More by Michel Méry: samples of his two books.
by Michel Méry

I thought I would always, among other things, remember the morning
she and her uncle got off a Greyhound bus at the depot on Main
while I was having my breakfast at Carl's Diner right across the
street. Kenneth K. Killingston was to take over the position of
headmaster at the Holy Redemption School, and his arrival had been
announced in the local newspaper, The Hickstown Gazette. However,
nothing in the article hinted at the joint arrival of his niece
Samantha. A forkful of scrambled eggs remained suspended in mid air
as she appeared in the frame of the bus door. At first, I thought
she was just getting off for a cup of coffee or something, and
would get back on soon to proceed on her voyage to the West Coast,
most probably. She -- be it for a transient pee-stop -- seemed as
out of place on Hickstown's Main as Jerry Brown was in the 1988
presidential campaign. She wore black netted stockings barely
topped with a red velvet mini skirt that hid nothing of the perfect
contours of her Calvin Klein behind, a tight black gauze blouse,
and a wide black witch's hat such as the county girls dare wear
only on Halloween nights. While they were both retrieving their
luggage from the side of the bus and talking animatedly to each
other, it became obvious to me that she, perched on stiletto heels
and towering over him by at least half a head, was accompanying the
middle-aged, burly, respectable looking gentleman, whose rosy face
and sparse graying hair had somewhat reassured our community when
his color photograph had been published alongside the article in
the Gazette.
     For a few weeks prior to the arrival of our new schoolmaster,
our town had been quite anxious about the matter. For some of us,
it even verged on the worst of fears. Had he a subscription with
The Village Voice? Was he gay? Would he try to enforce onto our
school board new policies of student selection, brandishing the
banner of Affirmative Action for a nonexistent quota of minority
students? Such suspicions stemmed from the fact that his biography
published in the Gazette -- despite its mentioning that he was a
native of Syth's Cove, hardly fifty miles from here, and that his
relocation was a long coveted desire to return to the home country
-- had mentioned his former career as a principal at one of the New
York City public schools. But our fears about his sexual
preferences dissipated somehow when we had learned through hearsay
that Kenneth K. Killingston was undoubtedly a straight man, since
his endeared wife of twenty-five years had quickly passed away last
spring in the hands of the finest cancer specialists at New York's
Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. As for his political views, he soon
proved them to be of the liking of most of our townsfolk, for he
did not remove the JESUS RAVES and GUN BUFFS' FUN bumper stickers
from the second-hand station wagon he bought at Doug's Automotive
the day after his arrival, and he chose, on back-to-school day,
Newt Gingrich's To Renew America as a reading assignment for his
eleventh and twelfth grade English classes after ordering himself
fifteen copies of the book at Jock's bookstore for those students
who could not afford it.
     But it would take more time for people to accept the presence
of his alleged niece. Even though he reportedly explained to some
of his new neighbors on Faith Row that Samantha was the orphaned
daughter of his sister Ruth and her husband Bill, both killed a few
months before in a freak automobile accident on the New Jersey
Turnpike, people could not help resenting the comings and goings of
the seemingly idle and -- always -- skimpily clad young woman.
Sure, the weather we were having here must have been there for
     Until around mid-September, the thermometer hovered between 85
and 90 degrees, and that alone was enough for the most liberal
representatives of our community to not avoid greeting her as they
ran into her on the street or at the mall, but as the temperature
went down after a series of big thunderstorms and they met her as
skimpily dressed as ever, having barely replaced her netted
stockings with black satin tights and her gauze blouses with very
fitting red or black cotton bodices, they, too, stopped civilities
altogether. Not that the townsfolk -- especially the male half of
them -- would never have, at some time or other, liked to address
her in order to, at least, know more about her, but occasions to
meet her out of neighbors' or friends' sight were practically nil,
and none of us dared. Worst of all, she seemed not to be working,
and, obviously, not looking for a job. None of the shopowners had
turned down a job application from her, even though a couple of
them had, just for the hell of it, posted help wanted ads in their
window right when they spotted her coming down the street. She did
not seem to be a student either, since she never left town for one
of the nearby colleges. In fact, she did not even drive her uncle's
station wagon, and when she was not on foot, she rode a black
mountain bike or whooshed down the streets on roller skates as she
had probably done in New York City's Central Park. When she rode,
she wore a pair of loose black cotton shorts that the wind blew so
far back on her hips that you could see her -- most frequently
black -- panties, panties not wide enough to hide from view the
edge of her -- shaved, as some football fans asserted at Joe's bar
during commercial breaks -- pubic hair.
     The tension and uneasiness reached a paroxysm when she
actually walked into Joe's bar. The first time she did, Joe kept
wiping the same glass the whole time she stayed there, observing
her reflection in the mirror over the bar, leaving it up to Cindy
to wait on her. That evening, all conversations stopped as she
pulled the door open, and even the erratic flight of the flies in
the bar seemed to come to a standstill. Of course, for most of us
regulars, this would have been the occasion to get a closer look at
her, other than just oggling her from afar on the street, but no
one even seemed to venture a quick glance. They kept staring at
Joe's back, or at Cindy's plump forearms in the process of pouring
her a glass of draft beer, or at the TV that was all the while
blaring a Toyota, then a Ford, then a Subaru, then a Hyundai, and
finally a couple of chicken and burger commercials. I was there
that day, and I was the only one to stutter a "Hello", to which she
answered with a very civil smile, which gave me the opportunity to
better detail her face, since I was sitting on the stool right next
to the one she'd chosen to sit on. She did not seem as young as she
looked from a distance. She seemed to be closer to thirty than I
had thought. As she smiled, nascent wrinkles at the corner of her
lips and around her slightly asymmetrical eyes made her face even
more mysterious and spellbinding. She had a slightly crooked nose
and high cheekbones that, under the wide brim black hat she was
wearing again that day, could reinforce the idea that there was a
witchlike air about her. She had a tan skin, but her features were
definitely those of a white girl, not of a remotely colored person
like some of our townsfolk had suspected her to be. As she smiled
at me, my stare plunged into her fairly small breast and I could
notice for sure that she was not wearing a bra. Then my eyes
plunged further down to her thighs, and that's when it happened. I
mean an erection from her I could not get rid of for several hours,
until I could, in the recess in my private chambers, release myself
of the devilish tension. When she left the bar, Joe finally dropped
the glass he was wiping, and the flies and conversations started to
buzz again. Someone made the point that she looked a trifle too old
to have just followed her uncle after the accidental death of her
parents, and another added something to the effect that she
probably could have made a decent living all on her own around
Times Square. And then they started teasing me for having tried to
socialize with her.
     She came again to the bar. Always in the evening at about the
same time, around seven. And each time, the same thing happened --
or did not happen. No one present would dare or deign to greet her,
and I, who had come at the same hour with the intention of striking
up a conversation with her, wouldn't either. When she saw me, she
would smile at me anyway, but, from fear of being badgered
afterwards by the other regulars, and also from fear of being
unable to utter anything other than some salacious remark about the
way she looked, I would keep my mouth shut until the moment she
left the bar, right after finishing her beer.
