Let’s take a stylistic trip across Literary History, back to when Novels were Novels, Writers were Writers, and Sex was Pretty Fucking Good. The writing in/of these chapters was so fluid, round, nutritive and sweet that I’m posting this only minutes after the last round of tweakings.
The year is 1974 and Kyndall, whose man Skip is in the process of being stolen by usurper Prentis Bel, is having a weird day…
KOOTCHIE TOWERS excerpt
TRACK TWO/SIDE TWO: KYNDALL
Kyndall was sitting in bed, topless, arm underscoring her welty tits and the vertical scar between them, left hand in the pit of her smoking-arm, legs spread under the blanket, coffee cup ashtray in the depression of her pale green woollen lap. Her hair tucked under her Streisand cap. The blanket was older than she was (no mean feat, she sneered) and she was careful to keep ashes off of it, working her way through the supply of cigarettes Skip had hand-rolled for her the previous evening, knowing he’d be gone for most of the day. Until dinner.
Kyndall had been born on that blanket and she had always naively planned to give birth on that blanket but now she wasn’t so sure. Tomorrow she was turning 39 although Skip was under the impression that the number was closer to 36 or 35. Maybe she’d be buried in it, the blanket, at least, she mused, and she took a long squinting drag when her smoking-arm pivoted to her lips, making up the distance, between where the arm had stopped and where her mouth was waiting, with the same smoochie-face she made when trying to look sexy in Polaroids. The older she got, the more extreme her smoochie face became. She could still remember when her face was just naturally that smoochie face, no effort, smoochie all day and night, with or without lipstick, her face mostly ruddy cheeks and pillowy lips. Yes, thought Kyndall, bitterly: even I was once sixteen. With smoochie lips like “strawberry wine.”
She knew it was ridiculous to have your mood ruined by a pop song but there it was. Ruined.
She’d been about to hop out of bed and take a shower and tidy the place up, get a quick bit of reconnaissance-related business done and then go shopping for her lunch, and Skip’s dinner, and buy some cheerful flowers, too; she’d had the clock radio on, okay, just for the weather report, okay, which comes on at the top of every hour. It wasn’t like Kyndall needed to hear a little bourgeois, chirpy, kitsch-infested Casey Kasem Top Forty radio to get her day going. Skip was already gone “jogging” and Kyndall had planned on having one more cig and starting the coffee machine when that idiotic song came on and slipped through her defences. Kyndall had no idea why the song suddenly bothered her so, why it was suddenly so offensive, why it suddenly seemed to cruelly mock her in the world’s sarcastic voice. Nature’s voice. Nature and Her natural preference for swollen tits, smoochie faces, childbearing hips and well-adjusted IQs of 100.
Skinny as Kyndall was she felt as though she couldn’t shift that weight out of bed.
She hadn’t done super much with her education, certainly not as much as Skip had done with his, but she had one, more of one than Skip had started with or had even now, a real education with classical elements to it and therefore Kyndall thought of Medea and how, in a funny way, Kyndall resembled Medea, Medea who had illustriously chopped up her children and tossed their bits in the wake of her escape from Colchis (with Jason) in order to slow down her pursuers. Kyndall had always had a thing for those pervy old Greek and Roman storytellers. Only Kyndall’s pursuers weren’t Absyrtus and Aeëtes and whoever, they were really just Skip’s increasing ambition and boredom and instead of tossing bits of chopped up kids (would Kyndall ever even have kids to hypothetically chop up?) she was tossing sexual favors in her wake. To slow down the rapid approach of Skip’s boredom.
First she’d tossed basic pussy at Skip and that had worked for years and years. And then she’d tossed blowjobs at Skip and that had worked for months. Then she tossed blow jobs plus swallowing and that had worked for weeks before she could feel Skip’s attention drifting again. Then swallowing blow jobs in public (Loring Park near the playground at midnight, for example) had done it for quite a while; they had plateau’d on swallowing-blow-jobs-in public places for nearly a year. Then what? That ménage-a-trois. Its several follow-ups. No, wait: Kyndall remembered it was Medea’s little brother, one of her pursuers, Absyrtus himself , who Medea had killed and chopped up to throw off her pursuers. Her kids she killed later. It was all pretty murky. Especially for fiction, which is supposed to offer the advantage of clarity, though you couldn’t blame the old Greeks for that. The culprit, as ever, was Time. Time rounds the edges off words and makes your ass sag, too.
Kyndall tried to imagine her 24-year-old self, who had just started recklessly living, in secret, in ’59, with the Skip of 19, being told by a gypsy that she would have her face in some chick’s Cossack-muff of a twat at the age of nearly-39… just to keep Skip interested. Just to keep Skip from dumping her. Even after he’d lost most of his hair! Kyndall shuddered. Vividly, she pictured her 24-year-old self judging her current self with the totally idiotic, and devastatingly effective, arrogance of clueless youth… from the infuriating safety of 1960 and its poignantly Mickey Mouse concerns.
