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Authors: Amanda Filipacchi

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BOOK: Nude Men
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“No, actually, I can only come later. I have a lot of work to do again tonight. Is nine o’clock okay?” (My tanning session is scheduled for seven-thirty.)

“Well, if that’s the earliest, I guess it’s okay. Please wear a tie.”

“Why?”

“Because you know how much I like it.”

“And you know how much I hate it.”

“Just this once. Tonight is special.”

“Why?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Aren’t you going to ask me what I want for dinner?” I am hoping she isn’t planning a rich meal that will ruin my diet.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because tonight is a surprise.”

“I can’t eat anything heavy. I’ve been having stomach trouble recently. One of your light, healthy dinners would be just fine.”

“Oh.” She sounds disappointed. “Well, this won’t be too extravagant.”

 

B
efore leaving my apartment to go to Charlotte’s, after my exercises and tanning session, I remember that she wanted me to wear a tie. I stand at the door, hesitating. I hate the fact that she likes ties and imposes her taste on me. It just reinforces the side of her personality that I can’t bear. If she likes ties, she should get involved with a banker or a lawyer. No, I will not put on a tie. It pisses me off too much.

 

C
harlotte’s table is set for two. There are lit candles and flowers in the middle.

“It looks nice,” I say, as always, when I enter her apartment.

She is wearing light makeup, which makes her features stand out in a pleasant way. She sort of has a tree-trunk figure. Her waist doesn’t curve in very much, and her breasts don’t curve out very much, but it could be worse. She could be fat.
I
could be fat. I am not fat.

She is wearing a proper green dress that falls exactly one inch below her knees, pearls, and sensible shoes: pumps with a one-inch heel.

Charlotte has the peculiar habit of never looking up. She always holds her head bent down and peeks up at you from under her eyebrows. Perhaps she does this to give herself a femme fatale look, the look of a seductress, or perhaps one day something fell in her eye when she looked up. I don’t know. I just know that I tested her once to see how extreme this quirk of hers was. I asked her to look up at the clouds, and she didn’t. I asked her a second time, and she changed the subject. I never asked her why she has this habit, because honestly I don’t really care. Nothing concerning Charlotte interests me very much. Nevertheless, it’s a useful quirk to know and to keep in mind, for if I ever need to hide something from her, I will nail it to the ceiling.

Charlotte greets me with a smile, but when she sees my absent tie, her smile fades.

“You’re not wearing a tie,” she says.

“No, I didn’t feel like it. Sorry. Maybe next time.”

“But I asked you to,” she nags.

“I really didn’t feel like it. I’ve had a tough day. Please don’t make a big deal about it.”

“I had a tough day too, you know? But I made the effort to arrange a great evening. I made myself look nice. All I asked of you was to come eat my meal, enjoy the candlelight, and wear a tie. I didn’t even ask you to stop on your way here to buy anything to contribute to the meal. Okay, forget it, let’s pretend this didn’t happen. Let’s pretend you’re wearing a tie. Would you like something to drink?” she asks, like a perfect hostess.

“No, thanks,” I say.

“Oh, now you’re mad.”

“Nope.”

She goes to the stove and says, “How was your day at the office, honey?”

I lie on my back on her bed, letting my legs dangle over the edge. “I spent the whole day filing. All seven hours.”

“What a shame. Isn’t there anything you can do about that?”

“I got nine paper cuts.”

“Oh, sweetheart. I hope you disinfected them well. I have some rubbing alcohol in the bathroom closet above the sink. You should go and clean the cuts. Better safe than sorry,” she says, turning the chicken over.

“It’s okay,” I say.

“Is there anything new in the celebrity world?” she asks.

I think for a moment. “Andy Rooney is in big trouble. He made a racist comment or something. I filed that one about twenty times.”

“What else?”

I think some more. “Princess Stephanie had a fight with her dad about her bodyguard boyfriend. I forget his name. I filed that one only five times. The stolen shoes of Marla Maples I filed about twenty-five times. The new Brady Bunch show I must have filed fifteen times. The Liz Taylor party thirty times. The—”

“Do you want capers on the chicken or not?” interrupts Charlotte.

“Yes,” I answer absently. I stare at the ceiling, thinking about my filing, and tears come to my eyes. I could talk to Charlotte about it. I could ask her what she thinks I could do or say at work that would make them stop giving me filing. Charlotte’s a psychologist. But she’s mushy, like I am. She’s cottage cheese, I remind myself. She would give me a cottage cheese answer. I don’t say anything. I am too depressed, too lonely. I make myself think of Lady Henrietta, the painter of nude men. Even thinking of her and of our meeting Saturday doesn’t cheer me up anymore. I’m afraid, nervous, and anxious. Why did I agree to pose for her? It’ll just bring me humiliation, probably even terrible embarrassment. Perhaps—I realize in horror—even rejection. When Lady Henrietta, the painter of nude men, sees me, Jeremy the maggot, naked, she might just totally refuse to paint me and say, “Sorry, I made a mistake. A mouth is not a good representation of a naked body. It does not have clues and signs. Sorry.” What will I answer to that? Should I say, “Well, I’ll let you paint my mouth if you want”?

I clasp my hand over my eyes.

“Is something wrong?” asks Charlotte.

I yank my hand away, startled. “It’s the filing,” I lie. “I hate the filing.”

“Poor sweetheart. We must talk about that. We must think of something you can tell those monsters who are exploiting you. But right now supper is ready, so why don’t you go wash your hands and come sit down like a good little boy.”

“Yes, Mommy,” I say, to please her.

I go sit down.

