"The only thing worse than giving a reading is having to attend one," I replied.
"Absolutely," said Görbe. "You note that I never read myself. I just get up there and bullshit for a while. It's all they want to hear anyhow."
"More of your bullshit."
"Right. More of my bullshit." He laughed and blew a big cloud of cigar smoke. "You should think about that some time."
"It doesn't matter," I said. "I read, I don't read, it's all the same."
"That's the spirit!" It was, I think, the only way he knew to cheer me up, though of course I didn't need to be cheered up. My failures were something I'd accepted, or at least stopped trying to avoid or explain. And that was the problem: the more Görbe came to my readings, or said he liked my book, or tried to get me to not take it so seriously, the more tiresome it became. I had become his foil, the failure against which he could measure his success, the person he might have been had he not so successfully managed his public persona and with it his career. Time would prove me wrong, of coursethat is, I was Görbe's foil, but not in the way I thoughtbut during those weeks I was irritated by his condescension, and one night, at two in the morning, after we'd consumed more Brandy Sangarees than advisable, I turned to Görbe and said, "How's your wife?"
"My wife?" Görbe turned with the cocktail lifted partway to his lips. "My wife is none of your goddamn business."
"Oh, I see," I said. "You're the only one who's allowed to get personal." Görbe said nothing, but I could see he was ready to hit me. I felt tears come to my eyes, not because of the implied violence, but for exactly the opposite reason, for the effort Görbe had been making, in his own way, to make me see what was important, and instead of which I was trying to get to him, to bring him down to my level, which was also a way of raising myself to his. "Why are you doing this? Why are you trying so hard with me?" I pressed my face closer to his, not caring what he did. "When I called you I thought we'd meet for coffee and you'd give me the usual bullshit about writing and living in Manhattan, and I'd give you the usual bullshit about how honoured I feel to be here, and we'd never see each other again."
He grabbed my shirt and lifted me off the bar stool and slammed me against the barit felt as if my spine had snappedthen hauled me out of the room so fast my feet couldn't keep up, and dumped me on the sidewalk out front. Then he went back inside.
I don't know how long I stayed there, blind with humiliation. The feeling was so intense it somehow rebounded on itself and made me shameless, sitting on the pavement not caring who saw me, my clothes soaking up the slush, indifferent to Görbe's voice back in the bar telling everyone how lucky I was. I got home and Marcy asked why I was wet, and I couldn't look at her, and I couldn't look in on Henry and Benjamin asleep in their beds. I was so consumed by what Görbe had done I couldn't focus on anything.
The next morning Görbe left his apartment at ten, hopping the subway into Manhattan and then the M35 bus to Ward's Island. He was dressed as alwaysblack suit, black tie, the overcoat, the cigar. He wasn't reading anything, wasn't looking around, wasn't muttering more than a quick hello to the bus driver. He took a seat and stared straight ahead, and once in a while he'd open a big sketchbook on his lap and make a note or doodle a picture for the next installment of the Atlas.
The morning started with snow, by noon it was rain, and I got off a block after he did to avoid suspicion and got soaked running back to catch Görbe checking in with the receptionist and moving down one of the corridors of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. After he was gone, I went up to the receptionist and said I was there to visit Zella Görbe. She looked at me a bit, wanting to say something, but in the end kept it to herself. "Her husband just checked in, too," she muttered.
Excerpted from Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy. Copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dobozy. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions. 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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