Monday, November 14, 2016

Most Of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water

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Public Domain illustration from Pixabay. Thanks werner22brigitte.

MOST OF MY FRIENDS ARE TWO-THIRDS WATER

by Kelly Link

“Okay, Joe. As I was saying, our Martian women are gonna be blond, because, see, just because.” -RAY BRADBURY, “The Concrete Mixer”

A few years ago, Jack dropped the C from his name and became Jak. He called me up at breakfast one morning to tell me this. He said he was frying bacon for breakfast and that all his roommates were away. He said that he was walking around stark naked. He could have been telling the truth, I don’t know. I could hear something spitting and hissing in the background that could have been bacon, or maybe it was just static on the line.

Jak keeps a journal in which he records the dreams he has about making love to his ex-girlfriend Nikki, who looks like Sandy Duncan. Nikki is now married to someone else. In the most recent dream, Jak says, Nikki had a wooden leg. Sandy Duncan has a glass eye in real life. Jak calls me up to tell me this dream.

He calls to say that he is in love with the woman who does the Braun coffee-maker commercial, the one with the short blond hair, like Nikki, and eyes that are dreamy and a little too far apart. He can’t tell from the commercial if she has a wooden leg, but he watches TV every night, in the hopes of seeing her again.

If I were blond, I could fall in love with Jak.

Jak calls me with the first line of a story. Most of my friends are two-thirds water, he says, and I say that this doesn’t surprise me. He says, no, that this is the first line. There’s a Philip K. Dick novel, I tell him, that has a first line like that, but not exactly and I can’t remember the name of the novel. I am listening to him while I clean out my father’s refrigerator. The name of the Philip K. Dick novel is Confessions of a Crap Artist, I tell Jak. What novel, he says.

He says that he followed a woman home from the subway, accidentally. He says that he was sitting across from her on the Number 1 uptown and he smiled at her. This is a bad thing to do in New York when there isn’t anyone else in the subway car, traveling uptown past 116th Street, when it’s one o’clock in the morning, even when you’re Asian and not much taller than she is, even when she made eye contact first, which is what Jak says she did. Anyway he smiled and she looked away. She got off at the next stop, 125th, and so did he. 125th is his stop. She looked back and when she saw him, her face changed and she began to walk faster.

Was she blond, I ask, casually. I don’t remember, Jak says. They came up onto Broadway, Jak just a little behind her, and then she looked back at him and crossed over to the east side. He stayed on the west side so she wouldn’t think he was following her. She walked fast. He dawdled. She was about a block ahead when he saw her cross at La Salle, towards him, towards Claremont and Riverside, where Jak lives on the fifth floor of a rundown brownstone. I used to live in this building before I left school. Now I live in my father’s garage. The woman on Broadway looked back and saw that Jak was still following her. She walked faster. He says he walked even more slowly.

By the time he came to the corner market on Riverside, the one that stays open all night long, he couldn’t see her. So he bought a pint of ice cream and some toilet paper. She was in front of him at the counter, paying for a carton of skim milk and a box of dish detergent. When she saw him, he thought she was going to say something to the cashier but instead she picked up her change and hurried out of the store.

Jak says that the lights on Claremont are always a little dim and fizzy, and sounds are muffled, as if the street is under water. In the summer, the air is heavier and darker at night, like water on your skin. I say that I remember that. He says that up ahead of him, the woman was flickering under the street light like a light bulb. What do you mean, like a light bulb? I ask. I can hear him shrug over the phone. She flickered, he says. I mean like a light bulb. He says that she would turn back to look at him, and then look away again. Her face was pale. It flickered.

By this point, he says, he wasn’t embarrassed. He wasn’t worried anymore. He felt almost as if they knew each other. It might have been a game they were playing. He says that he wasn’t surprised when she stopped in front of his building and let herself in. She slammed the security door behind her and stood for a moment, glaring at him through the glass. She looked exactly the way Nikki looked, he says, when Nikki was still going out with him, when she was angry at him for being late or for misunderstanding something. The woman behind the glass pressed her lips together and glared at Jak.

He says when he took his key out of his pocket, she turned and ran up the stairs. She went up the first flight of stairs and then he couldn’t see her anymore. He went inside and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. On the fifth floor, when he was getting out, he says that the woman who looked like Nikki was slamming shut the door of the apartment directly across from his apartment. He heard the chain slide across the latch.

