Darcy Sisnowski was a dancer. Actually, she made her living as an exercise instructor in a large, well-lit, upscale health club in midtown, but she was constantly working with other ex- classmates to create modern dance pieces which they still hoped would lead to a breakthrough and a professional career. It had only been three years since college.
This, however, was a play. Darcy hadn't been in one since her freshman year, when she acted a character in Midsummer Nights' Dream that Shakespeare hadn't written. She was a sort of sprite who followed the characters around silently; since Shakespeare had never contemplated her there were no lines for her to say. Darcy had been left free to design her own part, and she had performed it largely as a dance, with Bob Fosse-style moves that Liam found incongruous. In her solo performances, Darcy recited lines from her life, mechanically, while dancing to modern music. "I may be a butterfly--but you are a bully" was one that would pre-occupy Liam later on. Mostly he thought her work pretentious nonsense, but sooner or later a meaning would glimmer through and make him uneasy. He remarked on this to his younger brother Aidan, who sang a line from a Dylan song: "There's something happening, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?" Afterwards, charming Aidan's mocking nickname for his severe older brother was "Mr. Jones."
Darcy had been a sophomore at N.Y.U. the year Liam was a senior, and he had acquired her without any forethought that the relationship would last longer than a few weeks. He knew he was a competitive brute male, who went to bed with any reasonably attractive women who were available, and bragged about it afterwards. He felt hostile to women, and usually relieved himself of any responsibility to treat them as people by classifying them contemptuously in the first five minutes of acquaintance: "Future suburban matron" was a typical line for materialistic women of moderate intelligence who had round faces and would develop a chin later on, "Florence Nightingale" for sensitive girls looking for suffering men to rescue, and so on.
Darcy and Liam broke up regularly but always returned to each other within a few months. Liam remained interested in her always for one quiet and one overt reason. The quiet reason--he had never shared it with anyone, even Aidan--was that Darcy was outside his ken, but he didn't know in which direction. After five years, he could not rule out either the possibility that she was superficial or that she was wise with knowledge that was inaccessible to him (exactly the dilemma he had with her performances.) The overt reason, which he complained bitterly about to Darcy, Aidan and anyone else who would listen, was that he could not control her. He either wanted a woman to be submissive or be completely unavailable; when he and Darcy were not together, improved radar kept him from involving himself with new Darcys.
For almost two years after they met, anger and curiosity kept Liam going. After that, something unprecedented began to happen. He began to develop an idea of the man he would like to be for her sake. It was a glorious role for an actor: a man more compassionate and loving than Liam. He had always slipped in and out of such performances for his mother and Aidan, and to a lesser extent, his plain, strange younger sister, Jane. But he had never had the slightest desire to be anything other than curt with women, because so many tolerated it, at least for long enough. He wasn't certain whether he wanted to be with Darcy badly enough to wish to be a different person, or whether the opposite was true: he was with her because he had an image of himself he wanted to create. He felt sick if he thought too much about it. If you discover your face is a mask, then it is a mask for all purposes.
Liam was a self-created man. Right after graduation he thought of a recruiting business and made it exist. He decided he wanted Singer Bank or J.P. Morgan for a client, and made phone calls and visits until it happened. He met women, caught a signal of tentative consent, and possessed them for a little time (which was all he wanted from them.) But this affair of imagining a different Liam for Darcy was exhausting and had gone on for years without arriving anywhere. Everyone else who saw them together believed him, but not Darcy (or Aidan). "You don't love me," she said. "You love the idea you love me." The complex phrase stung him; it was like a moment in one of her performances. He was Mr. Jones.
Darcy was almost six feet tall, an inch larger than him, slender, graceful, with light brown hair, blue eyes, and a wide sensual mouth. She had a wry sense of humor and loved offbeat comedy like Monty Python and the movie Repo Man. None of which Liam could relate to. He thought of business and Darcy thought only of art; he was cerebral and she was emotional. He craved a Mercedes, Church's shoes, Brooks Brothers suits, a Rolex. Darcy was very poor and cooked vegetables in a wok in her bare apartment. In moments of angry clarity, he thought they had nothing in common except the indefinable bond they had created, which was entirely mutual: whenever they separated they were drawn back to each other with an equal attraction, like planets of the same size.
Darcy's was the last of three one-act plays. He had seen her dance in a body stocking, in a halter, even wrapped in a sheet which she kept adjusting over her bare shoulders, but he had never seen her topless in public before. She played a sort of muse or fantasy, a woman who sat opposite the tiresome protagonist, and who never said a word but smiled and frowned as he spoke. He directed an excruciating monologue at her, sometimes pleading, more often excoriating her, whiny, demanding, an appalling egotist, the parody of a radical lesbian feminist view of men. Three times Darcy seemed about to say something to him; each time as she opened her mouth, he rushed to the midst of a sentence and got stuck on the personal pronoun: "I I I I." It was cleverly acted; Liam suspected the timing could not have been easy.