“That is without a doubt that most disgusting and repulsive… if you think for one minute that someone such as myself…”
“No, you don’t understand, kid,” she would say to herself, coolly punctuating with a long drag, talking the smoke out of her mouth in dragon-lady billows. “You are irrevocably scheduled to become me. There’s no avoiding it. I am the me of today because you were the you of yesterday,” she could picture herself saying, with a crooked smile of self-indicting triumph.
“Oh sweet Jesus,” said Kyndall Brunnen, out loud, extra loud, and she carefully removed the coffee cup full of nubs and ashes from between her legs and tossed the covers off and counted down, from ten, in a NASA monotone, before finally standing up out of bed feeling shaky at best. “Get a grip, Kyn. Get a fucking grip.”
Silent went the clock radio. With a vengeance.
She padded down the carpeted steps in her panties and her checked, billed Streisand (What’s Up, Doc?) hat, given to her, of course, by Skip, who knew hats. Pegs along the wall following the stairsteps down held their hats in a kind of museum of the relationship. Some of the hats… the Sally Bowles bowler and the Dick Tracy borsalino and the Basil Rathbone Deer Stalker and the Marlon Brando Wild Ones biker cap… had never been worn. Kyndall stuck mostly with her Streisand cap and Skip favored, when they were meant to be dressing up, one of his berets, although, Kyndall noticed, Skip seemed, recently, to be accepting his fate and going hatless with increasing carelessness. Which was either a very good or very bad sign. She stopped at the foot of the bottom step and took a long, cold, scientific look in the mirror on the back of the front door where a peep-hole should be.
She was once described by cinephile Mark Baldwin, in line to see McCabe and Mrs Miller, at the Uptown Theater, as a “delightfully cynical Shelly Duvall,” about which Kyndall was flattered and hopeful, and flattered again as Mark nudged her bare right knee with his gabardined left as Shelley Duvall’s name appeared in the title sequence of the film, over the Leonard Cohen song and the misty establishing shot and right up until Shelly Duvall made her actual entrance, signalled by a second boyish nudge from Mark’s knee as he hissed,
“There you are!”
“You think I look like that?” hissed Kyndall back, mortified, “She looks like frigging Olive Oyl! Thanks a lot, buddy. You see me as having bulging eyes, an overbite and a receding chin? She looks like a frigging Hapsburg! Jesus!”
“A Hapsburg. Inbreeding!”
“You heard me!”
“Listen, Kyndall, there’s nothing I can do about your conflicted relationship with your self-image…”
“Tell me about it!”
“… but in all frankness I have to suggest that you only disparage Shelley Duvall’s, and your own, classy beauty because you’ve been harmed by years of destructive proletariat brainwashing, you’ve been bamboozled into preferring the plastic packaging of the disposable, all-American Barbie to something far more refined, something sublime, even, like a living Giacometti. What did you want to look like, Cybill Shepherd?”
“Well that would be a start!”
“If you looked like Cybill Shepherd I wouldn’t be here with you!”
“SHHHHHHHH! SHHHHHHHHH! SHHHHH! SHHHHHHH!”
“Because I would be out of your league!”
“SHHHH!” SH! SH!”
“USHER! OVER HERE!”
“SHHHHHHHHH! SHHHHHH! SHHHHH! SH! SH! SH!”
“I said ‘exactly’. Why would I deliberately frustrate myself by going after a woman who wouldn’t, in a million years, sleep with me? I have my pride but I also have my taste and it’s a refined taste, a taste honed on a thousand threadbare cinema seats along a thousand sticky aisles over a decade of bottomless longing, since I was 11 or 12, a longing so deep, in a room so dark, it gives me vertigo to mention it. The first time I saw you… remember over there in Dinkytown… remember? Waiting for your boyfriend… what’s his name… Skip… waiting for him to come out of the restroom at Vescio’s. The first time I saw you I thought, sure, my first choice would have been Silvana Mangano in Bitter Rice but if I can’t have Silvana I can have Shelley Duvall in Brewster McCloud, you know what I mean? Jesus, Shelley with Bud in that car, the chase scene, I don’t really know cars, I hate cars, but you know that scene? Okay you don’t but Shelley is in this souped up car with Bud Cort, classic chase scene, she slips on these leather gloves before taking the wheel and every time I see that scene I swear I could, literally, come when Shelley slips those gloves on, a Modigliani wearing leather gloves next to Bud Cort in this car and I’m Bud Cort! See that? See the resemblance? The glasses? Why do you think I’m wearing these glasses? If Brewster McCloud were playing anywhere in the Twin Cities, today, do you think we’d be sitting here watching McCabe and Mrs Miller? It’s a western! I hate westerns! But it has Shelley Duvall in it! And here you are beside me, a dead-ringer for a less wide-eyed , a less gullible-looking, a worldly-looking, Shelley Duvall! A fantasy I can have! Fuck Cheryl Ladd and Cybill Shepherd, I want Shelley Duvall, I want her with leather gloves on and that’s you, I’ve got the gloves with me in my briefcase, I’m so turned on right now I’m about to have a heart attack at the age of 22 and you’re telling me you’d rather be Cybill Shepherd?”
