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Authors: Tiffanie DeBartolo

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BOOK: God-Shaped Hole
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“But,” I said to Jacob, “I had a pair of headphones my mother didn’t know about. And I ended up valedictorian of my class. That finally shut her up.”

Jacob nodded slowly. “What do you say we mark this day—the day we met—by buying each other a record? Something we think reflects our perceptions of each other.”

It sounded like a great idea to me. We both began to browse the racks with concentrated intent. I walked up and down every aisle and looked in every bin, hoping something would strike me. Finally I came across an old Nick Drake album called
Five Leaves Left
. I discovered Nick Drake when I was in school but hadn’t listened to him for years. His music was full of grief and torment and truth. I knew Jacob would love it.

Jacob had been outside waiting for me for five minutes. He’d walked directly to a bin, found what he was looking for, snuck up to the register, and purchased it. When I met up with him on the sidewalk he handed it to me. It was a record called
Seven Steps To Heaven
by Miles Davis. He told me that if it didn’t bring tears to my eyes when I listened to it, he couldn’t be my friend.

“I’m kidding,” he said. “But you’ll dig it, I know you will. Especially the third track. It’s one of my favorite songs
ever
.” He stressed the “ever” like it hurt.

I gave him the Nick Drake and he said he couldn’t wait to listen to it. Then he glanced at his watch, apologized, and said he had to go. With his hands in his pockets, he looked at me and breathed deeply. For the first time all day I got the impression he was nervous. Staring at his shoes, he said, “Not too long ago, I broke up with someone I was with for a long time. I haven’t done this in a while.”

I took a step toward him, to let him know that anything he wanted to do was okay by me. He looked up, leaned in, touched his forehead to mine, and kissed me.

His lips were full and soft and he tasted like coffee.

“I’ll call you later,” he said, then he caught himself. “I mean,
can
I call you later?”

I didn’t have to answer that.

I stood watching him until he turned the corner and I couldn’t see him anymore. I went home, put on
Seven Steps To Heaven
, and spent the next six hours with Miles Davis, constructing a necklace for my new friend. I played the third song, his favorite, over and over, and swore I could smell Jacob Grace in the sounds emanating from my speakers.

THREE

Jacob called me that night and we talked for a long time. He told me all about Nina—the ex-girlfriend. Their relationship had always been rocky, he said, though they managed to stay together for three years.

“I met her in traffic school,” he said, as if that explained why he’d been with her for so long.

Jacob told me Nina was some kind of amazingly talented photographer by trade. “And, by the end of our relationship, a junkie.”

I asked him if that’s why they broke up.

“There were a lot of reasons,” he said. “After a while, we sort of lost our ability to communicate. I went looking for her at a party one night and found her passed out on the laundry room floor with a belt tied around her arm and a needle sticking out of her vein. Unbeknownst to me, it’d been going on for weeks. It’s not a good sign when your girlfriend’s a heroin addict and you don’t even know it.”

Jacob said he tried to snap her out of it. She told him he was a drag and started sleeping with someone who shared her habit.

“She left me for a crack-head,” he said. “Last I heard, she’s now a lesbian.”

A lesbian. Cool. One less woman to worry about, I thought.

“What did you do after she left?”

“I got in my car and drove. I ended up in Costa Rica. I spent two months there, just writing. For hours on end. You know what it’s like when you’re working and everything just clicks. Six hours go by and it feels like seconds. I love that. It was one of the most exhilarating and most painful times of my life. I didn’t want to come back.”

“Why did you?”

“I was running out of money. And I knew I had a job waiting for me at the paper. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have. My roots are somewhere else. I’ve never felt like I belonged here.”

I asked him where he thought he belonged.

“Someplace more intimate, with more soul. Los Angeles signed a pact with the devil and lost its soul a long time ago, you know? It flourishes, but it’s doomed. I’m planning on getting out of here as soon as I can.”

“Where to?”

“To the south. Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, I don’t know. As soon as I sell my book, I’m going to buy a little house somewhere down there, one with a porch. I’m going to spend my days writing and my nights making love in the sweltering southern heat. Set my spirit free.”

Jacob talked like no one I’d ever met. I wondered if he talked that way because he was a writer, or if he was a writer because he talked that way.