His eyes returned constantly to Darcy's small, high breasts, which he had always regarded as a matter private to him. He was agonized that her nipples were hard; she could not be cold. The small theater, in the basement of a church, was not air-conditioned, and there was a sheen of sweat on her body. He was certain Darcy was excited to be exposed. There were about one hundred other people, most of them also paying attention to Darcy's breasts. Liam was sick with anger; in after years, when he had forgotten her infidelities and his own, he recalled his helplessness and rage at the play.
Suddenly he recognized a phrase he had often said to her: "I don't need this sensitive shit." And another: "You have no idea what you're talking about." Finally, the despicable alpha male said, "You say I don't love you, that I love the idea I love you." He began to sense vaguely this was an execution. Moments later, the male ran out of words, and sat silent. Minutes seemed to elapse while Darcy looked at the actor attentively. He sat with his head in his hands--something Liam had also done when Darcy was particularly maddening. Finally, he looked up and asked, "May I touch you?" Darcy nodded and smiled, and he walked across the stage and laid his hand on the top of her breast--not the nipple. The lights went out with a bang, and when they came back up, Darcy , a scarf tied around her bust, came back and took a bow entwined with the actor, who was a striking blond man who looked nothing like Liam. As they pulled apart, he saw the inconspicuous but telling caress of Darcy's hand on his.
Backstage, the actor--Gregg--shook Liam's hand. Liam thought him supercilious and hateful. Liam wanted to go right home and have it out, but Darcy was starved--she could never eat before a performance. They went a few blocks away, to the Moonstruck Diner, and he ate a hamburger he didn't want while Darcy had a platter of steamed broccoli. She was relaxed now, looking at him with the beginning of a curve to her lips, the predecessor of a smile. "Well?" Liam continued to eat. "I think you're angry," Darcy said.
"Let's cut to the chase. You're breaking up with me, and you invited me to this horrendous piece of shit play to tell me."
"Not at all," Darcy said, taking his hand and kissing it. She let it go and looked at him attentively like the character she had just performed.
Liam relaxed, though he was still very angry. "Then what the fuck was that about?"
"It was a play, and I want to know what you thought of it."
"I think you fed the author a number of phrases I've said," Liam said, "which doesn't exactly make me feel good about you, the play, or myself." Darcy was smiling broadly now, but still quiet, still in her role.
"Was it Gregg? Did Gregg write the play?"
"I wrote the play," Darcy replied, astonishing him.
Mr. Jones was trapped, writhing on the end of Darcy's pin. She would never let him forget that it hadn't occurred to him she could write a play.
They spent a long time talking about this issue, so it was hours before he could ask: "Are you sleeping with Gregg?"
"No." Still looking at him searchingly.
"Have you ever slept with Gregg?"
"I'm not going to answer that," Darcy said, "but you could ask me another question."
"'Have you slept with Gregg in the last five years?'"
Back in his apartment, they went to bed and he caressed Darcy's breasts until he felt he had erased any trace of the other.
If she was really mine, he thought, I wouldn't let her do that.
Liam only attended one more performance of Darcy's, a few months later. Entitled "Semiotic Riff", this was her typical solo piece, at the same church, in an evening of performance art. Darcy wore a long, summery dress with a flower pattern, and was barefoot. Sitting in the back, he admired her graceful long feet. She had a tape player with an extension cord plugged into an outlet on stage, and she danced with the player and the cord to an assortment of music by Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. Sometimes she set the player down on a little round wooden night table in the middle of the bare stage. She shut it off several times and said a few words, then resumed dancing to the music. Towards the end, she stopped the music, undid the top button on her dress, and showed the audience her right breast, asking dramatically: "What does this signify?"
Liam was furious, and almost as desperate as when a client dropped him from its vendor list. They shouted at each other that night for hours. He knew he sounded like a Victorian hypocrite prude; he really had no objection to women other than Darcy showing themselves, and often took his close friend and attorney Rick Bauer to topless bars. As the fight continued, Liam got better control over himself, while Darcy got wilder--a common pattern for them. Liam was sarcastic, Darcy cried. He called the piece "Semiotic Tit." Darcy said it was about men's attitude to women; Liam said Darcy had titillated the men in the audience, not distanced them from their desire. Darcy said her body was hers to do with as she pleased. Liam said that was true, but that he was also his own person, and he did not have to be with her if he did not approve of her use of her body. Darcy replied that Liam treated her like property. Liam replied that Darcy showing her breast was not an act that occurred in a vacuum, but was something she did in order to madden him. Darcy said that she was an artist and her body was her instrument. Liam said that showing her breasts in public might just be a substitute for having any talent. Darcy, speechless with rage, gathered her things and left.
Liam was certain he could fix it tomorrow; much of his success in life was predicated on being certain he could fix things tomorrow. He lay alone--he really hadn't wanted to be alone tonight--and the other Liam, the one he wished he had been this evening, began to surface. In five years, Darcy had taken a lot of sarcasm and abuse from him, but she always punished him for it. He angrily imagined that if he kept the pressure on, she would take to dancing nude, simulating sex or even having sex on stage. He saw the solution: he must stop attending Darcy's performances. She had never spent a day in his office, and she was absent-minded on the rare occasions he spoke of business to her (Liam didn't usually talk about business to women at all). If she didn't share his "art", why should he share hers? The answer was certainly not to go. He imagined she would stop showing herself if he was not there. Or if she did, he wouldn't know about it and it wouldn't upset him. He was not a morbidly imaginative man.
