Thursday, June 9, 2022

“Works in Progress”

Araminta sat tapping away at her work in progress (latest title: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Decay). As usual she had simply picked up the story following the last words she had written, which in this case had been:

“Damn Kenny! Damn him and all he stood for! How dare he criticize her poetry when his own prose was so leaden and boring? And who cared about his wretched Bildungsroman, so obviously based on his own humdrum and unimaginative life? Arabella felt the need to stretch her wings. To fly. To soar! But to where?”

With that promising taking-off point, she had had no problem in filling a dozen or so pages in the space of a couple of hours.

She glanced at her desk clock. Four on the dot. Well, that was quite enough for one day’s work! She had read once in a New Yorker profile of one of her favorite novelists (Margaret St. John Maxwell, author of Sisters of Sappho, Cast Caution to the Wind, and The Girls Who Live Upstairs) that she always quit work when “she still had a little gas in the tank”, and ever since Araminta had followed this method, often ceasing her day’s labor in the middle of a sentence, or even a word.

The Philco played a Beethoven quartet, and outside Araminta’s window the rain fell. She wanted a cigarette, but she was out. Fortunately, she still had some muggles, and so she set to work rolling a reefer, which reminded her of Gerry’s Bull Durhams, which reminded her of Gerry.

Dear Gerry, it had been so kind of him to check in on her yesterday when she had been so monstrously hungover, to bring her doughnuts and hot cocoa. Such a kind man, and too bad he was in his late forties and plump.

Today she felt so much better. Amazing what a day in bed followed by a long good night’s sleep could do.

Someone knocked on her door, and then it was Terry’s voice.

“Hello? Araminta? It’s me, Terry.”

Oh, God. Terry.

“Araminta? Are you there?”

She sighed, but got up and walked to the door and opened it. Terry was standing there in his raincoat and holding his umbrella.

“Hi, there, I hadn’t heard from you so I thought maybe you would like to go down to Bob’s for a drink.”

“I am never touching alcohol again.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because the night before last I went out with Gerry Goldsmith and got horribly plastered and subsequently felt like warmed over death almost the entire next day.”

“Wait, you went out with Gerry Goldsmith? The Brain?”

“Don’t call him that.”

“What should I call him?”

“I call him Gerard.”

“So you went out with him?”

“Yes, I did. Can you blame me?”

“Why should I blame you?”

“Since you think my breasts are mismatched, what would you care?”

“I don’t think your breasts are mismatched.”

“The girl in your novel has mismatched breasts.”

“Oh. You read that part?”

“I did indeed, while you were at your creative-writing workshop.”

“Oh.” He knew he should have left that part out. “But that’s the girl in my novel,” he tried. “She’s not meant to be you.”

“Her name is Annabella and she wears black stockings and a black beret.”

“Oh, well, um –”

“My name is Araminta, and, as you can see, I am fond of wearing black stockings and a black beret.”

“Many girls wear black stockings and black berets.”

“What do you want, Terry?”

“I just wanted to see you.”

“So you can get more material for your stupid novel?”

“Do you really think it’s stupid?”

“No, stupid is perhaps too strong a word. Insipid. Derivative. Boring.”

“You told me you liked it.”

“I lied.”

“You’re very cruel.”

“You were cruel to put me in your boring novel, and you know what? I showed my breasts to Gerard and he said they were completely symmetrical.”

“You showed him your breasts?”

“Why not? You know I am a free spirit.”

“Yes, but still, there are limits, Araminta.”

“Oh, take your Irish Catholic limits and, and –” she remembered a phrase that one of her Vassar friends (Claire who was from Virginia) liked to say, ”stick them where the sun don’t shine!”

“But I love you.”

“You think you do, and for a very simple reason.”

“What is that?”

“I talked to you.”

This hit home. They both knew there was a lot of truth in what she said. Maybe not the complete truth, but a lot of it. Enough for the present moment, anyway.

“Can you forgive me?” said Terry.

“There is nothing to forgive. You cannot help being what you are.”

“And what is that?”

“A drip.”

“A drip?”


“So does this mean you’re breaking up with me?”

“Define breaking up.”

“Well, does it mean that you no longer want to, uh, how shall I put it, uh –”

“If you mean do I never want to see you in your underwear again, yes, that it precisely what I mean.”

“Hey, wait a minute.”


“You’re not actually seeing the Brain, are you?”

“Define seeing.”

“Are you, uh, you know, um –”

“Seeing him in his underwear?”


“Good day, Terry.”

“So you don’t want to go for a drink?”

“I just told you I am never touching a drop of alcohol again!”

“How about a cup of coffee?”

“Terry, you’re being very tiresome, and I’m trying to write my novel.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Well, maybe I’ll stop by tomorrow, just to, you know, see how you’re doing.”

“Goodbye, Terry.”

She closed the door.

Terry went down the hall to the staircase, down the two flights to the foyer, and opened the door. The cold rain was clattering down, and the grey mountain ranges of snow seemed hardly to have melted at all since yesterday. He opened his umbrella.

He had never had a girlfriend before, and so a girl had never broken up with him before. It was sad, but on the other hand it occurred to him that he now had a good new plot point for his novel (latest title: Young Chap, Whither Goest Thou?). 

He opened his umbrella and stepped out into the lashing cold rain, and as he walked down Bleecker toward the corner of the Bowery, he composed in his brain:

“And so he opened his umbrella and stepped out into the cold lashing rain, out into the cold grey street with the cold rain lashing down on the grey mountain ranges of dirty snow. Alone. Alone again. Or had he ever not been alone?”

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

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