Daniel Pearlman

The artist, to my way of thinking, is a monstrosity, something outside nature.

Friday, April 6

        I appear to be guilty of a lapse in judgment. I should have consulted with Bethany before inviting my protégé to set himself up in the gatehouse. Long-unoccupied, high-ceilinged and sunny, it would give him far more suitable space, I assured him, with respect to both studio and living quarters, than that dank, overpriced hole of his in Brooklyn. And that’s not to mention the clean rural air of northern Jersey. And the safety from the kind of vandalism that had destroyed some earlier Lou Coctons. I invited Lou on a generous impulse—well, true, the Chilton Mazzia gallery does stand to gain an exclusive on every new piece of his—but I should not have expected Bethany to accept without question a decision I made on the spur of the moment. It was a sound business decision, but she was hardly going to react with enthusiasm to an arrangement that must impinge (no matter how little) upon the total privacy of our lives out here in the sticks.
        I can’t stop picturing the pain with which she greeted my tactless announcement. “For God’s sake, Chilton,” she chided, “we’ve been married for less than two years, and you invite a stranger to move in with us?” It is now barely five hours later and her reaction still hurts. Why am I so sensitive? It comes of a life perhaps overly dedicated to the things of the mind, to Art.
        I could have reminded her (but did not think it prudent) that the gatehouse stands a hundred yards downhill and is obscured by intervening trees, that Lou has his own commodious van and will be dependent upon us for nothing. But I avoid merely logical rejoinders when faced with the sting of pain in those loving green eyes of hers, those Burne-Jones pre-Raphaelite eyes, or when reproached by that twitch of resentment in the wings of her delicate nose.
        “Now I can’t go out front for the mail in my bathrobe like I used to. I’ll be too damn self-conscious. Chilton, I’m really pissed!” she exclaimed. (Her choice of language can be grating, but it is a parallel expression of her love—like the elephant dung in Chris Ofili’s homage to the Virgin Mary.)
        The last thing I want to do is to upset my dear young bride, whom I really don’t spend enough time with, as she’s several times hinted—but so gently hinted as to make me fall even more deeply in love (the habits of the businessman-bachelor are not that easy to break). “Beth,” I said, thinking of her sweet little body, of the little red heart tattooed up high on her right inner thigh, “I’m terribly sorry. I’ll uninvite him, if you say so. But in fact, with Lou living right out front, I’ll be spending more time at home with you. As it is, not only do I put in full days at the gallery, but afterwards I sometimes spelunk into Brooklyn to check out his latest creations. My patrons are hounding me about this new rising star, as they call him. But those voyages into the jungle, dear, have been time stolen from you.”
         “That’s very sweet, Chil,” she relented, loosening the carefully made knot in my tie. She felt warm through her silk blouse and smelled like her underthings—crisp, clean, and fragrant. And then, turning up her (turned-up) nose, her chest shivering upon mine, she added, “But I know that he’s going to bring roaches.”
        My sweet one has the capacity to provoke beyond measure. The jungle beat of instinct pounding in my ears, I refused to be distracted. I reacted to her challenge in the only way I could:
        “Who in blazes cares about his lifestyle?” I ejaculated into the seashell of her ear. As to Lou Cocton’s work, I reminded her that she’d only seen slides of it. I expanded on the genius of his mixed-media concoctions. I boasted that after fifteen years in the business I’d made the discovery of every art-dealer’s dream. I reiterated, I insisted—I even re-tightened my tie in a kind of stubborn flourish against her unvoiced skepticism—that there has been no one like Cocton since Rauschenberg or Johns. I promised that tomorrow she would not be called upon to help him settle in. She has enough on her hands—a big web-design commission that’ll keep her holed up for the next several days. How nice to be able to work from home! With Lou here, I’ll be doing some of that myself.
        I hope he finds rural life stimulating. He loves the mossy old stone of the gatehouse, and he already looks forward to the unique sorts of “found objects” encountered here on back roads and in the woods—not to mention the town dumpsters to which he is drawn by some inborn goût pour la boue.
        I hope that he and Moochie-boy learn to get along better. They didn’t at all like each other the two times Lou was out here. Those myths about Dobermans scare the bejeezus out of city boys. Dangerous, sure, but only to intruders. No more would I agree to getting rid of Moochie-boy than I would to discarding the little Beretta in my night-table drawer. Once you’re family, a Dobie will love and protect you like your own guardian angel. Bethany was leery too, at first, but now she’s just as attached to Moochie as I am. Besides, he’ll be tethered sufficiently far from the gatehouse so as hardly to be in sight of Lou’s windows.

Monday, April 9

        Bethany was horrified by the “garbage heap,” as she called it, that Lou created over the weekend on the lawn in front of the gatehouse. I myself, imagining the possible uses to which Lou will eventually put some of those piled-up car parts, discarded computers, furniture fragments, and Styrofoam packing materials, see this array—the disjecta membra of a society divorced from Nature—as a Warehouse of Creation, the necessary extension of the artist’s limited studio space. Never before did he have such room to store all the stuff that might inspire him. However, to effect a compromise, I persuaded Lou to transfer his collection to the rear of the gatehouse, out of sight of the road. Conjugal peace is restored.

Thursday, May 3

        We found Moochie-boy’s body a half-mile down the road. He’d been tossed onto the shoulder, possibly by the impact with the vehicle. It was I who acted hysterical, with Bethany and Lou trying to calm me down. I blame it on myself because Mooch managed to undo his collar. I never liked it too tight on him. It would always bruise his neck. I’m not going in to work tomorrow. We’re burying him at the county pet cemetery. The vet has made all the arrangements. Lou is coming with us even though I told him he didn’t have to. I hate to break his impassioned focus on the new work he’s near completing—inspired, I must assume, by his unaccustomed closeness to Nature during these scant few weeks he has so far spent with us. I myself may never have been granted true artistic inspiration, but I’ve staked my entire reputation on the ability to recognize it in others.

