Alice Glass Darkly
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.
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,
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
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.
kidding,” he said.
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
can’t believe it.”
Injin!” she laughed. “And might I say thank you?”
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.
would kill my husband,” said Alice, smiling uncomfortably.
is he tonight?”
a conference in California.”
does he do?” asked Dennis.
an orthopedic surgeon.”
cheat on him often?”
Alice averted her eyes. “To tell you the truth, this is
my first time.”
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
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
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…”
a new experience for me. But I’ve thought about it, you
I know,” he kindly smiled.
do you know?” she asked, amiably.
I guess you’ve just got my number!”
have a fine time together.”
I’ve thought about doing this for so long, I’m kind
of nervous about what might happen.”
are you afraid of?” he asked, his eyes narrowing slightly,
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.”
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
not insulted,” he said. Just the thought of the small pale
grasping hand aroused him.
used to think about you sexually,” she said. “From
your pictures on your albums.”
flattered,” he said, sincerely.
I thought of you when I was with my husband,” Alice said
softly. “Years before you and I met.”
you knockout!” he exclaimed, drawing her close.
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.
make me feel so white,” she whispered, after he came in
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
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.
enjoy being with you, but you do know I’m married,”
sure you must be very happy,” he said, quietly.
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.”
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.
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.
does your husband do?” he asked
a stockbroker,” said Alice.
New Jersey’s convenient for him.”
thinking of moving soon.”
imagine he does very well.”
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.
yes,” she said.
have such a lovely sadness about you,” he said.
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,
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.
is a very strange situation for me,” she said, still tremulous.
She felt him growing stronger across the table.
you? Are you?”
can’t believe this is happening,” she said, almost
some time with me. I live on Third and 17th. Forgive me if I…It’s
raining pretty hard. I’ll get a cab.”
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.”
wonderful,” he said.
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.
trembling,” he said.
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.
need it,” she said. “I need it bad.”
fucking you, baby.”
need it. Oh God, poke me!”
baby,” he said. He was losing control.
need it! Do you understand?”
need it,” she said. “You don’t know, you don’t
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
he called. A slight alarm cautioned his instincts. “Are
your fuck, your big fuck,” Alice cried aloud.
thing,” he growled.
Then her eyes widened as if in shock, and she exclaimed, “My
With that, her lover let out a feral growl and went into her as
far as a man could go.
Larry Smith 2008
“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.