First a spray of small cinnamon dots suddenly and without warning appear on my wrists and forearms and I assume it is probably one more of the signs that my body is adjusting to the realities of no bread.
Next comes the itching which births itself in my crotch and I begin to rub raw down there scratching and grinding with fingers pens and pencils a coat hanger even a fork until there is hardly any hair left and the skin around my privates feels as if it is an angry and constant reproach.
And with this rash or whatever it is the grocery store is out of the question and my golf game is going to hell and forget about my tennis lesson and all the rest.
And the itching continues occasionally flashing outward spreading its long tentacles away from my dick and balls and out over my body to my toes and eyelids and all over my chest and shoulders and then retreating quickly to take cover back under my dying bush.
First I think it's crabs is what I think. Crabs commuting and bustling scrambling hopping from hair to hair setting up temporary communes at various locales on my person and I try to guess who the donor might be but there is never any crab dirt or small specks of blood in my underwear and these I know from that time spent in Sun Valley and that time in Hawaii and other times as well to be the signs.
I wonder about maybe herpes so I call an expert over and Clare comes clomping up the walk in her heels and pops right on in without even a knock and walks through the foyer and onto the wide plank wood through the living room past the lime Eames chair I once fucked her and more than her on and she takes a left now clomping hard on the polished concrete floor in the dining room and comes through the French doors and catches me on the terrace with a stack of scripts on the table, one hand in my pants, the other turning pages.
She says, Shit. Just shit, and kicks off her shoes. Much better now. I should have been born in Africa, that way I could run around with bare feet and who would care? Did I catch you masturbating? Go ahead and finish. Clare has a narrow disappointed face, pointed chin, thin, pale and almost translucent skin and a mouth the color of a fresh wound which she covers with a thin layer of white gloss. When I met her ten years ago her face was round and with a softness you could sink deep into and now it keeps shrinking and hardening and shrinking some more like a tumor under radiation. She is tall and wears skirts short enough to still shock some and her stockingless bony legs are everywhere, raw knees, hieroglyphic pattern of broken blood vessels and veins tending toward lavender starting at her toes and working their way up to and under the skirt.
I make her wait while I finish reading a script that is most interesting. The story is called The Final Testament of Ms. Rosetta Stone. It is about a young woman, Rosetta Stone, late teens, maybe early twenties, a real mouse, nerdy glasses, hair pulled tight, dumpy dresses, skin not quite right, constantly tripping over everything, cute in a Main Street way but Hollywood ugly. A couple of years ago I'd have gone with Katie Holmes but now she is too old and also a nut when it comes to religions lacking spaceships. Rosetta wears a large metal cross on a chain, a huge clunker big enough to hang on a wall. One day this little mouse is on the way home from somewhere, maybe the library or church or a community meeting on rape awareness and garbage recycling when she gets struck by lightning and it scores a direct hit on the cross and the electricity runs all through her sparks flying out of the top of her head and they fly from her fingertips too. And then Rosetta Stone drops down into a coma for forty days and when she pops out of it her brain is like a super computer and she has the answer to every problem that is slowly shutting us down. She eradicates disease, poverty and hunger gone in a whoosh, she works out peace treaties, figures a way of replenishing natural resource supplies, she has become a real jacqueline of all trades. Everyone wants a piece of her because she's got these powers. The possibility of no more malaise and even eternal life has descended. And Rosetta is a strident feminist now, not a real feminist but a Hollywood version of such, cute as a button, short hair, nerd glasses, just the right amount of flirt and spunk, she'll kick your ass but still spread her legs for the right fellow because that's all movie girls really want, cock hanging between the legs of a Mr. Sensitive. And then it turns out she's stepping on more than a few toes. Contributions to church dry up but the Sierra Club is in the black. After an initial whirl on the talk show circuit the oil companies and pharmaceutical firms band together and the TV preachers are in quite a frenzy not to mention the politicians when she says that they are one of the main problems and begins to name them by names (not too bright a girl it would seem) and they all come together to work everybody up over Rosetta, put out nasty rumours which stick to her like tar and people get sick to death of her and her sanctimonious ways and certainly don't want to be preached to by this little tart of all people and be told all the things that they are doing wrong to the earth and fellow man. Pre-9/11 nobody would have cared but the world changed on that day or at least we like to pretend it did. So resentment grows and grows like a cancer, like some sort of toxic fluid spilled that cannot ever be cleaned no matter how much mopping you do and she is seen as a plague that must be stopped if such a thing is possible, to stop to kill an idea once it has been born unto itself and she ends up getting lynched without even benefit of a trial. It is evident that the government approves of the whole affair, even lending soldiers to the party and a party it is; the guy who wrote this script didn't mince around, he's got Rosetta getting stripped nude and flogged half to death, carrying a huge white cross down Wilshire Blvd., continually stumbling and falling only to struggle back up to her bare feet again and again while jeering throngs hang half-way out of windows and throw confetti causing a blinding white flurry and sending the environmentalists into a tizzy over the litter and wasted paper and even this they blame on poor Rosetta who really cannot win for losing now can she? If we want to keep it at an R she'll probably have to be in a bra and panties but even that makes me want to plunge my hand back down my pants. Finally the cross is laid down upon the grass at Pershing Square and Rosetta is on her back being nailed onto it with three tremendous swings of a hammer, each swing played out in total silence followed by a deafening eruption of joy, tears of happiness filling eyes, the overflowing crowds dancing and singing in a celebration that even they do not understand as a long spike is driven right through her flesh and bone and into the wood and then another then another and the cross is erected with our heroine secured to it and hanging there. Now here is what makes the script so interesting; it is women who crucify Rosetta, her supposed sisters in humanity assume the role of aggressor in this morality play and they take their turn at power and play it to the hilt like men have done so many times before. There are rumours of black magic and powers not of this earth, the occult I would guess.
