EXCERPT

ART IN AMERICA

The taxi grazed him, turned him and left him face down in a pool of dirty water. The driver stepped out, realized no one had witnessed it and drove off. It was after ten in the evening but seemed later. Steven Kearney rolled slowly onto his back, and pushed himself into a sitting position. A fine mist began to fall, and the intersection of Houston and Hudson where he sat in the street just off the sidewalk seemed hazy and mysterious. He lit a cigarette.

April had been a cold month. Earlier that day it had snowed. Steven couldn’t remember the last time he had seen an April snow. He also could not remember what day it was. A young couple walked wide of him. He tried to say something to them but his words were slurred and a smile spread across his fat red face. He took another

drag on the cigarette.

For ten more minutes he sat still in the puddle. He remembered his two black garbage bags and spotted them on the edge of the sidewalk. He could feel a throbbing in his head that ran from the top of his skull to his tailbone. He wiggled his toes and then his fingers. The mist gave over to a freezing rain, then a downpour. The ancient

black cashmere overcoat, worn smooth and shiny, absorbed the water like a sponge. He pulled himself onto the sidewalk and sat with his feet in the street, between the garbage bags.

His stomach rolled. He pulled his knees up to his chest like a gargoyle and the

nausea passed. He shivered miserably.

“Jesus.”

The heavy rain came again and left again. He reached for the bags and checked

for rips.

Two young men noticed him and crossed to the other side of the street. The rain started again and pellets of half-frozen water pinged onto his huge forehead, laying a tiny gray-brown ponytail flat against his collar. He stood, took a bag in each hand, and moved as if in slow motion, downtown. Thoughts returned and arranged

themselves. Did Beverly leave?

“Yes,” he said, outloud.

She was by the door when he woke that morning. Her flight bag was in her

hand. She seemed small and angry.

“Goodbye Steven.”

“Huh?”

“I’m leaving.”

“Leaving?”

“Goodbye.”

“Is the coffee on? I mean, what about your stuff?”

“I already moved my things. I’ve been moving them all month. The apartment

is empty. Haven’t you noticed?”

He glanced around the room. “No.”

She hung her head and shook it side to side. Her long black hair brushed her

back and made a swishing sound.

“Did...did my agent call?”

She raised her head and looked at him. He noticed there was something on the corner of her lovely white mouth and that something was disdain.

“Your agent hasn’t called in a long, long time. Nobody has called you unless you count Roarke, who by the way, I don’t.”

Morning sun sprayed through the dirty apartment window like a weak flashlight beam. He stared at her face, then his feet, then back to her face. Her lips twitched. He saw loathing. He saw disgust. There was toast on her teeth.

“It’s early,” he said. “It’s early, right?”

She laughed without smiling. A representation of a laugh. She shook her head again and Steven realized he was standing naked. His forty-eight year old body, the personification of failed art, part time employment and contemporary farrago, flinched.

“I thought I’d feel bad about this. I had constructed a deeper meaning to our relationship. Now I can see there wasn’t enough there to feel bad about.”

Constructed? Did she really say that? Even now, as he struggled into Tribeca, the hard slap of water, the fetid street, he could not escape her stony, ovate and beautiful face.

“I’m moving in with Toby Hunter.”

She said it evenly and low, like a slap on the ass. He really needed coffee and he needed his pants. Now he could see that she had been moving. The furniture was gone and most of the pans and plates and the bathroom rug. He stared at the bathroom. It could use a door so close to the kitchen. In the kitchen actually.

“I love him,” she said flatly.

“Oh,” he said. She did say constructed. He sat back on the bed and covered himself with the sheet.

“You don’t care do you? You don’t fucking care. Four years!”

Why couldn’t he say something?

 

“You just don’t fucking care.”

 

He felt wobbly. He needed coffee.

 

“You love that pile of shit more than you ever loved me,” she shouted, pointing to a plywood table next to the stove.

“What pile of shit?”