She lives across from you, I say. He says that he thinks she just moved in. Nothing like meeting new neighbors, I say. In the back of the refrigerator, behind wrinkled carrots and jars of pickled onions and horseradish, I find a bottle of butterscotch sauce. I didn’t buy this, I tell Jak over the phone. Who bought this? My father’s diabetic. I know your father’s diabetic, he says.

I’ve known Jak for seven years. Nikki has been married for three months now. He was in Ankara on an archeological dig when they broke up, only he didn’t know they’d broken up until he got back to New York. She called and told him that she was engaged. She invited him to the wedding and then disinvited him a few weeks later. I was invited to the wedding, too, but instead I went to New York and spent the weekend with Jak. We didn’t sleep together.

Saturday night, which was when Nikki was supposed to be getting married, we watched an episode of Baywatch in which the actor David Hasselhoff almost marries the beautiful blond lifeguard, but in the end doesn’t, because he has to go save some tourists whose fishing boat has caught fire. Then we watched The Princess Bride. We drank a lot of Scotch and I threw up in Jak’s sink while he stood outside the bathroom door and sang a song he had written about Nikki getting married. When I wouldn’t come out of the bathroom, he said good night through the door.

I cleaned up the sink and brushed my teeth and went to sleep on a lumpy foldout futon. I dreamed that I was in Nikki’s bridal party. Everyone was blond in my dream, the bridegroom, the best man, the mother of the bride, the flower girl, everyone looked like Sandy Duncan except for me. In the morning I got up and drove my father’s car back to Virginia, and my father’s garage, and Jak went to work at VideoArt, where he has a part-time job which involves technical videos about beauty school, and the Gulf War, and things like that. He mostly edits, but I once saw his hands on a late night commercial, dialing the number for a video calendar featuring exotic beauties. Women, not flowers.

I almost ordered the calendar.

I haven’t spoken to Nikki since before Jak went to Turkey and she got engaged.

When I first moved into my father’s garage, I got a job at the textile mill where my father has worked for the last twenty years. I answered phones. I listened to men tell jokes about blondes. I took home free packages of men’s underwear. My father and I pretended we didn’t know each other. After a while, I had all the men’s underwear that I needed. I knew all the jokes by heart. I told my father that I was going to take a sabbatical from my sabbatical, just for a while. I was going to write a book. I think that he was relieved.

Jak calls me up to ask me how my father is doing. My father loves Jak. They write letters to each other a couple of times a year, in which my father tells Jak how I am doing, and whom I am dating. These tend to be very short letters. Jak sends articles back to my father about religion, insects, foreign countries where he has been digging things up.

My father and Jak aren’t very much alike, at least I don’t think so, but they like each other. Jak is the son that my father never had, the son-in-law he will never have.

I ask Jak if he has run into his new neighbor, the blond one, again, and there is a brief silence. He says, yeah, he has. She knocked on his door a few days later, to borrow a cup of sugar. That’s original, I say. He says that she didn’t seem to recognize him and so he didn’t bring it up. He says that he has noticed that there seem to be an unusually high percentage of blond women in his apartment building.

Let’s run away to Las Vegas, I say, on impulse. He asks why Las Vegas. We could get married, I say, and the next day we could get divorced. I’ve always wanted an ex-husband, I tell him. It would make my father very happy. He makes a counter-proposal: we could go to New Orleans and not get married. I point out that we’ve already done that. I say that maybe we should try something new, but in the end we decide that he should come to Charlottesville in May. I am going to give a reading.

My father would like Jak to marry me, but not necessarily in Las Vegas.

The time that we went to New Orleans, we stayed awake all night in the lobby of a hostel, playing Hearts with a girl from Finland. Every time that Jak took a heart, no matter what was in his hand, no matter whether or not someone else had already taken a point, he’d try to shoot the moon. We could have done it, I think, we could have fallen in love in New Orleans, but not in front of the girl from Finland, who was blond.

