Larry Smith – fiction

Professionals

 

Sorrowing face nothing to sorrow. Not like. Or the other so beautiful that one was. Half-Chinese half. Done from Day One. Too bad so sad brave until she wasn’t. But brave as long as. Remember what Arlen said at the dinner. This one pissed. Exercised pissed at me. The wicked messenger. What doctors do for a living asshole? Blushing mother thing of sorrow blushes while she sorrows and vice versa. Ugh. Arlen at the dinner. Arlen said the hardest thing I as a doctor have to tell. Tell.

“What questions do you have?”

“What if the treatment doesn’t work?”

Right in front of his mother. Asshole. Mother face pale how pale can it. Tell.

“The latest research shows better than an 80 percent likelihood of success and in your case we’ve got time on our side and the fact that you’re young and strong.”

Sitting mother. Brings her. Brings here. Dickhead. Arlen. The hardest thing I have to tell besides going to die. Sonny boy’s pissed still. Go ahead file lawsuit. Sue sickness. Sue disease and me co-defendant. Asshole. She wants to hold his hand. He’ll puke. What would she if it were me? Gene said Mom was a dowager hot to fuck. She was Gene’s mother too. Had him moved on had me. Me. Mi mi mi mi. I miss Gene should go. If I ask mother if she has any no would piss him for sure. Gene Chicago Crystal Park Sherwood Park something like. Up and coming neighborhood. I’d like to go. Something like. When Sonny gets blue eyes get something something. Easy piss him off. And?

“Am I going to have to take these pills for the rest of my life?”

Say thank you you have a. What it was like for Gene seeing her me. Ten years or so old he was. Have a life. Smile.

“For now, the answer is yes. But the research being done is very encouraging. We learn more every day.”

Accept. I think Gene torture. Always ever since. But brave too. Pride I think. I like pride. Yes?

“So when should I expect them to come up with a total cure?”

Damn such asshole what did Jackson say oh yeah. Mother pale now blushaway. Or what Arlen said hardest thing besides die is tell them they can’t drive anymore. The lost Lenore. Second-hardest thing I get that. It’s easy. But comedy is hard they say. Explain.

“We can’t know that. The important thing is that you’re able to live a full and rich life.”

“I’ve never done that in the past. You think I’m going to start now?”

What? What do these? Mother like a platypus. Is that it? Platypus? Assholes expect us to say? Rabbi Hillel led full rich life so should you. Or what. What Jackson said said she gave a bad. Said the patient gave suffering a bad name. Wrap this up…

I assumed Lurleen was her professional name just as I figured Crystal and Julieta were their professional names. Doesn’t matter to me one way or another although I never bother with a professional name. I like Cindy, my real name, all the more because it has the sound of “sin” in it and that certainly says it all, doesn’t it? The four of us were chatting in the lobby waiting for the limo that would take us to the party when the old lady and I guess it was her son walked by, the way she looked at us was kind of cute but the way he looked at us was a downer. Anyway, not just us, there are a lot of girls in town who admire Lurleen and envy her too, that’s for sure. She has a masterful way about her that gets her the best clients and I didn’t doubt she’d do so again tonight. The president of the rubber company – that joke didn’t get past us – was probably going to be there, that’s what Beth over at the agency told us, and unless someday else really spectacular turned up, like maybe somebody from the Browns, odds were he’d be the one Lurleen was going to wind up with. Word about her had spread around town and guys were talking about her but not like they talk about other girls. I don’t think she does anything sexual that the rest of us don’t do just as well; I don’t think that has anything to do with it. In fact, my sense is, the way they talk about her is kind of respectful. It’s the way she carries herself. Like I say, she’s masterful in certain ways, the way she looks at men when she meets them, a kind of message she sends, that there are limits with her, limits about how she expects to be treated, that kind of thing, and that, if you talk to her at all, you’re going to need to talk to her in a certain way. Guys respect that. I’d say it’s damn good for business from her perspective. Definitely, we treat her with a certain respect though I’ll bet some bitch does take a shot at her someday because that’s the way things are. Anyway, his mother seemed kind of sweet but the guy looked so angry when he looked at us, Julieta asked “What’s his problem?” after they’d gone past and couldn’t hear us, but Lurleen just shook her head and Crystal and I shook our heads too…