Sunday, May 20

        Lou and I jog together a couple of mornings a week and his observations can be fascinating—for instance, this morning, his pointing out the collapsing façade of an old wooden shack that reminded him of Mohammed Ali. (He later returned in order to “appropriate” the weathered door.) I believe I may be witnessing the origin of metaphors that I will eventually see embodied in new works supplementing the eight to ten Coctons still hanging or standing in the gallery. Lou and I are in agreement to keep reasonably high prices on them. A few big collectors are acting annoyed. “What do you think you’re doing?” they challenge me. A couple of them “reluctantly” bought Coctons only a month ago—“at a quarter the price,” they remind me. What actors they are! They know damn well how lucky they are to have had their investments so quickly quadruple in value.
        Our four-mile run takes us in a winding loop down Moffat Road, which I’ve always loved for the serenity of the surrounding woods, the relative absence of both vehicular and human traffic (even of joggers), and of houses as well. If there were a better path for jogging, we’d take it, because Lou gets pretty nervous at about the half-way point, deep in the woods, when we pass old Harley Drummond’s place and his barrel-chested Dobermans join in a barking fit—at Lou, a stranger, since they know me pretty well by now—and strain at their leashes, and continue raising Cain for a good while after we pass.
        I admit I envy Harley those middle-aged Dobies. I miss Moochie-boy terribly. Ignoring my advice, Harley continues to overfeed those big black beasts and fails to allow them enough exercise. He insists, too, that they do not normally react with such ferocity to the presence of strangers—but only to the “smell of Evil.” I replied that they remind me of that whole pack of art critics who have joined in condemning Lou after experiencing a mere whiff of his work. I’m afraid that the remark sailed a bit over good old Harley’s head.
        Lou kind of surprised me on our run today. I complimented him on the big figurative mixed-media piece he’s now just about done with. He’s very dependent on my personal approval and felt great relief when I laughed out loud at the pompous central figure with mouth linked to anus via garden hose. There’s a hard edge to the work. I’ll give it a separate wall away from his others. I don’t want it, in all its clownish majesty, to overpower the vigor of the rest.
        Anyway, we are out jogging and he surprises me with this out-of-the-blue request. He complains about the lack of models. In Brooklyn he had no problem getting friends and even strangers to pose for him. With his slim, wiry good looks topped by that tangle of black hair that no comb will ever tame, he enchants. Even the broken nose and somewhat irregular upper teeth add to his charm, make him look like some classic Greek boxer. He’s got charisma. But if the availability of models was to pose a problem, why did he choose to come out here at all? The characters he meets in town think he’s weird, don’t trust him, he says. So he out and out asks me if I’ll allow my wife to pose for him!
        Bethany? She is as reclusive as she is beautiful. She doesn’t even like to be photographed. As much as I hate to disappoint Lou, I had to tell him that she’d never agree. He’s upset. I doubt he’ll be packing up to go back to Brooklyn, though. And even if he does, it will have no bearing—it damn well should have no bearing!—on the professional relationship that has been building between us. Ever since his so-so Soho debut, I’ve been positioning him in such a way that he has been attracting unusual critical attention. With a reputation that is beginning to take off, he needs my know-how now more than ever.

Monday, July 2

        I should really keep up with these entries, but the spring season has been incredibly busy. During these past several weeks, all the doubters have been confounded! I don’t know who was more ecstatic, Lou or I, when I sold his Untitled #7 for three times more than he’d ever fetched before. That was just one week ago. Unfortunately, however, he has again begun pissing frittering his share away via his online gambling and day-trading obsessions. I try to advise him on how to deal with money, but the man seems incorrigibly addicted.
        A champagne evening in the gatehouse—the crèche of our new renaissance in the making!—was had by all three of us. Lou played some of his favorite rap CDs, lip-sync’ing and mimicking those crab-like hand-lunges as well as any white man since Danny Hoch. Bethany, fortified by a few glasses of bubbly, conquered her reserve and hugged Lou like a sister—admittedly with a little nudge from me; but actually she’s been extremely helpful, more than I could have hoped.
        That was last Tuesday. Visiting Lou on Wednesday evening, I could not help re-examining the new series in progress. I thought I’d admired everything there was to admire in these mixed-media, hot-rod, kneeling-angel altar-pieces with canvases of Bethany in various home-and-office poses (a little uptight at first, yes, but progressively more relaxed), but soon I found myself hunting down a strange, recurrent motif in practically all of these new works—both in the central canvases and in their sculpted, welded, and hammered bases. The dark head of a dog suddenly materialized out of a storm-cloud, or appeared in the swirl at the end of an upholstered chair-arm, or in the carved elbow of a tree limb, or as a shape burned into the treads of two tires stripped (wastefully, I thought) from his own van. It even glared out from the deep, exaggerated shadow of Bethany’s cleavage (in the most recent of the series, in which she’s finally loosened up and worn that low-cut, sea-green gown—the exact match to her eyes—that she rarely puts on even for me!).
        The appearance of such images was in one sense disturbing, considering my recent loss, but in another and far more important sense it betokened, for me, the eruption of chthonic energies into Lou’s new works, for is not the dog—think Cerberus, think Anubis, the hellhound at the border between life and death!—the archetypal psychopomp, the soul’s guide into the dark and dangerous Underworld? Surprised at what I regarded as his deliberate employment of an archetypal iconography above and beyond his usual fanzine-ish imagery, I congratulated him on this development—only to be met by a quizzical, uncomprehending stare. He began to deny that the images were really there, but finally, when I pointed out the dog-heads in the tires, his face froze into a look of shock—the kind of shock one associates with someone’s having “seen a ghost.”
        All too soon I was to regret my too-perceptive display of critical acuity. Sardonically, he thanked me for my observations. He said I succeeded in showing him that he’d been losing control over whatever he thought he’d been doing. He had no choice, he said, but to destroy the entire “spoiled” series!
        “Nonsense!” I countered. I even planted myself in front of the wall against which the works were aligned as if ready to re-align that already broken nose of his if he so much as dared to approach them. A shouting match ensued, too tasteless to record in detail, but the upshot was that he agreed to think it over, that perhaps he was overreacting, that possibly I was right about “all that ‘catatonic’ shit and stuff,” and that if he continued to be doubtful he’d do nothing before consulting me. I wanted to house the whole batch at the gallery. How can you trust a man who is unable to see his own brilliance? (Then again, if he were too confident of it, would he have so trustingly submitted to my handling him? He’d probably already be swallowed by one of those sharks on Twenty-Fourth Street.)