A year later, Jak found an ad for tickets to Paris, ninety-nine dollars round trip. This was while we were still in school. We went for Valentine’s Day because that was one of the conditions of the pro-motional fare. Nikki was spending a semester in Scotland. She was studying mad cow disease. They were sort of not seeing each other while she was away and in any case she was away and so I went with Jak to Paris for Valentine’s Day. Isn’t it romantic, I said, we’re going to be in Paris on Valentine’s Day. Maybe we’ll meet someone, Jak said.

I lied. We didn’t go to Paris for Valentine’s Day, although Jak really did find the ad in the paper, and the tickets were really only ninety-nine dollars round trip. We didn’t go and he never asked me, and anyway Nikki came home later that month and they got back together again. We did go to New Orleans, though. I don’t think I’ve made that up.

I realize there is a problem with Las Vegas, which is that there are a lot of blond women there.

You are probably wondering why I am living in my father’s garage. My father is probably wondering why I am living in his garage. It worries his neighbors.

Jak calls to tell me that he is quitting his job at VideoArt. He has gotten some grant money, which will not only cover the rest of the school year, but will also allow him to spend another summer in Turkey, digging things up. I tell him that I’m happy for him. He says that a weird thing happened when he went to pick up his last paycheck. He got into an elevator with seven blond women who all looked like Sandy Duncan. They stopped talking when he got on and the elevator was so quiet he could hear them all breathing. He says that they were all breathing in perfect unison. He says that all of their bosoms were rising and falling in unison like they had been running, like some sort of synchronized Olympic breast event. He says that they smelled wonderful-that the whole elevator smelled wonderful-like a box of Lemon Fresh Joy soap detergent. He got off on the thirtieth floor and they all stayed on the elevator, although he was telepathically communicating with them that they should all get off with him, that all seven of them should spend the day with him, they could all go to the Central Park Zoo, it would be wonderful.

But not a single one got off, although he thought they looked wistful when he did. He stood in the hall and the elevator door closed and he watched the numbers and the elevator finally stopped on the forty-fifth floor, the top floor. After he picked up his paycheck, he went up to the forty-fifth floor and this is the strange thing, he says.

He says that when the elevator doors opened and he got out, the forty-fifth floor was completely deserted. There was plastic up everywhere and drills and cans of paint and bits of molding lying on the floor, like the whole top floor was being renovated. A piece of the ceiling had been removed and he could see the girders and the sky through the girders. All the office doors were open and so he walked around, but he says he didn’t see anyone, anyone at all. So where did the women go, he says. Maybe they were construction workers, I say. They didn’t smell like construction workers, he says.

If I say that some of my friends are two-thirds water, then you will realize that some of my friends aren’t, that some of them are probably more and some are probably less than two-thirds, that maybe some of them are two-thirds something besides water, maybe some of them are two-thirds Lemon Fresh Joy. When I say that some women are blondes, you will realize that I am probably not. I am probably not in love with Jak.

I have been living in my father’s garage for a year and a half. My bed is surrounded by boxes of Christmas tree ornaments (his) and boxes of college textbooks (mine). We are pretending that I am writing a novel. I don’t pay rent. The novel will be dedicated to him. So far, I’ve finished the dedication page and the first three chapters. Really, what I do is sleep late, until he goes to work, and then I walk three miles downtown to the dollar movie theater that used to be a porn theater, the used bookstore where I stand and read trashy romance novels in the aisle. Sometimes I go to the coffeehouse where, in a few months, I am supposed to give a reading. The owner is a friend of my father’s and gives me coffee. I sit in the window and write letters. I go home, I fix dinner for my father, and then sometimes I write. Sometimes I watch TV. Sometimes I go out again. I go to bars and play pool with men that I couldn’t possibly bring home to my father. Sometimes I bring them back to his garage instead. I lure them home with promises of free underwear.

Jak calls me at three in the morning. He says that he has a terrific idea for a sci-fi story. I say that I don’t want to hear a sci-fi idea at three in the morning. Then he says that it isn’t really a story idea, that it’s true. It happened to him and he has to tell someone about it, so I say okay, tell me about it.

I lie in bed listening to Jak. There is a man lying beside me in bed that I met in a bar a few hours ago. He has a stud in his penis. This is kind of a disappointment, not that he has a stud in his penis, but the stud itself. It’s very small. It’s not like an earring. I had pictured something more baroque-a great big gaudy clip-on like the ones that grandmothers wear-when he told me about it in the bar. I made the man in my bed take the stud out when we had sex, but he put it in again afterwards because otherwise the hole will close up. It was just three weeks ago when he got his penis pierced and having sex at all was probably not a good idea for either of us, although I don’t even have pierced ears. I noticed him in the bar immediately. He was sitting gingerly, his legs far apart. When he got up to buy me a beer, he walked as if walking was something that he had just learned.

I can’t remember his name. He is sleeping with his mouth open, his hands curled around his penis, protecting it. The sheets are twisted down around his ankles. I can’t remember his name but I think it started with a C.

Hold on a minute, I say to Jak. I untangle the phone cord as far as I can, until I am on the driveway outside my father’s garage, closing the door gently behind me. My father never wakes up when the phone rings in the middle of the night. He says he never wakes up. The man in my bed, whose name probably begins with a C, is either still asleep or pretending to be. Outside the asphalt is rough and damp under me. I’m naked, I tell Jak, it’s too hot to wear anything to sleep in. No you’re not, Jak says. I’m wearing blue and white striped pajamas bottoms but I lie again and tell him that I am truly, actually not wearing clothes. Prove it, he says. I ask how I’m supposed to prove over the phone that I’m naked. Take my word for it, I just am. Then so am I, he says.

So what’s your great idea for a sci-fi story, I ask. Blond women are actually aliens, he says. All of them, I ask. Most of them, Jak says. He says that all the ones that look like Sandy Duncan are definitely aliens. I tell him that I’m not sure that this is such a great story idea. He says that it’s not a story idea, that it’s true. He has proof. He tells me about the woman who lives in the apartment across from him, the woman who looks like Nikki, who looks like Sandy Duncan. The woman that he accidentally followed home from the subway.

According to Jak, this woman invited him to come over for a drink because a while ago he had lent her a cup of sugar. I say that I remember the cup of sugar. According to Jak they sat on her couch, which was deep and plush and smelled like Lemon Fresh Joy, and they drank most of a bottle of Scotch. They talked about graduate school-he says she said she was a second-year student at the business school, she had a little bit of an accent, he says. She said she was from Luxembourg-and then she kissed him. So he kissed her back for a while and then he stuck his hand down under the elastic of her skirt. He says the first thing he noticed was that she wasn’t wearing any underwear. He says the second thing he noticed was that she was smooth down there like a Barbie doll. She didn’t have a vagina.

I interrupt at this point and ask him what exactly he means when he says this. Jak says he means exactly what he said, which is that she didn’t have a vagina. He says that her skin was unusually warm, hot actually. She reached down and gently pushed his hand away. He says that at this point he was a little bit drunk and a little bit confused, but still not quite ready to give up hope. He says that it had been so long since the last time he slept with a woman, he thought maybe he’d forgotten exactly what was where.
He says that the blond woman, whose name is either Cordelia or Annamarie (he’s forgotten which), then unzipped his pants, pushed down his boxers, and took his penis in her mouth. I tell him that I’m happy for him, but I’m more interested in the thing he said about how she didn’t have a vagina.

He says that he’s pretty sure that they reproduce by parthenogenesis. Who reproduce by parthenogenesis, I ask. Aliens, he says, blond women. That’s why there are so many of them. That’s why they all look alike. Don’t they go to the bathroom, I ask. He says he hasn’t figured out that part yet. He says that he’s pretty sure that Nikki is now an alien, although she used to be a human, back when they were going out. Are you sure, I say. She had a vagina, he says.

I ask him why Nikki got married then, if she’s an alien. Camouflage, he says. I say that I hope her fiance, her husband, I mean, doesn’t mind. Jak says that New York is full of blond women who resemble Sandy Duncan and most of them are undoubtedly aliens, that this is some sort of invasion. After he came in Chloe or Annamarie’s mouth-probably neither name is her real name, he says-he says that she said she hoped they could see each other again and let him out of her apartment. So what do the aliens want with you, I ask. I don’t know, Jak says and hangs up.

