“Covered In Rain”

- Glamourwitch 05/03

 

The flashbulbs popped and glared, like hundreds of little bombs going off in some pixie war.  I imagined their tiny houses and buildings going up in flame, falling down like delicate dust towers, like on TV, silent and graceful as snow.  I held one hand over my eyes to shield them from the strobe of the paparazzi, partly to find my footing, partly to chase away the images of the liquid cascade of metal and concrete from my mind’s eye.  In my nostrils and on my skin I smelled and felt the sense of bodies in close proximity, tinged here and there with the smell of tobacco, of exhaust, of Channel, of breath, of sweat.  And slowly, ever so slowly, I felt her hand slipping from mine.

 

 

September 10, 2001

 

“I can’t be with you,” she wept, her face swollen and red, “not like this.”

 

“Why?” I asked.  It was a stupid question, but it was all I had.  “It was nothing, just some dumb fucking publicity stunt, nothing happened.  I swear to fucking Christ nothing happened!”  Somewhere far away came the sound of a glass tumbler falling to the ground and shattering, and I knew if I looked at my hand it would be bleeding.  I couldn’t worry about that now.  “Call her!  Call her – she’ll tell you!  Her people were in on it – she agreed to it, just no kissing in public!  Those were the rules!  Call her! – Call her, you’ll see!”

 

I couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth, like some kid caught in a lie I was asking her to call up someone she didn’t even know to corroborate a lame excuse that was too easy to dismiss as untrue.  The only thing I had going for me was that it wasn’t a lie; it was the truth, and that was the cruel irony.  “Call her!” I called out again, but she only shook her head, bit her lip and cried some more.  “This is so lame!” I yelled.  I knew it sounded stupid even as the words escaped my mouth, but I had nothing left.

 

“Don’t you see?” she finally said, her words trembling like the rest of her.  “It doesn’t matter – sure, this time it might be a stunt, but next time… next time… it… might… not… be…”  I watched helplessly as her chest heaved up and down as she fought for control over her voice.  She swallowed, and in it I heard the death knell, “It might not be.  And I can’t live with that.  I can’t live the rest of my life like that.”

 

I was sinking.  There were more words, more crashes, more crying, but it was all fading away as I got sucked down into this cold certainty.  I followed her, yelling, cussing, as she cried and picked up her laundry and shoved it into a grocery sack.  Then her stuff from the shower, then her perfume, then her toothbrush.  She took the bear I’d bought her seven months ago, last February, when she told me she liked Winnie-the-Pooh, and tucked it lovingly under her arm.  But what hope I’d had from that gesture was crushed under the weight of the closing door.

 

It was silent. 

 

It was so silent. 

 

I stood there, numb, cold, disbelieving, for I don’t know how long before my knees gave out and I fell, cold, broken, crying.

 

I woke up later (two hours? – two days?) in front of the TV with a blanket haphazardly tossed about me and a bottle of Jack Daniels in my hand.  Scattered around me in the torn-up hotel suite were the empty carcasses of Jack’s family and friends – Jim Beam, Remy Martin, some guy named Bailey… I didn’t know who drank all that booze, but whoever it was, they had a problem.  I was thinking about getting up and telling the poor schmuck, but then someone set my room on spin cycle, and suddenly blacking out seemed like the only choice I was going to get to make.

 

The alcoholic in my hotel suite wasn’t through with me yet, though.  While I was unconscious, they had somehow managed, in a drunken stupor, to procure a jackhammer, which they were trying out on my head.  I felt it before I heard it – it was going really slowly, not the frantic beating of metal on asphalt that one normally associates with this particular piece of construction equipment, but slowly, determinedly, like a knock on the door…

 

A knock on the door.

