The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven: A Novella and Storiesby Rick Moody
On the occasion of the paperback release of Demonology, Back Bay Books takes pleasure in making all four of Rick Moody's acclaimed earlier works of fiction available in handsome new paperback editions. See more details below
On the occasion of the paperback release of Demonology, Back Bay Books takes pleasure in making all four of Rick Moody's acclaimed earlier works of fiction available in handsome new paperback editions.
- Little, Brown and Company
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)
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The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven
A Novella and Stories
By Rick Moody
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Rick Moody
All rights reserved.
Inside, in the warm light of contemporary domesticity, her roommate is talking long-distance to the first boy she ever kissed. She's talking while vengefully chasing their cats, the cordless phone cradled like a papoose at an interstice of ear and hand and shoulder. We can just make out the melody of her joy. We are standing outside under the window, on the front step. There's not much more to the tableau than this. The screen in the window above us is frayed; the paint on the sill is peeling. Crumbling masonry. A taxi eases by, prowling. There's a profusion of couples and dog walkers on the block — dog walkers with those little rodents that pass here for canis familiaris. A siren passes — Doppler-style — down Seventh Avenue.
And it's late and we have to work tomorrow and we are in our twenties and we too are about to kiss. We are going to kiss one another for the first time. The arrangement of our faces and noses, whether there is a complete mutuality to our kiss, whether particles are trapped between our teeth, whether she will action-paint me with lipstick — these are some of the variables of the instant. Do I let my palm rest lightly on her shoulder, on the right angle of her black pullover sweater? Do I pull her to me, gently? Do I let her pull me closer? It seems easy enough to do, to kiss her, as I have kissed others, but even so, the implications of the practice expand around us, like the spirits of our baptized ancestors, like airborne pollutants. There are legislative issues surrounding us, there are sociological and aesthetic issues, there are issues of fashion. And then there's this awkward personal stuff.
Later, for example, she will believe that her lips yielded too easily during this kiss, that she didn't react with an equal and opposite frontal lip force coefficient. A kiss, she thinks, has to be entirely balanced — it has to have a little conflict, a little dialectic, a little revolution. And since in her view this particular kiss didn't have these things she will worry that she doesn't know how to kiss a boy, really, or anyone else, that her mouth is unaccustomed to the proximity of other mouths, and this worry will trouble her on the afternoons when she should be working on her dissertation. During a period in which we are again briefly dating she will ask me to teach her how to kiss. I will spend a number of evenings with my mouth open trying to instruct and be kissed at the same time, my lips painfully chapped as a result. No, it's better if you move really slowly at first. Slower, even. Right, good. Initially, during these lessons, her tongue will just swab at my lips, as if she's taking a tissue sample from me, but then she will learn to dart with it, to dart lustfully. It will be late on a Saturday night when the meaning of lust will come to her and at the same time the couple in the next apartment will be fucking. Through the wall: yes, oh, faster, oh yes, oh God, oh, yes, yes, deeper, oh yes. She will learn to kiss and she will take these lessons in kissing and put them to good use with someone else.
The frayed screen in the window above where we are standing will be the weak link later when her apartment, this very apartment, is robbed. By then, however, this woman I am about to kiss will have moved elsewhere with her new girlfriend, her girl lover. A different tenant will have undergone the ritual initiation of looking at the space and signing the lease and repainting. This new inhabitant will be different in every way, blond and completely heterosexual, or so she will say, and successful, at least in the accumulation of things. A professional woman, a financial analyst downtown. Her specialty: the energy industry. At work she will have an aged bumper sticker on her Quotron machine that says More people died in Ted Kennedy's car than at Three Mile Island. One night while this analyst, Nina, is in a bar on the Upper East Side with a guy wearing a Jerry Garcia tie, a guy who mousses his hair and drives a Jeep Wrangler, her apartment — frayed screen and open window serving as the method of ingress — will be robbed.
In the bar, in fact, she will be having a first kiss with this trader, and the lighting will be low, and she will be playing with the wax on the table candle, and then they will reach for one another — their hands crawling across the table, fingers meshing; their faces falling together; their lips colliding — and she will feel a ripple of contentment for a second that will spike through her like 220 volts of household current. This electromagnetic pulse will come to rest in her spine, and it will feel great, even if she's had too many margaritas. At the same moment her CD player (but not her Joan Armatrading and Shawn Colvin albums) and her personal computer (but not her Quicken software and Microsoft Works) and her jewelry (but not her Vermont teddy bear) will all be carried out the front door of her apartment and sold on the street. Other people, with their own indelibly memorable tales of first kisses, will then enjoy these fine personal effects.