Saturday, July 7

        I thank whichever gods have endowed me with the self-restraint that I’ve exhibited tonight! It’s been a long and crucial day. Whoever thought I’d become Doctor Freud and that my protégé would wind up being my patient?! I almost regret all the early reading I did in psychoanalysis. If not for that, I’d never have had the chutzpah to suggest trying to help him. That I, a complete amateur, could handle prying open the Pandora’s Box of another man’s psyche, is a presumption I swear never to indulge again!
        But after so long an investment in his talent, what other course did I have when he frankly confessed to me, earlier today, that he was no longer able to work? Painter’s block, he calls it. He even made me responsible! It was I who brought those faces of dogs to his attention, he said, and for days now he has fallen into a creative funk.
        Here I was, ready to berate him for having, without our permission, cut down three more evergreens to make room for his growing “junkyard” (Bethany’s term), when suddenly I find myself jolted completely out of all such petty concerns. Perhaps there was a way we could get to the root of the problem, I suggested. I sat in one of the creaky wooden chairs he’d hauled from Brooklyn, and Lou slumped into another.
        “I’ll do anything to jump-start the engine,” he said.
        “Why not try a little ‘free association’?” I answered, briefly explaining what I meant. But when I pointed to one of those dog-heads and asked him to free-associate, he balked; he agonized silently like a vampire daunted by a crucifix. For a couple of painful minutes that seemed to me an eternity, he trembled and wouldn’t look me in the eye. Then he says, “I’m afraid of what you’ll think of me.”
        I reassure him. “I can’t imagine anything you can tell me about yourself,” I say in utter sincerity, “that could lessen my regard for your talent.”
        I can’t forget his expression at that moment. As he looked at me, brow pinched with anxiety, he curled his lips back into a shame-faced smile. “When I was a teenager, I had a black dog named Bucko,” he began, squeezing the words out, half looking at me, half avoiding my gaze. “I used to use him…his mouth, I mean. I’d get off in his…”
        Although stunned and disgusted, I kept a straight face. Suddenly, from the heroic image I had of him, I saw a sleazy, bepimpled teenager abusing an innocent pup. Was this the “artist” I made almost part of my own family? I struggled to hide my nausea. In fact, far from displaying any outwardly negative reaction, I forced myself to sound sympathetic. After all, a moment’s reflection reminded me how much was at stake. I made some reassuring comments about how common sex was between humans and animals—shepherds and sheep, for example—but really, how the hell would I know how common bestiality is? I went even further. I suggested that his “attraction” to Bucko merely symbolized his own chimerical nature, half man, half beast, the relentless conflict of animal with spiritual that lay at the very source of his considerable artistic prowess. In any case, my unperturbed, rationalizing response managed to allay his fear of the harsh judgment he surely felt he deserved. My calm, accepting attitude brought him back within the pale of humanity.
        For a while I began to congratulate myself. Amateur therapist that I was, I felt I nursed him past a severe neurotic hangup that boded ill for our intertwined future. I even made so bold as to tell him that these images would never have cropped up just now, that “sleeping dogs lie” if you let them, but that the recent death of Moochie-boy had obviously stirred up a buried past that he’d never dared confront till now.
        I expected him to agree. I suppose I even expected him to breathe a sigh of relief, even to thank me for a session of very successful therapy. He did nothing of the sort. Instead, in ominous silence he paced up and back, finally turning to face me. But this time his face went pallid, as if completely drained of blood.
        “I didn’t mean to hurt him,” he said.
        “What makes you think you hurt Bucko?” I said.
        “I mean Moochie-boy,” he answered, collapsing in the chair in front of me.
        “What are you talking about?” I asked.
        “I ran him over. I didn’t have the heart to tell you.”
        “You did?” I must have turned white.
        “It was an accident,” he said.
        I felt like throwing up. Not wanting to look at Lou, I covered my face with my hands.
        “At least I think it was an accident,” he added. Unable to breathe, I waited for him to continue. “I was leaving the driveway, and I heard him barking at me, again, like usual. But the barking seemed pretty damn close. I should’ve stopped the van and taken a look. I didn’t want to think he could be following me, even running out ahead of me. I guess I was angry. He always pissed me off with that damn barking.”
        “What do you mean, you think it was an accident?” I shouted, clenching my fists. I looked up at Lou and saw his trembling lips, this time absent any smile.
        “Can you ever forgive me?” he pleaded. At that moment he looked to me like a dog begging for a bone. There was nothing I could say. My pain was too fresh and too deep. It could only have been guilt that made him say he thought it was an accident. I wanted to hear no more, but instead of shutting up, he obsessively continued—looking at me, wringing his hands—with a revelation even more poisonous.
        “When I felt the bump, I stopped. There was lots of yelping. It looked pretty bad. I should’ve brought him to a vet. But then I thought of you, how you’d hate me if you knew I’d run him over…so I moved him to the shoulder and left him there.”
        “You abandoned him?” I yelled. “There was a chance to save him and you just freaking left him there?” I could not look him in the eye. I felt like smashing every piece of his in sight. I didn’t care if future historians would compare me to that mad, hammer-wielding Hungarian who attacked Michelangelo’s Pietà. Angry as I was, it was that very image that gave me pause. Did I want to jeopardize all the nurturing I’d done of an emerging wunderkind—and ruin, in turn, the only chance that I might ever have to amount to something in a cut-throat world in which I daily struggle to keep afloat? But could I really allow self-interest to be my major consideration? Above and beyond Art, there was the call of moral duty. How could I face myself as a man if I did not make that loathsome coward suffer for such cold, cruel, and perhaps even intentionally vicious behavior to the creature I loved second-most in the world?
        Anyway, uncertain of what to do, and afraid of acting in a way I would regret, in a silent rage I up and stormed out of the gatehouse. But along the path home, my anger only increased. I felt angry with myself, too, for not staying and venting my spleen, regardless of the fatal effect it might have had on our so carefully developed partnership. Yes, I felt ever more convinced now that we’d have to face a parting of the ways.
        But I couldn’t make that decision on my own. I ran up to Bethany, distracting her from her computer terminal. I needed to see my wrath mirrored in her eyes. I didn’t mention Bucko (fearful of undermining her growing toleration of Lou); I told her only about Lou and Moochie-boy, whom Bethany had come to love as I did. I repeated every excruciating detail, expecting her to rise up in a fury twin to my own.
        But instead, after giving me a sympathetic hug, and pushing me into an armchair, this is what she said: “Darling, great artists often are horrible people.”
        I was flabbergasted. “You really think he’s a great artist?” I said.
        “Absolutely,” she said.
        I have not had a clue, before today, that she has come to share my own judgment about Lou. His talent must have dawned on her during those otherwise boring hours she’s been spending—with such well-disguised reluctance, solely to please me!—as his model. I have rarely felt so close to Bethany as at that wonderful moment. How glad I am that at critical junctures I have been able to show restraint.

