I had been thinking of running away to the jungle and living without any responsibility lately. What a great idea it was to live like animals. No bills to pay. No emotional torture from your girlfriend. Animals slept wherever they wanted to sleep. They ate what they hunted. That was all they needed. I faced hundreds of men like me trapped in white collars in the subway every day. They looked at me in the eye. It made me nervous. When an animal looks at another animal in the eye they start fighting to death. I smiled grating my teeth. They did the same. I thought of my boss as a chimpanzee because he made a sound like chimpanzees when he laughed. It was so annoying. Nobody liked him. He yelled at the poor girl who worked at the front desk every day. We all knew he wanted to fuck her and he was only mad because she wouldn’t. The chimpanzee often yelled at me because he knew I didn’t like him. He would point at the scribbles on my desk and say “You should do your job instead of drawing animal figures.” I wanted to yell at him too. Balance of power in the jungle is way different. The stronger one is superior. The male gorilla beats his chest with his fist to indicate it’s his territory, so no other male dares to enter it. If they dare to enter it or to steal the female gorilla they fight. If we were in a jungle, I would take him down right away. Tatata tam tata tata tam. I heard the trumpets playing in my head. Let’s make a run for it asshole, I wished to say.
God knew that I did my best to be a good man. I took my girlfriend to the mall once a week and waited for her to try on a dozen of dresses she wouldn’t buy. I listened to her talking about her stupid girl friends. I even met her parents and acted like a good boy so they would think their girl is in good hands. I was sure that her parents liked me better than they liked her.
Tatata tamta tatta ta tam. I walked home. I had played trumpet until college. Tatata tam tam tattttta taata. A Russian circus came to our town one day. They asked our band to play for them on the parade day. It was a hot summer day. We walked slowly as the crowd clapped hands for the long legged ladies making acrobatic moves on horses and men who swallowed the fire they lit on sticks. And then there were the freaks. There was the half woman, whose body was literally absent below the belly. There was the fat lady who carried a huge snake around her neck and made snake-like dance moves. Once in a while she would stop, lean forward towards the crowd and show her tongue which was split into two parts. There was the monkey man, whose body was all covered in hair including his entire face. They had animals in cages. There was a lion that looked scared. The lions is the king of the jungle. It gave me a stomach pain to see that lion walking in circles in his cage. Who is more human, I thought. The crowd clapped hands louder for the wild animals in the cages. They celebrated their dominance over animals. They celebrated being at the top of the food chain. Their mouths seemed like dark space holes that wanted to swallow everything. We heard an explosion in the sky. We saw a small plane writing the name of the circus in the sky: “Hello Zaputhra.” Then there was a confetti rain. She kicked a book in the bed and the book fell on the floor. She liked sleeping with books. She didn’t necessarily read them. She just liked sleeping with a bunch of books when I wasn’t home. She moaned deeper as Audrey Hepburn sang Moon River at her fancy NYC apartment’s window. When I had first seen her masturbating it had felt weird because we had had sex almost every day, but then I had started liking it. I liked watching her touching herself. She took deep breaths. She knew I was behind the door. I walked towards the kitchen avoiding her. She had been watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I knew trouble was coming. I hoped the orgasm would help her calm down.
Why didn’t she just watch a porn movie? We had a porn DVD collection. That’s how we met, actually. We attended this underground porn club a few years ago. I heard about it from a friend. We would gather in a small basement room on Friday nights at ten in Park Slope. The crowd was made of losers who had nothing else to do on a Friday night. People coming in would change every week except for regular members. They were mostly old and married people with children. There weren’t many women because they would feel uncomfortable in a dark basement with about thirty men. What do you expect, eh? The director of the Basement Project was a fat guy with lots of hair on his face, arms, and even fingers. His name was Paul. He had strict rules. He even framed the rules in big print and hung it on the wall. Rule number one: No masturbation allowed in the basement. He occasionally turned the lights on to check on the audience to see if anyone was doing something. He kicked a few men out who had been caught masturbating. Paul was short but very strong. No one wanted to deal with him. Rule number two: Males are not allowed to approach the female members. Rule number three: Members who violate the first two rules would be banned from the club for good. Paul believed in porn movies like one believed in Buddhism, you know. He liked me. I had been to his tiny apartment upstairs a few times and he had shown me his collection of Playboy magazines. He picked an issue from his bookcase and handed it to me as if he were honoring me with a royal crown. He told me to be careful as I turned the pages of the February edition of nineteen eighty six. We looked at a half-naked woman eating a cheese burger leaning on a diner counter. Paul looked at the fake blond like a biologist looking at a rare butterfly. He dragged his middle finger on her legs. I wasn’t allowed to touch the page.
