When we woke up, we did not remember anything.
We’d emptied the minibar, I knew that much. A bottle of vodka was spinning on the bedside table. We’d tracked mud across the floor, and bits of stray bunting. Henry wore his swimsuit. It was fluorescent pink and emblazoned with five or six iterations of the American flag. I did not remember going swimming either.
Anyway, Henry had taken the bed.
I was on the floor. I did not know why. I had a vague, stiff sense that I was miserable, but I did not remember the reason for that either.
It was the knocking that woke us. I didn’t move. The knocking got louder, and more insistent. I watched the ceiling fan spin like a pinwheel. There was tinsel caught in it.
‘Christ, Susan,’ said Henry, at last. ‘Can’t you make it stop?’
Of course, Henry could not see me. Henry was wearing his eye mask. He was very attached to this eye mask. He’d gotten it in the free toiletries bag in the business-class cabin of Cathay Pacific, on a trip to Hong Kong. He wore it every night. Sometimes he even wore it during sex.
When I got up, I fell over. I opened the door anyway.
It was the hotel clerk.
He was here to tell us that it was one o’clock in the afternoon. Checkout, he said, apologetically, was at eleven. If we didn’t clear out, he said, he’d have to charge us for the extra night, and he didn’t want to do that.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said Henry. He still had his eye mask on.
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ said the hotel clerk.
‘Eight thirty,’ Henry said again, like it was just a question of making himself clear.
‘I’m truly, very sorry sir,’ said the clerk. ‘I’m afraid there wasn’t a wake-up call on file for you.’
‘Well of course there wasn’t,’ said Henry. ‘Nobody uses hotel wake-up calls. Phones have rendered them obsolescent.’ He got every syllable out correctly, and I wondered how.
Henry pushed his eye mask onto his forehead. He blinked very slowly. He reached, no less slowly, for his phone, which was not there.
The vodka bottle fell to the floor and shattered, right on top of the bunting I did not remember dragging in.
Henry stared, for a while, at the mess.
‘Fuck,’ said Henry.
We found Henry’s phone, eventually. It was in the bottom of the hot tub by the deck. A woman in a bondage-themed bathing suit was passed out in the hot tub, and two girls with sequin-encrusted Uncle Sam hats were asleep on the deck chairs, and there, too, collapsed, where the infinity pool met the bay, were this young couple Henry and I had met the night before, who had asked us if we were together (he’d said no) and if we were Democrats (I’d said yes) and whether we’d wanted to share the pitcher of sangria they’d ordered (we’d said yes) and whether seeing all those damn Mexicans hanging around the city with nothing better to do than squeegee your windshield for tips had changed our minds, electorally speaking (we had not said anything).
Anyway, the phone was dead and there was no chance of saving it.
‘Fucking Florida,’ Henry said, and blinked.
We missed our flight. We missed the next one, too, and the one after that, and also there was a thunderstorm brewing on the eastern seaboard, and severe fog in Atlanta, and a tornado watch in Charlotte, which meant that about half the flights to New York were canceled, and any flight with a connection was being rerouted.
The television screens in the lobby were all set to the news. They were all talking about the night before and how and why and what could we have missed. They were all on mute, and the figures were shadowy and strange. With us both so hungover and Henry screaming at his secretary on my phone (‘There’s always an extra seat,’ he told me, ‘you just have to put the fear of God into them, that’s all’), the truth of it felt so alien, and removed, that if you had come up to me, that morning, and brought me a water and an aspirin and told me that Charlie Sheen had been elected president of the United States in his stead, I would probably have felt precisely the same way.
This is not your fault, I told myself. You have not caused this.
‘Fuck it,’ said Henry. ‘We’ll just drive.’
He tossed my phone back to me.
The first time we’d fucked, we killed David Bowie.
I’d run into Henry on the street, that January. Ten years since college and Henry was unmistakable. He was paunchier, sure (I was thinner), but he wore the same bow ties, and the same tailored shirts, and the same blazers with the Lilly Pulitzer elbow patches that had made me refer to him, at school, as Patrick Bateman.
We had hated each other, but that was ten years before, and so we politely kissed on both cheeks.
‘I’ve been following you,’ said Henry.
He had a habit of grinning in such an obsequious way that you were never sure if he was serious.