Sunday, July 22

        While I do not regret the painful role of therapist I played some weeks ago, I find his way of celebrating our success rather insensitive. This morning, again, for no discernible reason, he had to antagonize Harley’s Dobies. They lunge at him so hard that I fear they’ll break their necks. There’s absolutely no danger, however, unless he were unwittingly to step within the orbit of their chains. Not only has he graduated from calling them names, shouting back at them in reply to their barking, but he teases them by arcing in close to them, just out of reach of their jaws. And now, today, he’s taken to pelting them with pebbles as we pass! It’s gotten so that we hear them beginning to bark well before we’re in sight of them, as though they can smell us—or Lou, anyway—coming.
        This worsening relationship between Lou and those dogs bothers me tremendously! My protestations seem to fall on deaf ears.
        I confess that lately I’ve been ingratiating myself with Harley. On the days I jog alone I often stop to chat with him. He has hinted more than once that he might soon “retire” from country living and go to live with his son in the city. He soon won’t have any choice. The old boy’s liver hardly functions anymore. He is always telling me, with his liquor-reeking breath, that he has at last given up the bottle.
        Harley’s son lives in an apartment. I never ask my friend what he will do with his Dobies, and he always avoids the subject—thereby making it so present between us that I tremble with the desire to bring it up myself. But no, I don’t want to ask. I want him to offer! It’s an excruciating game we two are playing. Those dogs adore me. Whenever I jog past Harley’s by myself, I stop and scratch their heads and feed them little snacks—usually before the old guy comes to the door. He takes atrocious care of those dogs. It’s simply not right. Not right.
        Anyway, today, after Lou’s gift of pebbles, all I could do was wave at old Harley as he staggered half-drunk out of his rickety front door. In answer to his mute query, I shrugged my shoulders and tossed my palms out—as if to decline any personal responsibility. Feeling for the enraged animals, I asked Lou why he must tantalize them so. “I need to feel that I’ve overcome,” he answered, “that the monsters of my past can no longer harm me.” Changing the subject, I asked Lou how the new work was progressing. “I’m on a roll. You’ll see when I’m good and ready,” he said.
        I told him how delighted I was at the great review of the Chilton Mazzia Gallery in the “Arts” section of the Times today. Two entire paragraphs devoted to Lou alone! I’ve been hoping for access to those dog-face creations, but he still won’t let them go. I told him how urgent it is that we exhibit something new, that we strike while the iron is hot. He understands perfectly. He said, “Don’t worry, Chil, I won’t disappoint you.” I’m so pleased at the recognition we are getting that I think I can manage to handle my impatience. Much harder to handle is my concern for the welfare of those Dobies!

Wednesday, August 15

        At last I have been admitted to the sanctum sanctorum! The array of new combined-media works represents, in my view, a new stage in the emergence of Lou’s genius. The critics are going to go bananas over this “medical” series. The social relevance alone of these works will feed them enough to babble about for months. I can already foresee that Journey on a Gurney and Mammogrammarians, perhaps the most lurid of the lot, will raise enough hackles to ensure the collection enduring critical acclaim. The winged-doctor cutouts, the probes and hypodermics, the naked flesh of green-eyed women being entered, cathetered, punctured and acupunctured in demeaning positions—in limbs, orifices, breasts—and not only with medical instruments, seem to me inspired with a feeling of divine disgust. As to the crazy-quilt he used in place of pubic hair in the assemblage devoted to the medical examination of a woman’s gargantuan pelvis—that quilt struck me as very familiar. I was extremely surprised that Bethany would not mind sacrificing an object of such sentimental value, a coverlet composed of quaint pastoral scenes passed down to her from her great-grandmother, for the cause of contemporary art! Bethany’s soft smile and liquid-green eyes appear undistorted in three of the pieces. I would rather the identification were not so obvious.