He couldn't rest, so he went across the small living room and knocked on Aidan's bedroom door. "Are you sleeping?" "I was," said Aidan. It was three in the morning. Aidan arose, dressed in t-shirt and boxer shorts; he wore a t-shirt to bed all year round, while Liam, who was never cold, wore only his briefs. Liam cracked two Rolling Rocks and they sat in the dilapidated armchairs, looking out the window at the dark pink polluted night sky through the grillwork of the ancient fire escape. "Fight with Darcy?" "Yes, a bad one." "What was it about?" "Don't ask." "Jones," Aidan said. "Don't call me that," Liam snarled, but he didn't mind; he felt lonely, and his brother, who teased him, loved him.
They drank their beers. Aidan asked if Liam remembered the sea otters they had seen in Monterey when they went there together in Aidan's senior year of high school. "I still say I could have hit that one with a rock," Liam replied.
Aidan went up to Hopeworth to visit Jane, and Liam sat alone paging through the prostitution ads in the Village Voice. Darcy had said on the phone she didn't want to see him for awhile. He knew in a few days or a few weeks she would come back to him; if he felt distressed enough he would call her; if he could maintain his composure and hold out, she would call him before too long. The main comfort during these breaks was seeing other women, which he felt perfectly free to do. He was drawn to the idea of prostitutes, though he had never been with one. He had never really needed to, because since high school he had never gone more than six weeks without a girl in his bed, if he wanted one. He went to a bar or a party and often someone would go home with him.
Prostitutes appealed to Liam now because sex as a transaction would free one from any necessity, for example, of attending the other's performance art. No dinners, conversations, or demands; no meeting parents or seeing "chick movies" about Edwardian love. He would ask the whore not to fake her orgasm. He imagined emptying himself on a passive recipient, but the face became Darcy's: her attentive look in the play and at the diner after.
There was an ad that he noticed every week when he paged through the back of the Voice. Most of the advertisements had boldface type, exclamation points, and grainy pictures of women with inflated globes. This one was small, with a nice feminine font and border, no photograph, and said simply "Happiness is a warm Poppy." His heart beating hard, he dialed the number, and a woman answered "Hello?" in the most liquid, musical voice in the world. He had never known a voice to communicate so much beauty in a single word. He hung up the phone.
Later in the evening, Rick Bauer dropped by, and they talked for a while about going out somewhere but couldn't decide. They drank several beers and Liam made Rick dial Poppy. Rick didn't hang up but got into a conversation with her; he tried to keep her on the phone by asking questions about her apartment, the amenities, how long people stayed, until she concluded he was a cop and hung up.
Over the next few weeks, Liam became very horny but the thought of going hunting tired him. He took the excess energy and threw it into his work. He was thinking about how to get rid of his partner, Sol Heymann. In his last year of college, Liam had gone on job interviews at banks, brokerages and insurance companies. He concluded that he was much smarter than the people he met. He did not want to take direction from them, or be a junior employee in a training program and punch a time clock. He knew he could sell, but the idea of pushing insurance or stocks on commission bored him. He called back some of the people he had interviewed and asked what headhunters they dealt with. In the Sunday New York Times classifieds, he looked for recruiting firms that seemed to be small. Several firms had a man's name (Arthur Thompson Associates) but one recurring advertiser didn't even pretend to be a company: the ads said, "Call Sol Heymann", so he did. The first time he called, on a Monday, Heymann answered his own phone and listened to him for less than a minute. "Kid, its Monday, and my phone is ringing off the hook from yesterday's ad." "Would Thursday be a better time to call?" "Yes, Thursday," said Sol, who had no intention of speaking with him. Liam called back on Thursday and Sol, who was always a step short of rudeness, tried to get rid of him. "Mr. Heymann, I want just five minutes of your time." Sol said later Liam reminded him of himself at that same age, so he listened.
"You're a successful man," Liam said, "and you told me Monday that your phone is ringing off the hook. I'm guessing you don't have the time to follow up on every candidate who calls you. I'll bet you a dollar there are B candidates you could place for lesser fees, but you don't because there's only so much time in a day and you concentrate on the A's."
"You'd win that bet."
"Then let me work your B candidates."
"Kid, I don't need to grow. I was in a firm for twenty years. We sold it and now I work solo. I make enough money so that my wife and I don't have to touch our capital or give up our apartment with the river view. But I couldn't keep that up and pay you anything."
"I don't want a salary. Let me keep fifty percent of whatever I bring in on the leads you don't pursue."
It took two more conversations and a visit to Sol's roomy West Side apartment, with a distant view of the Hudson. "This isn't free to me," Sol said. "I have to spend time on you." But he agreed to let Liam try it for three months. Liam spent the first two days listening to Sol on the phone, then began calling the candidates whose resumes came in the daily mail and to the fax machine in the copy shop across the street. Sol wouldn't let him deal with any accounts; Liam learned to qualify applicants and match them to jobs and Sol took it from there. But it was an easy business and Liam was good at it; he made three deals in the first six weeks.
