The Invasion of Desire and the Resistance to that Invasion
I told Susan a number of times, I vowed and threatened a number
of times, sometimes vowing in the form of a threat and other times
threatening in the form or "style" of a vow, using both
the threatening vow and the "vow-style" of threat, that
if she didn't stop embezzling from the theater company I would stop
sleeping with her. But I knew even while making these vows and threats
I could never make good on them, these threats and vow-style threats,
knew I could never make good on them as my physical desire for her
was just too much for me at the time, a desire which looking back
I've come to think of as being carried, like a strain of malaria
or anthrax, in the pincers of some microbe which uncurled and sprang
from its dormancy at the slightest hint of sensuous detail. A glimpse
of hand lotion collected under her nails, a shirt button undoing,
the relaxing of a zipper ten teeth -- any of these would be cause
enough for me to abandon my threats and vows and fall again to the
So leaving aside the vows, the vow-style of threat and the threatening
vow, I retreated to a much lower-key type of threat, a simply stated,
sincere threat I thought sincerely would be much easier for me to
carry out. I told her stop this embezzling from the theater company
or I'll sleep with you less. The amount embezzled determining the
amount of our sexual activity; that is, more embezzlement equaling
less, less equaling more.
This is how that worked: Susan would come home with the evening's
proceeds (which she was supposed to collect throughout the week
and then deposit on Monday) and throw the whole wad in a shoebox
on her side of the mattress. Now, we'd both hear that particular
thud of cash on cardboard, of cash being nested in its proper place,
but in the moment after that thud as she sat back on her haunches
by the box swaying it was clear that while I took that thud to mean
simply proper place, the proper place for cash to be stored until
Monday, she obviously took it as her cue to fish in for a five or
ten and head for the corner grocery. She'd hear the thud and fish
in and go and come back with a sack of snacks and cigarettes, shampoo,
twizzlers, plastic kid's jewelry, etc. And I'd ask for the receipt,
which she was always careful to keep, and compare its total with
that of the night before and the overall average for the week. All
these totals and averages of totals I kept written on an old draft
of a company script on the floor next to my side of the mattress.
It was a script from a play both of us had had roles in some years
ago and I had once thought to keep it as a memento but since realized
I hadn't enjoyed working on the play much and so felt fine about
using it now for my record keeping and the working out of my system.
I had worked out, or was constantly improvising really, a system
that determined just how much physical attention I was to give and
receive that night based on this record of totals and averages of
totals. The whole thing -- the various figures and my notes on the
appropriate levels of withheld affection corresponding to these
various figures -- filled the backs of the script's last seven pages.
Each night I'd sit down with these figures, all the old receipts
and the latest receipt and, with Susan lounging by the stereo smoking
Mistys and chewing chips, would come up with the evening's guidelines:
the duration and intensity of kisses, the quantity and placement
of caresses, etc. Susan always accepted these guidelines with a
studious interest and respect, as if I was handing her an ancient
potshard or a poem written by a dying relative. Mm, mm, she'd say,
looking it all over, brisk. She never ridiculed the scheme but never
expressed much enthusiasm, knowing, as I did, as I must have, that
my seven pages of calculations and illustrations, my seven page
system, was really just a sort of parlor game or magazine puzzle
or thumb twiddling and really had nothing to do with or could really
go nowhere in producing any sort of result as far as this embezzling
This was not because the system of seven pages was in any way defective
conceptually, or vague or unsound along any of the plotted curves
that arced gracefully as swan's necks through its charts, or in
the logic, rock hard, that anchored its equations. As a veteran,
full-partner in the business of our shared passion I was fully qualified
to gauge to the dime just what a nibble or moan was worth, to the
penny the numerous values assigned to each ounce of my palm's pressure
on her hips. The problem, which I couldn't do a thing about, was
that the nightly receipts from the corner represented only a fraction
of what she was pocketing.
