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Authors: Amanda Filipacchi

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BOOK: Nude Men
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The movie ends. I have had trouble focusing my attention on it, as I’m sure you can imagine. Nevertheless, my vague impression makes me pretty confident that my choice is not something to be ashamed of. I believe that
We Are the Taurus
gave Henrietta a favorable opinion of my taste in films. Not much happened in the story, which I am again refined enough to know is always a plus. Additionally, the ending was unhappy, which I know is a
must
(a European trait and therefore excellent): The woman the toreador loved got pierced by the bull’s horns, and the woman who loved him stopped loving him once her rival was dead. In his grief at the unfortunate perforation of his beloved (who by the way did not reciprocate his affection), he gave up his superstar career forever.

This ending, although appropriately somber, is, as you can judge, a tad too action-packed, which I can assure you made me glance at Henrietta apprehensively, even though I did have the excuse of never having seen the movie before. Still, insecure as I am, I do feel the need to reassure Henrietta of the soundness of my taste by making her aware that I am aware that the boo-boo in the ending is indeed a boo-boo. So when we get up, I tell her, “Not a bad film, but the ending was a bit much, wasn’t it.”

“Really? I sort of liked it,” she replies, giving me gray hair over the sudden, budding, but thankfully still debatable realization that perhaps my taste is too good for my own good.

She walks over to the O.I.M. and starts talking to him. I am not close to her, so I can’t hear what she’s saying at first. Becoming indignant, I move closer.

She turns to Laura and me and says, “Good night, you two. Jeremy, I’ll see you Saturday.”

Ark! She’s leaving me alone with Laura! Ark, berk, peu, spl, gerk. “Don’t you want me to take you home?” I ask.

“No, thank you. This gentleman will take me home,” she says.

The man is looking at her with big watery eyes. And his mouth is wet too, probably with lust.

She gives me an intimate smile and raises her eyebrows, sort of saying: I have just found my next model, I must paint him tonight, please don’t spoil my inspiration.

I smile back at her, and she leaves the theater, accompanied by her O.I.M.

I turn to Laura. “Are you taking a cab home?” I ask.

“Yes, I think that’s the easiest way.”

We walk out. To avoid having to share a cab with her, I won’t ask her if we live in the same direction. I hope she won’t bring it up, and I hope a cab will be easy to find, so we don’t have to make small talk.

As if by magic (the most magical thing of the evening, in fact), a taxi comes immediately and stops in front of us before we even raise our hands. Laura climbs in and is driven away. I hope I never have to see her again. I did not appreciate getting matched up, especially by the very person I am interested in.

 

W
hen I get home, my cat, Minou, says, What is heat?

I look at her apprehensively, because I recently discovered that heat may have something to do with sex, and I don’t know how to go about discussing that subject with my cat.

Where did you learn that word? I ask.

Someplace. What does it mean?

You know very well what it means. Heat is what comes out of the radiator.

Oh, Jeremy, spare me. What does “to be in heat” mean?

 

I
n the meantime, my girlfriend, Charlotte, has been saying that she wants to live with me. I don’t have the strength or the interest to fight her, so I let her move into my apartment, but I ask her to keep her own apartment in case one of us ever wants a break.

I can imagine Charlotte as being the snoopy type, and I do own a few things that I would not like her to see: my boyhood diary, the
Playgirl
magazine containing Henrietta’s painting, and a pair of handcuffs that I bought a while ago because I wanted to be a person who owned a pair of handcuffs. Being such an owner changes one’s personality slightly, and for the better, I believe. It makes one more exciting, even if only in the subtlest way. When people see me, I want them to think: Now, this man has the personality of someone who owns a pair of handcuffs. He’s an exciting person.

And my self-image changed a bit too. It became: Me, Jeremy, the owner of a pair of handcuffs.

I need to find a good place to hide these three things. After much deliberation, I decide to take advantage of Charlotte’s habit of never looking up. I nail my belongings to the bathroom ceiling.

One isn’t likely to be lying on one’s back in the bathroom, unless one is taking a bath, but in that case the highest level Charlotte would look at is straight ahead at her feet.

 

T
he following Saturday I bring the little girl a bunch of white peonies, my second-favorite flower, thinking it will please Lady Henrietta. It turns out that it pleases the little girl even more. She jumps around my neck gratefully, which makes me uncomfortable because she has seen me naked.

I ask Henrietta what happened with the O.I.M. she brought home the other night. She says she painted him but it’s not finished yet, so she can’t show it to anyone.

She shows me the painting of myself. I almost laugh at how much she changed me. She made me look like a very effeminate man, lying in a feminine pose. Then I am overcome with a feeling of awe. It is very well painted. It shows me lying on the couch, naked, on pink and black sheets, my arm behind my head, looking at the painter. The painting is full of optical illusions, especially in my expression and the way I hold myself. I look as if I’m almost happy, but I also look as if I’m anxious and very desperate. My body looks comfortable, relaxed, and even self-confident, but at the same time the facial expression indicates a wish for the body to be veiled, and indeed, it almost does seem that a barely perceptible veil covers me entirely, except for the eyes, like a Halloween ghost costume.

“It’s very good,” I say.

“I know,” she says. “It is without doubt the best painting I’ve ever done. You were the best model.”

“Was I an Optical Illusion Man?”

“Yes.”

“Your daughter said I am the most extreme O.I.M. she has ever seen. Is that true?”

“Yes. I have never seen a more complete Optical Illusion Man than you.”

“How am I an O.I.M.? What is it that I am almost but not quite?”

