Vox: a novel - Part 2

Part 2

"You never said what it was about the Disney Tinker Bell exactly, at the video store."

"Well, in the scene I saw, and this is the first time I've seen any of this particular Disney by the way, and you have to remember that I'm in an altered state there in the movie store, with my three orange movies and my men's magazine in my briefcase, but in the scene, Tinker Bell zips around in a sprightly way, with lots of zings of the xylophone and little sparkly stars trailing her flight, and you think, right, typical fairy image, ho hum. And she's tiny, she's a tiny suburbanite, she's about five inches tall. This insubstantial, magical, cutely Walt Disneyish woman. But then this thing happens. She pauses in midair, and she looks down at herself, and she's got quite small b.r.e.a.s.t.s-"

"I thought you didn't like that word."

"You're right, but sometimes it seems right. Actually most of the time it's the right word. Anyway, she's got quite small b.r.e.a.s.t.s but quite large little hips, and large little thighs, and she's wearing this tiny little outfit that's torn or jaggedly cut and barely covers her, and she looks down at herself, a lovely little pouty face, and she puts her hands on her hips as if to measure them, and she shakes her head sadly-too wide, too wide. Oh that got me hot! This tiny sprite with big hips. And then a second later she gets caught in a dresser drawer among a lot of sewing things and she tries to fly out the keyhole but-nope, her hips are too wide, she gets stuck!"

"Sounds sizzling hot."

"It was."

"You remember Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, when Marilyn Monroe tries to squeeze through a porthole on a ship, but her hips are too wide?"

"I don't remember that. I better rent that."

"It would be funny if Tinker Bell inspired old Marilyn," she said. "You know, I found the Disney Peter Pan vaguely s.e.xual, too."

"Well, yeah-J. M. Barrie was a f.u.d.g.e.p.a.c.k.e.r from way back, and clearly some of that forbiddenness sneaks into every version."

"The girl floats around in her nightgown," she said.

"That interested me quite a bit. And she's too old to live in the room with the littler kids-I remember that. I must have been about twelve. I saw it with my friend Pamela, who I think has turned out to be a lesbian, bless her soul. We used to build tents in her bedroom and eat Saltines and read the medical encyclopedia together. It showed the dotted lines where the surgeon would cut cartilage from the ears if you were having an operation to make your ears flare out less. And at the end of each entry it would say, it was done in a question-and-answer format, it would say, *When can marital relations be resumed?' And the answer always was four to six weeks. No matter where the dotted lines were, it seemed you could always resume marital relations after four to six weeks. I used to read the articles aloud to her. And once she read a whole romance novel aloud to me in one night. I fell asleep somewhere in the middle and woke up again later-Pamela was a little hoa.r.s.e, but she was still reading. And once, maybe it was that same night, I told her a s.e.xual fantasy I'd had a few times, in which I'm at a place where I'm told I have to take off all my clothes and get into this tube."

"Sorry, get into what?"

"This tube, a long tube," she said. "I slide in, feet first, and I begin moving down this very long tube, on some sort of slow current of oil. I'm sure you remember those water slides that you set up on the lawn, that destroyed the gra.s.s? This was not as fast-moving as that, much slower-moving, but no friction, and in a luminous tube. As I went along these pairs of hands would enter the tube a little ahead of me, waving around blindly, looking for something to feel, and then my feet would brush under them, and they would try to grasp my ankles, but their fingers were dripping with oil, and as I moved forward they slid up my legs, holding me quite hard, but without friction because of the oil, and then they pressed down as my stomach went under them, and then they sort of turned to encounter my b.r.e.a.s.t.s, the two thumbs were almost touching, and they slid very slowly over my b.r.e.a.s.t.s, pushing them up, and believe me, in this fantasy I had very large heavy b.r.e.a.s.t.s, it took a long time for the hands to slide over them."

"Wow! What did old Pamela say when you told her that?"

"I finished describing it, and I asked her if she had thoughts like that and she said *No!' in quite a shocked voice. She said, *No! Tell me another.' You think maybe my tube was what turned her into a lesbian?"

"Well, it certainly would have turned me into a lesbian. But now-can you clarify one thing for me? Do you right now have the light on or off in the room you're in, the combination living room dining room?"

"I have it on. It's a table lamp. I could turn it off if you'd like."

"Perhaps that, perhaps that would ..."

"Listen." There was a click.

"Now your silverware is glinting in the moonlight, right?" he said.

"I can't see it."

