As it turns out, nights turn from utter boredom to smaller boredoms. The basics remain the same: my companions are older, often married, established businessmen sometimes on holiday, sometimes desiring a jewel-encrusted hinnie to sport on their Bulgari arms, but mostly just lonely. I spend more time talking about life and death and feminism post-Woolf while eating venison and catching angry glares from other, more legitimate partners of guests, than I do in bed. Men eye my companions with envy, but the women—there’s a special emotion more charged than jealousy or anger that is unique to those of the female gender…to them I’m nothing more than a home-wrecking whore. Whatever they call me, I stroll through the lobbies of resorts with a confident, poised air that rebuffs all air of question.
Everything changes without a warning. I no longer stay awake nights with the headache of hospital bills, their presence reminded by the never ending hacking and spitting. Everything I could need is taken care of. What I want? What I want.
I run a hot bath as I wait for my next appointment. The owner of a chain of emergency clinics in Bristol is visiting London and expects a proper tour. His hobbies include spending a fortune on Russian imitation dolls, painted faces seeming delicate until the smaller, more fine features of its inner clone emerges. He’ll tell me of his travels to the beaches of Waikiki, the deserts of the Sahara. In every major city, there is a girl in nylons awaiting his call. He shows me pictures—ebony goddesses, oriental beauties, busty blondes with PHDs. They all have different stories but their eyes and lips remain locked in frighteningly similar expressions. Some are more high-class and expensive; others are more sensual and fulfilling. All are equally beautiful and sad.
On the back of my photograph is Kennedy’s rendition of my signature. Sophia xx. Sinking into the tub, I ruminate over this impending multiple-personality disorder I’m bound to discover. As myself, my relationships have stripped themselves from my life. Andrew remains constant (as constant as he can be). Jessica remains constant (as constant as she can be). All other relationships are overshadowed by those of Sophia’s…I spend my days with her clients who sometimes fool me into thinking they count as relationships, but who quickly remind me of reality with discreet, white envelopes. Kennedy is every-present and over-bearing, an emotionless and all-business orientated vulture who feeds off the thirty percent she receives with every fuck.
What does it mean if almost all of my daily human interactions are mere formalities, a face, Sophia’s face, even, not even my own? Will I one day lose myself to her altogether, will she swallow me up like the stronger conjoined twin?
When I open the door to my apartment, Jessica is here with Andrew.
There yarrrr, she slurs as she stirs a pot of borsch, Ummmmakin dinner.
I can see that. Stop pouring Jack into it.
Andrew is sprawled out on the couch. He coughs and strings of swamp green mucus spray over the carpet like a Jackson Pollack painting. Jessica pretends to concentrate on the dark red, coagulated contents of the pot but I grab the cigarette out of her hand anyways.
That’s a filthy thing to do in front of him. I’m hissing at her through my teeth as steam envelopes my livid face. Especially given his condition.
He just has a wittle cough, Jessica mocks and I restrain myself, lest more borsht goes flying.
It’s better today, Andrew wheezes and my heart aches at the sound, as it does every time I hear it all throughout the long nights when it keeps him up, crying.
Sounds like it, I lie. I dig out an old, dog eared book from the drawers in the living room…the “drawers of doom” as we say.
Don’t chu get tireda readin’ that thing erryday, Jessica mumbles to the stove.
Mommy’s right, you read it to me all the time. You don’t have to if you don’t want.
But I want to, so I sit beside him and we read together. As we do, I remember the day we returned from the hospital with the diagnosis.
Seeeeee…….. Andrew kept saying. Seeeeessssss….fibosee. Seeees.
Cystic fibrosis, baby, I said, trying to sound it out for him.
Seeeeeee……he tried again. What does it mean, Auntie?
It means you’re not going to college, not getting a sport scholarship, and you’ll be living off me for the remainder of your very short life, if you even make it to puberty. Jessica didn’t even look up as she slid shoes off and cold vodka straight down her throat.
I am going to kill you dead and feed you to the vultures, I said with my eyes before turning back to Andrew.
It means you’re different, baby. It means your lungs and chest are filled with a lot of stuff that makes it hard for you to breathe or grow up big like most little boys…my voice was running away faster than the tears were coming…but it’s okay, Auntie will take care of you.
I stopped in a used bookstore the next day and looked for whatever I could on the subject. A woman holding a very fat cat approached me and asked if I needed assistance.
How do you help a little boy understand what it means to have a disease you can’t seem to get your own head around? She smiles and in minutes there’s a book in her hand. Mallory’s Sixty Five Roses, by Diana Shader.
Sixty five roses, Andrew said slowly as I unwrapped his frozen dinner and threw a blanket over the corpse on the couch that was Jessica.
Sis…tic….fiee….broses… He smiled, and the strain in his face was so real that I turned away.
That’s right baby, I said, all the while wishing I was a million miles away.
I decide to become independent when I realize that half commission goes to the agency and part of the tip goes to M, who remains as my driver despite his proclivity to announce his attachment to me often and loudly. As we haven’t slept in the same bed for months, this makes me laugh and him all the more pissed off.
at first, I am nervous. Can I get my own clients and become successful? Or will this pan out the way modeling does for 97% of women, myself included?
but it’s easier than a slut at prom. I spend two days posting ads and worrying about who will or won’t see them. then business comes flooding in and for the most part, the list is less creepy photographer old men types that I’ve been used to for shoots. in fact, the client list is a collection of top executives, directors of sales for huge corporation, doctors, and lawyers. All of whom want to spend some “intimate, passionate time without the restraints of commitment”…with me. In correspondence, they write excitedly about how I’m exactly what they’ve been looking for, the fact that I can carry a length of conversation on any given topic despite my age…
I brush this off and take nothing to heart. After all, they’re drawn to S, not me. And all the better. Even on the phone I feel no hint of the usual quiet, awkward shyness. If a mistake is made, it is made on S’s part, not mine. Why should I be nervous?
I take a hot bath and ruminate over the fact that I sound like a patient at the psyche ward with personalities A, B, and C on Sundays…
shifts are 7PM to 5AM, so at six I put on lace lingerie under my dress and straighten my hair. I make my face do that thing it does; a face that looks alien, and that’s just how I like it. When I drive my shitty Volvo (“Vulva”, as I adoringly refer to her) to wherever I am sent, I don’t want a door to open to me, I want it to open to Miss Milona, the Russian exchange student (fluent also in Mandarin and English) who supports med school by spreading her legs after a few glasses of expensive wine. At least, this is how I picture it as I grip Vulva’s steering wheel with two sweaty palms. I shouldn’t smell like cigarettes but at this point I say Fuck It, and chain smoke and shake.
He has a red memory of the Calderstones, a stone circle in the rain, no, under glass, and quizzes the locals ’til we find them. Some recollections have bones, gritty mass that you could touch if they would let you. Others are thin, a fog on the river that a prow might cut through, only to perish or blur again. Under those clouds, sandstone shows everywhere: the back stoops, grooved from whetting knives; the blushing cathedral, gothic on steroids; the cliffs and banks washed bald in cold floods; the sedimentary language we speak together; and here, before us in untidy brush, where six sandstone megaliths slouch in a ruddy ring.