Originally published in Conjunctions.
ON THE BED behind her. Stefan. Lounging.
She’s out on the ledge, Roxana, and what’s on her mind is whether she should follow through on what she’s been wanting to follow through on for all these past months. Jump? It’s not like she’s one of those super mega hyper self-conscious overly emotionally hypertrophied wrecks prone to sudden–unexpected–grandiose–fits and spats and family-value-meal freak outs. She’s not, at all, melodramatic–sensationalistic–materialistic–sentimental–not like any of the women, and the one she-male, she’s played, with the possible exception of Cassandra Walkens (yeah, they used her real last name) who looks all of the above but isn’t, isn’t shallow, who’s a translator. She’s not like that. Nor is she one of those doped-up mega-wealthy prim donnas who don’t know how to change a faucet let alone what to do with their life and their money and their men (not that there have been, of late, a lot of those). She’s not an airhead. She’s not a twit. No. You might have heard about her, might even know everything there is to know about her like who she’s linked with romantically and professionally and who does her boobs and who bleaches her teeth and who cuts her tank tops and whose embryo’s supposed to be swimming around inside her.
He’s an old friend–well, of a sort. Yeah, he’s a friend with benefits. Currently he’s au naturel. And what a naturel is his au naturel. You’ll be familiar with it from that movie about the pimp and the caviar importer and the one about the boxer, for the last scenes of which he heroically put on thirty-five pounds then shed them right off, and while he’s more transparent than she is, while he’s just like the guys he plays onscreen, regular guys with regular hopes and dreams and your average intelligence but above-average instinct, plus killer abs, they get along swimmingly. Most of the time. Which is not to say they don’t fight, because they do. Last night, for once–a big stinker. Humiliating, he said. Embarrassing. If people see you? Having a fit in a top-end restaurant. People are watching you, he said. They’re taking inventory, Rox.
She’s never taken shit from a guy, besides her Pop. Her Pop she could do nothing except take his shit, and his shit was considerable.
“What?” inquires Stefan from his position on the bed.
She doesn’t hear him. Because she isn’t listening. Because her attention, that ethereal oblivion, was on the crowd that’d formed outside, down below. So many people, and so much activity, it was difficult for her to process exactly what was happening. All she saw, at first, were the cops, plainshirts and uniforms and one or two hulks outfit with FBI windbreakers. Then the pedestrians, dozens of dozens of them, likely tourists. She hated tourists! Clogging the sidewalks when she needed to get out to the limo, ogling her billboards with their disarmingly Minnesotan vacancy.
And lights, so many lights, directed down on the melee from a circling helicopter. And the nightly news lady with her zombie stare–directed right at her. Oh no, she’d been spotted,and just in time for the 11 O’Clock News.
Actress on the ledge, but first the weather.
It’s a brand-new big-name hotel right downtown overlooking the park, and you’d think anti-jumping measures would have been undertaken to prevent people like her from doing what she was about to do. From jumping.
“I’m sorry,” says Stefan to the empty room. “You say something?”
Now might be a good time for a brief run-down of her romantic history. It’s because of her inability to find love, true love, that led to her depression, which in turn led to the downers, which led to the uppers. Plus, this is what’s going through her mind right at this very instant. (Including one-night stands, at least the ones she remembers.) So. Before Stefan came Bill Carter, the entrepreneur (he still calls); before Bill Carter, James Lannon, writer (he also calls, every third weekend); before Lannon, Amanda Sparks, actress (yeah, she’s experimented); before whom came Dean Valencia, sit-com actor (he emails); Dana Banville, actress; Anna Williams, actress; Melissa Jencks, actress (okay, well more than experimented); James Gand, stagehand; Bernard Onn, philosopher; Franklin Gand, James’s brother, who at the time was still in college; Paul Spencks, the mogul; Kent Handson, importer; Ian Topsham, PA at MTV; Benson Thomas, ad guy; Oliver Bands, director; Jenson Davies, Wall Streeter; Mark; Jimmy; Fred; David; Anslem; Bob; Sandy (a guy); Sandy (girl); Claude; Thom; Phillip; Cary; Walter; Tara; Andy; Eric; Richard; Love (yeah, a guy who called himself Love); Robert; Sean; Brian; Michel; Brent; Mark; Alan; Aaron; Christopher; Christophe; Josh; Charles; Anthony; Ryszard; Matthew; and her first kiss (with tongues), Oliver; and her first without, John.
She’s shoeless, out on the ledge, and she could give a damn.
Naturally, because it was that time in her adolescence, she had body issues. Major body issues. Her legs, she felt, were way too coltish, long and elasticky and distorted. Her stomach, she felt, was too chubby, this big sack that stuck way out from the rest of her (slim) (scrawny) body and made her look unappealingly Olive Oil-ish. And her teeth. Her teeth were horse teeth, big and disturbing and like no other teeth she’d seen before, mammal or marsupial. Oh, and her feet. She had gorillas’ feet, big and clompy and, yes, hairy. And calloused and mangled, and they stank, still do.