Friday, August 17

        I do not act with haste, so I’ve waited these two days before confronting Bethany this evening with my impressions regarding Lou’s latest achievements. She agrees with me entirely as to the artistic triumph they evidence. Where we disagree—and I cannot help having profoundly mixed feelings in the matter—is in the kind and degree of her material participation in his project. Coming at it aslant, I reproached her for sacrificing something so preciously personal as that quilt. In reply, she had the effrontery to say that, yes, that quilt was the hardest sacrifice she’d had to make in the service of Art. “We each,” she added, quoting something I said to her years ago, “have our own ways of serving. And in Art, doesn’t the end justify the means?” She hastened to add, though, that she did it all out of her utter devotion to me. But in truth, with regard to what she’s been rendering up to me, there’s been a noticeable decrease in service.
        “Will you stop posing for him if I ask you?” I said. I believe I sounded pathetic.
        “After you yourself sic’ed me on him, and I’ve made you all as happy as clams, you now want me to withdraw?” she said. She looked at me sternly. I clenched my fists. I wanted to beat her. I know that my feelings of soap-opera jealousy are primitive, atavistic, culturally regressive, counter-productive, but sometimes they can be so overwhelming as to tempt me to do something stupidly self-destructive. I choked back the pain that Bethany’s hard stare induced in me and beat a quick retreat. I left the house and charged like a mad dog straight down the moonlit path toward the gatehouse.
        I had no idea what I would say to him. I trusted to my natural instincts to dictate my evolving behavior. What was he doing just now? I wondered. I circled around to the side of the house where the two uncurtained studio windows poured lemony light onto the bushes.
        There I saw him busily at work on a large new canvas in the shape of a heart. The rounded tops of the heart were already taking the shape of breasts. Despite the distorted angle, they hovered above knees curving down to the point of the painting where a pair of shackled feet was sketched in. The whole globular perspective struck me as Escher-like, but with an in-your-face quality due to the image of a turbaned Taliban member in the center raising his AK-47. This struck me as the apotheosis of “post-lowbrow,” the term that Schjeldahl applied to Lou when reviewing him in last month’s New Yorker.
        Next to the image of the Taliban member I could see part of a right thigh, and high up on it—a little red heart.
        I stood outside and wept. Yes, I feel violated, hurt to the core—violated personally, but violated also spiritually, the way great Art violates the slumber of our souls. I was forced at that very instant to re-prioritize my most deeply held values, to put a brake on the mindless instincts that had brought me to his window! This current work, I’m absolutely sure, is the first in a powerful new series. In another few months the critics will rave once more!
        In short, how could I intrude upon him just then? As violated as I felt, I had not the heart to violate, in turn, a process of creation that ultimately matters so much more than our own—my own—everyday, petty, transient concerns.

Friday, October 12

        For nearly two months now, alternately depressed and elated. It’s been hard to enter the right mood for keeping up with these notes. Moods aside, I must record the resounding success of Lou’s “Medical” series. A high-water mark this Tuesday: the sale of Mammogrammarians for double what even Untitled #7 went for—to the Whitney, Lou’s first sale to a museum! Not for at least five years has any other Chelsea dealer boosted a newcomer so close to top dollar. (And what was his reaction? The money was already burning a hole in his pocket. He’s probably got enough now to buy the Humvee he’s been slobbering over coveting—but I can almost predict that in two weeks he’ll have gambled away every last cent.)
        Now, unfortunately, just as the critics are recognizing a specific Cocton style—Schjeldahl’s “post-lowbrow” label is definitely catching on—the man seems to be making an about-face into some neoexpressionist crap that could undermine everything the pair of us (“the Cocton-Mazzia duo,” we’ve been called) have been building together. One great show, I reminded Lou today, does not a Household Name make!
        Out jogging the day after that wonderful Whitney news, I finally had the nerve to ask Lou what he’d been up to for the past six or seven weeks. I’ve long ago gotten over the temptation to just knock on the gatehouse door uninvited. And now, of course, I wouldn’t dream of intruding on their privacy. Up to that last time we jogged together—Wednesday, I think—I’ve had to gather from conversational hints, or from his own increasing moodiness, a general sense of how things were progressing between them. What a shock, then, as we’re running along in the brisk, beautiful air, crunching red and yellow leaves underfoot, to have Lou shove this Polaroid under my nose of the latest thing he’d done: an ugly throwback to a kind of Picasso-quoting portraiture of a female face largely in black and green, with eyes dentate, mouth a black hole, fanged snake for tongue, and nose dripping mucus the same green as the snake, even the same green as the eyes—those green eyes always so warm with sensuality or trembling with pain in the splendid series everyone’s been praising to high heaven.
        And then, adding insult to injury: “I haven’t done anything since,” he tells me. “I’ve been unable to work for a month.”
        “What’s the problem?” I asked. “If I were in your shoes, I’d be the happiest man alive.”
        “I want her to move out. I can’t stand her constantly around,” he replied.
        This is a complication I could never have foreseen. “Have you asked her to move out?” I said.
        “Yes, a hundred times. She absolutely refuses. Do something, will you?” he pleaded. “You’re her damn husband, for Chrissake, aren’t you?”
        I groped for a solution. I offered him one I thought would surely work. Heretofore I had foolishly imagined that Bethany must be raising his genius to its pinnacle. How comes it now that all she’s been raising is his ire? “Look, Lou,” I offered, “the gatehouse is just too small for the two of you. Why don’t you both move into the main house, where you won’t have to be breathing down each other’s neck? And I’ll move into the gatehouse.”