Mark Baldwin tipped the pimply usher after the pimply usher respectfully kicked them out of the Uptown Theater and the strawberry-chinned usher stared at the crisp buck with lifted platinum eyebrows and said “Oh. Why thank you, Sir,” though Mark Baldwin couldn’t have been more than three or four years his senior and was half a head shorter and wearing one of those wispy monk beards (in contrast to those queerly homoerotic Pan goatees she associated more often with bongos) that Kyndall recognized from old Life Magazine features regarding the Beatnik craze of her twenties. The funny thing being that she’d never really seen that many of those kinds of beards or goatees in real life but maybe that was because she’d never made it as far East as Greenwich Village or as far West as Butte, Montana. What Mark had going for him was his youth, his passion, a certain kind of shambolic pizzazz and a full head of silt-colored hair. Skip, who had been undeniably thinning, up there, cruelly, since the dawning of the hula hoop craze, was more likely to feel wounded by the thought of some young nobody’s full head of hair, in bed with Kyndall, than Ari Onassis’ fortune leering in the same tender location. Or so she’d thought. Well it had all made for a funny story, in the end, at least, hadn’t it?
“We climb the fire escape to his seedy apartment,” had said Kyndall, on the dramatic stage of the little plaza of Pompeian linoleum, in front of the sliding doors of her balcony, framed by conjugally-owned fifteen-year old rubber tree plants in massive pots, Kyndall standing with her hips cocked and arms gesturing under the track lighting, the rest of the living room lights off and Skip barefoot, in his bathrobe and reading glasses, on the aromatic new Naugahyde sofa facing Kyndall, mouth hanging open with anticipatory pleasure, glass of wine in his left hand and Kyndall’s glass of wine in his right. Kyndall felt like Lily Tomlin doing an opening monologue for a 90-minute variety special.
“First he tells me that the lock is busted on the front door so his front door key won’t work but two minutes later he admits, because I need to know, that it’s very important to be very quiet while I’m on the premises because he’s avoiding his roommate who he still owes three months rent. Which, by now, okay, I’m feeling less enchanted by the minute. Something may have kinda felt sort of rebellious and romantic about getting kicked out of the Uptown Theater together but ten minutes on the number 6 bus, to his place, later, he’s gone from being Audie Murphy to Woody Allen and I haven’t even seen the pile of dirty socks on his bed yet. I’m staring at the socks and the Almond Joy wrappers and unopened telephone bills while he informs me, in a stage whisper, about the being quiet and the three months rent and the sixty-five year old guy who is his roommate, the guy who used to run the film series at the Bell Museum over at the U, this queer old guy who knew Casavettes and who lets Mark have the room for a pittance, a pittance Mark can’t even afford, but he can’t get a job, he just can’t because he spends most of his waking hours working on his masterpiece, a script about the guy who wrote the script for The Day the Earth Stood Still. I forgot to mention we had to sneak in to see the Altman film. Mark knows they keep this one fire door propped open on certain days when this one slightly older usher, an ex con, they have two ushers on duty, this one usher takes an unofficial cigarette break, he jogs around the corner and up the street to get Lucky Strikes out of a machine at the Uptown Bar so you have to hide in the parking lot and, literally, count one Mississippi, two Mississippi, to make sure the usher has run all the way up the street and isn’t just taking a convenient pee instead and then you slip in the slightly-ajar fire door in a way that won’t make it squeak or let too much sunlight in. So that’s how Mark treated me to the first ten minutes of McCabe and Mrs. Miller without having to part with his bus money.”
“My God,” said Skip. “You poor thing!”
