I was waiting for Katie to come back so we could go to the abortion clinic together. On weekends, she goes over to her husband’s place to see her daughter, Jennifer. She won’t divorce Mel, but she chooses to live with me.
She says I’m a better lover because I hold her closely after we do it, savoring the sticky binding of our bodies, our “love honey,” so to speak. She says Mel would always jump up to take a shower after they made love. I suppose that’s one reason why Mel and I are different.
Another difference is that he’s a cost-estimating engineer, a forty-grand-a-year man, and he’s into coke, hash and marijuana. I, on the other hand, am a substitute high school English teacher, and my main drugs are alcohol and writing.
Katie says she doesn’t care about the money difference. She equates my genius with that of the artist, Vincent Van Gogh. We even have a reproduction of his “Starry Night” that hangs above
the couch in our apartment. After my fifth pint of ale, I can
sometimes change into Vincent. I have his reddish beard, and,
God knows, I have
an artist’s heart. Vincent was also a sucker for women he couldn’t afford to keep. Katie has metaphorically cut off my ears on many occasions, and the symbolic blood flows
down my body to seek out the hidden vodka and gin bottles that she leaves around our groovy garret.
Katie has hit me only once. She threw
one of her gold-plated Persian serving trays at my forehead. It struck me right in my “third eye,” between my two other
blue ones. I smiled over at her pretty Irish frown, blood spouting down my rather long nose (my grandfather was Jewish), and said, “I think I’ve attained enlightenment.” Too many drinks make me pretty much of a mystical guru, if you want to know the naked truth.
On the other hand, I teach
adolescents who seem to have some problems of their own. But
the system often lets me give them Pace tests, and they read and answer
questions, alone, at their own rate of speed. While they are busy
teaching themselves about the
write my stories about young hustlers in
When my parents died in an automobile crash, I was fifteen. My father was drunk, and the flying pane of glass from the windshield cut off my mother’s head. That was before General Motors perfected the science of shatter proofing. I wonder if God can do the same for our minds?
I went to work after that,
and eventually I earned a teaching credential from the state college
plays by then and dozens of other writers as well.
Katie in an Irish Pub called Monahan’s in
Patrick’s Day, and the guy who sang in the bar began to sing “Starry Starry Night” by Don McLean. I told Katie that I would cut off my ear if she would kiss me. I
didn’t, and she did, so we moved in together.
I don’t drive, so I spend a lot
of time in the apartment. I get rides to teaching jobs from
other substitutes. They are always older than I, and their clothes
are usually Wal-Mart or Sears Roebuck suits. I always wear the
same thing: brown corduroy
jacket, white shirt and tie, and black 501’s. Substitute English teachers get away with murder in the dress code department.
I was thinking about all these things, and was
on my third pint of ale, when Katie came back from Mel’s place. I knew she must have already tanked up at the liquor
mart down the street, because she stormed through the door, rattling her precious étagère that I had drunkenly fallen into twice since we moved in together. Glass accidents must be genetic.
“I see you’re getting blasted, as
usual,” said Katie, throwing down her green felt leprechaun’s hat
on the couch and sitting next to me. She wore Guess jeans and
a red, long-sleeved sweater. Whenever Katie begins to drink,
her green eyes look like the abyss that Zen Buddhists talk about. “I have something for you, James. Mel won’t miss
it. He smuggled over a pound of the shit when we got out of
She tossed me a small wad of aluminum foil. I opened it to find an inch-square of hard brown hashish.
“It’s got opium in it too,” she said, wrinkling up her pixie nose. “I hate the stuff. It makes me sleepy.”
must admit I was intrigued. I knew the history of Katie and
Mel, and their year and a half in
stuff when you tried to teach them English?” I asked, remembering that William Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey and Lord Byron all had magnificent “visions” under the influence of opium from the exotic East.
“Sure they did,” said Katie, “they put it right in their cigarettes. Jen and I were on a bus one time and one of the men asked me in Farsi if he could buy my daughter. She was six years old—for god sakes! We have a different culture. Jimmy. Mel’s company public relations man was murdered because he kept booze in the office, treated the Iranians like slaves, and never learned a word of Farsi. At least I was teaching them English before they burned down the school house.”
I picked up the hash pipe from
the coffee table and packed it with some of the drug. “There’s
an Iranian in my creative writing class who says the mullahs now give
out heaven certificates for those ignorant peasants recruited to serve
on the front lines against
Katie laughed. She enjoyed my wit, even on a day when she had to go to her own abortion. I sucked deeply on the pipe and held in the opium-hash mixture for a minute or so before exhaling. I was pretty nervous about going to the abortion clinic, so I smoked several more bowls before we left. A quote from De Quincey’s “Confessions of an English Opium Eater,” is appropriate here, even though I have to dig around for my text. Here is the quotation:
the anarchy of dreaming sleep, callest into sunny light faces of long-buried
beauties, and the blessed household countenances, cleansed from the
dishonors of the grave. Thou only givest these gifts to man;
and thou has the keys of
My story takes on a significant turn from here on, and I hope the reader will bear with me. My father was an Englishman, and my mother was a bastard Jewess-Irish wench. And, that day, I was an American opium eater on his way to his first abortion.
