Academic journal article TriQuarterly


Academic journal article TriQuarterly


Article excerpt

The Living Word was Jerome's bookstore. It was a cubbyhole, a small room jammed with Bibles, inspirational books, and cards for religious occasions; and it was located in a Long Island shopping plaza, between a record store and a bridal boutique that had gone out of business months earlier and was about to reopen as one of a chain of restaurant-bars that catered to college students. On the street outside The Living Word, Jerome stared through the restaurant windows as a crew of workers prepared for opening night. From the ceiling, King Kong hung vertically suspended, one huge hairy arm swiping at a biplane dangling from a rafter just out of reach. His other arm was wrapped around a red supporting column, as if he were leaning out from it, holding on to keep from falling. A scantily clad Fay Wray trapped in Kong's grip pressed the back of her hand to her forehead, on the verge of fainting.

From behind him, Jerome heard the sound of knocking on glass, and he turned around to find Alice waving for him to come into the record shop. Alice was the sales clerk and manager. At twenty-two she was only a couple of years older than his youngest daughter, but that didn't keep her from flirting. With the tip of her finger, seductively, she pushed her black, buttonless, boat-top blouse down off one shoulder. Jerome put his hands on his hips and frowned at her. In response, she pouted elaborately, making her bottom lip quiver as if she were about to cry. Jerome laughed and went into the record shop.

"When are you going to stop playacting Jezebel?" he said, as soon as he pushed open the door.

"Don't start." Alice pulled her blouse back over her shoulder, and glanced up at a large concave mirror suspended above her head like a satellite dish. There were no customers in the store. "I have a favor to ask."


"Take me out tonight."

Jerome laughed again.

"I'm serious. Just for a couple of hours. Your wife'll never find out." Alice sat behind the counter on a barstool, her hands in her lap, her black jeans and black blouse contrasting sharply with fair skin and platinum-blond hair cut short as a man's. Jerome stared at her for a long moment, waiting for something in her expression to give her away, but she returned his stare unflinchingly, and in the end he couldn't tell if she were kidding with him as usual or if she were serious. He said, as if trying to understand: "You want me to take you out tonight."

She nodded, expressing exaggerated amazement at his lack of comprehension.


"Next door. The new place. I want to drop acid."

Jerome laughed again, this time throwing his head back and folding his hands over his belly.

"Cut it out." Alice pursed her lips. Her slightly pointed nose in combination with short hair pushed back off her forehead gave her a birdlike look, her hair like a bird's cap.

"What?" Jerome said. "You're not serious?"

"You did it!" Alice's voice traveled up an octave. "You did drugs! You were wild!"

"That was twenty-five years ago," Jerome said. "I told you like a warning, not like you should try it."

"Well, that's not the way I heard it. I'm serious. I want you to take me out tonight."

Jerome went behind the counter. He stood in front of Alice and took her hands in his. Their image was reflected in the concave mirror. Jerome was a tall, heavy man, bearlike in build, wearing a plain white shirt and blue jeans held up by bright red suspenders. His long graying hair was pulled back neatly in a ponytail, and he had a gold-crucifix earring in his pierced right ear. Alice was sylphlike, dressed all in black, hunched forward on her counter stool. "Alice," Jerome said. "You don't want to drop acid. Believe me. Drugs will only make your life more of a mess."

"Bullshit," Alice said. "My life can't be any more of a mess."

Jerome knew what Alice was talking about. She was in love with a performance artist from Brooklyn who called himself St. …

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