Through Alice Glass Darkly

by Larry Smith

“I’ve not gone that far before.”

She saw the light in his eyes. It was the light of the lover’s triumph, the sort she’d come to adore. The moment she said it, the awesome power she angled for passed right through her. It was all around the room. She thrilled at this power in him, which was all for her. It made him so happy, and she knew how to conjure it. She loved it more than anything else in life.

“No one ever came in your mouth before?” When she shook her head, with the studied timidity she knew men found attractive, he smiled intently, all the more intently because he didn’t part his lips at all. Because of her, he would walk home the next day in the early morning autumn drizzle alive with the sense of nonpareil conquest. The October light churned inside him. Elated, he’d greet each passer-by with a hello. The world is yours, Mark Fargus.

Alice Glass was demure, diminutive, nearly exquisite. Her eyes really were green. She had lovely thin lips. Naked, when she’d admire her puckered blood-red nipples in the mirror, she imagined the joy of men seeing them for the first time. How sweet to the suck they must be! Alice walked on girlish little chicken legs. Her back tapered smoothly to her bum. Sometimes, she cropped her dark blond hair. Other times, she put it up in a bun like a schoolmarm’s. She knew how men exalt to make a schoolmarm moan. Howling was the gift she gave the men she wanted happy. Alice was not an eye catcher in the sense that strangers stared at her on the street. But men who spent time with her, and got to know her, or just spent an extra moment or two to look at her, realized how beautiful she was.

Jack Rutter, aroused with love in the April bloom, thought it extraordinary to have his thing in her mouth. When he finished up, he marveled at the daisy-like loveliness of the face he had dumped in. It was beauty itself, like an abstraction, the very definition of loveliness and beauty that he’d penetrated. Jack was intelligent enough to recognize abstraction when he saw it and he savored it accordingly. But it was when she bowed her head and smiled, and said, “I must tell you, I’ve not gone that far before,” that his very self hovering above her expanded like a bellows.

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“Well, no. I’m not kidding,” said Alice. She pressed his hand to her cheek. “I didn’t think I would, but I was enjoying it so.” She looked up, grinning. “I just couldn’t stop!”

“I can’t believe it.”

“Honest Injin!” she laughed. “And might I say thank you?”

“Thank you!” he beamed.

She was studying hard for a Master’s from NYU. Her specialty, and her passion, was modern fiction. Alice treasured it for the great sensuality in the best stories her favorite writers wrote even when they weren’t writing about love. How wonderful she thought it would be, this power to entrance the world like great writers do. Yet she also spotted a raw adolescent sensibility in some of what she studied, and that she did not admire so much. The Alexandrian Quartet figured into her thesis, for example, along with The Magus. Both works were about illusions, or at least different ways of fabricating reality, and in that theme she found their common ground in modernity.

Yet both fell short in ways that left her dissatisfied. Durrell needed Coptic conspiracies and picturesque foreign hosts because he lacked imagination for the fantasias of everyday life, which, for Alice, were as alluring, or probably more alluring, than most such far-flung exotica. But at least The Alexandrian Quartet was an adventure, to be savored as such, what with all its strange people doing strange things in their sinister silky places. By contrast, The Magus was, finally, mired in the everyday.

Its landscapes are banal despite the Greek island locale (how much more banal, ironically, the real Spetsai had gotten by the time Fowles wrote his superfluous revisions). The beloved’s transformations are belabored, clinical, predictable. The fantastic inventions that feed the action are contrived to a point where the narrative is practically amateurish. Nor does Nicholas Urfe justify such extravaganzas. Fowles made all the world a stage just to teach harsh lessons to a British boor. Mystification, she gleaned, ought to have bigger goals and better men in tow.

Dennis Gaffney poured over her. He was an angry sort, a social throwback, rebel without a cause. He even wore a 1950s hairstyle. A flourish of sandy hair sculpted in grease stuck upward from his head. She despised him a bit, yet his pomposity would only make the triumph she foresaw all the more prepossessing. She was happy to flatter the callow persona.

“This would kill my husband,” said Alice, smiling uncomfortably.

“Where is he tonight?”

“At a conference in California.”

“What does he do?” asked Dennis.

“He’s an orthopedic surgeon.”

“You cheat on him often?”

Alice averted her eyes. “To tell you the truth, this is my first time.”

