Three on a Spit
Where’s Stacy? She’s returning to New York from Los Angeles, seat 13C. She’s in the air, not laughing at The Office, she’s in the air, requesting blankets and pillows. Stacy came in at a bargain, makes barely enough to live with Rita and Jenn and drive Mom’s old Sienna from Marina del Rey to the Bank of America Center six days a week. Stacy is a tax accountant. She doesn’t think of it as helping the bank evade taxes, she thinks of it as helping the bank become more efficient. This pays Stacy’s bills. Her travel fund sits in a separate account, replenished on a semi-annual basis by her father, a younger dad who has lived on St. Kitts since his most profitable divorce. Stacy is an achiever. Has been forever. Never in her life has she merely met expectations. Yet she brings home considerably less income than the four men sitting around her who do the exact same job and discourage innovation because of their approaching obsolescence. Men in her office and men like the men who surround her on this plane. This doesn’t get Stacy down. No time to think about things like that. Spring is unseasonably warm for the next forty years. There’s a picture of Stacy, when she still had her bangs, standing in front of Irving Plaza. Monica took it with a disposable Kodak. You see the Irving Plaza marquee, the street sign 15th Street, and a wisp of the Chrysler Building a few blocks uptown.
Monica is gripping that photo in her hands. She’s returning to New York from Chicago, seat 31B. She’s in the air, not laughing at The Office, she’s in the air, germ-free and staying hydrated. Monica came in at a bargain, makes barely enough to live with Angela and Thom and ride the el from Logan Square to the Chase building six days a week. Monica is an internal audit associate for the bank. She doesn’t think of it as helping the bank obscure its earnings statements, she thinks of it as helping the bank drive quality throughout the enterprise. As a young banking associate, Monica is constantly reminded, by journalists, that her life is mediocre. Yet again, another generation of Americans will fail. Monica is leading that charge. She will stay sane, and that’s going to drive her nuts. She’s accumulated enough paid-time-off and floating holidays to embark on the oft-dreamed-rarely-achieved vacation (New York) from a vacation (Madrid). What’s she got to be down about? She truly is an obedient associate, with meetings to calendar, specialists to vet. Spring is unseasonably cold for the next forty years. When the plane begins its final descent Monica explodes into tears and returns the high school photo of Stacy to her wallet. She washes down her remaining herbal supplements with the last of her pineapple juice. Monica drinks pineapple juice on planes. It’s always been her thing. She couldn’t be more upset. Oh when will your wort, Saint John, succor Monica’s mood?
Laura, the straw that stirs this drink, is returning to New York from Madrid, seat 3A. She craves the lubrication of the air. When she’s on the ground she looks up to planes and covets their defiance of gravity, like a stooped hag faced with a hot teen. Cabin pressure is Laura’s fetish, required to bring her to full orgasm. What is Laura? She’s a pale girl in a black fashion coat drinking free whiskey ingesting subsidized alprazolam and running her hands over anything frequently touched. She’s trying very hard to get deathly sick. She has nothing else to do. She wants to bring the germs of the air down with her into the city, into easily manipulated Stacy, into that boring bitch Monica. The flight attendant lets Laura in on a little secret: turbulence scares the living daylights out of him. “Well,” Laura says, “from what I hear lots of people hate their jobs.” When they reach a cruising altitude Laura pants and weeps, sweats out hard liquor and breathes in recirculating sickness, working up complete images of her Mother’s inevitable death. What age will Laura be when she gets to think of her own death, when there’s no one left in front of her to die? That’s another reason she should marry Mitchell… Laura falls into a mechanical sleep after the seventh episode of the unfunny The Office and dreams she’s composing a radical letter to her Mother. To my Mother: I’m flying first class to New York for no other reason than to turn out two outer borough hoes and attend a deluxe rock concert at Carnegie Hall. It’s an entirely frivolous trip, even for me, and it’s costing you thousands and thousands of dollars. I will not tell you I’m in New York until I’m back in Madrid. You are not my obligation now. No month has fewer family obligations than January. Well, Coretta Scott King. I will see you next in the horrendous family month of July. Until then let kernels of resentment lodge in the gut and let misspoken words trap in the anxious throat. If I never see myself in you again, it will be progress. You’ve left me a baby and taken away your breast. The horror of your abandonment is that it’s never been complete. You’ve forced me to go through life eyes down and lips up, mewling for nourishment. If this is what every mother wants, you’ve got it. Your motherhood makes me want to never mother. I hope it makes you feel good. Your loving daughter, Laura. A change in cabin pressure wakes her up, warms the smooth diamond of down below her flat altho stretch-marked belly. Planes carry prisoners. Masturbation is for prisoners. Against global regulations Laura undoes her seat belt and tucks both hands under the black sheer.