‘I read your writing. It’s exactly what I expected of you.’ I wrote on a variety of nebulous feminist issues for a midsize, online-only women’s blog. ‘Don’t get me wrong. I mean that as a compliment.’
‘You read Misandry! Really?’
‘Of course I do.’ Henry hadn’t stopped grinning. ‘Oppo research. Besides, men are terrible. I probably owe you a drink, don’t I?’
Technically, I owed him a drink, since the last time I’d seen him I’d thrown a drink in his face (he’d used the word cunt in passing), but I wasn’t about to press the point.
I let him buy me wine at the Campbell Apartment, which is a high-end speakeasy in Grand Central Station – it closed down later that summer – which I could never have afforded on my own. I told myself that this showed the extent to which I had come on in the world – that to sit, drinking wine, with a man I hated, smiling at his jokes and even parrying them, sometimes, was to be sophisticated, in some sense, or at least, in some sense, exciting.
He then took me to a speakeasy on the Lower East Side, where in order to get in you had to go upstairs through an employees-only entrance, and there he did not look at the cocktail menu, which was extensive, but instead ordered us two Old Fashioneds because, he said, the real test of a mixology bar was how well they did the classics.
‘A condition of complete simplicity,’ said Henry, smirking. ‘Costing not less than everything.’
I made some noises indicating that I understood the reference, and Henry snorted, and said: ‘Subtext, young Susie, the rest is silence,’ and although I should have been annoyed (that cannot be right; I was annoyed ), somehow when he said: ‘Before we go to a nightclub I should drop off my briefcase at my apartment,’ which was in Gramercy, I agreed to go to his apartment, and then I did a few lines of coke with him, even though I’d only done coke once before, and then we fucked on his coffee table.
It was not very comfortable, but the appeal of it was that we did not like each other, and that it was on a coffee table, and so if it was not pleasurable it was, nonetheless, erotic.
Afterwards, he’d checked his phone.
He kept scrolling through without looking at me.
‘David Bowie. He’s dead.’
‘Oh. Shit.’ I had always liked David Bowie. When I was thirteen I saw Labyrinth for the first time and decreed he was probably the only man I would ever love. ‘Was it an overdose or something?’
‘No,’ said Henry. ‘He just got old.’
He smiled through the curl of his sneer.
‘Do you want to know what I think?’ He did not wait for me to answer. ‘I think we caused it.’ He had gotten up, already, and was scooping the powder off the coffee table into a little envelope. ‘I think I always thought that. If you and I ever fucked – the four horsemen, right? We’re causing the apocalypse – even now.’
He licked the back of the envelope to seal it.
‘Aren’t we special.’
We weren’t. We were.
Which is to say – I liked it. I do not know how to tell you why.
I could tell you I was bored that winter, which was true, and which was part of it. There was nothing particularly stimulating or new in writing about women’s representation in the media, or condemning terrible men for anodyne offenses, or in politics that felt to me like Greek friezes: abstract, marble-hard and pure. I had a vague sense that things were Not Right, in a cosmic sense, and a far more immediate sense of personal comfort that ameliorated it, which is to say that I quite liked my life, stultifying as it was, and had no wish for any part of it to come to an end. I kept fucking Henry, and if you had told me that we had, really and unironically (not that we ever did anything unironically), killed David Bowie, I would have been rightfully horrified and guilty but also, beneath that, I would have felt a sickeningly erotic thrill: the same thrill I got from, for example, reading detailed Wikipedia accounts of deaths in horror movies I was too afraid to see.
Which is to say, when we killed Prince, the next time we slept together, some months after that, at an upscale hotel upstate (Henry liked to make a production of our meetings: they were always in hotels he seemed to have chosen for effect, and always – after that first time – out of town), I half believed that we had really done it.
The third time Henry and I had sex, we caused Brexit.
Henry kissed me, even though we never kissed.
‘Look at the mess we’ve made.’
Henry got up.
‘Did you know, young Susie, I’ve probably lost at least twenty thousand dollars. But it doesn’t matter,’ he said. He gargled with this blood-orange-flavored mouthwash he had brought all the way back with him from the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. He spat.
‘Nothing matters,’ he said.
He ordered a $300 bottle of champagne from room service (we were in New Orleans this time).
He tipped another hundred.
