Copyright © 2004-2013 Timothy Horrigan
Shoshana Charlap was staying at the ornately funky but reasonably dignified College Residence Hotel, at the corner of 110th and Riverside. Parking was indeed not much of a pain on this mid-August Saturday night. There were many parking places available, presumably because many of the rich (or relatively rich) people in the co-ops on Riverside Drive were out of town. We parked on the eastern side of the service road, in a spot which was allegedly visible from Shoshana's window.
The rain had stopped.
"Not that I care all that much if anyone steals it," Shoshana added. "Any car can be stolen, I guess, but this car would only be of interest to car thieves who are also political memorabilia collectors." She was referring to the bumper stickers which covered virtually all of the available space on the rear of her piebald Dodge Dart. She handed me an oblong Lands End canvas briefcase which was filled to the bursting point with papers, notebooks, and similar paraphernalia. "If you carry this thing upstairs for me, I'll make you a cup of coffee," she told me.
It occurred to me at this instant that Shoshana's briefcase probably contained a certain amount of relatively secret material which might be of some interest to my bosses at the Kennedy campaign. Possibly, I thought, I could be thought by some to be some sort of hero if I were to abruptly dash off into the darkness. (Certainly, stealing Shoshana's briefcase would have been a rather ignoble act, but no one who goes to work for someone like Ted Kennedy can't help being at least somewhat capable of rationalizing the commission of ignoble acts in the pursuit of a higher, noble good.) However, the point was moot: I was more than willing to go up to Shoshana's apartment for a cup of coffee.
I'd been up to Shoshana's apartment a few times, for parties and whatnot, but never by myself like this. Her apartment lay somewhere in the farther ranges of a maze of twisty little passages, behind one of the numerous identical black metal doors with four-digit numbers painted thereon. It was not a huge apartment, but it was much larger than I would have expected after trying to apply the laws of Euclidean geometry to the apparent spatial relationships of the position of this door vis-avis the positions of the neighboring doors.
"Welcome to my humble sublet," Shoshana said expansively, even though strictly speaking it was not a sublet. "You've been here before, you can probably figure out where the coffee is. If you'd rather have some beer or something, there should be some in the fridge." She went in the bedroom (which lay at the far end of the long, narrow living room) to make a phone call or two. The kitchen was in an alcove immediately by the door. The alcove, which had apparently been originally intended for use as something other than a kitchen, was small and windowless, but the ventilation fan worked well, and the appliances were all less than 20 years old.
The refrigerator was especially high-tech by White Harlem standards: it was housed in a square box (rather than one with rounded corners), the compressor could barely be heard over the ambient traffic noise, and the freezer was not merely housed in its own separate compartment but was also capable of making its own ice cubes. Indeed, the ice-cube maker was working too well: the ice cubes had spilled out of their holding pen and were almost burying the pint of crystallized Haagen-Dasz and the two black plastic film cans.
I decided that it was too hot to make coffee, so I rounded up a few ice cubes and poured two plastic tumblers of Diet Pepsi.
I sat down on the impersonal brown-and-black plaid sofa. Shoshana was still in the bedroom, talking in a low but agitated voice. I couldn't quite make out what she was saying. I picked up the wireless remote control (which had been balanced precariously atop a slippery stack of back issues of the Nation and the New Republic) and browsed through the channels for a couple of minutes. I chose to watch a preacher who was hinting that the world would be coming to an end sometime in the next three months. It seemed a bit early for the end of the world, especially if the world ended before the General Election.
"Well, Shoshana, the world probably won't come till an end till after the General Election," I said as she emerged from the bedroom. She looked at me quizzically as I handed her a glass of Diet Pepsi.
"That Josh is such a pinhead, you know what I mean? He's a moron, he's a jerk. He's a fucking puzzlewit," she whinged after flinging herself emphatically onto the couch.
"Josh is a puzzlewit? What exactly makes you say that?" I replied. It took me a few instants to remember that "Josh" was her boyfriend, former Yale point guard Josh Levi.
"I'd rather not talk about Josh, okay, Bill?" She sighed.
"He's an idiot. That's all there is to it, Josh Levi is a fucking idiot. Let's leave it at that, all right?"
"All right." (I decided not to add that I had no opinion about Josh one way or another.)
"Speaking of puzzlewits, Bill, how's Ted? Does he actually think he's going to win? Or, more to the point, you don't think he's actually going to win, do you?"