Monica wants to meet Stacy when she gets off the plane. She’s never seen Stacy in an airport, dropped her off or picked her up at one. “Stacy has always used me,” Monica thinks, “so it’s weird she’s never used me for an airport run.” And now here they are again in New York. In grade school they spoke of possibilities. Not anymore. They were never going to move in together. They were never going to get married. They were never going to start a family. They are just friends. In Madrid, that’s how Stacy introduced Monica to Laura—as someone she knew in college, someone she knew in high school, someone she’s known for as long as she can remember. A lifelong friend. Not someone she’s been getting married to and not been getting married to and moving in with and not moving in with and starting a family with and not starting a family with since it was painful enough to remember. Every time they talk about it they never speak of it again.
Stacy ignores Monica, messages Laura hey, where you at, sugar? Laura fondles the home button in her pocket but she isn’t going to slide out of airplane mode just yet. Why bother checking messages, her home is broken in three parts like a shoulder. She takes a black car downtown. She wants to walk around the Manhattan she knows, running her fingers over anything frequently touched. It’s a resistant strain in the American sickness. Europeans know how to relax. Ellesse. Victorinox. Nespresso. She runs this town. She is New York’s queen. A man walking two dogs turns her corner. He’s beautiful. His dogs are beautiful. Their berets are a bit much. His perros are more important life forms than hundreds of thousands of human beings. He himself might admit it while enjoying southern barbecue. The public is hungry for dogs. The public needs more dogs. Laura pets both dogs with each hand and licks her dogwet hands obsessively. The man runs away. Pussy. She returns to West Broadway, touching bike rails, touching Sex and the City DVDs 10 for 10 cents. She licks the ancient titles before entering a sneaker emporium. It’s never too late to learn another language, or all about sneakers. She waits to see shoplifters touch the kicks so she can, in germlife time, touch those same kicks and lick her hands again. Footwear is dirtier than money. Where will sickness find her? Is it possible to get sick twice? Perhaps she’ll try and get arrested. Cops are dirty. She’ll steal a pair of sneakers. She’s sit in a fifteen minutes seating area for sixteen minutes. Bring the waves. Bring a headache. She returns to West Broadway and retrieves from her coat pocket four of the fifty Sacagaweas destined for the cups of lepers. She tosses four coins to the leper sitting against the Super Citibank. He’s likely infected. Laura’s delighted. He’s just finished rolling a cigarette. She asks him for it. Confused, he angrily puts it in his mouth. “Roll one for me,” she says. “What about this,” he says, offering a squashed Newport 100 from his pouch. She takes it. Stale tobacco dirties her palm. She walks into the Super Citibank to discard the leper’s mentholated digestif in the paperless wastebasket. Near the New Wealth Management kiosk she sees and doesn’t use hand sanitizer. Only an atheist would use hand sanitizer. She withdraws money and licks the currency clean.
