Vapor, page 6
“I’m not bored. What area?”
“Giving them more substance.”
“It’s incredible,” I said.
“What part? Giving them more substance, or—?”
“No, I mean the cloud. But everything else too, actually.”
“Oh, thank you! I’m glad you like it.”
I nodded, feeling extremely self-conscious, I don’t know why. “Can I touch it again?” I asked.
“Of course. Fondle it as much as you want. Though you won’t feel much. Actually, I’d be interested to know how much you do feel, since you’re the only person so far I’ve shown one of my clouds to.”
I stared at him in disbelief.
He went on: “I’ve often wondered if one’s sensory perception of such an insubstantial thing differs from person to person. My guess is no, but let’s see.”
I touched the cloud, and slowly pushed my fingertips against it. My fingers did not enter the cloud more than half an inch or so. Instead, the cloud was being pushed by my fingers. I then grabbed it with both hands, and my fingers sank into it without any perceptible resistance. Yet it did not quite feel like air. The difference was very subtle, and I wasn’t yet sure how to describe it.
Then, like an ax, I sliced my hand through the cloud, and it remained whole, barely disturbed. I joined my palms together and sliced both of my hands through the cloud, halting in the middle and parting my hands. The cloud separated into two halves, which I then pushed back together.
“It’s dense,” I said. “More dense than real clouds in the sky, I imagine. It does not disperse. It tends to remain whole.”
“I’m pleased you noticed. I’m striving for yet greater density.”
It was only then that a question popped into my head; a question it was odd of me not to have asked sooner and that it was irrelevant to ask now because the answer was obvious. But I decided to ask it anyway: “Are you putting me on? Is this some kind of trick?”
“No, I’m not a magician,” he said.
Damon left for his country house the next day. He said he had some work to do, but that he would be back in a week. He let me keep the cloud.
I missed him while he was away. I was truly enamored, and I decided that the next time I saw him I would make a move on him.
I cherished the cloud that whole week. It was almost like a pet. It even peed in the pocket of my windbreaker once. Or rather, “rained” in my pocket.
I saw Nathaniel a few times. He was charming, and interesting, and interested in me, romantically, even, I believe. But my thoughts were too full of Damon for me to be able to return his interest. That did not prevent us from spending time together, however. He played his cello again, and when I remarked that I had never known anyone as multitalented, he scoffed and said, “You don’t even know the half of it.”
“What’s the other half?” I asked.
“You might never know.”
I did not persist, but instead thought to myself, dreamily and snobbishly: Well, whatever it is, I’m sure it doesn’t compare to making clouds.
Suddenly, his buzzer rang. He ignored it.
“Aren’t you going to answer it?”
His tone was a little gruff, so I didn’t probe further.
The buzzer rang again and kept ringing for about a minute, and then stopped. A moment later, something struck his window. And then again. Pebbles. I looked down at the street, which was not far below, his apartment being on the second floor. I saw a man, a Hasidic Jew, with a black hat and ringlets, looking up at me and throwing pebbles at the window. It was a very beautiful man, who looked strangely familiar.
“There’s a Hasidic Jew throwing things at your window.”
He sighed. “It’s not a man, it’s a woman in disguise.”
“Why is she in disguise?”
“So that people won’t recognize her. She’s famous.”
I looked down again at the person, who did indeed look like a woman, now that I was aware of it. A very beautiful woman. But I still couldn’t place her.
“She looks familiar,” I said. “Who is she?”
I looked again and it did look like her exactly. But how was it possible?
I had read articles about Chriskate Turschicraw. She was the most famous, the most highly paid model in the world. During the past few months, a series of strange events had occurred surrounding her. There was a cult, growing larger, who had decided that she was God. They worshipped her, collected her magazine interviews and modeling photos, killed the paparazzi who annoyed her, and then went to jail for life for the murders (this happened on two occasions). They sacrificed themselves for her, and killed their own members if one of them didn’t treat her well or displeased her. One member killed himself because he was following her down the street, asking her if she needed help carrying her shopping bag, and she said, “You’re bugging me.” He then said, “I’m sorry,” and shot himself right in front of her. I remember being astonished, when I heard that story on the news, at how sensitive and offended the man must have been, and thinking that he should have had thicker skin.
“Why is Chriskate Turschicraw trying to get your attention? And why are you ignoring her?” I asked Nathaniel.
“I’ve known her for a long time, since before she became a model. She’s been in love with me for years. Or infatuated. Or obsessed—whatever you want to call it. Sometimes we’re friends, but sometimes her infatuation makes it hard for us to be friends, and we go through periods of tension, like now, when I need space, need to be alone, and she doesn’t let me, and she gets upset. I have to warn you she’s very jealous.”
“And you have no interest in her beyond friendship?”