During the day when I was out cleaning toilets in the city's parks,
she was free to dip into her shoebox and take however much she liked
for her lunatic spending sprees. When I came home there would be
a whole new heap of fantastic trash, price tags still attached and
fluttering in my face: a forest of lamps, some too tall for the
apartment and leaning against the wall or stretched across the floor
over the parts of a rowing machine. Antique fireworks and lollipop
shadow puppets. A hill of shoes in different sizes. A stuffed raven.
A chart of toads. Ten copies of the same book. Throw rugs draped
over humidifiers. Rare sheet music stacked on metal cans of popcorn.
Chocolate animals, crock-pots, birdcages, cork sculpture, on and
on and on. And in the middle of this jungle the open, emptied shoebox,
white scratches along its bottom where she'd clawed up the last
pieces of change.
I would scatter my cleaning rags over the dinner, the dinner of
lobster and mozzarella sandwiches she'd always prepare for these
occasions, scatter my rags over the dinner and ask just how did
she feel robbing her best friends blind? Had she kept an accounting?
Did she have any receipts? No, she had forgotten. Every one. Well
what did she suggest I do with my seven pages of figures, my seven
page system which I hope she had some idea of how long it had taken
to develop? The seven page system which she had never openly protested
when I proposed it, when it was being developed, but now that it
was somewhat developed, now that there was a significant pool of
reliable data -- the various totals and averages of totals -- now
that there was some foundation to build on she apparently felt it
behooved her to wipe out this system through the obliteration of
that foundation, wipe it clean away with this leaving behind of
receipts. If she thought the system was just a joke why had she
demonstrated a willingness to participate in it by bringing back
the receipts, small as they were, from the corner? Why not forget
those receipts as well? Was she just humoring me by bringing in
those small receipts? Well why not humor me completely and bring
in the receipts for everything? The lamps, the shoes, the raven,
everything, just tell me how much was spent, I'll enter the numbers,
and we'll be on solid ground once again, I'd say.
"Why don't you just count the money in the shoebox?"
she would ask. "Why not just keep track of the proceeds --
how much I collect at the door and take home, and how much is left
in the box the next day?" And I would tell her, of course,
that it wasn't my business to do that. That the company had elected
her treasurer, that the company trusted her to collect the money
at the door, trusted her to count the money, bring the money home
each night and deposit it all on Monday. If I started counting up
the money at the door and counting it up before it went in the shoebox
and recounting it again the next day and again on Monday at the
bank teller's window, who would be company treasurer then? I would
be company treasurer. And I wasn't elected to be company treasurer,
she was. That was her job. And it's true that with her embezzling
she wasn't doing a very good job but I think, I would say, that
once I start replacing you as company treasurer, secretly, behind
the company's back, replace you as company treasurer, then really
where does that leave us? What is gained by that? It is true we
would have a better record of how much you were stealing. In fact,
we would know exactly how much you were stealing, the precise amount.
But as I would have, in effect, replaced you as company treasurer,
this amount would represent only the money you stole as an ordinary
company member. The present system of seven pages is built up around
the amounts and averages of amounts you've embezzled as company
treasurer, only. It's designed around a particular office and the
particular personality of that office. The office of company treasurer.
How insane to think for even a second that a system custom-built
around the single, specific office of company treasurer could be
transferred hugger-mugger over to a completely different office
-- or what's not even an office but a rank, I suppose, the rank
of ordinary company member.
No, I told her, her ideas were no good. Nothing was any good. The
guidelines we had been following each night were nonsense. The positions,
the whispered words, the amount of candlelight, the stroking, the
breathing, the sighs were all nonsense, had all been dictated by
meaningless numbers. Without all the receipts, without a full accounting,
meaningless numbers were the basis of our sex life. Really, of our
Then we would fight. Or, I would tip over the table and throw bird
cages and chocolate animals while she retreated to the windowsill
and sat looking over the roofs of weed-cracked tarpaper, over the
dirty city, tracing patterns in the soot that had somehow found
its way even to the inside of the pane. Mostly she would trace out
the set design for the show the company was currently running. While
I was heaving piñatas, scrimshawed tusks and ping pong paddles
through the stuffy air, making a mess within the mess, a picture
of staged order would emerge in the black grime. An order that existed
in actuality in a small theater above a Swedish funeral parlor just
three miles north as the bus drove. A theater whose funds were being
filched away by the same fingers that now lovingly traced the set
Using her nails and the tips of her braids she could produce incredible
detail. Door knobs, the folds and tassels of drapes, the bits of
tape indicating where a set piece was to be placed, all clear, all
sharp. The actors too, in full costume down to the safety pins,
were shown walking through their blocking delivering lines in word
balloon. From the wings the boot of someone just entering, my boot,
with its thick laces and heel worn down on the instep. Wonderful.
