“It’s fun”, by Mary Gaitskill
I wonder, if these girls were girls now, would they describe themselves as “assaulted” if someone put their hand on their knee? Would they say they were too “frozen” with dismay to stop him?
What another story we told about ourselves then. As we were aware that it was a story.
Although they don’t often express it freely, some people feel genuine sympathy for Quin. “It’s a parody,” a guy whispered huskily over a table over a group drink after work. “His life is ruined because a ass got caught? It was not just men: a publicist over sixty, who had been in the business forever, expressed her sympathy, calling him “wonderful” and “generous”, while her young colleagues frowned upon. brooding eyebrows. “Maybe overly generous,” she said, “to fools who didn’t deserve it, poor man.”
The prevailing opinion, however, is that he got what he deserved; he had apparently made more enemies than I thought. Yet most people consider my continued friendship with him to be loyal, even if it is suspect. My professional reputation, after all, was made when I published a book of charming stories about masochistic women (whose now charmless author is always complaining about the size of its lead), a book that has been seen in various ways as revolutionary, “empowering”, sad, mundane and, lastly, sociologically interesting; although I have brought many books into existence since then, I have never really parted with this titillating but boring aura. So I took it very personally when, after a particularly boring lecture, the gossip turned to all the men who had recently been exposed and ruined by outraged women, and a colleague said, what about I don’t can’t remember, “So there are the women trying to defend these creeps.” Those who say, ‘This is exactly how men are.’ For them, I pity. Because I can’t imagine what their life was like.
She didn’t look at me; I haven’t looked at her. Quin was not mentioned by name. Still, I would have liked to say, “Quin is ‘like’ no other man I have met. I don’t know of any other man so comical and strangely obscene. I don’t know of any other man who would kneel on the floor of a restaurant and try to kiss your feet just to be fancy. Or offer to carry your cash and lipstick so you can look more free. I don’t know any other man who would say to a crying woman he barely knew, “You’re a lovely spirit,” and ask her to meet him for tea when his “friend” hung up on him. My very good colleague would have, I am sure, hung up too, disgusted with my weakness at that time. It was Quin who restored me, and not just that day. Over the days, weeks and months, he helped me feel like I was part of humanity, and not just with his kindness; it was his stupidity, his humor, his dirt that rekindled my spirit.
I saw him for lunch the other day and he was exceptionally fit, perfectly dressed, his racy pom pom scarf. We talked about the books coming out, his books, one of which had just been very well reviewed in the Times; we chatted about colleagues. We talked about Carolina and Lucia who, at age eight, had suddenly taken to sucking her thumb, a development that his wife, he thought, was doing too much. He chatted with all the waiters, asking them about everything from their uniforms and how they felt wearing them to their greatest hopes and ambitions. The easy-going young people were obviously amused. “Keep asking questions! One urged as we finally made our exit.
“I think things are changing for me,” Quin said. “I can feel it. The city is opening up to me again.
Stories are just stories. Life is too long for anyone, and that’s why we make up stories. Women are now very much in the history of the victim; those I have offended are all victims, even though they are celebrated everywhere. I could make it my story too, but it’s not the best, because it’s way too simple. The best story is one that reveals a truth, like something you see and understand in a dream but forget about it as soon as you wake up. The girl who leaned over the toilet for me so long ago – she was playing a truth that she then ran away, and her escape was also true. When I put my thumb in the mouth of this bird – the example that Margot keeps evoking, as if it was the worst outrage – I dared her to show herself, and I showed myself too, showing my need to live and feel alive. I was asking, attractive: Can you play, do you play? His answer was no, and it was good. I bought his book anyway; I even read part of it.
Well and now the truth is everyone said no. Now the truth is I’m the man in the sexy artist video, kneeling down and barking for a kiss. Really, I’ve always been him. I would have done anything Sharona wanted – invite her boyfriend over to dinner with us, so I could be in her presence, kneel and bark if that could cause a laugh and a kiss, just a kiss! Well, it all sounds very misleading. I can see Margot roll her eyes. I can see Carolina, her stunned and sorry face, aged with grief – her appearance when she thinks I can’t see her, her appearance last night, walking out of Lucia’s room, her bright smile crumbling, then hardening as soon as she saw me. I can see my little girl, her lovely cheeks and forehead glistening in the dim light of her laptop behind a half-closed door, carefully not hearing the words of anger, the tears. What she might see on that laptop someday: It rushes at me with sickening speed, mischievously draws closer, then goes like a satanic truck in a horror movie. It’s a sad story, okay, but. . . It is best to take it one day at a time. And remember. . .
Life is big enough for any story. I walk down the street with tears streaming down my face; I walk through a world of flavored vending and refreshment displays, marching crowds, rutted streets, and steam pouring through cracks. Jackhammers, roaring buses, women rushing through traffic like knives in their high, pointy heels, in front of windows full of faces, products, luminous admonitions, light and dust. The slouching employees smoke in the doors; the waiters clean the tables in the open air. Eaters bask in front of empty plates, legs apart, working their phones. Flocks of pigeons, a cautious rat. At this newsstand, I know the owner; he catches my attention and tactfully registers my tears at the slightest change in his expression. Deep in his cave with feverish headlines and screaming faces, he shivers with cold and struggles to breathe; his lungs fail as he sells magazines and bottled water, mints and small basil plants. We greet each other; I don’t say but I think, Hi brother. And life goes by. In the area, people play instruments and sing. Sullen men sit with dirty dogs and beg. In the subway, a hawk-nosed boy with dyed, stringy, and somehow elegant hair crouches down and manipulates rude puppets to sexy music amid a strange array of old toys. There is something sinister; he looks up pale and obscene. An older woman laughs too loudly, trying to get his attention. A beggar looks at me and says, “Don’t be so sad. It will get better from time to time. And I believe it. There will be something else for me. If it’s not here then in London I can smell it. I’m on the ground and bleeding, but I’ll get up. I will sing songs of praise.
The beggar laughs behind me, shouts something I can’t hear. I turn around, a dollar already in hand.