Tablet Original Fiction: Sent on a gruesome errand, a young man comes undone
But when a beaten crummy magnetic gray Nissan hacked up, it was my turn not to recognize—a different Sruly was behind the wheel. He’d trimmed his beard— trimmed his chin into a gash—and he wasn’t wearing a suit but shivered, in baggy jeans each leg like an unfurled umbrella, and a plain white T whose short sleeves were long on him, no yarmulke but a black baseball cap for no team or even sport I recognized, the mascot this unidentifiable lycanthrope that might’ve been ferocious had its stitching been intact, counterfeit Nikes.
Two women were jammed in back—Russians.
In the mirrors their faces were opposites, reversals. The one he kept pressing into convo with me—“Jon, Nastya’s a massager,” “Nastya, Jon’s into finance”—was wreckingball demolished. His, the one he’d claimed as his, was booming.
I realized this only once we’d reached Long Island, dereclined our seats to check them out. They were a before and after photo come to life, his—the after—in icepick heels, a crowded highrise of augmentation, breasts and butt lifted, into tits and ass, face stretched back like a trowel spread of budget stucco, mine—before, Nastya—basically unremodeled, no balconies or even fire escapes sticking out of her, rather she was a fire escape, a 2×4. They weren’t even Russians but pretending. Sleep with a Russian, wake with a Central Asian. A Tatar. Mongoloidal. Sheepshawled beneath the heaters. Our banquet sprawled between neon sky, caged bay. Russian fare for Russian girls, nothing could’ve been crasser, the same menu they could’ve gotten at home but here so much better because more expensive and not prepared by their mothers, their grandmothers, the mottled dyejobs and artificial clawers they’d become. His, I suspected that even her makeup was tattooed. Nothing can shock a permanent blush. She had a snake writhed around her neck, or I guessed it was a snake because no hood had been inked yet and any rattle slithered only in her cleavage. Her nose was pierced with a metal femur. Nastya was only mildly retarded.
Sruly’s was a lingerie whisper: letting slip about a motorboat (an Atlantis), a plane (an Eclipse), a property he was considering purchasing, a three bed/two bath on Park with garage nursery down below, sports utility vehicles cloyed with booster seats and toys. When the bill came he shuffled his creditcards under the table, cut, slapped one down and when it came back declined, shrugged, settled the meal in cash. He turned to the Mongols, “let’s go back to my friend’s place” (which I was against, but he put a hand to my cheek, spoke Yiddish).
It was his mother’s place, my grandmother’s—the dead woman’s muumuus clumped like lipstick at the corners, her porcelain inventoried on the floor, strewn with manuals of poker lore, $$$$ for gold and silver brochures, a gasmask bong, digiscale.
Sruly slushed his lady down the hall. Nastya had learned enough English to ask which room was mine. Which room was Mom’s, her closet. I tried a door, cleared sponges off a divan—where she kinked herself and was immediately dreaming.
Once Sruly dropped by O’Nan’s and stayed through to closing only to take me to another bar, bars—go through one door, end up stranded out of town at a Pequot keno parlor, where he treated me even drunker only so as to offer a ride back home—only so he’d find out where home was. He was offended, he claimed, by my proximity. He got to know my shifts, knew when the owners came and went, he was unstoppable—showing up without warning to drop off some packages, or pick up others (for and from the only “frummers”—coreligionists, his—who ever came alone and ordered nothing), packages he’d always inspect as to whether I’d opened them and tampered.
Or to take a crap, shave in the sinks.
Once, when the Jeffs were away working some bespoke cabinetry job up the Hudson, I loaned him the apartment to meet a woman. Afro-Hispano but also, I don’t know, Egyptian. He told me to go to the movies. When I came back she was gone. Sruly sat on the futon demanding to know how to switch the function to regular TV. We ordered a veggie pizza, drank the Jeffs’ craft beer.
Just a hunch, but I checked. He’d had sex, or had abused her, in the Jeffs’ bed. Dry blood pilled the covers.
I huffed it to the laundromat up Bedford.
Another time he stopped in at O’Nan’s and asked me to forget a keg—I could but also couldn’t. Yet another time it was a case of liqs—“which case?” “a mix?” and I obliged him some bottles, clears and browns from the well.
The night after, he stopped by the bar to show his gratitude, but I’d been fired. The morning after that he buzzed me, the wallets had become condolences—a handful of vacuolated multipocketed pleathers not Gucci but Gussi, not Prada but Trada.
He said he had an appointment with some genius from the Technion by way of the Mir Yeshiva who’d come up with some technique, apparently, of building a better tire, so it devolved to me to meet this Greek, a new connection.
“Nothing more basic,” he claimed.
All I had to do was meet this Greek at the intersection of Broadway & Worth—“the Broadway in Manhattan.” He’d have a toothpick in his mouth. But he had a toothpick behind each ear and an unlit cigar in his mouth. An accent more than Grecian. He smirked. Either because the bag I’d traded him was for tallis and tefillin, or because the $600 was patched together from rumpled $10s.
I took the parcel home.
The internet translated provenance, function: “Hunan amphetamine for dieters and students.”
Sruly had been so insistent about meeting me directly after that I’d cancelled a counseling session with alumni affairs. He showed, though, only on what was, or what his excuse turned into, the second day of Purim—the night before I filed unemployment.
Sruly took the parcel, wouldn’t pay what he’d promised because I’d broken in and helped myself. But I hadn’t helped myself. Or I had by being curious, that’s all.
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