‘Spend it while you can,’ he told the waiter. ‘Soon we’ll all be hoarding metal scraps and scrounging for the gold fillings in our teeth.’
He poured me a glass. He toasted me.
‘When the revolution comes,’ said Henry, ‘that’s when we’ll be tested – for real, I mean. That’s when men will have to be men again – put that in one of your articles.’
Henry frequently told me I should put him in my articles. He’d go on record, he said, as an expert source, a professional performer of straight white male privilege. He would be memorialized.
‘I can see it now. “It Happened to Me: My Finance-Bro-Fuck Buddy and I Survived the Post-Brexit Global Meltdown Through Strategically Implemented Cannibalism.” ’
It was ridiculous, of course. I knew that. Henry was ridiculous. But the champagne, or the sex, had made me giddy, and the transgression of listening to him, in all his unapologetic offense, had not yet worn off.
So when Henry texted me, in late October – want to watch the season finale of America with me? – from the Standard Hotel in Miami, I only pretended to hesitate. He had not texted me in two months, and in that time I had half-heartedly started one or two book proposals for solemn but career-enhancing essay collections about female representation on television sitcoms and also what it meant to be a fearless woman. In that time, too, I had acquired one or two boyfriends who were assiduous, and communicative, and who always made sure I came.
Let’s pop the popcorn, I said.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, said Henry. Would our first woman president turn you on?
Careful, I said. We might turn it the other way.
From your mouth to God’s ears, said Henry.
Spoiler alert, said Henry. The house always wins.
Now, of course, we did not cause it. I mean, Henry wasn’t even awake for it.
We dressed for dinner and I wore the Agent Provocateur underwear that I’d spent my latest paycheck on, and thigh-high stockings which took me twenty minutes to attach to the suspenders, and which after twenty minutes I still had not properly affixed, and also stilettos I could not walk in. I felt that I was performing the kind of girl that Henry liked to pretend he liked, who was blonde and very thin and went to SoulCycle (I mean, I also went to SoulCycle), and who pouted underneath dark sunglasses, and who was urbane, and also very chill about things like other women and anal sex. I was, I felt, performing Miami too; I was tacky and glamorous and erotic and not myself and I did not like this vision of not-myself, exactly, but I liked that I was capable of putting it on, with at least some degree of ease, and that I would take it off as soon as the election was over and I went back to my proper life in New York. It made me feel powerful. It made me feel unlike other women, who, I assumed, only had one self.
We sat by the pool and we made friends and we talked politics with strangers and we drank sangria and we took some Xanax and we drank frosé, which is what you get when you make a slushie out of frozen rosé wine, and we took some more Xanax to calm our nerves, even though we had nothing to be nervous about, even though the first woman president was going to be elected in a matter of hours, and Henry said I guess this is one point for Susie and I pulled nervously at where my stockings met my suspenders, since I had twisted the garters and the hooks were digging into the back of my thighs, and we hadn’t had sex yet so I hadn’t had an opportunity to take them off, and then we drank Old Fashioneds and took another Xanax, and then we had sex, and then in the hotel lobby a drag queen in a pantsuit and a drag king wearing orange bronzer were having a Political Trivia contest, and I won a round of shots by correctly naming all the candidates’ children, and things were going so well Henry even had me sit on his lap, and kissed my shoulder, which is just another thing that we never did, and then the Xanax kicked in and Henry said I’m bored, I’m going to go take a nap, wake me in an hour, and so I waited alone, watching the results at the hotel bar, buying strangers gin and tonics on the tab Henry had started, and felt sophisticated and brazen, drunkenly saying things to strangers like oh, Henry, no, we aren’t dating, I can’t stand him, we’re just fucking, anyway, as one does; we killed Prince, except in that hour we lost Florida, and so I ran back to the room and shook Henry awake and he said five more minutes and I said we’ve lost Florida and Henry said who cares about Florida and I shook him again and he said for Christ’s sake, Susie, I’ll deal with it in the morning and I started to cry and he said go to bed it won’t affect you anyway and I could not stay in there so I went outside to the pool to sob (I may have thrown his phone into the hot tub, where the couple with whom we had shared the sangria were fucking a celebratory fuck) and so I saw the fate of the world decided, alone.
‘Eighteen hours to New York,’ said Henry. He swung the car keys around his fingers. ‘You’d better take a Modafinil.’