Monica arrives to the hotel first. “Where is everybody?” she thinks, “I thought I was the one who was gonna be late!” Be the tree, Monica, not the branch. She checks into the room, places her valuables in the safe, hangs her pantsuits in the closet, lays her panties and nightgown in the drawer below the television and arranges her bath products on the sink ledge by height, body part, ABC order. She opens and closes the bible in the nightstand drawer. Then she sits on the edge of the king-sized bed and waits for something to happen. Stacy arrives, tanner than most people from Los Angeles because of the extra week she spent with Laura. Biarritz. San Sebastian. Whatever. Monica likes you better pale, Stacy. Unrested. Monica has a present for you. She scanned-in and printed some old photos. Here’s one from that winter we sled down Salinger Hill. Here’s one from that winter we built an uptown snowman with blunts for eyes and a St. Ides bottleneck for a nose. Here we are. This is us. Here’s one standing outside the wall in Lefrak City. When they were younger, two visitors spoke to their class, state assemblyman Chuck Schumer and the prez of the African-American center for troubled youth. They were in love then, Monica and Stacy, fidgety girls with pencil cases and squeaking sharpeners, and they received two bits of advice. 1) When you grow up, whatever you do, remember to do something you enjoy doing on Mondays. 2) Git off that wall git to school git a job make yr mama proud. Stacy remembers Chuck Schumer said dig what you do on Monday. The prez said make yr mama proud. Monica used to agree. Now she isn’t sure. Monica just isn’t sure of anything anymore.
Madrid. The city where you smell gato piss but never see gatos pissing. Laura never stopped touching street maps. Even though she was living there. Stacy understood. The desire to have a good sense of direction changes with age. As a hot teen, nothing is more important than forgetting where you are. As an adult, you like to know where you’re going. Laura wants to arrest the city, solve the case. Stacy is content to just roam the city, ignoring clues to an unsolvable mystery. She wants footsteps, not monuments. She wants to smoke, drink, suck on pork, things she never does in America. Indeed, she starts making out with Laura at the Prado. Right in front of the Tizianos! A bearded fellow is aesthetically crying. Hey your passion is ruining my transformation. Monica is pissed. She has to keep walking away, and not only because Laura and Stacy’s love affair is making her queasy. Monica’s problem in Madrid is that she’s not queasy enough. She leaves the baño, she walks right back to it. One enters a new place, one dumps in the new place, only then can one claim to be present. One can never manage to do it at Laura’s flat. One is Monica. She drinks a Euro juice in the morning, it promotes digestion. She drinks a cortado midmorning, the joint is jumping. She snaps photos of people snapping photos, meta living promotes electronic relaxation. What will promote actual shitting? Why is there no fiber in this town? It’s true some people think their shit doesn’t stink before it hits the air. Monica took an anthropology of tourism class in college and hopes that will explain it. She doesn’t remember too much from college she can put into contemporary words. She’s an internal person. An internal person is always changing, even when her external choices remain the same. An internal person is always shitting, even when nothing comes out. Oh when will your hydroxide, magnesium, unplug Monica’s bunched up butt?
New York. Later that evening, back at the hotel, Laura presses Stacy’s left nipple, a painted-over doorbell, and waits for the tit to ring. Monica slides over to protect Stacy. Stacy’s heart slides into airplane mode. The TV is on. Football playoffs. There are any number of people interested in professional sports. Laura misses Aaron Rogers’s personal preview piece. Great that Aaron has come so far, Laura thinks, these two prudes can’t even make me come across the length of a king-sized bed. The last thing everyone hears before passing out is if you’re over twenty-one, it’s Miller Time. Monica wakes up five minutes later to tuck Stacy in. She takes her valerian, checks off in Sleep Cycle she had a Stressful Day, and feels a familiar tap on her shoulder. After her five minutes of sleep, Laura is now ready to get down to business. Stacy doesn’t make a sound.
Earlier that evening, during intermission at Carnegie Hall, Laura argues with the security guard concerning the ledge where she’s left her drink. Stacy simmers at Laura’s side. Monica sulks in the corner with a Brooklyn. She overhears a woman say there’s only one thing, truly, keeping her from living in Austin. She doesn’t catch what that one thing is. Chippewa Street is the Jersey Shore, without a doubt, of Buffalo. With colder summers. Monica really hears her say that, she says it so loudly even the dead oboists in the walls can hear. Monica slinks away from everyone. She reads the walls, musical landmarks. Charles Ives had the handwriting of a 6 year old. She’s convinced, analyzing it one final time, that Ives was autistic. Maybe his is an early case of autism in America. The Concord Sonata is actually the Autism Sonata. This isn’t really going to go anywhere.
