The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 42

 “That’s what they say.”

 “You know what I suddenly understood? I don’t want to miss anything. That’s the whole point of sobriety, you stop missing out on your own life. Well, I want to be here for all of it. Dying’s an experience, and it turns out to be one I’m not willing to miss. I always used to say I wanted death to take me by surprise. A stroke or a coronary, and preferably in my sleep so I wouldn’t have even a split second’s awareness of what was happening. Well, it turns out that’s not what I want after all. I’d rather have time to let things wind down. If I went out like a light, I’d never have the chance to make sure my things go to the people I want to have them. Incidentally, don’t forget you have to come back for the plinth.”

 “I know.”

 “So I guess I want to thank you one more time for getting me the gun,” she said, “because I had to have it in order to know I don’t need it. I don’t know if I’m making any sense—”

 “You’re doing fine.”

 “Am I? Sometimes I wonder. You know the thought I had before I went to bed last night? I realized that what scared me most about dying was the fear that I’d fuck it up, that I wouldn’t know how to do it. And then I thought, shit, just look at all the morons and losers who’ve managed it. How hard can it be? I mean, if my mother could do it, anybody can.”

 “You’re nuts,” I said. “But I suppose you already know that.”

 When I went into the bedroom Elaine was sitting on the stool looking at herself in the mirror over the dressing table. She swung around to face me.

 “That was Jan,” I said.

 “I know who it was.”

 “I don’t know how she happened to call me here. I meant to ask her. I didn’t think she had this number.”

 “You had Call Forwarding on.”

 “Can’t be. I didn’t put it on last night.”

 “You didn’t have to,” she said. “You never took it off from the night before.”

 “Oh, Jesus,” I said. “You’re kidding.”


 I thought back. “You’re right,” I said. “I never did.”

 “She called yesterday morning, too.”

 “She called here? Because there was a message at the desk when I got in.”

 “I know. I was the one who left the message at the desk. ‘Call Jan Keane,’ I said. She didn’t leave a number, and I fig-ured you probably knew it.”

 “Yes, of course.”

 “Of course,” she said. She got up from the little stool and walked to the window. It looks east toward the river, but the view is better from the living room.

 I said, “You remember Jan. You met her in SoHo.”

 “Oh, I remember, all right. Your old girlfriend.”

 “That’s right.”

 She turned toward me, her face contorted. “Fuck,” she said.

 “What’s the matter?”

 “I was afraid we were going to have this conversation last night,” she said. “I thought that was why you wanted to come over, so we could talk about it. And I didn’t want to talk about it, but we have to, don’t we?”

 “What do you mean?”

 “Jan Keane,” she said, snapping out the syllables. “You’re seeing her, aren’t you? You’re having an affair with her, aren’t you? You’re still in love with her, aren’t you?”


 “I wasn’t going to bring this up,” she said. “I swear I wasn’t, but it happened. Well, what do we do now? Pretend I never said anything?”

 “Jan’s dying,” I said.

 She’s dying, I said. She has pancreatic cancer. She has only a few months left, they gave her a year and most of it’s gone.

 She called me a couple of months ago, I said. Right around the time Glenn Holtzmann got shot. To tell me she was dying, and to ask me for a favor. She wanted a gun. So she could kill herself when she couldn’t take it anymore.

 And she called yesterday, I said, because she wanted to give me a piece of her work. She’s starting to distribute some of her possessions to make sure they go where she wants them to go. And I went down to her loft yesterday morning and picked up an early bronze of hers, and she didn’t look good, so I guess it won’t be too much longer.

 And she called today, I said, to tell me she’s not going to put the gun in her mouth and spray her brains all over the wall. She decided she wants to let death come at its own pace, and she wanted to let me know her decision, and how she’d come to it.

 And yes, I said, I have been seeing her, though not in the sense you mean. And no, I said, I’m not having an affair with her. And no, I said, I’m not in love with her. I love her, I care for her, she’s been a very good friend to me, I said, but I’m not in love with her.

 I’m in love with you, I said. You’re the only person I’m in love with. You’re the only person I’ve ever been in love with. I’m in love with you.

 “I feel really stupid,” she said.


 “Because I was fiercely jealous of a woman who’s dying. I spent all yesterday sitting around hating her. I feel stupid and mean-spirited and petty and unworthy. And nuts. Espe-cially nuts.”

 “You didn’t know.”

 “No,” she said, “and that’s another thing. How could you carry that around all this time and not say a word? It’s been what, two months now? Why didn’t you tell me?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “Did you talk to anybody about it?”

 “I told Jim a little of it, but I didn’t mention that she’d asked me to get her a gun. And I talked to Mick about it.”