“Yeah?” he asked, glinting. Later that evening, kissing her goodbye—she had to get back home because her husband would be calling from the Coast—he jabbed two fingers up her ass. He probed her like that deeper, finalizing pride of ownership. Walking down the stairs of his apartment building, the strong feel was still up her there. The arrogant empowerment he took care to convey was exhilarating.

Alice lived in a three-room apartment in New Jersey. The part that overlooked the river had the feel of a studio. The light at certain times poured gloriously across the bare floor. There was an alcove off the bedroom big enough for workspace. The place though small was all hers and fit right. Sometimes the light made it look deceptively expansive. Other times the intimacy was uncanny, as if just she and the sunshine were alone on the Hudson. The sunlight took her over every morning. Of course, there was the sight of the great city too, the steely light off the glass Babels and the great murky canyons down where the island tapered off. Spells are cast by a city that can be anything anybody wants it to be.

A year passed. Soft-spoken Geoffrey Baron reached for Alice’s hand across the table as they finished dinner. He was a middle-aged black businessman over six-feet tall, imposing in manner as well, what with a certain vague authoritarianism in the way he carried himself. He seemed to speak from large reservoirs of experience. She returned the gentle squeeze, her fingers creamy white in his deep brown grip. Visual charm became physical longing. She saw herself all white and frail against his big body, a fruit of the mind’s eye somewhat forbidden still.

She bowed her head and softly said, “I have to admit it’s a little unsettling to be close like this with a black man…I don’t mean to offend you…”

“I’m not offended.”

“It’s a new experience for me. But I’ve thought about it, you know…”

“Yes, I know,” he kindly smiled.

“How do you know?” she asked, amiably.

“I can tell.”

“Lord, I guess you’ve just got my number!”

“We’ll have a fine time together.”

“Honestly, I’ve thought about doing this for so long, I’m kind of nervous about what might happen.”

“What are you afraid of?” he asked, his eyes narrowing slightly, intrigued.

“Exposing myself,” she answered.

She thought hard about what she studied. Ambiguity, the soul of art, infused all life and thought. But, as an insidious medium of hidden truths, it was nearly discredited by Empson and his followers who made it seem so trivial a thing. There is enormous inexorable ambiguity in language and in the images we form of the world but these critics reached into such puny little spaces to find it. “Do, with like timorous accent and dire yell/As when, by night and negligence, the fire/Is spied in populous cities,” exhorts Iago. Empson looks real hard at that. Personifying the “negligence,” he concludes that there were idlers in the street who must have spied the fire in the dark. It is the only instance, he adds, where Shakespeare makes “a flat pun out of a preposition.”

Such a busy mischief of the mind! Of course language disintegrates when you read it hard enough, but what an indifferent passage for exploring the effect. It particularly irritated her to find such exegetical contrivance in the grandiose context of this particular drama. Alice admired Othello. Lust and shame rage on there, apocalyptic, without supportable justification on anyone’s part. The white devil, fearing himself cuckolded by everyone, makes the noble black man envision unspeakable ecstasies of the beloved. Power is fed and forced by delusion. But Alice didn’t really like Othello. The power was ugly. The delusions were unhappy, a torturous contrast to her own delighted machinations. Othello was a fly in her very private ointment.

Lee Johnson was a jazz musician she admired. “I have to admit it’s a little unsettling to be close like this with a black man,” she told him, bowing her head a little. “Please don’t misunderstand. It was just a new experience for me.”

“Are you still unsettled?”

. “It would be hard enough for my husband if he knew I was with another man, but this would really threaten him,” she said, nervously. “Don’t be insulted. I’m just being honest.”

“I’m not insulted,” he said. Just the thought of the small pale grasping hand aroused him.

“I used to think about you sexually,” she said. “From your pictures on your albums.”

“I’m flattered,” he said, sincerely.

“Once I thought of you when I was with my husband,” Alice said softly. “Years before you and I met.”

“Oh you knockout!” he exclaimed, drawing her close.

“I love your balls,” she murmured lewdly. “Your balls make me happy.”

The cherub-like beauty burrowed in his brown body. She fondled him between his legs until he was aroused again. She stared at him in admiration and bent down to put the hard dark thing back into her mouth. She peered up at him as she sucked. Her kittenish green eyes bespoke sheer abandonment—she knew this was so wrong in so many ways, she just couldn’t help herself—and the look in his eyes her eyes inspired caused Alice to exalt unutterably.

