Wednesday, October 24, 2007

LONDON ~ Three

My sister sends a purple batik silk square from India. The other sister sends me a copy of a paperback book she thinks I should read called Women Who Love Too Much. I am touched by both gifts. I try, but cannot read the book.

I speak to mymother on the phone in Lisa’s living room – the living room of the flat I am sharing. The telephone is by the window which looks out into a small inner courtyard that provides light, but not much else. I have never stepped into that courtyard. I think maybe it is possible to do so through Lisa’s bedroom, but perhaps it is sealed off completely. It has no plants, no bench, no fountain.

I am glad to hear my mother’s voice, to be able to reassure her that I am back, that I never really meant to go away, that it was a mistake. I want her to know that after many years of hiding from and lying to her, I am me again. She says her sister has just died, that she is going to British Columbia for the funeral.

Sometimes I sit in the living room and kitchen which are quite large, spacious and complete with things like a video player, comfortable adult furniture, the “mod-cons” as the London ads call them – modern conveniences. I sit with Lisa and her brother Julian. Lisa has long dark thick curly hair. She is pretty, not terribl smart. She has just bought a microwave and likes to talk about how great it is to come home after word and cook a whole chicken in half an hour. She is having a semi-affair with her boss who gets calls from his wife on the mobile phone in his car when he is giving her rides home. She will let him touch her large breasts, but does not let his hands go further.

Julian is handsome and trim, arrogant, sure of himself. When I need to buy pot the night Jeffrey arrives I call Julian and he comes to our door – Jeffrey and I are not staying in my room. We are staying in an exquisitely appointed townhouse that I didn’t know about until the drive back from the airport – a townhouse with several floors, drapes, polished furniture – everything cleaned, ready and empty. “Kitty said we could stay there,” says Jeffrey and of course it’s no contest though I’d been looking forward to being with Jeffrey in the room that is all mine, the one with the peach-colored quilt and the tiny shiny white bathroom. I call Julian from the townhouse and yes he comes with an ounce and I am proud in front of Jeffrey that I found pot in London when he asked for it and proud in front of Julian that I let him into this fancy palace with a cute boyfriend at my side.

At the office are two women – Sue and Linda – everyone excited for me that the boyfriend who has been faxing me a letter every day on the fax machine I just purchased for the office is coming to visit.

My office is separated from the front office where Sue and Linda sit by glass doors. The clients come into the front office to leave off the typing they need done. They are lone businessmen without secretaries of their own and they come to us: Kent, the American, who is trying to sell safes to hotels, Mr. Daniels, another American, but a plainer one, who rents an office downstairs; Mr. Tubbs, small, bald and British who rents an office and has for years upstairs. Sir Geddes – an old classic Brit whom we give special attention to because he is our only sir.

Upstairs Nigel plots his future. Nigel is my boss. I found this place in the yellow pages when Natvar told me it wasn’t enough to be in London with him. I’d better go out and get a job. Nigel was a big old plumy Brit with a red cheerful face, white hair and a corpulent body. He was happy to have me run the downstairs so he could sit n the conference room and work on the plan to develop some land in Marbella on the south coast of Spain, a vile tourist trap that he took me to for a weekend with his diminutive bohemian girlfriend Theresa.

Linda has short hair, a plain face and a big body. She has two little girls at home and a live-in boyfriend who will not last forever, but hopefully for a little longer. She works hard, tells me story after story about what her girls are doing and saying. “I had to call for help once,” she confides. “I thought I was going to kill my baby.”

Susan is older, a blonde who has pretty much traversed the path into gray, a single woman, smart, a little dry.

And there is Fiona who comes when we need her, Fiona who has red curls, is a painter, has a baby girl called Medea and a young skinny husband called Peter who is a musician. When I travel across London one night to hear Peter and his band play he greets me, surprised and pleased. “What loyalty!” he says – a word I had not expected. I lik Fiona and their home where she has painted the walls and doors with colors and pictures, where the little girl is never put to bed because they don’t ever want to send her to school or to bed – at least, Fiona does not. I sense that Peter is flagging. And I tell Fiona that I will try to get her a show in New York when I go.

When I go.

I have been stealing money. When I go once a week to take money from the bank for the petty cash box I take some extra and I keep it.

I am still living with Natvar when I start doing this. It is before I leave him and all of it. It is when I am still essentially his. That I leave every morning and don’t come back til evening, that I bring home a pay check every week – these things make it borderline tolerable to live in the same apartment with Natvar, Mark and Ariadne. Tracy used to be with us too, but she has stayed behind in Greece. She has left us.

I am still here.

“You don’t get paid enough,” says Natvar. “You work all those hours and look what you receive. I make that n two appointments with Lady Russell.”