 

Today turned out well, more than what he hoped for. Right after he was first elected he had gone to see Elsner because his ultra-liberal supporters expected him to, and he did really admire the man in any case. But Elsner was confrontational at the time, which was disappointing. “The remarkable things you can accomplish with money!” he exclaimed.

“I like to think I earned it for my record and for my ideas, maybe even my character,” he smiled back.

“What record? You used to own a big parking lot, that’s your record,” said Elsner. “And your ideas are the ideas of every suburban Jewish liberal, which aren’t exactly the ideas of the majority of the voters in this state.”

“I carried Cuyahoga by a ton. Carter got me enough of the rest.”

“I suppose,” said Elsner.

This time the meeting was more cordial; simpatico, in fact. They chatted about his big reelection win; about the Brady Law and antitrust enforcement now that Reagan was gone. “We decry the geometry of power,” mused Elsner apropos of nothing as the conversation was ending. “You know, right-minded folks like us say it’s obscene to think about killing a million people because you figure three million will die if you don’t. Sounds like Herman Kahn to us, an ice-cold calculus of mass murder even though every single human life is sacred, of incalculable value.”

“But what choice do we have?” he asked, gently.

“Yeah, for sure,” said Elsner. “In fact, by that same thinking, if you destroy a million lives to save only a million and one lives, you’re ahead by one life. And since life is sacred, you have a moral obligation to go ahead and do just that and save the one life. You’ve done a mitzvah.”

In some ways he took that as a personal compliment. Later that day he told his driver to pull up to the curb at Cedar and Warrensville. “Hey there,” he called to the gray-haired woman emerging from Discount Records.

“Hello,” she said nervously, happily.

“You were in my graduating class at Glenville, weren’t you?”

“How can you possibly remember that?” she asked, her features aglow. A young man emerged from the store and approached. “Oh this is my son,” she said. It was a clammy handshake and the young man wore a fish-like expression that seemed to go along….

Something with them seemed not to be right. He was such a radiant child when I had him, which was – what? – almost fifteen years ago. I would have expected him to achieve great things and perhaps he still will or, for all I know, already has. But he seemed evasive when I asked him what he was doing with himself. His mom was uncomfortable; almost rueful in a way. It was not a satisfying conversation; in fact, it was a little disconcerting, I have to say, all the more so because when I think back on those days I tend to think of them as the most satisfying of my career. He was part of it, so were Susan Schonfield and Gary Jacobson to name just a couple of the kids who continue to stand out in my memory. I remember one day, it might seem a small thing to you, but it just felt so good, I felt the kids were really in stride and I was probably at the top of my form. You see, I unexpectedly canceled math class that morning because I happened to have seen Inherit the Windon television the night before and I wanted to tell the class about it right away. I got fired up, I wanted my kids to know who Darrow and Bryan were, and I wanted them to understand the issues and that those issues are still being debated in our country. Maybe the kids were thrilled that math was cancelled but it was more than that, believe me. They were riveted by the Monkey Trial. I remember we started to talk about why some people are so threatened by science. They had such interesting thoughts. I remember Gloria Udelson, the one with the adorable ponytail, even got a little upset that some people insist on being so ignorant….

It was a very satisfying tribute to certain of his colleagues who were duly praised on the menu and that day’s web posting. The appetizer, entrée, and dessert specials were each stolen from, and therefore a special tribute to, these three distinctly different styles. The appetizer was a croccantino of foie gras with balsamic heart, a recipe of Massimo Bottura, Modena’s best. It was everything he had ever wanted in an ice cream stick absent the ice cream. The milk and beer flavoring brought his duck to the same consistency as Bottura’s but he used only half a stick of cinnamon so the cloves stood out a tad more. And he kept the salt crust as light as he could.