     Of course, I tried to approach her so I could talk to her out
of everybody's sight. And I am pretty sure others did, too, since,
while I was myself scouting Faith Row in the hopes of seeing her
come in or go out of their house at number 50-62, I encountered
sometimes an unexpected traffic jam there. When she was spotted out
shopping, there was always a few of us to walk right on her heels
into the same store, but, as soon as we saw that we were not alone
in having had the same sudden urge to browse amidst paper towels
and shampoos at Lee's pharmacy, or, elsewhere, amidst fruit and
vegetables or tools and electrical appliances, we would slip out of
the store and avoid each other's look back on the sidewalk, trying
our best to look unconcerned and not show our demonic, beastly
agitation. As was to be expected, this state of affairs created, as
days and weeks passed, a somewhat uneasy -- and sometimes poisonous
-- atmosphere in town.
     We all grew more and more suspicious of one another's unclean
desire to socialize with her, and I am not just speaking of us
young or youngish unwed males. A few of our elders also happened to
put themselves in fairly uncomfortable positions. Didn't one see,
for instance, Mike the butcher, a father of four and the Editor-in-
Chief of the monthly parochial bulletin The Hickstown Christian
Family Watch, walk straight behind her to the cigarette counter at
the drugstore on the corner of Main and Pearl and come out with a
carton of Virginia Slims, when everybody knew he was a fierce
reformed smoker whose righteous pleas had contributed to the city
council's decision to ban smoking in Wessutah Park that his house
overlooked? Or Ol' Dan Tugger, a former long-haul trucker confined
to a wheelchair since his involvement in a dreadful wreck up North,
suddenly steer and wheel right across Main as he spotted her on the
other side of the street, barely escaping being hit by an oncoming
trailer? And the worst seemed about to happen the Sunday morning
she stepped into the Lutheran church as Pastor Jeremiah Kossak was
delivering his homily. The pastor stopped in the middle of a
sentence and, pointing a finger at her, warned the faithful:
"Beware! Here cometh the whore of Babylon!" As always, she was
scantily wearing her devilish colors, and, in addition, she was
toting a SLR camera. She probably intended to take pictures of the
inside of the church, a fairly interesting late eighteenth century
edifice, as she had been seen doing around other sundry spots in
town. The truth be told, never before that day had she been seen in
any church in town, even though her uncle was regularly attending
Sunday morning service at The Heavenly Voice evangelical church.
That alone, it goes without saying, would have explained people's
reticence toward her and avoidance of direct contact with her, even
if she had more inconspicuously dressed, filled out job
applications, and bought the 1989 red Pontiac Trans-Am that Doug
had had on display at his garage since the day her uncle had bought
the station wagon. And there she was, entering a church for the
first time since her arrival, and visibly not with the intention of
paying her respect to the Almighty! When the young John Wayne
Hobbitt, seventeen, son of Pete and Laurren Hobbit from Hoolalah
Road, stood up, shouting: "You ain't gonna stay here, are you?" a
somewhat keener observer could have noticed that the nine
millimeter automatic he'd just pulled from his belt was not the
only protuberance about him that was pointing in her direction. In
the seconds that followed, several others imitated him, until the
inside of the church looked more like the inside of a police
academy shooting range.
     Surprised, she looked around and stood there for a moment,
seemingly wondering if she was really at the origin of the
commotion. She looked at the pastor, who was still pointing his
finger at her, and then back at the menacing mob, and then back at
the pastor again before she walked out of the church without even
having tried to take a picture. I was there that Sunday morning,
and I followed her outside. I had not pulled a gun, but my swollen
member seemed so close to firing that I did not even think twice
about it. If not in her, I had to shoot the salvo now, but it had
to be anywhere but right there, in the face of the Lord. Once
outside, I saw her jump on her bike and disappear down the street.
As she pedaled away, hunched over her handlebar to gather more
speed, I saw her naked crotch under her loose shorts. I dove into
my car parked on the church lot, and, in a matter of seconds, the
dashboard and the windshield looked as if they had been soaped up,
but not rinsed yet.
     The incident at the church, added to my first attempt at
striking up a conversation with her at Joe's bar, surely ostracized
me quite a bit from the rest of the community. People would hardly
talk to me at work at the local Wal-Mart, and most of those I came
across on the street did not respond to my greetings. Then I would
hear disparaging comments behind my back. I became so ashamed of
myself that I stopped hanging out at Joe's bar, or at the mall, and
I drove more than fifty miles back and forth to Painsville to go
shopping, much as I had done the year before for several weeks
after I got fired from my previous job at Miller's Mortgage &
Loans. The next Sunday, I did not go to church. It was beyond my
strength. And this made things even worse. Some started to openly
bully me, and, one morning, I found my car with all four tires
punctured with bullet holes and the hatchback sprayed with the
explicit message: WHORE LOVER.
     There was at least one person in town who did not seem to
acknowledge the presence of Samantha, be it with scorn, conceit, or
mere feigned indifference. It was her uncle Kenneth, the school
headmaster. In the first place, nobody ever saw him anywhere in her
company. It seemed, in fact, that the only person who had seen them
together was me, right after they had got off the bus at the depot
on the morning of their arrival. That morning, when I motioned
Bill, the bartender, a little belatedly I must say, mesmerized as
I was by the disembarking apparition, to throw a glance at them --
and especially at her for that matter -- it took him too much time
to revolve on his heels, busy as he was with the grilling of French
toasts, to be able to see them before they disappeared around the
corner. And I'm pretty sure no other customers noticed them since
there were very few at that early hour -- I was going to start my
morning shift at six -- and since I heard none of them talk about
the event afterwards.
     Their neighbors on Faith Row, the McDonnels, who had allegedly
launched the nice uncle and niece story soon protested, when pumped
for more information, that they had never done so. They purported
that, like everybody else, they had only come to believe in that
story after hearing it from other people, be it from friends, or at
church, or at the mall. But if their opinion should be asked, they
were much more inclined to think, like anybody would have if the
uncle story had not spread first, that the young woman was the
older gentleman's mistress, which in fact tallied much better with
their nascent animosity toward her. No, the headmaster had never
spoken to them about a niece, and, even more suspiciously, when
grilled more intently about the presence of a younger lady in his
abode, the middle-aged academic would give them as a response a
seemingly genuine questioning look and say that he wished he had a
live-in parent indeed, as he'd felt so depleted and forlorn since
the death of his wife, who, he alluded more convincingly, had left
him with no children because of his own infertility. Whereupon he
added that they may have been talking about Ms. Jenny Cogmus, whom
he had hired upon his arrival as a cook and a cleaning lady.