Henry had rented a Porsche. It was a hideous fire-truck shade of red, a fuck-you car, Henry said, from a classic-car club where his father had an account.
‘Damyata,’ said Henry, as we got in. ‘The Porsche responded ⁄ Gaily, to the hand expert . . . your heart would have responded ⁄ Gaily, when invited, beating obedient ⁄ To controlling hands.’
He grimaced at me, or else it was a grin.
‘Cheer up, Susie,’ he said. ‘When the barbarians come knocking, we’ll at least be able to outrace them.’
The water was gray. The fog was gray. Gray, too, was the knife’s edge where the bay met the sky. On the radio, the commentators all passed judgment on the news, and adjudicated about whether it was the emails that had done it, or the letter, or the leaks, or whether it was about Russia or white people or atavism (‘It’s always atavism,’ said Henry), and then they started playing the victory speech, and words were so much realer than the pictures had been, and when I heard his voice I became sick and rudderlessly angry once again.
Tremendous potential. I’ve gotten to know our country so well. Tremendous potential. It’s going to be a beautiful thing.
Henry looked over at me. He gave me a blithe, quizzical smile.
‘Not a fan?’
I didn’t say anything. My tongue was fat in my mouth. I was too parched, and too sick, to speak. Even if I could speak, I had nothing I could say.
‘Are we triggered, young Susie?’
It was the sort of joke that was a joke, between us, or had been, like when he ordered for me at dinner, or called me a cunt in bed.
‘It’s fine,’ I said. ‘I just don’t like listening to him.’
‘Short-fingered vulgarian. That’s what Graydon Carter called him.’ Henry sped up a little more. ‘My father has him to dinner, you know. Graydon Carter, I mean. Obviously. We’re not animals.’
‘Good for you.’
Even the palm trees looked sick. They were all influenza yellow.
‘Cheer up,’ said Henry. ‘We’ll listen to something else.’
He grabbed my phone, plugged it in, fiddled with Spotify awhile.
Trumpets blared through the speakers.
‘Are you serious?’
It was the prelude to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Henry had a thing about Wagner. It worried his father, he said, which was another thing that Henry found funny, except Henry maintained it was just about the music and the spectacle.
‘Not you too,’ he said. ‘Really, Susie.’
He poked me.
‘It’s not like I’m wearing Hugo Boss,’ said Henry.
He turned the music up louder.
‘Come on, Susie, everyone in Brooklyn has a fashy haircut now . . .’
He wanted me to say something, or do something, and I did not know what it was, and it made me angry, because Henry so rarely wanted anything from me at all, and the one time he had given me power I did not know what to do with it.
I just kept looking out the window, saying nothing, biting my lip, blinking back tears, trying to put my reeling into words.
Then Henry sped up. It was just a little bit, at first, enough for me to think he was trying to dodge somebody’s slow-moving grandpa.
Then a little bit faster.
Then Henry revved the engine, loud and sharp enough to jerk me forward, and so loud some guy shouted asshole at us from thirty paces behind.
Fast enough to dredge up vomit from the back of my throat.
We did ninety. Henry kept his eyes on the road. His mouth was a slow, glazed, gaping smile.
We did ninety-five. The speedometer trembled higher.
It struck me, then, that Henry was waiting for me to stop him, that it would give him pleasure if I shouted at him, and I did not want to give him the satisfaction of shouting at him, since my silence was the only resource I had, and because he wanted me to I did not, even though we were at one hundred now, going so fast and so rashly that I thought we would surely crash, we would crash, there was no way we could keep going like this and not crash, and I stared straight ahead and thought fine, let us crash, and maybe it’s because if you’re going to crash your car you might as well do it in an ugly Porsche, blasting Wagner, and maybe it’s just because I was hungover, and sick, and the world was ending, and I just didn’t have the energy to care about what was coming next, and either way I wanted us to crash.
We made it all the way to one-ten before Henry slammed on the brakes.
We both jerked against the dashboard. My stockings, still twisted on the garters, drew blood at the back of my thighs.
Henry looked, I thought, like a crash-test dummy.
He turned to me.
‘Jesus,’ he said. He sounded disappointed. ‘You really are mad at me, aren’t you?’
I didn’t say anything.
‘I don’t know what you’re so angry about,’ he said. ‘I voted for her.’