My mind was expanding
as we drove the freeway into
watched as Katie extracted a small bottle from her purse and brought
it to her lips. “Are you drinking a potion, my love?” I asked,
as our road curved upward into
the fluffy-white clouds above La Cienega overpass.
“You’re paying for this abortion, James,” said Katie, and her words echoed inside my being. “Abortion” seemed to me to be some mystical quest, like the Fountain of Eternal Youth.
my darling,” I heard myself saying, as we turned off onto
But then, just as quickly, the sights and sounds along the
street brought me storming back to reality. Dirty and listless
people were trudging along the sidewalk, like the walking dead. “Tombstones in their eyes,” just like the Jimi Hendrix song. The child Katie now carried would probably thank her if it could. After all, she knew the dangers of drinking during pregnancy. She worked for a doctor in
and deformed bodies. She herself had been a premature infant. Her freckled, Irish arms were slender and short for her body and her green eyes flashed the brilliance of the abyss.
Katie suddenly began
to rub her hands together, and she chuckled out loud. “Who wants
to bring a deformed kid into this world? So I’m a murderer,
cares? God hates me anyway.”
The inside of the abortion clinic was dark, guarded and
gothic, a Rue Morgue if I ever saw one. Matronly women in dark
street clothes walked to and from the reception
area with clipboards in hand, opening, shutting and locking doors as they quietly escorted their female clients, who were gathered inside the main room like horror movie
actresses at casting call. Oblivious to the motion around us, we focused our attention on our personal roles in this drama of life and death.
I sat down on a long bench parallel to the
waiting room proper but outside its confines. I kept crossing
and uncrossing my legs as Kate checked in at the reception
desk. I could swear the women who worked at this job were out to get me. If they smiled, I could picture bloodstained canines ready to puncture my jugular veins.
There were now three other women in the waiting room who were younger than Katie. One was fourteen or fifteen. A rigid, surreal doll, wedged between her parents, she wore a purple jumpsuit with matching spiked hair that made her look like a character in a Star Trek re-run. Two black women in their twenties sat next to the reception desk, chain-smoking, and restlessly leafing through copies of MS Magazine. They were obviously hookers, sporting brilliant, red-sequined mini-skirts, with large, ruby-red lips and crimson, hoop earrings that dangled back and forth as they kept up a constant banter of high-voiced chatter.
Kate was assuming her “doctor’s
daughter” role, the same velvety-smooth attitude she used on the job.
I knew alcoholics are the best actors in the world. It is their
painful defense against a grim reality they refuse to accept.
Katie wore a thin smile when she came over and sat beside me on the bench. “It’ll cost $250. You know, those two hookers were saying how they’ve had eight abortions between them. What the hell kind of birth control is that? And that poor kid looks like she’s going to her own execution.”
I took Kate’s hand and squeezed it. It was moist and clammy. “What about you, honey? How do you feel right now? Aren’t you frightened?”
Her lips turned down at the corners and her pools of green abyss sparked back at me. She finally lowered her eyes and sighed. “Jimmy, I’m leaving you after this is over. I can’t take anymore of this insanity. I was raised in a cozy doctor’s family, don’t you see? I went to private schools and I need some security—not a bunch of lousy pipe-dreams.”
I began to feel anger well up inside me. “So, now you’re on the rich-bitch
routine again. You seem to forget, my darling Irish. I’m
the one with the degree from
college and the credential. I didn’t tell you to get knocked up. You didn’t say you were off the pill. I made it this far on my own, dammit, and I’ll be screwed if I’ll give up now. And I’ll be a writer on my own too—I don’t need you or anyone else.”
One of the stocky women from the clinic took Katie by the arm. “The doctor will see you now, Ms. Spencer.” She then turned to me and gave me a cold stare. “You can pay at the front desk,” she said.
I watched as the woman took Kate through the thick brown door leading into the rear operating rooms. Another woman closed the door behind them and locked it.
I walked over to the reception desk and raised my eyebrows over at the two hookers. “Franz Kafka would adore a castle like this. Tell me, who performs the abortions—Gregor Samsa?”
The teen-aged receptionist gave me a puzzled look and took the cash I handed her. “Why, Doctor Rothman is a fine physician. We’ve never had a mishap here, as a matter of fact. Please sign and date this form, sir.”