“Oh, it gets better. I mean: worse. So. Picture, if you will: horny kid Mark has managed to get himself almost completely undressed without me even noticing, somehow, so he’s in his boxers and we start quote making out, which, technically, involves Mark licking the side of my mouth and my ear while trying to reach into my blouse and doing this weird thing that looks like he’s half-miming the rubbing of my belly. I’m just trying to keep my tongue out of the situation and also trying desperately to come up with a not hideously-awkward way to keep things from going way too far on the strength of one frigging unfortunate misunderstanding. Honestly, Skip, I don’t know what possessed me. I’ve got one knee on his bed and one foot on the debris-covered floor because I’m still not sure if I’m going to bolt or not. The very notion of the idea of Marky saying how ‘sexy’ my scar is is already giving me the hypothetical creeps. I’m towering over him. He’s panting and moaning and I’m squinting and holding my breath and then he says: Don’t move. I gotta go get something.”
At which point Kyndall had asked herself what she actually thought she was doing.
No longer even trying to make Skip jealous: happily trying to make him laugh. Had Skip even fucked Kyndall, that night, after laughing his ass off, courtesy of Kyndall’s eloquently self-ridiculing monologue? She honestly could not remember. People who really knew Kyndall were always telling Kyndall she should have been a comedian and she always hated that but whose fault was it but her own? She and Skip had probably finished their not-bad wine, on the balcony, overlooking the Mississippi, watching the comfortingly distinct but distant lights of downtown twinkle and switch off, one grid at a time, until they cuddled in bed and drifted off separately, on Time’s blameless currents, into oblivion’s darkness, which is never conjugal. Everyone is a free agent in death and in their dreams.
Any mature woman would have correctly interpreted the whole Mark Baldwin escapade as a moving parable about the tenderness, folly, desperation, derangement and love endemic to committed long-term relationships. But Kyndall wasn’t, unfortunately, in a committed long-term relationship with a mature woman, she was in a half-assed tree house in a hurricane with a balding man in his early middle age and feeling rather precarious about the situation. Especially now with this swinging, Cossack-muffed Prentis Bel usurper in the picture.
Well frig that, thought Kyndall.
This is War.
This is War and Time is both a Nemesis and an Ally, thought Kyndall. Nemesis: obviously. But also an advantage because Kyndall didn’t have to work, she just did whatever she wanted to, all day long, meaning that she had considerable resources she could bring to bear in the fucking up of Prentis Bel.
Courtesy of that epochal (in the life of Kyndall Kent Brunnen) Autumn night in 1964, when young Senator Walter Mondale, 36, in a limousine together with property developer Wynne Burke and female persons unknown, had run Kyndall “over” (in fact she had been flipped halfway over the limo and jerked back down on her shoulders on the hood, the wind knocked out of her, facing upside down into the limo, her shawl having snagged on the chrome hook of the side mounted rear view mirror) as Kyndall was crossing the street (crossing properly: as witnessed by a paper boy who has since relocated, with his family, to Hawaii) at 3:43 in the morning.
She and Skip had had their first huge fight, their first really vicious fight during which irreversible complaints and devastatingly honest insults (so many years ago!) had been unwisely hurled, and Kyndall had barrelled headlong, on foot, in a shawl, over the bridge across the Mississippi, into a sleazy Polack blue collar neighborhood of Saint Paul, hoping melodramatically to shame Skip by being raped and murdered. Instead she’d nearly been killed by a limousine that was sharking around the racy environs of the white demimonde with its headlights off. Kyndall remembers having a very, very close, upside-down and freeze-framed look at the driver’s stunned black face… all the shiny metal in his mouth and the distinguished gray in his close-cropped beard and the fraying of the black braiding in his billed black driver’s cap … and then nothing until the pen-lights being shined into her pupils, leaving all kinds of lurid green psychedelic streamers, her chest split open, by the first impact, like a pomegranate. Hard to breathe. The toilety smell of her own exposed guts and the blinding bright particulate lights of true pain.
When the meeting was eventually arranged, weeks later, in her private room, in a quiet part of the hospital, by Kyndall’s new lawyers, a bizarre little suppertime tete-a-tete between a tractioned Kyndall, interrupted while drinking her spaghetti dinner through a straw, and two of her new lawyers and four pokerfaced men in navy blue suits, during which the “driver” apologized unreservedly (if dispassionately) for what had befallen her… a miraculous thing had happened. The “driver” had transmuted from being a neatly bearded, middle-aged black man, with a mouth full of gold teeth and an earring… into a clean cut, college-age white guy who said “Ma’am” and “Sir,” a lot and looked uncannily like a Marine or a secret service agent. Mysterious world. The money (in exchange for Kyndall’s total amnesia regarding the accident) took a long, long time to come through but when it came through it was good. So good that you suddenly understood that Capitalism is, at heart, a complicated system for keeping poor people extremely preoccupied. Kyndall now lived principally off the interest and had her days to use as she saw fit.
