I first noticed it while standing alongside my Toyota Corolla. Staring down a Somerville alleyway despondent with tenements . . . windows shattered, graffiti spray-painted on front doors, porches, and sidewalks . . . staring past a poultry market where white rabbits clasped in wire cages wait to be slaughtered, past a gutted Victorian mansion with a purple turret, I see it: the lake. It is black and green and almost indistinguishable from the moist street, the tenements' peeling gray and green clapboards. I recognize it as a sanctuary for I can hide among the briers and brush along its shore, I can drink its water, even eat its fish.
Perhaps desperate people always consider extremes.
Last autumn, I observed my jilted friend Hilda, the morning sunlight filtering through her waist-length hair, waiting weeks in a downtown Boston cafeteria for a new lover. When my friend, Tom, was approaching 50 and facing destitution, he brushed his good charcoal Brooks Brothers suit, had a late Sunday luncheon in his employer's Belmont solarium, then accepted his employer's love invitation of a gold watch. Just last week, the Boston Globe examined a photograph of a prominent elderly State Street lawyer who had set fire to his unfaithful lover's residence, and then had stood before an incoming subway car mistaking the commuters' warnings for jeers. I have read newspaper accounts of sufferers who took solitary walks across partially frozen lakes, fascinated and comforted by the chance and the horror that the ice may collapse. And didn't John Berryman jump from a silver bridge onto the partially frozen Mississippi? Don't some impotent men nearly throttle themselves with their neckties during masturbation, while others, forgetting the rules of bondage and discipline smother their partners?
I believe some people understand Mapplethorpe and the idea that once a man has been abused by another, once a man has been forced to submit as a victim, only the ability to torture others, or himself, gives pleasure.
First day of school vacation. I stop in front of The Chocolate Stripper candy store, edge of downtown Boston. Classmates rumor that there, in covered two-pound boxes, chocolate men have erections reaching their knees. I admire the display window's bouquet of chocolate lollipops: pink roses, red tulips, purple and white irises individually cellophaned, tied with narrow green satin ribbons. Plate glass prevents my tasting. In Essex Street gutter, a fallen drunk leers at me with one brown eye, one blue. A woman tents her hair over her client's thighs in a parked Chevrolet outside Pussy's All-Nude Revue. Around O'Toole's Barroom, a sidewalk's cracks are bloodstained.
Somerville kitchen, 1963, drowsy with late-June sun, chipped vase of Queen Anne's lace in white porcelain sink. My mother's lover, Mick, sharpens a paring knife on diamond hone at an angle of 19 degrees, looks up at me in from shooting agates in our back yard, points to my leftover fried fish lunch on the table. Fillet and boning knives, razored at an angle of 15 degrees, hunting knife, beveled at an angle of 22 degrees, rest on the pink counter top alongside him.
Wielding the paring knife, he lunges at me. Kicks at my sex. Impotent with her, he requites possible displeasure by marring me, her young and supple flesh.
Nights I watch by lampglow. Their bedroom door slightly ajar, I see Mother stride her lover, my tormentor. Bed sheet slides away. With one hand, he finger fucks my mother, while he vigorously rubs his cock. My mother's ass, two white altar lilies; her pubic thatch, long, coarse-like llama hair. Licking, kissing, sucking his lips . . . for a moment I imagine my child-sized mother tears, eats her lover's flesh. He hardens, grasps her hips, thrusts her cunt to his cock, comes before he can enter her.
The next morning, after Mother has left for work, my mother's lover bathes. Calls for me to wash his back. Overlooking my bruised backside, the kicks in my crotch, his taunt, "I'm impotent, you bastard. By Christ, I'll make you impotent too," I soap him with Lux. Later, I dust him with Mennen's.
Unable to make him come in the tub by lathering his cock, I crouch by the toilet, pee my pants, want to shit. Smelling my pee, my mother's lover pees on me.
He naps, towel-wrapped, atop my mother's bed. Sunlight sticks to the Venetian blinds. I mop the bathroom floor.
Puffy-faced, urine-stenched, poop-reeked, I sit on the front porch, wait for dusk, Mother home from office. She kneels before me where I am in the wicker chair. I smell her Charles of the Ritz face powder, touch her sweater's pewter buttons.
Mother closes the plastic curtains, insists I tub soak. Peeing my pants is no cause for shame.
Mick joins us, leans down on us, our three faces nearly touching at tubside. He has gifts. For me, a new drawstring leather marble bag; for Mother, perfume . . . Evening in Paris silver-scripted on the bottle's dark blue face.
One afternoon, at the end of summer, my mother's lover takes his belt to me, mashes the buckle in my mouth, strikes me with the back of the hand until my nose bleeds. I gasp. Sob. He forces my mouth onto his cock and when I gag, vomit lunch, he smacks me against the tiles. I ball myself up. He kicks me.
He naps, towel-wrapped, atop my mother's bed. Sunlight oozes through the Venetian blinds. With my Xacto blade, razored at an angle of 11 degrees, I nick him.
From my bedroom window, the white sky is crimped with red edges. In the back yard, the grass is brown, tangled, stiff, matted like an old dog that had died outdoors, has not yet been found. In the distance, on the periphery of the neighborhood, trees blur in evening fog.
That night my mother's lover leaves for good. My mother takes me into her bed, tells me again of her glimpse of her dead grandmother, Margaret, tied to a board. Margaret had been bathed, night-gowned by her daughter-in-law while the undertaker prepared her casket for parlor display.
"I was about four years old, and I was running through my grandmother's downstairs rooms looking for my mother. Someone mentioned she was 'in there' and pointed to a bedroom's closed door. I rushed in, saw Margaret strapped to a board straight up against the wall. Her head drooped upon her breast, a stone angel crumbling in an old cemetery."
"Does that story bother you, Ianthe?" she asks.
"No," I say.
"That's good. Means you're like me then. Because my telling it bothered Mick tonight. That's why he's had to pack and leave."
The lake is now an ebony smudge just past the tenements, just past the rabbit carcasses hanging for sale in the poultry market's display window. It is nearly obliterated by a purple turret at the bottom of the street. Yes, I believe some people understand Mapplethorpe, an abused man's pleasure. I believe some people will condone my wish for the lake to be partially frozen, and spanned, miraculously, by a silver bridge.