"Have you noticed that little juncture in movies, or I guess it's more in TV shows, when somebody has some pensive thought, or peaceful thought, close-up of her face, and then she reaches over and turns out the bedside light, click, but of course this is a movie set, with elaborate lights all over the place, so her turning that little switch has to coincide with the shutting off of major flows of current, kashoonk, and the problem then is that movie film doesn't work in the dark, so there has to be quite a high light level but with the impression of darkness, and so at the same instant the big imitation incandescent lamp lights are turned off, the imitation moonlight or streetlight lights have to come on outside the window, and yet there is often a problem, there is often a tiny millisecond delay while the filaments of the moonlight lights heat up and reach their peak, and so in this changeover you can see the second set of lights that are supposed to mean *dark peaceful room' spread over the bed and the walls? Have you noticed that?"

"No," she said. "But it sounds very interesting and I promise I will look for it next time I watch TV."

"Do," he said. "Meanwhile you'll be glad to know that the real streetlight outside my window is beginning to come on. It's the most amazing effect. It doesn't come on all at once, it's nothing like what I just described. It comes on very very gradually, over about twenty minutes. It starts off in a very deep orange phase. I very seldom have time to watch it, of course, with my hectic schedule. But when I do, it really is quite beautiful. It's so gradual that you're not quite sure whether it's the light coming on and shining a little more brightly, or if the sky has darkened-of course it's both, but you can't tell which is overtaking the other, and then there's this moment, about five minutes from now, when the streetlight is exactly the same color as the sky, I mean exactly the same green-violet-yellow whatever, so that it seems as if there's a hole in the middle of the tree across the street, in the branches, where the sky, which is really the light on this side of the street, shows through."

There was a pause.

"Listen," she said. "This is getting expensive, at a dollar a minute or whatever it is."

"Ninety-five cents per half minute, I think."

"So give me your number and I'll call you back," she said.

"All right. But."


"But then you'll have to turn your light on again to write my number down," he said.

"What do you mean? I have a good memory for numbers."

"Oh, I'm sure it's much better than mine. But what if in this one isolated case the number slips your mind?"

"Okay, to be safe I'll turn on the light and write it down."

"But what if you write it down wrong, just because this is such an unusual sort of occasion, and you reverse two numbers, the first time you've ever done it?"

"s.e.xual dyslexia."

"Right! Or what if you hang up and you get another Diet c.o.ke and then you decide, no, this is crazy, I don't want to call him back? How do I know you won't just not call?"

"I'm going to call you back," she said. "I'm enjoying this. I'm going to call."

"Okay, but what if you do call, but because of the break, even that one-minute break, when we aren't connected, what if fate shifts, and we're suddenly awkward with each other, and we're never quite able to resume the intimacy that we seemed to hit so easily the first time?"

"All right, you convinced me. Don't give me your number."

"Really I think two dollars a minute is cheap for this. I need this. I'd spend twenty dollars a minute for this. And there isn't a time limit on this line, either-at least my ad says NO TIME LIMIT in big letters."

"Okay," she said.

"Okay, and in return for your indulgence, I'm going to try to do something with your heirlooms there, on your dining-room table. Let me see. All right, once there was a guy who had a big party, a big dinner party for a dozen people, which really wasn't his style, but he did it anyway, and when all of his friends had left, he began cleaning up, feeling slightly depressed. He took the plates in, the gla.s.ses in, the cutlery in, man, he'd never seen the basket in his dishwasher so stuffed with silverware. He jammed the last fork in, but in his impatience to close the dishwasher door and go to bed, he didn't check that the fork was all the way in the basket, and as it happened it was not, because the forks were so tightly squeezed in there that he would have really had to work it down for it to stay put. This was one of the older-style dishwashers, and when that fork was tossed aloft by the first powerful spray of water up from the impeller, it fell, and it happened to fall so that it was caught dangling somehow between a plate and the little loop on the handle of a saucepan, with the points up, and the handle dangling far enough down that the sprayer in the bottom swung into it at full speed and notched it, and made it swing up again but not completely out of the way, and so it swung down into the path of the sprayer thing again and again, and got very messed up, and by the time this guy was able to get back to the kitchen and turn off the dishwasher, which sounded awful, the fork was badly injured. He dried the fork with a paper towel, and the rough places on the fork tore the paper, and that was too much for him, he almost felt like throwing the fork away, and he went to bed very dejected, wondering what the point of it all was. Okay? Now in this same city there was a jewelry store, that some might say was a little bit too trendy, but that was still a very nice place-they didn't sell diamonds or emeralds or conventional big-ticket items like that, in fact it was called *Harvey's Semi-Precious,' after Harvey, the owner-and mostly it sold artisan stuff and collectibles. And you got a job there."

