When Lucy opened the door and greeted me and Lewis she mixed up our names. “You two look the same!” she insisted. She was always doing this and I wondered if it was just an affectation. Abe was sitting at her kitchen counter drinking a beer, and on the sofa sat a couple I’d never seen before. Introductions were made, they were Gary and Rachel, two final year clinical psychology PhDs. A high brow bunch, in short. When they asked me what I did I felt rather insignificant. “I’m an underemployed liberal arts graduate,” I said. No, I didn’t say that, but if only, it would have been rather clever.
Dinner began. Lucy mentioned several times how Abe’s dinner from a few weeks ago had inspired her to outdo him, implying that she had in fact outdone him. “I thought Abe’s dinner was pretty good,” Lewis said.
“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” Lucy said. Most of what she said warrants exclamation points, a piece of punctuation I’m normally reluctant to employ.
I was in a contemplative mood. Lucy regaled us with a tale of one of her advisers, whom she suspected had hacked into her email account. Abe was incredulous. “What you’re saying is completely preposterous,” he said. But she insisted, there was possibly even a whole team from the faculty working against her.
It was difficult for me to discern whether or not she was serious. There was something performative about her behavior, as if it were an extended gag. But she never let up. Perhaps it was a matter of complete indifference to her if her claims were true or not, and she argued them just for the impression they created. I reflected that the same claim could be said about me, at moments, or any number of the characters in my life. Lucy was simply an extreme example. And isn’t this what goes into writing a story, in a sense? The alienated self writes itself, as authors write their stories.
As I said, I was in a contemplative mood. I considered the couple sitting across from me. Gary’s body language and the way he looked at Rachel clearly evinced his affection, even infatuation, perhaps, for Rachel. Ah, love. Rachel, though not indifferent, seemed content to just bask in his affections. Then I overheard her call him “sugar pie” as he stood up to go to the bathroom.
“I’m going to have some wine,” Lucy announced, presumably because she rarely drank and so this was an exceptional moment.
“Oh, no,” Abe said.
Indeed, by the time we finished dinner she did seem drunk, but it could have just been her histrionics. Gary and Rachel left, saying they both had to be up early the following morning.
We moved to her living room and she offered that we play a game. Wait, I seem to recall that there was another person in the room. Courtney was also there, how could I have forgotten.
“Why don’t we try and levitate someone?” Lucy said.
“Yeah, I used to do that at sleepovers when I was a kid,” Courtney said.
“This is ludicrous,” Abe said.
“I agree,” I said. And this was true, but lately it had seemed to me that so little of interest was happening, and at least this was out of the ordinary, a curiosity if nothing else. Lewis stood up—I could tell he felt awkward—and said he was going to leave. “I want to see the evening out to its end,” I said.
Abe begrudgingly lay on the floor and the two girls kneeled down on either side of him, one touching his feet, the other touching his hands.
“Alright, we need to concentrate very deeply,” Lucy said. They remained in that position for a few moments, silent. “Do you feel anything?”
“A little indigestion,” Abe said.
“Oh come on! I need another glass of wine,” Lucy said.
The next game was going to be prank calls, again it was suggested by Lucy. “I see a theme evolving here,” I said. Devolving was actually the appropriate word. Perhaps this was my cue to leave but I felt exceptionally spectatorial, for once my gaze was directed outward and if I left it would mean simply going home, where I would resume contemplating myself, masturbate, and then go to bed.
I still couldn’t decide if Lucy was merely performing or if it was all genuine—in the latter case, perhaps it was contemptible of me to be taking pleasure in watching her act foolish. But if it was just a charade, then I was in on the joke, and we were all laughing together.
In the spirit of things I offered that Lucy call the coffee shop, because I knew Jay would be working and he would take a joke like that pretty well.
“Hello may I speak to Jay…yes…this is Lucy…well I just want to say that things aren’t really going well between us…that’s right…yes…well the truth is I found another man…that’s right…last night in fact we made love for the first time…there was even a noise complaint from the neighbors…what do you think of that!…in short I’m breaking up with you, I see no other option…” And so on. She delivered her speech so glibly and with such a straight face that we were all stifling our laughs. It was a very considered performance, after all, and this was the pay off.
But then things took a turn. After hanging up on Jay Lucy offered that we call her latest man, a guy from the gym she’d picked up and slept with a couple of times. “He mistreated me! I was crying last night and he came over and all he wanted to do was bang!” she exclaimed.
“Maybe calling him out on that now, with a prank phone call, is not the best way to address it,” Courtney suggested.
“No, it’ll be great. This is fun,” she insisted. Something was cracked about her now. Her carefully calculated affect was beginning to crumble. But there was no convincing her to just call it a night. She dialed him from her land line so he wouldn’t recognize her number. “Hello, it’s me Lucy,” she
said. She put it on speaker.