Sol explained that you needed a name that you didn't need to spell to people. Liam insisted he wouldn't change Molloy but Sol got him to call himself Lee on the telephone. Later, when Aidan came to work for them as a systems administration consultant, they named him Ed.
Sol installed a special phone line for him in the apartment. The place was large, sunny and clean, but Liam hated working there. Sol didn't seem to mind, but Liam didn't really want to be involved in his daily life. When Mrs. Heymann was home, she might come into their work area in her bathrobe.
After a few months, Sol let Liam talk to clients, and soon enough Liam brought in some of his own. Clients usually wanted you to come to them, but once in a while a hiring manager would say, "Why don't I swing by to discuss it?" Liam was not comfortable acknowledging he didn't have an office, nor inviting people up to Sol's apartment, though Sol himself sometimes did. In their second year together, Liam rented a tiny one room office--200 square feet--on Madison Avenue. Sol complained that there was no need, but the rent was very cheap and Liam convinced him that he could grow the business much faster. Liam put two desks in the office, but Sol only came in once--to make sure the sign had his name on it, Liam thought. After that, Sol worked from his apartment as before, and he and Liam spoke on the phone several times a day.
Liam was now friends with Rick Bauer, who had been sent his way by his strange younger sister Jane. He asked Rick to draw up a shareholders' agreement. It took hours more of phone calls to convince Sol that they needed one; they had never had anything in writing before.
The contract included a "showdown" clause. It said that if the partners weren't happy with each other, one could offer to buy the other out. The other then had the right to buy out the first at the offered price. Rick had said this was a way to make sure that the price was fair--you had to be willing to accept it as well as give it.
Sol placed mainframe Cobol programmers at banks. Liam was interested in taking risks on new operating systems such as Unix and DOS. Sol only wanted to do what he had always done. Liam was aware that contract programming would be a likely next step for a recruiting firm. Instead of placing applicants as full-time employees of his clients, he could put them on his own payroll and sell their time to the client at a mark-up. Sol refused; full-time placement was a very low risk business. He didn't want to have a payroll.
Aidan graduated Boston University with a computer science degree, and came to New York to look for jobs in large companies. He had several offers but expressed unease to Liam about becoming the lowest paid programming drone in a dull, stratified organization. Liam decided there was no lower risk way to start his contract business than to hire his brother. Another few hours of arguing with Sol were required. It would have gone harder but Sol understood that sometimes one has to hire one's own family. He didn't understand, though, why they couldn't hire Aidan to be a recruiter, and avoid getting into a new business.
Liam wrote a somewhat exaggerated resume for "Ed Molloy" and hand-carried it to a client of his, the IT manager at a downtown brokerage. The place was famous for a rite of passage: callow interviewees were taken for a tour of the trading floor, and the brokers threw telephones at them. Each broker knew the length of the phone cord and had mastered the art of hurling a telephone within an inch of a victim's head, then bringing it back. The applicant's reaction to the telephone attack was evaluated along with his verbal and presentation skills.
Ira Browne agreed to hire Aidan at thirty dollars an hour, soon raised to forty-five when Aidan became indispensable. Browne had complete confidence in him; Aidan was all over the place, installing hardware, training brokers in use of the new workstations, writing some code to make devices work together. "You work pretty hard for a lazy guy," Browne told him.
The crisis came when Rick asked Liam to hire his younger brother, Rob Bauer. Liam called Sol and told him he was about to add another programmer to the staff. "The hell you are," said Sol. He insisted on seeing it as a nepotism issue, not a business one. "You don't have to hire your lawyer's brother," he said. "If we hired everyone's idiot son or kid brother you'd soon have a hundred useless people working there." Liam explained how much money he was already making on Aidan. "I don't want to be in that business," Sol said.
Liam took Rick out for drinks at Boomer's, an upscale topless bar, and told him he wanted to get rid of Sol. Rick explained he had essentially acted as attorney to both of them in drawing up the shareholder agreement. He would try to act as an impartial influence to achieve the goal of getting Sol out--Liam could see how uncomfortable Rick was as he said this--but if Sol objected he might have to withdraw. The next day, Liam came up to Rick's offices in midtown--they were a few blocks down Madison from his own--and they spent a few hours talking strategy.
"I feel like you're asking me to help you bury a body," Rick said.
Liam replied, "Shut up and dig."
Liam called Sol and requested a meeting. He didn't want to go up to the apartment--he could imagine Rita Heymann screaming at him--and Sol, who knew without being told that something unpleasant was about to happen, refused to come to the office. They agreed to meet at the Stage Door Delicatessen, which was not far from Sol's apartment. Sol arrived late and nodded when he saw Rick; Liam hadn't said anything about the lawyer being present. "I knew you were cooking up something," he said. Still, he didn't rush the conversation; Sol liked food and spent so much time over the menu that Liam began grinding his teeth. It was a new bad habit which had started soon after Darcy broke up with him the last time.
Sol decided, the three men ordered, and Sol said, "Okay, kid. Spit it out." Liam told him he didn't want to be partners with him anymore. He was careful to begin by thanking Sol for everything he had done for him. "You gave me my start and I'll never forget that." Sol's face was pursed up. "Let's skip this part; just cut to the chase." Liam made an offer for Sol's share of the company. The hardest part of yesterday's conversation with Rick had been determining the number; Liam's desire not to pay much had struggled with his desire not to be bought out and have to start all over again. He regretted that he hadn't known enough to prevent Rick from adding the too evenly balanced "showdown" clause. Another approach might have given him a way out without risking the loss of the business.
Sol was silent long enough for Liam to get frightened. "Tell the fucking hyena to leave the table," Sol finally said, and Rick went for a walk outside, his back very straight as he endured the injury in silence. Sol stared at Liam for a long time Nobody could look as bitter and sarcastic as Sol Heymann in a bad mood. "You are a clever fucking ferret," Sol said. "I've been asking myself since the second month we were together how long it would take you to do this. And since then I've also been thinking what I would say to you."
The older man stretched and placed his hands behind the back of his neck, pushing his head forward in an exercise he did to relieve backstrain. People from other tables were watching them, attracted by the strange movement. "You're fucking me," Sol said. "But you knew you could. I have the money in the bank to turn your offer back at you and buy you out. It would almost be worth it just to see the look on your face. You knew I never would, because I'd be buying things I didn't want--your office and your idiot brother Ed."
Liam began to relax.
"But you are way fucking off base if you think Sol Heymann is going to fade into the woodwork for the pocket change you're offering. If I wanted to retire, I would have retired before I met you. No little fucking garden weasel like you is going to put me out of business."
Liam had couched the offer in clear terms: he would pay Sol for all of the existing accounts, and Sol would get out of the recruiting business. But given Sol's laziness, Liam didn't much care if Sol was still around, hawking Cobol programmers to the clients he had known for twenty years.
"Tell me what you have in mind."
Sol had obviously thought this through long before getting Liam's phone call. "We split up the accounts, meaning I keep all mine and you keep the new ones you brought. No money changes hands. We'll sign some piece of paper drawn up by Rick Fucking Hyena Bauer that says you never get to call my accounts."
"I can't make a living yet just on the accounts I brought in. Not quite yet. I grew some of those accounts for you. I'm also doing business you never did there. Like Unix placement, and Aidan's gig at the brokerage."
"That's fair," said Sol. "You just agree you're not doing Cobol business anywhere. If you want to pitch Unix or PC people to some named accounts of mine, I don't give a shit."
"Within a year, that's where I'll be. But I need to keep making a few Cobol deals to get there."
"Okay, then we phase it out. You pay me an override on Cobol deals you make at our accounts. We coordinate--I don't want to be submitting resumes over yours. In six months, you stop."
"Thank you, that's very fair," Liam said, reaching to shake Sol's hand.
"Fuck you," the old man said.
Rick set up a new corporation and began drawing up the separation papers the next day, while Liam went to his bank and opened an account in the name Molloy Data. Early the next week, Liam dropped by to see Ira Browne, who told him the brokerage's fiscal year was ending, and asked him if he could prepay him for some of Aidan's services, to use up some budgeted dollars that would be lost otherwise. Liam felt dazed; no-one ever gave him money in advance. Browne handed him a check for three thousand dollars made out to Heymann and Molloy, and after some anxious speculation, Liam tried depositing it in the new account. I could always say it was an accident, he thought, but the check cleared without a murmur from the bank.
The money advanced by the brokerage was an interesting problem. Liam knew enough not to tell Rick about it; he already had learned that there are circumstances under which you have to lie to your attorney in order to lie to other people. Liam believed he had an excuse to pocket it because it was for services Aidan would perform after the breakup. But Rick--who was really not a very experienced lawyer--had sent a draft agreement to Sol under which the partners shared with each other any funds collected through the end of the month. Liam decided that there was absolutely no way he could be caught. Sol wouldn't call Ira Browne, and if he merely compared Aidan's timesheets with invoices and collections, everything would match perfectly.
Once the three thousand was in the account, Liam pretended it didn't exist. He never entered it as a deposit in his checkbook, in case Sol asked to look at that. Later, after the legalities were complete, he still didn't enter it. It became first a reserve he was holding in case Sol asked for it later, then a cushion against contingencies.
The task of getting rid of Sol had taken all of Liam's time and attention, so that he hadn't thought about Darcy. Soon after he and Sol had signed the separation papers, she called. She wanted to see him the next day, but Liam, suddenly extremely horny, said, "Why don't you come over right now?"
"Its ten at night. How about tomorrow?"
"I'm busy tomorrow."
They agreed to talk in a few days' time and hung up, but a few minutes later she called back.
"Still at loose ends? I'll be right over."
She arrived wanting to talk, but Liam took her by her long graceful hands, pulled her into the bedroom and pushed her onto the bed. First Darcy hated what he was doing; then she hated it in principle; then she got excited.
"That will teach her," Liam thought.
After this demonstration, he felt much calmer, and when they met the following Saturday, he played at being the tender Liam he had designed for her.
Darcy wanted to walk in Central Park. They entered behind the Metropolitan Museum, and in a few minutes of strolling in the mild September weather were at the small pond where people sail radio controlled sailboats. They sat beneath the statue of Alice in Wonderland, holding hands and laughing like teenagers. Liam wished aloud that he had a submarine with which he could chase down and sink the sailboats, and a man turned to scowl at him as if it were a serious suggestion.