        I was extremely pleased with myself. I considered that to be as practical a solution as anyone could have come up with. An artist needs isolation—plenty of space and plenty of time alone in which to work.
        “You don’t understand,” Lou answered me. “I can’t stand her guts! I couldn’t stand living in the same palace with her! How you’ve been able to take it, I don’t know.”
        Although deeply insulted for my wife’s sake, I finally understood the seriousness of Lou’s problem. Of course I’d be delighted to take Bethany back. I believe I came to love her even more when, after she moved to the gatehouse, I realized how much more she was about to do for Lou—and therefore for me as well. I simply can’t describe how I felt, then, that her nurturing flesh would be an extension of my own enabling spirit—conventional moralists be damned! As we jogged I pondered and pondered: now that she had outlived her inspirational value, would she see the wisdom of moving back in with me? I shall soon pose that question to her, as delicately as I can. She is young. Will she understand the difference between the infatuation she has for Lou and the abiding love that she surely must feel for me? And above and beyond matters of personal affection (as tremendously important as they are), don’t we both have a stake in the fostering of genius—of a sort that hasn’t been seen in this country for the past fifty years? Can either of us forget the champagne opening we gave for Lou’s new show, the attendance by the critics, the curator from the Guggenheim, the reviewers from the Times, the Voice, Artforum? Are we not closely bound by the pride we took in our tripartite alliance, the troika that transported Lou Cocton from a garret in Brooklyn to the (now, at last) most talked-about gallery in Manhattan? She’ll remember all that, I’m sure!
        Why not admit it? I’m extremely lonely. When Lou and I reached the point in our jog where we could already hear the angry yelping of Harley Drummond’s hounds (sooner than ever before: do we smell that much stronger, or are their noses getting keener?), I was again overwhelmed with nostalgia for Moochie-boy. It was all the more painful, then, to see Lou aim, not pebbles, but stones at the raging Dobies. One of the projectiles connected with the snout of the somewhat smaller animal, setting him to squealing while the other, silenced only a moment, leaped frantically in the air, hurling himself at my receding friend, nearly choking to death in his collar.
        Was Lou so angry with Bethany that he had to take it out on the poor dogs…? Anyway, while Lou jogged on, I came to a halt, and at the same time Harley stumbled out into the yard, hopping along as fast as he could with his cane, spitting out curses at my disturbed, agonized friend, even threatening legal action. Lou paid him no mind, just kept charging ahead. I, on the other hand, knelt in front of the animal that had been struck. I petted and tried to comfort him. And as I did so, his partner came up and nuzzled me. They do not associate me with my misbehaving friend, but Harley might, I’m afraid.
        “I don’t think Roscoe here is hurt,” I said, “but I’ll be glad to have him looked at by the vet.” Scratching and soothing each in turn, I noticed the severe bruising in the area of their collars. There were spots rubbed bald and scabs as well, and on the bigger dog a fresh and bloody abrasion. “Prob’ly all due to that friend o’ yours,” scowled Harley. I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. Just like the old soak to shift responsibility for his own unconscionable negligence onto others! As to the rest of the dogs’ pelts, they looked lusterless. Harley did not feed them properly, did not take regular care of them. I wanted to scream at the old bastard, but I held my tongue. He has no right to be in charge of those animals! There are higher laws than those of private property when it comes to the treatment of those you hold dear.
        So this morning, out jogging alone, I came bearing gifts—dog-candies for the Dobies, and a fifth of Johnny Walker Red, a Scotch I would never touch myself but that I knew was Harley’s favorite. Would he get the idea that I wanted in this manner to reproach him for his barbaric neglect of those animals?
        “You should never bring this stuff to me. You know I’m on the wagon,” he said, his breath belying his words. As I offered him the bottle, the “pups” stopped munching their treats and thrust themselves between us, growling at me—in response, no doubt, to the reproachful tone of his voice.
        Harley laughed through a muffler of phlegm as he reached around Reggie for my fist, which hung frozen above Reggie’s bared teeth. “They’re Red Label connoisseurs, which isn’t no surprise, since they smell it on me often enough.”
        “Really, you don’t have to take it,” I said, putting his sensibilities to the test. “I have a whole case of it, and I only drink wine. Why not just keep it around for your guests?”
        “Guests? Sure. Thanks,” he mumbled, slapping down Roscoe, who had closed his jaws around his thin wrist so firmly that he almost let go of the bottle. “Even the pups reck’nize a poisoned apple. If you happen to bring any more—for my ‘guests,’ of course—make sure to bag ’em so these guys don’t see it.”
        Poisoned apple. How accurate! I thought.
        “They’re very protective of you, aren’t they?” I said.
        “More’n you know. Coupla times I was so drunk I didn’t feed the poor beasties for twenty-four hours running. When I let them in, they tore up everything in the house that smelled like I smelled. Snarled at me all the damn time.”
        “How nice to have friends who look out for your well-being—just as you look out for theirs,” I said, looking Harley straight in the eye.
         “Scared me sober, they did,” was all he could think of to reply.
        My little peace offering succeeded in loosening Harley’s tongue. He brought up the subject that was always on his mind and that he knew damn well was on my mind as well. What will he do with Roscoe and Reggie, he asked me, when he moves in with his son? I tried to sound casual, but my heart was on a Gene Krupa drum-roll. “They’re fine little Dobies, Harley,” I said. “If ever you want a nice home for them, I’ll be glad to take care of them for you.”
        So I am now committed to providing him with the rest of that promised “case.” Shall I do so all at once, or dole it out one bottle at a time? (Piecemeal, perhaps, and definitely in a bag. Heaven forbid that those Dobies ever take me for Snow White’s evil stepmother!)
        Meanwhile, I remain deeply troubled by Lou’s evident lack of compassion. What makes a man so cruelly insensitive to the living things that surround him?