I would be completely drawn away from my throwing and sucked into
this tracing, this soot scraping, and would leave everything and
come sit and watch her work, sit and watch with the heaps of torn
and shattered goods behind me in the apartment. Behind me the heaps
of torn and shattered goods and through the window the city's whirling
garbage and rubble and on the window, on a thin sheet of muck, this
emerging illustration, this perfection of detail that seemed the
only thing in the world with any rational arrangement to it.
I would apologize. I would apologize for saying our relationship
was based on meaningless numbers. I would say that I didn't really
believe that, that our relationship was based on meaningless numbers,
that of course there was much, much more to our relationship than
meaningless numbers. That though it might be the case, actually
was the case if we were going to be honest -- and honesty really
was our only hope now, a rigorous, fanatical dedication to honesty
our only hope -- actually was the case that meaningless numbers
had certainly influenced we could say, or invaded, we could say,
our relationship, it was certainly going too far to say they were
literally the basis of our relationship. They had influenced and
even invaded, we could say. But to say our attachment was built
entirely on a few forgotten receipts was just not accurate.
Susan would continue scraping soot.
Now I should mention that neither of us had ever been given a very
large speaking part in any of the plays, any of the forty-two plays
including the one acts and staged readings that had been produced
in the seasons we'd been with the company. And it's because of this,
I think, that our attention, not so focused on memorizing lines
or developing character, could be given over to the theater as a
whole. The upkeep and cleanliness of the entire theater, a special
care for the upkeep and cleanliness of the seats and lobby, the
upkeep of the plumbing and electrical systems, the rigging and the
lights and especially the upkeep and cleanliness of the set -- each
of the sets for the forty-two plays. I often think there's a conspiracy
in the theater world to encourage bad actors -- which is what Susan
and I were, very bad -- to encourage bad actors from the beginning
and train them to continue to be bad actors so that when joining
a company and landing nothing but small roles, their energy -- that
energy unique to the denied, frustrated bad actor -- can be channeled
into custodial services. That it is a recognized and acted upon
fact within the theater community that bad actors, when kept on
a strict diet of nothing parts, make for excellent and committed
janitors, cleaning ladies and handypersons. All for zero wage and
working like bright black worker ants with a piercing sense for
detail and an indefatigable need to scour over every plank and floor
joist their fellow company members, the successful, good actors,
will fret across when playing their magnificent, thousand-line roles.
But this conspiracy aside, whether there is or is not a conspiracy,
it is a fact that Susan had this energy, this energy unique to the
bad actor to attend to the upkeep of things, the maintenance of
things, and used this energy primarily to make an examination of
the set every night when everyone had gone home or to the bars.
Teetering gently on high heels and drinking wine from the bottle
she would walk the stage back and forth mumbling an improvised monologue
and noting what needed repair or, in her opinion, could be improved
on in some way.
Back and forth, for hours, into morning.
From the seats I would listen to the slosh of her wine echo up
the light trees into the flies. And while I took pride in my own
energy, that energy gathered from being denied the larger roles,
this bad-actor energy, and took pride in the pouring of that energy
primarily into my seven pages, the system of seven pages, I had
to acknowledge that Susan's energy, evident in these nightly examinations
and ultimately in the copious intricacies of her soot scrapings,
had in terms of precision and attention to detail outstripped my
seven pages decisively. The worlds she scrapped into that pane of
glass made me feel like I didn't know the first thing about precision
and attention to detail. System of Seven Pages! She missed nothing.