I had never asked. I had assumed. Everything that offended me about Henry I had hoped was disingenuous; his irony, too, had been part of what attracted me to him. I had never imagined he was responsible, in any electoral way, for the outcome.
Still, I could not look at him.
‘I’m not angry at you,’ I said, even though this was clearly a lie.
‘I’ve been reading FiveThirtyEight,’ said Henry. ‘It’s your fault, apparently. White women’s tears.’ He seemed to enjoy this, too.
‘It’s not funny,’ I said.
‘It’s not not funny,’ said Henry. ‘Besides, he won’t be able to do anything. There are people around him who will make sure of that. He’ll be out by springtime, probably. And even if he isn’t, it’s not like they’ll let him make decisions.’
‘Isn’t that the reassuring thing about patriarchy, young Susie? You learn that the house always, always wins.’
Finally, Henry sighed.
‘You know,’ he said. ‘For a man of the Upper East Side, I must confess I’m remarkably bad at holding my Xanax.’
It was the closest he’d ever come to apologizing to me for anything.
‘Anyway,’ said Henry, ‘you’re the writer. If one of us was going to bear witness to America jumping the shark, it might as well be you. Chronicle the slow, painful decay of straight white men like me?’
He punched me, lightly, on the shoulder, and I was not as angry as I was, or, at least, should have been.
‘It Happened to Me,’ I said, at last. ‘I Spent Election Night 2016 in Miami on Benzos with My Finance-Bro-Fuck Buddy.’
Wagner was still blaring on the stereo, and we were still speeding down the highway in that ridiculous Porsche, and now that we were not listening to the news it felt, again, as it had always felt with us, and the real world did not exist, and this was all a great and cosmic joke, being played out by the universe specifically for our benefit, and nothing real would ever really happen. When the world ended, it would be like the twilight of the gods, and nothing like real life.
‘Don’t tell them I slept through it,’ said Henry.
At nightfall we stopped at an Econo Lodge near Asheville.
We had another eight hours to go, but Henry and I were both tired, and neither of us wanted to drive through the night.
‘Besides,’ said Henry, ‘I want to see something of the Real America.’
He had parked his Porsche right outside our room, which was on the ground floor. There were cigarette burns on the comforter.
‘This?’ Henry said, taking out hand sanitizer (this one was from the Plaza Athénée in Paris). ‘This is what we underestimated?’
It was less a terrible motel room than a Hollywood film set of a terrible motel room. The hair dryer didn’t work and the television wires were frayed.
Henry plugged in the coffee maker.
The fuse blew in a sad, impotent spark.
Henry looked at me with the fuse in his hand.
I looked back at him.
I do not know which one of us started laughing first, but in a moment we were together in it, hacking so bleakly, punctuating our hysterics with coughs first intermittent then overwhelming, and we laughed so hard, staring at one another, at the fuse and the motel and the missed flights and the election and the whole cataclysmic strangeness of the world that, for a moment, I forgot that I blamed him for everything.
‘Well,’ said Henry, ‘I suppose we can’t do any more damage, now?’
He touched my shoulder so lightly. And the truth is: I loved the feeling of it.
‘I mean,’ said Henry, ‘how much worse can it get?’
He kissed me.
It was like a real kiss, the way he kissed me then, real enough that I stepped back and let my knees buckle the way they do in films, real enough that I opened my lips, only then he pushed me away and turned me around and pushed me over the bed, the way he always had done, and pushed my underwear to one side and called me a cunt, and fucked me from behind, as joylessly and as mechanically as if he were coming into his hand.
I didn’t say anything.
I can’t tell you why.
Henry finished and pulled out. He grabbed the hand sanitizer.
‘You know your garters are twisted, right?’
He was already gargling blood-orange into the sink.
I am not an idiot. I knew the rules. I am not a romantic, and I am enough of a feminist to safeguard my own agency and enough of a hypocrite to like being called a cunt, and I had asked for this, all of this. I knew what Henry was but in that moment I wanted him to be himself, but also somebody else.
I stood there, at the side of the bed, pulling my garters up.
Henry put on his eye mask.
‘We should get some sleep,’ he said. ‘I have a lunch meeting in New York at noon.’
He lay there, on the bed, with his mask on.
So I did a stupid thing. I turned the television on.
I turned it on to MSNBC.