“You need better clothes,” he adds.

And so the first time I take the money and Natvar goes with me to Harrods and helps me choose two pairs of shoes, shoes I would never buy alone – high heels, open toes. When I wear them I look like other people – graceful, assured. “That’s better,” says Natvar with satisfaction.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I am in a room where I can close the door. That’s all I want. A room where I can close the door. This one makes me feel like a princess because attached to it, through a second door, is my own bathroom that I do not share with anyone else. It is tiny, but it sparkles it is so new and white and I keep it that way every second because even though he is invisible Natvar is still with me, watching. “How dirty you are. How sloppy. Look at you. Disgusting.” And so I keep it clean clean clean. You’d think no one ever used that little bathroom. And my clothes are folded on the shelves in the closet like Aliki’s clothes are kept – as if this were the model, this is how it must be done, how it is done best, proof that I am not ill or damaged. My clothes are folded like they are in department stores.

I must stay amongst those who do things correctly. I must work hard, make that effort. If I don’t I will slip and slide and be lost amongst the worthless.

Peach. The cover for the bed I buy is peach. I take delight in the smoothness of the color, of the fabric, bright in the drab simple room that has one window below the sidewalk. It is September and London and the light is always waning, the sky often grey, but grey in a way that makes the colors complicated.

Most days I walk in the park, looking at the shape of black leafless branches against the sky, the water of the pond with the straw-colored rushes, the gravel I walk on. I am eating with my eyes as if I have been starved for a long time. I do the unthinkable and buy watercolors and two brushes, a thick one, a small one and sit at the heavy desk below the window that looks up at people’s legs and I make colors on a white dinner plate and delight when I make a new mysterious blue, a green that has many greens inside of it. I dab the colors on paper. I don’t really paint pictures. I try the branches once – black against the sky – but not in London, a few months later one evening alone in Manhattan. I sit at the dining room table that no one ever eats at, high over Washington Square Park, facing a window that stares downtown at the twin towers and I try to recreate the London time, try to paint those black branches I can still see, and fall so far short that I put the paints away forever.

But in London I don’t try for too much – fields of flowers that are really just streaks of my greens, dots of my reds and blues, all of it so much prettier than I expected.

I have quit my job. That’s what I have done. I have opened my days wide open, left them empty. I don’t want to fill them with anything. They have been so crammed and stuffed and suffocated for so long that they are almost dead. I breathe life back into them. So I just walk every day. Not in the streets, but always in the park to look at colors and plants, the sky – things of nature that do not ask anything of me, that I can just look at -- and sometimes – once – I take the subway half an hour north to a different park, a wilder one.

Mixed with the pleasure of all this is here and there the fear that it will not last, that the sky will close over me again, but I peddle fast to keep it, to keep it open.

Lisa, who also lives in the flat, lends me her yellow plastic Walkman so I can listen to the tape that Jeffrey sends me – Van Morrison’s one called “No guru, no method,” and I listen to every song, every particle of every word and note as I walk and look. I want the new life I am preparing, the one in New York City, to have all of this inside of it, to continue all this delicacy. Jeffrey, I think, will be different this time. He has even told me that he has read some books channeled by someone called Michael, and this is so different from the Jeffrey I knew that I think perhaps his rigid adherence to the concrete, to his preferences of red meat and cold Coke and TV snapped on with a remote, maybe he will set that aside a little so something new can come in.

I read Kahlil Gibran’s The Propphet. I remember it form high school and although I have always dismissed him as lightweight he says what I want to say to Jeffrey, especially the party about how lovers must let each other go so each can live as fully and abundantly – I write down this chapter on love with a calligraphy pen that I buy and black ink on cream-colored parchment paper and I decorate it with my watercolors, and I send it to him and yes, he is very touched by it, he says, and by my painting, so I know something gis very different and I am hopeful. This is the Jeffrey I have always wanted.

I have two books during this time, these three months. One is a big expensive coffee table book of Van Gogh’s paintings, letters and his journal. I read him as if I am reading myself. What is it? His sadness, despair, desperation. His madness. His lostness. But always he paints.

And for Christmas Julian, who also lives in the flat, gives me Leaves of Grass and I want all of that too, I want all of it now.

“Can you help me in the afternoons?” How does it happen? I meet Mark and Natvar at some fucking party. What am I doing at one of these formal London parties where I don’t know anyone? But they are there. I have not seen or spoken to them since I left four months ago, back in September and it is December or January now. And they are friendly to me now. we are strangers now compared to what we were – seven years, living together, eating every meal together, every day ferociously together, our lives so interwoven there was not a drop of air. But now there is a little air. Natvar laughs when I make a joke. He tweaks my ear. Suddenly I am cute again. “Ariadne needs to be picked up from school. Mark and I work all afternoon. Could you?” His warm brown eyes. “My love,” he says. He smiles, catching the tip of his tongue between his teeth, as if he were just a shy little boy.