The perpetrator of this felony will be Joe, who no longer makes love with his girlfriend, no longer disrobes in bed with her, no longer becomes aroused, no longer feels this high-pressure system of consolation, no longer recognizes that there is an equation in him that is balanced only by the presence of a certain kind of companionship, but who can, in the recesses of his semiconsciousness, recall a first kiss on a really dark night in the Bronx when he was a little bit drunk and she was too and this kiss was so easy like slotting a diamond stylus into the grooves of an old LP. This is the guy who will manhandle the dangerous cross-hatching of screen in the window of Nina's apartment. His first kiss with Joanne — who still lives with him — is always distant, always lost, always something from which he has lapsed or fallen. It is a hollow in him. To fill this abscess, he steals and then he cops and then, temporarily, the hollow is plugged — with an amber oblivion. Or at least this is the pattern until he gets clean and goes to Narcotics Anonymous and Drugs Anonymous and Assholes Anonymous as he calls it and relapses and relapses and relapses and causes the woman he loves a lot of heartache, so much that she eventually leaves, after which he goes to a halfway house and finds religion. But that's much later. On the night in question, the window in the apartment will be open and the early autumn breeze will be blowing through it and then Joe will empty out the premises.
One of the couples passing on the street that night — it's almost one in the morning and Joe is standing on Sixteenth Street prying up the frayed and unwinding grid of the screen, crowbarring the window grating — will be Eleanor and Max. They will be walking home from a dinner party arguing vehemently about whether to have children now or later. At the party Eleanor will have loudly remarked to a friend that children were no more than bloodthirsty dwarves and this glib lie will have set Max off. As their arguments usually take place sotto voce, restrained to the point of whispering, Joe (looking for a good handhold just inside the windowsill) won't notice Max and Eleanor coming up the block. And anyway they will have become impenetrably quiet and regretful. Max would prefer to have children now, because his job is going badly. Eleanor totally disagrees. She will be holding his arm. They will proceed very slowly, both through the narrative of their argument and up the street, as if one of the burdens of disagreement were sluggishness.
And neither of them will know that they are each recollecting their first kiss, which took place in Baltimore seven years ago. They were students at Hopkins. At a pitcher party. All you can drink for five dollars. A number of the carousers there became sick. One woman, Nina, visiting a frat boy for the weekend, had to have her stomach pumped. Eleanor and Max didn't get sick, however. They just kissed. It was a sloppy kiss — it tasted of beer and pizza and cigarettes and there was a platoon of wasted school chums egging them on — but when they were through with it, when Max let go of the back of her head, let go of that handful of her blond hair, when their lips parted, when the music on the sound system unaccountably lapsed, they laughed. It was the most incredible laugh — for both of them — it contained all the tonal shades of laughter, the sputtering of wonder, the chuckle of discovery, the guffaw at the idea of not being a kid and not being alone, of being part of some larger migratory pattern, some history of lovers. They decided to go home with one another on the spot. They dropped everything. Left behind their cronies. And they stayed together after that.
On the night of the robbery, Max will look up from the wow and flutter of this recollection — and from the cyclical and endless heart-to-heart about whether or not to have a baby — to see a pair of legs disappear into a ground-floor window up the block. Holy shit, he will say. Did you see that?
Eleanor will reply flatly: See what?
I think that apartment is being robbed. Look at that! Really!
Other first kisses will be taking place at this very moment. At a phenomenal rate. All across the city. If there were a light-up map showing the pattern of the dispersal of these kisses it would put to shame any of the other light-up maps used to oversimplify the scale and range of our decaying metropolis. Ginny and Steve. Mark and Dan. Ramon and Samantha. Miles and Kay. Lola and Kim and Pete. Bernard and Elisheva. Eliza and Katie. Innumerable others. The first kisses of this day alone, if harnessed, could realize a city-wide savings on the power grid; solar cells or a Mars shot could be developed with the money that would result as savings. These first kisses could wipe away the tendency in the five boroughs toward spontaneous street violence, except in the cases of first kisses that would actually cause street violence (adulterous or unfaithful first kisses). These first kisses could cushion financial hardships and class differences. They could bring the ethnicities closer together — except when they would drive them farther apart (unfaithful multiracial kisses). These kisses would result in millions of dollars in lost productivity due to excessive happiness and on-the-job ennui. And it's this way because first kisses preceded the discovery of atoms by tens of thousands of years and preceded the wheel and preceded the lever and the screw and the arrowhead and the papoose and the paving of, say, Sixteenth Street, where according to archives kept by the Church of Latter Day Saints, 14,131 first kisses have taken place since the first humanoid amphibian crawled from the East River and gasped a breath before beginning its desperate search for a mate.
