An excerpt from an unpublished novel
“I’m just not human anymore,” I finally spoke through my tears.
Just days after moving me in with him, Antony had come home to find me weeping over my lost life. He had installed me in his luxurious high-ceilinged apartment on the Upper East Side and made me promise that I would never venture out. I could be expected to find there what time it took to heal myself or to somehow find an answer to the problem.
“We all say that at some point or other in our lives,” he said, glossing over it. “I’ll just make us some tea,” he nodded at me; ran out of the room.
“I felt,” I started. “I felt I might douse myself with gasoline, set myself on fire. I mean, to have that number of people out to rape you…” But then I realized he was off in the kitchen, could not hear a single word of what I said. “See how you feel about your body, then.” I went on, anyway. The entire Idiot Cabal had packed my things up, moving most of them to storage minus the list of what I imagined I needed most. I took a leave of absence from my job as a shopgirl at Syvia's on Madison Avenue. All that that was moved to Antony’s vestibule ended up in his spare room, my sumptuous new bedroom. The apartment, in a magnificent pre-war building on the edge of Central Park, was his inheritance from Darien, his lover, dead of AIDS, designer and owner of a menswear company. I had been there barely three days sleeping hard, taking endless baths, eating myself to death, watching movies.
“This would be the perfect safe house for any fugitive for whatever amount of time.” Antony lectured me. “Time is needed to take a look at who we might be, what we could want from our lives. I know. It worked perfectly well for me already.” Yet I seemed, here at the end of my twenty-five years, unable to admit to anything at all. To imagine all those people wanted me dead was a huge anguish, yet the same thing was going on in Bosnia. Here in New York City, it wasn’t the same as the ‘social cleansing’ of a race, but rather the methodical murder of any basic humanists in the city. In time, I found I could take out my sketchpads and somehow take up where I had left off months earlier before I succumbed to the gangs in the streets hunting me down. What I knew was to soldier on with my ‘Eva’s Finery,’ my designs and crotchet, to my own line of sweet teddies, panties and bras. My ‘elegant undies,’ as Antony called them. He hoped I might consider ‘taking the plunge’ right then and there to the idea of designing men’s underwear as well, for an entire revolution was in the making. No one could miss that Calvin Klein ad over Broadway, least of all for its provocation. Here we were, facing the end of the 90’s. Big things were on their way, he insisted. We should count ourselves in.
The Stones he put on, Lou Reed. Nico crooned softly onto his midnight blue walls. His magnificent lampshades were dimmed by even more magnificent silk scarves of the lightest hues. Antony insisted I learn to chill, handing me bit my bit tomes of black and white photos from his lover’s old library, introducing me to Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, even dragging out old articles on Darien’s work. On top of that, Antony would bring me home the latest magazines, Elle, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, introducing me to my favorite delight,’ W’ or Women’s Wear Daily. Raquel promised me she and Martini would honor me with a shoot here in Antony’s rooms, as the large apartment of fine carved furniture, Louis Seize chairs, painted screens, monster plants, and even a chandelier, would be a dream. Antony insisted we could get through by using some of Darien’s old cameras. I was certainly game.
Within weeks, my initial freakouts became a thing of the past. I found myself enjoying my days alone, Sade and the television on full blast while Antony slept like a baby after his nights as the go-go boy at the Palladium. Often I found myself at Darien’s drawing table pausing as if Darien were watching. Antony said he felt Darien’s presence constantly.
Antony himself usually arrived around five-thirty a.m.
I would find him chortling to himself over the morning edition of the Post in the fabulous Italian-tiled, wood and stainless-steel kitchen with a wall of hanging pots. He would have our breakfast from the deli already unwrapped, coffees, scones, fresh juice, when I would pad in on slippers wearing his huge Kabuki robe over the Dior pajamas he had bought me. We would laugh at his stories of his ‘overnights of paid depravity,’ under glitter balls. Someone kept slipping Barbara Streisand into his mix, so he was off to a new ‘modern’ choreography session this week. He would then retire to his ‘beauty sleep,’ while I would start my day with a yoga workout.
As a New Yorker, I found it important to not admit to the reality of the matter, putting aside the endless run of men waylaying me in the street, doubling back to run at me or flash a gun at me, corteges of black cars, the larger Queen Victorias, coming out of nowhere midtown, screeching to a halt around me. I could see by the drivers’ smiles I was expected to step into the car. That I would never do, for what was promised me was several guns being emptied into me, or worse, by their salacious smiles, the gang rape that would precede my death. I would be pointed out by the crowd waiting the second I set foot on the street. I could feel the guns at my head, and not so strangely, too, in my house. This group set themselves up on adjoining rooftops not only from my house, but across from my dance classes at Steps in order to watch me in class. I was informed I would be shortly dead, hideously. This was part of the new mayor’s cleanup of ‘criminals,’ or basic innocents, across the city. The most common response was to freak out so that police in uniform could have reason to shoot you down. Many, many, ended up in mental institutions, sent by young immigrant doctors happy in their new careers to put ‘paranoids’ away.