So while Prentis Bel was busy teaching poetry and running her lesbian book club (or whatever it was she was running) and screwing Kyndall’s man, Skip Woode, on the side, Kyndall would devote her copious Time and energy into screwing Prentis from her phony roots up. First off: that wasn’t any “Irish” accent Kyndall had ever in her life heard. Right? Second: one obvious option, in case of emergency, was to get the slut deported. Skip was way too ambitious to follow Ms Bel’s loose kootchie back to Lapland. Or wherever she was really from.
Kyndall made her way down the stairs to the pretty walk along the Minneapolis side of the Mississippi river.
It was one of those real fine mornings of early late summer. Temperate. In that kind of temperate morning it was heaven to be walking down the slight chill of the shadowed public steps from the street, near Kyndall’s river-view apartment, to the sunny walk along the river. On the way down, Kyndall bumped into Mrs. Crane, her elderly upstairs neighbor, who was on her way up, hand clutching the aluminum railing, thin white curly hair tied down under a diaphanous scarf of aqua. Mrs. Crane’s long-gone husband had been a respected player in the dry-cleaning racket. Hy.
“Well it’s another lovely day!” said Mrs Crane when she looked up, free hand tremblingly shading her face upon which no direct sunlight fell.
“I don’t know what we’ve done to deserve this!” said Kyndall.
“Oh, not a damn thing,” said Mrs. Crane, panting. “That’s what makes it so sweet.” Marshalling secret stores of esoteric energies to take on the challenge of the remaining two dozen steps to street level. “There were Negroes down there,” she added, “So I decided to cut it short today.”
“A Negro male and female strolling along the river in broad daylight. Bold as you please. They were holding hands. Wearing those hats.”
“Which hats, Mrs. Crane?” asked Kyndall, who was wearing a hat she guessed wasn’t entirely dissimilar to the ones Mrs. Crane had spotted on the so-called Negroes.
“Oh, you know,” she said, with a weak gesture of her free hand. “After this Patty Hearst mess…”
“No danger of any of that happening around here, Mrs. Crane. I’ll bet they are on a date.”
“Who is on a date?”
“The people you saw holding hands.”
“With those hats,” reiterated Mrs. Crane, wincing. “You know what I honestly think?”
“Well, honestly, sometimes I think,” said Mrs. Crane, with a twinkle in her eye and then a wink, and a squeeze of Kyndall’s forearm as they parted, the one on her way down to the river walk and the other on her way up to resume an ongoing nap in the living room in front of the Television, “Sometimes I’m just not sure it was worth it.” With a hand miming confidentiality at the side of her mouth: “The plantations and all.”
Kyndall could not remember what she had been thinking about before bumping into Mrs. Crane. If Mrs. Crane had ever been pretty, or sexually attractive, there was no way of knowing now. You’d have to enter her large apartment and snoop amid the ancient photographs arranged no doubt in a crescent on the vanity in her bedroom for evidence. Kyndall herself had been attractive for exactly one year, in 1966, when tall, skinny, pale and flat-chested models from London were suddenly exciting news. She winced to recall the accent she’d sometimes affected that year, only when Skip had slipped safely out of earshot, of course. But who cared if Mrs. Crane had ever been sexy? What did it matter? How you looked was only the single most reliable predictor of your life on the planet. Nothing more than that.
Self-consciousness about their respectively iffy looks had driven Skip and Kyndall together at a relatively (in Skip’s case, at least) young age and it had glued them firmly together all the way up until a pernicious shift in the natural order, lately, had rendered Skip’s looks irrelevant. Apparently. Skip was hung like a horse, yes, but that had been Kyndall’s secret for fifteen years. How had they become categorically separate propositions in the Looks department? Then Kyndall remembered what she’d been thinking about before bumping into sweetly racist Mrs. Crane. She looked up as she prepared to step off the last step of the concrete steps down to the river-walk and gasped to see Lundberg in a Charlie Brown t-shirt.
“Lundberg! You’re early!”
“Early? I thought you were late. I was on my way home.”
Standing in the gravel at the base of the stairs, his sun-bleached bowl-cut blazing in daylight, Lundberg handed a thick and well-used-looking manila envelope into the shadow Kyndall was still standing in, one stairstep above him. “I almost missed you!”
“Thank you, feels heavy.” Kyndall dug in a pocket and pulled out a crumpled ten. “Didn’t we say 9?”
“Oh, thanks. I thought we said 8.”
“But, remember? I said we better make it 9 because Skip and I were going to be out late last night, so let’s make it 9, not 8?”
23-year-old Lundberg turned the color of the popsicle he wished he were sucking just then. “Oh, ooops, yes, that’s right, what a space cadet, Lundberg,” he smacked himself in the forehead, “so how was it? Oh and happy birthday!”