 “And picked up a gun from him, I suppose.”

 “He’s opposed to suicide.”

 “But not to murder?”

 “Someday I’ll explain the distinction he draws. I didn’t ask him for a gun because I didn’t want to put him in an awkward position.”

 “So where did you get the gun?”

 “TJ bought it for me from somebody on the street.”

 “My God,” she said. “You’ve got him buying guns and selling dope and hanging out with transsexuals. You’re a wonderful positive influence on the boy. Did you tell him why you wanted it?”

 “He didn’t ask.”

 “Neither did I,” she said, “but you could have told me. Why didn’t you?”

 I thought about it. “I guess I was afraid,” I said.

 “That I wouldn’t understand?”

 “Not that. You understand more than I do. Maybe that you wouldn’t approve.”

 “Of your giving her the gun? How is it my business to ap-prove or disapprove? Anyway, you’d do what you wanted, wouldn’t you?”


 “For the record, I approve of her decision to keep the gun out of her mouth. But I also approve of your decision to give her the gun and let her make her own choice. What I don’t much care for is being left in the dark while you go through all sorts of agony. What were you planning to do when she died, skip the funeral? Or tell me you were on your way to a boxing match in Sunnyside?”

 “I would have said something.”

 “That’s comforting.”

 “I suppose there was some denial involved,” I said. “Telling you about it would make it real.”

 “I can understand that.”

 “And there was something else I was afraid of.”


 “That you’ll die,” I said.

 “I’m not sick or anything.”

 “I know.”


 “I hate it that Jan’s dying,” I said, “and I’ll have lost some-thing when she’s gone, but it’s the kind of thing that hap-pens, losing people, and it’s the kind of thing life teaches you to live with. But if anything happened to you I don’t know what I would do. And it keeps being on my mind, and the only reason I don’t think about it is I won’t let myself. And sometimes when we’re in bed I’ll touch your breast and I find myself wondering if something’s growing in there, or I’ll find the scars on your middle where that bastard stabbed you and I’ll start to wonder if he did any damage that they don’t know about. It’s been a few years since I became aware of my own mortality, and that wasn’t much fun, but you adjust to it. Now what’s happening to Jan has made me aware of your mortality, and I don’t like it.”

 “Silly old bear. I’m gonna live forever. Didn’t you know that?”

 “You never told me.”

 “I have no choice,” she said. “I’m in Al-Anon. I can’t al-low myself to die so long as there’s a human being on earth that needs me. Oh, God, hold me, will you? Sweetie, I thought I was losing you.”


 “I figured, well, she’s interesting, she’s accomplished, she’s a fucking artist and everything, she’s got to be more stimulating and admirable than somebody who spent her whole adult life fucking for a living.”

 “That’s what you figured, huh?”

 “Uh-huh. I figured she was the cleaner, greener maiden.”

 “Shows what you know. You’re the cleaner, greener maiden.”


 “No question.”

 “Me, huh?”


 “So I was wrong,” she said. “I stand corrected. Listen, do you think we could go back to bed? Not to do anything. Just to, you know, be close.”

 “Is that wise? We might lose control.”

 “We might,” she said. That afternoon I was standing at the living-room window. She came over and stood beside me. “It’s supposed to be colder tonight,” she said. “It might snow.”

 “Be the first snow of the year, wouldn’t it?”

 “Uh-huh. We could go out and walk in it or stay here and watch it. Depending on how close we want to get to the ex-perience.”

 “I was thinking of when I first used to come to this apart-ment. You had a better view before some of those buildings went up.”

 “I know.”

 “I think it’s time to move.”


 “There are a couple of apartments for sale in the Parc Vendôme,” I said, “and I’m sure there are others available in buildings all along West Fifty-seventh. I know you’ve al-ways liked the one on the next block with the Art Deco lobby.”

 “And the one with the plaque that says Bela Bartok used to live there.”

 “Tomorrow or the day after,” I said, “I think you should start looking for a place for the two of us. And as soon as you find something you like I think we should take it.”

 “Don’t you want to look with me?”

 “I’d just get in the way,” I said. “I know I’ll be perfectly happy in any place you pick. Jesus, how long have I lived in a hotel room the size of a walk-in closet? I’d like to have at least one window that I can sit and look out of, and with something more interesting on the other side of it than an air shaft. And I think we probably will want a second bedroom. But outside of that I’m pretty easy to please.”

 “And you want to stay in your neighborhood?”

 “Well, it’s that or SoHo, if you want to be able to walk to the gallery.”

 “Which gallery?”

 “Your gallery,” I said. “The stretch of Fifty-seventh with all the galleries is a five-minute walk from my hotel, and I think some of those buildings have space for rent.”

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