Everett Hafner 1920 - 1998

As Close As The Air

I am a kept woman. You have no idea. I wear black stockings with seams up the back when it gets dark and we go out for dinner. I obey, sometimes I cry, and occasionally I look up at myself in the mirror in disbelief at the woman whose mouth is painted scarlet, the dark mascara. Occasionally I get out my old photographs. I was married once. I went to Wellesley, I have good bones. He calls me Elliott.

In bed he calls me honey, and darling and he tells me how much he loves me. I know better. His wife never died in six months, five years ago. She could be made into a movie for cable, it's astonishing. Her name is on the checks, right underneath his. And he brings The New Yorker with the name and the address label torn off. I found out his address four years ago. It was easy. It was on his luggage, it still is.

We met at a nightclub where I was singing. I was just finishing up a set--had sung, "Here's That Rainy Day," and introduced the band. "Harry on trombone, Robert on bass--bass players are all crazy," a chuckle--"and Sammy on drums. My dad at the piano--I call him daddy--" and then I stepped down. I was wearing black lace, my hair was twisted into a long full braid, and there he was--tall, blonde, asking me to have a drink with him. I am used to this, men are attracted because I am young. People my age listen to new age nursery rhymes--and I was brought up on Mozart and Charlie Parker--Chet Baker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ian and Sylvia and Phil Ochs, The Beatles and Noel Coward. We were an eclectic family.

He ordered drinks--and I could tell, just the way he held his glass that he had a drinking problem. I glanced at Harry who has been my lover on and off for ten years. The look I sent was save me--the one I got back was, I'm busy--give me a minute to relax. I was instantly annoyed at Harry, glanced back at him as I walked out with the new man, and took him home with me. That's how it started.

In the morning I found out about the wife and I noticed the West Point ring. Jesus, who is this guy? I had also noticed the red Saab Turbo convertible--.

I look at red brick all day long. I am a painter. My work sells for a lot of money. When it sells. I have a studio in an old factory building, with a view of the brick building next door, it turns deep purple at sunset. And the northern light. At night, the windows are so big, I can see in the dark. I can look out the window and see stars and make a wish or two. When I first began I needed an ugly environment to work against--to push from. Now I have him, us, whatever we are.

We have our own set of friends. We take them out for dinner and he pays--deducts it as a business expense.

On a bad night I get up when he, Hard Edge I call him, is sleeping and I do all the dishes by hand, the Palmolive on the sponge, scrubbing the plates, the wine glasses; it calms me. I can sometimes feel the semen running down my thigh--now I wear underwear after I get out of bed. Sometimes after that I play a song on the guitar. Sit by my side, come as close as the air; share in a memory of gray, come wander in my words, dream about the pictures that I play--.

Everything is first class, best of class, the most money. We fly to cities--LA, New York, we go to good restaurants and I eat backwards--dessert is always first. If I eat the main course first, I'm too stuffed for dessert. And so the main course goes home in a doggy bag, and I live on doggy bags and tuna fish after he leaves, until he returns.

And then one day my life changed. I was driving down the highway, along the river, headed into the small bohemian village that is town, and I looked up at the sky. It was so blue I had a hard time looking ahead. I almost drove off the road. It was that blue and the earth was so obviously round and I said, "Today my life has begun." I was on my way to get paid at the club. When I walked in a man was playing the guitar. He was singing a song about sailing a ship, and he kept going back to the words, and I wish you were here. I wondered who you was. He was almost seven feet tall, he had dark brown hair. And as Mimi handed me my check, I asked, "Who is that?"

"New talent, Molly. Want something from the bar?"

"Club soda," I said. "What's his name?"

"Michael," she said.

"What does Jamie say?"

"Jamie says we're going to be packed Tuesday night. What should I say if Hard Edge calls?" she asked, looking down at

me--my mouth was open.

"Tell the Edge he is becoming beside the point."

As I listened to him sing and drank my club soda, I decided he was the one who was going to launch me off into the beginning of my life. I handed Mimi a card with my phone number. I had been thinking--after I saw the sky-- that it would be Harry. Harry had moved to Florida, and was begging me to join him. Now I knew I would never live in Florida. Now I was ready to tell Hard Edge to go to hell, and I was ready to tell Michael--that I was interested. If I sang four nights instead of one, if I worked on smaller paintings, if I wanted to I could manage. It's not only the money, it's meeting men. Trying to meet good men is like looking for a cigarette, then remembering that you quit.

Michael sent me one of his albums after we spoke on the phone. He asked me about my taste in music, my father, and I never mentioned Hard Edge. And then it was Saturday night again, and I had to sing. I wore a red dress, with long sleeves and a low neck. I got up on stage and sang, "I'm Checking Out," and "My Romance." Then I noticed Michael and I kind of lost my mind--hummed a few bars into my father's ear and sang an old traditional folk song, the courtship of a ghost:

When will I see you again, he cried? When will I see you again?

