Fiction by Marian Berges excerpted from our Winter 2017 issue.
Scott was a rock star. Not one of those rockers, touched by the gods, whose success is a just reward for essential fire. Scott wasn’t that, but he was close to it, second tier maybe, sliding maybe down the other side of that hill, but still reeking of sex, still pulling a good crowd, still living large, viable. Melissa had been seeing him for a couple of years and knew he wasn’t faithful, or at least suspected that he wasn’t. She suspected that he was screwing young girls. Melissa was no longer young, pushing forty, and, although she’d been pretty once, she looked haggard these days. Right now she was sitting in Jay’s loft in lower Manhattan, bitching about Scott as she usually did after the second glass of wine, the sun going down, finally, on one of the hottest days they’d known, Jay a little bored and strumming on his guitar while Jay’s wife (Melissa’s best friend in the world) was in the next room getting William to sleep. In the pauses between cantos, they could hear Susanna’s voice, a crooning lullaby.
Melissa pointed her finger in a westerly direction, out the windows at the deep sky. “He’s probably fucking somebody right now,” she said, “You know,” Melissa went on, and Jay wished she’d be quiet. “Scott said I could fuck anybody I wanted.”
“Well. Go ahead . . . fuck anybody.” Jay answered, weakly. He was tired of Melissa. He wished Susanna would come out. And when she finally did appear, in bare feet and white cotton nightgown, standing for a moment in the doorway of William’s room, waiting to make sure he was indeed asleep, the room seemed to lighten. It was lovely to think of William asleep.
They were all going to Long Island for the long weekend; Melissa had invited Scott. Later, Jay, grumpy with wine and the long hot day, pulled back the covers on the bed: “How do we know what he’ll do? It’s unpredictable. We don’t really know him.” But, as it turned out, Scott the Rock Star was a very good guest. He had social talent. He liked to cook but didn’t talk about food. He brought two very expensive bottles of wine that were so right for the meals they had planned that Jay had a momentary and strange suspicion, or intimation, that this handsome, louche, bewildering man was psychic. Scott also played tennis and was always up for a game, even in the terrible heat. Everybody played tennis that summer—everybody except Baby William, who spent most of his time on the beach moving pebbles from one place to the other, the color of his eyes changing with the water from opalescent blue to silted green. He talked nonsense, his voice high and pretty, and smiled at everybody; from him came the smell of the world when it was new.
On Saturday evening, Scott announced that his sister was coming. That is, he asked if she could come, but did it in such a way that no one could raise an objection. “I’m close to my sister,” he said. “She took care of me. She’s the talented one. I’ve told her about this place, about you all, and she said she just had to come down here and see.”
“He has a sister?” Jay asked Susanna, when they were alone in their room. “He wants to invite his sister, too?”
“Only for two days,” Susanna answered.
“I don’t want any sisters,” Jay said.
“She might be OK,” Susanna said, vague; she was vague these days, wrapped up in the ineffable gauze of baby love. She seemed to be swaddled herself, and most of the time she and William would look at Jay with identical expressions. They were doing it now (William resting in the crook of his arm, head turned to regard his father). Susanna said, “Melissa told me that she’s thinking of putting holes in his condoms. I mean, is that safe? She really wants to get pregnant. She cries about it. You know she does.”
“I don’t know anything about it.” The conversation was making Jay feel ill. And the next time he caught sight of Melissa he could see that hole, no bigger than a pinprick, and the light that shone through the rubbery shield. But she still smiled and chatted, wound up in her usual fine thread of anxiety.
Image: van Gogh, Vincent. “Madame Roulin and Her Baby.” 1888. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.