"Yes, I do actually," I said, and I told her why for about five minutes straight without interruption.
Shoshana listened to me very attentively, smiling earnestly and gazing at me almost entirely unblinkingly. She only yawned three or four times. "You really don't know what the fuck you're talking about, McEwan. I can understand how someone like Ted Kennedy could believe this bullshit, but someone like you would have to be a total fucking idiot to swallow that stuff," she finally told me. Then she abruptly placed her hand on my knee and added, "Speaking of fucking, Bill, would you want to sleep with me tonight?"
"Uh, ummm, uh," I said uncertainly.
She slid her hand about halfway up my thigh and said, "Well, would you. It's okay if you don't want to, but if you do want to, well—"
"Well, I would like to sleep with you" I replied. "Sometime," I added.
She clicked the off button on the remote control before sliding over, and levering herself up onto my lap. "Maybe we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves. We shouldn't talk about how much we're going to like it before we've even had the experience. Why don't we just cuddle for a while and see where we go from there." I buried my nose in her lustrous black hair which tonight smelled a lot like the ink they usually use to print the blue parts of red-white-and-blue campaign signs. She grabbed my hands and pressed them firmly against her thighs. After about thirty seconds, she stole a glance at my Casio digital watch, and asked me, "Is it really 3:33 in the morning?"
"I wouldn't know, Shoshana" I said. "I can't see my watch from here." I was staring directly into her hair: I couldn't see anything except a shiny black light.
"It's getting awfully late. I really don't have time to fuck around like this," she said as she abruptly climbed from my lap.
I sighed wearily and tried to rise to a standing position, which was difficult since every part of my body (except possibly my penis) was totally numb. "So, I guess I'd better take off now, then?" I finally said.
Shoshana stood in the centre of the living room with arms akimbo. "I didn't necessarily say you had to leave. Not necessarily." She reached out and pressed my body firmly against hers. "No, that's not what I meant at all."
We began tongue-kissing for a while. Distressingly, my level of anxiety increased proportionately to my level of sexual arousal. "I don't quite know what to say," I told her. I tried to sound as cool and as noncommittal as possible, but I was sweating profusely, my skin had turned a bright red, and my penis was throbbing.
"I don't either," she said, "but even if I did we wouldn't have time to talk about it."
It looked like we standing on the verge of getting it on, but I still looked abashedly away from her for a minute, trying to remember where I had dropped my knapsack. (It was on the kitchen counter, just out of sight from where I was standing.) Shoshana used this brief period of time to take off her shirt, which fell to the parquet floor with a frighteningly loud clatter of Carter-Mondale buttons. She was still wearing her convention-floor credentials around her neck. She licked her lips and said, "What are you looking at, Bill?" I reached behind her credentials and unhooked her lustrous black bra. "All right," Shoshana sighed, as she raised her arms to let me remove the bra.
Her breasts had a pleasantly salty taste. Three hours later, at dawn, we were awakened by a amazingly loud telephone bell. Shoshana was on the wrong side of the bed, so she had to lean awkwardly over me to reach the telephone, which was sitting on the floor underneath her discarded red-and-white plaid 100% cotton Lands End Twill Walk Shorts. I liked the way it felt when she leaned awkwardly against me. I placed one hand at the bottom of her back to be able to grab hold of her ass in case she started to fall (or just in case I felt like grabbing hold of her ass.)
"It's for you, Bill," she told me.
"Bill, there was no answer at your place," Frosty Griggs told me, "but Tammi said you might be here."
"I might be here," I said. "That is a distinct possibility. However, Frosty, do you know what time it is?" This was intended as a purely rhetorical question, even though I didn't really know what time it was.
I heard Frosty saying off-mike, "Tammi, what does your watch say?"
"6:37," she said, also off-mike. "Eastern Daylight Time."
"Sorry, Bill, just a sec," Frosty said to me before asking Tammi, "6:37? You're sure?"
"Yeah," she told Frosty, "I checked it against WWV just a few minutes ago."
"UTC minus 4, I hope?" Frosty asked her. "You got the right timezone?"
"I actually know which timezone I'm in, for a change," she told him.
While I eavesdropped on this colloquy between Tammi and Frosty, Shoshana slithered slowly headfirst onto the floor (allowing me to caress her ass and the back of her legs as she slithered.) She lay face-down on the battleship-gray carpet for an instant before getting up, sitting on the edge of bed, and staring at me with what seemed to be a quizzically amused expression (though it was hard for me to read her expression because I hadn't put on my glasses yet.