Any imperfection she found in her nightly examination would find
its way into her rendering: the smallest chipping of paint, the
slightest warp in a flat: "See...here...and here..." she
would show me, lightly tapping the glass. Then she would slip stroking,
grit-black fingers under my shirt, covering my torso in a mesh of
"I don't think the system is working," she said one night
as we lay on the mattress both checkered with grime. "I think
we should abandon the system."
Flat on my back I wadded up the seven pages and threw them into
"See, I'm throwing the seven pages away," I said. "Into
the hall, away. All gone."
They fell among some bags of Japanese garden gravel.
"See that?" I said. "I don't know what those bags
cost, you don't know what those bags cost, which is a sad fact but
it's a fact I have to face, I agree with you. It's a fact you've
faced and I'm facing it now, now with the wadding and throwing of
these seven pages into the hall."
* * * * * * *
|Just before she was
found out, when a vague pathway between the piles of shopping was
all we had left as living space, Susan herself proposed our last method
This is always a bad sign, a signal of impending break-up, I think,
when the lover who has never had a single thought on how to solve
a relationship's problems, gets one. Not a single thought, then
a sudden inspiration -- the sort of inspiration that with all its
suddenness you can be sure is indication that an inner-balance has
been upset, a sure sign that whatever deep-set gyro that up until
this point has kept the love craft level has been pulled from its
casing and shattered. But an inspiration I nevertheless went along
with -- an inspiration, or method, or idea I really had no choice
but to go along with as I was by this point desperate and out of
ideas myself, and, of course, in love. Everything else had failed
while the problem -- the embezzling and the continued shopping --
grew around us like a smooth, odorless weed.
The pressure was getting to me. Half shots of sharp, acidic vomit
rose in my throat in the night. I mistook the buzz of a fly for
the drag of a gun muzzle across our window screen. I would give
myself to any plan and really had no choice but to give myself to
any plan as we only had three weeks. In three weeks a total of eight
hundred dollars for the rent on the theater and for a special set
piece -- a robot Spiro Agnew programmed to raise its arms and plead
"no contest" -- was due. Up until now Susan had always
managed to hold back just enough to pay the bills on time, so no
one had reason to suspect there wasn't a sizable lump of savings
in the bank.
But the show we were running this month, the operetta on Agnew,
was a surprise flop. The critics disliked the Agnew robot, and as
a pack condemned it as bringing too much a flavor of "cumbersome
extravagance" to our "charmingly bare-boned, boot strap
venue". Mechanical Agnew Makes Entire Evening's Performance
Unwatchable, they said. Mechanical Agnew a Lousy Bore, they said.
Kill Mechanical Agnew, and so on.
And with the rotten publicity and the small audiences resulting
from the rotten publicity, the usual take at the door, the take
Susan counted on each month to cover her tracks, began to dry up.
All because of this mechanical Agnew that everybody hated.
And everybody, everybody, did hate the mechanical Agnew, the whole
idea of a mechanical Agnew. That it was Agnew was bad enough, but
that the Agnew was mechanical as opposed to immobile mannequin was
what seemed to really fuel the catcalls and refund demands. When
the curtain fell the audience would file out past Susan at her post
at the door all up in arms about what they saw as gratuitous robotics.
A crook, a thief, a dealer in graft and dirty Baltimore politics
that was the Agnew I knew, they'd all say with torn pieces of program
in their fists. Isn't that the Agnew you knew? they'd ask. And if
that's the Agnew you knew, they'd say, then how in good conscience
can you support or stand by and do nothing in the face of this representation
of Agnew as mechanical man, as automaton. He was not, he was not,
an automaton, they'd say. Agnew was not an automaton they'd say.
But in spite of this Agnew, in spite of the small audiences and
no money resulting from this Agnew, there was a chance that if we
could stop Susan's spending, or even slow it by a few degrees, we
might have enough cash by deadline. Out of this hope, the hope of
slowing the spending, Susan developed the plan that she outlined
to me one morning sitting cross-legged on the mattress in a tattered
bathrobe, sipping some sort of muddy liqueur from a cereal bowl,
the last clean dish in the house.