I found myself blacking out more and more as the frequency of attacks became expected. It was like I was blacking out ahead of the fact in order not to experience the guns at my head. Not eating or sleeping for months on end didn’t help.
People like me, or the grieving families of those hunted down by ‘Offices of the Fuck’ as we called them, Offices of Investigation, were labelled ‘subversive’ by the tabloids. The District Attorney had his agenda to see to. Our hideous deaths were to be accompanied by a barrage of official lies. When my politico boyfriend finally spoke to the Police Commissioner, everything was promised to be brought to a halt, yet nothing at all was done. It seems Guevara was under ‘surveillance’ as was anyone related to him for the new mayor was begging him to join his staff. I wondered why this very carefully worked out torture unto death delivered by twentysome officers day and night was anything but the ‘information gathering’ cited by famous liberals.
People would say ‘you must have done something illegal,’ or ‘Are you doing drugs?’ A city that had been taught to murder its own innocents. “You hate drugs,” Antony laughed. “That’s why they hate you. Word is they’re trying to get the new drug highway from Santo Domingo in the Eastern Corridor, politicians stepping out of their way so they don’t take a bullet. That’s why New York City looks like Juarez, Mexico. A smokescreen of innocents murdered, ‘missing,’ simply to hide the massive new drug traffic. That’s the reality behind the cleanup promised by the new mayor.”
Dirty clothes and trash had piled up in my apartment while I wandered through my days comatose. I hoped to outlast the problem. I ended up in the hospital, bloodily miscarrying. I was never to be able to have children again. Antony insisted I move in with him immediately as I could hide out there easily.
I got nervous, listening to the noises in the building. The whine of the door downstairs, the whir of the elevator. People in and out of the building, kids shrieking up and down the stairways. Often I would sit late afternoon with my tea, and from five stories up in the beautiful old apartment building, stare out at the triangle of trees and grass by the wall of Central Park. When we ordered Chinese Antony would open carefully. I wondered why.
“Why so nervous?” I asked.
“You mean, you never saw the scene from Donnie Brasco, where the delivery guy gets in and kills the federal witness?”
“You’re right. I am the federal witness,” I laughed.
“This too shall pass,” Antony intoned, but in days I was to see Donnie Brasco, as his whole movie collection was hauled out. Shortly I was to see the entire Godfather series, ‘The Sicilian,’ ‘The Damned,’ and his favorite, ‘The Conformist.’
Yet Antony insisted he’d seen this sort of purge before. ACT-UP was no stranger to these ‘secret operations.’ Major figures in the protests had been beaten up to the point of being parapalegic. Some had been chased in front of oncoming subway trains, had learned to hug the walls of the station. One of their most prominent members had died, a faked suicide.
“Once they murder out a number of Democrats, it’ll all be back to normal. They won’t give you a second glance. Guaranteed!”
He called me from the vestibule one afternoon when he had slipped out. I found him with so many packages from not only Bendel’s and Saks, but a serious number of bags from D’Agostino’s packed with groceries.
“You don’t think I would miss your birthday?!” Antony cried.
“Well, no. But I didn’t expect….”
“This,” he gestured at the little old lady by his side already unfastening her coat, “is cousin Nia.” The lady took my hand, nodded and smiled, then went directly to the kitchen to haul down several pots. “Happy to meet you,” I cried.
“Get dressed.” He stooped down, handing me up a number of bags. “Try the dresses and the shoes. Everything can be returned, but don’t just wear it and return it, like my Aunt Deidre did. She did the same thing with her husbands. They’re delivering the wine in minutes. I simply did not have enough hands.”
I loved both dresses, tried them both on, decided on the outrageous white and flowered Norma Kamali as more the statement of a dramatic evening, yet the more difficult choice was that of which pumps to wear. I settled on the black velvet stiletto. The bell rang several times, and then I heard the clink of bottles. Instantly then when the door shut, the bell rang again. A small army of serious-looking young people in fashionable silks marched in the door, came past Antony into the rooms as if they’d been there before, with bouquets of every flower imaginable in their arms, finding vases everywhere, even huge Chinese pots on the floor I hadn’t noticed since I moved in.
“Darien always had them deliver, I just lost the habit,” Antony sighed, as everyone landed in his arms then promptly back out the door.
“I’m so thankful you robbed Lufthansa,” I cried.
“Someone had to do it. Are you keeping all your gifts?”
“Absolutely. It smells good, already.”
“She’s a chef, believe me. Shame we got rid of the restaurant.”