"I did?" she said.

"What happened was, you went to a program in a university, and you got a masters in silversmithing, with some postgraduate work in pendant mounting and bead drilling, and you found that you had a very good eye, and you really were able to make bracelets and earrings and especially necklaces that looked good on people, not that looked good in the display case, in fact sometimes your work even looked a little strange, a little k.n.o.bby and unsure of itself in the display case, but on the human form-divine. So you graduate from the program and it's time to make a living, and you take your best work around to various jewelry places, and you get a mixed reaction, frankly, the world isn't quite ready for you, and finally you take it to Harvey's Semi-Precious, which you've avoided because in a way it's a little down-market-it started as a head shop in fact, and Harvey's this fairly old guy now with a big collection of fancy cigarette cases from the twenties that you find saddens you, and he's got what you might call an old-world smell, but you interview with him, and he seems nice, and he's very encouraging about your work, and you decide what the hay. But the only stipulation is, if you work for Harvey, you have to work in the store, in this small gla.s.s enclosure that kind of projects from one of the windows so that people walking by on the street can watch you work. You're a little hesitant about that, but he draws the curtain open, tells you to take a seat, and it's this nice little room, with many many small wooden drawers that are handy on either side, and a whole set of silversmithing tools that are mounted on little spring clips, and a nice flame there, a nice blue flame, with a yellow tip, and it really seems very cozy, and yet of course visible from the street, and so you start work. And Harvey could not be nicer-he treats you with kindly irony, and when you make a piece he especially likes, he is very appreciative. He sets up a special display case for just your work in the store, and he doesn't mind when you come in a little late. And over the first few months you start doing this series of bracelets, simple elegant silver bracelets, which Harvey puts in the case. Naturally many of the customers who wander into the store are young men buying jewelry for women they love, and they're uncertain, they want to be sure they're right to buy that particular piece, and so Harvey gets in the habit of poking his head through the curtain and asking you, very hesitantly and politely, if you might want to come out and show the prospective buyer what the bracelet looks like on a real woman. And you find this a trifle embarra.s.sing, because, after all, you made the piece, but you take off your welder's gla.s.ses and you run your hands through your hair and there you are walking out into the store toward smiling Harvey and the open display case with the key in it, and this nervous man who's in a hurry to get something for his wife or mistress is standing there, and you extend your arm, and Harvey puts on the bracelet, and the man's mouth moves, and his checkbook falls open, and there, so easy, it's sold. You sell about ten, fifteen bracelets this way, and with this success, you start to get ambitious, and you design and make a necklace, a very simple necklace, but with three stones that Harvey's procured for you, a tiny chrysolite in the center, and then, on either side, two lovely l.u.s.trous pieces of unpolished strumulite, which are, as you know, fossilized drops of dinosaur e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.e. Nothing could be more tasteful-you surprise yourself with how well it turns out-nothing you did in school equals this necklace. Harvey is in rapture-he holds it draped over his fingers, which are all dry and discolored from silver polish, and he just shakes his head, and you feel very happy, happy at having found your metier, and happy at having found as good a person to work for as Harvey. Well, so, the necklace is hung up in the display case, not in as prominent a position as you think it ought to be, perhaps, and Harvey insists on putting a very high price on it, too high to sell, you think, but Harvey is, for once, adamant. Some weeks go by, and you sell several other small pieces, a ring, some earrings, but the necklace does not sell. You're curious, you peep through the curtain and watch Harvey taking customers over to your case, and you notice that he seems to be avoiding calling attention to the very fine piece, he's distracting buyers when they comment on it. You realize, not without a certain pleasure, that Harvey is probably somewhat in love with you, though he's too gentle ever to raise the issue. He now averts his gaze whenever you extend your wrist to put on one of your bracelets for a customer. And you begin to sense that he doesn't want to sell the glorious strumulite necklace you made because he is afraid that when he does he's going to lose you. And you feel that he's probably right. He's started asking you if you're happy, if you have all the tools you need. There have been other jeweleresses in the window of Harvey's Semi-Precious in days gone by, of course, and they have all gone on to bigger things, bigger commissions, but none of them has gotten to Harvey the way you have, you suspect."