"My idea", she said as I struggled to raise myself from
nightmare, half-asleep, collapsed bed frame in pieces around me,
"my idea is you as Assistant Treasurer."
This was an immediately rousing and renewing idea, immediately
rousing words, just the words "Assistant Treasurer", immediately
renewing words that -- even though I wasn't sure completely what
she meant by them, what she was leading up to -- had the effect
of rousing and shaking me both from my nightmare of dead mice wrapped
in scouring pads and that general gray stupor that fills me, and
I think would fill anybody, whenever involved with, even peripherally,
a piece of theater such as the Agnew operetta that has at its core,
or in the case of the operetta right at center stage, a clunking
embarrassment such as the robot Agnew. The words "Assistant
Treasurer" roused me both from nightmare and the stupor caused
by the general depression of being involved in an irremediably bad
piece of theater, theater involving a mechanical Agnew.
"Assistant," I stammered. "Assistant Treasurer."
"You as Assistant. Or Co-treasurer, really, would be better.
You as Co-treasurer", she said, lighting a Dunhill and ashing
into the shoebox she had placed on my chest.
This change from assistant, or promotion really, this promotion
from Assistant Treasurer to Co-treasurer was, aside from it of course
increasing the general sensation of renewal, the rousing sensation,
also gave a clearer suggestion, with its introduction of the title
Co-treasurer, of what Susan's plan might involve.
"What you mean by 'Co'," -- I said -- "by saying
'Co-treasurer', what you mean to suggest is an equal partnership,
an equal share of power, some sort of arrangement where both you
and I have equal say in what amount of money goes in and out of
the shoebox. This is what you mean by "Co", to suggest
a sharing of the shoebox, an equal sharing."
Certainly, this was obvious. Of course. "Co", saying
"Co-treasurer", she told me, conferring on me the office
of Co-treasurer meant exactly that, a division of her power into
equal parts, into halves, she told me, one half of the shoebox being
hers, so to speak, the other half mine, was what was obviously implied
by the use of the term or title "Co-treasurer".
"Yes, but what's not clear to me," I told her, "What's
not clear is just how these two halves of the treasurery -- the
honest half and the embezzling half - are to come to terms regarding
the amount of money put in and taken out of the shoebox, seeing
as I want the shoebox to be completely filled with money and you,
Susan, at bottom, really want the shoebox completely emptied. How
these two opposite impulses, the impulse to fill and the impulse
to empty, can be reconciled or if not reconciled, how exactly, in
what arena, can these opposites be hashed out night after night,
day after day -- how these opposite impulses will be dealt with
is not clear to me at this time."
First, there would be no question as to the amount or quality of
sex we could have. This was, of course, what made the idea from
the beginning so fundamentally attractive, the avoidance of any
restrictions on the amount and quality of sex. However, questions
of amount and quality aside, she explained, whoever was the initiator
of any given encounter, whichever half of the treasury, the honest
half or the embezzling half, felt the greater need to break down
and initiate a sexual encounter, that half, it would be agreed,
would be required to pony up a fifty dollar fee. A fifty-dollar
fee for the initiator. All fees paid to me, the treasury's honest
half, would naturally go straight to the bank, while all fees to
Susan would go the usual way straight towards the cluttering of
our rooms with pricey junk.
As she put it, the question of the next three weeks was who could
be the better Rapunzeul. That is, who would be best at holding out
in their tower, so to speak, keeping his or her braid back from
the sill Rapunzuel-like until, as she put it, the request came to
let it drop.
And because of this bringing in of Rapunzuel, Rapunzuel's name
and the conditions of her captivity and courtship, because of Susan
explaining her plan by way of Rapunzuel, the plan, in my mind at
any rate, became known not as the Co-treasurer plan or the clumsy
fee-goes-to-the-initiator stratagem but as the Rapunzuel plan, or
because of the three-week deadline pressure we were under giving
everything a much riskier, a much dicier flavor, the Rapunzuel Gambit.