“Did you say something?” says Stefan, as if he gave a damn in the first place. And then what does he do? Stefan, her friend with benefits, the man who has a wicked temper; the man who, over time, has said less and less to her and been less and less nice to her and less funny and meaner; the man who comes over sometimes with one thing and one thing only on his mind, sex; the man who when he comes over to fuck her and fuck her only says little, if anything; the man who, despite his natural good looks, despite his well-sculpted body, despite his uncanny fashion sense, despite his money, despite his fame, puts less energy into personal hygiene, so that, when he comes over to fuck her and fuck her only, and don’t get the wrong idea originally this was her idea, all she wanted originally was for him to come over and fuck her and fuck her only, when he comes over she’s repulsed, instantaneously, immediately, by his lack of personal hygiene–what does he do? He leaves.
No “Rox? Hey, I’m going to go. Okay?”
No “Hey, Rox, you there? I’m gonna split.”
No “I gotta go, I’m going. ‘K?”
No “Yeah, didn’t know about it earlier, but–it blows–but there’s this meeting I totally just spaced, you know.”
No “Rox, what the fuck–what the fuck are you doing, hey?”
No “Stop–wait–what the fuck what the fuck what the–”
Nothing. Not even “Whatever, man. You just do what you do, bitch. I’m out.”
Just like that, he’s up and dressed and en route toward the door with his gym bag in hand, the one with the neon decal, the decal she made fun of him for having on his gym bag the first time she saw this gym bag, because it’s of a newt, this decal. But is met, right outside the hotel room, by an FBI Task Force officer, Officer O’Malley, who’s iron-sheik fit and smells of cranberry juice with lime spritzer. Also, there’s a state-paid psychologist, Dr. Amy Tanner, who’s wearing a canary-yellow blouse and canary-yellow slacks and canary-yellow pumps and a smile that’s unusually slanted, out and down. They don’t say anything to exiting Stefan, only deadeye him. Who does say something is Patrice Zimm, Roxana’s manager of late, her third in the last half year (yeah, she’s been vacillating; she’s been confused; she’s been a bitch, big time, and no one’s wanted to put up with her). Who, Patrice, has been understandably worried ever since hearing the rumors that the woman at the ledge is, well, her. And who freaks out when he learns (from Officer O’Malley) that the woman on the ledge is indeed, well, her, Zimm’s client.
“What the fuck’s going on here?” asks Zimm. “By the way, you were fucking rad in that movie, whatever-it-was-called. Good job. Had my old lady bawling in her bowl of ziti, man. But seriously, what’s going on here?”
“Oh. Wow. Cool. Thanks, man.”
“No, I mean, seriously, what’s going on here?”
This might sound apathetic and heartless if not downright cruel, but he, Stefan, has no fucking clue. Nor does he wish otherwise. Given the parameters of their relationship of late, why would he? Give a shit. About her being on the ledge. About her contemplating jumping. About her being sad. And frankly he’s still somewhat confused. Because he has no idea, Stefan, what Zimm’s talking about, and can’t, and doesn’t, find out, because Officer O’Malley instructs him, “Please follow Officer Thomas here,” and here emerges one Officer Thomas, a uniformed officer, to take him, Stefan, “to the room over there,” an adjacent room that Stefan sees when he walks in, led by Officer Thomas, has been set up already with computers and a coffee maker and various rescue personnel, and Dr. Amy Tanner’s assistant, Dr. Phoenix, who sits Stefan down and begins interviewing him about Roxana, the jumper. So he bolts. He just ups, blinking rapidly from nervousness, and leaves. Once outside, however, he wishes he’d stayed, or gone out another way. Because here are the cameras, and here’s his face on the cameras, and everyone is asking him, “What’s going on?” “Think she’ll do it, man?” “She OK, or what?” “What’d you do to her?” “Yeah.” “What did you–”
Meanwhile, back upstairs, Officer O’Malley and Dr. Amy Tanner enter room PH1, the room that had been checked out to one “Mary Cassat,” which was one of the three code names Roxana Walkens used when checking into hotel rooms, the others being “Lee Krasner” and “Cindy Sherman.” ?And Dr. Amy Tanner, even though she knows the jumper’s out on the ledge and probably won’t be able to hear, calls out, “Roxana?”
She’s on the ledge, peering over the side, watching the cameras spool around and around and the lights flash and flicker and shine up on her, considering.
The phone rings. Inside PH1. This startles her, so much so that, without meaning to, with at the last moment wishing that this isn’t happening, she begins to wobble. Bad. The world around her begins to spin, bad, and for a minute she loses her footing. Then, miraculously, regains it, miraculously because it’s only in this instant of imminent death–of the threat of actual, impending death–her death–that she decides she doesn’t, not now, want to die, not now or ever. Inside PH1 the phone rings a second time. Her tongue is parched. Why isn’t Stefan answering the phone? There are voices inside. Answer the phone, Stefan. Outside there are sirens and, far away, a car alarm. The phone rings again a third, then a moment later a fourth, time. Whereupon–inexplicably–tragically–she loses her footing again. And this time actually does–inexplicably–tragically–fall. For a moment, an inexplicable, tragic moment, everything’s fuzzed over and blurry, and she’s falling, and the car alarm’s sounding off, and the phone’s ringing, and there are voices and sirens, and she’s falling, down, spiraling, her head feeling like it’s expanding, her body contracting, so that every nerve and fiber, everywhere, is as if it’s zapped by an electric probe, raw, charred. . . .