“You forgot to wash your hands,” she says.

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did. You forgot to go to the bathroom and wash your hands. You got up from the bed and you came straight to the table and sat down. You must be a little dazed from all that filing, Jeremy. Now run along and wash your hands before the chicken gets cold.”

“Charlotte, I did not forget to wash my hands. I didn’t do it because I didn’t feel like it.”

“You can’t eat without having washed your hands.”

“Is that a new thing with you? You never talked about washing hands before.”

“That’s because I always thought you did it.”

“Charlotte, I have a confession to make. I never wash my hands after I go to the bathroom.”

She looks at me in silent amazement for a while and then slowly says, “That is totally gross.”

“But I wash my hands after I file. Does that make up for it?”

“No. That is totally gross,” she repeats.

“To please you, I will go wash my hands.”

I get up and wash my hands. I come back and sit down. She is still standing there, staring down at the table.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“It is totally gross, Jeremy. I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat now.”

“Relax,” I say, tapping her elbow. “A little shit on your hands once in a while isn’t the end of the world. It’s healthy.”

“It’s abnormal. I’m worried about you, Jeremy,” she says, shaking her head slowly.

“Oh well, let’s eat,” I say, trying to change the subject. “Come sit down, sweetheart. The chicken’s getting cold.”

She remains standing, still shaking her head.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“No, not okay at all. I’m worried about you, Jeremy.”

“Why? You think I have a psychological disorder?” I chuckle. She stops shaking her head and stares at me without answering.

“What?” I say defensively, my mouth full of chicken. “You think I have a psychological disorder? Is that what you think?”

“Yes.”

“Because I don’t always wash my hands?”

“After going to the bathroom, Jeremy. It’s a sign. It means something.”

“Would you like me to leave? Perhaps I need to be punished to be cured. Would you like to spank me?” I say, smiling mischievously to relax her.

She looks at me sadly. “No punishment can cure you. You must find the strength within yourself.”

“I’ll work on it. In the meantime, I’ll tell you what. Let’s play pretend. Let’s pretend I’m wearing that nice blue tie you like so much. I must be careful not to drip any grease on it, now mustn’t I? And let’s pretend I always wash my hands before and after going to the bathroom and that my paper cuts have been disinfected three times with alcohol. I even used the nailbrush. Look,” I say, holding out my hands. “You can still see the redness around the nails.”

She sits down and starts eating her chicken.

“It’s very good,” I say.

“Thank you,” she replies.

After the chicken, she brings dessert, a big, rich lemon chocolate cake. It’s something she hasn’t made for me very often, because she says it’s very difficult and complicated, but I must say that chocolate cake is the best I have ever eaten.

“Do you want to cut it, or do you want me to cut it?” she asks.

“It looks wonderful, but unfortunately I don’t think it would be wise of me to have any of that cake tonight. I’m on a di—I have stomach troubles.”

“You’re on a diet? If you’re on a diet, just say so. You don’t have to pretend you’re having stomach troubles. There’s no reason to be ashamed. We all gain a little weight once in a while. And we must all go on a diet occasionally. Are you on a diet?”

“Yes.”

“Well, have some cake and start your diet tomorrow.”

“I started it yesterday.”

“Make an interruption tonight, since I made this difficult cake just for you. Go back on your diet tomorrow.”

“Actually, I do, also, have stomach trouble.”

“Are you going to have some cake or not?”

I hesitate, realizing it may make a tremendous scene if I don’t have a piece of cake, but then I decide no, I cannot break my commitment to the destruction of the maggot in me.

“I’m afraid I shouldn’t,” I say.

“Does that mean no?”

“Yes.”

“You are so selfish. You ought to have your head examined.”

“By you?”

She doesn’t answer. We clear the table.

Charlotte rarely wants to have sex. I guess she’s simply not a very sexual person. When we do do it, she just lies there stiffly. She must think that’s the romantic way to do it, the Snow White-ish way, the feminine way.

So I suppose I’m a sexually frustrated guy. This evening we do not do it, which is just as well because I don’t really feel like it anyway. I go home feeling depressed, empty.

 

T
hat evening, my mother calls me, something she does about once a week. She’s seventy-one years old and lives alone in Mount Kisco, in Westchester County. My father was twenty-eight years older than her. He died of old age when I was four. I guess she’s lonely. She always asks me when I’m going to visit her. I go see her sometimes on weekends, and I bring my cat. She loves Minou and wants me to come every weekend so she can see us.

Unfortunately, she also enjoys paying me surprise visits in the city, once every couple of months. She says, “There is nothing healthier in the world than having your mother visit you by surprise once in a while.”

Her last visit was two weeks ago. It unfolded in the usual manner, as follows:

My buzzer rings. I’m not expecting anybody.

“Who is it?” I ask in the intercom.

“It’s me.”

I recognize my mother’s voice.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Jeremy, it’s me.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m visiting you.”

“But you didn’t call beforehand.”

“You know I prefer it this way.”

“I can’t let you up. You should have called me. I’m sorry.”

“Of course you will let me up. Open the door.”

“No, I’m sorry, you should have called. I’ve told you this before. If you want, I’ll come down, and we’ll go and have coffee.”

Are you kidding yourself, Jeremy? She is not interested in going out for coffee. Five more minutes of begging, and I have no choice but to let her up. Sometimes, while she’s still begging downstairs, someone enters or leaves the building. Taking advantage of the open door, she enters and continues the begging in front of my apartment. Either way, I always end up letting her in, to my deep regret, because she lets out a loud scream when she sees the mess in my apartment.

BOOK: Nude Men
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