And yes, I accepted Susan's idea, her Rapunzuel Gambit, immediately,
because, as I've said, I was desperate, feeling the pressure, out
of ideas myself and was ready to throw myself into anything, any
sort of scheme, now with the money on the theater and the Agnew
due in three weeks and Susan's shopping covering every inch of floor
space in the apartment, leaving only the bed as a kind of sweaty
oasis hemmed in by all the brass porpoises, hatboxes and whatnot.
And happy, I suppose, that I so quickly accepted, Susan celebrated
the Gambit's opening moments by flicking her tongue across my lips
and stuffing a fifty from the shoebox down my pajamas, repeating
this same advance three times in the course of that day and night,
leaving me two hundred dollars to the good. And naturally, two hundred
dollars to the good, I felt then that there would be little or no
problem making the required eight hundred by deadline, or at least
coming close enough to the eight hundred so that the sale of a few
bird cages and lamps could cover the difference. It seemed to me
then, two hundred dollars to the good, that Susan had only proposed
this particular scheme, this Co-treasurer scheme, this Rapunzuel
Gambit, simply as a way to gracefully hand the funds over to my
keeping, to artificially construct an honest half to the treasury,
to the shoebox, a secure half, in which to hold the company's money.
While in the rank of ordinary company member I had opposed unauthorized
hands mixing with what were rightfully duties belonging solely to
Susan's office of company treasurer, now in my appointment as Co-treasurer
-- an appointment she as treasurer certainly had the authority to
make -- I had every right and, in fact, a responsibility to deal
directly with every dollar, to stick my fingers, so to speak, directly
into the till -- a place she, with her promotion of me to Co-treasurer,
clearly wanted my fingers to be. Clearly the Rapunzuel Gambit was
originated by Susan as a way to, within a context of sexual playfulness
-- or a sex play, actually, in which I was to be cast in the role
of Rapunzuel -- a way to transfer all the funds and bookkeeping
completely to my trust and so take care of not only the eight hundred
dollars but the entire embezzling problem with a single stroke.
This is what I believed, that the eight hundred dollars due for
the rent and the mechanical Agnew as well as all of Susan's embezzling
would be taken care of through this new scheme, this Rapunzuel Gambit.
The night after I made that first two hundred, however, Susan lay
on the sheets in the shadows of her heaps of shopping, an arm's
length from me, cool as pencil lead, silent, not responding to my
whispering of pet names. Pet names drawn at her suggestion the week
before from the family of grocery store mushrooms.
"Crimini," I said. "Portabella. Shitaki."
Over the roofs the wind flirted shreds of tarpaper. From the stairs
loose change clinked in thick pocket as a neighbor dug for his key.
The smell of cracking splinters and wood rubbing wood rose from
the bed's delicately fastened joints, literally the smell of imminent
collapse, just barely brushing the air of the room while the city's
light slipped through the thin scratches in the window's soot and
I whispered again, Crimini, Portabella, Shitaki, thinking she must
be asleep, of course she has to be asleep and turning on the pillow
saw her, flat and straight as a corpse on view, but with her head
twisted and her face staring into mine, eyes stretched round and
white -- like mushrooms, I thought. A look of furious reining-in,
a fraught squelching. A squelching, as though her desire, like a
jet of forced steam, was striking against an ever-hardening surface
within and ballooning back in still-potent billows.
She now wanted the part of Rapunzuel. On this night I was the one
who was to make advances, I was to be the initiator and as initiator
pay the initiator's fifty-dollar fee, reducing my cache of two hundred
by a full quarter. She clearly desired this now, clearly desired
me to make advances and as a result forfeit first one fifty dollar
fee and then another and another and so on until the little ground
we had gained, the two hundred dollars of ground, would be swept
away fifty dollar fee by fifty dollar fee just as the system of
seven pages had been swept away one forgotten receipt at a time
and the strategy of increasing sexual clumsiness had been discouraged
one bruise at a time.
She clearly, at this moment anyway, staring with her mushroom eyes,
wanted above everything for me to, by becoming the initiator, destroy
any hope we had of paying the eight hundred dollars, and any hope
that her guilt would go undiscovered.
