8cerpt: The Deception of Surfaces

This is from the end of chapter 14. The action is happening in four places simultaneously.


A man Andy didn’t recognize got up from his chair and went slowly to the sink in the corner of the room. He ran some water, clearly waiting for it to warm up. This is a new one, thought Andy. The man filled an industrial stainless steel bowl with warm water, tossed a towel over his shoulder and came back to the circle. Everyone else was quiet, but aware something was about to happen. The man knelt in front of the man he had been sitting next to, and he began to take off his shoes. He took off his socks too, and the sitting man’s feet were bare. Then the kneeling man began to wash the sitting man’s feet. All were watching him. Quite unexpectedly, a lump rose in Andy’s throat.

Henry began to drag himself to the kitchen. The dusty concrete beneath him became slick with blood.

Barbara threw her arm around Fatima’s sleeping shape.

The train to the plane emerged from the tunnel and Sandro knelt on the seat to look out the window. Bella texted a friend. Uma and Maya chatted.

“I knew I loved performance,” continued Uma, “but I had soured on movie-making. Then with the meltdown, no one was making interesting movies anymore anyway because taking a financial risk was unthinkable. The only roles I was going up for were T&A roles Alice might be right for, or imitations of things I’d already done, movies they knew they could make a little money on because they’d remind audiences of that other movie they’d seen me in. I felt trapped. I felt like I was coming into a time in my life when I was finally mature and maybe even a little wise, and no one wanted any of that. Money wasn’t an issue, thank God, because I had gotten some good advice a long time ago and socked a lot of it away in safe places where it didn’t grow very much, but it never shrank. So discovering Free Theatre was like, bingo, here it is. Here is how I can actually make something, something I can give away to my community in L.A. Here is a way I can be a leader, a teacher, a matriarch, and oh yeah, also perform all those heavy-duty roles I’ve been pining for, and not have a thing to do with money.” She paused. Maya was watching the Delaware River roll by a ways off from the train. “I know it’s a privilege not to have to worry about money. I know that. But that’s not why I gave you the frequent flyer miles, you know, to spread the wealth around or something. I gave them to you because you and Andy have given me something so much greater. A creative project I can believe in, that will challenge me, that will use all the best parts of me.”

“That may drive you mad,” said Maya softly.

“And it won’t be the first time. But I know how badly you and Andy need a break. I know you and he are going through a rough patch. Fame and fortune be damned, I have been there, baby. But – “ and she rested her hand on Maya’s arm – “you’ve got something very precious going on, and I want to help it grow.” Maya rested her hand on Uma’s and smiled. Bella stared at them from across the aisle. Her lip was trembling.

“Bella honey, are you okay?” asked her Mom from her seat. Bella’s hands flew to her face in anguish.

“Henry!” she cried out, “Under the risers!” And she leapt into her mother’s arms, wailing.

Dressed, Pasqual stared into his kitchen cabinet. “Shit,” he said in Spanish, “no coffee.”

Fatima awoke and wriggled out from beneath Barbara’s arm. Barbara rolled over and stared out the window, looking east to the river. She heard a sound she hardly ever heard anymore. A plane passed in the sky overhead.

Twelve blocks east, Andy watched this man – he must have been close to sixty, and was clearly handsome once – slip off his Keen clogs. He had been muttering something Andy couldn’t hear as  he washed each person’s feet in sequence, coming ever closer. Andy’s feet were naked now, and he felt the man drop them into warm water and stroke them, cleaning them. The man never looked at Andy. Andy let the tears fall down his face as he listened to the man:

“ . . . hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great. For in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me!” said Maya as she clutched the sobbing girl. She reached frantically for her mobile, which fell on the floor of the train amidst the chaos of distraught children and confusion. “Uma! Call Andy!”

Henry stood, barely, by the end of the kitchen table near the bookshelves. He leaned his back against the butcher block to steady himself, measuring the distance to the cabinet where the booze resided. He dimly remembered having been in that cabinet in the darkness, finding the bottles. But it might have been another day, another night, someone else. He couldn’t tell. He thought it would take three steps, then he could brace himself on the bookshelves and open the door. The kitchen began to spin again. He leaned hard on the table, and pivoted to his right, nearly toppling over as he puked up whatever remained from the dinner the night before. He watched his puke mix with the blood from his arm on the floor. There I go, the thought coming from somewhere else. He saw curious spots now, popping and exploding all around him, and his head itched. I need to lie down, he thought. That would be the smart thing to do.

“Shit! His phone is off,” said Uma, staring at a picture of Andy on her mobile with a big red X over his face. The other few people on the subway car stared at the scene. “Wait. I know.”

Henry turned around and fell forward on the table, gripping the edges with his hands. He got one knee up and wriggled up on top, pulling himself along, his face sliding on the surface like so much meat. His pants caught on the edge of the table and slid down his legs as he moved along. He felt objects ahead on the table and he swiped at them, sending them shattering to the floor. He humped along the table-top, and when he was finally completely on, he let his arms drop over the sides.

Pasqual’s mobile rang a block and half away.

Henry closed his eyes.


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