Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn, novel-in-progress.
Me and Jake are Charlie are at the Body Rub joint.
Jake is treating me to a massage. He offers to treat Charlie too, but Charlie declines. He says he’ll be happy recording the sounds in the Body Rub joint.
Jake smiles and calls Charlie a sick bastard. Charlie calls Jake a lecherous Jew bastard. They both laugh. It feels like old times, yet not.
The Chinese woman at the front desk is smartly dressed in a pale lavender outfit. Her hair is short and dark and her nails are painted bright red. She speaks to Jake affectionately in broken English. Jake introduces the woman as Katie and says that Katie is the best.
Katie smiles at me, then at Charlie.
All three for massage, she asks Jake.
No just two, Jake says. Me and him. This guy’s just hanging out.
You both want special massages, yes?
Yea, Jake says. Well I want a special-special. Danny?
I ask Jake what the difference is between special and special-special?
Special you get finished off with a handjob, special-special a blowjob.
I tell Jake I’m fine with regular special.
You’re choosing hand over lips, Jake says, surprised.
Hand is good, I say. Why is it I’m choosing hand over lips, I wonder.
Jake pays Katie.
Katie gestures—Jake can show you where to go.
Jake nods, then turns to Charlie—You sure you don’t want a massage?
Charlie shakes his head. He is standing near the illuminated fish tank set against the wall.
I’m happy with the bubbles, Charlie says.
Bubbles, Jake questions.
The sound of these bubbles coming out of the filter. Come here, listen.
Jake and I walk over to the fish tank. We tune in to the gurgling sound.
You’re a sick bastard, Jake grins.
Lecherous Jew bastard, Charlie responds.
Jake leads me through a curtained doorway and into a hallway.
A quick detour, Jake says, and opens a door to his immediate right.
He clicks on a light and closes the door. We are in a bathroom.
You wanna snort some more?
Sure, I say.
Jake, who had shared some of his coke with me earlier, finds a Vogue magazine on the toilet tank and dices some lines on its cover, on the face of the cover-girl. I snort several, then Jake does the same.
After he’s done snorting, Jake plugs one of his nostrils and inhales repeatedly in a staccato rhythm, making sure every last molecule of cocaine has gone up his nose. Then he sucks a wad of phlegm into the back of his throat and spits into the sink. The yellowish gob settles on the rim of the drain. Jake looks into the mirror above the sink. His Yankee cap is pulled low and he has a wispy moustache. He looks like a dick working undercover, or just a dick.
I join Jake in the mirror and see both of our faces, side by side. They are cast in a chalky fluorescence. I turn away from Jake, from me.
Jake places his hand on my shoulder. And grins a demonic jack o’ lantern grin.
Danny fucking Trovato, he beams, in the bathroom with me, snorting lines.
Jake claps my shoulder several times, says—It’s good to be here with you—sounding very much like a comedian who is happy to see his audience, to have an audience.
When we were younger, Jake once referred to us as the Dirtbags of the Universe. Me, him, Fat, Charlie, the lot of us. He said that no matter what we did, what we became, what we accomplished, deep down inside we’d always be dirtbags.
It was like possessing an ineradicable stain that became synonymous with our hidden existence.
When I told Jake that maybe girls could save us, he laughed and said—I doubt it, but it’s worth trying.
The girl who was to give me the special massage was young. It was hard to say how young. She could have been twenty-five, could have been twelve. She also could have been one-hundred, or one-hundred and twenty, an ancient person on the verge of returning to the source of bloom. My guess is that she is twenty or twenty-one.
She has pin-straight, dark hair, and a wide, flat nose with cushiony give. I look down at her hands. They are small and pale, the nails unpainted and rounded into half-moons.
She tells me her name is Jasmine.
I ask her if that’s her real name.
She says she doesn’t understand.
I ask her if Jasmine was the name her parents gave to her.
Oh yes yes, she smiles, nods.
Then she gestures toward the massage table and tells me to lie down.
