THREESOME

Her worn-through red plaid flannel bathrobe wasn’t quite warm enough this early in the morning, but being a little chilly in spite of hot coffee was not unpleasant and kept her alert for writing. Out the window behind her computer the sun gilded a branch. Inside the window, under the lamp, curled the cat. Who should she be today? Who had she always wanted to be, way down deep, the opposite of an old stout woman who never got enough exercise.

She blew her nose — it dripped when she was chilly — and stuffed the tissue back into a big patch pocket of the robe. The name of the lover from “Ramona,” Helen Hunt Jackson’s classic romantic novel, came to her mind. Alessandro.
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Alessandro had gotten into the middle of a long-standing feud between factions of his Indio family up in the remote mountains of Mexico. He had killed his uncle, not intending such a thing, and was now afoot, going north, joining the streams of more intentional travelers headed for American cities. Thin but with defined strong muscles, he was not finished with his coming-of-age. People looked at him — he had a handsome face. When he washed naked in a stream, immodestly, people’s eyes slid down his sides to that fleshly arroyo at the top of the hip that leads to the brushy tangle of convergence.

Ten years later he had found a role in the SW states as a whore for men, but not an ordinary one. One shoulder was tattooed with the Chinese word for War and the other side said Peace. It meant nothing. They could have said love and hate or yin and yang or left and right. He just wanted the two-sidedness. Also, he had asked the tattoo artist, who was very skillful, to color his ear lobes blue with a tiny orange butterfly on one of them. Instead of earrings, he wore wide silver cuffs on the outer rims. His hair was long, bleached white, and his skin was burned dark. He wore chambray blue workshirts, open to his silver belt buckle, and loaded his wrist with jingling silver bangles, which oddly suggested the Navajo to people who didn’t know Indians — even though Alessandro stayed in the SW where they should have known. Bangles were actually more of a gypsy affectation he had seen in a magazine. Some called him “Sidewinder,” after that sideways snake, but others just called him “Winder” because he wound people up.

He was a connoisseur of experience, which meant both sensations and drugs, the interior sensations. He was a creature from a Coleridge poem (someone told him — probably some overeducated female) but also — far beyond opium — like some shrewd amateur scientist in a rogue laboratory. How far can arousal go before losing control? What degree of tumescence can be tolerated before numbness sets in? For himself, he liked to plunge into the unknown abyss, deranged hallucinations like whitewater rafting at spring peak flood stage, no guarantee of survival because he sought that uncertainty where the knife edge cuts into the fog, revealing that nothing matters — not really. After the tattoos he never allowed needles again. Not out of caution, but because he wanted no injections, no piercing of his skin’s velvet surface. That was his boundary, his conceit.
____________________

It was at this point that the writer always had to take a break, walk around, brew more coffee, let the image and possibilities build and swell into a story. Should this tale have a happy ending? Should she summon dragons or snapdragons? It was time to add the next character.
________________

Then one day he realized he was just plain puking sick and had to find a clinic, in spite of his resolve to never intervene in his own life except to mess with others. Pain he understood, even sought out — the bruising, the cut of the whip, being tied into impossible positions until he ached, all taught him something though he could not have said what. They gave him visions. But nausea was different. And he hated the smell and mess, to say nothing of the humiliation. Diarrhea, worse — he didn’t have easy access to facilities and fresh clothing.

The doctor was black. That was a surprise. And he was very big. He took Alessandro in his hands, moved his limbs, tapped his joints, pressed his abdomen hard, slid his stethoscope lightly against front and back, and peered into his dark kohl-rimmed eyes with a tiny flashlight. He said, “You are very sick.” Alessandro said, “I have no money,” which was true at that moment. “No matter. I will take you home,” said the doctor, and he did. It was confusing, because this doctor lived in an old adobe with a walled yard, very spare and humble except for books. “You have AIDS,” said the doctor. Alessandro said nothing. The doctor said, “So do I.”

From then on they lived together, slept together, ate together, had sex together but not in any conventional way. Alessandro tried all his tricks of teasing, stroking, evoking emotions by singing or telling stories, pretending not to know what he was perfectly aware of. But the doctor knew how to observe and always saw both the surface and the depth. He had cut people open and knew that they were not filled with sofa pillows but rather drenched in blood and cleverly knotted. Each man had a small wall cabinet, Mexican, carved of dark wood, one with legal drugs and the other with illegal. Both categories of substances could alter consciousness and even identity. They did not interfere with each other’s drugs. But they were already changing each other.
_________________

The cat jumped off the writer’s desk and went outside, making the cat flap squeak. The day was warm now. What is the point of this story? What does it say about life? Or is it voyeurism and that’s all?
__________________

One day Alessandro was attacked by some men who had always used his services until he had disappeared. If they could not have him, no one could have him, so their attack was savage and left him sprawled senseless in the street. But they didn’t rob him. The doctor came looking for him and carried him back into the shadowed adobe, his dangling arm jingling, to the simple white bed. Maybe he should have taken him to a hospital, but he knew that would only prolong the inevitable. He thought, “Life is a trajectory, like an ejaculation.” And he thought, “I am a healer, but I have limits. Has this boy gone beyond them?” He prepared a syringe with a glittering needle, like a tiny stiff viper.
____________

And the writer thought, “Is the protagonist the healer or the boy in this story? Should I have the doctor lie down alongside the boy, dying with him? Should the doctor intend to do this and take fatal drugs, only to have the boy wake, like Romeo and Juliet? Would that change the meaning? But what IS the meaning?”

It isn’t really possible to be a writer without having some kind of philosophical position. What template is under this story — the impossibility of real permanence even in relationships, the ephemerality of human life along with every other kind of life, the excruciating beauty of the moment and the gift of experiencing it? What is the relevance of morality? She thought, “I can only answer the last question. There is no relevance to morality in this story. It just is.”

The cat, outside, was stretched out on the deck, idly watching birds, just letting birds cross her mind. Whatever birds are — besides playthings. They were certainly not worth eating. Not like canned tuna. In a moment she would go inside and demand some.

The writer sighed, “Maybe I should write about something more in my experience.”

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