Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pandora in New York

A room seems so much larger without furniture. It is bare, vulnerable, waiting impatiently for the next person to come by and fill it with their life. Rooms need people, I think, they need people the way we need them.

The landlady, a frenetic Polish woman in her early fifties, introduced me to the room. She wore an apron and had graying hair tied back but a few absent strands wafted about like cobwebs. A child, blond and large-eyed, clung to the back of her skirt.

“This room, she needs another.” the landlady said, motioning with spastic movements. Early morning sunlight tickled the floorboards. The curtains fondled the air. The odors of rosewood oil worked into the floor, jasmine soap in the bathroom, the kettle of sweet porridge in the old woman’s kitchen, they melded together deliciously. Outside the window, Elm and Birch laid their sunset tresses on the dirty pavement of Brooklyn. Children’s voices formed a dissonant chorus of gleeful screaming and chanted games in the preschool across the street. I was already welcome here. It would need a fresh coat of paint on the walls, perhaps some new brass in the kitchen, but the room had bid me welcome.

I opened the closet, and a few spiders made a break across the bare wood floor, like a jailbreak. They scattered in all directions, as if to say ‘the new boss is here.’ At the bottom of the closet was a dusty shoebox, taped completely shut. It was very lonely and very still.

“There’s something here in the closet...” I said. When I turned around, though, the landlady had disappeared.

“Ghosts,” I heard her mutter as she walked back down the hallway, child in tow.

I ordered out Chinese that night. The delivery boy was a Down’s kid, all baby fat and smiles and happy eyes. I think he was telling me how delicious my dinner was going to be, but it wasn’t until after he left that I realized he had been speaking English. I’m pretty sure that he couldn’t count, but I gave him a hefty tip.

Sipping coffee on the bare floor of my new apartment, I looked at the box. Pandora was once given a box, and look where that got us. Boxes could contain all sorts of things, dreams or ideas. The knife was in my hand before the conscious idea was formed. I tore open the box.

Photos. It was filled with photographs. I felt like a thief. I put down the box, turned towards my dinner, and let the moonlight steal glances at the past owner’s memories.

Job hunting in Manhattan in a process of accepting your faults and having other people accept them too. Having very few skills, naturally I started from the top. The New York Stock Exchange, the Met, the New York Philharmonic, the Rainbow Room, they were only too happy to accept my resumes. What the hell, I thought, I might get lucky. Fortunately, I hedged my bets with a couple of well-placed applications in coffee shops and restaurants. I survived the abysmal heat by spending my afternoons in the Mills theater, which played old films for two dollars a pop.

Coming up the steps of the subway, walking through my new neighborhood, and opening the door to the apartment, each day my world seemed to get a little smaller and a little more friendly. First a desk arrived, where I could put my magazines and stationary, and a bed. Then I picked up some old lamps and posters from thrifty stores, and the apartment started to look like a home. However, aside from a few fantasies involving a young Audrey Hepburn visiting me with a bottle of champagne and a silk negligee, I was the sole proprietor and guest of the apartment. The heat kept me awake until late at night, just lying on my bed sweating, and I wasn’t able to get to sleep until after two or three.

I opened my mailbox every day, but it was usually just junk. My first piece of mail came from Peter, star forward of Dell Hills soccer team and my best friend since elementary school. He just started college at the University of Wisconsin, and he wanted to study Psychology. He had an apartment also, and had met a girl, a sophomore in Political Science. I reminded myself to write him.

You don’t need to know people in New York. There’s a certain comfort in the fact that everyone hates you and wishes you’d get out of their lives: its like a safety blanket. I never give change to the bum who sits on a cardboard box at the base of my building, but I’d be hurt if he didn’t ask.