I asked him when he knew he wanted to write. He told me about how, when he was in high school, he and his buddy, Pete, who was still his best friend, used to skip class and sneak off to Hollywood Park, where he’d met Charles Bukowski.

“He was there all the time. It was obvious we were too young to gamble, so he used to take our money and go bet on horses for us. Then he’d buy us beers and try to get us dates with the waitresses. But he also gave me books. I didn’t know real men wrote poetry until I met him.”

As far as women went, Jacob told me he’d dated a few girls since Nina, besides the ones who answered the ad, that is, none of which he had any intention of seeing again.

“What about you, Trixie?”

I told him about some of my mistakes, most recently Greg the neighbor. We went out for almost a year and broke up just before Thanksgiving. Up until about a month prior to meeting Jacob, Greg and I were still having sex on occasion, though I eventually put a stop to that as well. Greg made his living as a professional surfer, and I tend to have a weakness for men who manage to get through life without having to hold down a real job, probably because my father worked a hundred hours a day and I never saw him. What’s worse, anytime I complained about my father’s absence, my mother tried to make
me
feel like the guilty one.

“Mom, why doesn’t Dad ever eat dinner with us?”

“Beatrice, your father works hard so that you can live in a nice house and have everything you want. Don’t whine.”

“What if what I
want
is for him to eat dinner with us once in a while?”

“Drop it, Beatrice.”

That’s my excuse for even speaking to Greg—a blond beach bum with a bowl-shaped haircut, who smelled like coconut, occasionally referred to me as “Dude,” and thought monogamy was the practice of sewing your initials onto a set of towels. I used to catch him traipsing the halls with random surfing Betty’s, and he’d offer me no explanations. He’d just greet me by jutting out his chin, as if I were the building superintendent. I suppose I should have stuck up for myself a little, but I didn’t care enough to fight about it. It’s not like I wanted to marry him. Hell, I could barely stand him. Yet it wasn’t until after Valentine’s Day that I finally cut him off once and for all. He gave me a card with my name written really big on the envelope. Not only had he decorated it with lightning bolts, but he’d spelled it wrong. Like this:
Beatress
.

Game over, man. He had a dick the size of a baseball bat anyway. I don’t care what it looks like in porn, a salami like that sorely limits excessive positional experimentation.

“You have issues with your father,” Jacob said.

“No kidding,” I said sarcastically. Of course I have issues with my father. Everybody does. Even Christ had an issue with his father. The same one as me, I think. And the same one as Jacob. Abandonment. Why the hell have you forsaken me?

“I hope that doesn’t offend you,” Jacob said. “It’s just that women who put up with that kind of shit from men usually have major father hang-ups, you know, abuse, dependency, whatever. Don’t feel bad. Along with all his other faults, my father’s an alcoholic, or so I’ve been told.”

“My father’s not an alcoholic,” I said. “A workaholic is more like it. And when he wasn’t working, he was wining and dining and kissing his client’s asses. Or he was with one of his girlfriends. Then once a year he would take us on a family vacation and think that made up for lost time. The funny thing was, the vacation spots were always places he had business, so we still barely saw him. Now he lives in Malibu with his new wife. She’s not much older than I am, and he bought her boobs for their first wedding anniversary.”

“Upper-class white trash,” Jacob said.

“Is upper-class a problem for you?” I said sheepishly, feeling a bit self-conscious about my lifelong economic state in an above-average tax bracket.

“I’m not a communist, Trixie.”

There was so much I wanted to tell Jacob, and so much more I wanted to know about him, but it was late and I didn’t want to seem needy by keeping him on the phone all night. Before we said good-bye we made plans for dinner the next day. Jacob wanted to take me to some little dive up on Pico that had all-you-can-eat sushi for the astounding bargain price of twelve bucks a person. He and his friends met there every Saturday night and he wanted me to come. Normally, raw fish on sale would make me nervous, but Jacob probably could have claimed he had the ability to turn water into wine and I would have believed him. When we hung up it was one o’clock. I dozed off wondering if Jacob got an erection that afternoon when he kissed me on the street. Moments later, I was awakened by the phone ringing.

“Trixie,” Jacob said. “Did I wake you?”

“Not really.”