Should I take off my shirt?
Yes, unless you don’t want to.
No, I do.
I take off my shirt.
How about my pants?
It’s up to you.
I leave them on. And lie down on my stomach on the table and fit my face into the hole at the head of the table.
The carpet on the floor is a burnt orange color, reminding me of Halloween. I can’t see Jasmine, but I can hear her. She is squeezing liquid out of a bottle, and then she is rubbing her hands together. I imagine Charly would be happy recording these sounds.
I feel Jasmine’s liquid-slicked hands press down on my back, just below my shoulders. She begins kneading the muscles with a rhymical insistence. She works over the whole of my back with democratic acuity, and then starts in on my left arm. She reaches the halfway point of my arm, just above the elbow, when my arm is suddenly seized by cramps and starts convulsing.
Are you okay, Jasmine asks.
Yea fine, I say and try to shake out the shakes. I stop shaking, allow my arm to fall prone by my side, and another series of cramps followed by convulsions takes hold, this time accompanied by a searing pain in my left shoulder.
Try to relax, Jasmine says, and places her hand on my now-trembling shoulder.
I can’t, I say, and the tremors spread to other parts of my body—my leg, my foot, my face—all on the left side.
I use my right hand to push myself up and fall off the side of the table and onto the carpet. I can now see Jasmine, who sees me, and screams. As if she’s looking at a ghost.
Her scream, which is still going, cuts through me. What is it, I scream at her, what-what?
Your face, Jasmine points as she backs away. You have no face.
I rise to my feet, the left side of my body still in the grips of a seizure, bolt through the doorway, nearly knocking over Katie who was about to enter the room, make my way down the hallway to the bathroom, where I click on the light, look into the mirror. My face is there. It is my face. Save for the twitching of the eyelids, everything was normal, the same as always.
Charlie comes into the bathroom.
Danny what happened?
I turn to him.
Do you see my face?
Yea I see your face, why?
Is there anything different about it?
Different, what do you mean?
Anything wrong with it, anything missing?
No there’s nothing wrong with it, everything’s there. What the fuck’s going on?
I tell Charlie what happened in the other room, and how Jasmine had seen me with no face.
That’s some freaky shit, Charlie pipes in. What kind of place did Jake bring us to?
A place where people lose their fucking faces, I quip.
Charlie gives my face the once-over and smiles—Well it’s all there now.
My tremors having mostly subsided, I go into the waiting room and sit down on the couch.
Katie returns, followed by Jasmine, who is holding a tissue near her eyes.
Katie hands me my shirt, which I put on. Then she tells Jasmine to apologize to me. Jasmine softly apologizes.
It’s okay, she didn’t do anything wrong, I say to Katie. I don’t know what happened.
I replay the story for Katie and when I get to the part about Jasmine seeing me with no face, she begins speaking to Jasmine in Chinese, Katie’s voice sharp and crescendent during certain points in their exchange, as if she’s scolding Jasmine.
When they are done speaking Chinese, Katie asks me if I’d like to go back in and finish my massage, with Jasmine, or someone else.
I tell her thanks but I’m fine. Then I turn to Jasmine—You said you saw me with no face? I don’t understand. No face at all?
I’m sorry I’m sorry, Jasmine responds quietly, sometimes I see things . . . I’m sorry.
Jasmine lowers her head and exits through the curtained doorway.
Katie asks me if I’d like a glass of water.
Sure, I say.
She places a plastic cup beneath the spout of the water cooler, fills it, hands it to me.
I drink the water down in one sip.
More, Katie asks.
No that’s good, I say, crush the cup, toss it into a wastebasket.
Charlie, who had his headphones on, takes them off and says—Danny I got the sound of the scream on tape. You can’t hear it too good, it’s more like background noise, but it’s there. Wanna hear it?
Yea, I say, and place the headphones over my ears.
The scream is barely audible, but I can make it out. Like a nail scratching wet glass.