The stars seemed farther away in New York than they did in Wisconsin. I only had a few hundred dollars left, not enough to see a Broadway show or catch a live band or do any of the things that people that live in Manhattan at night. You can only go on so many walks around Central Park, ride the Staten Island Ferry so many times, stare out on the city from the top of the city from the top of the Empire State so many times, before it all starts to get rather dull. I usually got home around seven, after the bookstore on 81st closed for the night and the old man kicked me out. “This isn’t a library, you know,” he lectured, “You’ve got to buy the books or I can’t make a living!”

I had put the box of photos back in the closet, vowing never to look at them, never to violate the implied privacy. Then the pictures in the box started to talk to me. At night, sitting at my desk with an empty sheet of paper addressed to Peter, the pictures were begging me to release them. At first, I didn’t even need to see them to know what they were. They showed Jimmy Hoffa in his watery grave at the bottom of the Hudson. Marilyn, Elvis, JFK and the Lock Ness Monster in a hotel room together, locked into a passionate embrace. They could be lost photographs of an ancient Egyptian temple, discovered in the twenties but made secret again by the Mummy’s curse. Or maybe they were Louis Armstrong as a kid, before his cheeks got puffy, tooting on the old trumpet and wishing that he could see the big lights of the Big Apple from the other end one day.

I got a cafe job. I hated working in that goddamn cafe. It was like I was no longer a human being anymore, just a barrier between an irate customer who’s got places to be and things to do, and his perfect cup of half-decaf, nonfat, no preservatives mocha bianca.

(‘What the hell is a mocha bianca?’ I had asked Charles, the effeminate little shit who worked with me. ‘It’s a mocha,’ he had sneered, light glinting off the ring in his delicate nose ‘except with white chocolate instead of regular chocolate.’)
I always had look busy. If I actually looked like I’m enjoying myself, the manager would give me his dirtiest lofty stare. Then he would explain to me how much I should appreciate having this job. Did you know, he would add, that he used to play bass in the philharmonic?

Something about the people that came there just rang false, the way they moved, the brand names so visible on their outfits, the way smoke curled from their cigarettes so artfully. I took on a foreign accent like the other baristas - it made for better tips, especially when I tried to mix Mediterrean and European - but inside I was laughing at every customer fooled by it. I tilted all the pictures in the café slightly to the left: no one noticed, but it’s my own little private joke on those people who think their lives aren’t a little bit skewed anyway.

Charles introduced me to Moon. Moon was a gorgeous doughball, huge and hairy and pale, but with flickering blue eyes like the candle you might set in the window to guide a loved one home. She wore multicolored gypsy mumus and pink lizard earrings. Little food stains covered her dress, tears of neglect. Moon was an artiste, a blind sculptor, who always in line for a show at a gallery but something always fell through. She sat in the cafe for hours on end, never ordering anything, visiting with all her arty friends that wore black and liked to quote Nietzsche and write poetry about death. I guess I was curious about her, about what motivates people like that.

One day I ventured back into her private corner, pretending I was doing something official. That’s when I first had a gun put in my face.

Three of them were huddled around each other like it was cold, whispering. As I walked past the them, I saw a paper bag and some money exchange hands. One of her flunkies must have noticed the movement of my eyes, because all of a sudden I had a gun pointed into my nose. He was a pale Latino with black eyes like coal and greasy hair, and I knew that he wouldn’t mind shooting me and even getting caught for it. I held my breath and the blood rushed to my head and I couldn’t do anything but stare at the enormous hole pointed between my eyes.

People that have nothing to lose are the most dangerous, Dad used to say after he came home from a barfight. But they always fall for the left hook. He would mime a mighty punch in the air, and expect me to believe he had clobbered every trucker, biker and unemployed loser in the joint.

Moon laughed, exhaling smoke in her oh-too-cool way, and said, “Relax. We’re all friends here, right?”

“I’ll cut off his cajones if he says anything,” the Latino muttered.

I don’t know why I agreed to shoot up with her.