Rachel Maddow was talking about the victory speech. They were playing it, over and over, and analyzing different sections of it, and a panel of experts was adjudicating whether he had, in fact, been rendered presidential by the office entrusted to him, and Henry did not stir or make a sound.
So I turned the volume up as loud as it would go.
‘Jesus, Susie, would you turn that down?’
I felt the crunch of power, making him talk.
‘Jesus, Susie – you’ve probably woken all the neighbors.’
‘Fuck the neighbors,’ I said. Then: ‘They probably voted for him. They should have to live with it.’
‘Don’t you care?’ I said.
A coup was coming, I said. Hadn’t he thought of that? Wasn’t there going to be an assault on our civil liberties, and also, also, had he thought of this, if he’d knocked me up, just now, fucking me, then how would he like it if I weren’t able to get an abortion, what would he think of that?
‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Henry. ‘You have an IUD in. Plus, you’d find out in January, anyway, and he’s not going to do a thing by then, and, anyway, there’s nothing you can do about it now.’
I don’t remember what I shouted about next. I think it was the widows, and orphans, and refugees, and the tired and the weak and the poor and the young, and every single thing I said was true, and sincere, and still the shameful truth of it was that all I wanted was for him to look at me.
‘It’s the end of the fucking world, Henry!’
‘Then put the end of the world on headphones.’
‘You’re a fucking asshole.’
They were playing the victory speech again.
Get over here, Reince. Boy oh boy oh boy. It’s about time you did this, Reince. My God. Say a few words. No, come on, say something.
‘I didn’t even vote because of you!’
Of course I’d meant to. What kind of imbecile would not mean to?
It’s just that the flight to Miami had been so early, that day. It’s just that I’d planned to go, on my way to the airport, but then I’d overslept and I was a New York resident, after all, and New York was going to go blue no matter what I did, so it did not really matter if I voted or not, and it had not mattered if I voted or not, since we’d won the popular vote even without me, and we’d lose the electoral college, even without me, and it was not my fault and I had not caused the apocalypse, not by sleeping with Henry and not by coming to Miami to sleep with Henry and not even by not voting, because I was coming to Miami to sleep with Henry, it was not my fault, and I was not a bad person, and nothing I had done could condemn me, in a court of law or maybe even the celestial kind, but I hated myself, anyway, because what kind of person cares whether a man is in love with her, at a time like this, and what kind of person secretly hopes the world will blow up at her feet, just to make her feel less bored, or less unenchanted, or less alone?
‘That’s not my problem,’ said Henry, and he was right.
He pulled off his mask.
‘I’m going for a smoke,’ he said.
I did not stop him.
I heard him a few minutes later.
A couple of kids were taking selfies with the Porsche. They were college kids, if that – white, in sweatshirts, clearly drunk, probably a bit stoned.
‘Hey!’ Henry was shouting. ‘I’ll have you know that’s a vintage air-cooled Porsche.’
‘Sure,’ said one of the kids.
‘I said,’ Henry took another step nearer, ‘that’s a motherfucking vintage air-cooled Porsche.’
‘So?’ said another kid. ‘What the hell do you want me to do about it?’
‘What I want,’ said Henry, ‘is for you to step away from my vintage air-cooled Porsche.’
It was the first time I had ever seen him genuinely upset about anything.
It wasn’t even his car.
‘One day. Is that all it fucking takes?’
The kids were looking at him like he was crazy.
‘Is it a free-for-all now, is that it?’
I opened the door.
‘Just let them have their fun, Henry,’ I said. ‘They’re just kids – come on. They just want to take some selfies.’
Henry wasn’t listening to me.
‘You get your guy in and now you think you just run the place, is that it?’
His laugh sounded like a hiccup.
‘You’re fucking trash – all of you!’
I don’t know what Henry thought he was doing. It was, I thought, impossible for him to have seriously considered that he might have a chance against them. There were four of them, and he barely came up to the shortest one’s chin. He wasn’t even in shape.
But he punched one of them, anyway.
It went exactly the way you’d expect.
Two of them held Henry down. A third pummeled him. They kicked him in the stomach and punched him in the face until he was spitting blood onto the parking lot.
They hit him until he wheezed, and sobbed, and then one of them called him a little bitch and kicked him in the balls.
They beat up the Porsche, for good measure.