“You make me feel so white,” she whispered, after he came in her mouth.

“Oh baby!” he exclaimed.

These days Alice would often tell men she was married. It prolonged the chase and intensified the conquest. Later, she could escape these men leaving the power she had given them intact. Duty and affection forced her return. This couldn’t continue. Her husband was a good man. He’d be terribly hurt, threatened. She had to break it off. She left them, studs at twilight alone on doorsteps or park benches. They would miss her. They even loved her. But they had drunk her full. And, they knew she’d always remember. She’d be haunted through all the mundane domestic rounds ahead. Far from bereft, they savored the last of pretty Alice Glass’ passion as she ambled sadly off to face the future.

Taylor Jones pursued her on the Path Train many mornings. “I hope I haven’t been intruding on you,” he said to her one day. Jones was a burly man with a large beard. She imagined a broad hairy chest. He greeted her gaily and self-confidently whenever they met. Walking out of the station, discussing music or their jobs or politics, he’d bow in her direction, almost imperceptibly. It was a slight gesture that lent him the disarming air of a gallant from some other time. It was tangible masculine power tangibly restrained, made additionally gracious by what was, she sensed, an instinctive appreciation of women on his part.

“I enjoy being with you, but you do know I’m married,” said Alice.

“How long?”

“Four years.”

“I’m sure you must be very happy,” he said, quietly.

“Yes,” she said. But there was enough tremulous uncertainty in her reply to hold his interest.

In the meantime, she met Billy Aikens at a restaurant in New York. He was a radiant-seeming young man with chiseled blond features except for a pug nose Alice adored for the way it sat incongruously amid all the Greco-Roman perfection. Other women admired him slyly on the street, which made her feel proud when they walked together. They were an enviable couple. When he licked her between her legs for the first time, she confessed, “I’ve never done oral sex before.”

“Really?”

“Honest Injin!” she said. His features filled with delight. Once again, delight was power, his to feel and hers to give. Her face was so soft the pale skin looked the consistency of powder. Alice whimpered as he sucked, and then she sucked too until he was so aroused with the sweet wet mouth, and the thought that this was the first time she’d ever done this, that he fucked her face like a cunt. When he shot, it was part in her mouth and part down her chin. Alice lay there with his jizz on her. “I can’t believe I did that,” she said. “I’d be so awfully embarrassed if I weren’t so awfully happy.”

The white teeth of his gleamed like magic in the pale face. There was a dark power she wanted to wrench out of the world. But she wasn’t strong. She’d have to sneak it out. She wanted it in all its abstraction. Alice postulated two kinds of abstraction. One is a calculated avenue to power when a Goebbels or Stalin uses concrete imagery, e.g., heroic peasants, to caricature experience until it stands for something they want it to stand for. The other is power itself, a Platonic real, the raw essence of reality which can often be seen in fine abstract paintings.

Yet Plato was also a fascist. She thought hard. Fascists can be very sexual. They dramatize crude power in the abstract, like a Nazi bitch in leather. On the other hand, fascists and communists hate abstract art. Why do they hate abstract art? Is it simply because they don’t understand it, and so fear it? At the same time, educated imaginations dote on sexual abstraction because it objectifies the lover in order to make him or her pure concept—like she herself on many occasions. A lovely innocent tasting cock for the first time. The Idea of a lovely innocent tasting cock for the first time is an abstraction for which the fascist and the connoisseur of abstract art alike must yearn.

She found something interesting in Camus. A combatant in fascist Europe, Camus abhorred abstraction. In his Notebooks, airplanes are infernal Olympian machines. Your view of the world from an airplane abstracts and dehumanizes it. Pure thought aloft chews up the earth. Gertrude Stein, though, remembered how, when she was first on an airplane, she looked out the window and grasped at that moment the truth of cubism. From up there you see that things really are square. Things really are cylindrical. They do indeed intersect and bend around each other. And Picasso the abstractionist was as impassioned an anti-fascist as Camus. Yet both Picasso and Camus abstracted women to a point where they used them like doormats. Maybe she was a fascist too.

Taylor Jones asked her why she seemed down, and she told him it was nothing in particular.

“How does dinner sound to you?” He extended his hand toward hers in a gesture that seemed all the more gallant from such a tall, hirsute man. Once again he was bending slightly in a charming eighteenth century sort of way.

“What does your husband do?” he asked

“He’s a stockbroker,” said Alice.