     But everybody knew Ms. Jenny, who was already doing some
cleaning at the Holy Redemption School and for a bunch of families
in town, and her comings and goings did not go unnoticed by the
neighbors, either. She came almost every weekday morning around
nine o'clock and left around eleven, when the schoolmaster was at
work. For all purposes, her looks did not fit the portrait of the
person everybody had in mind. Ms. Jenny was about fifty, blonde,
euphemistically pudgy, and nobody had ever seen her cruising around
town on a bike, let alone on roller blades. Furthermore, didn't she
herself affirm having repeatedly seen the "wanton lady" around the
house, although never in when she was there, and that she never
noticed any material traces of a presence in the house other than
that of Kenneth K. Killingston? However, some people living across
the street insisted that they had seen the "whore" open the door
for Ms. Jenny, and, many a time, seen the two women talk to each
other on the doorsteps or in the driveway! Go figure. After all,
why would Jenny Cogmus lie about the presence of the young woman in
the house, since she herself confessed a visceral dislike of her
and had spotted her not only around the house but also, just like
almost everybody else, in town on multiple occasions? So then, who
had spread the rumor about Mr. Killingston having a niece? And who
had named her Samantha? For my part, I had kept my mouth shut after
my first glimpse at her that fateful morning, after my failed
reflex attempt at sharing with Bill the discovery of her. Perhaps
I had already decided to keep the secret to myself, to stay a
little bit ahead of the other town boys in the courting contest
that, to my sense, would most certainly ensue. I surely was
mistaken, considering their subsequent incapacity to deal with her
in a straightforward manner, but what I knew for sure was that the
idea that had come immediately to my mind that morning of their
arrival, the idea that the traveling companion of the new
schoolmaster would fittingly bear the name of Samantha and could,
after all, be only his niece, never exited my mouth.
     Things went on like that for another couple of weeks, during
which I and many other people in town grew covertly more and more
curious and overtly secretive -- and therefore less and less
vociferous -- about the mysterious lady. We trailed her everywhere
she went, through all her errands, as soon as we spotted her,
trying our best not to be noticed by one another, which created at
times inextricable vaudevillesque situations. For instance, one
night around ten, there were a dozen of us, mostly males, but also
a couple of female representatives of our community, lining up for
a fill-up at Doug's Automotive because she had left her bike in
front of the small convenience store adjacent to the service
station. That night, I remember, there was a major football game on
TV -- the Giants vs. the Forty-Niners -- on all available
commercial channels, and each of us knew that none of us would have
been there if not for her. I was in the middle of having my tank
filled when she walked out of the store, and once again I made a
fool out of myself. As she jumped on her bike and pedaled away from
the store, I hurriedly pulled away from the self-service super
unleaded pump. I had to stop again a couple hundred feet later
after I heard people yelling and saw them gesturing at me in my
rearview mirror. As I got out of the car, waddling along in the
grips of another one of those indomitable hard-ons and wondering
what the fuss was all about, I saw a piece of the gas hose hanging
from the opening of my tank, with the nozzle still stuck inside it.
Another time, though, we were only two of us, equipped with
penlights, groping our way in counter-directional orbits around
Kenneth Killingston's toolshed in the dead of night. At the second
our noses rendezvoused, we both yelped "Jesus Fuck!", Reverend
Jeremiah Kossak and I.
     All in all, I think nobody ever got to really talk to her. As
it became more and more apparent, if we were going by what people
insinuated, I was the only one who had come closest to having a
conversation with her that evening at Joe's bar, even though the
only response I had gotten from her was an enticing smile. I don't
even remember hearing her order her drink; I think a mesmerized
Cindy poured her a glass of draft beer without thinking about it.
Be that as it may, none of the folks I knew ever boasted having
heard her voice, and none of the shopkeepers in whose places she
was spotted shopping time and again reported having heard any
verbal enquiry from her either. They said she would walk into their
stores, pick up what she needed from the shelves, and then walk to
the cashier and pay her due without a word being exchanged between
them. Of course, since they would not greet her mostly, because of
the lurking presence of other customers, it is difficult to
anticipate her reaction if they had. Would she have then only
smiled her mesmerizing smile, or utter some expected human
phonemes, or just looked away?
     Except for me, the only one who actually tried, to my
knowledge, was Phil Schwartz. Himself an expatriate from New York
City, Phil had moved to our town a few years before, and he
immediately made himself a target for gossip and slander when,
while trying at the same time to start up a small picture framing
and furniture renovation business in town, he lobbied our school
board to let a video of his own making about the paintings of Diego
Rivera and other radical South American artists be shown to our
students. And that, right in the middle of the Oliver North craze!
I must say I liked Phil, or, more exactly, I think I would have
liked him, if I had only ever dared call upon him, or just tried to
speak to him. For Phil was attractive to me in his own way, with
his Dustin Hoffman looks, his dark curly long hair, his diminutive
stature, and his calm and corrosive look that he gave any of those
big country Joes who tried to put him down. Of course, I never
confessed that to anybody, and I would sometimes howl with the pack
when it came to badgering him. Once I knowingly toppled over a
parked cartload of picture frames and what-have-you's of his with
my rear bumper as I maneuvered to back out in the Pizza Hut parking
lot. I can still feel my right foot slip under my control to the
gas pedal. But I felt so sorry right afterwards that I got out of
my car and apologized to him, saying I had not seen him. That day,
maybe, I could have tried to get better acquainted with him, but
people were watching. The strangest thing is that I've blocked out
for so long my memory of having done it on purpose that even now,
as I am reporting the incident as I think it really happened, I
feel like I'm boasting about it just like any other big Joe, and
that I, in fact, did not really do it on purpose. Yeah. Just
another blunder, another fit of mindlessness on my part. I
definitely like it better that way.
     Anyway, the answer Phil Schwartz got from her when he tried to
address her directly was none of those mentioned above. It happened
one Saturday morning in early October at the alleged address of the
woman on Faith Row where he had been requested by phone to visit in
order to, as he reported later, examine an old piece of furniture
and make an estimate for some renovation work on it. The voice on
the phone had been Kenneth Killingston's. He had no doubt about
that since he had himself some time or another shot the breeze with
the headmaster, who appeared, it must be said, as long as you
avoided prying on him on the subject of his presumed niece, as a
rather sociable person who even sometimes showed some genuine
dismay at not having his own greetings answered by some folks. So,
just like everyone else who'd had to call upon the headmaster for
business or official purposes -- not just Ms. Jenny but, as weeks
passed, the mailman for registered mail, the plumber or the
electrician for some house repairs, the tree pruners, etc. -- Phil
expected to be ushered in by the apparently sole occupant of the
house and see no trace of the lady Samantha, even more so since he
had just seen her whooshing down Main Street on her rollerblades in
the opposite direction to Faith Row a few minutes before, while he
was on his way to her supposititious abode. When she opened the
door, he could not at first utter a syllable. She did not ask any
questions either, contenting herself with motioning him to come in
and follow her to one of the second floor bedrooms, where she
pointed at an old inlaid oak piece which, as he described it to me
later, looked like a genuine French Louis the Fifteenth dresser,
with its curved set of drawers and legs. Then, as he pretended to
be absorbed by his close examination of the object, muttering now
and then a few comments in regard to its state and antique value,
he also took the opportunity to detail the lady who was standing
aside and still not speaking. She was dressed more or less like
usual, with a fitting red T-shirt and super-short leather hot-pants
that let him experience from up close the arousing charm of her
sinewy silhouette. She was barefoot, and her long black hair that
she usually wore tied up in a bun when she was skating or riding
her bike was flowing loosely about her shoulders. Her face,
although delicately sculpted and bewitchingly handsome was,
according to him, too, that of a slightly older person than her
overall body contours would have precluded. She also smoked all the
while he was examining the dresser, as she had been often seen
doing everywhere in town, to the consternation of many for whom a
hot butt was the utmost object of righteous reprobacy, be it of a
cigarette or a human being.