“This is art, ya know”
I looked at the fake blonde’s face. I wondered if her mother could recognize her in so much make up. She only had a pair of blue jeans on and her back turned to the camera so we could only see her butt and her right breast touching the arm that was holding the cheeseburger. Her pinkish lips were half open. She had ketchup on her chin. I thought of her without makeup and breast implants. I thought of her as a child. I pictured her in a light blue cotton dress running in the streets of some suburban town.
“She is not that hot” I said sadly.
“I’m talking about the photography,” he said seemingly frustrated at my shallowness. And I felt so damn shallow.
Turning the pages we looked at couple of more pictures of women bending over on couches, motorbikes, pool tables, etc. They were all different. They were all the same.
Then he told me about his rock band in college and played some Iron Maiden on his guitar.
“You got a woman?” he said looking at the strings.
“I have many women,” I said laughing and downed my beer.
I looked at his face behind the bottom of the beer bottle that I was holding next to my mouth. He wasn’t laughing.
“Many women equals to no woman. You’ll end up lonely” he said seriously. He looked like he pitied me. It was an awkward moment. He hadn’t seemed like the type that would care. I had never seen him with any women. Then he pulled out his wallet and shown me the pictures of his fourteen years old daughter and twelve years old son. He had been married for sixteen years. We didn’t talk much that night. I left his apartment after eight beers because he kindly told me his wife and children would be back from their visit from the auntie’s any time. He picked up the beer cans and put them in a trash bag. Then he called for a cab for me and punched me in the shoulder for goodbye. We were friends.
As I was listening to her feet touching the ground gently, I thought of the day we met. I had been attending to the Basement Project meetings about a month or two perhaps when I saw her sitting in the front row. She didn’t talk to anyone and looked at the curtain as if someone in the movie was getting hurt which was true, actually. Since Paul had strict rules about approaching the female members I waited until the film was over to talk to her. She told me she was a writer and doing her master’s thesis on pornography. I told her I was a writer too. I had been writing screen plays and working on a collection of short stories. “Interesting,” she said with an uninterested voice.
We went to an Indian restaurant in the city on our first date. The place had a heavy curry smell, of course. I wasn’t a fan of spicy food but she had told me she liked Indian cuisine, so I took her there. We talked about movies and books. She said Charles Bukowski’s arrogance annoyed her, but that was why she liked him. She worshiped Kafka. She had been working on a children’s book. We drank wine. She kept touching her hair which might mean she was bored or she liked me. I regretted not reading the article in one of Paul’s magazines about how to know that chicks like you by reading their body language. Her blushed cheeks told me that she liked me then I remembered it was so hot inside the restaurant and we had been eating spicy food. She took off her scarf. Her neck was beautiful, probably her most beautiful feature. She had olive complexion and dark blonde locks falling on her shoulders. Her neck looked like unearthed treasure. It was hard to tell if she liked me. I was spending my last fifty dollars on that dinner and I had spent all day cleaning my apartment. She better fucking like me, I thought, when she reached for naan and dipped it in the chicken masala.
Her funny accent sounded even funnier when she got drunk. It was hard to understand what she was saying. She occasionally started a sentence in her native language and switched to English by the end of the sentence.
“You will rescue me from my loneliness, right? She said gulping the wine in her glass. She didn’t look at my face. She was staring at somewhere between the tandoori chicken and salad plates. I hesitated for a moment. Was she talking to me or the tandoori chicken? There was a pause.
“I think you should have more food.”
She frowned and poured some more wine in her glass.
“I’ll be worthy right? Only when you realize the gem I am?” she said stabbing a piece of chicken. Her hand holding the fork was jittery.
“We are just having dinner, for God’s sake!” Now, I was looking at the plates too. For a moment, I thought of excusing myself to go to the bathroom then asking for the check, calling for two cabs to go in different directions. That would be it. I don’t need this. I can go home and jerk off. What the fuck is wrong with women? You take one out for dinner and the wedding bells start ringing in their heads. If only some men had pussies, the world would have been a nicer place, I thought. The restaurant was very hot. We had been sitting there for hours. My butt was hurting. The spicy food was messing with my stomach. I knew it was my only chance to leave her at that moment. I made a gesture at the waiter and asked for one more bottle of wine instead.
“I don’t date writers” she said looking at an oil stain on the table cloth after another long pause.
“Neither do I,” I said looking at the waiter approaching our table with a bottle of wine. She looked at me for the first time after a while and burst into laughter then smiled at the chicken tikka as if she knew something that the chicken didn’t know.
We took the same cab to my apartment and had sex five times. We didn’t even make it to my apartment actually and started having sex on the stairway.
People pushed me far. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. I sat in the cafeteria in the building during my lunch breaks and watched the birds fly and the ants carry food. I imagined myself running in an endless jungle. Once, she had shown me a story about a boy who runs away to the jungle.
