TEAR US APART (a short story from 2002)

When Rafaella and I got off the plane, we were giggling, race-walking out of the fuselage, not even bothering to exchange phony goodbyes with the stewardesses but shoving so rudely through people in our mad dash for the ridiculous velvet ropes (was flying a magic act? a disco?) we could see at the end of the wobbly square tunnel. We dashed down the concourse like children and people glared at our leather coats flapping. I hopped onto a baggage cart and Rafi grabbed the handlebar and pushed it full speed and swervvy making folks scatter and I surfed it to the end of the concourse jumping off as it impacted anticlimactically on the Men’s Room door with a dull thud because Rafi didn’t have the strength to ram the door open. We’d been awake for something like 70 hours.

The Airport was full of people wearing shorts. I’d never seen that before. We hopped down an up escalator two steps at a time, me stumbling but not quite falling and we ran through the baggage claim to escape into a hemisphere of  sunshine. Palm trees and sunshine. I wanted to cry but I grabbed Rafi against me, lifting her by her dense cake of an ass, lifting her blond and voluptuous and sun-blind, a flash-grenade in mid-burst, above me, yelling, “Did I or didn’t I?” Spinning us around. She was heavy and I made her feel light.

“Did I or didn’t I?” I was singing it at the top of my lungs. She was just laughing. I spun us around until I got dizzy and a little sick but still laughing as the sidewalk came up at a nice sharp angle to slam the side of my head and spill green stars.

“Ow!” said Rafi, but still we were laughing.

“Ow,” I agreed, coughing and laughing. I touched my temple and my finger flattened a sweet little droplet of blood. I held out the red-dotted finger for Rafi to lick but she wouldn’t, violating, I felt, an unspoken pact of Absolute Decadence between us but no matter. We were sprawled on the sidewalk in front of the South West Airlines Terminal at Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s little toy airport and we were in no hurry to get back up on our feet. I seriously considered ordering food to be delivered to us right there on the spot… an Airport Picnic!… and if I’d had a cellphone on me I’d have done it.

People were watching us. They were stopped in their tracks, by the spectacle, from a distance. Were we dangerous? Should they radio for help? I had thirty thousand dollars in thousand dollar bills in my money belt and they could all go fuck themselves.

“Did I or didn’t I?” I asked, out of breath, with the hint of a giggle, getting up on my elbows as the sky ladled us with all that glorious liquid light.  The California honey. That dumbshit honey-rich sun. It was hard to believe it was January. How could this be January?  I closed my eyes and tipped my head back: the sun felt good on my Adam’s apple. An Adam’s apple that had been living in the shadow of this manly chin for too long.

“Did I, or… ”

“You did,” said Rafi. “You did.”

We’d been in the air a total of eighteen hours (minus the two hour layover at O’Hare). When we’d left Berlin the city was in the middle of the coldest, meanest and most well-deserved winter storm in fifty years. It was like Stalingrad, with cars abandoned in snow drifts along the Ku’Damm and trees like monstrous ghosts of beasts in ice. U-Bahn wagons stuffed with  throngs beaten down underground by the skeletal fists of the genocidal chill factor.

We’d boarded the BA flight to London at Tegel, with snowflakes intact in our hair, brushing off as the stewardess parted the First Class curtains for us. We’d brought nothing but the clothes on our backs: matching three thousand dollar full-length Helmut Lang wide-lapelled leather coats and second hand leather pants from Kreuzburg and a black t-shirt with Jerry Lewis as “The Bellboy” on it for me and a cream-white Jill Sander blouse with a ruffled collar and silver buttons for Rafi. Beatle boots for both of us. Nothing but the clothes we were wearing and our passports and the money, of course. Lots of money! Thirty thousand dollars (from the original figure of thirty six thousand) in my money belt, thirty thousand dollars of Rafi’s money, extracted from an account her father had started for her,  the money she was to live on that first year away at school. And now we were in San Diego instead, sprawled on the sidewalk like sleek junkies in very expensive clothing, soaking up the attentive sun, thinking up ways to ruin our lives. Or was it more that I had much less to lose than Rafi did?  Fuck you. Though there are times I dread my own black gifts of persuasion. Times I can’t possibly guess where the rocket will land. Who was it called me Adolf Orwell once after sucking my cock in a confessional?