     She produced a pack of Merit Ultra Lights and offered him one,
which he took since he also smoked, although less ostentatiously
than she in public places, especially since the day he had heard
the town constable say behind his back something to the effect
that, unfortunately, Jews only smoked through their mouth nowadays.
So, since his rambling about the dresser had not elicited any
response from her, he jumped at the occasion to strike up a
conversation. Anything along the smokers' small talk line, he
thought, would do. He asked her if she had ever tried to quit as he
had so often tried himself. But instead of verbalizing an answer,
she chose to jump on him and French kiss him, while, at the same
time, she maneuvered to unzip his fly. What happened next, as he
reported it to me, is not clear. What I could make of it is that he
funked out and left the house. That's when he stumbled on me, who
had been cruising up and down the street ever since I had seen him
go into the house. He was visibly out of his wits, and as soon as
he saw me, he walked up to my car and asked me if he could talk to
me a minute, but not right there. As I was rather glad for his
singling me out as a confidant and at the prospect of having a
conversation with him, I said yes, but not right now, either, since
they were probably observing us all around. He came on foot late
that night to my rented basement apartment on Grant, where, before
other things, he reported to me the above incident


     I said before other things because we talked until well into
the wee hours, and he told me much more, specifically about his New
York days, before he wound up in our town, where, he thought, she
would not pursue him. For Phil thought he knew the woman, although
he was not exactly sure. He had fled from her, if she was her. I
will report his story in much fewer words than he did that night,
as words streamed for hours out of his mouth after, it seemed,
years of retention. Back in 1988, or 1989, when he was living a
solitary life among the bustling crowd of the Manhattan Upper West
Side and earning a living as a pedagogical counselor at one of the
city's public schools, P.S. 51, he had, out of sheer helplessness
at finding a suitable mate at the work place, or around the
Reservoir lake in Central Park where he jogged every morning, or in
single bars, or simply on the street or in the subway, taken to the
habit of mailing multiple submissions of his morphological and
psychological profile in response to personal ads from the Village
Voice or mere neighborhood publications. He said he would often
mail more than a dozen word-processed letters a day, to which he
dutifully attached a passport photo of himself wearing his best
shirt and tie. He would actually get answers to some of these
letters, and, except for some misguided loonies whom he had
sometimes the curiosity to meet anyway, he would spend whole
evenings talking on the phone with callers or callees, listening to
almost always the same rant on the difficulty of finding someone
"normal" in the city, the impossibility of even finding the time to
meet someone altogether because of professional and other
miscellaneous engagements, the mostly flesh directed expectations
of men and their unwillingness to make a serious relational
commitment. And also AIDS. Had he had a homosexual experience? Any
dubious previous relationship? If yes, had he recently taken the
test? And also... was he a smoker? Most of the time, that one was
the killer, a final resistance test that some of them held until
they got to the final item of their questionnaire, long after they
had asked if he was a drug user or even if he was financially
secure. He got to meet some of them anyway, mostly on Friday and
Saturday nights, but it rarely went beyond a first encounter at a
bar or a restaurant Uptown or Downtown according to their choice,
where he was left each time with the bill no matter what the income
or the degree of emancipatory conviction of his date. Bland dates,
mostly. They all seemed to have no other interest in life than how
much he or they made, his or their career development plan, their
moving into a building with a twenty-four hour doorman security,
or, at best, what blockbuster movie, trendy club, or showbiz
happening he had attended lately. One of them, a leggy brunette
about twenty-five who put out ninety hours a week at a law firm to
pay for her fourteen hundred dollar rent studio on the Upper East
Side and her student loans excited him quite a bit for a while,
until he asked her what the hell she was carrying in a huge Sak's
Fifth Avenue bag and she answered that, since she was going to
Paris for a week's vacation starting Monday, she had bought six
pairs of shoes before taking off since shoes were so expensive in
Paris! (He had left that one without paying the bill, on the
pretense of having to visit the bathroom.)
     One of them, though, stood above the crowd. He should have
suspected something since she refused to meet him right away or
even after a couple of conversations on the phone. The audio
preliminaries went on for days, then for weeks, and she still
stalled. But to him, she seemed fantastic, though, right up his
alley. She could speak about anything affective, cultural,
philosophical, or political with much insight and depth. They would
converse for hours on end almost every night, and he would never
tire of listening to her, sometimes even taking notes as he often
did when listening to interviews and lectures live on the now much
accursed public radio and television. More especially, she appeared
to be immensely knowledgeable in theoretical physics and cosmology,
his favorite reading topic, although she said she had never taken
those subjects in college where, she admitted, she had never been
and although she -- supposedly -- only made a living as a free-
lance proofreader. In spite of that, her command of English and her
choice of vocabulary were, he found, more of a leisurely European
educated person than that of the average pragmatic professional
American although her accent and her rapid delivery was definitely
New York. She seemed to make a point, more often than not, of
making sentences of more than half a dozen words, of using
subjunctives, of substituting metaphors to adverbs, all of it
naturally and with much humor, without sounding like she was trying
to impress or lecture him. Her voice was soft and low-pitched,
slightly crackling in time like the voice of the chain smoker she
acknowledged to be, but not screechy, or cackly, or whiny like
those he was used to hearing on the street, or the subway, or at
the school board meetings. However, each time she would rightly
feel that he was gearing up to ask her for a date, she would cut
the conversation short, saying that, maybe, the time had not come
yet, that he should be patient and not try to meet her until she
let him know that she was ready, and then she would hang up. If he
tried to call her back, she would not pick up for the rest of the
evening and let her machine answer. But she had told him her name,
Samantha Lickwitch, and, of course, her phone number. He had looked
it up in the phone book and found that she was listed with an
address in the Tribeca district of Manhattan where, after about
three weeks of qualmishness, he rang a bell on the third floor of
a walk-up building. It was late at night, one full hour after she
had hung up one more time on him right when he had, with some
insight, asked her why it actually seemed that she did not want him
to see her rather than she not see him. At first, she refused to
open up, saying through the door that she was in bed, that he
should never have come, and that in so doing, he had screwed up
everything. As he insisted, pounding on the door and starting to
wake up neighbors' dogs, she jerked the door open, and there she
was, facing him, her utter unsightliness hardly abated by the
dimness of the stairway light and the vapor that was escaping from
the apartment.