I will be crossing Sixteenth Street myself that night. The night of the robbery. While Joe is liberating the apartment of Nina's CD player and ugly Tiffany jewelry, etc., I will be coming from the East Side. While Max and Eleanor are coming from Chelsea. I will be looking at my feet, dragging my heels disconsolately as I occasionally do on this block because it is a gauntlet of memories, but I will look up for a second because I cannot pass that window without thinking about this woman (the woman whom, at the beginning of this account, I was about to kiss) and I will see these black jeans and Converse All Stars slipping in through the half-opened window, the screen wrenched out of its frame. This will stop me, draw me up short, and I will simply stare.
I'll realize then that I will pass this window even in years in which she is a part of my life and she lives elsewhere, in SoHo, and I will be sad on these occasions just as I am sad in the years when I am not involved with her. On a variety of missions, both aimless and purposeful, I will pass this spot — 131 West Sixteenth — and when I pass I will remember and be sad and the only thing worse than that, the only thing sadder, will be when I forget, and am sad for forgetting. Sadness will mark the period with her and the period after and the time in between and it will even mark — a little bit — my next first kiss — which will perhaps be with Eleanor, who is soon to be divorced.
Meanwhile, the drama of the robbery will begin. I will meet Eleanor's eyes as we pass. Joe will fall into Nina's apartment through the open window. Banging his knee. Seizing the stereo. And right then the Allstate representative who sold Nina her renter's policy will be kissing his wife, and his daughter will be kissing her boyfriend (in a Mustang in the parking lot at the Roosevelt Mall), and her best friend Alene will be kissing a boy Nick whose cousin Tony will be benevolently kissing his dog, the father of which dog (a husky) is owned by the First Councilman of Roslyn, Long Island, a radical Republican and sexual asphyxiatist, who will be kissing a seventeen-year-old boy in a motel in the next town, the father of which boy will be kissing his mistress, Cairo, whose boyfriend is back in her apartment in Bay Ridge actually kissing Cairo's sister, whose boyfriend has gone off on scholarship to the state school in New Paltz, where he is kissing his academic adviser (consensually but even so inadvisably), Katherine Miller, Ph.D., who has kissed several of her students as she herself was kissed by Leonard Blandings, the novelist, who was fired from one appointment for kissing a female student who was herself just discovering that she was a lesbian, who was discovering that nothing was fixed in her life, that all was drift and erosion and that the road to her identity would be littered with broken hearts and unfulfilled crushes until at last she found this girl at the Clit Club and they went back to this girl's place on Sixteenth Street in the middle of a blizzard and kissed.
But before all that, before all these things happen in this order and this way, before I go on to kiss others and you do too (and perhaps in this way you and I have something close to a kiss), I have to kiss Susan. The woman to whom I have pledged myself for this brief instant. And so I do. Her face is small and round, but she has enormous blue eyes that seem to say that all the stuff you are thinking is true, melancholy eyes, eyes with a sorrowful determination, and she has lips made for kissing, made for the sympathetic gesture, made for declarations of affection. I am close to her face now, and lacing my fingers around her back, the better to make the instant irrevocable, and then I am grazing her lips with mine, measuring their pitch and arc and force, and then we are falling into the lassitude of kisses where I am going to dwell. We are together. Everything, even the busted lamp above us on the step, and the job I'm going to lose, and her brother who is going to die, and the way she will leave me later, and the apartment that will be robbed, and the people spinning out around us, all this doesn't matter for the moment and that's the way I prefer to remember it, before our lips part, with her roommate cackling in the background on the phone with the boy who first made her dance. Her roommate dancing in that low wattage as she talks to him, that first boy, pressing the light-up buttons on the sentimental jukebox of human affiliations, singing, knowing, remembering.
Excerpted from The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven by Rick Moody. Copyright © 1995 Rick Moody. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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