Moody’s path crossed Beverly Lund’s before they formally met. This encounter took place on the first day of summer in that drought year.
In hunger and to escape the heat Moody had gone into pricey Pickerling’s and stalked the refrigerated aisles. He furtively sampled toothpicked lunchmeats and cheeses and cake and ice creams from paper cups at unmanned displays and avoided the manned ones. There were old white men in commodore caps distributed evenly throughout the store. Moody was standing at a sample display festooned with flags when this tall, not-bad-looking woman eased her shopping cart beside Moody. She was eyeing Moody like she wanted to put Moody in the cart. If they had been in Rainbow Foods he would have climbed in as a joke but the restrictively tony ambience of Pickerling’s made Moody self-conscious. The only other items in the cart would have been the six boxes of pretentious Scandinavian butter. Lurpak.
Moody enjoyed walking around Heart Lake in the afternoon when everyone else was at work. The air had a blunt stink as the lake evaporated to jaundiced everglades and all grass around the lakes became savanna which a fiery long-dead wind smothered. A few figures per square mile sprawled red on blankets in the itch grass with radios and Moody imagined lions crouched low and then springing and high arcs of vivid blood to spatter the grass. His mind was elsewhere that evening as he sat with Gwen at the movies. He wondered if he was good enough for anyone better than Gwen. Moody had met Gwen on his job at Heart Lake Rentals. Gwen’s feet had been too small for any roller blades Moody could find in stock and Moody had rashly offered to buy her a pair.
Gwen in her Lena Horne wig squeezed Moody’s hand when the people on the screen embraced. It must have been about eight in the evening. Moody glanced at Gwen as she smiled at the screen and wondered what she was seeing there that he couldn’t. Same old sappy white shit. Moody imagined being there with Angela Davis shooting spitballs at The English Patient together. Angie would grab Moody’s dreads and force him to give her gasping mini-skirt-head right there in the cinema seats and when the usher in his little red vest came with the snooper-light she’d point a gun at him. But Moody liked the easy boyishness of Gwen’s body, that was true, so that night he fucked Gwen half-dressed with non-specific tenderness in the living room. When Gwen twisted to look back and get eye-contact with Moody as he climaxed, like a test of the true content of his soul, it threw him.
The eye contact made Moody ashamed and it broke his concentration and botched the orgasm so when Moody dressed to walk home he was pissed at Gwen for botching the orgasm yet guilty for being pissed but why should he feel guilty? Just because orgasms are plentiful doesn’t mean they aren’t precious. It was an eight block walk home. Drunken frats were hooting in the distance. The night was otherwise becalmed and heat-deadened and starry and Moody thought: what should I wish for? Wish upon that star. Moody had a startling vision of the hot night streets full of wandering green ghosts wearing Gwen’s collection of wigs.
A few days after the botched orgasm and the wig vision, Moody lost his job at Heart Lake Rentals. The loss was a double blow because Moody lived in a little room over the shop and had earned rent with the job he had been given for sucking the dick of the owner. It was just noon when he lost the job and Moody had nothing to do so he went around the corner to where Gwen worked. Gwen worked at Heart Lake Salon.
Moody, who was not a tall brother, wondered why Fate couldn’t have made bowling the national sport of Afroyankeelandia instead of beeball. He felt self-conscious entering the Heart Lake Salon. Moody had known Gwen for a month. Gwen did nails from a little booth at the back of the salon and Moody had to walk the carpeted distance reflected by parallel mirrors while the futuristically-uniformed stylists and their older rich clients flicked eyes across the disinfecting sting of Vivaldi at him. Gwen in her Maria Conchita Alonso wig wasn’t busy and her face lit up when she saw Moody enter the rear of the salon with her. She said to Moody I’ll just be a minute and she hurried downstairs to change for lunch. Moody could hear her chatting with someone, probably her only friend Bee, while she dressed. As Moody and Gwen were leaving Gwen told one of the icy expressionless blondes, the one at the reception desk, that she’d be back in an hour in time for her appointment with Ms. Lund.