“It wasn’t as traumatic as it could have been…” she placed a hand miming confidentiality at the side of her mouth, “celebrating the big 3-5,” she winked, “and technically it isn’t until tomorrow but we wanted to celebrate on a Sunday night, so…”
“Oh and may I say something?”
“If you’re going to add that I don’t look a day over sixteen…”
“Yes, yes, that too, but I just wanted to say that Skip… Mr. Woode… he’s looking very. I don’t know. Some sort of je ne sais quoi thing or I don’t know what but he’s looking much… I mean… quite… better… good… these days. You know what I mean. Is he working out or something?”
“Yeah,” said Kyndall. “He is.”
TRACK THREE/SIDE TWO: GILDA
Kyndall strode into the morning sun of the river walk with the reassuring heft and texture of Lundberg’s manila envelope in hand. As long as she had her weekly report, she felt good, in control, on top of things. Previous reports had been rather skimpy but this had heft to it, the heft of unforgiving Truth. Kyndall knew this sense of wellbeing was just the rosary effect, magical thinking taking a tangible form in the tactile cradle of the hand, the hand so like a mouth, sensually speaking… it was soothing in an infantile way, to have a thing in hand and let the hand be busy with it, the fingers like obsessive thoughts… but Kyndall was also quite glad to have new material to read on the goings and comings of her nemesis Prentis Fucking Bel. The more info the better. Kyndall felt like a better, morally superior, J. Edgar Hoover presiding over righteous dossiers and teasing the raw data for totally defensible insights.
Kyndall walked spring-stepped along the path that had been worn in the long green grass, along the rocky border above the slight drop to the choppy and plopping river, shading her eyes with the manila envelope, when she saw, up ahead, the Negroes to which Mrs. Crane had been referring, the ones who had spoiled Mrs. Crane’s racist walk for her. They were indeed wearing the kind of hats Mrs. Crane had insinuated, which was, indeed, exactly like the kind of hat that Kyndall was wearing, with a bill and a puffy top of quilted denim, and as Kyndall approached and prepared to say a welcoming- but-not-condescending, “Good morning,” she realized that the male Neg… er… the Black Man… was, shockingly, the famous beloved blind performer Stevie Wonder, in big round pop star sunglasses, standing dangerously close to the rocky edge above the slight drop to the deep cold river.
The woman with Stevie Wonder looked like some kind of famous beautiful soul singer who Kyndall only recognized in the broadest sense (she loved the type) in a belly-baring halter top out of which her stupendous cocoa-brown tits were fitting to burst like chocolate loaves. Why those big boobs didn’t offend Kyndall she couldn’t quite tell. Because they were Black? Imagine getting a mouth on one of those. Imagine you’re a baby and you get to take sustenance on one of those. Wouldn’t you somehow know you were a lucky baby? The gorgeous bosomy black woman with a flat stomach and skinny arms was taking Polaroid pictures of Stevie Wonder and telling him what to do with his hands in each shot. Kyndall suddenly realized that she had stopped walking and was simply standing there and staring like a hick.
The gorgeous dessert-colored woman flapped a Polaroid as it dried and smiled a warm show-business smile at Kyndall and Kyndall pantomimed an impish shhhhh with a finger over her lips, a gesture that only managed to strike Kyndall as profoundly offensive and absurd after the bosomy woman frowned in friendly confusion at it. Jesus Kyndall, thought Kyndall, I can’t take you anywhere! Now you’ve fucking offended Stevie Fucking Wonder though at least Stevie Wonder, who was still smiling with that trademark beatific smile, hadn’t actually seen Kyndall’s humiliating faux pas.
In fact, Stevie Wonder turned to face Kyndall and spoke directly to her in a crazy joke accent, “It is a beautiful morning, do you agree? Could my lady friend and I ask you a kind favour, miss? A Polaroid instant photograph of us together in front of this wonderful stream? We are Oxford-educated Nigerians and only here for a day, actually, thank you.”
Kyndall laughed and clapped until Stevie Wonder lifted his big round sunglasses and smiled in friendly confusion at her. With his big brown functionally quizzical eyes. Numbly, Kyndall reached and took hold of the camera and did as the gentleman had politely asked, hands trembling with shame as she handed the camera back to him.
Well at least they could probably assume Kyndall was insane rather than the other bad (arguably worse) thing. A ripple of nausea passed through her as a prelude to the survivor’s rush of thanking the gods that Skip hadn’t been there to see it the way Skip had been there to witness most of her other various mildly racist indiscretions, like, oh, for example, the time Kyndall had waved at an utterly unknown Afro American she mistook for a known Afro American who lived in her building, the former tall and young, the latter shorter and stocky and middle aged, Skip (who knew exactly what mistake Kyndall was making as she made it) hissing That’s not Wellington, Kyn.
