To These Guys

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Now another voice — voices? — rasped unintelligibly. Yes, voices, whispering. I pictured half a dozen hideous Dick Tracy villains out in the hall: disfigured faces, blackjacks, brass knuckles, gats and heaters. Monica pressed something into my hand; I looked back and saw myself waving Ray’s machete. She pried a cinder block loose from the bookshelf, and paperbacks, incense burners, framed pictures clattered down the shelf into a desperate little huddle. “Be tough!” she whispered, raising the cinder block over her head with both hands. “It’s the only way!”

“Get outta here!” I heard myself snarl. “Monica doesn’t want to talk to you.”

More whisperings and some appeals to Ray.

“She doesn’t want to see you,” I repeated.

Finally the voices went away. We collapsed, dazed, in front of the TV, and spent an entire episode of “Columbo” asking each other, “Who’s that lady?” “Who embezzled the money?” “Do you understand?”

Through the summer the daily tide of work and sleep continued, washing me up on the shores of the financial district in the morning, carrying me out to Ray and Monica’s in the evening and to my apartment at night. I had received my letter of acceptance from Columbia Law with a curious dispassion some months before; every so often I had taken it out, expecting each time to recover the thrill I’d missed. Reading it over left me with a slight unpleasant aftertaste, as if I’d failed myself in some way I was only beginning to understand.

Before I was ready it was September 3. Ray and Monica were coming to my apartment to see me off, and bringing tequila.

In the kitchen I broke eggs and sliced onions, mushrooms and red bell peppers. Ray and Monica and roommate Bob, who was driving with me to New York, were in the adjacent living room. Between bursts of Mingus on the stereo I could hear lulls in conversation, fitful, tentative beginnings. Bob had heard much about my friends; I could picture him now, his wide shoulders rigidly upright, his enormous owlish head swiveling from one to the other, sizing them up. Monica would be nervous.

“We’re hungry, Mike!” came her voice, with a pleading quaver.

“We’re fuckin STARVING,” Ray blared.

Half an hour later, full of omelette, we were all leaned back against our respective living room walls, still and useless. Clouds of cigarette smoke hovered over each of us like thought balloons.

Ray got up and could be heard knocking around in the refrigerator. He
emerged with a lime and a pound of salt, shook salt on his hand, sucked on the lime, licked the salt, and drank tequila. He offered his salty hand to Monica, explaining, “This is how Mexicans do it.”

Bob and I spent the long afternoon packing, carrying cartons out to our rented Pontiac, and drinking with Ray and Monica in the living room, where two, three, four empty bottles lay near a mounting pile of jazz and Rolling Stones albums, and then back to strapping and hauling, throwing ourselves and our belongings around easily as the alcohol and the music spread a good numb heat inside us. When I pulled my last shirt from the closet, the wire hangers rang like chimes.

Ray moved close to Monica to make room for me on the sofa. I drank some tequila, handed the bottle to him. He took a gulp and passed it back.

Monica snatched the tequila fiercely. “Gimme that stuff!” She guzzled a quarter of the bottle. “I’n drink muchas he can!” She coughed, and her body stayed twisted, her right shoulder dipped low.

“Your kidney baby? Is it sore?” Ray was alert.

Monica let out one barking sob, shaking her head violently, her hand hovering near her side as if she could clutch it at a distance.



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