     At that point in his narration, Phil started to falter, almost
unable to give me a real description of what he meant. The only
words he could utter for a couple of minutes were: "so ugly... so
ugly... and this gurgling noise, this steam... If I were like you
and believed in hell.."  Then, as I questioned him, I could, little
by little, get a better picture of the apparition. The top of her
head reached up to Phil's chin -- he was hardly five-seven -- and
was partly bald with clinging tufts of reddish hair that were
soaked in sweat. Her bloated face was pockmarked like the face of
the moon as seen through a telescope, and a couple of big warts
distorted the fold of the skin under her left eye so that she could
not keep it fully opened. The rest of her body, totally naked, was
that of a human-sized amoeba. There were folds over folds of wet
rippling skin and flesh, in which he was unable for a while to make
out the shape of breasts, belly, and thighs. Such a body was not
meant to be functional, let alone showable. Yet there it was, alive
and unveiled to his dumbstruck gaze. He could neither speak nor
flee. She motioned him to come in, and, hypnotized, he followed her
     The steam came from a room to the right of the entrance door,
where she'd probably come to open up, and she sloshed back along a
thickly carpeted corridor with him in tow. At this point, he could
already not tame an inconceivable erection, and, right after they
entered the huge bathroom with its oak barrel of a steamy and
bubbling jacuzzi, he followed her up the rungs of a ladder to the
rim of the gurgling barrel, his nose right up her drooling buttocks
and his penis hurting through the fabric of his underpants. She
splashed in, and, turning around, she grabbed him and started to
rip the buttons off his shirt and pants, still to his
incomprehensible delight. Half unclothed, he dived in turn, grabbed
her from behind and mounted her in the midst of this artificial Old
Faithful. He came into her almost immediately, and only thereafter
did he flinch in a nauseous spasm that made him retch into the
water. He climbed back out of the jacuzzi, gathered what he could
of his soaking clothes, and, shrinking from the prospect of running
away from the place in his wet state, he ran as far as he could in
the apartment itself. It was in fact a huge renovated and glitzily
decorated loft, with a saloon bar and rows of couches and antique
furniture along the walls of the main room. Trying at first to hide
behind the bar, he spotted a forest-like area at the other end of
the room near the huge bay windows. He crawled to the forest's edge
over a several inches thick Persian rug, and, in his panic, managed
to climb right up to the top of the most leafy exotic tree, right
underneath the two-floor high ceiling, and right at the moment that
she, still naked and dripping, entered the room and came to sit on
her heels at the foot of the tree. He stayed up there for a good
part of the night, curled up on a branch like a hounded big cat
until she decided to lift her squatting siege from under the tree
in order to, maybe, go to sleep or make herself a cup of coffee. At
least that's what he thought, because no words were exchanged
between them all that time. He refrained from speaking or moving so
as not to reveal his overhanging presence, and she did not utter a
word, just as if she had not really tracked him there. Strangely,
he was sure at that time that if he had tried to talk her into
letting him go, he would have made things even worse. He managed to
make it out through the window and down the fire escape during the
time she was away.
     The days and weeks that followed were hell for Phil Schwartz.
She kept calling him all times of the day or night, and unplugging
his phone only deprived him of this means of communicating with the
exterior world. Everyday he would find scores of messages from her
on his answering machine, up to the end of the tape, as if she had
spent her day calling him. The content of the messages was endless
variations on the same desperate plea: Please give us another
chance. The time was not ripe then, but we're meant for each other.
Believe in us. If you could only see me with the eyes of love.
Please call and tell me you love me. And, especially, if you can't
get yourself to love me, who will, and how will I ever become what
you'd love me to be? Sometimes, when he let her talk for a while,
she delved into more convoluted rationalizing of creative
visualization, quoting Carlos Castaneda and other bestselling
proponents of the possibility of journeying beyond preconceived
notions of the nature of reality. She would then lecture him on how
to help her "undo herself" and then "tangibly dream her" to his
liking, all that mixed up with quantum physics para-theories on
illusional reality and multiple probable universes that they should
both set off to explore. But despite his own curiosity about these
subjects, he had, to his dismay, quite a hard time imagining how
such theories, fascinating as they were, could be relevant to her
case, or applicable to it in the way she seemed to expect. Of
course, he ended up changing his phone number and paying an
additional fee to NYNEX to become red-listed. That's when she
started besieging his abode. Almost every time he left or returned
home, she was there, pacing on the sidewalk or, when it was raining
or too cold outside, standing between the building doors in front
of the buzzers. Sometimes, when one of his neighbors had,
inadvertently or obligingly, opened up for her, he would find her
squatting on his doormat. In all cases his reaction would be to
ignore her, shove her aside, bully her, or flee from her as fast as
his jogger's legs would permit. He also disconnected his buzzer.
Then he moved out. He took a new apartment in the North Bronx, in
the Pelham Parkway area. He thought that even if she could track
him there, she would never come up to the Bronx. He knew from
experience that no Manhattanite ever traveled to the Bronx, except
for urgent business and only if chaperoned by trusted Bronxites.
Were it not for the fact that none of his friends ever came to
visit him anymore -- including one of them, a journalist, who had
been through months of bombing and looting in Sarajevo -- it did
seem to help for a while. Until the morning he stumbled on her in
a corridor at P.S. 51, when she was walking out of Kenneth
Killingston's office.
     He stumped me there. So he knew Ken Killingston! Of course, he
said, since Killingston was then the principal of the same public
school where himself had worked! But why in hell hadn't he say so
before? I asked. Because neither I nor anybody else had ever asked
him, he said. But had he spoken to Kenneth Killingston since his
arrival here? Of course, he had. Hadn't he mentioned it? He thought
he had said so before. He had even been invited to the headmaster's
house a couple of times for a cup of coffee. But had he ever seen
his "niece" on the premises anytime before yesterday morning? Nope.
He hadn't. Not any more than anybody else. Had Killingston ever
mentioned her existence to him? Nope, never. Had he, Phil Schwartz,
inquired about her to Ken Killingston? Yes, he had, indeed. And,
geez! what answer did he get from him? The same as everybody else;
that is, the older gentleman said that none of the female members
of his family resembled the woman everybody thought was his niece,
that all this was crazy small town gossip, and that he was living
quite a lonely life since the death of his wife. But had Kenneth
Killingston himself seen the woman around town? Nope, he hadn't,
strange as it seemed. He had just heard about her. But who was he
talking to when he was getting off the Greyhound bus from New York?
I asked. As he got off the bus? Were you there? Phil asked,
bewildered. Yes, I was, I said, right across the street, at the
diner. And who was he talking to? asked Phil, in turn. That's what
I'm asking you. Did you ask him? I asked. Ask him what since I
didn't know he was talking to somebody? he said. He was talking to
that rapist of yours, I said. It's crazy, he said. Never heard of
such a thing. Oh, of course, since I never told anybody, I
admitted. So, maybe, you should ask him yourself, he said. And as
I realized that this conversation was getting us nowhere, I pressed
him to go on with his story.
     As soon as he saw that he couldn't be mistaken, that it was
really her, and that she was ogling him with her one and a half
eye, his reflex was to enter the nearest office, which happened to
be Killingston's. He actually stormed in and slammed the door shut
behind him. At Killingston's questioning gaze, he blubbered an
excuse to the effect that -- he didn't remember what -- and finally
asked him rather abruptly who that woman was who had just left his
office. Even though he looked surprised by such an overanxious
inquiry, Killingston replied calmly that she was going to be their
new junior high and high school English teacher. And he added with
an audible irony that he would have never expected her to make such
an impression on any male member of his faculty. The only thing he
could then say to Killingston, as if to immediately try anything to
sabotage her application, was: "But she doesn't even have a college
degree!" Upon which, of course, Killingston asked him if he knew
her. Pulling himself up, he said no, of course, and that he had
meant that she just looked like she hadn't. To which Killingston
retorted drily that one should always guard oneself from judging
people on their appearances, that she had in fact a doctorate in
medieval lit from the University of London, that she was fully
certified by the Board of Education, and that she was probably
going to become, after the kids had gotten used to her looks and
learned to like her, their most intelligent and efficient teacher.