 

Fuckin’ go the fuck away you fuckinmotherfuck!” I called out, and realized even my own voice was siding with the mad alcoholic in this torture-spree.  I also discovered that sometime in the night I must have swallowed my pillowcase; my mouth was never going to be moist again.  I opened my eyes and waited for a moment for them to stop working independently of each other.  Meanwhile the knocking persisted.  It took me thirty-five excruciating steps – I know, I counted – to drag myself from my bed to my door.  With each step I muttered a new four-letter theory of the questionable parentage of whomever was on the other side – muttered, mind you, because anything more than a mutter made my head crack open.  I finished, though, with a particularly satisfying, “Go the fuck away!” as loudly as I dared, then threw open the door.  I remember because I can still see, clear as day, the look on her face, wide-eyed and still tearstained, as she held up her fist mid-knock.

 

“Oh my God,” I whispered.  “I didn’t mean you.”

 

She stood there still for a moment, still in shock, and before she could snap out of it, I snatched her, held her close, pulled her inside.  “Oh my God,” I said, and I was crying, too.

 

“It’s all coming down,” she cried into my shoulder.  “They’ve…  The towers… It’s all coming down.  And the people.  Oh my God!  I just couldn’t… I couldn’t be alone,” she cried and I cried and outside were pictures of buildings collapsing like exhausted ballerinas, graceful and slow.

 

I showered, and I took her in the shower with me.  Her skin was slick and soft, and her hair smelled the way it always does, like apples and vanilla and something I can’t identify but I recognize as being uniquely her.  Vaguely, as I was kissing her, I wondered what I smelled like, if I still stank of booze and body odor and bad breath, or if the hot water and the shampoo covered all that.  I didn’t think on it long before her laugh snapped me back.  I couldn’t stop touching her, kissing her, feeling her.  I wanted to absorb her into my skin, frame the way her eyes crinkled when she laughed.  And then I was inside her, listening to her moan and sigh, feeling her cling onto me.  I fought to keep balance in the slippery shower as the stench of what I’d done without her washed down the drain.

 

She let me dress her in one of the hotel bathrobes, and as I toweled off, she cleared off the bed.  It was still light out, but I’d long ago pulled the drapes closed so it would be dark in the bedroom.  I laid on top of the covers next to her, and without thinking, turned on the TV.

 

On the screen someone’s home camera picked up a jet colliding with the side of a skyscraper.  I watched in awe and horror as the plane exploded, the side of the building exploded, then everything came tumbling down to the sound of sirens.  I could feel her curling up into a ball next to me, and instinctively I put my arm around her.  Sshh, baby, it’s okay,” I whispered, not taking my eyes off the screen.

 

Peter Jennings’ voice was drowned out by the sound of the phone ringing.  I didn’t want to leave her, though.  It was as if the second I put two inches between us she would be sucked away again, out into the void of chaos and the torment that was just outside the bedroom window’s six inches of fabric and glass.  If I could just hold onto her, it would be okay.  If I could just hold on…

 

The phone demanded to be answered, though.  I stretched myself comically, painfully, to reach it while keeping one arm around her.  It was the manager.  He was concerned.

 

“You’re staying put, right?  You’re not part of this mess?”  I didn’t understand what he was saying, and I doubted if he did, either.  In the confusion and hysteria, I couldn’t tell if the guy actually thought I might have played some role in three jets crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; that perhaps he thought some fool had given me, while I was drunk, power over all air traffic, and I was right now somewhere in a control room, spinning wildly in an office chair, singing show tunes while red lights and sirens went off, as the qualified people sweated and screamed and frantically tried to put to right what I’d done wrong.

 

“No,” I said.  “I’m staying put.”

 

“Everything’s gone to hell,” the manager moaned.  “We’re making arrangements now.  Everything’s locked down, of course, but we’ll work it out.  Don’t worry.  Go back to whoever you were doing.”

 

The manager is normally an articulate gent – has to be, in his line of work – but now I wondered if he was ever going to be able to form coherent sentences again.

 

“You got it,” I said, and hung up.