Up way too early, sore and still drunk, Laura leaves Monica and Stacy sleeping in the hotel room and sits down to breakfast at a classic coffee shop in the East 30s. She orders. Thinking about it, she asks for the Post. They have only yesterday’s. She goes outside. There are no newsstands. She spots a leper wearing a B.U.M. Equipment jacket. B.U.M. Equipment is a brand she had completely forgotten about. For a moment she feels human, but it’s only a surge of your nostalgia. She retrieves thirty-five Sacagaweas from her heart pocket and asks the leper if he will pose with her for a photo. “Why do you want a picture with me,” the man asks. “This is my first time in a big city,” Laura responds, “and I’ve never seen a leper as broken as you.” The man stomps off a supermarket circular stuck to the bottom of his scuffed boot. “Looks like bell peppers are on sale this week,” Laura says, “come on, how ’bout it, mister?” The man doesn’t answer. Laura retrieves the remaining four Sacagaweas from her heart pocket and says, “this is all I have.” The man finally agrees. They put their arms around each other. Laura takes the photo, making sure to get the leper’s B.U.M. jacket in the frame. She crosses the street and sits back down in the coffee shop just as her meal arrives. Spoiled by Madrid, she finds Manhattan food miserable. And she forgot to buy the Post. She notices her waitress keeps sneezing. She asks to borrow her pen. Licking it up and down Laura writes on her napkin things keep sticking to my napkins This morning’s butter knife. Last night’s drinks. Not her snot. No snot will come. She runs her tongue around the circumference of her plate. She has an unexpected thought, like farting mid squat on the Bosu ball. She needs something new. New is all they talked about when Monica and Stacy visited Laura’s mother’s lover’s piso moderna on the Calle de Manuela Malasaña and Laura pretended she’d be out of town. Lie after lie in a starlit Estrella haze. The seepage of sacrifice accompanying every cone of cured ham. Laura’s nearly forty and all of her culinary adventures have been exhausted. She’s tasted it all. She craves black Irish ass. Why is it only with cannibalism and pedophilia that liberty gets in the way of her right to unlimited choice? Think of the possibilities with even just black Irish meat. Potato-fed. Little jalapeño ketchup. Delicious. Green-eyed potato-fed ass. Irish and Norwegian origin, with a little French and Polish thrown in. “Imagine,” Laura exclaims into the stale diner air, “I’ll finally be eating Jennifer Connelly.”
East and west of this city there are miles and miles of ocean and land. There is only one ocean. There is only one land. Naming breaks its fall. Airports, like a brisk round of golf, prove you’ve never been anywhere. What if there isn’t a big enough payoff to the story? Well, what if the first sentence of the story gets deposited here what capital remains to anoint? Stacy, Monica and Laura leave just as they returned, broken by fantasies and directed by tickets to terminals, gates, regrets, seats. What would make security lines bearable? Snow machines. In Monica’s, a man holds up a cigarette lighter and confirms he can’t take this with him, can he. Monica wants to strangle him. In Laura’s, Laura laughs in the faces of three Chinese women wearing surgical masks. Laura eats irresponsibly with nothing else to do, running her eyes over a Post article about a Russian spy with ties to the Ivy League. “They found me,” she thinks. And now she’s finally starting to feel ill. What do you see in a beast like Laura, Monica messages Stacy. And Stacy, smoking her last cigarette in the terminal restroom, messages back Her Money. Laura has the same flight attendant on the way back to Madrid. Stacy sleeps straight through to Los Angeles. Monica flies back to Chicago.
Stuart Ross is a writer living in Chicago.
Cover photo: Cless (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cless)