I’d known Rafi for little more than half a week. I’d known her since Friday. Friday night in that club. I’d looked across that smoky room and I zeroed in on her round-cheeked beautiful face of top-heavy lip and wildcat stare plus all that luminous hair, that gush, that gush of champagne down the neck of an edible bottle. I’d looked hard and caught her eye and walked straight to her, pointing to the right at nothing in particular.

“You know you really should be cutting up a body instead,” I teased. I picked myself up off the sizzling sidewalk, brushing grit out of my hair and I offered her a hand. “All the old bodies have a student to call their own except Rafi’s. Boo hoo.”

“Retard,” she said, “It is twenty three at the night there.”

It had all started on a dare.

I’d been in Berlin for ten years straight. At one point I thought I’d never come back to mouth-breathing America again and yet here I was, with a beautiful girl and the beautiful girl’s money in my pocket, ready to try all over again but this time right. We held hands in the taxi and spoke only German because we had vowed not to do a single thing we didn’t absolutely love doing until the money ran out and we were not in the mood to talk to the fucking driver so we weren’t about to.

We were so beyond tired that we had entered a state of feral attentiveness and so noticed the dandruff (“flecken”) on the cabbie’s blue flannel shoulders and said, simultaneously, our voices in eerie monotone unison, Der Schnee Sturm hat uns eingeholt and then stared at each other wide-eyed at the coincidence, the sign, the further omen that it was kismet, that we were meant to be together. The signs were everywhere.

“Two worlds collided,” Rafi sang, off-key, under her breath, intermittently only humming the words she could never get, rushing to the chorus, though it’s not much of a chorus, just a thought, really, a suggestion for a song a better writer might have written, “never tear us apart.” She was squeezing my hand, looking away at the skyline as the taxi beelined the freeway and I couldn’t help thinking that of all the bands, why a has-been mid-‘80s teeny band like INXS? But of course that was the German in her, you had to overlook that. She had terrible taste in music.

Two vurlts collided…

I could never stand those songs until the lead singer killed himself, to tell you the truth. I met him once in a bar in Berlin, now closed. That is, I served him. I was bartending and he sat there looking magnanimous and world-weary and grimly over-paid, flanked by clinically rapacious blondes, smiling at a glass he had tipped to his lips and you just knew the poor bastard was destined to hang himself accidentally while indulging in auto-erotic asphyxiation. In Berlin, the DJs pronounce it (they still bother to play the music!)  INKSES and I hoot.

Rafi snatched at my hand and patted it down on the mound of her crotch and said, in a conversational tone, almost bored, Mach es. Do it. I took my hand away. Too much like a movie. She pinched my ear to punish me and I slapped her plump white hand. I expected her breasts to destroy that blouse when she threw back her arms in the next yawn. I had a vivid and uncanny premonition of slapping each other silly. I laughed.

“Ich bin tierisch mude,” she said, and I said, “Nein nein, doch nicht jetzt,” because I thought if we were to sleep now, if we relaxed our grip on the infinitely-extending magic hour, that magic hour that had thus far stretched for days, the special spell would be broken and I would awaken shattered on some rocks or something. I would awaken in prison. In the shower, surrounded.

“No no, we must not sleep!” I hissed, under my breath, to shock her awake with the English. The taxi driver took the Downtown exit and I said, as we waited at a traffic light, in a fake German accent, “Driver, please turn left.”

“You said you wanted Downtown… ?” He turned halfway towards looking at us.

“Just please turn left,” I said again.

“Pardon me, Sir, but… ”

“Just please do as I say, Mr. Taxi driver.” I laid the accent on thick.

He laughed. “You’re the boss,” and he winked in the mirror. He popped a stick of gum in his mouth and he muttered. “Excuse me?” I said, leaning forward.

“Vielliecht braucht er mal eine saftige Abreibung,” said Rafi with surprising vehemence, turning red. After travelling a few blocks in that random direction, I asked the uppity driver to turn left at the corner of what looked to be a nice street rising to the top of a hill overlooking the cute little Lego-block Downtown and the bay and the narrow blue strip of Ocean beyond it. A huge grey battle ship floated in the bay like an expensive plastic model from my youth. The decals on it were very neatly done and I felt I could reach out and lift it from the water.

We climbed out of the taxi and I threw some bills at the driver and called him a son of a cucumber, the worst of all possible Turkish curses, in German. The sun was politely blinding. The street was such a beautiful, sharply sloping street and we stood at the top of it, breathing  real deep and looking around quite idly for something to comment upon. Sleep deprivation was catching up with me: with my back to Rafi, I realized I had no idea what she looked like. I’d turn away and give myself a quick quiz (little ears or big?) and face her again.


Shoulder length, or down her back?

I’d hooked her on my inside jokes. But what were my jokes inside of? Who is Father Ryan she kept asking… what did he

Skinny young trees (not palms) festooned the sidewalk and a cute little sand-colored two-storey stucco building, with green awnings, stood on the corner. Across the street from this was a hurricane-fenced lot, vacant, rubble-carpeted, in which I could easily imagine myself scrounging for tin cans and recyclable bottles in some alternative universe of the not-too-distant future. I could see, shading my eyes with both hands, that the roof of the stucco building supported a limestone wall patterned with cut-away moons and above that Moorish wall waved the jetstream-tousled wigs of palm trees. I was sure there was a pool up there, right under the flight path of Southwest Airways, because I had looked down on this pool as the plane prepared to land, lowering its massive loins over the palms, touching the tips of its shadow to the golden trinkets sunbathing on the roof of our future temporary home.

Hazel or green?

A sign in the yard of the building said Vacancy. Two beds; two baths; a balcony; access to the pool on the roof. Two month’s rent deposit.

“Did I or didn’t I,” I whispered that evening, humping Rafi like idiot’s CPR in the middle of the empty living room of our brand new unfurnished apartment in San Diego.

Her piggy eyes were luminous in the dark. The room was carpeted in a new white wall-to-wall so chemically young that a swarm of fibers came off on us, animated with static and Rafi’s hair was full of them and they flocked on the smear that shellacked her belly and the tacky slick I’d made on her thighs from slurping. Groin feathers. Cum-tarred and feathered with.

A plane groaned like it was shitting a star directly overhead every twenty minutes, numbing the windows with landing lights and they stretched long lines from the blinds to stripe Rafi’s tits and belly as the building seemed to lift and Rafi’s body was fleshy and pudding and sour-hot as scalded milk. I felt I could push my hand right through Rafi’s middle without hurting either one of us and her breath pushed back on my face. The sweet breath of a near-virgin pushed back on my face. Repelling hoots,  forced out under the beat of my body as I pinned her wrists to the carpet, on my face. It was like I was commanding Rafi to breathe. Breathe as the groin feathers I had stuck to her lips fucking tickled my bleeding nose.

Innie or outie?

For whatever reason, I couldn’t come.

I was as hard as I’d ever been, but I just could not come. The hellish repetition. Was I stuffing something in or digging it out?

I could tell how tired Rafi was and it was frightening. She kept drifting off. She’d close her eyes, her mouth would go slack and I’d kiss her awake feeling like a novice paramedic doing everything wrong seeing it all already as a wicked story to tell at the safe remove of the distant future with the humble arrogance of a wiser sadder self. Her thighs quivered and her breasts heaved and they shook but her eyes were just fluttering slits. Her eyes were done with me. When I closed my own eyes, what did I see? The lunar surface of that vacant lot. Recyclable cans and bottles. I saw winos who wouldn’t even hail me as brother.

Finally, Rafi could only grunt and slip my torso as she rolled to her side to go fetal. She turned her back and she fell inside and she made her way home in her sleep.

-February 2002

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR [letters are vetted for cogency and style]

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s