And my guilt as well now, now in my recent appointment as Susan's
co-treasurer. That is, if I were to give in and make my advances,
thereby colluding with her, thereby becoming not only her co-treasurer
but co-embezzler. And I realized that of course this is what Susan
had intended all along by appointing me co-treasurer, by coming
up with this Rapunzel gambit. Everything led up to this: an invitation
to join her in her humiliation and possible indictment. She was
offering me the chance to be equally guilty with her. To participate
with her in this project she was so interested in, this embezzling
project. What with my constant condemnation and my strategies and
systems to reform her she had been too shy to ask me straight out
"will you be my co-embezzler?" But now, silent and staring
there across a few inches of sweat-damp bedding, she was asking,
asking me to cross over to her side of the shoebox, to share her
path to disaster and possible prison term.
She didn't want to be good, for whatever reason. Her resistance
to it was clear in the strained bulge of her eyeballs. And what
can you do if you're with a person who wants to be bad? If you're
with a bad person and you decide, for whatever reason, that you're
not going to be bad, you're going to be good, you're just going
to do good things, then you can't really say you're really with
that bad person, can you?
No. They're bad, you're good.
You have nothing to do with each other. You don't belong together.
You should break up because you never really were together in the
"It's quite a choice you're giving me," I said. "But
after all, I suppose love does come in many forms and one very common
form for love to come in is in the form of total catastrophe. Don't
From the bed frame a low-pitched creak.
"After all," I said. "I suppose a successful relationship
could be built not on compromise, but on a lowering, a descending
into one another's worst qualities. Isn't that true?"
She closed her eyelids slowly, as though with great effort, then
forced them wide again.
I reached over her for the shoebox on the nightstand, my lips pulling
within an inch of hers. I took out a single bill and rolling onto
my back again held it up in the scarce light to my face. It was
a five. I crumpled it somewhere into the sheets and reached for
another, reading and crumpling it as well.
"Anyway," I said. "What is love made of but moments
like these? How better for love to prove itself then in just this
sort of entangling dilemma?"
Through the night I continued counting and crumpling, with Susan
sometimes watching, sometimes appearing to doze.
Once, at that hour so late there's only the one car to be heard,
making its rounds through the lanes and alleys and off ramps, she
said softly, over the distant roll of its engine:
"That Agnew wasn't so bad, really."
"The real Agnew?" I asked. "Or the robot Agnew?"
She seemed puzzled by the question, and then, strangely, pretended
as if she hadn't heard.
It was our last interaction until around dawn, when the bed collapsed.
In a violent but graceful wilt, it seemed to me through sleepless
eyes. Much as an office building appears viewed from a distance
being demolished by dynamite.
The entire pile of money, wadded all around us, flew into the air,
then gently down. A fifty, like a wounded moth, dropped onto Susan's
And I did reach for it. And did kiss that hip when reaching.
And she plucked it from my fingers and stuffed it into the pocket
of her pants, draped over the dwarf ginkgo in the corner.
Then she smiled and kissed me back.
From there the three weeks ran on and down, the fifty dollar fees
flowing steadily from the treasury's honest half to its embezzling
half and from that half to shopping bags filled with gourmet biscuits,
thimble-sized bottles of exotic massage oil, and faux Pompadour
lingerie, the items tending more to the erotic in those final days.
Occasionally, Susan would surprise me with a kiss or pinch and abiding
by the rules of our office I would receive fifty dollars which I
would fold pointedly into my wallet as though in preparation for
a trip to the bank the next day. The bank saw no more deposits,
I came to appreciate, even love, Susan's growing collection. The
chart of toads hung above the back brace propped up next to the
fireproof lunch bucket, etc. I wouldn't have sold any of it, even
if it had been worth enough to save us.