They walked to the big lake and at Darcy's request rented a rowboat. She was wearing one of her long flowery dresses, sandals which showed her long thin feet, and a straw hat. Liam rowed and Darcy sat in the stern, eyes closed, her face turned to the sun.
It was the furthest he had been from her all afternoon and also the first time her eyes had not been on him. Liam noticed again that Darcy was beautiful. His usual emotions when he was with her were sexual desire, irritation, and a Jones-like perplexity. Now, because she was not looking at him, all of that dropped away, and he felt an amazed happiness. He had not wanted to go to the park; he spent a lot of hours with Darcy doing things that didn't particularly interest him. Somehow he had backed into being happy; when he charged it from the front it always eluded him. He remembered their hour in the rowboat the rest of his life.
Liam could never hold the moment without speaking, but at least when he opened his mouth this time it was without any premeditation. "Suppose we were to get married?" he asked. His happiness immediately fled away from him like a deer with terrified eyes, as he wondered what violent blunder he might make next. Darcy's eyes opened; he had her complete attention. She maneuvered her way across the seats of the boat, kissed him and laid a finger on his lips. She returned to her perch and they didn't say another word about it.
Darcy started volunteering at a Lower East Side community center in the evenings, where she taught exercise classes to young Puerto Rican girls.
Aidan had been dating a girl named Emily Taft, whom he had met through strange Jane. Emily was a head shorter than Liam, with light brown hair, and a cultured, aggressive, fuck-you manner that interested him. Liam was amused that Aidan didn't see that Emily was wrong for him. She was shallow, selfish and materialist, while Aidan, if he ever married, would choose someone poetic and tender. To make things worse, Emily seemed unusually attentive to Liam, occasionally rolling her eyes behind Aidan's back for his benefit, when Aidan said something particularly mushy or moon-faced. One night he tried an experiment: as Emily was leaving, he took her hand and held it too long. Another girl would have pulled away; Emily stood passively, looking at him, her hand resting in his as long as he wanted it to. Even though Aidan was in the next room.
One night in October, they double-dated. Darcy wanted to go dancing at Roseland; nothing could have annoyed Liam more, as he didn't dance and it meant that Darcy would spend more of the evening with Aidan than with him. But Aidan was harmless--Liam knew his brother would never try to take away his girl--and it also represented an opportunity to be alone with Emily at the table. It turned out that Emily also didn't dance, or claimed she didn't. When Aidan and Darcy went off to waltz under the spiraling spotlight, Emily said, "It seems we have a mismatch going here."
"Maybe we ought to change partners," Liam replied.
"That would be interesting."
"Let's leave before they get back."
"I would," said Emily, and he believed her. But he couldn't walk out on Darcy or Aidan. He guided the conversation elsewhere. He was fairly confident he had retained a position of power: Emily knew that he didn't want to leave, not that he was afraid to. They drank several Margaritas while the other two danced; when Darcy importuned him, his self-protective instincts were absent, and he allowed himself to be drawn out to the wooden floor. They did a foxtrot, during which Liam acquitted himself acceptably but woodenly. Unfortunately, the next dance had a rapid Latin beat, and he didn't know the steps; Liam improvised a move which involved bending his knees, Darcy did the same, and they painfully collided, throwing Darcy to the floor. He pulled her up and immediately walked away, furious. Darcy was trying to tell him it wasn't serious, but he had seen other people laughing at his drunken dance even before he knocked her over.
Darcy came home with him; Aidan went off with Emily and never re-appeared. He wanted to forget Roseland, but he was hung over now, and furious, and instead of making love to Darcy the evening wound up with Liam raging at her for having humiliated him. He listened to his own cruelty, remembered the rowboat, and wanted to stop but could not, even though he knew it was useless to be angry about something that hadn't been her fault and was now over. Darcy left saying she did not want to see him for a while.
It didn't help when Aidan told him the next day that he had scored with Emily for the first time.
Emily was over at the apartment some time later and managed to stand close to him in the kitchen while Aidan was on the phone with their mother Alana.
"I heard you and Darcy broke up," she said.
"Well?" Liam asked impatiently.
"Well?" Emily echoed him.
He wouldn't go behind his brother's back; that would be too messy.
"If you left Aidan...." he said.
It took some time and he had given up on Emily when Aidan told him that she had dropped him, blaming it on Aidan's lack of passion for her.
Liam waited a few days and asked Aidan if he would mind if he dated Emily. Aidan was startled but said he didn't think he could have any objection.
Liam called Emily, who suggested they meet the same day. He repeated his successful initiative with Darcy, saying he wanted to come over immediately. She agreed, with a wary note in her voice. He caught a cab to her place, then "overwhelmed and consumed" her as she said later. When Liam came, he felt almost nothing. Emily had a very intense orgasm, and lay next to him humming. Liam realized he detested her.
As a kind of experiment, he decided he would never take her out, never buy her a meal or a gift or take her to the theater or even a movie. He would only meet Emily for sex, and was curious to see how long she would tolerate it. She was a little startled, but compliant, and he felt even more contempt for her. He only saw her in the late evenings, usually at her place. He never spent the whole night after the first one in her apartment, but she stayed over on the rare occasions they went to his.