Gwen and Moody walked hand in hand down a quiet street for Gwen’s lunch break. Under a bridge from Heart Lake to the other connected lakes to the west. Down Poplar Grove Lane was the tip of Snake Lake. Moody bought Gwen an expensive ice cream cone at the Snake Lake Snack Cabin. Gwen said, Aren’t you having one too? and permabroke Moody told Gwen he wasn’t hungry so Moody resented it when Gwen casually threw her half-eaten cone away a minute later. In the 1930s he would have slapped her. The vegetation around this Lake was still green despite the drought because a fairyland of sprinklers lobbed webbing shimmer over the grass and bushes and all the landmark trees. The merciless sun polished the shimmer into rainbows. Arrogant geese flapped. Gwen and Moody strolled self-consciously around the lake like this couple and Moody saw there were tears sliding down Gwen’s cheeks as if he had actually slapped her.
-It’s just that I’m so happy, Gwen said.
Gwen said she wanted Moody and Gwen to live together and Moody said Okay.
Over dinner that night Gwen was full of chit-chat about her only friend Bee and her little poems and whatnot. Moody poked and scraped and partitioned his pasta-in-white-sauce. His mind wandered. He chewed and he swallowed and took a deep breath and expelled it like he’d been holding it all day. It was a long loud exasperated breath. The candles jumped and Gwen shut up mid-sentence and looked at Moody with her frail jawline and big black eyes. She stood up from the table and came and sat on Moody’s lap. Gwen was wearing a Cleopatra wig. Moody had to admit Gwen was Karen Alexander hot. Why wasn’t Moody obsessed with Gwen? Were Eurocentrically supernatural forces at work?
-Baby I don’t want to shock you but I’m twenty eight years old and you’re the first brother I ever been with.
-My last boyfriend before you was a Jew, a blue-eyed Jewish lawyer and the one before Scott was a Norwegian beach bum he had a little pink dick like a straight pig’s tail and the one before that he was an architect Dennis something. Not one brother. My pretty blond lawyer he was okay he didn’t beat me and that but it dawned on me the relationship was going nowhere fast with a capital N because old Scott could never marry me. And it wasn’t the first time that that shit had happened, okay. Only ring I ever got was in the bathtub.
Gwen tapped Moody’s nose and unzipped his pants and reached in and grabbed the thick base of his root.
-I can’t tell you how many Thanksgiving dinners I’ve been to where I was the only black face at the table, I was the smudge in all those family albums like who’s that little black ant behind Uncle Joe, one time I overheard a boyfriend’s mother in the kitchen, that old bitch, oh my god, she was telling somebody on the phone I was nicer than she’d thought I’d be, I was pretty, you know, for a colored girl, okay, but she’d cut Tucker’s balls off before she let him shame the family with a spook for a goddamn grandson, I was standing right on the other side of the damn kitchen door when she said it, I just swung the door open real slow like a movie, looked the old bitch dead in the eye, I wanted that eye contact but I have to give the bitch credit, she just smiled right at me and winked and kept right on talking like I wasn’t even.
Moody moaned like a several-stabbed man and came.
Gwen was happy that summer living with Moody. She appeared to be happy.
She would straddle Moody and draw the demon of ambivalent sex out in a soft sliver or choke on his big piss hard-on at dawn. Only the secret kingdom of her tight black ass was forbidden as she explained to Moody charitably after the first failed attempt, third date, framing the issue as a size thing, though of course it was self-respect. But if Moody went to take an innocent piss while Gwen was showering she’d pull him in and jack him off with herbal shampoo and rub the chemical compound between her tits like vitamin M. Gwen was not a frigid prude. I liked her. She was well-read and she always smelled good. Her favorite trick was to hide in the closet when she heard Moody stomping up the stairs from the parking lot. She’d wait until Moody was kicking off his shoes on the couch and convinced he was alone and suddenly sing come and get it, tiger, from the dark of the closet and slide the door closed after Moody came in. She’d grip the thick spruce overhead closet rod swaying while Moody pounded her pudding until Gwen screamed for god.
She is reading this over your shoulder.
