Babylon

It had to do with the sun shining in February, which it does, and quite a lot, it turns out. He told her: There is more sun in the winter. Who knew? He knew, it turns out, he runs to work each morning. He offered himself this way. It takes a certain man to offer himself this way, a certain comfort.

It had to do with a Jean Rhys book, something about hags, the thought that she would rather end up the hag, that she’d always been a hag. That she was waiting for this: her time.

It had to do with the cut of a jacket, dress pants, the implications of a shoe.

It had to do with a smile, with limitation. It had to do with that.

It had to do with a birthday party, where they’d spent too much time by the balls, talking about transplants.

He was bald, she noticed later, but that wasn’t what he meant.

It didn’t have to do with a heart or a kidney or a liver either, that also wasn’t what he meant. He was a physician; he spoke a certain language.

It was the other city, where she’d lived, where he’d grown up, but in the suburbs, and she knew the suburbs, she’d spent a summer in a home in a town called Babylon. No, that doesn’t seem right, that couldn’t be right, but it is. She was in Babylon that summer, with a woman who’d gone mad, though she wouldn’t say so exactly, just let her husband speak for her, the woman smiling, glazed eyes, smiling, too many meds.

That’s what happens when you move to Babylon, the husband told her, who was the girl in this scenario. He wanted to set her up, the girl, he’d mention it regularly, thought she should meet a nice man, maybe a doctor.

It had to do with that.

He wasn’t from Babylon, now, was he? It couldn’t be that.

You could go to parties at the medical school, the husband would suggest, whoring her out. She thanked him, couldn’t be bothered.

It had to do with that sun, that week, and the unbabies, another unbaby, and so she was ovulating again, and it had to do with that, of course, it had a lot to do with that.

They say women dress better when they’re ovulating. They’re right, she replied. Note the lipstick, she told him.

Because it was after the party, the conversation by the balls, that he said to his wife, we should invite them, or they’re nice, meaning her, meaning her body, meaning something, he couldn’t say what. He felt something. He went to the gym that night, and again the next morning, early.

Just this: we should invite them over sometime.

And it was at the party that he spoke in a way or stood in a way that reminded her of a man named Max, who was her ex, who was an actor, who was also from Babylon.

It had to do with an openness, something that let her in. She was always looking for the opening, the way in, if the way in existed.

It had to do with possibility, which was right there, right there all along.

He was giving her son a piece of birthday cake, and it had to do with that cake. The way he put it on his plate. And the way she stood next to the Professor, speaking of Didion and Sontag, always Sontag, the Professor wondering Why? Why speak of Sontag at a party?

She felt ashamed later, all of that Sontag talk, the Kathy Acker reference, as the boys ate their birthday cake and drank their organic juice. It was as if she couldn’t help herself: Tell me about your book, she begged the Professor, I want to know.

And a little boy then, right there: “Are you a man or a woman?” The Professor didn’t flinch, just ate her cake and answered: “A woman.” The boy said, “You look like a man,” and the Professor, again without missing a beat, but weary now: “That happens sometimes.”

It had to do with her eyes, later he told her that, and they all say that, don’t they, she’d learned this long ago, always the eyes. Openness is located there, in the eyes, he said.

He did not think, he told her.

Though he was someone who usually thought about things, he said.

She did, too, she told him.

Did you?

I don’t know. I felt something.

He looked surprised, happy in a way that was complicated.

Don’t say anything.

He touched her stomach, her hipbone.

Just tell her, or she’ll grow up to write weird literature.

It had to do with the Professor. It had a lot to do with the Professor. It had to do with desire, the Eugene O’Neill sort of desire, the sort that you can’t ignore, that you shouldn’t ignore. It would be wrong to ignore.

That it had to do with Fate would come later.

The Professor who wrote about Didion and The Body in Pain and Jean Rhys and a desire to take her into the other room, to say to her what another Professor, her favorite, once said to her as a schoolgirl: “I think it would be really great if we…”

But instead she said something else, told her the Kathy Acker story, right there over cake: None of us survive, Kathy Acker said, and the Professor loved it. “That’s perfect,” the Professor smiled. It was worth it: that party, that cake. It would all be worth it.

Because you can never say that. He told her later. You can never say that. And so you eat cake, and you admire her response to the insolent boy, and you hold the eyes of the man, the boy’s father, too long.

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