to 5

    on the 5ives



His wife, McDonnell’s wife, had taken to leaving these fortune cookie fortune-sized wads of paper all over the kitchen counter, near the phone, and on the floor around the garbage can; for weeks she’d been spilling these little wads of paper as if she’d sprung a leak of them, as if inside her skin, she was really made of tatters and scraps and finally, finally against his better judgment, McDonnell unraveled a few of these balls of paper, these little fortunes, and written oneach one was a phone number. Local numbers or, at least, numbers without area codes. He assumed the worst which is to say, he assumed his wife had become an incredible slut because why else all these numbers? What else were telephone numbers but coded potentialities, the DNA that code an organism of intrigue and betrayal. What else could they be for? She was no volunteer, she wasn’t raising money for cancered lungs and she wasn’t selling Tupperware or magazine subscriptions or anything else because selling was something she didn’t do, not ever—she gave but she would not sell. She gave and she gave and she gave. Christ,h e thought, oh lord Christ she is generous. He called the numbers, every number on every piece of paper pressed against his moist palm and, yes, men answered,many men, but just as many children and old women and old women with children in the background laughing in languages he couldn’t understand. He called for an hour, two hours. He went for a walk.
     Uptown, Columbus Avenue, near the park with the shadows of midtown falling behind him, not long before sunset so the buildings seemed made of sugar in the slanted light and a recent rain had dampened the smell of all the tiny dogs pissing on garbage bags, a regular day, walking through Manhattan, and McDonnell lost his rage to his uncertainty and guilt in the rhythm of the small massings of bodies at each corner waitingto cross the street. It was at one of these corners, somewhere past 90th Street, when he felt, very distinctly, a hand cup around his ass and squeeze.Instinctively, he thought not to think because, it happens—crowded streets, a million idiots whose mothers never taught them to walk, a regular day, walking throughManhattan, it would be easy to misinterpret a standard collision for the come on of a pervert so forget it. Then he heard this kind of mechanical giggling he wouldn’t describe as laughter because in the context of the word, laughter, there is an assumption of human intelligence, of understanding, an intelligence this particular human sound did not contain. Idiotic and something worse is how it sounded, like a blight, like the prelude to a blight. And he twistedaround to glance at the source of the giggling and saw the two girls, young girls, maybe eighteen, seventeen, creating this noise and one of them, the one farthest from him, high-fived her friend. And when they saw him their giggling became explosive. Two young girls had grabbed his ass, had sexually assaulted him and just McDonnell’s luck they were the two ugliest girls he had ever seen—bony, shapeless girls with sagging shoulders, doughy faced and pimply around the ears, with cheap silver jewelry that glinted wanly like gum wrappers in the gutter. These two girls, their ugliness was so dense that it curved the light around them so that they were encased in a solid frame of revulsion, an ugliness so dense it was all McDonnell could see. He felt now, physically, that he had lost his imagination the way he might lose an arm or a leg, the first ghost pain he’d noticed and it hurt. What he thought—hell, anybody could think it.
     He could have said something, wanted to say something, but in a tight spot, he hadno confidence in the sharpness of his wit, his humor and knew, because it had happened before, that he would lose his righteousness in stutters. He wanted them to die, not painfully but quickly but he let this feeling pass and, in the absence ofanything else to do, allowed the gravity of his inclinations to take over and let himself become flattered by the situation, that a young girl had found him attractive, uncontrollably, and had made a clumsy pass. McDonnell the paragon. McDonnell the heart-breaker-man. Absolutely.
     He made his way back downtown and ducked into a coffee shop on Broadway and sat at a table near the window so he could look out on the street, at the people walking along, all these people in their leather jackets and chinos and daring snatches of plaid with cigarettes poking from their lips, all these beautiful, catalogued people and he felt flattered again, flattered to be among these people, flattered to be one of them. He brought the cup of coffee to his lips and held it there, and just held the cup there so he could take in the fine smell of the coffee, and held it there at an angle, at just the angle of a man who appreciated a fine cup of coffee, like a man whose every motion advertised a warm appreciation for every spinning molecule of his life.
     And we bought this giant bed, ten feet high it seemed, at the auctioning of the estate of some dissolute British duke and had it shipped to our apartment piece by piece and I discovered a trap door leading to an interior hollow on my side of the bed, the trap door triggered by the nose of a cow carved into the headboard, and one night, when I finally gave in to this temptation to hide, to fall into this hollow I had lined with a quilt and stocked with a bottle of scotch, I landed gently onto her waiting body, her faint smell of citrus, and she said to me, gently, surprise, and I wasn’t surprised and I was grateful for it.
     There were so many things McDonnell didn’t understand, but he wanted to.



on the streets, you might take a moment to breathe

emmit fox