 

 

For the next several days, she and I hid out in the suite.  We took all of our meals there; we drained the minibar; we glued ourselves to the TV until we couldn’t take it any more, then fucked ourselves into forgetful oblivion.  The shades never opened, and soon we stopped operating on a normal day-night schedule.  We kept vague track of time based upon what we’d eaten when, guessed at when we should do things like brush our teeth and shower.  But always the TV, the damn TV.  Hypotheses, information, updates, interviews… We were an island, cut off from all humanity, inside the hotel suite, grasping onto the umbilical cord that was CNN.

 

The sick thing was, I was almost happy this was going on, because it brought her back.  She was here, with me, like before.  Only now we were the only two people in the world.  No entourage to shove her aside, no photographers to ape for, no budding starlets to grope so we could make it onto the front page of the tabloids.  Just us.  The world outside could go to hell; fuck, it was going to hell, and it was all right.  She was there.  With me.

 

But it couldn’t last.  Nothing ever does.

 

“I need tampons,” she said.

 

“Call the concierge,” I said.  “He’ll get them for you.”

 

“No,” she shook her head.  “I can’t handle it in here anymore.  I have to go out.  I’m going crazy.”  She was fidgeting with her purse, then looked up at me with her doe-eyes. “Aren’t you going crazy being cooped up in here?”

 

“I guess,” I answered.

 

“C’mon,” she took my hand, smiling.  “It’ll be fun to breathe outside air again.”

 

What I thought was daylight outside turned out to be midnight darkness.  It didn’t matter, though; suddenly this was all an adventure.  We were escaping our island to rejoin our brethren in humanity.  It was almost like we’d never been out a dark city street before; we reacquainted ourselves with the sights, the smells, the feeling of cold night air on our skin.  She giggled and grasped my arm as the doorman hailed a cab.  It was like nothing had ever happened.

 

The clerks at the CVS had had it with piped-in easy-listening, and instead had tapped into a local classic rock station.  The door chime interrupted the middle of “Sweet Home Alabama” to announce our arrival, and one of the guys behind the counter held up his hand in greeting.  “Hey,” he called out to us, but didn’t look up from his Playboy.

 

“Hey,” I waved back.  She took my other hand and began leading me up and down the aisles.

 

Feminine hygiene products were on aisle 12.  I watched her as she studied the boxes, looking for her brand.  Women are like that.  Territorial.  Ten different brands do the same damn thing, but it always has to be one, specific box.  Somehow, this one is special.  Uniquely conforms in a way the other nine don’t, magically does what an identical one of a different brand doesn’t.  Sure, it may not have the new, special applicator, or eighty-five-wall protection, or whatever the hell else bells and whistles the other ones have, but that doesn’t matter.  This one is what she wants.  This one is hers.

 

The PA system began playing “Loving Cup.”  She found her box and turned to me.  “Okay,” she said.  “I’m ready.”  Without a word, I took her hand and drew her close to me.  As we began to sway to the music, I closed my eyes and hoped whatever bells and whistles I had made up for all the things I didn’t.

 

 

“$6.37,” the guy behind the counter said.  She reached in her purse but I was faster.

 

“I got it,” she said, and I shook my head. 

 

“Nah – let me take care of it.”

 

“You sure?” she asked.

 

“Yeah,” I said, handing the guy a ten.

 

“Hey, aren’t you…?” the cashier asked as he handed me back my change.

 

“Nah,” I said.  “Get that all the time, though.”

 

“You sure look like each other,” he retorted incredulously, squinting as if limited sight would help him identify my features.  I took the plastic bag of her tampons from him.

 

“A little,” I replied.  “But I’m taller and less attractive.”

 

“Yeah,” the guy said, nodding.  “Yeah, all those Hollywood types are short.  Well, have a good night.”

 

“You, too,” I said, taking her hand.  She wasn’t moving out of the aisle.  As I turned to go, I saw what she was looking at.

 

The wall across from us was plastered with photos of missing people. 

 

“Oh my God,” she whispered.

 

“Yeah,” said the cashier.  “That’s all the people they can’t find from the Trade Center.”