I am not working. I have no reason to say no. I would be saying no to a ten-year-old little girl, his daughter. How can I do that? I would be cruel if I said no.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I slammed the door. It was metal and it clanged in the empty corridor in which I never saw any of the other doors open, where I never saw another person waiting for the elevator, as if I lived on a stage set of a corridor thirteen floors above street level in which only one apartment had people in it.

I went to the stairwell. It was a lot of stairs to descend, but I couldn’t risk standing by the elevator. he might come out, start talking to me, get me to change my mind. He could always do that. He could always get me to change my mind, do what he wanted. I thought he should have been a lawyer. He could make a case for anything.

A few weeks ago he had told me that we were invited to some friends for dinner, people I didn’t know very well. On the way home, I brought home a pie from a fancy bakery to take with us. “No, don’t bring it,” he said. I really wanted to. Finally, he said, “I want it. Don’t take it. I want it.” On the way to the subway I was ready to stop for flowers to bring instead. I hated the idea of showing up with nothing. “Why don’t you wait til we’re nearer their house?” he said. We argued. He won.

Finally, on the subway, he showed me the two tickets he had hidden in his pocket – Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. That’s where we were going.

I told the story the next day at the office to the older woman I had become friendly with, emphasizing the surprise part of the story, but she didn’t smile. “Didn’t you think something was up?” she asked, puzzled. No, I hadn’t. Those little arm twists were normal.

I had come about six months ago. Come back after seven years, seven years spent mostly with Natvar in a nightmare. Coming back to New York City, leaving Europe, coming back to the States and to this boyfriend had seemed so fairytale like.

When, back in London, I told my friend Aliki that I had suggested to Jeffrey that I come back and live with him again, she said, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Aliki was so old I paid attention when she said things like that.

She had become my friend. Sort of. A conditional friend. An old woman. A wealthy woman. An aristocratic woman who brought her servants from Portugal. Greek she was, originally, but she had lived in England most of her life, had married a well connected Englishman, the cousin of Bertrand Russell, a man with a title. He had been the British ambassador to Spain. She had hosted the queen.

John, her husband, had died a few years ago, recently enough that he was still present in her mind. “You know what he told me once?” she asked me one morning, sitting in her bedroom which is where I always met up with her, the bedroom with the big double bed, the little vanity where she applied her make-up without looking because she couldn’t see much anyway, the TV she drew her chair to and sat two or three inches from the screen to see, the drawers where Natalia, her personal maid, a plain unhappy woman Aliki said she had saved from poverty, a woman with one Thalidomide arm and very little English, the drawers where Natalia folded every pair of socks perfectly so that when you opened a drawer it was always neat and in perfect order. “Aliki,” he said, “you have never bored me.” She smiled at the recollection.

Aliki had been a sculptor, but I didn’t like her creations, the ones I saw in photographs – cold steel abstractions.

Still, she had been excited for me when Jeffrey was coming to London to see me after six years. I took him to meet her. We had tea in her elaborate and tasteful drawing room. Afterwards, she chided me. “He s not good enough for you.” And I knew she was right, but but but, there was nowhere to go but straight ahead, nowhere at all to go except where I was determined to go: to New York, to my lover, to my one true love.

“Enduring love is so precious,” my sister had written to me from India where she was when I surfaced after having disappeared for four years. Yes, I thought, enduring love, that’s what it is.

I had Jeffrey’s tape to prove it. He had brought me a tape when he came to London, a mix of songs he had put together just for me. “You’ve been down to the bottom with a bad man, babe, but you’re back where you belong,” growled Dylan, and it seemed right. “Out of this world, out of the blue, out of this love for you,” sang someone else, in smooth yearning tones.

He must love me. It must be this romance. I showed Aliki the photographs we had taken of ourselves using a timer. I was excited to show them to her, I was filled with my week of visit with Jeffrey, wanted only to think of it, of its good parts.

My heart had dropped when he didn’t look back, walking through the gate at the airport.

Aliki and I walked to a tea place. Aliki liked me to walk with. That was one of the conditions. She put her arm through mine. I walked slowly.

I showed her the photographs. Jeffrey and I on the delicate embroidered couch in his stepmother’s fancy house. She looked at them thoughtfully. “He is very drawn to you,” she pronounced. And then, “How is the sex? That is very important.” I assured her it was just fine. And it had been. My first sex in six years. It was fine.

And so much wrong with the plan. So many boulders to overlook and climb over to keep my fairytale intact.

And when Aliki called me in New York to see how I was doing, I knew she knew I was lying and that it would be our last conversation.