Fruit Salad

Dale Peck

Men aren't meant to be young, said the man who'd given his age as thir - forty-one. He shrugged off the false start, smiled slightly - small, borrowed, theatrical gestures that said, Had I been planning to lie? Or had I merely forgotten? He was two years into his fifth decade but not so long versed in saying it aloud. Men aren't meant to be young.

For a moment I tripped over a hiccup of vodka in his voice - if I wasn't just tripping over my own Scotch - and I thought he'd said men aren't men to be young, and by the time I'd added the elided t and a to letters that seemed to cut holes in the barroom fog, he was finishing up. It's all over by thirty, he was saying, and I was twenty-nine.

I'm twenty-nine, my Scotch said, and his vodka answered, Then we'd better hurry, and then there were the rooms of his apartment, so small they seemed to overlap. The refrigerator was wedged into a niche in the living room, directly opposite a hatrack on which hung the bathroom towels; the duvet spilled out the bedroom door like a crust of dried sea foam, and the only lights inside the bedroom were the alternating waves of green and yellow and red that came from a traffic signal outside his kitchen window.

It was the light I watched, or rather its effect on his body, his green hands and yellow eyes and the tiny stop sign of his navel. I remember him getting out of bed in the middle of the night but I don't remember him not coming back. I remember him struggling to shut the bedroom door, and I remember thinking that I was neither drunk enough nor young enough to pretend to sleep through the sound, but I did anyway.

In the morning I found him in the kitchen, in the bathtub. He'd taken the towels from the hatrack - brand new towels, each as thick and fluffy as a good idea - and used them to cover himself. The vodka had come from the freezer and stood on the counter in a puddle of water; the Demerol had been in the sugar bowl. Long before I'd met him I'd given up the practice of asking a prospective trick "Who are you?" but it was what I thought of when I removed the green and yellow and red towels that covered the naked meat of his body like the discarded skins of a fruit salad. He'd had to curl and fold his limbs to fit into the tub, but I wasn't sure if it was all that stretching which had pulled his skin as tight as a sheet of cellophane, or death.

I tried to answer my unasked question with the last words I remembered him speaking: I don't think I'll get it fixed. He'd been talking about his alarm clock, which had broken earlier in the - yesterday.


Dale Peck

Dale Peck is the author of The Law of Enclosures, Now It's Time to Say Goodbye, What We Lost: Based on a True Story, Martin and John, Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction. In August 2006: FSG will reissue Martin and John as part of the FSG Classics series. January 2007: Drift House: The First Voyage comes out in paperback; Drift House: The Amulet of Babel comes out in hardcover (Bloomsbury). May 2007: Carroll and Graf will publish a new novel, The Garden of Lost and Found.

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