 

“C’mon, baby,” I said, taking her by the shoulders and walking her out, but even I couldn’t take my eyes off the pictures… All those pictures… All those people, lost.  All those stories unfinished.  Plans dropped.  Conversations ended.  Arguments unresolved.  Apologies ungiven.  Lives ended with just, “… was in the Trade Center bombing.”  That was that, and it would have to be enough, because it didn’t matter if it wasn’t.

 

She was silent all the way back to the hotel.

 

 

The phone rang promptly at 7:42 am.

 

“Great news,” the manager said.  “We can get you out.”

 

If I hadn’t been asleep, I would have chuckled to myself at how commando the guy had become.  Suddenly the hotel suite that had schlepped my laundry and kept me in expensive booze and gourmet meals was a hostage camp from which I needed to be liberated.  Such is the state of the nation after September 11th.

 

“Where?” I mumbled.

 

“There’s an event in two days.  You need to be there.  Prime exposure.”

 

“Uh-huh,” I mumbled again.

 

“We’re going to need you with what’s-her-face, the twinkly chick from last time… What’s her name? – With the nice tits?”

 

“Uh,” I groaned.  I wasn’t listening anymore.

 

“Whatever, just be ready in three hours.”  He hung up, but the receiver was still lying on my face.  I woke up when the dial tone changed, reminding me the phone was off the hook.

 

“Who was that?” she asked sleepily.

 

“We gotta be up in an hour,” I answered, stretched, and went back to sleep.

 

The world had been floating along lazily in the days and nights following the attack, I realized, and I had gotten used to the pace.  So I was caught off-guard when it kick-started into the familiar, lightning-quick velocity.  One moment we were in bed, the next in the shower making love, the next the room was flooded with people, phones, bags, clothes, tickets, itineraries, shuffle, bustle, go, go, go.  In the car, out of the car, in the plane, out of the plane.  The drink is drained, the drink is refilled, the drink is drained again as roads, cities, people, shadows reeled by.  The tile under my feet turned to carpet, turned to cement, turned back into carpet, turned into asphalt.  One hotel room was replaced with another and the whole of the continent rolled over under me.

 

“You’ll meet Twinkle-tits in the hotel lobby at nine, you’ll share a limo together to the site…” the manager was ticking off the details of my “date” like a script, like life was nothing more than another movie to be set, dressed, staged, and then taken down at the end of the run.  It was all timing, presence, coordination to him.  It didn’t matter that it was all bullshit.  Our job was to fool people.

 

And then she interrupted.

 

“What about me?” she asked.  “I thought I was going with…”

 

“Sorry, honey,” it was the manager’s turn to interrupt, this time condescendingly.  She was not in the plans, and so did not even deserve the attention it took to turn around and look her in the eye.  “But not tonight.”

 

She looked at me, then.  I knew that look.

 

I’d uprooted her again, taken her away from her home, her family, her friends…  Taken her from foreign city to foreign city, until she was dizzy, confused, breathless… Forced her to stand in the shadows and watch Hollywood starlets, music-industry vixens, would-be/could-be models flaunt and preen and flirt and prostitute themselves upon my arm, my lips, all to, hopefully, merit some small blurb on Page 6… She’d put her foot down.  She said, “No more.”  And here she was again, like nothing had happened.

 

Stand up for me, her eyes said.  You promised.

 

I pulled the manager aside.  I spoke, he listened, he shook his head.  I entreated, he listened, he shook his head.  I threatened, he listened, he compromised.  She would get to sit in the limo, but she would not be getting out at the red carpet.  She would go through the limo entrance, or, if I didn’t want to stay, would wait in the car until I came down to leave.

 

His decision was final, take it or leave it.

 

She chose to leave.

 

Grabbing her sweater, she began to tear up.  “I can’t believe it,” she said.  “3,000 fucking miles and it’s still the same shit.  And what did you do? – Huh?  Nothing!  He says, ‘Leave her in the car,’ you say, ‘Okay.’  He says, ‘Fuck this other girl,’ you say, ‘Okay.’  It’s like… that time in the hotel… like I… don’t even matter!  ‘Oh, who cares, she’s just the dumb bimbo that gets dragged around from town to town so there’s someone to screw and talk to on occasion.  She doesn’t matter…’”

 

“You do matter, honey,” I tried taking her arm, but she moved away.  I tried touching her face, but she looked away.  She was picking up her things again – the perfume, the bear, the toothbrush – and I was chasing her again, with the same feeling in my stomach, in my soul, the same frantic emptiness.

 

All over again.

 

I finally cornered her, grabbed her, turned her around to face me.  And once I had her, I had no idea what I was going to do.  So I did what came naturally to me.

 

I lied.

 

“It’s going to be okay,” I said.  “It’s just this once.  You have to give me some time to explain, to figure things out with him, to fix this so it’s right.  I just need a little time.”

 

She didn’t look at me until I said I would fix this.  Her eyes were cold and pleading when they met mine, simultaneously begging me not to hurt her again, and promising all the nasty things that would happen to me if I did.

 

“No,” she said.  “I’ve had enough.  If you can’t be seen with me in public, then I need to find someone who can.”

 

“You know he’s going to kill me, right?”

 

She nodded, and I sighed.

 

“Well,” I said, running my hand through my hair to scratch the back of my head, “at least my dying moments will be with you.”

 

 

I said nothing to the manager.  I am a coward; I am over my head; I am head-over-heels, but most of all, I am a coward.  She and I got dressed and went to the lobby, where Twinkle-tits – fuck, even I didn’t know what this one’s name was – met us, and she caught on.  But it was too late to do anything; we were herded like so much cattle into the awaiting limos and whisked away to the paparazzi light show up the street.

 

She said nothing during the entire drive.

 

The flashes from the cameras were augmented by several pairs of searchlights that I focused on as we crawled up the obligatory line of luxury cars at the event.  I watched as other would-be Hollywood heavy-weights and music-industry darlings competed for top honors in the arm-decoration category.  Like Roman patrons, what you did, or how well you did it, is entirely secondary to whom you can get to back you, to date you, to fuck you, because of what you do, and how well you do it.  Twinkle-tits took the time we spent in the line of cars to fix her make-up, and adjust the breasts that had made her a derogatory nickname in her sparkly pink top.

 

Meanwhile, she just looked out the window, ignoring the rest of us with every pore of her body.  It was all she could do in the face of my latest betrayal.

 

Suddenly – and the odd thing was, it was sudden, despite the slow pace of the cars in the line – we were up.  The door was opened, Twinkle-tits got out and waited for me to get out, as well.  I turned to her, and, without taking a second to think, grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the car with me.

 

The flashbulbs popped and glared, like hundreds of little bombs going off in some pixie war.  I imagined their little houses and buildings going up in flame, falling down like delicate dust towers, like on TV, silent and graceful as snow.  I held one hand over my eyes to shield them from the strobe of the paparazzi, partly to find my footing, partly to chase away the images of the liquid cascade of metal and concrete from my mind’s eye.  In my nostrils and on my skin I smelled and felt the sense of bodies in close proximity, tinged here and there with the smell of tobacco, of exhaust, of Channel, of breath, of sweat.  And slowly, ever so slowly, I felt her hand slipping from mine.

 

I turned.  He was pulling her back in the car, back into the shadows.  Again.

 

She had the same look in her eyes as she had in the hotel room.  I watched her slowly being swallowed up by the darkness inside the limo.  I could see his eyes, too – the stern, disapproving look in them.  I didn’t care.  I turned, and with both hands overpowered his pull, and helped her out of the car.

 

“Snagged your dress on the car, love?” I asked, hoping I could conceal the tug-of-war as some design flaw of the limousine-manufacturing industry.

 

“Yeah,” she said, beaming.  I had never seen a woman beam before.  It wasn’t because of the lights, or the cameras.  It was her.  All her.

 

There were questions, of course.  Why was I there with two women?  What were my feelings after the attack?  Was I in New York at the time?  What was I working on?  But, more than anything, Who is she?

 

“My heart and my soul,” I answered.  “And some day, I hope to deserve her.”