"I'm a little full of myself, aren't I?" she said.

"You are, yes, and yet you're uncertain too. And so one morning, you're in your gla.s.s enclosure working away, and you look up and there's this guy standing quite close to the gla.s.s, peering in at you. You nod, you're used to this, and he nods. He's wearing a suit, and he's carrying what looks to be a fork, wrapped in a piece of paper towel. He looks up at the sign over the shop and you hear him go in and you hear him talking to Harvey. Harvey sounds a bit testy. You hear him say, *She can't take her time up with uncreative work like that.' Then the guy says something, a note of urgency in his voice. Harvey says, *No, I'm not kidding, really, no.' And you pop your head out of the curtain. The two men look at you. Harvey goes, *I'm trying to tell this gentleman that you're an artist and you are not able to do something like repair his fork. He doesn't want me to do the repair, he wants you to do it.' The guy in the suit looks embarra.s.sed, he holds up his hands. You walk out into the shop. You take off your insulated soldering gloves and put them carelessly down on a display of rare campaign b.u.t.tons. You're wearing a shirt with small green and black stars on it, and black pants, and black sneakers. You hold out your hand for the fork, the guy gives it to you. You say, *An incident with the dishwasher?' and he nods yes. And you say, *Harvey, it won't take me a second.' Harvey goes, *Fine! Go ahead!' and sits down near the register, staring straight ahead. He's p.i.s.sed. You say to the guy, *I'll have it for you by noon.' And you go back into your area in the window. You take up the piece you've been working on. It's some kind of brooch, and it isn't turning out very well. You've lost your inspiration to some degree, since Harvey hasn't sold your best effort. You look at the fork sitting there, and then you become conscious of a presence outside the window, and you look up, and it's the same guy. You give him a questioning expression, and he moves his arms to say, *Don't mind me.' But he doesn't walk away. You look down at the brooch again, but you don't like it, you don't want Mr. Fork to see it and think of it as representative of your work. And so you set it aside and you clamp the injured fork in several delicate vises, and you put on your insulated gloves, and you start playing the flame of the torch over the nicked parts. Repair is Harvey's area, so you don't get much of a chance to do this, but you find now that in small doses it's a very satisfying and soothing activity. Naturally you can't restore the fork to mint condition-you melt the roughnesses until they subside, and what you're left with is a lovely irregular mottled very shiny surface. You're glad you have your dark welder's goggles on: you look up covertly, with just your eyes, not lifting your head, and you see the fork man standing there sort of slumped, looking at you do those things to his fork. He's melting, he's smitten, he's silversmitten. You plunge the fork into a tray of water. He smiles. He goes back into the shop. You come out of your enclosure. Harvey looks up. You hand the fork to Harvey and Harvey looks at it and says, *Twelve dollars.' Mr. Fork pays the twelve dollars and takes the repair job and says thank-you to Harvey. Then he says, *I was just curious how it was done. I'm sorry to have taken up her time.' And then he asks, *You say she's an artist. Can you show me some things she's done?' Slowly, slowly Harvey walks over to the display case, unlocks it, sighs. The guy leans very close to the jewelry, his head is practically in the case. You're watching all this. You notice for the first time that he's got his hair in a kind of ponytail. And then he points to the necklace and he says, *May I take a look at that?' Harvey looks at you, he's got this almost pleading look, but you don't say anything. So Harvey seems to decide something, and he says sadly, *That's the best thing in the store.' And he unhooks it from its little mounts and he hands it to Mr. Forkman, who again looks closely at it, holds it up in the air. Harvey says, *For a fiancee or something? What's her complexion, dark or light?' And Forkman vagues out, saying, *I don't really know who it's for.' Again Harvey looks at you, and you don't say anything, and so Harvey swallows and he says, he almost whispers, *Really you can't get a good sense of it unless you see it worn.' And the fork guy says, *Gee, yeah, too bad.' And he asks what the stones are and Harvey tells him and the guy just nods. Finally Harvey, almost in exasperation, says, *Look, she made it, she knows all about it, she'll tell you everything you want to know, I'm going to get a bite to eat.' He turns to you and says, *Show him the piece, all right?' He grabs his jacket and goes out, pulling the door shut with unusual force, so that the sign saying OPEN flips down to say CLOSED. And so ..."


"No, that's it, I shot my wad getting the two of you face-to-face."

"No! You're bailing out right there? Did you really shoot your wad, or you mean figuratively?"