I returned to
the bench and sat down. I was afraid that Kate would really
leave me this time. It wasn’t the first time she had threatened
to leave and go back to her husband. In fact, I suspected she
visited him, anyway, on a regular basis. Mel knew we lived together,
but he was too heavy into his drug scene to really give a shit. Kate
would often come back to the apartment with a silence that was deafening. She would just drink steadily until she got angry and bitched about the poverty she had to live in, and then she passed out. I was thankful for the times she passed out so I could write and drink in peace.
felt a tug at my sleeve. The big woman had returned. “Ms. Spencer
says she wants you to be with her during the procedure. You may follow
me.” I thought I saw
a smirk on the woman’s pasty-white face. Nonetheless, I stood up and followed her through the big door.
* * *
Katie was already poised in the stirrups when I entered the room. The operating area was perhaps ten feet across and fifteen feet long. The odor of disinfectant filled the air, and I had to swallow hard to keep from gagging. She was in her twelfth week—just under the gun, so to speak—but I pictured the process of development in my head:
By the twelfth week, motion becomes specialized, coordinated and graceful. The baby performs like a skilled aquabat, mastering summersaults safe in his warm pool of amniotic fluid.
He can kick his legs, turn his feet, curl and fan his toes, make a fist, move his thumb, bend his wrist, turn his head, squint, frown, open his mouth and press his lips tightly together, and swallow. She will realize that in every respect, from the seventh week onward, the fetus remarkably resembles a human adult.
What happened next was something that could
have been described during the Inquisition. Kate and I once
took a walking tour through an exhibit of Inquisition Torture Instruments
Kate once used a plastic speculum on herself to show me what a cervix looks like. Drunks have strange ways of entertaining themselves, do they not? She perched her legs up on the coffee table, with her butt on the couch, and opened her vagina with the two “duck bills” of the speculum. She had first lubricated the bills with olive oil (viva Italiana!). She explained, rather perfunctorily to me as she inserted the speculum, “Jimmy, most women never get to see their own cervix. And, a man is rarely permitted this view. I want you to say four Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys before you look, okay?”
She then took a small mirror and held it beneath her buns so it reflected the view insider her orifice. “Get your ass down here and look, goddamit! I can’t hold this thing forever!”
I reluctantly put
my ale can on the table and crawled down onto the floor, quite dog-like,
and peered into the mirror. It was rather like
“Look at my cervix, you idiot!” she slurred. “It looks just like a fucking penis! Check it out!”
She was right! I could see a rounded object, fleshly pink, into which a small hole was punctured. “Hey, I thought your love button was supposed to be like a penis!” I observed, in typically male chauvinist fashion.
“You mean my clitoris? Yeah, right, Jim. The os is the hole you’re seeing, and it’s the entrance to the uterus. If a woman is fertile, there will be fertile mucus at the os, to guide the sperm in, but if she is not fertile at this time the sperm meet an impenetrable barrier of infertile mucus, which they cannot make their way through, and they die in the natural acidic environment of the vagina. This tiny opening is also the same opening where a baby is born through. The os has to open up, dilate, to a size where the mother can push the baby's head through. It’s hard to imagine something so small can open so much!”
After picturing myself as Woody
Allen dressed as a sperm waiting to be injected into the cervix in,All You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, I gently
put down the mirror in Kate’s hand and asked her to release the duck-bills
from their capturing position. I heard an audible click, and
my penis grew, and grew, rather like
same “click” brought me back to the abortion room in
I wondered what the Inquisitors had sung when they administered their varieties of tortures? Perhaps a little Crusade ditty from the Middle Ages? “I Wanna Hold Your Yarmulke?”
When the fetus and accompanying entourage were vacuumed out of Kate’s body, I began to feel deathly nauseous. There was no room for humor anymore in my private hell, and the “demon” the good doctor had exorcised was a part of me! The last thing I remember before I keeled over was the song he was singing, “A Taste of Honey”:
Yours was the kiss that awoke my heart, there lingers still, 'though we're far apart, that taste of honey! Tasting much sweeter than wine. I will return, yes I will return, I'll come back for the honey, and you!
Following reading experiences such as Camus' The Stranger (originally entitled, more appropriately,The Outsider), James Musgrave began his own odyssey to become a published author of "radstream" prose. His nonfiction title, The Digital Scribe: A Writer's Guide to Electronic Media (1996), was his attempt to teach techies how to write with their entire brains, and his three novels soon followed in an attempt to teach humans how to read with their brains damaged by American "bestsellers." His published novels include: Sins of Darkness, Russian Wolves, and Lucifer's Wedding. His short fiction has been published in Outsider Ink, California Quarterly, San Diego Writer’s Monthly,and Cowles Mountain Journal. He presently teaches collegiate humans in San Diego how to think (and hopefully write) with their brains damaged by the American K-12 system. His motto: Carpe nocto!