The weeks that followed were, for Phil Schwartz, more hell than
     At first, he thought she wouldn't dare. He was pretty sure she
wouldn't try to speak to him. She had never spoken to him otherwise
than on the phone. (Wondering for a while if she spoke to her
students or taught through telepathy, he had even felt compelled to
stop by her class door once and listen to her. Yeah, she did talk
actually, and he found that she had the same voice as on the
phone.) He thought he would only have to contend with her insistent
ogling in the corridors, at the cafeteria, at the faculty meetings,
or, at the worst, with her stalking him again at his new address in
the Bronx. He reiterated his instruction to the personnel office to
never give his new address to any private individual either
directly or by phone, and urged personally all of his colleagues
who had been entrusted with it to never do so either. And maybe, he
hoped, she would soon give up in front of his unruffledness. She
could even set her heart on somebody else. There were a bunch of
cute guys among the staff, especially the gym teachers. But all
that was just hope. Day after day, she became bolder and bolder. In
the beginning, she contented herself with sitting right across from
him at the cafeteria, occupying his favorite corner of the faculty
lounge, waiting for him at the school gate in the morning and
following him thereafter, and leaving written notes on his desk in
his office. (The contents of these notes being quite similar to the
messages she had left on his answering machine.) Then she started
to brush him in passing, and, many a time, unbeknownst to other
people, she would pretend she had not seen him, bump into him and
deftly fondle him. So deftly that she would sometimes succeed in
unbuttoning his shirt or unzipping his fly, and, to his awe, arouse
him in a second. All this took a real bad turn the morning she
walked into his office -- that he could not lock without arousing
professional suspicion -- as he was receiving a most particularly
learning disabled student and his single mother. On his desk was
the loaded nine millimeter Magnum pistol that had been confiscated
from the student the day before by the security guard at the metal
detector. Still without even saying hello, she went to sit at
another desk by the window behind him and started punching
something on a computer as if it were her work station. He ignored
her the best he could all the while the pair was sitting in front
of him and tried to expedite them as quickly as possible. This
time, he was determined to grab her and throw her out as noisily as
he could to attract some attention and prove his point. He would
spill out everything and he would get her fired for boisterous and
unprofessional conduct and maybe, while he was at it, for sexual
harassment. After all, he had nothing to hide, were it not for his
shortcomings when it came to digging up Ms. Right. And yet this was
nobody's concern at the Board of Ed. Godammit! He was only a high
school pedagogical counselor, not a Supreme Court nominee or a
presidential candidate.
     So, when the mother and son left, he accompanied them to the
door, and, after delivering his last compliments, he turned
abruptly around and swooped down on her, yelling with the door
still open: "This is too much! Enough of your stalking me! What do
you want of me?" But she sat there unperturbed, holding the loaded
nine millimeter Magnum in both her hands. She motioned him with the
gun to shut the door. Never in his life had he had a gun pointed at
him, neither in Viet Nam since he had burnt his draft card and fled
to Canada, nor here at the school. In fact, it was the first time
he had ever seen a gun in somebody's hands. He had seen lots of
naked guns from up close, but only on TV, and yet these were as
fictional as the characters who were wielding them. Sometimes, he
would even marvel at the de visu aspect of a true whole gun when he
looked at their butts sticking out of cops' holsters. Once, in the
subway, he had caught himself peeking over the shoulder of his
neighbor, who was leafing through Guns and Ammo, and he'd blushed
as if it had been a porn magazine.
     But now this one gun was out, all exposed in its true
nakedness -- save, this time, for its butt -- and it was pointed at
him. So he closed the door. Henceforth, everything went very fast.
Still holding the gun, she moved to his desk, lay down on it on her
back, and, lifting and opening her knees, displayed to his sight
her naked crotch under her blue velvet skirt. Once again, he got
immediately and unexpectedly aroused. An overwhelming tide of lust
drowning all repulsion in him, he ripped open his corduroy
trousers, pulled them down onto his shoes, and sunk into her. While
thrusting and pumping and holding her legs straight up, he closed
his eyes in order to not see her and concentrated his thoughts on
a young woman whom he had seen in the subway the same morning on
his way to the school. Geez! That one was something! Tall, sinewy,
with lush long dark hair and a face like that of an Italian
Madonna, at least after some paintings. Her small butt and lean
thighs were sheathed in black satin tights, her waist bare at the
navel, and her bust encased in a red tank top. She had looked at
him for several stops and he had looked at her, and he thought she
had even smiled at him. He had let her get off somewhere on the
line, and now, here she was, yes, it was her. It was her lying on
her back on his desk and moaning, yapping and squeaking, and it was
her smooth muscular legs that were tightly wrapped around his neck,
her flat belly he was probing with such might, her firm breasts and
erect nipples he was grabbing and massaging with his fingers gone
mad. She had not gotten off. She had stayed with him on the train
and followed him to the school, and now he was fucking her. As he
came, he opened his eyes and saw her, the sex pot from the subway
line, her long sweaty hair hanging all over her face, her mouth
agape, her red tank top torn up to her armpits. Appeased, he closed
his eyes again. And he reopened them moments later on the bulging
ripples of flesh and the one and a half eye of his tormentor! She'd
gotten him again, the ugly fucking bitch! Suddenly nauseated and
angered, while still in her, he grabbed the gun that she had
dropped next to her on the desk. Was he going to blow her head off?
At that moment, the door opened behind him, and in came Kenneth
     She refused to bring charges against him, so he didn't have to
be arrested. He just had to sign his resignation an hour later and
collect his personal belongings from his office. As he was busy
doing that, he saw something written in bold capitals on the
He left the school through the back door. A month later, he was in
Hickstown starting a furniture renovation business. Why Hickstown?
He'd just dropped a ball point pen on a triple A U.S. road map, and
he'd packed his stuff on a used Chevy wagon he'd bought with his
severance pay.
     As he was drawing toward the end of his story, I questioned
him again on what exactly had happened at Killingston's house that
same morning -- had he told me everything? I suspected not. I also
questioned him on the reason why he'd seemed to allude in the
beginning that his repulsive paramour from New York and the
devilishly attractive Killingston's "niece" were one and the same
person. Answering first to my second question, he said that it was
probably just an impression, like something in the very essence of
her features, and, maybe, the way she behaved, like smoking, or
never saying a word. He seemed to be eager to dismiss such a
hypothesis, contending that the shock after his morning's adventure
had carried him too far. And the more I insisted, the more he would
renege his primary supposition, giving me all the obvious reasons.
How could someone go through such a transformation? What plastic
surgeon, even with an office on Park Avenue, could achieve such a
miracle? No, it was just too crazy. How could it be? What about her
height, for instance? The woman in Hickstown was at least five-ten.
No treatment or surgery could give someone an additional nine or
ten inches, huh? And on and on, with such insistence that I really
came to suspect him of hiding something from me, something that he
had decided not to tell me after all. Then I reiterated my first
question about the morning's events, and he got angry, yelling that
he had told me everything, and what the fuck else did I think had
happened? And was he in a cops' den to be grilled that way? I gave
up and we parted. Fortunately, it was early Sunday morning, and,
that week, it was my day off at the mart. Going to bed, I promised
myself to grill Killingston anyway. After all, if he had himself
made the call to Phil, why wasn't he home at the time of the
appointment? And also ask Phil -- which I realized I had omitted to
do -- what he thought of the coincidental resemblance between that
woman who was riding the subway on the morning of his final day at
the public school and the one who was now skating and biking all
around town.