I try to call him back but he’s left the phone off the hook. So I go back inside and wake up the man in my bed and ask him if he’s ever made love to a blonde and if so did he notice anything unusual about her vagina. He asks me if this is one of those jokes and I say that I don’t know. We try to have sex, but it isn’t working, so instead I open up a box of my father’s Christmas tree decorations. I take out tinsel and strings of light and ornamental glass fruit. I hang the fruit off his fingers and toes and tell him not to move. I drape the tinsel and lights around his arms and legs and plug him in. He complains some but I tell him to be quiet or my father will wake up. I tell him how beautiful he looks, all lit up like a Christmas tree or a flying saucer. I put his penis in my mouth and pretend that I am Courtney (or Annamarie, or whatever her name is), that I am blond, that I am an alien. The man whose name begins with a C doesn’t seem to notice.

I am falling asleep when the man says to me, I think I love you. What time is it, I say. I think you better leave, before my father wakes up. He says, but it’s not even five o’clock yet. My father wakes up early, I tell him.

He takes off the tinsel and the Christmas lights and the ornamental fruit. He gets dressed and we shake hands and I let him out through the side door of the garage.

Some jokes about blondes. Why did the M&M factory fire the blonde? Because she kept throwing away the Ws. Why did the blonde stare at the bottle of orange juice? Because it said concentrate. A blonde and a brunette work in the same office, and one day the brunette gets a bouquet of roses. Oh great, she says, I guess this means I’m going to spend the weekend flat on my back, with my legs up in the air. Why, says the blonde, don’t you have a vase?

I never find out the name of the man in my bed, the one with the stud in his penis. Probably this is for the best. My reading is coming up and I have to concentrate on that. All week I leave messages on Jak’s machine but he doesn’t call me back. On the day that I am supposed to go to the airport to pick him up, the day before I am supposed to give a reading, although I haven’t written anything new for over a year, Jak finally calls me.

He says he’s sorry but he’s not going to be able to come to Virginia after all. I ask him why not. He said that he got the Carey bus at Grand Central, and that a blond woman sat next to him. Let me guess, I say, she didn’t have a vagina. He says he has no idea if she had a vagina or not, that she just sat next to him, reading a trashy romance by Catherine Cookson. I say that I’ve never read Catherine Cookson, but I’m lying. I read a novel by her once. It occurs to me that the act of reading Catherine Cookson might conclusively prove that the woman either had a vagina or that she didn’t, that the blond woman who sat beside Jak might have been an alien, or else incontrovertibly human, but I’m not sure which. Really, I could make a case either way.

Jak says that the real problem was when the bus pulled into the terminal at LaGuardia and he went to the check-in gate. The woman behind the counter was blond, and so was every single woman behind him in line, he tells me, when he turned around. He says that he realized that what he had was a one-way ticket to Sandy Duncan Land, that if he didn’t turn around and go straight back to Manhattan, that he was going to end up on some planet populated by blond women with Barbie-smooth crotches. He says that Manhattan may be suffering from some sort of alien infestation, but he’s coming to terms with that. He says he can live with an apartment full of rats, in a building full of women with no vaginas. He says that for the time being, it’s safest.

He says that when he got home, the woman in the apartment on the fifth floor was looking through the keyhole. How do you know, I say. He says that he could smell her standing next to the door. The whole hallway was warm with the way she was staring, that the whole hallway smelled like Lemon Fresh Joy. He says that he’s sorry that he can’t come to Virginia for my reading, but that’s the way it is. He says that when he goes to Ankara this summer, he might not be coming back. There aren’t so many blond women out there, he says.

When I give the reading, my father is there, and the owner of the coffeehouse, and so are about three other people. I read a story I wrote a few years ago about a boy who learns how to fly. It doesn’t make him happy. Afterwards my father tells me that I sure have a strange imagination. This is what he always says. His friend tells me that I have a nice clear reading voice, that I enunciate very well. I tell her that I’ve been working on my enunciation. She says that she likes my hair this color.

I think about calling Jak and telling him that I am thinking of dyeing my hair. I think about telling him that this might not even be necessary, that when I wake up in the mornings, I am finding blond hairs on my pillow. If I called him and told him this, I might be making it up; I might be telling the truth. Before I call him, I am waiting to see what happens next. I am sitting here on my father’s living-room couch, which smells like Lemon Fresh Joy, watching a commercial in which someone’s hands are dialing the number for a video calendar of exotic beauties. I am eating butterscotch out of the jar. I am waiting for the phone to ring.