“Hey what’s up?” the voice on the other end said.
“I need you to come over. We need to have a chat and, well, it’s been a wild and fun evening and we need you here. Right Courtney?” I detected a sly, perhaps sexual, innuendo in her voice. She covered the speaker with her hand so the guy wouldn’t hear. “Tell him, Courtney! And say he’s a piece of shit.”
A quizzical expression formed on Courtney’s face. “Are you sure?” she said.
“Yeah, it’s funny.” She released her hand from the receiver and held the phone out towards Courtney.
“We do need you here and, uh, you’re a piece of shit,” she said, rather reluctantly.
“Well anyway we’ll get into all that as soon as you get here,” Lucy said.
So we sat awkwardly and waited while Lucy explained to us the guy’s offenses, which all centered around the last time he’d paid her a visit. She’d been in an emotional state, crying, etc. (she didn’t elaborate, as if crying on a Wednesday night were a regular occurrence), and she had hoped he could comfort her. And he tried, perhaps, in his own way, which was simply by attempting to get her in bed. She was teetering on the edge of disinterestedness, it alternately seemed like she had been truly hurt—was truly hurt—and like it was all a joke to her, and the guy was nothing more than her plaything.
When he arrived he immediately looked towards me and said, “Hey, I remember you from the coffee shop!” I didn’t remember him, I couldn’t keep track of all the faces I saw daily. I shifted in my seat. “I’m Kevin, nice to meet you.” He approached me and offered his hand, which I took reluctantly. Then he turned to the others and did the same. It was obvious that he was uncomfortable, his gestures were stiff and forced, his speech overly proper, like this actually was a formal dinner party, and not—I didn’t know what it was.
And so Lucy and Kevin’s private drama unfolded before us, the confused voyeurs. “Well, I really just wanted to tell you that you’re a piece of shit. You can go now,” she said.
But he was going to stand his ground. “I’m not going to let you make a straw man out of me and badmouth to all of your friends,” he said, gesturing towards us. “So what is this all about?”
I cringed. If there is such a thing as feeling appropriately, then he was out of line. He was more concerned with his reputation with us, which was already ruined anyway, than with Lucy. Whatever was about to happen was not meant for me to see.
“Okay, you asked for it,” Lucy said. “You know, you would be a real fucked up guy, a real evil guy, but you’re not clever enough. You came over here, treated me like a piece of meat. I was crying and upset and I called you, and all you wanted to do was have sex. And I feel bad for you because you don’t know any better. But come on, have some sense! I was crying, and you just started trying to take my shirt off. It’s you – guys like you, my therapist says – who have damaged my view of men.”
Now it was clear that she was cracked. The gag was over, if it had ever been one.
“I’m drunk, I’m not thinking straight,” she said.
I considered this peculiar drama in front of me. There was merit in what she’d said to him, pathos even, but mostly it seemed like a ludicrous imitation of the real thing. And yet I wondered if perhaps all of our private dramas would seem, to the impartial observer, rather embarrassing. This could be why I haven’t said a single word about my numerous love affairs, I wouldn’t even have the courage to read my own words.
And of course I couldn’t help but feel pity for the awkward young man. Yes, he was older than me but in his vulnerable state he was more like a confused adolescent than a physics PhD.
I reflected that what separated Lucy from me, or Abe, or Courtney wasn’t that she’d had these thoughts about the guy, rather mean-spirited thoughts but in some sense warranted; it was that she trusted them so much that she let them all lose. Most of us only feel the powerful, unconsidered emotions, and by the time we’ve gone to the trouble of articulating them they’ve been mitigated and made more palatable. Or could it be that I am emotionally effete?
At that moment I imagine we were all wondering whom we would have prank called—whom we would have invited over so as to unload all our resentment. I had a few people in mind.
Eventually the two ex-lovers seemed to realize that they were both fighting a losing battle, each blow was only digging their shared hole deeper and deeper. “I’m not thinking straight, you’d better just go,” Lucy said, her voice strained.
When he finally left Lucy seemed for the first time that evening truly vulnerable. All of her giddy energy had dissipated. “I feel bad, I’m not being myself,” she said. Luckily Courtney was there to attempt to console her. There was nothing else left for me to do so I said thanks for the dinner and made my exit.
A couple of weeks later, walking home from work, I ran into Lucy. “Lewis!” I heard, from a distance. She was hailing me from across the street. I walked over and reminded her that I wasn’t Lewis. Next to her stood a brute of man, he looked like a regular meathead with his bulging biceps. Another one of her gym pick-ups, I assumed. “This is Ricky,” she said.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, taking my hand. He grip was strong and sweaty.
“The pleasure’s all mine,” I said.