by Timothy Schirmer
I made a mistake at dinner when I rather casually called my friend a liar. “You’re not Italian,” I said, “don’t tell the waiter your parents are from Italy just because his name is Giuseppe and you want to fuck him.” Then my friend didn’t say much all through his grilled octopus and vodka gimlet. When the entrees arrived, we each ordered another drink and began to talk again. He told me I seemed different. I told him he seemed the same, and somehow it sounded like an insult. I hadn’t seen my friend in more than a year, but he was more himself than he had ever been; except, a little sad, too. Giuseppe, the waiter, was friendly in the way of friendly waiters, and arrived with a complimentary panna cotta at the end of the meal. It seemed he thought he had done something wrong.
Later that night, at a bar, in the most curdled Italian accent I could manage, I said, “Come on, liar, dance with me, liar!” My friend laughed and said, “Okay, I’ll dance with you.” We danced on a sticky floor in the dark, taking sips from the same cup. Light the color of candy was flying over our faces. Maybe I had changed. The thought made me feel okay, even good, like finding money in an old jacket pocket, or riding downhill on a bike on a sunny day.
My friend was a skilled dancer. It came naturally to him. Many times I’ve felt envious watching him dance. My friend pivoted away from me to glance up at a stunning young man who walked the bar top with only a gym sock on his penis. Every few minutes the man would bend over, spread his cheeks and show the room his asshole. Each time it was so simple and desperate and even childlike. He had a strong jawline, fantastic muscles, and I thought that it would probably be hard to make him smile.
My friend had picked this bar because he used to enjoy free drinks for showing his cock to the bartenders. “We don’t do that anymore,” the bartender said to my friend. I handed the bartender my credit card. “Well then,” said my friend, “do you want to see my asshole, is that what kind of place this is now?” And, “Fuck this shit, where are we, Milwaukee? Every time I come back to New York, it’s less and less itself.”
We did some coke. We drank and danced seriously for two hours. Then, with a shot of tequila and a rotting sliver of lime, my friend began to slow, to sway and hug himself. He shut his eyes as if erasing the room and the city and his life, which were all, very simply put, not as good as he wanted them to be. My friend delighted in strumming his ribcage, touched himself as if touching a lover. It was 2 AM and I could see, finally, that he was circling the outer edges of some chemical bliss. The music hit a lull and I said, “Where are you sleeping tonight, liar?” He said, “I’m sleeping at your place.”
My friend knew celebrities, Persian Mafia, young heiresses to colossal fortunes. He had lived a year in Búzios, in a cliff side villa. Or was it on a vineyard? A sailboat? Sometimes it wasn’t Búzios at all, it was Rio, in which case he had kept an empty but lavish apartment of marble and herringbone. I’ve seen a photograph of my friend in some such apartment. He’s young, beautiful, lying on a bare mattress in just his underwear, there’s a potted tree in the corner of the room splitting up the sunlight through a tall window. Six months, or was it a year he lived in Tokyo? In a boutique hotel? A friend’s penthouse? Assisting a fashion photographer? My friend lied both carefully and carelessly. He told truths, too, carefully and carelessly. There was a strong effortless order within the chaos of all that he said. One evening, a friend of ours confessed, “I believe him to be a bona fide fake, but I’m not going to hold that against him. It’s smart to forgive a skilled liar, to remain in his company.” At the time, I liked what she had said. I made her repeat it. It sounded so right that I wanted it to be true.In the cab I said, “But you do lie sometimes. I’ve never asked, but you do, don’t you?”
“So why are you asking now?” my friend said. He stared out the window. I could see his reflection in the glass and it reminded me of a time when he had fallen through my life like a wrecking ball, a time when he had meant more to me than he does now. “It’s true though, isn’t it?” I said, “you tell lies all the time, about things that haven’t exactly happened, about people you don’t exactly know?” My friend was silent, but seemed at the edge of something steep or unsafe. It felt as if we were watching a movie and inching up to a twist in the plot. My friend rolled down his window and cool air — spiked with river-smell — poured in around us. I said, “You’re not Italian. I’ve met your parents, did you forget?”
My friend said once that he suspected I was a touch psychic. We were having a long lunch on a patio somewhere, and I had relayed the details of several premonitory dreams I had had. A divorce, a death, a pregnancy; all people we knew. I remember the last of some nice champagne on the table, two glasses shedding bubbles, standing pretty as flowers in the sunlight. My friend liked champagne. He ordered it often, even with nothing to celebrate. “I’ve always known you were intuitive,” he said, “but I wonder if maybe you’re even a touch psychic. You might be at the beginning of something, you know?” And then, there was a sudden ugliness in the air between us, as if we were confounded to realize we were opponents; if a psychic tells truths about the future, and a liar tells lies about the past. I said, “I didn’t know you thought I was intuitive.”
“Well, yes,” my friend jerked forward and poured himself the rest of the champagne, overflowed his glass, “but intuition isn’t anything special, it’s nostalgia. It’s just nostalgia… turned inside-out.”
Back at my place I made us two glasses of water. “Hey liar, do you still drink coffee? Are you going to want coffee in the morning?” My friend yawned. My friend slipped out of his clothes right there in my kitchen. He stood on top of his of things and began to touch himself. I hadn’t seen him naked in years and his body had changed some. I could see that something, or perhaps someone, had wrecked him, that he was broken. I thought of the photograph of him in Brazil, in just his underwear. I thought of how young we were when we first met. My friend stood in my kitchen, touching himself all over, roughly, slowly, as if he were clay that had not set, could still undergo total manipulation. And I knew, all at once, that I had never really known him, and that I probably never would. I felt sad. I felt relieved, too.
I snapped my finger and said, “hey, are you going to want coffee in the morning?” Then my friend asked if I had any juice, and I said no. I said, “come to think of it, I don’t have any coffee, either.” He was shaking a little, like he was cold. He shut his eyes, as if to erase the kitchen and me and the city. When he opened them again, he looked startled, even a little sick. He was waiting for me to reach out and take him, and when I didn’t, he went carefully onto his knees and began to undo my belt buckle. I was afraid to touch him. “Is this what you need?” I asked. He stopped for a moment and whispered, “Is this what I need?” Then he continued with my button, zipper and underwear. I let him take me into his mouth. Surprisingly, I had no trouble getting hard. I noticed that his hair was thinning. I thought that he was still a good dancer. I thought of the champagne lunch, when he had said that intuition was just nostalgia turned inside out, and how he had overflowed his glass when he poured himself the last of the wine.