The mystery of Extreme Intelligence being not that one’s Extreme Intelligence didn’t appear to protect one from making such idiotic mistakes but how, rather, it tended to make one prone to them. These poor Negro People! First they’d ruined Mrs. Crane’s day and now they’d ruined Kyndall’s, through no fault of their own! All they had wanted to do was enjoy a romantic morning stroll along the Mississippi! Mrs. Crane had a functional IQ of 90, at best, and Kyndall’s had been measured at 150+…. and yet the results of the two encounters had been exactly the same. What does that tell you?
Sister Mary Bertha, Sister Bert, always commenting how “terribly smart” little Kyndall was, emphasis on the “terribly,” because despite Sister Bert’s avowed role as an educator who must, presumably, long for and then delight in any sign of superior intelligence among her charges, as a human she had to be ambivalent about any poor female child who had been cursed by the gods (that is, by Christ, though in His Manifest Perfection of All That Is Good, His gifts could never be considered curses, which were the specialty of the Pagan Deities) with a freakishly useless mental capacity. You couldn’t really use that 150+ to change diapers any better or make your probably-inevitably-blue-collar husband a hearty stew, could you? Quite the opposite. That 150+ would impede the making of the stew, it would interfere with the diaper duties, it would curse Kyndall Kent Brunnen with unquiet thoughts and roiled emotions and estrange her from the normal healthy requirements of humble womanhood by casting every sweet banality in that harsh ironic light. Sister Bert was no ignoramus herself; she had a Masters Degree in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh; but she had overmastered the seductions of the intellectual pleasures of the flesh and chastised herself the instant that Pride or Doubt cast their horned shadows across the halo of her rigorously enforced simplicities.
As if to ease the sizzle of her shame (at the recurrent stupidity of her room-temperature racism) with tales of the shame of another, Kyndall suddenly remembered an embarrassing story Skip had told her about Benji; a story that poor Benji had told Skip. Happened like a year ago.
There they’d been, grappling like cubs, Prentis and Benji, really getting into it, kissing so hard and long and sloppy and sweet, kissing like teens, like they thought they loved each other (Skip’s embellishment), in the dark, and Prentis had gasped You wanna go Greek? and Benji had said Huh? and kissed her long and hard again (evasively; he’d known exactly what she’d said, commented Skip) and Prentis had pulled out of the kiss and held Benji’s head commandingly still as she whispered, with grinning emphasis, I said do you want to go Greek?
Prentis arched away from him and reached in the dark to find, on the first try, like a cat, on the night stand, a half-empty jar of Vaseline from out of which she’d gouged a dollop and smeared it on herself and then gouged out a second temperatureless dollop and smeared it on Benji’s topological opposite, careful not to make Benji come already as she coated him with enough petroleum product to squeeze a broom handle through a keyhole.
By the light of the clock radio, on her tits and her face with her arse up, knees far apart, the dim outlines of which dramatic posture Benji approved with a sigh in the dim green light, Prentis had moaned encouragingly and guided the thickened sheen of Benji’s cock into her ass with a matter-of-factness that thrilled Benji even more than the realisation that he was having anal sex, probably. The moment of anal penetration always feels like the puncturing of a big, thick bouncy balloon that jovially refuses to pop, doesn’t it? So this is anal sex, had thought Benji, had said Skip, remembered Kyndall. So hot and tight and wicked in there. Easy does it.
You have to go slow, Skip had told Kyndall, who had never consented to anal. The slowness is part of the raw sexiness of it, the sensual blasphemy. Because this has nothing to do with reproduction, this can only be for pleasure, though it is happening near enough to the female reproductive organ to be a mockery of it. A taunting of Nature’s vaunted pussy. Nature’s vaunted wet pussy was one thing but this was something else. So gooey and hot and tight and smooth and gooey. Like fucking with peanut butter. You suddenly get what homosexuals get out of homosexuality, Skip had said that Benji had told Skip that Benji had thought, but it’s too bad you have to fuck men to be one. Imagine fucking a man in the rectum and getting his shit on your penis, Skip said Benji had told Skip he’d been thinking, with a comically smug scowl of fleeting disgust, a shudder of horror, when Benji smelled something.
It smelled like… shit.
Truth be told, not even a teaspoon’s worth, had said Skip.