     Unfortunately, the occasion to talk to Phil Schwartz never
rose again. He must have left town that same Sunday after he
confided his story to me. The next Monday evening, as I stopped by
his place on Main Street with the intention of calling upon him, I
saw a FOR RENT sign in the window of his second floor apartment.
The landlord confirmed his departure for a destination unknown. I
surely felt a little saddened, depleted. After all, Phil had looked
like he was certainly going to become a good friend, something more
than just that kind of "man's friend" I was accustomed to.
Something in his liveliness, or spiritedness, or fervor, or
finesse, or openness to me contrasted so drastically with what I
knew! Also, I felt I had not apologized enough to him for having
toppled his cart that day on the parking lot. At least, I wished I
could have confessed to him that I actually did it on purpose. Now,
I would have to turn toward Killingston.
     Since he was listed in the phone book, I made up my mind to
call him a couple of days later. His answers to my questions
perplexed me as much as I had expected they would. When he picked
up, I immediately introduced myself as a close friend of Phil
Schwartz who, I said upfront, had spoken to me about his past life
in New York and his former career as a counselor in the same public
school of which Killingston had been the Principal, before he got
fired after an alleged bout of misconduct, which, I added, only he,
Ken Killingston, and I now knew about in town. He did not deny any
of that, although he impatiently pressed me to get to the point. I
thought from the tone of his voice that he was about to hang up, so
I moved on to ask him the questions I had taken the precaution of
itemizing on a piece of paper, first harping on the fact that Phil
had left town right after he had, or so it appeared, visited his
house for some furniture repair. To that, I must say, Killingston
sounded genuinely surprised. No, he hadn't made any business call
to Phil, he hadn't planned any furniture repair, and it would have
been foolish on his part to make an appointment for that morning
since he was with his old mother in Syth's Cove for the weekend.
And of course, he hadn't seen Phil since he was not at home. I was
stunned, but I quickly apologized, saying that Phil must have
confused his voice or address with somebody else's, and had
probably visited another house and forgot to mention it to me
afterwards, for I wanted above all to ask him those questions I'd
had on my mind since that Saturday night with Phil. No, he didn't
know that Phil was living in this town before he himself came here,
and he was utterly surprised to meet him in a store a couple of
days after his arrival. No, he'd had no idea, after all these
years, where Phil could have gone either. He had left the school
and never contacted either him or, to his knowledge, any of his
former colleagues. No, the English teacher with whom Phil was
caught on that fateful day didn't stay with them either. Although
nobody did anything to openly dissuade her from staying at the
school, she resigned a few days afterwards since as you would
expect the rest of the staff and the students were growing more and
more leery around the incident.


     Then I finally ventured to ask him why he thought so many
people in town were so stupidly intent on associating him with a
conspicuous female character he must have heard about, and who had
allegedly come to town in his company. (I did not dare go so far as
to mention the gossip about their living together.) There, he got
really angry. He bellowed that he was expecting that one from me,
that it was getting a little bit too much, but that even though his
private life was nobody's concern, he would still honor me with
his reiterated assertion that he had arrived here alone, that he
had not even had the occasion to be introduced to the "conspicuous
female character" I was so deftly alluding to, and that he would be
curious to, at least, take a peek at her who seemed to have
bewitched everybody in the county. As he then seemed to indicate
that our conversation was drawing to an end, I risked my all in
dropping that I myself had seen him get off a Greyhound bus in her
company on the morning of his arrival. After what I thought was a
moment of shock, he declared: "Missed. I arrived here with a U-Haul
moving truck I rented in Manhattan." And he added, alluding to the
Greyhound motto: "I didn't leave the driving to anybody." Upon
which he hung up. As one might guess, I was so dumbstruck after
these last words that I started doubting my own sanity. I decided
for my own peace of mind that he had lied to confuse me, that I
should drop the Killingston connection altogether, and also forget
about Phil Schwartz who, after all, had also probably gotten all
worked up about nothing in his desire to brag about an otherwise
disastrous attempt to have it off with the lady Samantha that
Saturday morning that I saw him storm out of Killingston's
residence. So, as soon as the occasion came up, I'd better corner
Samantha herself and get her to spill everything about the game she
had been playing on our townsfolk for too long already.
     But October drew along and I could not get to do so. Whenever
I spotted her, Samantha was on the move, riding or skating, and
never when I was in a position to follow her in my car. She also
looked nervous, enraged, and, sometimes, sad. Once, as she rode by
Carl's diner where I was having another breakfast, I -- and a
couple of other customers with whom I spoke afterwards -- saw her
crying. On the other hand, over the same period of time, her
provocation escalated to the point that she managed to make even me
feel uneasy and blush. She became more than ever the talk of the
town, from the TV parlors to the pews. The police were submerged
with complaints regarding her anti-family and ungodly attitude, and
some parents stopped sending their children to school for fear of
their innocent angels simply running into her on their way. For it
must be said, she dressed more immodestly than ever in clothes that
no store in the county people's knowledge would carry except for
those erotic lingerie shops in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, at
times with no bra under a loose netted shirt, or in scant black
leather and chains, or in a fitting black silk outfit. She was seen
once skating down Main in a floating black cape with reportedly
nothing at all underneath! Some complained that she would openly
twiddle her ass in the face of anybody on the street or in the
stores, even children, bare her legs to the utter limit of decency
when straddling her bike, and once, as the temperature, in a last
convulsion of Indian summer, rose around 75 degrees in the mid-
afternoon, kids on a nature trip from school saw her bathing
topless in the nearby Hoolalah River, with a string so scanty that
the back part of it, as I heard one of the kids say later in front
of the candy display at Pete's pharmacy, "completely disappeared
into her butt crack." Worst of all, she would be seen parading in
front of various churches with a JESUS LIVES/VAMPIRES NEVER DIE T-
shirt, sometimes reading aloud from a copy of the infamous Book
Your Church Doesn't Want You To Read. I knew this book, since I had
myself gotten a copy of it through mail order from an underground
publisher in California, but reading it in public and out loud? I
wished I'd dared myself. And also, I wished I had been there and
heard her voice for once.
     Until, on the eve of Halloween, some resolute members of our
local trainband seized her as she walked out of the post office.
They had trailed her aboard a four-wheel drive truck and parked it
right in front after they had seen her lock up her bike and enter.
They punctured both her tires with a huge pair of scissors while
she was still inside, and then, when she walked out, they grabbed
her. In the middle of a small crowd of jeering gawkers, they cut
her luscious hair with the same scissors and sprayed the front and
back of the black woollen overcoat she was wearing over a red
leotard with the letters R-A-W (for RENEWED AMERICA WARRIORS). That
day, with a couple of other customers, I had been watching all
along from behind the window of a store right across the way. I did
not intervene, nor did I try to help her in any way afterwards, as
she struggled to realign the handlebar of her smashed bike and tie
a grocery bag back on the rack. Like I had done with Phil Schwartz,
I thought it would have been the right time to walk up to her and
speak to her, apologizing for all of us. But I did not.
