Here is how it works: her brother brings them in. She pretends, at first, that she doesn’t see them, that she doesn’t see anything.
She has always had that look, far away and distant and from another time. When they first started this, they paled up her skin, thinking that more ghostly would be more convincing, but, after a few dry runs, they decided that that pale was too pale, and it made the marks suspicious.
The ones who don’t believe her, who think she is a scam, but a fun and entertaining one and why not pay the five dollars?, believe that she traffics in generalities, banal statements of fame and fortune or tragedy and pain that could apply, really, to just about anyone. Or they believe that she is at the head of an entire network of scam artists, which includes that chatty woman selling beads and knick-knacks down the road, and the bodega guy who sells roasted corn, the bartender in the only bar in this six block stretch, and the kid selling Coca-Cola and ice cream bars out of a white plastic cooler, that they are all working for her, feeding her information, passing along secret signals about what couple is ripe for the picking, where they are from, who they long to hear from again, what they long for her to tell them. Some of them think that she tells them only what she thinks they want to hear, stories of success or fame or happiness or fulfillment, while others think that it’s her brother who is the scam artist and that she is simply one of his pawns, that he’s pulling all the strings and making all the predictions and suckering all the tourists.
Here is how it works: her brother brings them inside. Even before any of them—the marks, her brother—step inside, she begins to write, and she writes and she writes, and when she’s done, she steps back and waits for them to ask her what it all means. She doesn’t know what it all means, but she reads it to them anyway, everything she has written. She doesn’t know where it comes from or what it all means or whether it is true or a lie, whether it makes sense to them or not, and she doesn’t care.
All that she cares about is that she will write and write, until there is nothing left, and then she will read what she has written, and that no matter what she cannot stop.
Frank, His Bride
She had invited him to her place in Bushwick. He thought it was going to be just him. She invited him to see a new project she was working on. She was an artist. He was in love with her, had been for ages. We might as well get that out there right now. But there was a crowd of people in her tiny apartment and pouring out into her tiny backyard and he wasn’t tiny at all.
Some of them were people he knew but a lot of them weren’t. He had always been self-conscious around the people he didn’t know. The scars on his face and his arms, not to mention on his chest and back and legs, too, but nobody saw those. Still, considering what they could see. Well. He wasn’t blind. He had two eyes. Two different but very good eyes. He knew what he looked like. Discolored and mismatched.
He hadn’t spent all those years hidden from civilization for the fun of it.
Walking around the city or riding the subway, it was easy for people to overlook him, or look right through him without ever seeing him. But here, in such a small space? At a party? Well. You didn’t expect to find the homeless masturbating guy from the R train to show up at your friend’s apartment in Bushwick, was the thing, and when he did, you tended to notice.
Not that Frank was the homeless masturbating guy from the R train, but you get the point.
Sometimes, when he stepped into a scene like this his overwhelming urge was to point at someone obviously beautiful and yell, Hey, who invited the monster.
So far, he’d been able to tamp that impulse down.
It was a waiting game at these sorts of things. People who didn’t know him or had maybe only seen him in the neighborhood were horrified—who wouldn’t be?—and they tried to catch each others’ eyes and sooner or later they caught the eyes of someone who knew—or thought they knew—and slowly the story was passed around. Disfiguring disease. Rare form of elephantiasis. Or, whatever.
The looks of horror would melt first into shame and then pity and then brighten into a crisp kind of pride. They were enlightened and hadn’t judged and had seen right away that there must have been more to him. Why else would he have been here? And by then his situation, the sheer grotesquery of him, had become their badge, their triumph.
His only consolation was that it was all a lie.
The disease they thought he had. A lie.
He didn’t have any disease, except maybe the disease of life.
Or, rather, of dead flesh reanimated—on a cold and rainy night by a sudden flash of lightning—into some grotesque, misunderstood facsimile of life.
He stood in line for the keg. People in front of him, sensing his presence, shuffled out of the way, and then a beer was in his hand. He nodded, grunted. He was doing his best not to let on—to himself, anyway—just how disappointed he was that there were so many people here.
New art. My house. Nobody else will get it but u.
That was the text she’d sent him.
Nobody else but u.
Those were the words that made a thrill pass through his otherwise thrill-proof flesh.
He wanted to leave. He couldn’t leave now, though. Leaving usually caused as much a scene as arriving did, and he didn’t want all the whispering and gossip about what the hell had happened to his face, why his arms didn’t look like they matched, why the pieces of him all looked so, well, pieced together—he didn’t want any of that to take away from her thing, whatever that thing was.
Something about a bride, he overheard from two women standing to his left.
His heart sank. He’d be damned if he came out all this way, suffered through the stares and the whispers, all for this to turn out to be some strange, elaborate, artistic engagement party.
You don’t think? the other woman asked, then raised her hand, pointed to her ring finger.
No way, the first woman said. She caught Geoff—and here she made the international sign for fucking—that whore, Rachelle. Then she nodded across the yard where stood, presumably, the whore in question.
Anyway, she continued. Not her style.
She shrugged. All I know is she bought, like, ten gallons of squid ink.
He moved away, tired of the conversation, of all the conversations.
The Bride. Squid ink. Who knew. He was happy enough knowing Geoff had screwed up and this wasn’t an engagement thing.
Frank finished his beer.
He looked around. He waited for it all to start. And then there was a bang, and then there was a scream, and then he turned, and there was she.
Stories by Manuel Gonzales
Photos by Emily Raw
Song by Ellia Bisker