“You are almost ugly, but not quite. You are almost good-looking, but not quite. There is almost a tire of fat around your waist, but not quite. Your ribs almost stick out too much, but not quite. You almost look like the most stupidly blissful man in the world, but not quite. You almost look like you might commit suicide any second, but not quite.”

“Oh, is that all?” I ask.

“Are you being sarcastic?” she says.

“No. Isn’t there anything more revealing about my inner self? Less superficial? More meaningful?”

“Oh, you want the
meaningful
ones. In that case, I might as well show you the list I made of the meaningful optical illusions contained in you.” She opens a drawer and takes out a white sheet of paper, folded in two. She hands it to me.

The paper contains the following information, written by hand:

 

Jeremy Acidophilus, Optical Illusion Man

 

1. He doesn’t talk much, but when he talks, it’s too much.
(Ow. I’m terribly insulted.)

2. He looks weak and unhealthy, and yet if the end of the world ever came, he somehow looks as though he would survive us all, like a cockroach.

3. He looks easily manipulable, but also looks like he could be unexpectedly stubborn.

4. His face is often very pale, and his mouth is big and red, which sometimes makes him look like a vampire, sometimes like a clown, sometimes like an old-fashioned sensitive gentleman, but, surprisingly, never like a homosexual. On other days, his mouth looks much smaller, more normal-sized, and is less red, and his skin is less white, and one wonders if one imagined his big red mouth from the previous day or if it really existed.

 

That is the end of the list, but it was too long for my taste, and I feel as though I have just received four punches in the face.

“When you wrote cockroach, perhaps you meant maggot?” I ask her, not out of bitterness but out of genuine curiosity; my appearance always reminds me so vividly of a maggot that I wonder whether she might not find it a revelation if I mention it to her.

She looks at me, a bit surprised, and says, “No, I meant cockroach.” She takes the paper from me and returns it to the drawer.

“Are you an O.I.W.?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she says. “Do you think I am?”

I try to think of something she almost is, and finally I say, “You are almost rude, but not quite.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” she says. “I’m dreadfully sorry if I did. But sometimes I get passionate about my art, almost angry, and I can’t stop myself from saying or writing things that might be too harsh, because I feel that what I say is the truth.”

“Will I still see you, now that you’ve finished painting me?”

“Of course. I want you to keep seeing my friend Laura. She doesn’t have many friends, and I think you two could like each other a lot.”

“I don’t think she liked me much. She barely spoke to me,” I say.

“She liked you a whole lot. She told me so herself.”

“I’m not fond of... what she does.”

“What about you? Do you do something so fascinating that it allows you to be so judgmental and picky?”

“I’m a fact checker. At least that’s something people do. I don’t know what you intend. Do you want me to get involved romantically with her?”

“That would be nice. If you like her, that is.”

“I like you.”

“I know, but you can’t. I like Laura’s brother, Damon.”

Damn. I knew it.

“You must understand,” she continues, “I’m encouraging you as a favor to her. Sort of tit for tat. I help her find a guy, and she puts in a good word for me to her brother. I actually don’t know her that well. I met her recently, through her brother. I’m not incredibly fond of her. I find her quite ordinary, to be honest, which I know may surprise you, now that you’ve seen her show. Though she has qualities that would please most people. She’s sane, well-balanced, stable, wholesome, calm, easygoing, even-tempered, relaxed, serene. Her brother, on the other hand, is splendid.”

 

W
hen I get home, my cat, Minou, is almost smiling, looking at me through half-closed eyes. Her fur is all fluffed up and disheveled.

Oh, Jeremy, darling! You look very good today, she says. I’ve been waiting endlessly for you to come home.

Why?

First tell me, am I pretty?

Yes, as usual.

You’re not even looking at me.

I look at her, and she stretches luxuriously on the floor.

How about now? she asks. Do I look pretty now? She purrs violently, but I can tell she’s making a tremendous effort not to purr while talking, because she knows it annoys me.

Yes, you’re pretty, I reply. So why have you been waiting for me to come home?

Because I think I have my heety-weety.

What’s a heety-weety?

Oh, Jeremy, you are sooo slow.

Okay, I’m slow. So what’s a heety-weety?

A heety-weety is my heat. Why aren’t the males coming?

Well, how do you expect them to come? All the windows and doors are closed, and we live on the third floor.

That doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to come anyway.

You mean by walking through walls?

I don’t know. They find ways.

She meows a lot and looks as if she’s in pain. I feel sorry for her, so I say, Don’t worry, you’ll never have to go through this again. We’ll get you an operation, and you’ll feel fine and normal for the rest of your life.

Are you insane? I want to make love. And I want to have children.

But you’re going to start peeing everywhere.

I promise I won’t.

She goes on and on, horrified and indignant, and I begin to feel like a monster. She makes me swear never to have her operated on, but I cross my fingers to keep the option open.

She calms down and says, Pet me, Jeremy, pet me. More. Don’t stop. Oh Jeremy.

 

chapter
five

 

 

 

T
hree days later, for the first time, I visit Henrietta for no reason other than friendship.

In fact, she is the one who suggested it. I thought it must be because Laura would be there. But no. Instead there is a good-looking nude man, being painted by Henrietta. He is lying in the most comfortable position he could find, unless that rule applies only to the imperfect models, like me. Henrietta says hello but is so absorbed by her painting and marzipan cats that she does not pay much attention to me. Her daughter, Sara, takes my hand and pulls me to her bedroom to show me her Humpty Dumpty collection.

BOOK: Nude Men
11.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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