She walked over to where a yellow writing tablet was neatly laid out and half filled with words. Number 91 was circled at the top right hand corner, thirty stacks of manuscripts in varying sizes lined the back of the table. She picked one up and tossed it on the ground.

 

“This pile of shit.”

“Hey,” he said pathetically.

She threw another one.

“Heart Redoux, shit!” Another.

“The Ship and the Spider, shit!” Another.

“Arnie...Jesus, what kind of title is this? Arnie and Alice, shit.”

“It’s a verse play...it didn’t work but...”

“Shit, shit shit.”

He watched her empty the desk. She stood in a triumph, a critic of action. Constructed.

“Do you know why the plays have never been produced? And the novels published and the...the... “

She reached down and brought up a piece of paper.

“‘The pigeons are

sidling The birds

Agora in the

tub a Sweet

...’

Jesus...and the...poems. Shit!”

“They...they did Moon Play.” he said with a dry mouth.

“It’s still shit...and it was only a reading.”

“I mean ...well ...Toby Hunter? The designer?”

“You know who he is. I think I love him.”

“I thought Toby was gay.” “Fuck you.”

“I mean...”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you!”

Beverly threw the door open and stormed past Rose Marmar who stepped into the room followed by a burly cop.

“Uh”…hello Mrs. Marmar.”

“This officer is here to escort you out.” 

“Huh?”

“Let’s go pal.”

“No rent in eight months.”

Steven stood and the sheet dropped away. He quickly covered his pecker.

“Hey, c’mon pal.”

“Sorry…But Beverly always brought you cash. I gave cash to her,” he said, hands out in supplication. The sheet fell again. Rose was not impressed. He grabbed for the sheet.

“Not for the last eight month she didn’t. Officer?”

“You got stuff?”

“My plays and things. Some clothes. . . “

“These the plays?” he said, pointing to the pile.

“Yeah ...uh...the top one is Moon Play. That was done in a workshop reading at the...”

“Got something to put this shit in?”

“I think Beverly might have borrowed my suitcase.”

“Got garbage bags or something?”

He had descended the narrow stairwell behind them. Garbage bags stretching under the weight of the word. In front of the building, Steven stood facing Rose and her enforcer.

“Now don’t you try coming back,” the policeman said. “I mean, c’mon. Law’s the law. No hard feelings.”

Steven used the ATM at the corner of 14th and Broadway. A kid of indeterminate sex and an elderly couple viewed him and his bags skeptically. He deposited his card and punched up his code. He pressed Savings Withdrawal and then

forty dollars. ‘Insufficient Funds’ flashed in green and below it ‘Card Being Retained’. He turned to them and pointed at the machine.

“I had eleven hundred dollars in here,” he said sadly.

At University he turned down toward Washington Square, not noticing the fine snow until it warmed into a steady drizzle. Beverly had completed a clean sweep. The money he’d saved from the day labor gig was gone. He called Roarke from a pay 

 

“Roarke? Roarke? It’s Steven ...uh...listen ...I’m...are you there? Pick up if you’re there.”

He waited a couple of seconds. Behind him some NYU girls sauntered nicely. He smiled at them and they picked up their step.

“Okay Roarke ...uh...I’m just going to come over.”

He listened for another few seconds then hung up. He walked through Washington Square, crossed Sixth Avenue and took Perry Street to Hudson. He stopped to light a cigarette and looked toward the warehouses of Tribeca. He

heard laughter and then cheers. The glass fronted Jan-Wac Galleries diagonally across the street looked warm and inviting. A delicate light illuminated the large crowd. A limo pulled to the front and two young men stepped out. He recognized them both as New York Yankees.

“Hey man, good luck next season,” Steven called.

They looked across to Steven and his black plastic bags, and the tall one with the blonde hair and the ninety million dollar contract and the fourteen hundred dollar a day per diem gave him the finger. Then they joined the party. Then the taxi got him.

© 2020 RonMclarty