"At the moment, my true wad could not be farther from shooting. It is work getting the two of you together. I feel that any second I'm going to misstep in telling this. It's very stressful."

"Now listen," she said. "Harvey leaves, slamming the door, so the sign says CLOSED, and I, me, I am left, abandoned right in the middle of things by Harvey, and I'm standing there in the shop with the taciturn and very rich guy Forky, Forky Pigtail, who's holding the necklace that I made in his big knuckly fingers. He sits down on a step stool, he looks down at the necklace, looks up at me. What does he do?"

"He says, *I really do have to see what it looks like on someone before I know whether it's something I want.' And you look down at your shirt with the green and black stars and you sort of pluck at it and smile and say, *I'm sorry, I'm not wearing the clothes for that piece. It's really an evening piece, for a low-cut dress.' With your finger you trace the ideal curve of the neckline of the dress. And Fork says, *Then unb.u.t.ton your shirt.' Well, what can you do? You unb.u.t.ton the top three b.u.t.tons of your shirt. With each b.u.t.ton, you feel the fabric shift slightly against your collarbone. Fork stands up, letting the necklace dangle from his left hand, and, to your astonishment, he begins unb.u.t.toning the b.u.t.tons of his fly. Because of course he's a b.u.t.ton-fly kind of guy. He unb.u.t.tons three b.u.t.tons. The two of you are still about ten feet apart. You fold your shirt down, trying to make it follow the line of the dress that you should be wearing to wear the necklace, but looking down at yourself you see that you really need to undo one more b.u.t.ton, and you dart a glance at him-has he reached the same conclusion? Oh no, he has! He is shaking his head. He says, *I think really you'll need to go down one more in order to wear your necklace.' So you unb.u.t.ton one more b.u.t.ton, and he responds by unb.u.t.toning the last b.u.t.ton of his fly. He doesn't do anything, he doesn't reach in, you almost couldn't tell that his fly was undone, if it weren't for the fact that you've just seen him undo it. Oh, he is a bold b.a.s.t.a.r.d! What is he up to? He takes the necklace in both his hands, by both ends, and he shakes it, indicating for you to walk toward him, which you do. When you are standing close to him, he says, *l think it'll be easier if you turn around. Then I'll be able to see the clasp.' So you turn around, and you see this necklace, your own handiwork, descend very slowly in front of your face, and you feel the dangly elements just touch your skin and you try to hold your shirt so it doesn't get in the way, but instead of doing the clasp, he lowers the necklace further and lets it accommodate itself to your b.r.e.a.s.t.s, and you hear him say, thoughtfully, *Hmm, no, I really think the shirt has to come olf entirely before I can evaluate this necklace. The green and black stars clash with the stones.' So you unb.u.t.ton the shirt completely and let it fall off your arms. You're wearing a black cotton undershirty thing, with very thin shoulder straps. Very gently he drags your piece of jewelry up again, against you, and then finally he fastens it, holding the ends away from your neck so that his hands hardly touch you. You look down at it. It's hard to tell, but you think it looks kind of beautiful. Your nipples are visible through the black material. He's silent behind you. You say, *Don't you want to see it now?' But he says, *Wait, let me just do something.' And you hear a slight sc.r.a.pe of the step stool against the floor, and you hear his shoes on the steps, and then you hear some rustling, and then a very soft rhythmic sound, the sound of the sleeve of his suit jacket making repeated contact with one side of the jacket itself, and, as the speed of the rhythm increases slightly, you hear every once in a while a little sort of plick or click, a wet little sound, and you know exactly what he's doing, and you hear his voice, with a bit of strain in it, say, *I think I'm ready to see it now.' And you turn, and there he is, on the top step of this little stool, with his c.o.c.k and both b.a.l.l.s pulled out of his pants, and with each pull he makes on his c.o.c.k you can see the skin pull up slightly on his b.a.l.l.s. I mean is this guy for real? And you touch your shoulders with your hands, and you pull the straps of your black undershirt down, and you pull it down around your waist, so your b.r.e.a.s.t.s are right there, out, and now you take hold of your b.r.e.a.s.t.s, your frans, and you lift them, so that each of the two side stones of your necklace touches a nipple, and by moving your b.r.e.a.s.t.s back and forth, you move your nipples, which are hard, back and forth under the two cool dangly stones, and you see him stroking faster and faster, he's starting to get the about-to-come expression, and you smile at him and move a step closer, so your b.r.e.a.s.t.s and your silver necklace and your collarbone are ready for him, and then you look straight at him and you say, *Well, what do you think? Do you like it? As you see, it's really an evening piece.' And then, stroking very fast, he bends his legs slightly and then straightens them and he goes *Ooh!' and then he comes in a hot mess all over your art."