They put a dent in the front door and another in the back. They smashed the glass in the back seat.
They ran off.
Henry didn’t even look up.
He just lay there, sobbing.
I brought him inside. He didn’t say anything. He stared straight ahead, shaking. I didn’t have rubbing alcohol but I ministered to his wounds with his hand sanitizer, and made him gargle out the blood with his orange Raffles mouthwash, and put the eye mask over his forehead.
‘You don’t understand,’ Henry kept saying. ‘You don’t understand.’
He didn’t even blink.
‘It’s not my account. It’s not mine.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The car. The – the Porsche. It’s not my fucking account.’
It was his father’s.
‘We’ll call him in the morning,’ I said. ‘You’ll tell him what happened. It’s not your fault.’
It was, of course, but that part, I thought, we could leave out.
‘You don’t understand. My father –’
Henry shook his head. He kept on shaking it, so that his refusal morphed into a shiver.
‘Fucking barbarians at the gate,’ he said. ‘It’s a fucking disgrace.’
Then: ‘What gives them the right –’
He coughed up blood into his hand.
‘What gives anyone the fucking right . . . ?’
He wiped blood onto the comforter.
‘Cunts,’ said Henry.
We stayed up all night. We did not talk. We did not touch each other. We just remained, straight-backed, alongside one another, watching the news.
In the morning, Henry called his father.
He did not do this in front of me. He went outside into the parking lot, and closed the door tightly behind him, and although I could not hear him, through the blinders I could see him shouting, and pacing around the destroyed Porsche, and kicking it.
He was very calm, coming back inside.
‘The company’s going to send someone,’ he said. ‘There are very specialized repairs.’ He grimaced, again, that grimace that was also a grin. ‘I’ll drop it off at the Asheville airport and fly from there. My – he’s getting me a flight.’
‘The old man should be grateful,’ he said. ‘When – when the war comes, I’m going to carry him out of New York on my back. Like Aeneas carrying Anchises. You know that one, right?’
We were in the same Latin class. I reminded him of this.
‘Right you are,’ he said. ‘Fragments against the ruin. Of course – I’m taking up CrossFit, when I get back. That’s one for your article, Susie, isn’t it? “It Happened to Me: I Dated a CrossFit Bro at the Apocalypse.” ’
‘I’m not going to write that,’ I said.
‘Why not? Misandry! would love it.’
‘I’m quitting Misandry!’ I said.
‘Why? It was funny.’
‘It’s obsolescent,’ I said.
That made him laugh.
‘So what are you going to do now?’ he said. ‘Take up arms?’
‘Maybe,’ I said.
‘Give me your passport number,’ said Henry. ‘He’ll get you a flight, too.’
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I’ll take the bus.’
‘Nobody takes the fucking bus.’
‘I’ll be fine,’ I said. ‘I like the bus. It’s interesting. I get to watch people.’
He shrugged. ‘Women,’ he said. ‘You’re all enigmas. Am I right?’
I told Henry he had never been right about anything in his life. He seemed to like that.
Henry drove off, blasting Tristan und Isolde through the broken back window.
I stood there, after him, watching his absence, and marveling at what a strange and what a terrible thing we had done.
I thought, for a while, about what I would say, if I ever had children, or grandchildren, and their sixth-grade social-studies teacher gave them assignments much as I had gotten, asking my parents where they had been when JFK was shot.
I thought, at first, that I would lie, and tell them that I had been at a protest, or a rally, that I had been at a get-out-the-vote initiative, although I supposed that the possibility of children or grandchildren was remote for me for a variety of reasons, which was partly to do with the state of the world and partly to do with my own mental and financial health, and I supposed that for all I knew nobody would be having children or grandchildren in a generation’s time, and also for all I knew Henry was right and nothing much would change and my children and grandchildren would have better things to do than ask me about a day that was, in the great cosmic scheme of things, just like any other, but I came to the conclusion, as I walked down the highway, toward the bus stop that would lead me into town, that if somebody did ask me what I had done, I would tell them about the red Porsche, and about the Wagner, and the eye mask, although I do not think I come out very well in it, no better, probably, than Henry, but the one thing I have going for me is that I do not have to be disingenuous, if I do not want to be, and it would be disingenuous to say anything else.
Photograph © Lev Radin / Alamy