“I’m not in love with her. I’ve tried, I can’t be; she’s not to my taste.”
“In what way is she not to your taste?”
“She’s not beautiful enough.”
“It’s as simple as that. I’m being frank.”
“But she’s considered the most beautiful woman in the world. I mean, she’s gorgeous.”
“But not enough.”
“Are there women you find more beautiful?”
“Then I’m confused. Is beauty the only thing that can make you interested in someone romantically?”
“I thought so all my life. But I’m not sure anymore. I may have encountered an exception,” he said, looking at me meaningfully.
I chose not to ask him what that exception was.
When I left his apartment, after talking about Chriskate another half hour, the model had apparently given up and left, but I was wrong, for she accosted me as soon as I walked into the street. Up close she was breathtakingly beautiful.
“You’re the woman who was just now with Nathaniel, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered, intimidated.
“He seems very interested in you. You must be interesting. Would you mind if we had coffee?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Why do you want to?” I asked, as casually as possible.
“I think he’s in love with you. You must be an extraordinary person. I very much want to know you. Please, there’s a coffee shop right there. Just for ten minutes. I’d like to talk to you.”
So we went. Soon after we sat down, she asked, “Are you in love with him?”
“Not at the moment.”
“That’s a relief. I’m in love with him, and he’s not in love with me, and I don’t know why. But he is in love with you. Isn’t he?”
“I don’t know,” I said, even though I thought he seemed to be.
“Do you know what it is about you that he … appreciates so much?”
“That’s too bad. I would like to know. I would like to be friends with you for a while. Can you help me? I wou
There was something vulnerable, innocent, and pure about her. Magazines had often remarked on the fact that she was beautiful in a way that made you like her. When you saw her face, you felt warmly toward her, you wished her the best, even though you’d never met her.
She had wispy blond hair, and her features were of the most extraordinary delicacy and exquisiteness. She was twenty-three years old. The media had nicknamed her “the Shell,” partly because of her reclusiveness and lack of cooperation with them and partly because her complexion and coloring resembled the subtle pink and white tones inside a conch. It was a well-known fact that people got the urge to stare at photos of her for longer than at other models. It was even considered therapeutic: it filled the viewer with pleasure, and it relieved pain. There was a new form of therapy in which patients were made to focus on different parts of her face in a photograph. They had to stare at her left eye, then her right, then a nostril, then parts of her mouth. Staring at her eyebrows had been found to be particularly soothing.
“I can take you to great parties if you’re interested,” she said to me. “Really fun parties. I think you’ll enjoy yourself, and you’ll meet a lot of interesting people. This way I can be around you and get to know you, and hopefully understand.”
I felt sorry for her. “I’m not sure that it would do much good. There’s nothing unusual about me that you’ll pick up and that will be of any help to you.”
“There must be. I may not figure out what it is, but I’m sure it’s there. Nathaniel would not be with you so much if there wasn’t something about you that made a very strong impression on him. He’s never been with anybody very much, except a bit for me, at one point, because he found me pretty. But he seems more into you than he ever was into me. Have you two slept together?”
“You know, I don’t know if this is such a good idea. I’m very sorry that the situation is not how you would like it to be, but I’m not sure we should get our lives mixed up together.”
“But you said you’re not in love with him. Wouldn’t you like to be friends with me as well as with him? I’m an interesting person too, you know. Maybe even more than him.”
She did indeed seem rather interesting, even if it was just her naive boldness.
Perhaps in an effort to get me to know her, she sped me through her childhood, her background, her life. She tried to be charming, and was. She asked me some questions about my life, which I answered reluctantly and without revealing much, and she responded with interest, insight, and even wit. When she asked me what my occupation was, I did mention that I was trying to be an actress.
She said there was a movie party the following night, and asked if I would please go with her. It was going to be a small, private party for a big movie that was about to be released, and the cast would be there. She said it might be a good opportunity for me.
I had to admit it sounded very exciting, more exciting than any party I had ever gone to. It seemed like an opening into a world that I had never expected to get a glimpse of before I got at least my first movie role. Nevertheless, I felt guilty for accepting, since I knew I wouldn’t be able to help her, that there’d be nothing she’d be able to detect about me that could explain Nathaniel’s interest in me.
I told her these thoughts, and she said it didn’t matter, that she would still be very grateful if I’d go to the party with her. So I accepted, feeling uneasy.
At the party, men flocked to her while she flocked to me.
She told me about her feelings for Nathaniel. She told me how incredible she thought he was, how he wasn’t only incredibly good-looking and charming, but so intelligent: he was the most intelligent person she knew, by far, and so independent in his thoughts, and so caring. And his cello compositions! They were amazing. They were confessions, and reproaches, and expressions of anger, she said. Personally, I had never thought of them that way, but now that she mentioned it, hers was not the most unsuitable way to describe his music.
