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A short story from my forthcoming novel, Athena, the second half of the series, The Desert Road of Night.
The following is a chapter that, for narrative and pacing reasons, will not be making the final cut for my novel, Athena, the second half of the series, The Desert Road of Night. Instead, I am presenting it as a short story that will act as a supplement to the main narrative. This chapter is set after the first chapter, Sisyphus, and before the second chapter, The It Girl.
April 12, 1997
Sylvia was hesitant to leave her apartment but the clutter and the smell of what now felt like a cramped cell pushed her out the door to face the specter of death.
She was hesitant to make that walk in the cold drizzle to the memorial service, where her agent had pressed Sylvia to attend, without an invite.
The Agent had told Sylvia, “No one calls anyone out at these types of events. So just remember: always smile and act like you know—like you belong there.”
To get her agent to continue returning her calls, Sylvia had to do as she was told and act like she knew Allen Ginsberg, who had passed away a week before. She had to act like she wasn’t disgusted by his personal life—his personal stances—despite admiring his work and the bravery it took for him to live a life that seemed to have left him with no regrets. But still, Sylvia wondered at what point his chicken hawk1 ways would rightfully overshadow his work, so that instead of being known as the man who wrote Howl, he would be known more for being a member of NAMBLA.2
Sylvia wanted to turn back and return to her cell of a room—where she could play her cassette tape, worn down by the years she would play the songs recorded on it over and over—to listen to Pat Benatar, on loop, sing the lyrics to Hell is For Children, and while singing along, she would strip naked, take the knife she always had beneath her mattress, and drag it across the surface of her body, marred with the invisible scars all children, who have been through hell, carry in silence.
In the cell of her room, where the clutter no longer feels like the bars of a prison but the armor that protects her, that surrounds her—that is like the shell of her beloved dead turtle, Kalpa—Sylvia would listen to the song and toy with the knife until something in her no longer felt the fear she had felt—that she still carried from when she was a little girl—of having to hide in the dark corner of a foster home until Constance came through and slayed the monsters that had become her captors, scooping Sylvia up, with her baby doll still in hand, racing out of there.
Sylvia would play another song from another worn-down cassette she had made in college, comprised solely of the ticking of the clock, the drums, and the chimes in the intro to Time by Pink Floyd, while grabbing that same baby doll—the one that had been cared for by her best friend, Reginald Superstar, while Sylvia had been in the blur at the peak of her addiction—and hug the baby doll like she was her child who had just turned thirty years old. Then, Sylvia would throw herself against her books strewn across the floor and cry and cry and cry.
So as for that to not happen—to not go back to her apartment—to not see Kalpa’s tank—its emptiness a glaring example of death, but also the reminder, just as Kalpa had been for years, of the rarity of life—the sutra where the Buddha talked about how rare of a chance it is of being reborn as a human, more rare than a blind turtle coming to the surface of an ocean once every hundred years, luckily finding its head had gone through a single hole in a wooden yoke that just so happened to be there at that spot, Sylvia kept walking along East 10th Street.
As she continued her walk under the bleak skies, beneath the drizzle that dotted her hair and became drops that clung to the clumps of her blowout like dew on stalks, Sylvia began to repeat to herself over and over, “I am the miracle. I am the miracle. I am the miracle. I’m meant to be here. I’m meant for more.”
As she walked, Sylvia closed her eyes to keep an intrusive thought taking root—of the two pigeons walking the pavement before her as though they were people—maybe her dead mother, Alma, and her dead father, Wendell, having squandered their miracle to have been born human, were now reincarnated into what every New Yorker believed pigeons to be—rats with wings.
Because of the hundreds of times she had walked from her apartment with Andres to Strand Books on Broadway—near her current destination—she continued walking along East 10th Street with her eyes closed. It would be there that they would spend hours browsing books together in a silence that would make her, at that moment, whisper to herself: Shantith.
It was a peace she missed.
It was a familiarity that made her feel safe; to have him home, in bed, made it so that she didn’t need to have the knife under her bed because Andres would be there, always ready to fight—to protect—to defend what she had made his: her soul.
It was that hunger to feel that oneness borne out of silence that almost made her keep walking towards Broadway instead of walking in the front courtyard of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, crowded with people going into the event. Her agent, who had been standing under a red umbrella in the drizzle, rushed up to Sylvia and yelled at her, “You’re late.”
Before Sylvia could respond, the Agent pulled her by the hand to join the crowd going inside. She sat next to her agent as the memorial began. Each speaker came to the podium and shared a story or a memory about the departed. For Sylvia, it felt so intrusive—to the point where she felt like she was violating something sacred within the circle of friends that took turns to speak their piece. Sylvia didn’t understand why this memorial could represent the networking opportunity her agent had said it would until the last of the speakers walked away from the podium and people stood and began milling about. They were laughing while talking about their work. For those who had a friendship in common with the Departed and didn’t know each other well, they exchanged business cards and numbers, saying, “Let’s collab.”