Wednesday, November 7

        Why I could not see it coming, I don’t know. Willful blindness! After she returned to me, her sadness grew only deeper with each passing day. Bethany had always liked my cooking, especially my omelette soufflée, but no matter how I tried to please her, during those last few days she would barely nibble at a thing. I had attributed her depression not to the fact that Lou had rejected her, but to the manner of that rejection—ejection, rather. The uncompromising, pitiless brutality that the critics have been lauding as the trademark of his genius has quite the opposite effect in the sphere of his personal behavior.
        First there was his hasty deposit of her computer, her papers, her unpacked clothes and sundries on my doorstep with no more than a few loud raps of the knocker to alert me of her eviction. And then, an hour later, the van drives up again and Bethany is deposited, more literally “dumped,” onto the gravel circle in front of our entryway. I witnessed it all from the parlor window—her clinging to him, refusing to get out, screaming for him to relent, he shoving her off him forcefully enough for her to land on her knees, where she remained hunched and sobbing, coatless. The van then crunched off. He abandoned her—as he abandoned Mooch, just like a sack of garbage! I hurried out and lifted her unresisting body off the ground. I wanted, of course, to confront him immediately, but Bethany threatened to leave me again if I so much as let out a peep about the incident. I was damned if I did what instinct compelled, damned if I didn’t! I kept my rage in, for fear of a further abandonment.
        Oh, how I tried to please and console her! I should have known it would be of no use. At her funeral last week I did not say a word to him. I could not keep him from attending, of course, but at his diffident attempts to come up to me and mumble something about condolences, I conspicuously turned away. I am slow to anger and quick to forgive, but it was anger then that was gaining the upper hand. It was anger that helped me deal with my pain. And all this week the poison of anger has clouded my every waking moment, made hostages of my dreams. I did not want to believe that she could have loved him so—loved him so fiercely, so defenselessly that she could have done to herself what she did. I refused to allow myself to appreciate her total vulnerability to his Picasso-like, mesmerizing, personal power—an amoral power that simply is, that knows not its own strength, that attracts like a flame attracts moths.
        I could not help my anger. Ever since her suicide it has been begging release, building to the point of some kind of explosion. Two hours ago I approached the gatehouse, loaded Beretta in hand. He was at work in the studio. I slipped in using my key to the front door. He was oblivious to my entrance. Stepping into the foyer, I turned left and stood under the arch that gave upon the living-room he had converted into a work-space. As I raised my weapon and pointed it at his back, I thought my heart pounded loudly enough to shatter the studio windows. I thought he must be deaf.
        I could see immediately what rendered him deaf to all the world outside his own imaginings. The new work he was engaged upon was something I would never have dreamed within the capacity of even a Lou Cocton! Not only did it out-Cocton Cocton, but such a conception was surely beyond the power of any of his living rivals. In one enormous, warped and folded, strangely pleated, three-dimensional surface he has resurrected the limbs, the torso, the eyes, the very soul of the Bethany he cast out in the flesh. But here she has become the rebirth of lower Manhattan, a grassy park below her belly, the Towers re-arising from her chest. I can say no more, except that I needed to see it completed. It is a work of great mourning and of greater celebration. He has brought back to the world, distilled and perfected, the nurturing Beauty that Bethany lavished upon it all the days of her life. Never have I seen such spiritual profundity married to such technical virtuosity—a union with the Other that only the self-transcendent Artist, not that emotionally crippled man I saw in front of me, could ever have hoped to achieve.
        The paradox paralyzed me. Helplessly letting my gun sink back into my coat-pocket, I felt a new kind of anger overwhelm me—an anger at being robbed of my anger! I wanted simultaneously to embrace and beat to a pulp this Poison Tree that I had watered with all I hold dear. When Lou turned around, he dropped his palette knife in surprise. I did not let him suspect my motive in coming. Nor would I give him an inkling of my reaction to the new work—the work that saved him, that hamstrung my will! He stood waiting for me to comment. Instead, I looked around—at anything but that tremendous, overpowering new creation in the making.
        And in looking, I did notice something—something very conspicuous by its absence.
        I asked Lou, “Where is the dog-face series?”
        “Oh, those?” he said, not looking me in the eye. “I decided to destroy them.”
        “I refuse to believe you,” I said, reminding him that he’d promised to consult me before he took any kind of action.
        All he did was shrug his shoulders. “We haven’t exactly been talking, have we?” he said.
        I was infuriated. I told him we needed just that series now to consolidate his soaring reputation. I banked on that work. I told him he mindlessly sacrificed a major asset, a giant step, in his climb—in our mutual and interdependent climb—toward gold and glory. (He forever complains about a lack of funds. Is it my fault that “gold” runs through his fingers like sand?) I rebuked him, sprayed him with every vicious pejorative I could muster. I spent every cartridge of anger I had come there with on reproaching him for the wanton destruction of that series. He just stood there like a damn fool, taking it, looking guilty, not saying a word, his silence bringing me to tears. On my way back home, slouching under a tangle of bare trees, I called to mind those irrecoverable mixed-media pieces and grieved. I confess I am ashamed to be able to spare even a tittle of grief, at a time like this, over a bunch of mere works of art!

Sunday, November 18

        Harley called me yesterday and asked—in a slurred, semi-coherent way—if I’d take care of his “pups” for a couple of weeks! He’ll be living with his son on a trial run to test their compatibility. (His announcement came only days after I presented him—reluctantly, of course—with two of the last three fifths I bought to make up that promised full case of Red Label.) As could be expected, I was all too happy to agree, and the doddering old fellow provided me with a key, feeding instructions, etc.
        He invited me in for a drink, first pouring himself one in view of the screen door, where the “pups” stood pressing their noses and lowing, or moaning, or whining (the tone is somewhat difficult to describe) with their ears laid flat back against their skulls.
        “On second thought,” said Harley, capping the half-empty bottle, “why waste the Devil’s bounty on a fella like you what’s headed in the opposite dy-rection?”
        My guardianship starts tomorrow. Part of my plan is to restrict their diets. You don’t want pot-bellied watchdogs! Anyway, I feel kind of giddy at the prospect of taking them over. I will now have a reason each dark and dreary evening to come home to an empty house. I shall take them for long walks (one at a time, to ensure that the house is well guarded), toss Frisbees with them, and, in short, treat them as I used to treat Moochie-boy.
        “A couple of weeks,” he supposes. I suspect he has wildly underestimated the time they shall be in my care. I doubt the poor fellow has even ten percent of his liver left. He’d never leave that shack of his with a leg still out of the grave.
        I suppose it was inevitable that Lou and I should be jogging together again. We are just too used to an overlapping schedule, so it would have taken a special effort to try not to run into each other. Naturally, I told him this morning that I’d be taking care of “those mutts,” as he calls them. His reaction, instead of being pleased for me, was instantly to say, “You’re not going to keep them near the gatehouse, are you?” He sounded as if he was looking for some sort of excuse to up and leave—but maybe I’m overly paranoid these days. Overlooking all past differences, we both have reason to rejoice—he at the fabulous prices he’s commanding (which enable him to support the New York Stock Exchange), I at being ranked by critic after critic (those who wouldn’t spit at me six months ago) the Number One Gallery in Chelsea—indeed, in all of Lower Manhattan. Anyway, I assured him that the “mutts” would stay put and that I’d be visiting them twice daily at Harley’s.
        I know I have no right or reason to feel so wildly happy, but I do!