At the first of the month, I got my first paycheck. It was only a few hundred dollars, but being my first paycheck, it was like a nugget of pure gold. I was so proud when I handed the rent money to Mrs. Adrianni. My rent money from my job, not from my savings or my parents. She shrugged her shoulders and took it without ceremony. I was disappointed. Later I went out and bought a whole bunch of groceries at the A & P.

After I returned and was standing in front of bags of vegetables, bread, pasta, hamburger, chicken, canned beans and corn that I realized that I had no idea how to cook. Cooking was that strange feminine ritual that Mom or my aunts did behind closed doors, with the clatter of measuring cups and the hiss of the gas stove and the incessant clicking of the egg timer.

Thirty minutes later, Chang arrived at my door. He was rolling his head from side to side, smiling, holding a bag of fragrant victuals in his hand. “Is soo good, I tell you.”

I understood him this time. “Full of MSG, I bet.”

“No MSG.” He shook his head. “No MSG.”

“Thanks, Chang.” I gave Chang another healthy tip, and he waddled proudly down the hallway. Intent on eating, I plopped down in my usual spot on the floor, causing dust bunnies to scatter into the corners.

I decided to clean the apartment a little. I pulled a broom out of the closet to clean up the dust, and accidentally knocked open the box of pictures. Wounded, photographs spilled out like blood. Like a festering boil that needed to be lanced, the box had been opened and the mysteries released.

The photos were yellowed with age. They must have been at least twenty years old. Fascinated, I lay the broom against the wall and rifled through them. The first was a young girl hidden in that empty closet, except then it was filled with clothes and shoes and teddy bears. The girl was a heroin beauty with midnight hair, moon smile, fire eyes. Several pictures showed her cavorting around the room, playing with a handsome young man who must have been her father. God, I wish anyone would smile at me that way. On the back of the photograph was handwritten ‘Juliana, age 7. Sept 14, 1973’

In high school at Albert Einstein tech, I was surrounded by glasses, training bras, and jumper skirts. All of the girls there knew that they were on the way for Ph.D.s or MBAs in marketing, and didn’t have time for kissy-kissy stuff. Our sister school, Sister Mary’s of Christ, was filled with nubile young future prom queens who they wouldn’t even look twice at me.

I actually talked to Ricki Goldstein once. I swear her skirt didn’t even cover half of her thighs, and her blond hair was soft and fine as sunflower fuzz. She had just wanted to know if I knew what the capitol of Montana was. I never even looked it up. The whole affair had been so shallow.

Juliana pranced through life. The next pictures were at her high school graduation, arms around more beauties like her. I saw her sitting in the driver’s seat of her new car, throwing back her head in laughter, baring her lovely throat and spilling her hair. Her youth burned out of those eyes, into the camera, suffused itself into the pigments of film, and now it burned in me.

There were other pictures that I recognized, of the street below. The neighborhood was different back then. The cars were all old Dodges and Fords and Cadilliacs, no imports at all. People wore bell bottoms and polyesters. A shoe store was on the corner, and a French bakery next door. There was a hot dog vendor on the corner, an old black guy with a few white frizzy hairs, and it struck me that the smile frozen below his mustache in the picture that would never grow old.

“Smack is better than having eyes, darling,” Moon would say, her head rolling around like it had no connection to her body, like a cork floating in the ocean, like a celestial object drifting in space. “It’s like having lips and breasts and vaginas all over your soul. Any thought is an epiphany, any touch is a caress, magical and full of meaning.”

Moon showed me how to shoot up, explaining each procedure with the patience of a grade-school teacher. She warmed up the smack on a spoon, and added water. All of her lost artistic talent went into the preparation of that smack. She tied up her arm, injected herself, and let the tourniquet go. I could see her face light up even before the drug hit her: it was the anticipation of the high was better than the high itself. Always things left half in shadow seem more enticing.

When the smack rolled up and down my body like velvet sex sledgehammers, exciting and cooling, the world was so much a better place. I’ll take the illusion over the real thing any day.

I had been fired from the café, so I spent a lot of time at home. I had nothing better to do, so I kept looking at the box of pictures from time to time. The more I looked through them, the more the pictures started to tell a story. I put them in order of time, like making a movie. As I flipped through them, Juliana’s face became more translucent, from a healthy ivory shine to a ghostlike pale. The flesh faded from her cheeks, her eyes sunk in and became brighter, her shoulders drooped. She was dying right before my very eyes. In the first pictures, she was always in motion, motion frozen in time. As the pictures progressed, she stopped moving, as if invisible threads were shooting up from grandmother Earth and taking hold of her, pulling her down. In almost every picture there was blood, and her hawk-brown eyes. Outside, snow clung to the windows.

I wondered if she could age, if she would ever die. Would the curse of immortality be upon her forever, living here in these photographs. On one of the pictures was a name: Juliana Linda Meyer. I looked up in the phone book. Juliana Meyer, 389-3793. Bram Stoker had told me that a vampire never leaves her native soil.

The high was fading. I could feel the strains of reality pulling me in all directions at once: my overfull bladder, the rumbling acid of my stomach, leaden cold in my fingers and toes. The chill had crept past the sleeping morphene and taken hold of me. I called her number. The phone rang, and an answering machine picked up. Hot jazz played in the background, then the machine beeped. What should I say?

“Juliana, I know you don’t know me, but...I have some old photographs from a place you used to live, 237 East 84th St. number eleven. My name is Jack, and you can call me at--”

The answering machine cut me short with a long beep. I looked at the phone and considered calling again, but Chang was knocking on the door, his sweet Chinese accent calling for me, the hot and sour clawing up the door and towards the narrow space between my belt and my ribs.

Walking to the door, I reached into my wallet, but it was empty. Chang smiled at me and held out the bag.

I showed him my wallet and shrugged. “I don’t have any money, Chang.”

He grinned and pressed the bag into my hand. “Eight dollars seventeen cents.”

“I don’t have any money,” I repeated.

He looked perplexed. “White people always have money.”

Hunger gnawed away my conscience. I took the food and slammed the door in his face. He knocked a few times, plaintively, then shuffled away.

I never heard from Juliana. I got a job working nights at a hotel, through a friend of Moon’s. The boss was an asshole but he was usually asleep. I would sit at the front desk and watch greasy guys come in with sleazy chicks that charged by the hour and always went home alone.

The darkness of the holiday season descended like the slimy gray sky. I imagined at night I could hear people jumping off the Brooklyn bridge, and I wondered how long it’d take me to join them. To defend myself from the monotony I got a stereo from a yard sale, along with a stack of old records. It was then that I discovered classical music. I listened to Haydn and Mozart, letting the music of the ages wash over me, confiding my own insecurities in their timeless brilliance, wondering what they would do in a situation like mine. I stopped cleaning the room. It started to smell pretty bad.

I wanted to go to Times Square for the New Year’s Eve party, but in the end I decided to stay home and watch it on TV. Who the fuck cares? I fell asleep on my bed, unwashed and unloved. When I woke the next morning, I knew that I had to do something. I was sinking. The pictures were piled up into a corner. I stared at them, trying to draw in their heat, but the heat had drawn into itself and was no longer giving.

I had to find her. After a short search, I caught Mrs. Adrianni in the hallway.
“Do you know this girl?” I asked, shoving the picture in her face.

Mrs. Adrianni turned away, crossed herself. “Ghosts.”

“Is she dead?”

She turned and walked away, but I continued to pursue her down the hall. She seemed repulsed by the picture.

“What do you know about her?” I demanded.

She disappeared into her apartment and slammed the door behind her. I pounded on the glass. “Mrs. Adrianni, I have to know!”

She reopened the door, and shoved a pile of mail in my hands. “Here. All hers.”

I pieced through the mail. Phone bill, credit card bill, electric bill, all in her name. Also there was a letter from Mercy Hospital, but it looked as if someone had already opened it and removed the contents. It was enough of a lead for me.

Mercy Hospital was a cold white building against a cold gray sky. I pulled my collar on tighter as I pushed past an old man in a wheelchair to get to the receptionist.

“Excuse me. I need to find Juliana Meyer. She’s a patient here. I’m her brother.”

“Do you know what she’s in for?” she asked.

I had rehearsed this answer ahead of time. “I don’t know. My parents called and said she was here. I haven’t talked to her in a long time.” I hoped the lie was broad enough to cover all contingencies.

“Well, let me check…” she typed on the computer, sucking her teeth like she had something stuck in there. “No, we don’t have any patients here under that name.”

“Do you have a list of…deceased patients?”

Her face softened in sympathy. “No, I’m afraid we don’t. You should probably call your parents to find out what happened.”

Juliana is dead. She’s dead and gone. The need knawed from the inside, more insistent, threatening to get out. I slumped over in one of the seats. I bit my lip, the pain felt refreshing compared to the gray emptiness of wanting. I don’t know how long I wandered in and out of the halls. Half-opened doors showed rooms filled with pain. Everything about the hospital seemed evil, out of place. Which one of the rooms had she been in? Did her soul rest peacefully, or did it haunt the halls at night?

All of the faces in the white beds were replaced by faces of Peter, Moon, the girls at Albert Einstein, and Juliana. I even saw Chang in there, hands like claws grasping white sheets stained with red. I stumbled outside and collapsed onto a park bench. The need was like gravity, forcing my body to curl inwards. The sky was pushing me down, smothering me, needles of cold wriggling their way through my wet socks and the holes in my jacket.

“Hello,” I heard from overhead, soft and raspy, a smoker’s voice, “I hear you have been looking for me.”

She stood in the night air, moonlight shrinking just a millimeter away from her body. She wore a white coat. The flesh was dead, but the eyes alive, so alive.

I stumbled up to her with the box in hand.

“So, you’re Jack,” she said. She touched one of my blond curls carelessly. “You look like an angel.”

She was so beautiful. Bloodstains covered her robe. She still had the same midnight hair, moon smile, fire eyes. The winds of time could not wither that pale flesh. She smiled at me like she did in the photographs.

“I’m Jack. I have your pictures.”

Juliana looked at me up and down with an amused smile. “Are you hiding them somewhere you’re not telling me?”

I felt my pockets, and my cheeks burned. “Oh, yeah. I guess I left them at home.”

“Well, I guess you’ll have to leave another message on my machine. I listen to the messages sometimes. How did you find me, anyway?”

“It wasn’t easy.”

“Well,” she shrugged, “I really appreciate it.”

I was trembling.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Oh, nothing.” I locked my muscles to stop them from wiggling, clenched my jaw to keep it from chattering.

“I don’t know how to thank you.”

I couldn’t help staring at her. A complete stranger, and yet I felt like a knew her. There was something between us, something special. Her eyes glinted invitingly. I leaned in towards her.

“Well, thanks again.” And she was gone, leaving me lying on the park bench clutched in the jaws of winter.

We met again over Moon’s body.

The gas company had turned off the heat in my apartment, so I was spending most of my time at Moon’s. She had a big screen TV with cable, which could keep me entertained for hours, and a entire wall full of LPs. I watched movies, listened to records, fading in and out of a heroin high. People came in and out of the house at all hours.

That evening had been pretty dull. I had been sitting on the toilet for almost an hour, trying to take a shit. Heroin constipates you like crazy. I knew freaks who lived solely on french fries, heroin, and laxatives.

When I got out of the bathroom, still buckling my belt, the entire room had gone silent.

“What?” I asked, irritated at virtually anything when I wasn’t high.

