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Daughters of the Revolution (Vintage Contemporaries)by Carolyn Cooke
He begins with a bang at the center of his story. It’s spring of that revolutionary year, not too far in. Meringues of snow line the sidewalks, but a freshness cuts the air. Goddard Byrd—known to his friends and enemies as “God”—has just emerged from an afternoon at the Parker House Hotel, a virile, uncircumcised male of his class, upbringing and era. His prostate gland and his praeputium have not yet been removed, and he is unburdened, just now, of Puritanism’s load. He has drunk a glass of gin, then lain with Mrs. Viktor Rebozos—whom he must remember to call Aileen—and both of them are better for this exercise.
In bed, she tells him he is a bear, all paws and claws. She insults him, purrs, climbs on top. She wants to know if he could be any wild animal, which would he be?
An animal? He would be a tiger!
(She would be a gazelle.)
He likes himself better this way, his natural shyness tempered by adrenaline. She is more fl exible than he, more at ease, depending on the occasion—more pliable. Women are pliable, he thinks; they revel in the shifting relations required by husbands,
children, lovers, others. (How can this be a matter of opinion?) He can’t tell Mrs. Rebozos these things; she might eat him alive.
They lie together in the fading afternoon light, the March grisaille. “The most beautiful words in the English language are sex in the afternoon,” she tells him, and he can’t, in the moment, find reason to correct her. Mrs. Rebozos’s tongue darts suddenly across his left nipple, and God rises with an animal roar, his body fire and ice.
She smiles. “I read that in The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana.”
“Do it again,” says God.
Her tongue and lips move excruciatingly over his body, describing ancient erotic techniques from the Orient. He rises obediently as a snake in a basket. God lifts his head to look at her, and feels an organ breach (liver? spleen?). She is so gamine, indeed! She looks like a boy. Almost. Short hair. Hoops in her ears. All of it signifying what? Maybe nothing. Eventually, he pins her to her back, which she seems to enjoy, and humps her in the familiar way, running breathlessly toward a goal, which he reaches.
“You’re beginning to get it, my earnest missionary,” she tells him afterward. “Let’s hope it’s not too late.”
They share a plate of cold roast beef, a famous roll. Naked, quivering a little, she wraps a blue knit scarf around her shoulders. “My dark secret,” she says. “All my life I’ve been drawn to misogynist coots like you. Like a taste for black coffee—incredible when you think about it.” Even God is surprised that a free-spirited woman such as Mrs. Rebozos would so defi antly stand beside an old man, in his shadow, eat meat with him and be his prize!
“I have to go,” he says into her ear. “You could stay all afternoon; you could have a bath.”
“Just a quick shower,” she says. “I have a women’s thing. Last week, we inspected our cervixes. Mine looked like an eye.
God tries to conceal his horror. At three, he descends, leaving Mrs. Rebozos to enjoy the rented room, whose extravagant price stabs him when he thinks of it. (In spite of the evidence, he imagines her as feminine, passive, mysterious and inert. Women
in their beds, Rorschach blots on luminous sheets.)
He advances through the lobby and rolls into the street like a well-oiled man on wheels. The atmosphere of hostility and depravity beyond the doors of the Parker House stings him like a slap. The street is fi lthy; even the city fathers are off their game, lax or stoned. Girls in paper dresses—temporary dresses for temporary girls—giggle at him. He’s harmless, they think, the last of a dying breed.
God passes gently into a haze of mustard-purple-maroon and marijuana fumes. In spite of the expense of the hotel and the crudeness of the street, he feels deeply at home in this world. It is divided and antagonistic, fi lled with human hatreds bred by race, religion and economics; he loves it anyway.
From the Hardcover edition.
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