     And the next night, the night of Halloween, contrary to what
one would have expected, she was nowhere to be seen. Maybe, I
thought, because our small community parade, with all those kids
chaperoned by their elders, or their teachers, or their ministers,
with its subdued and gentle disneyish characters and its sanitized
pranks, was nothing compared to compare with the big Halloween
parade of truer than life demons in Downtown Manhattan, with its
iconoclastic chaos, its open sexuality, its political irreverence,
and its blasphemous conduct. Maybe, I also thought she had left
town, like Phil Schwartz, after the afternoon display of native
inamity. Instead of hers, it was another wide brimmed witch's hat
and another long black cape floating open over another netted
leotard that were seen on another female body perambulating the
streets that night. Nobody seemed to know her. Thank God that she
was probably not from the county! The body was almost that of a
midget, grotesquely fat, and looked more like it was itself an
ingenious Halloween costume. As for the mask she wore, it was truly
hideous, with that one eye half closed by two enormous cysts. I was
probably the only one, in a lashing instant of irrational panic, to
realize that the dreadfully beautiful Samantha had not snubbed our
small town greetings to the netherworld.

     So, that morning, after I spotted her reading her copy of the
"The Book" while sitting cross-legged on a bench at the church
square, and when I felt again the irresistible gush of my blood, I
knew I could not miss really connecting with her this time, and I
walked straight up to her. She must have shaved her head completely
after that demonstration of the town's righteousness, and, as
befitted a now completely shaved skull, she wore a sort of loose
Tibetan saffron robe which she had pulled up, in her sitting
position, to the top of her luscious thighs. As I came nearer, she
stood up, and, raising her open book over her head and holding it
the same way that a street imprecator on an avenue of a Sodom of
the coast holds the Bible, she proceeded to pronounce in a loud and
low-pitched voice -- with a definite New York accent -- a quote
her attitude -- and maybe by the sound of her voice -- and blushing
because of my awareness of all those people's stares on her and me,
I stopped short in my course. That gave her enough time to turn
around, pick up her bike that was leaning on a nearby tree trunk,
get astride it with the book still in her hand, and pedal away from
the square. But this time I would not let her slip away from me. I
definitely had to talk to her. That, at least. Like with Phil
Schwartz, I was sure we had a lot to say to each other. Come on, I
had that book, too! Without giving it a second thought, undaunted
by the sneering gawkers, I ran to my car parked on the church lot,
jumped into it, pulled away in a volley of gravel, and chased her
along Faith Row.
     She never made a move to shake me off, so I could easily
follow her to Killingston's house, a good straight mile down the
street. Why was I still surprised? She leaned her bike against the
house wall, unlocked the front door with a key she took out of a
woollen banana purse and just walked in. I got out of my car, went
directly to the door and rang the bell. This time, if Killingston
opened up, he couldn't deny her presence there. And he did open up.
Jolting him aside, I stormed onto the front porch, then into the
living room whose door he'd left open, snarling: "Where is she?"
As far as I could see at a glance, the place was a mess. Dust all
over and books and magazines piled up everywhere, on the chairs, on
the threadbare floor carpet, on makeshift shelves; and no antiques
whatsoever. Only cheap and rickety pieces of furniture from the
fifties and sixties that seemed to have belonged to the former
occupant of the house, the late Will Spencer, who, while I was a
student there, had been a math teacher and principal of the Holy
Redemption school. Trying to prevent my intrusion, he chased me and
grabbed me at the opposite end of the room, where I was going to
enter the kitchen. "Where is she, godammit! I saw her come in! You
can't hide her any longer!" I yelled again, shrugging him off me
and throwing him to the floor. And I stumbled up a flight of stairs
that led to the second floor bedrooms. In the time it took for him
to get back on his feet and climb up the stairs, I could throw a
glance at each of the three opened bedrooms. Nobody was there. Just
more dusty shelves of books, wobbly chairs, box spring beds and an
assortment of outmoded electrical appliances like metal window
fans. No visible inlaid Louis the Fifteenth dresser, at any rate.
I was going to visit the bathroom -- whose door was closed -- when
he reached the landing. There, he grabbed the back of my leather
jacket and tried to pull me back down the stairs, threatening to
call the police. Instead, I made an about turn, pulled him up by
his arms, and shoved him against the bathroom door, which, right
when I was voicing that we were going to have a nice conversation,
just the three of us, burst open under his weight. She was not in
that room either, but, steaming and bubbling, her huge oak jacuzzi
tub was. That's when I really started to understand who EVERYBODY

     And now, as I am desperately searching for another than just
myself, hoping, at each street corner, or each open door, to look
into a pair of eyes other than an endless series of replications of
my own, or at a different silhouette, outfit, or attitude, I relish
to retrieve in my memory every bit of earlier remembrances of my
life before that day at 50-62 Faith Row. Problem is, they come all
mixed up, and I have a hell of a time sorting out what bit of
remembrance belongs to whom part of me. It's not been easy to piece
this one story together. And why this one among so many others?
Maybe because I have settled as the one character whose soul and
body I would have all along chosen to inhabit, among billions of
others, during my prior incohesive, discrete, non-sequential lyo-
existence. After all, she, Samantha Dickwitch, was beautiful, not
scared, and she was free. Also, I had to stick to one story line in
order to simply enjoy the experience of the intricacies of primeval
built-in linguistic programs and speak about myself in the third
person singular under my various guises. Sometimes, as I roam the
town on my bike or my roller skates, I wonder if an infinite series
of otherwise wrapped up other me's, in some elsewhere of me, is not
also trying to retrieve bits of remembrances from before the Big
     But I realize that I am not through with that one story yet.
Of course, I know what happened next, and I shouldn't have to rerun
the show over and over, all just for myself. But I enjoy it so
much! So, in the form of this small town dude, who probably has a
name of his own, I grappled for a minute with Ken Killingston,
until at one point, when he was lying face down on the tiled floor
of the bathroom and as I was straddling him and pinning him down
between my thighs, he shape-shifted into Samantha the Beautiful
with her irresistible and half denuded butt and loins, and this
indomitable pang of lust exploded again at the base of my spine. I
tore her stockings and panties down her legs, unzipped my fly to
liberate my swollen cock, and entered her while she moaned and
twitched, inviting me to thrust deeper and deeper into her. As I
already suspected what was going to happen soon, I hurried to get
it off before ... she shape-shifted again into her other self, the
fat one-eyed scarecrow; which she did, right after I shot my load.
I withdrew in horror and scuttled out of the house, still hoping to
find someone else out there on the street to whom I could start
bandying self-reassuring words like sorcery and dementia. I spotted
a car parked right across the street with a man inside. It was my
car. And the man inside was me, the small town dude. It couldn't
be. And why was he calling me Phil? Terrified, I spun around and
jumped on her bike that was still leaning against the house wall.
     Then my crotch started aching deliciously inside, and the bike
seat was hard to it for a while. But I already knew that no one
else would ever have to talk or stare at me anymore. And as I
pedaled away, looking down at the muscles on my smooth naked thighs
and lusting all alone over the sight, I became gladly aware that
everybody lived -- also -- at 50-62 Faith Row.