Moon was just lying there, like someone had overturned a bowl of milk jello and thrown a few yards of black cloth and glitter on top. I didn't have a clue of what to do. I felt for her pulse, like they do on TV, but I couldn't find one.

"Call 911." I said to the tiny black chick that was standing in the corner.

"No fuckin' way, man." She grabbed her bag, and looked at the large bag of heroin on the table. I looked at it too. She grabbed the bag and ran out the door.

I called 911.

The police stood in the living room while the medics and firemen tried to lift Moon. One of the fireman screamed: I think he got a hernia. I was coming down as they finally got her into the ambulance. I insisted that the ambulance take me to Mercy Hospital. Juliana owed me a favor.

As we slammed through the back doors of the hospital, the wheels of Moon’s gurney squeaking under our feet, I called for Juliana. One of the nurses grabbed me and took me aside.

“You have to let the doctors do their work.”

“I need Juliana Meyer. Juliana Meyer.”

“Dr. Meyer works in Pediatrics. This is the emergency room.”

“You have to let me speak with Juliana.”

The nurse shrugged. “I’ll page her.”

The ER doctors had left Moon alone. Either they didn’t care, or there was nothing that they could do. I was dozing off in the chair next to her bed when my bloodstained angel came to visit again.

“Don’t I know you?” she asked.

“Jack. I’m Jack, remember. I have some photographs of yours.”

“That’s right, I remember.”

“Is…she going to be okay?” I asked, pointing at the enormous expanse of white that was Moon’s comatose body.

She flipped up Moon’s eyelids, looked at the monitor, looked at chart. It was so fast I almost missed it.

“Yeah, probably. Maybe she’ll come down with an aspiration pneumonia, but she’s lung and she’ll live.” She said with a light, breezy tone.

“You make that sound like a good thing.”

“Probably would be. She’d be stuck in here so long, she’d come off the habit. Might be the best thing for her. If she walks out unscathed, she’ll be back soon enough, and then she’ll be dead. So, can I see my photos?”

Strange bird, that one. Don’t ask me how, but we ended up at my apartment. We laughed and laughed. I don’t know who kissed who first, or who started taking clothes off first. I don’t exactly remember the next three weeks.

She lives at the hospital. She goes into a dark cave every night, and works with blood. Every day she comes home with bloodstains. I think she’s drinking it. She needs that blood to live, to maintain her beauty, like the photographs.

She came to my apartment often, to watch TV or eat or make love. She used to live there when she was in medical school.

“How did you get into medical school?” I asked, lying on the bed, hands running over her naked body.

“I fucked every guy on the admissions committee,” she said, and for a second I believed her. I can never tell if she’s putting me on, her molasses slow sweet smile betraying nothing. She exhaled from the cigarette. The smoke blew upwards, crecendoing to the ceiling.

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?,” she asked.

Silence. I decided I needed to say something ambitious, something intelligent.

“A filmmaker, I guess.”

“Oh, yeah? What kind of films do you want to make?”

“Real ones. Ones about the way life is, not what we want life to be. Taxes, soured marriages, premature ejaculation, back pain, that kind of stuff. Things that remind us what it’s like to be human.”

She grabbed my chin to look straight into my eyes, her nails bit into my flesh. “How old are you, Jack?”

I thought about jerking my head away but her hands were strong and I knew they’d take flesh with them. Instead I threw it back at her. “How old are you?”

She shoved me away. “Never ask that to a lady.”

“You aren’t a lady,” I said, shoving her back.

Juliana turned away, so that her face fell into shadow. “I think being human is overrated.”

When she looked up at me, I felt my spine clench. “When I first saw you, I thought you were an angel.” she hid her face behind her hair. “With your golden curls and that cute round boyish face. I thought you had come to save me.”

“Save you from what?” I asked.

Juliana came to my apartment after a long shift. She smiled at me, I kissed her on the cheek, then tucked her under the covers. She was still asleep when I came back from the record store, so I turned on Bethoveen and let him work his magic.