“So New Jersey’s convenient for him.”

“We’re thinking of moving soon.”

“I imagine he does very well.”

“Yes, very well…You know I never called him to say I’d be late. He’s still at the office. If you’ll excuse me a minute, I’ll ring him there.”

It was raining outside and a daylong fog was still settled. Alice was eager for some formless beast to burst out of the fog. Lure it with a lovely web. Catch the beast and give it form. “Everything all right?” he asked when she returned.

“Oh yes,” she said.

“You have such a lovely sadness about you,” he said.

“Do I?” she asked. She knew how to conjure vague thoughts that put vulnerability in her eyes. Men loved that. Her eyes were special. They truly distinguished her. They made men like Taylor at once lustful and tenderhearted. Alice’s face made men like Taylor want to ravish and revere it.

Any man could have been hers had she wanted a man in the conventional way. “I hope your husband appreciates you,” he said, lightheartedly.

“Oh he does!” she said, affecting a chipper, self-satisfied tone. Taylor hated Alice’s husband for the man he imagined him to be: wealthy, getting wealthier, turning this subtle woman into a trophy. Proving to the world that beauty is a rare commodity but a commodity nonetheless.

Taylor smelt a strange perfume, an exotic odor incongruously brazen. “I don’t usually feel so attracted to unattainable women,” he said.

She gave a little start as if to show that any such hint of sexual advance was jarring to her in her observant life. “Oh no?” she asked nervously.

“Are you unattainable?”

“This is a very strange situation for me,” she said, still tremulous. She felt him growing stronger across the table.

“Are you? Are you?”

“I can’t believe this is happening,” she said, almost mournfully.

“Spend some time with me. I live on Third and 17th. Forgive me if I…It’s raining pretty hard. I’ll get a cab.”

“No, no cab.”

“We’ll get soaked.”

“I don’t care,” she said, almost angrily. “I need to walk. I don’t care.”

He bought two umbrellas from a street vendor but the rain was coming down too hard to stay dry. They were sopped when they reached his place. The outline of her nipples was sharp under the pink-red paisley blouse she had on. A smell of city rain mingled powerfully with her perfume. His beard and the hair on his arm were glistening like grass, like jet-black grass.

They kissed passionately. “My God,” she said, “I don’t believe this is happening.”

“It’s wonderful,” he said.

“Strip me naked,” she whispered, and he peeled off the wet blouse and undid her skirt. He caressed Alice’s breast and tugged on the band of her panties so he could peek down at the few strands of her colorless pubic hair.

“You’re trembling,” he said.

“I can’t help it,” she said. He stripped too. Taylor’s raw masculine body was streaked with thick strips of black hair. His penis was very large and hairy. His balls were too. But he didn’t look like an ape. He looked like a man. She stared wide-eyed between his legs and whimpered girlishly.

They embraced. He was holding her up in the air with his large flat hands astride her rump. “You smell so good,” he said, with a sudden edgy, guttural tone.

“I need it,” she said. “I need it bad.”

“I’m fucking you, baby.”

“I need it. Oh God, poke me!”

“Open, baby,” he said. He was losing control.

“I need it! Do you understand?”

“Open! Open!”

“I need it,” she said. “You don’t know, you don’t know…”

“I know.”

“Ahhh,” she went as his cock pierced into her. She started to gasp, almost to convulse, a weird hot sound half lust and half sheer physical torment.

“Baby?” he called. A slight alarm cautioned his instincts. “Are you okay?”

“Oh your fuck, your big fuck,” Alice cried aloud.

“Sweet thing,” he growled.

Then her eyes widened as if in shock, and she exclaimed, “My husband’s teeny-weeny!”

With that, her lover let out a feral growl and went into her as far as a man could go.

© Larry Smith 2008

_______________

Larry Smith’s “Through Alice Glass Darkly” is from a collection of fiction in progress called A Shield of Paris. His story “Tight Like That” appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (print edition), #27. “Kid’s Friend” and “New Jersey and Me” were both published in Exquisite Corpse. “The Shield of Paris” (near-title story of A Shield of Paris) is in Issue Three (September) of Low Rent and his story “Rockers” is in the current issue of Knock. His other fiction has appeared in Hambone and spork; his poetry in Descant (Canada), Konglomerati, Hierophant, and others and his articles and essays in Modern Fiction Studies, Social Text, The Boston Phoenix, and others.

 
     
     

 

 



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