Tuesday, November 20

        This day has been the most miserable day of my life.
        Today I made the rounds of some of the key galleries in my immediate neighborhood. Stopping in at M.P.’s, I ran into the second in command. The stocky little son of a bitch twit has never had a kind word for me and has grown more and more sour with every new success that we, the “Cocton-Mazzia duo,” have celebrated. Today, though, for a while I couldn’t figure out why he was suddenly so solicitous, so eager to please, to show me around—as if I were either a fire inspector or a buyer with an overstuffed wallet.
        It didn’t take me long to figure it all out. He was guiding me away from that back-left corner where new acquisitions get stored before going on exhibit. As I wandered in that direction, a sweat broke out on his face and he stood in front of me, literally trying to push me off to a wing where I would surely find something “terribly interesting” to see, he promised.
        “Fuck you, Marvin. Get out of my way,” I said, and herewith unabashedly record—my tone and choice of language shocking even to myself (though appropriate under the circumstances, I firmly believe, as I now recollect the moment’s “passion in tranquility”).
        They were in a giant jumble, leaning against three walls, all with their backs to the viewer, but I would have recognized that dog-face series front, back, sideways, upside down or inside out. I grew faint and had to lean against the wall for support. All fat-face could say was that he’d “warned” me. Like a fool, all I could say was that M.P. “had no right to these!” I was too shocked to know what to say! Perhaps I entertained the slim hope that by some sort of legal maneuvering I could outwit the whole lot of them. But my bruised and battered spirit descended into my shoes. I felt utterly, completely betrayed. Legalities were—and to this moment remain—the last things haunting my soul.
        “We have no right?” said my litigious little colleague. “I’ll show you who has any right!” And he scooted into the office, returning with a fistful of papers. “This,” he said, “is the bill of sale.” It certainly looked legitimate enough. That was Lou’s signature all right.
        “He’s under contract to me,” I said, reacting in the defensive way that a businessman is expected to. “He had no right to independently dispose of these pieces.” Did he have the right? That was not the issue that tore me to pieces just then.
        “Contract?” said my chubby little friend. “We have a copy of your so-called contract. It’s nothing more than an initial agreement that can be broken at any time, and by either party.”
        “Cocton has not expressed any wish to break our agreement,” I feebly replied.
        “Agreement!” exclaimed this smug little hustler. “How long did you expect him to rest content with twenty-five percent when the going split is fifty-fifty?”
        I believe I stammered, unable to explain that, until Lou showed signs of financial responsibility, to throw any more money at him would be like feeding sugar to a kid with ADD.
        “This is a contract,” my friend continued, rubbing it in, shoving a stack of papers under my nose. “I don’t even have to show you this, but you’ll be finding out sooner or later.”
        And he showed me the proof of a treachery I would never in my life have thought possible.
        “Every t is crossed. Every i is dotted. Cocton is ours! He has abandoned you. I’m sorry you had to find out this way, Chilton, but business is business.”
        “We’ll see about that, ” I bravely replied, and I spent the rest of the afternoon, with the help of professional movers, stripping the Chilton Mazzia gallery of all remaining works by Lou Cocton, then transferring them to a storage facility whose identity shall remain hidden till the Apocalypse.
        The word abandoned keeps ringing in my head—but have I acted too hastily in sequestering those remnants of our trust? Let me try to look at it from Lou’s point of view. An artist is a free spirit, is he not? Does he not have the moral and ethical right—the law be damned—to dispose of his work as he pleases? What right have I to expect in him such bourgeois, canine virtues as loyalty? Dare I, who nurtured him, who made him what he has become, put fetters on his freedom of movement? On the contrary, why not accelerate his movement? Should I not throw him out (and render unto Lou all that is Lou’s), as right now I’m inclined to do, or should I wait till he confesses, unprompted, to what he’s been up to?
        Such were the noble thoughts I did my best to entertain while my heart fell into my socks. But the worst was yet to come.
        At home, this evening, I get a call from James Drummond, Harley’s son. His father has passed away. The fact itself does not surprise me, but I didn’t expect it so soon. I offered the appropriate condolences, of course, and then I offered to be of help in any way I could.
        “About those dogs?” he said.
        “Yes, I’ve been taking excellent care of them, as Harley wanted me to,” I answered, my voice pinched, my throat constricted in nervous anticipation. “The three of us get along beautifully,” I added, not wanting to admit how increasingly upset the dogs had grown since Harley’s absence, how they seemed on the point of exploding with rage—or grief, as though they somehow knew their drunken old master was dying. There was a second or two of silence. And then the blow fell:
        “I appreciate all your help, Mr. Mazzia, and I’ll be over some time next week to take Dad’s pups off your hands.”

February 20, I think

        Three months have passed since that unimaginably horrible day—Friday, November 23, only a few days after the double blow of my humiliation at M.P.’s and the news that I would soon be deprived of those Dobies. I am only now able to recall, in relatively coherent fashion, the events of that fateful Friday. It started with a single stiff drink and a long minute of feverish contemplation—of that handgun which inane scruples had prevented me from employing at an earlier date, when its use would have been far more justified. Everything could have ended with explosive simplicity, within a matter of minutes, if I had had the courage of my inflictions. But no! As always when assaulted by my passions, I was rescued by a clear-headed, calculating self that preferred a far less obvious course of action. The Beretta would remain my option of last resort.
        I decided to adhere to my plan: once more to face the traitor I had housed and nurtured and sacrificed happiness and hope to. Lou and I jogged that morning for the last time I thought I would ever have to see him. How glad I was that he spoke up like a man about his intention to leave me—because if he hadn’t, then I definitely would have.
        For I decided that the time was up.
        Almost as soon as we set out, he started complimenting me on all that I’d done for him—in a phony, mawkish style that I utterly hated, but I pretended to be thankful for every crumb of appreciation, knowing quite well what he was edging toward announcing. Though grateful for all I’d done for him, he said, lately he’d been feeling hemmed in, “on a leash,” so to speak. He felt the need of a drastic change, and knowing how much of a gentleman I was, he was sure I wouldn’t mind if he “cut the cord” and “moved on.” With faux-naiveté, I expressed disappointment that the gatehouse was no longer a suitable working space. “No,” he explained, “I mean at this stage in my career, I need to switch to a different style of management.” (What he meant, obviously, was that he blamed his lack of an inexhaustible cash-flow on me!)
        I was already, of course, emotionally prepared. The axe had fallen on Tuesday. The time for venting spontaneous anger was over. I made the expected show of hurt feelings, then recovered the poise of the gentleman that I always tried to be to him, the gentleman he could reasonably expect me to be even now.
        “Look, Chil, can we avoid all the legal shit and break neat and clean?” he urged, resorting to his natural idiom, devoid of hypocritical pieties. I really liked that in him!
        “Why certainly, Lou,” I said. “While I’m terribly disappointed, I know that genius must have its head, and I wouldn’t want you to feel chained to me.” And I generously ladled on something like this: “I want you to have the future you have earned and so richly deserve.”
        “I always knew I could count on you, