from Open City (1991)


      "I don't know what you mean," Catherine said. "I would go anywhere in the world with you, even to Istanbul."

      Ned glanced at her with a glazed expression. "Paris is far enough," he breathed, lying prone on Catherine's purple silk sheets while Catherine's head bobbed at the edges of his view. Catherine stood up and went to the kitchen to get a refill of wine for herself. She returned, swaying, and stood in the doorway. "You're so beautiful, Ned. You're beautiful. "

      Ned focused his eyes on her, thinking of all the other times Catherine, drunk, swayed in doorways with her dress in disarray and her face smudged and sorrowful.

      He opened his arms and Catherine fell into them, sighing. "Kiss me," she whispered. He pressed his lips to Catherine's forehead, her temples and the shells of her ears. He ran languid and cool fingers through Catherine's toussled dark hair and felt on his flattened wrists her earring's hanging stones. "Kiss me," Catherine said, beads of sweat forming on her face. "My lips, Ned. Lips."

      Ned pushed her away, turned over on his side away from her and looked out the window at the East River and a barge which just then sailed into view, towing a block of garbage bound downriver to Staten Island. The red-ringed industrial chimneys of Queens billowed white smoke. Clouds of grey strolled along the sky. Ned wondered what it would be like to be a cloud going for a walk around the world. Of course it dissipated and became rain, falling on soil or concrete. But then it renewed itself and continued, persisted, and stepped on no toes. An image from the past came to mind--that of a young boy tying the shoelaces of his father, too fat to bend over. Ned remembered Catherine's large feet moving in a fiery flamenco dance to the tragic summary of a twelve string guitar.  Her feet stamped down loudly on the tile floor. Her red lit-up face offered to the crowds with a passion that was so hungry it compelled all to consume her. The fringes of her many-layered skirt encircled her turning shape like a boomerang riding the parameters of a field. Her ample arms thrown up and her fingers splayed suggested flowers. He, a waiter then, had stood watching in the shadows, off to the side, unobtrusively. Tray in hand, he would soon go round, cleaning the tables.

      He bent low out of jealousy and spilled nothing, out of fear, as Catherine entranced everyone.

      "Catherine," Ned said, reaching out to her soft shape and pulling her close. Their smells mingled; their bodies grew fluid and warm. They rolled around the queen size bed, struggling for intimacy, then lay huddled together silent.

      Soon, Catherine lifted her heavy body up. There was the sound of shower water. Catherine liked long, long very hot showers. Ned picked up a magazine and started to read.

      He closed his eyes and sat, waiting. For swirling fringes. A patient man, he read his magazine slowly and carefully.

      Catherine emerged from the shower sobered up by the steam. She went over to the bar and poured a glass. Then giving a low cynical laugh, she retreated into the bedroom.

      "What's wrong?" Ned said, bewildered. "Why do you drink so much?"

      He went over to Catherine and helped her zip up her dress.

      "Why am I not helping you? Why can't we just be happy?"

      Catherine put her hand on his cheek and whispered gently, "You sweet and simple thing." Ned fell back as if she had hit him. He went to the door and said, "I'm going for a walk."

      "Don't," Catherine said.

      Ned shrugged, shutting the door behind him.

      Catherine picked up a cigarette from an antique gold case. Now that the room was free of Ned's presence, she felt at peace. With steady hands, she smoked in quiet, leaning on one foot, cradling one arm. Once finished, her fingers, free, searched for another. She looked outside at the view of billowing clouds and at the tidal river sloshing waves up the embankment, wondering at her excessive temerity in dealing with matters of truth.

      Some weeks ago, she had begun to find Ned's lips repugnant. Rather than admit that to him, she had grown more needy. Rather than explain to Ned that she no longer loved him, she had become grasping and panic-stricken. Catherine picked up yet another glass of wine and sank her soul in it.

      Where was Ned? This waiting, she felt, as the liquid hit the bottom of her belly, would kill her.