From Book 2: But We’re Not Gay

Desnos surprised me by asking if my father-in-law could find him a job. “I heard you and Artaud talking earlier. Writing is a hard life,” he confided sadly over the hum of conversation. “And I don’t get on with the other reporters.” That surprised me, but as he told me about his columns being severely edited or dropped, I began to wonder if there was any place in the day-to-day world for a Surrealist.

“Well, I can put in a good word about you with Aleron, but he already likes you,” I said. “You know that. And if the hotel ever needs a house detective, you’re in. Just don’t make any more bat squeaks around the culprits.”

            He and I left the main room and made coffee in his grimy kitchen, really just a corner of the room with a stove, a shelf, the sink, a partial wall and a makeshift counter. “You know Geoff, in case you’re completely blind, Malkine likes you,” Desnos said out of the blue.

            “Well, I—” I kept on ladling coffee into the percolator as Desnos’s smile slithered from one ear to the other until he was leering like a half-wit. His cigarette hung from his words like an exclamation point. Then I glared at him.

            Desnos snatched the butt from his mouth. “Wake up, Geoff! Malkine goes with guys. Not exclusively, of course—none of us approves of that. Men who close themselves off completely from women make themselves repulsive. And besides, Malkine is married. But—” He shrugged. “I feel guilty. I’ve interfered, you see. Malkine prefers inexperienced guys, and I snatched you up first the other night and now—”

            “What the hell are you blathering about?” I demanded. “Snatched me up?”

            “—He won’t forgive me for it. Hey! What the hell do you mean, what do I mean?” As usual, Desnos’s good humor turned hostile with all the forewarning of a slammed door. Veins swelled pink in his eyes, and a lock of limp black hair fell across them as if to wipe tears away. His nostrils flared with the indignant huff of his breath.

            “What are you blubbering about, all of a sudden?” I asked, though I knew better than to speak to him like that. He was drunk, again; he was teetering on the edge of his own inscrutable obsessions, and there was an inexplicable ball of guilt in my throat. I tried to swallow it down. His hands seized my lapels and I fell backward against the counter, more from surprise than from his attack. He shook me ineffectually, managing only to mangle my collar. I reached up and brushed off his hands.

            He stepped back and glared at me, red-eyed, red-faced, and his lips darkened comically. “I hate you sometimes!” he said. He was crying, he was. “You fucking puritan. If only you were all pretense, I could ignore you then. But one minute I adore you totally and the next minute, you…” He broke off and tried to jam his hands in his pockets, his fingers sliding awkwardly against his suit jacket. “You enjoyed it, asshole. I thought you knew it was me. I thought you were only trying to save face in front of everyone… Anyway, you’re the one who reached for me!”

            “Just stop talking for a second,” I gasped, my cheeks flaming. Desnos turned and started to walk away, then stopped, his back still to me. He sighed, his shoulders rising and falling the way my father’s had, when he had stood in the door of my little house and looked out at the fields, fumbling for words before his incomprehensible son. “Look, I’m stupid, all right?” I managed to say as he stood there. “I’m mediocre. You have to spell everything out for me—and I was half asleep the whole time! What do you want from me? I think I warned you myself what I thought about relationships between men. That’s fine for others but not for…” Thankfully I managed to stop myself. I hated myself as I heard myself say these words out loud. They sounded cruel, bigoted, and I didn’t even know why I was arguing with him anyway. I felt no shame at whatever he and I had done, only shame at my words now.

            “That’s just an excuse,” Desnos replied without turning around. “You’re ‘mediocre’—that’s always your excuse. Well, it’s a mediocre excuse!” He stomped away and left me in the kitchen. I finished filling the coffee pot and set it on the burner, and then I rejoined the others in the large room.

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