Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Razor Blades and Dominoes

Sharon Goodnight and Edward Salle sat together after dinner, talking, laughing, and drinking beer while the radio played softly in the background. They had always enjoyed bantering. Edward noticed that some rock group on the radio was singing a frenetic refrain which he could only half-hear since the radio was set at such a low volume. He wondered what the hell was so important about “razor blades and dominoes”. Maybe he'd heard the lyrics wrong.

“I'm sorry, you know,” Edward said after a while. “I couldn't help thinking that I'd think about sleeping with you once I realized I was going to see you again after so long.”

“I thought about that, too,” Sharon smiled. “That you'd think about it, I mean.”

He nodded at her and lit a cigarette.

“Is that what you're thinking now?” she asked. “I mean, do you want to? It's not something that always worked out well between us.”

Edward nodded again, a dumb, but not dumbfounded, look on his face.

“I guess,” he sighed. “I don't know whether it'd be the right thing or the wrong thing, but I know I couldn't turn it down. After 15 years, I'm afraid that nothing will work, that—”

“Fifteen years?” she asked, leaning forward to touch his wrist with her fingertips. She looked astonished. He nodded, but didn't look at her.

“After that,” he continued, “It's hard not to worry that nothing's ever going to work out again. That I'm completely crazy. That I don't remember what's necessary.”

“No one forgets that, surely, Ed,” she whispered. “I mean, sex is—”

“Like riding a bicycle?” he grinned. “No, I don't guess that you do forget the mechanics. But I suspect you can, or that I can, forget the instinct, the feelings, the emotional balance of making love. I'm so pathetically, monolithically blind and empty and hungry now that I could devour a woman, finger-nails, eyes, teeth, and soul altogether. All at once—wham!—in a fell swoop, in a single gulp! Or try to, anyway, even if it turned out that my dick didn't really work any more.”

“Seems like you'd know already whether your dick works or not,” she teased. “It doesn't take two for that.”

“That's true, Sharon,” he laughed. “It doesn't take two at all.”

“Well?” she asked.

“Well, technically, it works,” he sighed.

She nodded and waited for him to continue, seeing that the moment hadn't lightened at all.

“But a sexual life so far removed from either real sex or real life for such a long time creates a world so artificial and strained that feelings and sensation become—well, artificial. Listen, I don't know how to say it clearly, or maybe I just don't have the nerve. But, to make it short, it's very far from real. So I don't know if what is wrong is real or not, either. Something's wrong, of course, even if it's only symptomatic of everything else that's wrong.”

“It sounds terrible,” she said.

“It feels worse. Like being dead, without the obvious benefits.”

“What benefits, for the love of Christ?”

“Cessation of stress. The end of thoughts and dreams. Peace. What else?”

“Jesus, Ed, maybe I should sleep with you,” she said softly. It almost sounded like a question.

“Maybe you should. The thought of it excites me and sickens me at the same time. It may be too late. It might destroy me as surely as my imagination wants to suggest that it would unerringly save me.”

“You've bit the big one, haven't you?” she smiled.

“The mother of all donkey dongs,” he nodded, making a wide gesture with his hands. “And it's not a thing that you can generally tell, not even to people who know you, love you, and probably suspect it anyway. It's like all that clamminess and claustrophobia in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. All those savage feelings and yet being so powerless at the same time. It won't go away, and you can't leave it. At some point, you just surrender to it, I guess. It's just—”

“The horror,” she interjected, as if finishing his sentence. “I know about that,” she said. “A lot of people do. There's lots of roads to Africa.”

He smiled tiredly, leaned back in his chair, and blew smoke into the air.

“Say, what was that damn question you asked me a minute ago, Sharon?” he asked vaguely.

They looked into each other's eyes for a moment, then both laughed loudly as if the tension had finally broken a little. After that, they sat for a long while, staring at each other in affectionate silence, two old friends wondering if it was really possible to make things any worse or any better and if they were about to do so. As kind as they wished to be to one another, the way things were going, it didn’t seem likely.

rcs. 3rd draft: 1/23/06

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