By the beginning of August Moody was still out of a job. He suffered the sapient depression of being all too aware of Everything in its meaninglessness. Moody watched television in his underwear. Moody found a video cassette of Victor Borge in Copenhagen in the 99 cent bin of Discount Video and watched it religiously for weeks until his sex drive dried out entirely. Gwen said,
-Baby, do you remember that rich lady I told you about? The one that owns a gallery downtown? She’s like 40?
When the alarm clock rang the next morning Moody felt he was being punished and he wanted to cry or smash something. When Gwen left for work Moody didn’t even tell her to be careful and felt with wicked satisfaction that the omission had cursed her and he dozed off twice during the bus ride downtown despite the white heat that blasted in on him from an open window. He got off at Second Avenue and walked in the block-long shadow of the First Bank Building then turned up Lasalle. He found the glass facade of the Mojo Gallery.
Moody was early for his interview and the desk in front of the gallery was abandoned. The canvasses that hung on the walls looked to Moody like the handiwork of children. A particularly vast work on a far wall was a garishly-colored triptych of a church with cartoonish Negroes lined up in front of it. Their eyes were white circles in which pupils rattled like beans and their fat balloon lips were pink and their teeth were jagged zigzags in lamprey mouths. Their hands were clenched in fists at their sides. They were all a smooth dung-brown and the male figures wore long black coats and top hats and the big-breasted female figures wore red or yellow miniskirts and their pigtails curled up towards the sky and the sun in the water-blue sky was a yellow ball with arrows radiating from it. A male figure in the far right panel had his fly open and a glistening burnt umber banana poked out from it. A silver plaque beside the masterpiece read To Each God Grants Peculiar Gifts. The Hon. Rev. Levi Milton Mosley. 105″ x 200″. Oil and Crayon on Canvas. 1985. And under that, on a discreet white card, it said, simply, $35,000.00 and Moody whistled and looked at the painting again more closely.
-I sold that to a Jew this morning.
Moody turned and a gigantic woman in aggressively unaffordable glasses crossed the room towards him, her flat shoes slapping the concrete floor. This woman extended her left hand and said Hi Moody I’m Beverly Lund.
Moody said I’m Moody. Moody felt he knew her.
She said Moody, how would you like a job working for me here at the Mojo Gallery? We support the Afro-American community.
When Moody got home Gwen wasn’t there even though she’d made a point of telling Moody that it was going to be a short day at the salon. Moody called Gwen’s name again then locked the front door and slipped into the bathroom and took a luxurious postcoital piss. Pissing with a pussy-flake-encrusted dick is good. That’s when you know you know you’re young he thought. I’m young and pretty and my dick is frosted with rich white pussy dust and I will live forever. Niggers paid with their flammable lives for such pussy dust in the 1930s and here I am getting it for free. Moody toddled by the closet with pants around ankles and Gwen jumped out in a Sade wig but the dick remained limp. Even when Gwen offered eyes-averted Moody her gorgeous shining tight eight ball ass his umber noodle pressed fat and flat and cold at the ass’s iris. Largely defunct.
By September Moody had normalized his affair with Beverly Lund and Gwen, who suspected nothing, decided she was ready to take the big step and move into a condominium with Moody, her man. Moody didn’t really want to move in with Gwen into some kind of binding condo of a pre-marriage state but it was a drought year and Moody wasn’t ready to disturb the peace nor sleep rough on streets you could fry an egg on. Gwen signed the papers on a condo.
We’ll move this Sunday said Gwen. She passed Moody a symbolic glass of orange juice.
Moody said, Sunday? Shit, baby, you should have told me in advance. I told Miss Lund that I’d help her prepare an opening on Sunday.
That’s okay, baby, said Gwen.
Gwen explained that her only friend, Bee, had promised that she’d help, anyway, and Bee was always reliable. Bee who eventually knew everyone involved in the story. Dust blew and heat-faded paint peeled in old chameleon skin from the apartment houses and the bus stop benches. Yet the air felt just barely different and the change registered in the nerve-endings of emergent cicadas, a spring-wound drone dispersing high across the city. Even downtown, where there was no grass to speak of, one heard the cicadas and something felt different as a new act was ushered in.
-Have you heard, Moody?