"It's 6:37," he told me. "Maybe, by now, 6:38. In either case, later than I thought."
"It's okay. I was going to get up sooner or later anyway," I told him. "So what's up, Frosty?" Shoshana began idly playing with my matted, sweat-sodden hair.
"It's Tammi, or actually it's me," he said. "Here's the situation. As you probably know, the Others are going on a tour of Europe in October as part of a package with the Bloodless Pharaohs, the Student Teachers, and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. The S.O.'s have some extra money to pay a guitar technician, and it sounds like fun, so I said I'd go. But now Tammi says I shouldn't go."
"You're taking advice from Tammi Honig?" I asked Frosty. Shoshana leaned and over kissed me on the forehead. "Man, you know better than that!"
"You don't know better than that, McEwan," Frosty reminded me.
"I'm sorry, Frosty. I concede that point. But what's the problem? Why shouldn't you go?"
"All she says it that it would be a betrayal."
Shoshana climbed over me, picked up a large purple comb from the windowsill, and began combing my hair. This was a little painful, because some serious knots and tangles had formed in my hair, but it was a very sensuous pain, and in any case a very small pain. "Betrayal?" I asked Frosty. "Betrayal of what?"
"There are several possibilities."
"Such as?" I asked. There was a long silence on the other end of the line.
There was a clicking sound, followed by a subtle but noticeable change in the background noise. Tammi had evidently picked up one of the other three extensions in the apartment that Frosty shared with Persefone Sgambati and Odell Kinch.
"Maybe it's my art," Frosty mused. "Maybe it's my writing. That's what it is. That must be what is!"
Tammi interjected, "No, certainly not that! I hate his writing. It's pretentious and stupid."
"That's not true!" Frosty protested.
"So it's not his writing," I said. "So what is it, Tammi?"
"It's me," Tammi said. "I need to have him nearby. I need him to maintain whatever stability I have left. He can't leave me alone like this."
"Why don't you go with him, Tammi?" I suggested. Shoshana stopped combing my hair and began massaging the back of my neck. "Go on the tour with him, I mean."
"That's a possibility," Frosty said.
"Frosty, that is not what I want," Tammi wailed. "That's not a possibility! It simply isn't. That's a really stupid suggestion, Billy! You are such a puzzlewit!" She slammed down her phone.
"That's not a bad suggestion, Bill," Frosty said. "Bye. Oh wait. One more question. Whose place is this?"
"Shoshana's," I told him. "I'm not sure if you know who she is."
"Oh, sure, Guillermo, I know who she is. She's that chick who works for the Carter campaign, who is like, well, a real person and a real woman. She hangs out at the Green Dolphin. She's cool. Look, we'll talk about this later, at Sandwiches Cubanos. Ciao, dude!"
Shoshana rolled me over on my back, rested her head on my chest, and looked up at me with a wide-eyed affectionate look in hers (but her eyes always looked wide and affectionate because of the shape of her eyeballs and the positioning of her eyebrows.) "Who was that?"
"Oh, his name is Frosty Griggs."
"I thought that's who it was," she said. "He's that boy at the Green Dolphin with the long red hair. Isn't he in some sort of a band with Benjie Weinberg?"
"Well, he was at one time," I explained.
"Speaking of time," she said. "We don't have much. At least, I don't have much time. I have a meeting at 8:30 a.m. with Hamilton Jordan and people like that. It must be almost 7:00." She sighed, sat up, and leaned back against the wall. "Well, I suppose I could leak you a document or something like that."
"You don't have to do that, Shoshana."
She climbed over me, jumped out of bed, and picked up a white terry-cloth bathrobe that had been draped over her desk chair. "No, I suppose I don't. You're right." she said. I reached up and put on my glasses just in time to watch her loosely knotting the sash of the bathrobe. She leaned over and picked up a random document from the floor. "Here ya go, boy," she said as she handed what turned out to be a stapled-together sheaf of blurrily photocopied documents (mostly police reports) relating to Ted Kennedy's tragic misadventures on Chappaquiddick Island during the summer of the first moon landing. Shoshana went into the bathroom, closed the door, and began running the shower.
After thirty seconds or so, she shouted, through the closed door and over the rumble of the shower, something that sounded like "you wanna join me?"
The Forgotten Liras: a novel by Timothy Horrigan