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Three Stories

Our safety, we were told, was the primary concern and we were told to be careful going up and down the stairs and that we should regard ourselves as if we personally lived here. Everything is aristocratic and stylish and I could barely recall our hasty morning departure from Little Neck—from bitterness, political stresses, and from our immoral conduct. That was all blurred and misshapen.

These rooms have been touched by the vanguard modern

Barbara Ess, Kitchen [Shut-In Series], 2018/2019, Archival pigment print, 29 1/8 x 22 1/8 in. Courtesy the Estate of Barbara Ess and Magenta Plains, New York.

Take Your Dress Off

“Take your dress off,” he said. “Leave your underwear on.”

And she must have known that when most people see her they think, You are so alluring.

He also thought that she was strong, physically strong, although, when he said to her, “You must be strong,” she said, “No!”

“Did you ever think you’d be standing here like this?” he said.

He looked out the window while he unknotted his tie and he saw simplified forms outlined with dark contours, everyday three-dimensional forms.

What did she see?—the sash and the sill and his hands on his own person.

Would there be pent-up forces at play or “rides” when they got into bed?

Yes.

Of course, there’s the anticipated stretch of his crucial part at the start that creates the strengthening effect that gives him leave to reach out beyond his defensive wall. He is so fucking lucky.

But let me tell you something about all of her rooms! These rooms have been touched by the vanguard modern.

Her home is like a small kingdom-come where there are hard surfaces to take comfort in—a white metal and glass table, a red side chair the color of Heinz Tomato Soup.

Similar effects, for her, were created by the fact that Geoffrey Sklamberg was busy screwing her.

Also there are the carved-in-stone, bell drop swags, along with the repeating, tied ribbons that she always sees—that are featured on the building façade across the street, but these for some reason make her feel sick to look at.

She once came across a limestone frieze of a grazing beast on a leash beside a blossom that was as big as a tree—and for an instant the sight gladdened her.

Mr. Sklamberg and Veronica Bosch disentangled themselves and broke abruptly with a sharp twist into two buff parts.

Stare at them! Should they be further adorned or engorged?

Veronica went off to use the toilet. She was conscious of pain or an ache, the need to urinate.

She did not want Sklamberg to hear her splashes or any other evacuations.

She extended her stay in the sheltered hollow of the bathroom for as long as she was able.

Well, the weather was also relieving. Yes, it was the tenderest, the plumpest—dripping, and packed tightly.

Veronica heard herself speaking when she returned to the bed and she thought she was brave.

Let her say something! Let her speak!

She might embarrass us.


The Assignment of Fate

Someone glorious had built this temple or call it a house that we had bought tickets to swing through.

Nevertheless, one of the first things I like to do is to take stock of the gift shop, an enduring practice. It seems entirely natural to go to the gift shop first, because it eases the necessary transition into the spectacular.

I examined a platter depicting a humorous and lively fish and a terra cotta pot. I was scorning so much else.

You know, terra cotta is very widespread. It is used by every civilization.

I selected note cards that feature images of women bearing up. These are caryatids.

One of these women is particularly sensual in her pose, yet her expression is modest. Another’s face is decidedly masculine. Her chin projects nearly as far forward as her nose and she stares aggressively ahead. Yet most are downcast, not revealing trapped sexual energy, not revealing energy.

My own head started aching and shortly we joined up with a guide who told us that dinner on these premises was followed by a formal dance held in the drawing room. Music was furnished by an orchestra from New York City. The centerpiece on the dining table might have been a yachting trophy and there were once sixty servants on the estate!

Dominic said, “This is funny.” And I said, “Why?”

Our safety, we were told, was the primary concern and we were told to be careful going up and down the stairs and that we should regard ourselves as if we personally lived here.

Everything is aristocratic and stylish and I could barely recall our hasty morning departure from Little Neck—from bitterness, political stresses, and from our immoral conduct. That was all blurred and misshapen.

However, this Vanderbilt mansion, I recall it well. When it was built it cost $660,000 dollars. Guests included nobility and an American president. And Louise Vanderbilt’s bedroom carpet weighs over 2,300 pounds!

We heard that she was particularly contented when she helped people in the community!—if there was illness, if there was poverty!

I saw a photographic portrait of her in which she appeared with her waist fashionably corseted painfully, no forced smile, jewelry on, a plumed fan in her hand, seemingly for my benefit, because I admire the fan so much.

I can imagine the fan bringing my life freshly to life as she points the fan all fluffy and blooming forward toward me—as if there are only clouds and space all around us and a blue ceiling.

I also have a fan, a hand-painted, Chinese fan made of paper and bamboo that shows off a mountain region landscape that includes a modern dam installation.

I don’t use the fan nearly enough in summertime when I need it. The relic has been in the dark and unremembered. I don’t use it. I never used it. Nobody ever used it. I wouldn’t think of using it. I bought it. I just found it. I went looking for it.

When I close the fan, the fan sounds like an oaf who is burping or she is slurping soup, but when I open the fan!—I hear genteel and soft mechanical ticking.


Each Person to Her Paradise

In the long run, as a sequel to our other less strenuous raptures, he undressed and put himself on the bed belly down—lying crossways across it.

This was his come hither. His arms were pressed against his sides, I think.

He was face down, I think. Face down, really? Like a swimmer. Were his arms really stretched out in front?

And the stress that ensued was not the strange thing.

I did my best, keeping my lower part centered when I met up with him—after he had moved his location and changed his posture accordingly.

I was awkwardly raising a leg, flexing a knee.

But this is my motto: While you can’t figure out how, you do it.

And I was wearing my skin unfresh and sallow and some sympathetic restoration in that regard is still called for.

But by the time he stuck his hand out toward me . . . Did he then?

So . . . no, neither of us accomplished anything particularly tender then or later.

He had a habit—how he took my arm, as if with a heavy pincers, on a subway platform to maneuver us if we were in a crowd—and I really enjoyed that aspect of our relation.

Each person to her paradise.

That grip of his, as a matter of fact, was, and still is, when I think of it, a source of inspiration—like a legend or wisdom—like humor can be.

When water gushed down his body when he rose from the tub, after he had bathed, that flow of water was a drumroll.

The god in this story is this man and I do not accuse him of anything. I could.


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