Those closing weeks were the sweetest, everything fresh, as though
we'd just met. Typically the afternoons would be spent collapsing
the bed, then Susan would take me out for a fifty dollar evening:
dinner and maybe a show put on by a friendly rival company, whose
members often recognized us as being from what was now cruelly referred
to as that Robot Agnew Theater, famous these days for our monumental
flop. "Oh things are fine," we'd tell them when they expressed
concern. "What's one show? We'll bounce back. It'll take more
than one mechanical Agnew to bring us down." And when we said
it, we believed it.
But the last day of the month came and far out on the city's west
side the old, grey-toothed robotocist crept from his cellar workshop
and (as I imagine) flew to the theater in a giant bionic squab,
a spray of grease and tiny bolts screeching from his exhaust pipe.
He stuck his furnace-blistered head through the door to demand
payment on his Agnew. Most of the company was there that afternoon,
including Susan and myself, having an emergency meeting on just
what to do with our failed production. While the proceedings paused,
Susan stood and walked towards the stage. I suppose everyone thought
then that she'd left her purse and checkbook there. She climbed
up front and center and in a well-rehearsed turn on the balls of
her bare left foot, spun to face us from the lip, the hem of her
summer skirt swinging to her thighs. Behind her loomed the Agnew,
with its quiet electric hum and shine of dark lubricant behind Plexiglas
From the diaphragm then, projecting to the back wall of the house
she whispered in the most golden of tones:
"Out of motives that remain obscure even to itself, the body
of officials responsible for the keeping of this company's funds
has pilfered the treasury of approximately five thousand dollars.
There's nothing left in the bank account. In fact, there no longer
is a bank account."
When the bank was called and everyone was convinced of the truth
of Susan's statement, there was a lot of yelling and indignation,
of course. I was actually on the receiving end of indignation's
classic gestural expression -- a stiff finger jabbed repeatedly
into my breastplate by one of the company's outraged members. Beyond
that, though, not much was done. No charges were pressed. There
was a meeting where, going around in a circle, everyone was given
ten minutes to tell Susan and me just what was thought of us, of
what we had done.
Everyone took far more than his or her allotted time.
We were both made to get steady jobs and pay back the estimated
loss in set, weekly installments. I got work at a cafe, while Susan
was hired as a teller at the bank.
Sadly, everything in the apartment was taken by the company to
be either sold or used as props. A great deal of it actually was
used in the show just following the Agnew operetta, a play that
-- very loosely -- told the story of Susan and me and our embezzlement.
Originally, it was just a short sketch that parodied our performing
styles and our personalities in general, thrown together by two
of the actors in the company for a fund-raising benefit. But this
sketch was such a success it was expanded to a full evening.
As you might remember, it became a big hit, going on tour, getting
produced in New York. It saved the company. Put them on the map,
The night Susan and I planned to go see this play was the night
she left me. There in the empty apartment. She told me she'd started
having an affair with her boss, the bank manager.
He seems like a nice enough person. Though I've only seen him from
a distance, through the window of the bank, having lunch with Susan
at his desk. She sits in his chair; he sits on the overturned wastebasket.
I ended up going to the play by myself, which was fine.
It's a good play. The actor, Alan, who plays me, is especially
good. All the nights I've gone he's been consistently excellent.
Absolutely hilarious. They're both good, actually, both actors.
And the play seems to work both for those people who know that
the story behind it is to some extent true and also for those who
don't, who assume the play is a complete fiction. That is, the play
works both for people who know something of the truth, and for people
who know nothing of the truth.
And this has become interesting to me. The puzzle of how an audience
is or is not affected by their greater or lesser knowledge of the
truth. I've asked the company permission to poll the members of
the audience after each show as to what extent each of them is aware
of the actual events behind the play they've seen, and to what degree
they've found that play to be successful. Among other things, what
degree of hilarity they found the play to have achieved, and among
other things just how hilarious they found my character to be -
both in the writing and the performance of that character.
The performance by Alan.
I hope to set up a small folding table in the lobby and conduct
my poll from there, using the table as a surface on which to place
a number of pencils and pens, questionnaires and all the various
It will be a small table. One that can be folded and stored unobtrusively,
perhaps behind the counter where the company sells a variety of
coffee and baked goods.
The company is currently considering my request.