Then–inexplicably–tragically–she hits her head on something, on the ground.
And fell, as in past tense, because now it’s over.
“Don’t move her!” someone shouts.
“Whatever you do, do.not.fucking.move.her.”
What happened? she wanted to say, if she could say anything. Either she’s dead or alive, she has no idea. How would she? She played that part in that movie, the Dead Angel, but the truth of it was, she had no idea about an afterlife. If it did or did not exist. If she wanted it to exist. And if it did exist, if she wanted to go there.
Would they have patio furniture in the afterlife? She’s surrounded by patio furniture, the cheap, mail-order kind, too. If this is the afterlife, you’d think they’d have better patio furniture.
But maybe it is the afterlife, because nothing at all hurts. Nothing. At all. From the fall. As if she never fell in the first place, she snatches her clothes, green blouse, Diesel jeans, and repairs to the bathroom to dress. Alone. To dress.
There, she turns on the faucet. There’s water. In the afterlife there’s water, so she spritzes, then douses, her face, then fills the sink and submerges her head, half her head. She holds her head underwater to see how long she can go without breathing. She is fully aware that she is still suicidal; that she is still sad; that she aches. She wonders whether she did the right thing, not jumping; wonders if anyone cares, really; wonders why her family’s not here, where’s her mom, why she’s not happily married with a kid and a dog named Spot and a manicured lawn and a mortgage; wonders if maybe, after all, she did do it, did jump, and is now dead; wonders if, if she’s not dead, she should do it; but then the wonder fades and all she thinks about is–jeans. She loves her jeans. She loves the underwear she’s currently not wearing. She loves herself. She gargles, underwater, then lifts her head out and gasps for air. Suddenly, she’s very tired; but knows she must dress, and go, soon.
Nobody follows her. She’s free to go. And because she’s exhausted and because if this is the afterlife it’s freaking her out, she goes straight home. Because she’s exhausted. She takes a black car because in the melee outside her hotel room her driver, Raul, has left her high and dry. Note to self: Fire Raul. So she flags a black car. It’s technically more of a deep-burgundy car, with rust splotches. The driver’s got on nice mambo music, soft, and he doesn’t talk. Until at last, pulling up to her bungalow, he says in a thick foreign, possibly Arabic accent, “Here we are.”
“Here we are,” she says back to him, and goes inside, oblivious to the tabloid photographers snapping night-vision photos of her prancing–because that’s what she is doing, prancing, as though fetching the Oscar she’ll surely win next spring–across her well-manicured front lawn and up her three steps and in, inside. Her cat, Fritz, greets her with a loud meow and a cat-scratch across her ankle. Which on account of her having to tinkle so bad she doesn’t notice. In the days and nights that follow, she hardly ever leaves her house.
Stefan. He’s the one who gets through the security gates. Of course, he has the code but still it feels like he’s trespassing. So he’s in and finds her in the upstairs hallway. Smearing the walls. Madly. Intensely. She doesn’t hear him behind her, such is the mad intensity of her smearing. Stefan having read about Roxana’s suicide attempt in the a.m. tabloids, twice, yet Stefan, being Stefan, and oblivious to all things, comes right up to her despite the mad intensity of her smearing and wraps her in his arms, because for one thing he wants to apologize to her (he was crazy, he lost his mind, he wants more than anything to make it up to her), plus for another thing she looks so sexy smearing paint on the walls and with paint smeared all over her; it’s an animalistic thing; he wants her now. But she breaks his grip, turns right around, eyeballs him, then knees him, hard, in the groin. He looks confused, genuinely shocked, not hurt, not upset. She looks, by contrast, mad, angry, on the verge of tears. Which she is. She’s nearly crying. But doesn’t, not in front of him. He stands there, confused, shocked, watching her watch him. Then run off, smearing day-glo paint everywhere, on walls, banisters. Down the corkscrew stairs and through the kitchen to a back room he, Stefan, has never been to before. So he has a hard time finding it. But when he does she’s not there. He travels the house calling out her name. He looks everywhere, upstairs, downstairs, in the closets, in the garage, even in the trunks of her many cars. Finally he’s about to give up, thinking she’s insane, you can do better than her, she’ll only, over time, wreck you. And he’s out back, onto the patio, the patio that’s by the pool. Perhaps, as a kind of parting gesture, he’ll strip down and go swimming right now. In fact, that’s a great idea. He looks up and because the sun’s so bright all he sees is sun. Until she steps in front of the sun and he sees her. On the ledge.