The Weather Channel helps me plan my day now. I used to waste hours cycling in what had been predicted as a hot clear afternoon but instead turned cloudy. I would go to the beach and make myself slithery with baby oil, but the rain would come. I would get caught fully clothed at work while hot sunlight streamed through the pocked ozone layer.Not any more. I watch the Weather Channel first thing in the morning and then phone my unemployed friend Martin. I leave a message on his machine about what the predictions are for the day, and he calls me at work if there are any changes. I have an extra set of clothes with me at all times so that I can take advantage of any unexpected sunlight. I go somewhere private and discard unnecessary coverage. Sort of like Superman.
I always kept telling her “when” — “when” not “if”. As in: When you have decided to leave me, please tell me straight out. Please don’t simply stop being thrilled at coming to spend the night. Please don’t start contriving thin excuses in order to decrease the time you spend with me. Please don’t take other lovers and so make a pathetic fool of me. Just tell me straight out: John, you can’t be my boyfriend, we can’t be lovers anymore.Something inside me — Martin calls it spider sense, which tingled for Spiderman in tricky situations — something always told me she would either stay with her husband or dump me soon after the divorce. “Dump” is too harsh a word for what she has done, though. The simple fact is that I have become one of those statistics the psychologists like to refer to as the “transitional person”. She fell out of love with her husband and so became frantic and needy. I was there. I listened to her long stories about marital routine, chore schedules posted on the fridge next to the latest Far Side cartoon, pizzas ordered in the disarray of arriving home from work cranky and tired without a planned dinner. (“I thought it was your turn?”) I advised her gently about smoking less and getting a good lawyer and trying not to start the day with scotch. I made crazy unprotected love to her on my living room floor, set her head softly on a cushion near the fire, licked her breasts and went down on her as she moaned into forgetfulness.
Martin is the only one who understands what I’m trying to do. When I first told him he just nodded, offered no particular discouragement apart from asking if this is what I really wanted, and then afterwards listened attentively to updates.I stopped telling other friends and acquaintances after a couple of disappointing reactions:
“John, listen to me: you need a little help. I know a psychologist …”
“Those rays are killers, yes, John, but it would take years if it happened at all. She’s not worth it. Join a club or something.”
“You’re doing what?”
I’m trying to kill myself by getting skin cancer.
I assured her throughout our — what? relationship? affair?– that I could still love her unreservedly even though I knew we would break up. The only demand I made was that she act genuinely, that she not plan to break up and only maintain the facade of a relationship for the purposes of sex and friendship. As far as I can tell, she was true to her word, though that doesn’t make this any easier.We were both excited when she finally moved into that apartment on Third Avenue. It was 10:30 at night before all the boxes were in the place. We put about ten of the taller ones together in what would be the living room, threw a piece of foam and some sheets on top, and then held each other to sleep. In our absolute peaceful unconsciousness we were oblivious to the possibility of falling to a very abrupt awakening.
Hot and Humid
I take the day off, sleep till noon. I go to the beach prepared: Discman, baby oil, towel, lunch, fluids, money. I lie here till dinner time, turning myself as on a very slow spit. I always position myself to maximize the surface area which is exposed to the sun.The superficial effects have been pleasing. I am a luscious brown, quite a contrast to the sickly alabaster which is covered by my Speedo. I am gorgeous as Adonis, determined as Icarus. Women and gay men can’t help looking as they pass by. Some stop to chat. Most of them warn me about the dangerous effects of prolonged exposure.”You’re gonna kill yourself,” they say, sometimes worriedly, sometimes self-righteously.I just nod. “Yes, I know.”
That Third Avenue apartment was bright and comfortable after a few months. Summer breezes lapped softly at the eyelet curtains she had made for the bedroom. Ladders of light shone through dark blue Venetian blinds in the living room. And in the kitchen the sun washed in through the large high window, casting elaborate dancing shadow puppets of the plants and ornaments which adorned it.We spent a lot of time at the kitchen table, where I noticed her smoking give way to pistachios and finally to simple soda water as we talked about the dramatic change which she had initiated in her life. “You’ve been a great help, John,” she said, splitting the shell, putting it in a separate bowl, and popping the green salted nut into her mouth.The shadows were thrown into sharper focus as the sun freed itself from cloud cover.
“I’m happy now, John. Much more settled. I feel like a new person, like a free person. I can do anything.”
She sipped the soda water, tonguing the lime.
I go to my doctor to find out whether I have the cancer, or even any of the early signs. It is a hot day so I wear only shorts and sandals. There is a well-insured and brightly dressed man in the waiting room. Shades of green that do not exist in nature, white, a straw sun hat.My doctor scares me, too. He is pallid, the stethoscope dangling from a scrawny neck. We chat for a while about the weather.He has the results of my test. They are very good, he says, they are the kind of news he wishes he could tell everyone.
“You don’t have any signs or symptoms of skin cancer, John. So: go home, enjoy, stay out of the sun, wear a block. You have nothing to worry about. You are healthy, cancer-free, and will probably outlive us all.”
“Oh,” I say.
She gave me a pen as a memento before she left, a cool black Sheaffer that I could never get to write. I scratched embarrassingly on the back side of the wrapping paper, scratched and actually apologized, scratched and told her it’s just a problem with the refill, scratched and babbled on about quality control and the beauty of the pen as an object. Black, absent of light, severe, thin, serene. I put it aside. I walked to the bedroom and got a very mundane Paper Mate, blue, the color of the bay on the best of days. I started to write on the outside of her left thigh, just above the knee. Names only at first, SARAH AND JOHN, the same crazy way teenagers express their undying love on trees or the sides of bridges. A little more elaborate on her left palm, crossing over the love and life lines indiscriminately, not even noticing or seeing the thin career line thrusting between them. SARAH WAS A SPEEDING SPINNING CAR I CAUGHT A GLIMPSE OF.I moved to her belly. The line this time is unnamed, the crease which separates the flat abdomen from the small bulge just above her black pubic hair. I started near the bottom of the right side of her rib cage. I KNEW YOU WERE JUST ZOOMING BY. I KNEW THAT RIGHT FROM THE START. THERE IS NO BLAME POSSIBLE HERE. I WAS HAPPY WITH THE TRIP EVEN AS SHORT AS I PREDICTED IT WOULD BE. YOU WERE ALWAYS CAREENING, SARAH.I read her belly to her. I took off my own clothes. We made love luxuriously, wantonly as always — Sarah’s body moving, her face reddening, her voice screaming as she came, my chest hairs sticking to her wet belly like punctuation in the text.
I surprise myself. I go to the top of a small rugged hill just outside the city. The day is a scorcher and I am sweating heavily by the time I reach the top. I am alone. I strip naked and slather myself in oil till it is dripping off me. I lie on three large towels. I feel as if I’m melting, the sweat and oil parts of me which are simply falling off, falling away. I cross my hands over my chest. I think for a moment that this is how I want to be laid out in the coffin, after I am diagnosed too late and die suddenly. I want to be dead and attractive. Want people to come up to me and feel compelled to state the comforting inanity: “He looks good, you know”.
I reconsider in the next moment. No. Not burial, too traditional, too spacious, too incomplete. Cremation. Burn me as the sun simply refuses to burn me. Reduce me to ashes, destroy me, but don’t display me in a vase on a middle-class mantel. Throw me, eject me, take what’s left of me to the top of this hill and disperse me.