When Mrs. Adrianni saw Juliana she crossed herself and mutters.

“The old lady never liked me. She thinks I’m a ghost.”

I was silent. The back of my mind was like a screen, playing visions of bloodstained coat, the light in her eyes.

I never said it, but in my mind I was thinking it. I doubted.
Are you a ghost? Are you real?

She saw it and turned away from me.

“Jerk,” she said. She stood completely still. Her eyes were dry, but tears were falling from her voice. “You know, when I was a kid I was really sick. I mean, really sick. I had leukemia.”

“You don’t fucking know a thing until you’ve spent an entire night alone, pain crawling up your body so you can’t even think, counting the seconds passing by, hoping the morphene will overcome you and take you to sleep.”

She got up to leave.

“Don’t you want your pictures?” I said.

“Keep them.”

I tried calling her for a week, paging her, but she never returned my phone calls.
I got a job as a production assistant on a shoot. Most of the time I was running for sandwiches, film or gaffing tape, I got to see how things really happened. After a week of total awe, I started to see the kinks in the armor. Moviemakers hid within the magic of imagination, letting our minds do the work for them. We all want to lose ourselves in the illusion so much, they don’t have to work so hard. After three weeks I was convinced I could do the job better than they could. I did some gigs as an extra, saved up for my SAG card, and spent most of my time and trying to talk to the second AD.

The next time I called her, she picked up the phone and was very sweet. I asked her about her work.

“What ever happened to the guy in those photographs?”

“I asked you never to talk about that.” she said.

“I have to know,”

“He was a patient of mine, all right. A patient. He was in the hospital when I was just a candy striper. After a while, we got…close. I loved him, I think. Then he died.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should be.” Silence. “His will paid for medical school. He was better to me than my parents ever were.”

“He put you in his will?” I asked, laughing. Juliana had a way of joking that didn’t sound like a joke.

“He loved me,” She said, with large red eyes. “And I loved him. I tried. He died, but I am the ghost. I’m afraid of getting too close to the world of real people. I only feel comfortable around the dying. They don’t expect forever.”

“I didn’t ask for forever.”

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

I tried to get myself clean. I went cold turkey for a couple of days. It was easier to ignore the need in the heat. I picked up some tricks to keep my mind off shooting. Chain smoking, for one. Dreaming about the future helped, too. For once, I saw myself going somewhere.

I kept talking to the second AD, trying to move myself up the ladder. He saw the look in my eyes, and he hooked me up. He saw me going places also.

I’d been broke for weeks, and the pain was screaming out my eyeballs. Moon would be in the back corner of the café right now, waiting with my fix. Like a thief, she could steal my pain and desire. But not for free. Never for free.

Even though I was standing on my feet, I crawled into the hospital holding the box in my hand. I found her in the break room, flipping through a stack of papers, a half-eaten sandwich next to her. She looked up at me, and her eyes went wide.

“Twenty-five bucks.” I heard myself say, holding the box out in front of me.

“What? Jack, are you okay?”

I hated her pity. The need screamed at her.

“Twenty-five bucks. For the pictures.”

As my mouth moved, my mind was already begging for forgiveness. An eternity passed in that instant, and everything about her changed. Her forehead wrinkled, her shoulders stiffened.

“Okay.” she said, wrinkling her nose.


“Okay,” she said flatly. “Fifty, and no more.”

“Just fifty dollars. Just business.”

“You goddamn junkie. At least now you fucking understand pain.” Her tone softened somewhat. I looked at her, and finally I saw Juliana, not some ghost or image of a former life. We finally understood each other.

She pulled out her wallet and littered bills into the air. Peter and Dell Hills and the University of Wisconsin were so far away. As Jackson and and Grants and Lilcolns fell in slow motion to the ivory tiles, and it was as if I was listening to Bach again, the last strains of the organ breaking in the distance.


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