He knew he had been predisposed to hate her, but Emily put herself at even more of a disadvantage when her toughness turned out to be on the surface only. Very soon, she displayed the tremulous quality he most detested in women. She even said to him after sex, "You're the kind of man I want," and "You can do anything you want with me." By the third or fourth time they had been to bed, there was nothing new about her to explore; he was reminded that what kept him going back to Darcy was that she could not be classified or captured. He was already looking for a way out when Darcy called him, crying. She had somehow heard that he was with Emily; he was certain Aidan would not have told her. Darcy would never give him the satisfaction of complaining about another girl, though the fact that she knew slipped out at the end of the conversation. Instead, she only admitted to feeling broken up and lonely. He agreed to see her, and never returned Emily's phone calls.
Here began a quiet, affectionate stretch of time that made him imagine they could have a life together. They were with each other every possible moment, and on weekends established, for the first time, a routine in which it was not necessary to go out. Darcy brought her manuscripts and books of dance notation to his apartment, and worked for hours while he made phone calls. Then they would go at five o'clock for an early Chinese dinner and a movie in the neighborhood. They came in early and made love, or just curled up on the sofa together watching television, like an old married couple.
Aidan and Liam had an absurd fight about Aidan's salary. Liam offered him a raise but Aidan was more interested in pursuing the distribution of a software product created by strange Jane. Liam watched Aidan placing rectangles on the screen of his Apple II, filling them with text, and then using the mouse to draw lines that linked them together. He had no idea if what he was seeing was brilliant or incredibly stupid and impractical and said so. "Well, Mr. Jones," Aidan replied, "Rick Bauer thinks what we're doing is very exciting." Liam could still never figure out how his younger sister had turned out to be so intelligent.
In early summer, he took Darcy out to Montauk to spend a weekend at Alana's. His mother had met Darcy just three times in five years, and always in Manhattan.
His eyes moving from one woman to the other in the huge kitchen of the house John Molloy had built, Liam again noticed that they were built similarly, but as usual his thoughts deflected away from the perception.
Alana wept when she talked about Jane. She had now known for more than six months that Jane was gay, but she hadn't reconciled herself.
Liam and Darcy went out on the beach and lay on the sand watching for shooting stars. They didn't see any. Darcy asked, "Did you know Jane was gay?"
"Yes. Aidan told me."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I don't know." He lay on the sand, holding her hand limply in his, knowing she was upset. Why hadn't he? "I know it sounds lame. I forgot."
"You forgot your sister is gay?"
"It wasn't important to me."
Darcy took her hand away, and after a while they spoke of something else.
Alana didn't mind Liam sharing a bedroom with Darcy. In the morning, when Darcy wasn't yet up, he went for a walk on the bay with his mother, who rested an arm on his shoulder as she said, "Marry her, son."
"Mom, you've only met her three times."
"And you've been seeing her more than five years."
"On and off. We've probably only been together half that time."
"I can tell Darcy is good people."
"You just want me married."
"I want you settled," Alana said, grooming her unnatural red hair with her long fingers, "and I would have been happy if you picked anyone steady. But Darcy's also smart, and talented. In fact," Alana said smiling, with the acerbity he had inherited, "she's too good for you. As John Molloy was too good for me. Its the best kind of person to marry."
He spent a few more quiet days with Darcy, but danger loomed when she started planning another role in a play. She wanted him to attend and he didn't want to. Darcy was hurt and told him that if he wished to share her life, she would expect him to attend her work.
"What do you mean by 'share your life'?"
"What you said in the rowboat."
"I didn't think you were the least bit interested."
"I never said that." Both were angry and neither particularly wanted to talk about marriage (or let go of it either), so the conversation returned to the play. Liam demanded bitterly and sarcastically which part of her anatomy she would use as "her instrument" this time. Darcy was so upset with him she went for a walk, then came back much calmer a half hour later.
"Its extremely important," she said, "that you come to the play without asking that question."
"Please try to walk in my shoes for a moment. Suppose for a second, just suppose, that you'd be perfectly happy with me in the play; suppose its a nineteenth century drama where I wear a long dress and straw hat the entire time. If I assure you now of that, I've acknowledged that my body is your property, and that I'm relinquishing deciding about it on my own. Suppose that someone offers me a role in which I bare myself, and I turn it down? I would want to do that because I care about you, because I want to, and not because you made me."
"I'm not making you do anything. You can do anything you want, even speak lines with your vagina. I just don't have to be there."
Darcy winced at the grossness and cruelty of the words, but she wouldn't let herself be angry. She held Liam's head in her hands and her gaze penetrated his so that he felt lost for a moment. "This is very important to me. You must listen. Please come to the play without asking me that question."
"Please. You won't be disappointed," and here she faltered, having told him she would not expose herself.
But he didn't understand her, or possibly did not believe he would not be disappointed (later, he was not sure which.) He refused to go. Darcy, for once, did not shout at him or walk out; she spent the evening at his side, watching television, very withdrawn, as was he.
