake, and you're already into that!''
Spence had closed the box. Reconsidering, he reopened it and snorted twice more. Then, carefully-he was already feeling the rush-he closed the box, and replaced it in the drawer. Then he slumped back.
"Didn't you have enough last night? You were like a maniac. Chasing that dark little number around with your spoon all night. He was covered with it when he left."
Wasn't it Beckett who said that a light wasn't necessary, that a taper would do to live in strangeness, if it burned faithfully? Yes. Beckett. A taper, and Spence added, a spoon of coke.
The sun was playing hide-and-go-seek in the infrequent gray hairs among the chestnut brown of Gary's head. They would glint for an instant, then die away, then glint somewhere else, and die away. Little signals. Maybe a glint was all you needed. And a spoon of coke, of course.
"I hope you're not going to wear these filthy denims again?"
Gary threw the pants at Spence. They hit the side of the bed and fell. Motes of dust had shaken off them: the motes rose in the air and performed an intricate ballet to a silent score.
"When was the last time you washed them? People know you're coming a hundred yards away. You have so many new, clean slacks in the closet, Spence. Why do you insist on wearing these?"
Spence wondered if dust motes had senses of perception.
"I don't care if you make a good impression today. I would rather you made no impression at all. But there are certain rules of hygiene. I'm surprised you don't have lice. And those people you call your friends are no better. God what a bunch! The Allies' liberation of Bergen-Belsen couldn't have been more unsavory than that party you took me to last week."
Could dust motes be sentient? Even intelligent? Look how they danced! Spence shook the denims once more. More dust motes flew up into the sunlight. God they were lovely when they danced, Stately.
"While Seitelman and I are discussing our business, why not talk to Rise. She always asks about you. She wants to help you. She really does know a lot of useful people."
Could man communicate with dust motes? They had to be intelligent to dance like that. So organized!
"Rise thinks I'm holding you back from doing something wonderful. Me?! If they only knew how shiftless you are. Someone who needs an hour just to get out of bed."
Spence would ask the dust motes to dance for Gary.
"You have to begin to do something with your life. You can't just hang around here and party all the time."
No. Gary wouldn't recognize a million dust motes dancing for him.
"I'm not saying you have to be a great success. You don't even have to earn a lot of money. But just do something!"
If communicable, and friendly, the dust motes might be persuaded to dance around Gary's head. Then, one by one, without his noticing it, they could enter his ears, his nose, his mouth. One by one. Little by little. So subtly Gary wouldn't notice a thing, until it was too late. At first he would cough a little. Then he'd begin to gag. His multi-colored eyes would begin to fill up with tears. Then he'd really begin choking. His handsome, craggy features would be distorted in agony. It would be a sad struggle.
"If you weren't bright, it would be different. But you are. Imaginative too. Why I've never met anyone with so many crazy ideas as you have. Write them down. Draw them up. Make them work for you."
No finger prints on the throat. No murder weapon at all. Spence wouldn't even have to get out of bed. The perfect murder. He could seethe headlines already: "Wealthy Male Model Dies Mysteriously in Uptown Triplex. No Clues!"
Spence would confess, naturally. He'd call the press and explain how he'd entered into a conspiracy with the dust motes. How they'd waited patiently for his signal to attack. He'd explain that dust motes are not only sentient, but intelligent too. He'd reveal there highly organized cultural heritage-based on their major pastime, the art of the sunlight dance.
"We could turn the greenhouse into a studio for you. We hardly ever use it. And that big closet, that could be used as a darkroom. Arnie would help find you a distributor. He knows everyone.
At first his confession would be ignored. Spence might be asked to take a lie-detector test, a mental examination even. He'd pass it with flying colors, return to the triplex-his, now that Gary was gone-he'd have almost unlimited resources. Once home, he'd contact the dust motes again. He'd study their dance patterns, draw diagrams-he could see them as variations of the double helix already. It would take years of study to get to understand their habits, their customs. But it would be worth it.
"You know I'll pay for whatever lessons or extra equipment you need. It's just that you have to do something, Spence. Man cannot live by partying alone."
He'd compile his findings, edit them carefully and send an article to Scientific American. They'd be impressed. They'd print it with four-color diagrams and half-page photographs he'd taken of the dances. In an editorial, he'd be hailed as a pioneer. He'd call his new science Motology.
"Jack and I talked about you last week at Ron's. He thinks this crazy life you're leading is simply compensation for having no real motivation. Everyone needs a goal."
Spence would go beyond science. He'd wait until his work was fully accepted. Then he'd reveal the true meaning of the dust mote's dance-how it embodied their philosophy of life: endless flowing, total dance. He'd try to show how this could be of supreme advantage to people too. He'd be the first and foremost Theo-motologist in history.
"Without a goal, you're working against yourself all the time. Kate said so, too. And she ought to know."