There was a pause. She said, "Does he buy the necklace or does he just take his fixed fork and go home?"

"I don't know. I a.s.sume he takes the paper towel that he'd wrapped his fork in and uses it to wipe you off and wipe off your necklace and then he buys it and gives it to you."

"That's good. He sounds like an honorable sort. A bit precipitate maybe. Um-would you excuse me for a second?"


"I just-my mouth's dry-I want to get some more-"

"Sure," he said.

There was a long pause. She returned.

"It's funny that you cast me as an arts-and-craftsy type," she said.

"Not aggressively arts-and-craftsy. Are you?"

"Well, no. I'm really not, I don't think. Do you have a ponytail?" she asked.


"Then do you have an old-world smell?"

"I don't think that would be the word for it."

"I wonder what your smell is."

"I've been told I smell like a Conte crayon," he said.


"Or I guess it was that I smelled like what a Conte crayon would smell like if it had a smell."

"Well, that's good to know," she said. "Of course I have no idea what you're talking about. But no, you know what your story reminded me of, when I was in the kitchen just now?"


"I was in a museum in Rome with my mother, and we pa.s.sed a statue that had all these discolorations on it, a nice statue of a woman, and my mother pointed to a sort of mottled area and she shook her head and said, *You see? It's so realistic that men feel they have to ...' She didn't explain. And I don't know now if she was serious or not. I was-I guess I was eighteen. I thought, oh, okay, in churches in Italy, people wear down the toes of the statues of popes by touching them so much, and in museums in Italy, men come on the statues of women."

"Yes," he said, "I think I do remember coming on that statue. It's all a blur, though. There were so many statues in those years."

"Do you, as they say, like to travel?" she asked.

"You mean get in a plane and fly somewhere for recreation? No. I've never been to Rome. I spend my vacation money in more important ways."

"Like this call."

"That's right. Now tell me, though, really, when your mother pointed out that statue, was it faintly arousing?"

"I don't think it really was," she said. "It was just interesting, an interesting s.e.xual fact, like something in Ripley's. I'm not, by the way, to get back to your story for a second, I'm not wearing a black undershirt under my shirt."

"What are you wearing under your shirt?"

"A bra."

"What kind of bra?"

"A nothing bra. A normal, white bra bra."


"It's shrunk slightly in the wash but it was my last clean one."

"It's always impressive to me that bras have to be washed like other clothes. Does it clip on the front or on the back?"

"The back."

"Shouldn't it come off?"

"I don't think so," she said.

"Oh, I can hear in your voice the sound of you frowning and pulling in your chin to look down at them! Oh boy."

"Hah hah!"

"The idea of women looking down at their own b.r.e.a.s.t.s drives me nutso. They do it while they're walking. Some walk with their arms sort of hovering in front of their b.r.e.a.s.t.s, or awkwardly crossed in front of them, or they pretend to hold the strap of their pocketbook so their hands are bent in front of them, or they pretend to be adjusting their watch, or their bracelets, and the fact that even fully clothed the helpless obviousness of their b.r.e.a.s.t.s is embarra.s.sing to them drives me absolutely nutso."

"They see you staring, with your eyes sproinging out of your skull, of course they're embarra.s.sed."

"No, I'm very discreet. And this is only in certain moods, of course. Once I got into a wild state just standing at a bus stop. It was rush hour, and there were all these women driving to work, and they would drive by, and I would get this Hash, this briefest of glimpses, of the wide shoulder strap of their safety belt crossing their b.r.e.a.s.t.s. That thick, densely woven material, pulling itself tight right between them. That's all I could see, hundreds of times, different colors of dresses, shirts, blouses, over and over, every bra size and Lycra-cotton balance imaginable, like frames of a movie. By the time the bus came, I was literally unsteady, I could barely get the fare in the machine. What's that noise?"

"Nothing. I was just changing the phone to the othe ear."

"Oh," he said. "Did you see that thing about the Chinese kid who suffered an episode of spontaneous human combustion?"


"You really missed something. It was originally in one of the tabloids, I think, but I heard about it on the radio. You know about spontaneous human combustion, right?"

"I'm familiar with the general concept."