"I'm you... With better teeth."
I’m listening to the trio from Brahms 1, happy as a pig in shit, until I start choking on my own tears. All of a sudden, I can hardly breathe between great wallops of unwarranted emotion. I can’t stem the flow until the music stops. A forty-five minute symphony, forged with some of the most earth-shattering music ever committed to posterity, and yet it’s this ninety-second flight of lyricism that’s killing me. So I sift through the recordings I own, in the hopes that another interpretation might help me make sense of it. Furtwängler’s manic energy, Klemperer’s unwavering rightness, or Karajan’s beauteous intensity?
I settle on Karajan, London, 1988, and listen with my nose practically touching the speaker. After more than three decades on the gilded throne, he’s a mere six months from his deathbed and the Berliners are mutinous, praying for the old man to trip and break something already. But listen. Listen to how he strolls through heaven’s lobby, hops on a lift ride through the clouds, and gets off at the penthouse suite of Olympus. The woodwinds sing, the violins dance, the trumpets swagger, and the basses are the mighty engine, their repeated arpeggios surely an affirmation of bliss. Oh, that world, that magnificent realm which whirls around me, surrounding me with beauty, ecstasy, rapture, and all that is worth living for!
With the self-control of a bladder after three pints of lager, I start crying again. What does one do in the face of such greatness? Didn’t Caesar himself weep when confronted with the scale of Alexander’s achievements? He understood that either you have the audacity to do one better, and further mankind, or pour sand over your head and lament your sorry state of being. The middle ground exists only in politically correct wet dreams.
Malcolm saunters out of the bathroom, naked as the day he was born, save for a towel wrapped atop his head. I wipe my face in a pillow and return to the ad I’d been typing up before Brahms befell me. Business has been slow, forcing me back to the Craigslist bottom feeders – my bread and butter pre-Gabby’s Boys.
Halfway through typing the ad, I notice Malcolm has spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror. I watch him get drunk on his reflection. He examines his pores up close and then tries on different expressions: a frown, a pout, a smirk, a grin. Then he flexes his arms and sucks in his stomach. When he turns around to check out his glutes, he finally sees that I’ve been watching this vain show. He smiles shamelessly and approaches.
“Whatcha doin’, Spaz?” he asks, deliberately lisping just to infuriate me.
He’s taken to calling me Spaz, like we’re friends or something. This too irritates me to no end, but I refuse to give him the satisfaction of showing it.
My eyes return to the laptop screen. “Work.”
“I never asked what you do.”
And I don’t intend to tell.
He unwraps the towel on his head and sits behind the screen. “So what is it you do, Serge?”
“Wouldn’t you need to be on the phone then?”
“We’re migrating to digital.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, it’s quite the process.”
“You’re so full of shit, Spaz,” he laughs.
“How stupid do you think I am? I know all about” –he makes obnoxious quotation marks with his fingers– “Gabby’s boys. Word travels fast in these circles, honey. Twice as fast if you know Gabby,” he smirks.
“I’m not certain I know what you’re talking about,” I say, although it’s abundantly clear I’m licked.
“I’m not judging, I understand. We’re all good at something right? And speaking of, one more for the road?” He gets up and does a little dance, which I decide is the last straw.
I shut the screen. “One night of your prattle was more than enough, thank you very much. Piss off home, Michael.”
“Aw, was that supposed to offend me?” he says, rolling his eyes.
He sits behind me and starts pressing my shoulders. “You’re so predictable, Spaz.”
“I told you to go,” I say through clenched teeth, though I must admit it feels amazing. It’s as if my muscles are being liberated after a decade in the gulag.
“Stop tensing,” he whispers, working his way down my back.
“Shit, Spaz, eat a hamburger or something. I nearly cut myself on your spine you’re so bony. And stop tensing.”
“I’m not fucking tensing.”
“Whatever,” he mutters.
He wraps his arms firmly around my shoulders and leans his head against the back of mine. I feel dominated and I don’t much like it. I wriggle out of his grip.
Fran announces breakfast from the kitchen.
“Go. Stuff something down your gullet and leave,” I say, turning up the speakers. The enigmatic shuffle function has landed on The Fairy’s Kiss. Hah!
“I know you,” he says.
“Oh, really? What are you waiting for, then? Christen me in the waters of thine never-ending wisdom.”
“Obviously a pessimist.”
“Learned that in Intro to Psychology, did you? A headless chicken could’ve told us that.”
“A nihilist too, and mildly depressive, I’d say. But too much of a narcissist to ever do yourself any real harm, right?”
He deposits his freshly-shaved chin in the crook of my shoulder. “Oh yeah, big time. You don’t really do love or friends,” he resumes, his every word a velvet-gloved punch to my gut. “No, you see a trait, a characteristic, an aura, and you set about consuming it. After you’ve sucked the source dry, it’s curtains, off to the next adventure.”
“So what, pray tell, did I see in you?” I spit back. “The sparkling intellect?”
“I’m sure my complete lack of self-esteem played a part, but no.”
“The manner in which you bray like a mule in bed?”
“Henry caught it the first time he met you. He came home drunk and all excited about it. Uncanny was the word he used, I think.” Malcolm directs my gaze to the mirror. “We look exactly alike, Spaz.”
He’s staring at my reflection now and I at his. My eyes are a stony grey, his are blue. He’s also better-built and he’s got that pout, but apart from the odd mole, he’s right. Same wavy brown hair, almond-shaped eyes, sharp nose, the same reddish lips and mild chin cleft, same height, even the same collarbone. We’re the ultimate tribute to Narcissus. Dear God, it’s unsettling, did I not see the hubris?
“If that’s the case, aren’t you a narcissist too?”
He nibbles my ear and then whispers, “I’m you, Spaz… With better teeth.”
“Breakfast before you go?”
“What do you call this, then?” he snorts, pulling an Arctic whatsits singlet over his head.
“Seriously, Theo makes a mean Belgian waffle.” I wonder if he can smell my desperation.
“Nah, Henry cooks up a feast for Christmas dinner. I think it’s to eat away his mother’s rejection. Anyways, I’ll be nibbling all day.”
I turn to him and say, “I thought he was Jewish?”