Naturally, Theomotology would attract many others. To stay ahead, Spence would specialize. He was certain the dust motes held the secret of levitation. He'd learn it from their elders, and apply it. N.A.S.A. would approach him. Imagine floating immense spacecraft on molecular motology. "Man Flies to Pluto on Dust!" the headline would read in the New York Times.
"You don't have to be self-defeating, you know. You and I aren't in competition. I'm done now. Retired. It's your turn, Spence."
On Pluto, Spence would make his greatest discoveries: he'd find out how dust motes propagate. Beginning as non-essential carbon crystals from pollution, they develop externally-like all crystalline forms-by simple geometric accretion. On Pluto, of course, there would be no pollution. The motes would have to evolve along other lines to survive.
"What kind of life is this for you, Spence? I have my friends, my businesses, my collections. What do you have?"
At first the adjustment would be difficult-all selective evolution was. Millions, perhaps trillions of them would fail to develop and perish. But one day it would just happen. One mote would make the changeover, and discover how simple it was. The others would follow. Spence would be hailed as a new Darwin.
"Spence, are you listening to me? I asked you a question."
Spence would remain on Pluto. He'd crystallize himself.
"Spence? You haven't fallen asleep again?"
He already suspected the miniscule viruses found in every living body were crystal compounds. He would use them as a point of focus for the process. "I see you moving. You're awake. Are you getting up today?"
It would take years, possibly decades for the process of auto-crystallization to work. Meanwhile he would derive nourishment from air-tight gardens in which only nitrogen high greens were grown. He suspected the crystallization would require absolute still ness.
"It's ten minutes to one, Spence. I'm going. If you aren't getting up, I'm going alone."
Spence might be four hundred years old when his last remaining living tissue-the stomach lining-crystallized.
"And when I get home, you and I are going to fill out that application for registration on the back of the Film School catalogue. If you insist on acting like a child, you'll be treated like one."
On Earth, Spence would be a legend.
"Since classes won't begin for another month or two, you'll have time to get a job. I know plenty of people who need work done in their gardens, or in their apartments. That'll keep you busy."
On Pluto, Spence would be metamorphosized as pure crystal. He'd be immortal.
"I've put up with your nonsense long enough. I will not have you laying around the house stoned all day. And, if you don't care for my plans, you know where the door is."
Spence would disperse into many smaller crystals: all of them immortal.
"That's it. Either go to work, or get out!"
Millions of crystals levitating around the universe. "Spence! Are you listening? Are you?"
"Fuck you!" Spence said.
"I see it's clear, then. I'll be back by four. You have three hours to make up your mind. And make up that bed when you decide to get out of it."
Gary left the room. A few minutes later, Spence heard closet doors crack open and shut downstairs. Then the front door slammed.
Gary had never talked like that before-never about going to work, or leaving. He must be nervous as hell about meeting this Seitelman. Perhaps if their meeting worked out all right at brunch, Gary would forget what he said, forget this morning's hysteria. Fat chance! That would probably only convince him he was right. Gary was so terrified of being thought inconsistent, he always did precisely what he said he would do: even if it went against his best interest. Ah,well, Spence thought. He'd at least have three more hours of peace. He'd make breakfast, listen to some music, enjoy himself while he still could-until the axe fell.
The sun had already reached halfway up the sheets. Spence threw them off onto the floor. It was warm, hot really. Hot as Mexico. The way the sun advanced along the room, it would take another hour for him to be completely bathed in sunlight. He wouldn't even have to go out on to the terrace to sun today.
It was hot as Mexico.
He could feel the rough stone surface of the ceremonial altar cool against his back. It almost made him forget the itching hemp he'd been tied with, hand and foot, to the altar. He was atop the highest pyramid in Xochomilcho. Above him, the sky was clear blue, cloudless. Below him, invisible, but known from previous occasions when he'd merely witnessed, the immense stone-flagged plaza was filled with people decked out in holiday finery, covered in flowers, chanting. Pennants flew from poles and towers. Children danced in imitation of old legends. Instruments of all sorts whistled, chimed, clacked and stuttered.
His body was the focal point of twenty thousand eyes, of ten thousand minds. He knew, as they knew, that when the sun had completely illuminated his figure through the astronomically precise arch above him, that everyone would suddenly go quiet in the plaza. Everyone would know that the Vernal Equinox had arrived, bringing life again, and once more demanding its payment from them. He would be the absolute beginning of their year: a dot on their calendar: the focus of their collective soul. When the sunlight reached his eyes, the new chant would begin: the people's plea for the sun to accept their votive.
Amidst the hypnotic droning voices, the Priests would gather around him, their gilded masks blinding him with reflections. They too would begin their guttural prayers to the Solar Deity, asking for blessings, good harvest, victory in battle.
When the sunlight had warmed to tips of his long hair, he would know the time was fulfilled. He would be the center of the people, the nation, the world, the universe. He would see the primitive obsidian knife raised in the air, see its final fatal glitter, see it descend and tear out his bowels.