A week later, she asked if he would at least meet her for the party after the play. Liam hated being at a disadvantage; he countered he would meet her alone afterwards. "But the cast party..." she said. "I don't even like those people," he muttered. He insisted and Darcy finally agreed to meet him in the Moonstruck Diner at eleven o'clock at night.
He waited in the diner only fifteen minutes, and then left. Darcy was never late. He couldn't go home; he knew he wouldn't sleep but would wait by the telephone. He called Rick and asked if he could come to his apartment. Rick said yes, and Liam took a cab to the West Village. Lisa, his fiancee who had been living with him for a year, was home in Ohio planning their wedding. Rick had a large comfortable apartment full of books and fossils; he favored ammonites, which look like the modern nautilus. He had them in shale and quartz , all over the apartment.
Rick fixed him up on the couch but Liam couldn't sleep for hours. He went home early in the morning. There was a note from Aidan on his door; Darcy had called at just past midnight from the Moonstruck Diner, and had sounded very upset. He showered, changed and was out of the house by seven.
He didn't take her three phone calls during the day; by the time he got home, just after eight, she was waiting for him, sitting in the living room having a beer and laughing with Aidan. He came in enraged that Darcy could be so lighthearted, but when she looked at him he knew that she was using all the force of her character to behave normally. She was grief-stricken.
She was very ashamed of herself for having been an hour late. Aidan went out and Darcy tried to conciliate him, but the old rage came on and he couldn't stop himself; he shouted at her. Darcy was grim and truthful, attempting to take responsibility and to place some on him. "This was a set-up," she said. "It was important to me to go to the party. Either you should have come or we shouldn't have arranged to meet."
"But you agreed, and then you weren't there at eleven."
"I was in New Jersey and my lift didn't leave in time...."
"You never told me the party was in New Jersey." Liam threw his hands up and Darcy flinched away, as if afraid he would hit her. "You fucking butterfly!" he shouted.
He got a note in the mail two weeks later: "I may be a butterfly, but you are a bully."
Two months after the fight, she called Aidan to say that she was getting married to a French man, a record producer living in New York, whom she had met at the party. She asked Aidan to attend. He was the only witness to the wedding, which took place two days later in the county clerk's office. Liam spent that evening at Rick's, but it was useless; Lisa was there. If she hadn't been, they might have gone to Boomer's, and he could have gotten shitfaced and watched the girls. Instead they sat around in the living room staring dumbly at each other. He thought that Darcy might not have gotten married if he had gone with her to the cast party. It was the ultimate act of Jonesism.
Lisa had roomed with Emily at Colman College and still saw her regularly. "Why don't you give Emily a call? I was glad when you guys got together. She's not with anyone now."
Aidan quit the job at the brokerage and moved in with Alana for the summer. In the fall he would move into a house she owned, and would devote himself full-time to selling Jane's strange product.
Molloy Data was growing; he had five consultants working for him and two recruiters. But Liam was restless: he had proved his concept and now sought another. He began to wonder if Aidan and Jane had the right idea; the real money might be in software products. He read the Wall Street Journal every day, especially the articles about hot new companies which went public on the strength of a good idea and made millions for their entrepreneurial founders. Recruiting firms didn't go public, or even contract programming firms; the Street didn't think they were sexy. If he wanted to be really wealthy, he would have to find another combination. It occurred to him you could use a recruiting firm to build a technology company, but he was barely computer literate himself and had no idea what kinds of software people needed. He would have to hook up with someone who could tell him that, and what if he picked the wrong person?
Liam calculated that he would be worth a million, on paper, in another couple of years, but completely illiquid, as the owner of a privately held firm. He and Rick sat in Rick's living room talking about how to do better. "I need twelve to twenty million," Liam said. "With twenty million you could have an annual income of two million in cash. Then no-one could fuck with you."
"If I knew the answers," said Rick, "I'd be in business instead of practicing law."
It was now early fall and Liam felt unmotivated to look for women. He worked in the office as late as possible, but still had to come home sometime. He sat in the empty apartment obscurely troubled that he had driven Aidan and Darcy away.
He thought of the three thousand dollars he had been hiding, and wrote a check for the whole amount to the community center where Darcy had volunteered. It was a gesture for which he himself was the sole audience. There was no reason Aidan would ever know, and the chances were slim that Darcy would find out, as she wasn't involved with the finances of the center. If in fact she still volunteered there. He hadn't heard from her, or asked Aidan about her. For all he knew, Darcy could be living in France.
Darcy called a few weeks later, at almost midnight. Because Liam wasn't expecting her call, his voice leapt, almost quavered, before he got it back under control. Darcy, who sounded tremulous, told him how she had seen the check on the director's desk.
"Why did you do that? You never gave anything to charity."
"I don't know. I guess I was thinking of you."
She asked after his family and after a few minutes of inconsequential chatter, he said with a hint of the old sarcasm, "And the hubby?"
Darcy was silent. In the background, there was no sound of a man: no throat-clearing, no television sports, no irritated command to a pet, no refrigerator door slamming. The silence was overwhelming, both hers and her apartment's.
"Do me a favor," Darcy said at last.
"What's that?" he asked as mildly as he could.
"Don't forget me," Darcy said, and hung up.