Published in Tatlin's Tower
The real estate agent calls The Smokes a neighborhood in transition.
This was the industrial backbone of the city. Of the region, even. But after the war the factories closed and the workers vamoosed. But here is now and now here is on the upswing. We no longer say the projects we say zero change in thresholdings. Cross your fingers! The architecture is Brecht's Berlin abuts Andy's Manhattan. Bottom line? I'm selling lofts to artists and cool collectors like that, she said, and snapped her leather-gloved fingers. They made no sound. Mark me, this will be the Montmarte of the Ohs!
He's sold. He buys.
Kit buys a Victoriana. The Riffenraffer Brewery is across the street. Only a few of the workers' cottages remain.
When Kit tells his friends that he purchased a home in The Smokes, they smile and coo their arched eyebrows say, Lucky you.
A bit of American ingenuity, really, those cottages, the real estate agent said.
The brewery employed several dozen small men.
Under 41/2 feet. Bantams!
Because they could easily squeeze into the guttyworks for service and repair. Very valuable. So Riffenraffer built the cottages at 3/4 size. A few remain. Quite nice if you're the right size.
A week after moving in Kit receives a visit from the Horns, from the cottages. They bring him a bottle and a lovely lace handkerchief. His name is Kevin. His, Del. He plays Theremin in a jazz band. He's a clothes designer and made the hanky himself.
Every now and then he arrives home to find Kevin sitting on Kit's porch with a six-pack. They both like baseball and so talk about the Pilgrims. Or sex. Kevin tells bawdy jokes. Some about Del. Kit tries not to wonder. Kevin leaves blanks in the dialogue where Kit can enter.
That's kind but no, Kit thinks, no.
Or Horn brings his instrument over and plays something etiolated and blue. The Theremin makes his funny bones tingle.
Before, all Kit's friends were from the greenback game or from the Ivy Club. Sometimes his wife's folks called to ask about.
Kevin and Del are different.
They're low-down and downtown and very polite. They're extremely generous, Kit thinks.
When they ask him over for a party he quickly agrees. It is time to circulate. She turned down three years ago. Her Mom is right; she's not coming back. Isn't this why I moved to The Smokes? Something new? To be in on the bottom floor?
Kit walks toward the Horn's home.
The silver sodium lamps reveal the street as a harbor for dreamers, as in UHF. A small boy rolls a hoop of concertina wire as a girl-his twin? -plays Leva Leva on a toy accordion. A family so Polish they look Eskimo gather in their slim blacktopped side yard to sip fortified sport's drinks and admire their Yankee Whaler, growing out of its pine frame incubator-Mieszkkamy nad morzem, they say-We live at the seaside
Several crows strut down the street like Broadway hoofers, limbering their elastics.
He can hear a boy scream, There's your grace, there is your meal, Jesus, c'mon, give me a feel.
Kit finds Kevin sitting on his cement stoop smoking a corncob pipe of sweet tobacco and hashish. Kevin wears thick black-framed glasses.
Horn-rimmed. he doesn't say. Grouchos. They look on the cheap, fake, rebop. Like the kind that pretends to give you 3-D vision.
The electric smoke absorber is down. We have to puff out here. Dinner will be ready in a few. Sit.
Ik nods. Dinner? Not a party? He becomes aware of the bottle of red tucked under his arm. He passes the wine to Kevin.
There's my man, he says and removes the cork with his thumbnails. Sit a load off. Your day? Mine? I had to go to Orchestratown for some reeds and Del tagged along because it would be a tragedy if we actually parted for even like one freaking hour, right? And on the bus, on the bus Del just couldn't-he could not lose the impulse to put out someone's eye. He had his yellow mechanical pencil, too. Very sharp, that one. So easy to write with. Sharp. Too easy. He began to squeeze, metaphorically speaking, sizing the passengers for a candidate. I glad he shared his dilemma with me. Imagine? Imagine the alternative? We wouldn't be here. No. We'd be at the hospital or at the jail. Del felt like an artist in a garret with a hot quill searching for the sincere vehicle for his genius. So Kevin was faced with a conundrum: was the bus merely a riotous carnival with all the boom-box musics, commerce, and utero theatricality that suggests holiness or did it actually replicate an ancient confluence of the sacred and profane?
The bottle empties. Pipe smoke dissipates like single cel animation.
This talking in the third person? Me? There is a rejection of the integrity of the personality? Troubling. What'd you say? Kevin asks.
I guess it ended well?
We'll see. Hey, don't mention this to Del, he's a bit sensitive about it.
Dinner is asparagus salad, pumpkin soup, and chops.
They retire to the living room for cake and hard cider. Kit can touch the ceiling just on his tiptoes. He loves it.
The walls are covered with Del's lacework, framed.
I don't like to brag, Kevin says, but my darling brings in the big bucks.
I'm not surprised, Kit says. The work is incredible. I can't even guess at the hours it takes... to do it by hand.
He uses a bone bobbin and robin's beak needles.
But the key is? Can I tell Delly?
The key is that he doesn't use cotton or flax or silk.
I use hair, Del says.
Really, Kit says. Like fur?
No, dummy, Kevin says. Human!
Don't be mean, Kit's right. Human hair is fur, too, Del says. Point tresse.
Yes, Kevin says. When we moved in we found a root cellar. All sorts of good stuff down there. Prune juices, papers, books, shoes, a few coins. And a bout two dozen jars of piss yellow hair. Damn beautiful mason jars, Dresden blue.
You called the police?
No, Kit, Del says. The hair was from the brewery. Our wee man, the one who lived here years ago pulled the hair from the machines and saved it. The girls on the line wore their hair long like Veronica Lake, you know? Over one eye, halfway to their ass? The government banned that style during the war. Did you know that? Stuff clogged the cogs. Some girls just lost their tresses while others were dragged into the gears and chewed into dog food. It was a serious problem so Mrs. Roosevelt asked Miss Lake to trim her hair-and she did. And she visited factories all across America to show off her shorn patriotic do. Now, I use the hair for lace. At least that's our guess. That story. Who can really say? I mean, maybe our small man pulled the hair off ladies on the bus, you know? There are guys that do that. It's a real medical condition. Did you know that?
No. Why would he keep the hair?
Did you know that hair is bone? When you die your bones lose mass so it only looks like your hair is still growing, Del says.
Why would he keep the hair?
Yes, Kevin says. He walks to a rack full of CDs and starts to search
No, I'm asking? You see, my wife was small. She had small bones.
Kit feels his electric charges vectoring.
Yes, Del says.
Hours later Kit is awake. He sips brandy. He looks out the window and a sky full of crows and smokestacks.
He starts a fire.
He knows what.
He takes off his clothes and tosses them into the blaze. They smell breath-spent. Naked, he crouches on the ashy wooden floor. Kit puts the handkerchief into his mouth. Chews. Swallows. Tastes the blanched marrow. He chews and swallows.