Antony was just putting the champagne on ice when the first guests arrived. I had been sitting in the kitchen fully dressed in my stockinged feet, eating biscotti and sipping wine while laughing at his family stories. Lenny Stein came early so he could film the entire event. There was Bille, our elegant society lady with a wonderful scarf wrapped around a wonderful present. The mewing was an important clue. I unwrapped a tiny Calico kitten, taking her into my hands. I named her Terra right there, in that moment, while Antony ran to put Buster, his little Chihuahua, away in the bedroom. Vodca Bear had bought me a special, embossed diary. ‘For secret things,’ he laughed. He was beside himself with the stately apartment that he had, of course, never visited. He said it reminded me of that movie, ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ “The Dakota?” Andre added. Martini and Raquel had chipped in on a few new sketchpads and a set of charcoals. Andre handed me a delicately wrapped item which I tore open immediately, a fabulous Dior scarf.
“See how carefully she saves for the future,” Antony noted of me.
Andre sighed. “Youth,” he began.
“Wasted on the young. Yes,” finished Raquel. “But aren’t we all guilty here?”
We had the braciole, the pasta, and salad, several Chilean and Argentinian wines. Once Antony sent us to the living room, he turned the lights down low for the birthday cake. I blew all the candles out. It was a rum cake, my favorite. I had several helpings with espresso. I was already drunk, Terra asleep on my lap. Someone wondered what I had wished for. Someone else cried ‘Freedom,’ but I said no. I wished for love, but then no one knew it. I was barely getting over Guevara dumping me, yet Antony had told me I couldn’t be luckier. That Guevara was undoubtedly being blackmailed with my death in mind in order to stop his reform. Better I had nothing to do with the man. At least now I was finally dreaming a different future.
“Can’t have your cake and eat it, too?” Antony inquired of the look on my face.
“Are you mind-reading?” I answered.
“Yes, of course. I’m known for that. Isn’t that what Baba used to say of me, Nia? That I seemed to know everything? Of course, it was gone once I reached my eleventh birthday. Then I became normal. A real curse.”
I can’t even remember where in their conversations I fell out, yet I would wake in the dark to an occasional remark. Someone would stand, or sit down. Someone would get up to pour themselves another drink.
Once Antony got up to see Andre and Martini and then Bille off, I stretched out fully on the couch. Raquel was talking about her latest lover, the son of a famous financier from Spain, when I drifted off again.
Later, I heard them move to the kitchen. I heard them wish Nia good night, then the door shutting.
I found them there in the morning, Raquel, Antony, Vodca Bear and Len. Moving in slow motion, they could barely speak. I stood there silent and unnoticed until Len took up his camera and started filming. Caught, there, barefoot with Terra in my arms, I shrieked with laughter.
Days later the phone kept ringing. Antony wouldn't bother to answer.
"Calls from the Club?" I asked loudly. I stood in the living room, hands on my hips. Loud messages came over the answering machine, begging him to pick up, to come into work.
"I'm sick," he sputtered. He came out of the kitchen to the living room.
"No. What about your doctor's?!" I asked. "I haven't heard a word about them in awhile."
"Useless. I'm not their guinea pig." Antony made a face.
"But all this is new. For everyone."
"I miss Darien."
Antony was there in my arms then, sobbing and sobbing. "Antony, I said, Antony."
"I miss Darien," he said again.
He excused himself to take a long bath. Subdued, he came out in his robe, his wet hair swept up into a towel. His face was heavily made up.
"I hope you don't think you're going out, do you?!! And not to work."
"Don't tell me what to do," Antony replied.
Later that night after I went to bed, I heard him slip out the door.
"And Good night to you too, Miss Candy Ass," I said loudly long after he left. Not one word earlier than that for Antony, occasionally referred to as a 'vicious queen,' was known to slap people down.
Weeks later, I woke to Buster crying and scratching. I opened Antony’s door to let him out. He ran to the kitchen where I filled his food and water. Terra sauntered in. The two of them had become easy friends after a few days.
“Buster’s fed,” I cried. I had heard the phone ring a few times the night before, but had not heard Antony go out.
“I have this spot,” Antony told me sometime after I’d arrived, just before my birthday. He pulled up his shirt from his lower back, then his pants down. A wealth of creamy white skin, yet there, a small red mountain, a dark red encrustation. Blinking hard, he looked at me gravely. The doctors would not tell him a single thing. All he knew was that he had simply no t-cells left, not a single one. People knew it was a miracle he was still alive.
Once I got the door wide open, Buster leapt up, landing on the bed, crying and barking. I went to nudge him off the bed as he lunged for Antony. I touched Antony on the arm. It was ice-cold.
I sat for a while without doing more. I sat for some time. The needle on the record player went on, like Antony let it, his favorite Lou Reed droning on, ‘I'm Waiting for My Man.' I put my hand on his back, followed up the arm to his neck.
“Sleeping Beauty,” I cried. “Wake up.” But he would not.
My darling was dead.