Anyway, the best touch for my money is the last supper routine, now a brunch with all the women making a big deal out of who ordered what so when the bill comes they can split it down to the penny, and none of Rosetta's disciples wanting to betray her but knowing they have to do what is written, have to turn her over to her enemies because if not they do not give her up, word on the street is that there are twelve other crosses with their names on them and they may like this Rosetta, she may be fun to hang with and they get all the best tables but she is not quite worth taking three spikes for.
So during this final meal, unbeknownst to our heroine, the gang plays a round of my favorite game, Smile. It's been many years since I've played and even then it was overseas. Instead of having the first loser buy a round of drinks or pay for the meal the way the game is normally played, in this version of the game the first loser has to assume the role of betrayer. I have never heard of Smile being played with women sitting at the table and men under the table but here it is written like that, with the prostitutes being men, two fortunate serpent tongued devils with twelve vaginas to pick from, Rosetta's Sanctum Sanctorum obviously being off-limits. I want to smoke weed with the dude who wrote this if nothing else. The first woman to smile, thus giving away what is going on under the table has to perform the betrayal. There is a hilarious bit when they sneak the two fellows under the table, dressing them like waiters, causing a distraction with a tureen of spilled soup, gazpacho actually, and then there is a lot more spilling and hijinks to explain why all the followers have their underwear and skirts off during the meal. Anyway, during the brunch the talk is mostly small with the facial expressions of the women being the real stars of the show, though there is a pretty good joke, the punch line of which is, "Spritzer? I didn't order any spritzer!" After a few sight gags, including a memorable one involving mashed potatoes and a set of nostrils, the most frivolous of the disciples, a young girl, the youngest of the bunch and a favorite of Rosetta's, a real practical joker throughout and the least obvious to play such an important role, starts squirming in her seat like she's sitting on top of a bushel basket of cold fish and gives herself away by smiling big and lets go with tremendous orgasm, cataclysmic almost, forget about just a smile, and there is another good bit while Rosetta, thinking the girl has had a seizure or something of the like, attempts to heal her. The girl plays it up now that she has lost the game and keeps flopping on the floor and gasping like a real ham and Rosetta gives her mouth to mouth and even that does not work. Anyway, the loser gets taken out on a stretcher and Rosetta is broken up and it is touching as we know what is about to happen and also know that this girl and Rosetta were so close and we wonder will she go through with the betrayal while she is lying in the back of the ambulance or will she use this opportunity to escape or even to summon the cavalry as if the cavalry would care. The young girl lies there on her stretcher and a single tear runs down her cheek and then she sits up and climbs from the back of the ambulance through to the front and then shoves the driver out the door at a light and commandeers the vehicle, returns to the brunch where the other women are standing outside chatting and summons Rosetta into the passenger seat. We all think that this will be the big escape but instead the betrayer goes the extra yard and drives the ambulance right to a prearranged location and gives Rosetta up personally, even helping the other women, all dressed in drab military garb, to wrestle her to the ground and put on the shackles. Things now get pretty ugly for Ms. Stone and it is not long before she is hanging there in all her Glory.
It sounds awful, Clare says after I give her the synopsis. Sickening.
Lighten up, I say. For Christ's sake, it's only a movie. Entertainment primarily. Make believe.
Yeah, I guess so. Sounds like a good role, anyway. Maybe for Sage, you think? Clare asks. Sage is Clare's fifteen year old daughter and has already done two magazine covers not to even mention many catalogs and TV commercials and three pilots and I picture her naked on a cross and let the breath come in then out with full awareness of itself. Hey, I say. Hey. Something to consider. There might be something for Sage somewhere in here, I say. Plenty of strong female roles.