The entrée was from a Boulud protégé named Gavin Kaysen who was now in Minnesota. It was halibut crusted with wild rice, not necessarily unique to any one chef. But, for him, Kaysen’s particular rendition veritably defined this growing new interest in nutty exteriors. Halibut always fascinated him; to his taste, no fish has more potential except perhaps swordfish. But swordfish is too risky; the least mistake kills it and the benefits of success, if you manage it, don’t really seem to justify the anxious effort. That at least was his view.

The dessert was the evening’s biggest hit, pink lady apples with cassia sticks, from the Chinese tree of the same name that have a cinnamon-like taste but somewhat less aggressive. Robert Thompson served it the evening he dined at his restaurant on the Isle of Wight. He’d been flabbergasted. “No wonder you have that Michelin star,” he told the young man. And the sauce! That apple juice flavor added on to the luster of the pink ladies, my goodness! For tonight’s celebration, he had shipped in a crate from Israel.

As the evening ended, he made his way among the tables, beginning badly as the first guest was an old lady who marveled insipidly at how fancy the food was. He nodded politely, uncomfortably. Her son, or so that’s what her companion seemed to be, sat there scowling. He moved on quickly and did not acknowledge the young man. The next table recompensed. It was Bob O’Malley and his wife with another couple, very nice people they seemed to be as well. Their praise was heartfelt.

“And how are you doing, my friend,” he asked.

“I’m enjoying retirement,” O’Malley said amiably. “But who knows what fun I’m about to miss! Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death!”

Too late for that, he mused in bed that night. The next ones coming up are more voracious than O’Malley or his compeers ever were. They are defiant. Their defiance is unique. No softness touches them, not now, maybe someday when they’re old. Wonder what O’Malley’s friend does, seemed nice man. Old he. Old as the earth after a. O’Malley had one son, didn’t he, wonder what he. Pieties, no more, vague quaint clichés, compunctions of the dead. Compunctions history passing by. Compunctions of the irrelevant. Irrelevant compunctions. Unctuous compunctious, the pious try us. Harsh wind, like it has its own voice. Wind. Has some soul. Horrible, frightening. Why does India seem so much more? Lord Siva, is what Jews sit. Like a prison, belly of the beast. They’ll stop at nothing. Pieties, no reaching them with. Resolved to do the only way imagine to be. Came, saw, conquered, not in that order. Counter-revolution, all bets are off. Carnivores, glorious in their way, allow themselves everything. Grabbed somebody’s pussy, so? Market up. Read about Caesar. Bestrides narrow like, what meat he feeds on. But Cleopatra seemed. Seemed concerned. Liked the natives in the south, they liked her. All the tragic human stories behind the onions and cheese. That would be quite a saga. Carnivores, force of nature, God, consuming power. Human fire. Nice suit he had, never know these days for sure when dress casual. Stories behind the lettuce and meat itself. That would be quite a saga. Suddenly he sat bolt upright in bed, wide awake. Next week he’d make veal meatballs with something special in the sauce. Marchand de Vin; no, fancier. Maybe put in a little pork; no, just the veal, the pure meat. As an entrée for lunch and appetizer for dinner. Or vice versa….

 

 

🍃

 

 

Larry Smith’s novella, Patrick Fitzmike and Mike Fitzpatrick, was publishedby Outpost 19. His stories have appeared inMcSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Sequestrum, Low Rent (nominated for a Pushcart Prize), Exquisite Corpse, The Collagist,Curbside Splendor, and[PANK], among numerous others. Smith’s poetry has appeared in Descant(Canada) and Elimae, among others; his articles and essays in Modern Fiction StudiesSocial Text,The Boston Phoenix, and others. Visit Larrysmithfiction.com.

 

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