“I know it’s late but,” he paused, “would it be all right if I came over?”

“Right now?”

“Yeah.”

“Jacob,” I said, “how long have you been waiting to ask me that?”

“Who knows?” he said, more to himself than to me. “Maybe all my life.”

FOUR

I lived in Santa Monica, in the Charmont apartments at Fourth and California—just a stone’s throw from the beach if you happen to be Nolan Ryan. The building was practically ruined beyond repair during the Northridge quake in ’94. A major renovation then took place, and by the time I moved in it looked like new, on the outside anyway.

The exterior was redone to resemble a sort of Mexican-inspired Art Deco hotel, like how I imagine it probably looked when it was first built; with a stucco finish on the front façade, white bricks everywhere else, and a small quad in the middle, separated from the street by a stone wall and a black iron gate. It was my own pseudo-paradisiacal Alamo. There was a fountain in the courtyard, and the landlord had set up strands of white lights on all the trees. They came on when it got dark and made it look like Christmas all year long, which was really nice until Christmas actually came, then it was a letdown because nothing changed.

The inside of my apartment exuded the faded glamour of old Hollywood. The floors were dark oak, there was glass hardware on all the fixtures, and I had what I lovingly referred to as booger-green tile in the bathroom. In the small living room, I kept a television, a brown velvet couch, two red floor pillows, and an old pine coffee table that I’d painted black due to Greg’s tendency toward leaving wet glasses on it. There was a tiny white kitchen down the small hallway to the left, then the bathroom, then my bedroom, which was just my bed, plus a cool Heywood-Wakefield dresser that I splurged on when I moved in. Across from there was a second, smaller bedroom that I occasionally used as an office, but I didn’t work at home much. I shared a studio with a group of designers about a dozen blocks away in a more industrial part of town.

Jacob lived in a run-down apartment off of Pacific Avenue in Venice. During the middle of the night, it would only take him a few minutes to get from his house to mine. I had to go downstairs to let him in because on that day the buzzer in my apartment wasn’t working. I could ask who was there, but I couldn’t open up the door.

After I got off the phone with Jacob, I gathered up the tools I’d been using to make his necklace, washed the dirty cereal bowl I’d left in the sink, and headed to the lobby. In the elevator on the way down, I looked at myself in the reflection of the mirrored-brass panel in front of me. I was still wearing the gray T-shirt I’d worn to lunch that afternoon, but I’d changed out of my skirt, into a pair of silk pajama pants. They were pale magenta with yellow thread sewn into a hieroglyphic pattern at the bottom. I’d found them years ago at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, and I always put them on when I worked at home. My hair was up in a knot but falling all over the place, and my face was bare. For a second, I panicked at my shabby appearance. I looked like I’d just had sex in the backseat of a car. But then I glanced again at my reflection and tried to see myself as Jacob might. I felt luminous.

As soon as I got to the door I saw Jacob. He’d parked across the street, about a block away, and was just locking up his car. He drove a dust-colored Land Cruiser that looked older than his coat, which he was still wearing. I watched him; I studied the way he moved. When he dropped his keys into his pocket, it gave him a weighted-down-on-one-side look. And he walked with his head bowed, as if it were cold and windy and he had to shield his face from the chill. When he was about ten yards from the gate, I stepped back toward the elevator so that he couldn’t see me, and so that when he did, he would think I’d just come down. He paused and looked up at the building, like he was imagining which lighted window was mine. Then—out of the blue—he shook his head and laughed, as if he’d just realized where he was and what he was doing, standing in front of the apartment of a girl he hardly knew in the middle of the night. I saw him mouth something. I think he said “
Shit
.”

Jacob picked a violet from the garden in front of the building and studied the names on the call box. Then he laughed again. That’s when I opened the door. He saw me and his face lit up.

“I don’t know your last name,” he said, and pointed to the box.

“Jordan. 3E.”

I heard him repeat my name to himself, as if burning it into his memory.

“Someone forgot to take down the Christmas lights,” he said, and motioned to the trees as we walked inside.

In the elevator, Jacob fiddled with the flower in his hand. “I just picked it outside,” he said.

“I know. I saw you.”

“I know. I saw you, too.”

“You did not.” I was behind the wall. He couldn’t have seen me.

“Well, I sensed you then. Anyway, I knew you were there. Now that I know you, I can feel your presence.”

I felt a charge when he said that. Like he’d rubbed his stocking-feet on carpet and touched my cheek.

“Here.” He handed me the tiny stem and followed me off the elevator and into my apartment.

Jacob set his coat on the arm of the couch and wandered around slowly in and out of each room as if he could discover who I was by looking through my house. I waited for him in the kitchen, realizing it was the first time I’d seen him without the coat on. He was wearing a white v-neck T-shirt, black denim jeans that were at least a size too big, and heavy black boots. His shoulders were skinny; his forearms were covered faintly in chocolate-colored hairs; his skin was pale, anemic. He was raggedly, poetically handsome—to me anyway—I’m sure my mother would have thought he looked like a bum. Boxers or briefs, I mused. Maybe neither.

We stood in my kitchen and he glanced at the ad—the one he’d placed in the
Weekly
. I had it taped, eye-level, on my refrigerator.

Jacob read it out loud, ceremoniously. “Seeking a friend…for the end…of the world.” He looked at me and rolled his eyes. “
Whatever
,” he said. Then he opened the fridge, took out a bottle of beer, and meandered into the living room. He sank down onto the couch and I sat across from him on the floor, my arms wrapped around my knees.

“What does it mean?” I said, referring to the ad.

“I heard it in a song. I think it’s about being lonely. It must have been a dark day for me.” He took a swig from his bottle and puckered like it was tequila. “And here I am.”

“Here you are,” I said.

Jacob noticed the Miles Davis record on my turntable and asked me how I liked it. I told him it had inspired me all afternoon. He picked up the album jacket, shook his head, and said, “I fall in love too easily.” He began humming.

I detected a note of quenched thirst in his drone. At first I thought he was trying to tell me something. Then it dawned on me that he was alluding to the song he liked so much, the third track on the record. Nevertheless, I studied the keen expression on his face and was certain he wanted me to wonder about the ambiguity of meaning caused by his choice of words. The statement, his coy smirk told me, was open to interpretation. We locked each other in a staredown and Jacob never broke face with me; he never looked away. We probably would have stayed like that all night had I not chickened out. I flinched and asked him how he liked Nick Drake.

“Majestic,” he said, and laughed like he knew he’d won. “That guy’s got it bad.”

“He’s dead,” I told him.

“I know, I looked him up. He still has quite a following though.”

A not-so-uncomfortable silence filled the room, thick with the kind of tension that made my mouth water.

“You’re a very complicated girl, aren’t you, Trixie?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said.

“Yes you do.”

I took Jacob’s necklace out of the felt I’d wrapped it in. It was an old piece of chrysoprase—a deep, Granny Smith green, with concrete-colored veins running throughout, which I’d carved into a primitively shaped arrowhead and surrounded by two pieces of onyx—one on each side. I beaded all that onto a black leather string. On the back of the arrowhead, I’d etched the Japanese character for love. You couldn’t see it, but I’d always know it was there. It was my secret.

“You made this today?” Jacob said. He seemed touched. “Will you put it on me?”

I raised myself onto my knees and reached around his neck. My face was an inch from his and I felt that gooey melting sensation again. When I closed the clasp, I let my hands brush against his hair and the soft skin on the back of his neck. I love the soft skin on the back of a man’s neck. It gives me cannibalistic urges. I recognized, from our afternoon, the deep, woodsy scent of his skin, and the sweet cappuccino flavor of his breath.

He fingered the stone and asked me if I wanted to take a walk.


On va a la plage
. There’s a full moon tonight,” he said, rising and putting his coat back on.

“What?”

“The beach,” he said. “Let’s go.”

“Right now? It’s almost two o’clock.”

As if he were making perfect sense, he said, “Yeah well, it’s not orange, it’s round.”

I had no idea what the hell that meant, but it was supposed to convince me.

“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” he said. “You don’t work on Saturday, do you?”

I worked freelance, selling mostly to small local boutiques and specialty department stores like Fred Segal and Barney’s. My schedule was up to me.

“No, I don’t have to work tomorrow,” I said. I got up and grabbed my jacket.

Jacob took my hand. “I want to kiss you by the sea.”

We walked west to Ocean Avenue, then down the walkway that crossed over Pacific Coast Highway and spiraled around to the beach. We could see the famous Santa Monica Pier in the distance: the carousel, the arcade, and the restaurants were all closed for the night. I’d never been on the beach at that hour; it was mystical, deserted. The sky was perfectly clear and the moon was a spotlight illuminated just for us, lighting up the water, turning it into a giant sheet of glass. The tide was calm; it flowed in and out in a slow rhythm, like lovers.

I ran straight to the water’s edge. Jacob stopped about ten yards from where the waves ended and watched me. I took off my shoes and kept going forward, letting the water rise and fall over my feet, shrieking from the shock of the temperature.

“Cold?” he said.

“Come and see for yourself.” It felt like glacier water.

Every time the waves inched closer to where he was standing, Jacob took a step backward. He raised his head and pondered the horizon. I tried to coax him my way, but the more I pleaded with him, the farther away he got.

“Come on,” I said. “I thought you wanted to kiss me by the sea.”

“I said by the sea, not in the sea.”

“Don’t be afraid,” I said. At that point, the water was calf-deep on me. My teeth were chattering.

“You better get out of there. You’re going to get hypothermia or something.”

I walked another foot into the water as soon as he said that. It was up to my knees. Jacob stood with his hands deep in his pockets, biting the side of his cheek.

“Why did you want to come here if you’re afraid of the water?” I said.

“Who says I’m afraid of the water?” he answered in a dry voice that made me believe him. That’s when the look on his face changed from intensity to mischief. He peered straight into my eyes, dropped his coat, and took a step my way. He still had his boots on and refused to take them off. As the water seeped through to his feet, he sucked in a colossal gulp of air and leaped toward me. When he was standing in front of me, he wrapped his arms tightly around my body, and his lips cracked into a devilish, shit-eating grin.

“Fuck it,” he said. “Let’s go swimming.”

He dove on top of me and we went under. It was like an ice cream–induced headache surging through my entire body.

When we popped back up, Jacob shook out his head and howled with joy.

“Holy shit,” I said, and ran to the shore, shivering.

Jacob was no more afraid of the water than the fish. He dove back under, then surfaced moments later, floating on his back. All his exposed flesh was covered in chills, his eyes glowed, and his face looked phosphorescent. He was a pelagic angel, a merman. It was an image of him somehow I knew I’d never forget.

As the waves gently carried him back to land, I bolted in the opposite direction. He caught up to me and we tumbled to the ground. He pressed his body hard against mine. I felt his desire and it made me burn.

“That’s pretty impressive in this temperature,” I lauded.

He didn’t say anything, he just devoured me with a freedom I never knew could be contained in a kiss.

“Let’s go,” I said.

We struggled to our feet, ran up what seemed like a thousand steps, then all the way back, groping each other along the way, leaving a path of saltwater and sand in our wake. Once inside the apartment, we dropped to the floor with a slippery thud—completely out of breath—and scrambled to take off our wet clothes. Jacob helped yank my shirt over my head and ripped out my left earring in the process. It spun around the floor like a top.

“Do you need to get that?” he said.

“No.” I reached for his button fly.

Boxers. He was wearing pale blue boxers. They had what appeared to be little vintage airplanes on them, but I needed a closer look to be sure. I rolled over so that I was on top and I headed south.

“Oh.
Okay
,” Jacob said.

Circumcised. Praise the lord, I said to myself. I prefer the snipped penis. It would have been just my luck for the man of my dreams to have had an elephant trunk in his pants.

Jacob moaned when I put his dick in my mouth. It tasted salty and, for a second, it made me think of Greg. Greg liked a blow job after a hard day of surfing, but I always made him shower first. I told him I didn’t like the flavor of the ocean but apparently, I just didn’t like the flavor of him; I could have sucked Jacob all night.

Jacob pulled me back up by my hair. He was rough and I liked it. “I need to be inside you,” he said.

He flipped me over so I was on my back again. It dawned on me that the floor wasn’t going to be the most comfortable place to go at it, but I didn’t want to get sand all over the bed, and I had no intention of disrupting the current level of excitement to select a new location.

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