-Have I heard what? Moody closed the door of the gallery behind him.
-Rain this weekend.
Ms. Lund was wearing her hair down. It whisked her shoulders in the sleeveless top she was wearing. Could anything be more trivial or more important than hair? Bev spent a grand on hers every seven weeks. Her freckled shoulders were not quite soft as old bread. Good bread but old. Chewy. Ms. Lund hefted her tit-weights and lifted a tit to encircle a nipple with a lip-print. Bev would say,
-Does Gwen have big titties like these?
-No, Moody would say, and does Gwen have beautiful hair of gold like this? and Moody would say no no no and so on, every time, because they had to do it, it was better than bondage, Ms. Lund had tried handcuffs and even pissing in Moody’s mouth but that didn’t float her boat. She had learned by trial and error that Moody and Bev had to go into the mean-spirited trance of the call and response, nasty stuff about how much better, in all ways, older Ms. Lund was than young Gwen, stopping just short of calling Gwen a Negress, before Bev could experience a fulfilling orgasm. Hollering out this off the wall stuff to Moody’s grunts of assent while Moody assed Ms. Lund as Bev lay on her side with a leg up imagining a racist cop cock in her mouth.
– What did you say? asked Moody.
Beverly gestured for him to come closer and Bev said I said they say that it’s going to rain this weekend. Moody sat on the edge of Ms. Lund’s desk. He said Me and Gwen we’re moving Sunday.
-Moody, Sunday was supposed to be our day this week.
-Fixed it. Gwen got a friend to help her.
-Her only friend Bee.
-Yeah, that’s right.
-She’ll be busy with Bee all morning, probably. Out and about.
-Wearing a bandanna around her Olivia Newton John wig carrying a box full of your worthless crap in a freight elevator in Eden Prairie, right?
-But Gwen is pretty, isn’t she, Moody?
-Say Gwen is pretty.
-You people have no historic consciousness.
-Look at the clock. Who made it? Look at that calendar over there. Do you think I heard about the rain from an Afro-American weatherman?
Sunday afternoon the heavens churned and the birds darted. Rainfearing bluebottles clung to the walls of scorched-face structures as a shadow moved across the face of the city. Moody felt a drop strike his cheek as he crossed the street toward the gallery and came then dark spots one at a time on the street around him like bits of the shadow falling and then across every stunned sidewalk in simultaneous profusion as the lid of the sky collapsed to smash the city. The deluge overwhelmed whoopers and shriekers running to and from the street and Moody stood at the curb before the big sans serif lettering on the glass wall of the Mojo Gallery and Moody held his arms outstretched in an unoriginal gesture he felt born to make and he was soaked all through in the last innocent and relatively untroubled moment of his life and Moody shook with glory.
Beverly looks up from behind her desk over new glasses as Moody sloshes across the concrete floor as the shower sounds pour in through the gallery door and Bev chuckles and shouts You’re wet and Moody is unbuckling and Ms. Lund shouts, Idiot, are you kidding, don’t strip here and Moody says why not and Bev says Because it would be one hell of a lot more fun to do it at your old place while Gwen is out there in the condo moving the fucking refrigerator or what have you with Bee.
But Moody was nervous about it and he had that cartoon angel on one shoulder and that cartoon devil on the other, the cartoons of his best and worst self audibly warring on his shoulders and drenched in the downpour as Moody and Ms. Lund sloshed through backed-up storm drains toward Bev’s new Honda Prelude. Moody was nervous on the funereal drive through sheets of obscuring rain while Beverly drove grinning and talked about her horoscope over the morbid pulse of the wipers and through a flooding downtown and past a barely-visible Walker Arts as through a vinyl shower curtain and up a torrential Hennepin Ave and Moody was nervous as they parked in the lot beside the old building which sluiced and runnelled with cataracts and waterspouts and gushing overflows of the rain gutters. Moody had that much humanity left in his compassion and grief for the image of a long-lost Gwen and he was nervous but painfully erect as he and Bev pounded up the old wooden stairs in the shower towards the quiet little apartment that Moody Bell and poor Gwen Messer had shared all summer.