A few molten streaks. That was all Benji needed to smell and feel. More than enough. Skip said Prentis didn’t know if Benji was going to faint or call the cops. Waddling across the bed on his knees with his hands in the air like a surgeon with a dangling dead-erection followed by an hour in the shower at 4 in the morning. Prentis rolling her eyes and masturbating to help herself run ahead into sleep without Benji who was still scrubbing himself with Phisohex and although Skip had presented this story to Kyndall as a story that Benji had told Skip, how could Benji have known the part about Prentis rolling her eyes in the dark and masturbating while Benji was still taking his literally anal shower? Third Person Omniscient? The fucking so-called funny story, Kyndall now realized, for the first time, duh, had been told to Skip by Prentis her fucking self. Skip had told Kyndall this story six months ago, he’d told her the story before Valentine’s Day, long before the April threesome Kyndall once innocently assumed had kicked this nightmare off. Kyndall found herself being shoved up the high steps of a ziggurat of exponentially worsening epiphanies with cruel speed as it dawned on her that Prentis had told Skip this Benji-fucked-me-in-the-ass story to illustrate how much better Skip was at fucking Prentis in the ass than Benji had been.
Hands jittering the sun-struck page with rage, Kyndall read:
“It is highly early on a simply gorgeous day of July the ninth, 8:35 am to be precise. The hopeful clatter & chatter of school children assembling in front of the freshly painted door of their dear old institution of learning lends a palpable excitement to this corner of this proudly conservative, but open-minded, no-nonsense, working-class borough,” rolling her eyes at Lundberg’s literary style. Get to the point, she thought, though something about Lundberg’s Capote-esque pretensions usually lightened her mood. She crossed and re-crossed her legs on a bench near the river and tried to smile.
“The subject of our attentions, having established the pattern for weeks prior to this day, is detected leaving her apartment building, 220 Cambridge Street, by the building’s rear exit at 8:15 am, which overlooks the building’s private parking, which accommodates two rows of a dozen vehicles, where the author of this report had been parked discreetly for several minutes in a borrowed car before our subject egressed the building with an agitated air and entered the alley heading north on high heels. The author follows her discreetly on foot in a disguise of a luscious, fiery, waist-length expensive red wig & lime-green culottes & a matching blouse with crepe-soled flats for stealth of movement, topped off with Jackie-O sunglasses to hide the author’s distinctive Scandinavian bone structure.”
“It is at the North East corner of Amherst and Cambridge, in front of the Thorsten Veblen Elementary School, that our subject of attention is seen passing something through a halfway-rolled-down car window to a well dressed gentleman in a bowler hat and a dark sedan idling at the loading zone in front of the elementary school. The initial subject of our attention continues walking without engaging in pleasantries with the gentleman in the sedan, crossing the street against a traffic light and walking back South on Amherst Street. The author of this surveillance report makes the logical decision not to follow our initial subject of attention back up Amherst Street because such a course of action would invite suspicion, given the author’s distinctive fiery red hairpiece, were he, disguised as a she, to be seen again by the subject even after subject had reversed direction. The author makes the decision to monitor the gentleman in the sedan who remains parked in the idling sedan until a child of approximately five or six in a sailor suit exits the same sedan from the passenger seat side and runs vivaciously into the elementary school before the tardy bell rings, whereupon the sedan drives off, license plate LMX-5678GB.”
Lundberg’s report, covering the fifth of the five weeks since Kyndall had hired Lundberg to keep an eye on Prentis Bel, ends with its second paragraph. One sheet of typed stationery topping a blank stack of ten pages. The remainder of the satisfying bulk of the contents of the manila envelope is a glossy brochure for the THORSTEN VEBLEN ACADEMY OF FREE-THINKING PEDAGOGY, K-8, which only serves to remind Kyndall that she’s thirty-nine and childless. Way to go, Lundberg. Lundberg’s first report had been a tour-de-force of literary padding, ten pages of vivid descriptions salted with college-educated malapropisms (eg “obviate” as the verb form of “obvious”) to convey the info that Prentis Bel liked to use the payphone on the corner facing her apartment building at odd hours of the day, despite (as Kyndall easily checked with St. Jeff’s Faculty Directory) having a private phone of her own. Ten bucks a week for five weeks of Lundberg’s reports and we have now officially established that Prentis likes payphones.
Okay fine, said Kyndall, out loud, softly, but at least there was the sun to soak up and the river to listen to and a nice walk Uptown to Lund’s, to look forward to, for the fancy components of Skip’s dinner. At least she was no longer dizzy with rage: Lundberg’s ridiculously narcissistic literary style had calmed her. If dirty sex couldn’t keep Skip maybe superior skills in the kitchen could but maybe Lundberg’s report next week would feature something more useful? Getting Prentis Bel physically deported was looking, more and more, like Kyndall’s best option. Bald pretentious Skip had not somehow suddenly become catnip to the opposite sex. Kyndall Kent Brunnen had merely and weirdly been strikingly unlucky to have her man cross paths with a betitted sociopath with bad taste in men. Get the betitted sociopath out of the country and things would revert to normal and Kyn and Skip could go back to growing old together.