I could confirm some of these myths if someone asked me to. When I was a child, I saw that unicorn and rode on its back. But now I am no longer a child, and that unicorn is dead and rotted away.
Ophelia Flavin was six and a half feet tall, and beautiful. For the first time in years, she said, I feel young.
Ophelia and Marlon Giddings and I were sitting in the writers lounge of the greeting-card works. Outside, in the city, it was stifling hot, the immense mirrors of skyscraper walls beaming down the suns scorching rays on asphalt streets. Inside the greeting-card works Christmas morning hung suspended in glass.
Marlon slouched in a corner next to a watercooler, wearing a poorly tailored brown suit, the top button of his shirt undone, the knot of his faded tie loosened, lighting a new cigarette off the tip of the one hed just smoked down to the butt. Im gonna suck some neck tonight, Harry, he said, you mark my words. I will be sucking neck before dawn tomorrow.
Sugary Christmas music dripped from tinny overhead speakers. Reclining in her chair, Ophelia reached up with a long arm and absently plucked a long, glittering strand of red tinsel from the festooned Christmas tree behind her, pulling it down and winding it around her neck as if it were a feather boa. Ophelias specialty was birthdays, especially the arbitrary lines that weve invented to separate youth from old age: thirty, forty, fifty, sixty. Jibes about the loss of eyesight; mean- spirited jokes about gravitys hands clawing at the bodies of once- beautiful women, stretching them like putty, twisting them out of shape, painting stomachs with marbled scars. I feel young again, for the first time in years, she said sleepily. This morning I had a dream of what it must have been like before the machines. There was a song that you sang when you were young. But only under specific circumstances. The rules were these: if you spotted a male and female alone in each others company, frequently and willingly, you were to sing the song, immediately, without hesitation. I cannot exactly remember the lyrics, but the song itself was part accusation, part admonishment, part threat. It began with an insinuation, that the youths had been indulging in certain moderately erotic physical contacts in the false security of arboreal camouflage
I want you to smell my neck, Marlon Giddings said to me. I was lying on a couch, staring at the ceiling with my gaze unfocused, trying not to think about the machine noises: the refrigeration unit in the watercooler; the hum of the air-conditioning units behind the walls that were doing their damnedest to simulate winter in the dog days of July; the hissing white noise submerged beneath the high strings and horns of Christmas music. Smell my neck! Marlon said. Suddenly I found that he was huddling over me as if he were about to embrace me, and the tip of my nose was pressed against the underside of his chin. I blinked.
Do you smell that? Marlon said, standing up and taking a drag off his cigarette with a flourish of his hand. That, my friend, is Love. That is why Ill be sucking neck tonight. A woman said I looked loveless, and she gave me Love in a bottle.
This is what happened, Marlon said. Listen. I was walking through a department store, and this woman behind a perfume counter, with too much makeup and the plumage of a peacock ready to mate, pointed her finger at me and said, You look loveless. I spend a lot of time in department stores because theyre good places to meet women. Women are very open to suggestion when theyre shopping. Their defenses are down. I have a collection of name tags that I stole off the shirts of different workers in department stores. How I steal them is: I just walk up to a clerk all confused- looking like I need help finding something and the guy says, Can I help you? and then I say, Ill take that! and I rip the tag right off his shirt before he can even blink. And he just looks at me thinking, what the hell, that guy just stole my name tag and now hes running away, what would he want with that, my shirt is ruined, that was a remarkably irrational act, and I am troubled. Meanwhile Im ollie ollie oxen free.
Excerpted from The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. Copyright © 2010 by Dexter Palmer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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