You Say Beauty

It is a special night. You have left a party held in our honor in a big house once owned by the niece of a Philadelphia banking magnate. Mainline Brahmins used to visit the house, invited by the niece to spend a weekend in the country, away from the bustle of their urban lives. Now, after passing through several owners, the house is being rented by several artists who do many more drugs than art. The house is falling apart, its ghosts long gone, but the artists don’t care. They paint a few pictures or make believe they paint a few pictures then down the LSD, snort the cocaine, smoke the weed. There are many people at the party, most of whom you find unpleasant. They look too much like bohemians, the men scraggly and bearded, the women thin and unwashed. They have come not because of art but because of the liquor and the drugs. An hour ago the wife of a truck driver offered herself to you in the attic and after the sex, you wanted to get away from her. Her armpits were unshaven, a fact you noticed in the post-coitus. She talked too much but said nothing. Nights are like that. Desire in, desire out. You say beauty and everything crumbles. You will make much meaning out of this many years hence. Now her husband truck driver wants to show a pornographic movie in the living room. Perhaps he knows about the sex upstairs. All you want to do is go outside, get away from the wife, the husband, the film. Nothing personal. A soft breeze blows in from the south and you can hear the plaintive call of a loon in the distance where the bad music doesn’t reach.

Rowing Home, 1890
(Watercolor, 13 3/4 x 19 7/8 in.)
BY Winslow Homer
The Phillips Collection

There’s a small wooden rowboat tied to the dock and you take it out to the middle of the river where the moon is waiting for you. On both banks there are large shadowy trees and beyond them the crumbling estates where once the wealthy gamboled. The moon looms under you, big, white and pockmarked. You bend over the edge of the rowboat to kiss it, aiming for the Sea of Tranquility but you would much prefer the dark side if you could reach it. You like the unknown, the unseen, the black kiss. Inches away from the surface you recognize the smells of benzene and untreated sewage floating over the sweet scent of decomposing leafy matter. It is not the river of your dreams, of your lust, no matter how much you’ve drunk tonight. Still, it is the only river you’ve got.

Moments before your lips meet the water, too late now to go back on your intent, you tip over and fall through the surface, disappearing into the brown depths and leaving behind a string of pearly bubbles that pop softly on the surface. That’s the way it always is. Glub-glub, but no one listens, glub-glub where the river is the same, never the same, and the moon awaits your undoing.

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