She dragged her feet towards the bathroom. Then I heard the flush, then the water running from the tap and hitting the sink, then flowing through the pipe. Her feet approached the kitchen. She was naked.
“What the hell are you doing?” I stood up and closed the curtains.
“Hi.” She washed a red apple and pulled a chair for herself. “I saw a beautiful dream today. I was a goldfish that lived in stories. I was sadly swimming in circles and hoping for company. Then I saw a green light and I wanted to swim towards it but I couldn’t. Then I flapped my fins harder and yelled “I am. Now I am. And I aaaam ready to be extraordinary!” But all came out of my mouth was bubbles. And I flapped harder and escaped the circle and I swam towards the ocean,” She said making a fish swimming towards the ocean gesture. Her eyes were dreamy. Her chest moved up and down slowly. I would think she was still dreaming if I didn’t know that she was awake.
“Goldfish are aquarium fish. You shouldn’t hang out naked with all the curtains open.”
“Why are you concerned? I have two legs and arms and everything else just like the neighbors. I don’t have any extraordinary features that might attract their curiosity.”
“Life is not a fucking novel, you know. You should act like a responsible person.”
“What?” She looked at me as if I just killed a bunny. That was one of her two looks she would put on when we fought. She would both act like a bitch and talk for hours until I begged her to stop or she would give me that look which indicated I was a monster, whichever worked better on me on that particular occasion.
“I said life is not…”
“Yeah, I heard what you said.” She put the apple on the table, stretched her legs towards the fridge and said “It lacks the fictional quality that novels have.”
She glanced at the scribbles on the table but didn’t touch them. She had been writing all day, I could tell.
“Plus, in real life stories the prince charming turns into a frog when the princess kisses him, as opposed to what happens in the fairy tale,” she said and looked at my face to see if her words hurt me.
Audrey Hepburn’s voice echoed in the bed room “Cat! Cat! Where are you?” God, damn it! How could I forget she had been watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s? I had worked hard all day and all I wanted was to sleep. She didn’t work because she wanted to work on her second book which was a novel. She was talented but childish. She could do a better job if she stopped acting like a stereotypical struggling young writer and just wrote more. I didn’t warn her because she enjoyed it. She adopted different mimics and diction every time she came up with a new character. It was kind of fun. I reached for her hand on the table and tried to sound as loving as I could.
“Did you write a lot today?”
Her eyes followed a cockroach making its way towards the oven. She didn’t answer.
“Listen, I’m really not in the mood for a fight”
She looked at me with a sad expression, still not talking.
“Fuck! Listen, maybe we should take a break.”
“What are you talking about?”
Her face was puzzled. Her voice was low and trilling. I could hear my heart pumping so fast that I thought I would have a heart attack. Her face turned pale. My feet were tingling.
“You could live with your parents for a while. It’ll be good for your writing too.”
She didn’t look like a bunny any more. I wondered when the bitch would come out.
“I work all day. It’s hard to take care of two, you know. And I haven’t written in a long time.”
“You know, you’ll regret this,” she said standing up after a pause. Her face looked like she was begging me to regret it rather than threatening me. She walked to the bedroom and slammed the door as hard as she could and cried for hours making sure it was loud, so I could hear it.
I spent the night on the couch in the living room watching some documentary about monkeys on the National Geographic channel and fell asleep about five. I dreamed after a long time. I was walking on the seashore then I saw a castle on a cliff. I climbed towards the castle and went to the highest tower. When I opened the door I saw an old lady sitting by a sewing machine. She didn’t look at me. We didn’t talk. There was only the sound of the needle constantly hitting a piece of fabric. I woke up with a back pain and checked the bedroom before leaving for work. She was gone. Her stuff was still around, so I felt a slight relief until I saw she had left her keys on the coffee table right next to the couch where I slept. I decided to tell her I had been under pressure when I saw her again. I had acted like an idiot and I didn’t mean what I said.
I walked into the cold street and took a deep breath. When I looked up I saw giant trees and thick ivies surrounding the buildings on the entire block. The sky was bright and pretty. There was a howling sound. I saw a turtle walking slowly, and then heard a scream like sound coming from the sky. I looked up and saw a falcon soaring. When I looked back at where the turtle had been, it was gone. I rushed to the train. But the trains were not running. There was no one around. First, I thought the city was under a terrorist attack. But, I couldn’t come up with a logical explanation for the animals or the giant trees as long as skyscrapers. No cars or busses were running either. I felt a pain in my stomach. A panther walked out the subway station running and slowed down by me. My legs felt numb. The panther didn’t pay much attention to me and ran off. I was feeling dizzy. I knelt down on the sidewalk trying to figure out what was going on. For a moment I thought my girlfriend had something to do with it. She wrote stuff about animals all day long. She was from the Eastern part of the world and I knew she had interest in spells, and magic. No, she wouldn’t. How? I thought maybe I was going insane.