“And what do you think of the fact that he strips at Chippendales and works at Weight Watchers?” I asked.
“That makes him even more perfect, because it contrasts so mysteriously with his deep personality and genius.”
I had a good time at the party. Chriskate was charming and tried to please me, and almost wooed me like a lover would, just because she wanted to study, scrutinize, and examine me. She hung around me “to learn,” she said. She interrogated me. I found it grotesque: this gorgeous creature, sitting there in front of me, wondering how she was inadequate. All the men buzzed around her, and yet she was observing me, the fool, the poor girl.
I felt ugly and inadequate next to her, yet tried to be strong and unbothered. Not a single man paid any attention to me, and yet I felt sorry for Chriskate. The world wasn’t fair: that this most beautiful of creatures couldn’t get the one she loved, and that plain old me was the one he loved. Then I realized that this reasoning was ridiculous and that what would be unfair was if only beautiful people got love (which was actually often the case).
I finally decided I could be more useful to Chriskate by trying to crush her obsession with Nathaniel. I tried to make her see that there were plenty of other men out there, even better men. I told her she should forget about him, have no more contact with him.
“So that you can have him?” she asked, uncharacteristically suspicious.
“No. I’m in love with someone else anyway. And speaking of men who are more impressive than Nathaniel, this man I’m in love with is a hundred times more impressive.”
“You’re deluded. I’m sure he doesn’t have the talent and genius that Nathaniel has.”
“Oh yeah?” I took Chriskate into the bathroom with me and locked the door. I took the cloud out of my handbag and showed it to her. “You don’t call this talent?”
She was suitably amazed.
I had intended to keep the cloud a secret, even though Damon hadn’t asked me to. But I had been unable to resist showing Chriskate. I put the cloud back in my bag, and as we exited the bathroom, I asked, “Did that impress you enough?”
Three men swarmed around her, smiling, kissing her on the cheeks, offering to get her drinks. “It’s incredible,” she answered me, shooing them away.
I went on: “The man I’m in love with invented a way to make small clouds. I’d say that rates at least as high as Nathaniel’s cello compositions, wouldn’t you say?”
“No, it doesn’t even come close,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing, this little cloud; a beautiful little scientific concoction, but it doesn’t move me. It doesn’t speak to me. It’s not art.”
“I think it’s art.”
“Science cannot be art. It’s a contradiction in terms.” Two new men accosted her, one of whom was the star of the movie this party was for.
I felt strange hearing a model talk that way, undoubtedly due to the stereotypes about models.
“Perhaps,” I said. “But then if science isn’t art, it’s greater than art.”
We talked of other things for a few minutes, while Chriskate resumed studying me. Suddenly, she looked depressed and edgy, and said to me, “Come.” She quickly walked toward the front door with her face in her hands, and I followed her. People watched her leave the apartment.
We were alone in the hallway. She was crying.
“They all look dumb to me, compared to Nathaniel,” she said, pacing. “I often flip through magazines looking for male models, and they all look dumb.”
“Why would you look to male models as a source of high intelligence? You should go to bookstores and look at author photographs.”
“I do. It’s the same thing. They look dumb. I walk down the street and no one I pass looks as smart as him. His expression is very intelligent. You can immediately see that he must have a really interesting way of looking at life, that he must have really interesting and original thoughts. Don’t you think so?”
Even though I had had a good time with Chriskate, I felt a bit overwhelmed by her obsession, and I needed to take a break from her. So I turned her down when she suggested that we have dinner the following night, and instead I had dinner with my family, at their apartment.
The cloud had rained in my bag at the party, after it had been shown off in the bathroom. When I got home after the party I decided to do an experiment and freeze the water, to prevent it from turning back into a cloud right away, just to see what would happen, if anything. By morning, the water had turned into an ice cube, which I brought to my parents’ apartment when I went for dinner, because I couldn’t bear to be parted from Damon’s gift for very long. Damon had been gone for a week, and I missed him.
I placed the ice cube in their freezer. There were no other ice cubes there, which was good; there would be no risk of my not recognizing it when time came to go home.
My parents and my brother and I sat in the living room and chatted before dinner, catching up on things. My brother and I hadn’t seen each other in a while, and I asked him how school was. He was feeling down, felt uninterested in anything, didn’t know what he was going to do in life, had low self-esteem. We were drinking soft drinks as we talked, and when I asked him about his grades, he seemed reluctant to answer. He took a gulp of his Coke and chewed on the ice while mumbling his response, making it conveniently impossible to understand, which annoyed me. Suddenly, my annoyance changed into horror, and I got up and screamed, “Spit that out! Stop chewing! Don’t swallow the ice!”
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