Something about that made Sylvia want to burst into tears.
Will her death, when it comes, be a chance for people to get together, make small talk, and then exchange numbers, all for setting up collaborations that would lead to more attention for their creative work? For that, Sylvia vowed to herself that when that moment comes and she dies—crossing that boundary between the Land of the Alive and the Land of the Not-Alive—she will have already stipulated in her will, as her last wishes, that there should be no service, no funeral, no memorial—nothing. For all Sylvia cared, her ashes could be tossed off a bridge into the deep, so that any river that would run below would take what’s left and make it part of the Earth, and her body would live on in that way—the sediment among the balls of rock under the cool waters that would run from the source into the deep of the oceans.
The Agent snapped a finger in Sylvia’s face to bring her back to the moment, saying, “Wait here… I see someone I need to say hi too.”
Before Sylvia could respond, the Agent shot up from her chair and raced over to an older man, who Sylvia recognized as someone well-known in the tight circles of New York’s literary scene. He wore a dark blue blazer and slacks with an open-collar white dress shirt that signaled to the crowd he was someone who lived in Carnegie Hill—he was wealthy whereas others were rich. He had power, whereas others would have influence. He was someone who could open doors for anyone, and after the Agent pointed out Sylvia to him, he sauntered over to grab her thigh, squeezing hard as he lowered his old man body to sit next to her—with his old man whiskers protruding from his ears and his age spots dotting his wrinkled, translucent, soft hands that felt like they had never worked a day in his life—that remained uninvited on her—squeezing.
Sylvia shot up and raced out, crying and screaming, into the courtyard.
The Agent followed, placing her hand on Sylvia’s shoulder from behind.
Sylvia swung around and punched her, knocking her to the ground. She knelt down to come face-to-face with the Agent, who looked back at Sylvia like a terrified little mouse.
Sylvia yelled in her face, “You’re trying to pimp me out?" She punched the Agent again, then said, "I’m not the fucking one.”
And with one last punch to a nose that will now need plastic surgery, Sylvia terminated her contract with the Agent. She raced out of the courtyard and across the street to a coffee shop. She rushed in with her face to the floor, trying to calm herself down, acting like she was just another person coming in for a cup of coffee. Her face remained focused on the floor, with the racing, intrusive thoughts trying to convince her, after having been fondled, that maybe sobriety wasn’t that much of a big deal.
She was happier high because, at least in the midst of heroin bliss, she would be numb, and she wouldn't know of the monsters that can make not just men but anyone with a semblance of power abuse it because they're weak; because they know nothing of respect, of trust, and of the dance, where the charm of a lover—the songs of an Orpheus—could help bring that little that’s still hidden in the dark corner of her being out from her hiding spot—to show her true self and give herself in a trust that is so deep—in a love that is so powerful, so strong—that she would surrender her knife and ask her one that it be dragged lightly across her body so that something in her no longer is scared.
And that’s when the tapping of a microphone in a corner of the coffee shop made her look up, be aware of her surroundings for the first time, and see her one standing there.
In the moment of the long stare, with the mind that was constantly moving and racing, she understood what once seemed impossible now made sense in that if they were truly each other’s one, surely fate would conspire that they meet again.
It was written in the stars.
And in recognizing what could possibly be at play, she buried every intrusive thought; she mustered everything in her to hold back the Little in her that wanted to run up to him and tell him everything that happened across the street, pointing out the monsters that tried taking advantage of her, then watch how the Big in him would dispense justice, the same way she had an idea he had done with Caleb years before.
If this was fate at play she had to bury everything and act like all was well and smile. Smile with everything she had—tap into the joy of what could be the day of their ultimate union—the return to her Purple Room—the launch into Space3—the bliss found in the posture where her heart would meld into his, and his face would press against her chest, and they would become One.
On what could be the day that could be remembered as the turning point of her life—changing it—she would not want for it to end before it began, with an old man being carried on a stretcher into an ambulance and Andres hauled away in handcuffs because he always had to protect what the Little in Sylvia made his.
Chicken hawks are older gay men who prey on upon younger, more vulnerable, gay men.
This has been documented and is undoubtedly true.
Referring to the Subspace experienced by those who have consented to act out scenes within their play, the exchange of power typically induces a trance-like euphoria of overtly intense emotions. To get there, there must be an established level of trust between lovers that goes beyond the ordinary, and it shouldn't be attempted by anyone who is ruled by anger and ego.