Now to business, I say. We go inside and I stand and strip off my pants and underwear, then sit on the couch and Clare kneels and leans in close for an inspection. Not to worry, she says. No herpes I've ever seen. Nothing I'm familiar with. She climbs up to her feet and fumbles in her purse and pulls out a silver box and wrestles with opening it and finally manages to get a cigarette out and lit. She leans down and takes one last look and says, So what's the big deal? This is what you call me in a panic over? For this you call me? Pshaw. A rash.
I think maybe Clare is not so sure about her diagnosis and that is why she tries to get up and go after making it plain there will be no fucking today after cake and coffee even though the cake is rum which is a particular favorite of hers and the coffee the way she likes it strong with scalded milk and sugar cubes soaked in brandy. Or maybe it is that I let her binge the entire cake without having any myself, encourage her to plow through the thing when she slows down to digest, knowing the whole time about her various yeast troubles and purging history.
She sits at one end of the rectangular cherry table and I sit at the other. The arched window behind her frames her head and upper body and the sky is mouse grey and swirled with a deep red like day old blood and Clare seems just a silhouette, a paper doll pasted flat against this background. The same pattern of veins that runs up her legs is visible running along her cheeks and down her tightly drawn neck, disappearing into her cream blouse and meeting up with the rest of the veins somewhere toward her middle. Her hair is cut short above her ears, a neat little coif and blonde from a bottle, an excellent high dollar bleach job, almost believable, but still a job just the same as I know that what is between her legs is black like the hair on her own daughter's head and that she has two small angry black hairs just below the nipple of her right tit and she had three of those same hairs on what used to be her left tit but is now a flat surface with a craggy circle of scar drawn into the flesh as if to mark a spot where a crime was committed.
Why aren't you having any of this? she asks, dabbing at her mouth with a napkin.
I've given all that up, I say.
All what? All cake? Sweets? What?
Not just cake. That entire layer of the food pyramid. Bread, cake. Muffins. All of it. Even bagels. I was committing suicide with that stuff. Oh. Sorry. Just an expression. She tries to pull her sleeves down to cover the scars that run like railroad tracks across her narrow wrists, then stops and turns her arms palms down on the table and then slowly slides her hands to her lap. Clare's arms are the typical hairy ones of a bulimic as her hormones are enraged at being starved and show themselves in mysterious ways and the times when I lie next to her which is less and less often I catch the vague scent of vomit but so far, to the unschooled eye anyway, she has managed to avoid the rotting teeth that result from flowing bile, though Sage tells me it costs plenty to keep them white.
My god, can't you stop itching for even one second? she says. It's making me nuts. She holds herself tightly and shivers, then lets go and puts a sugar cube directly into her mouth and starts sucking, caving in her cheeks like a small child does with a piece of hard candy.
Her eyes, clear and light blue when I first met her ten years ago are the color of smoke now and dull and flat like a shark's and they never give anything away.
Getting ready to leave, putting her heels back on while standing, her skirt climbing even higher, she recommends I lubricate the inflamed patch, soothe it out with petroleum jelly or maybe spend some time squeezing open a few dozen or so vitamin E capsules and applying the gel to the sore. She offers to put on a pair of gloves and help with the problem but if I become too excited I am on my own and will have to finish up myself. I am tempted but I am always tempted and this time say no as for some reason I get the idea she is serious when she says I will be on my own and nothing is worse than getting started one way and finishing another. I put on my pants and pull a sweater over my shirt and slip on my loafers. And walk her out.
The wind is blowing hard sending leaves swirling and it whistles through the canyon behind the house causing dogs to bark and not very far off coyotes howl. Clare is so thin she leans to and fro and quivers in the wind like a young tree which she is not. Her one nipple, the right one, is extremely erect and alive and pokes hard against the light material of her blouse while on her left side is a lifeless lump of foam caught in the cup of her bra like a dead animal in a trap.
I really have to fly, dear, she says. My aerobics is in forty minutes and then it's drop one off at soccer and pick the other up at ballet. And that one, who knows what's going on with her. Worse and worse with every tick of the clock. Disappears for days at a time with some cockeyed excuse about this and that, staying at a friend's house I never even heard of, then she comes home and lays on her bed and cries for hours like she's six years old again. I'm just worried that she'll ruin her career before too long.
Let the kid be, I say to Clare. If she doesn't want to model stop pushing her. You'll make her grow up too fast.
Easy for you to say. You want to support us? I didn't think so.
After she leaves I squat naked on the kitchen floor and hold a mirror down there and my gonads look like a dirty trick, two shrunken heads caught in a dangling pouch. Extending from somewhere behind my sack and up through the right side of my crotch, the crease where my leg meets up with the rest of me, there is a swelling, blotches really, the color of certain planets viewed through a telescope, mottled and tinted purple. I decide to see my doctor.