When little fishes fly and the seas they do run dry and the hard rocks do melt in the sun.

During the break Michael sat down next to me, and we smoked some cigarettes. Then I went downstairs to find Jamie.

"Hard Edge called," he told me.

"Thanks," I said. "Jamie, I want more nights. I'm giving up Hard Edge."

"I can give you Wednesday and Thursday," he said. "That's all."

"Why not Friday?"

"I may give Friday to Michael, it depends on how we do Tuesday."

"Well, thanks--."

"Anytime," Jamie said.

I walked upstairs and stared at Michael. Then I walked back on stage and didn't look at him as I sang the rest of that set. I collected my things--a scarf and my winter coat and I walked to my car and went home. I took a bath with Badedas and went to sleep, hoping my sleep would last my whole life.

On Tuesday night I went to the club. I was wearing tight blue jeans and a black sweater. I watched as the place filled up. I couldn't believe it. It was standing room only by seven.

And then I heard him singing that song about the ship, and I wish you were here, and I watched, as he became rapidly, without missing a beat--a hit.

I was daydreaming-- it was his voice over the mike calling my name. I was peeling back the wrapper on my bottle of beer, not paying attention--Jamie nudged me.

"Molly, where is Molly?" Michael asked. "Come on up here, Molly," he said.

I walked up to the stage, there was mild applause. He whispered in my ear, he whispered "You Don't Know Me." Okay, I nodded, slightly shaky as I took the mike, and began. Michael joined in, the sweetest place to intersect, he and I sang together, but you don't know me. After that we sang "Changes," and then a very funny--but sad song about a man who left for sea and left his wife in the arms of another--.

I knew his pauses and rests, I knew his rhythm and he knew mine. This was as if planned. The audience clapped and murmured and then began asking for more. At this, Michael handed me the guitar and walked to the piano and began playing the bridge to "You look wonderful tonight." Michael sang he and I sang she. I wondered what Hard Edge would say if he saw this. I didn't care. I was ready to take Michael home with me now. I began plucking out the notes to "You're Still The Same." And that was that--I walked off stage. I drove home, and listened to my answering machine. "Elliott," Hard Edge wanted to know--"where the hell are you?"

I got undressed and got into bed. At two I woke up--I was expecting him. Three minutes went by and there he was--in my bedroom doorway, looking down at me. I patted the pillow next to me and he crawled onto the top of the bed. I unbuttoned his shirt, then his Levis, I pulled and yanked his clothes off. We began kissing.

"What are these," he asked--picking up a yellow, then an orange a red--.

"Jujyfruits," I said. I began finding them everywhere, I'm such a slob with my candy in my bed. "I have to go to my studio in a few hours," I said. "When it gets light. I haven't been working--I've been listening to you, watching the phone and waiting, and you never call--and then it's too late. In the morning I have to go and work."

"I'll come and watch," Michael said.

"No, you can't come. I never take anyone. I'm serious," I said. "If I get memories all over that place, I'll die from them."

"Who's Hard Edge?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I went down to talk to Jamie and Jamie was saying that you might be giving up Hard Edge. He said, 'she throws him away--he's so good to her, I can't believe Molly. Hard Edge is my friend too.'"

"Hard Edge is my boyfriend--sort of," I said. "It's complicated because he's a busy man. And I'd like to leave it--let it go. He gives me money. And he gets along real well with Jamie, they're pals."

"Your dad?"

"He loves Hard Edge too, Hard Edge is charming."

"For sex?"

"The money? Not just that--he kind of loves me, in his way, and I wasn't singing that much. I wasn't selling enough paintings--I did a show last summer and now I want another one--what should I do?"

"It's all about money?"

"For me it is."

And then one thing lead to another, and he was kissing me and we never got any sleep, and the next day after he left, I didn't go to my studio. I slept all day. Slept through phone messages from Mimi and Hard Edge--my father and Michael.

When I finally got up, I realized how much I needed the Edge's money. I added up numbers and subtracted--added more in--and then I put on Michael's album and fixed myself a huge drink-- a big glass of Jameson's. I sipped it along with a fresh bottle of sleeping pills. I took a hot shower and changed the sheets. I got up and found the guitar and turned off the stereo, I began singing, I was exhausted, it occurred to me that it was not from the sleeping pills or the whiskey. I sang, And I ain't marching anymore, and then I felt sleepy. I yawned. I sang, I marched to the battle of New Orleans, at the end of the British Civil war. And I must have killed a million men and now they want me back again, but I ain't marching anymore.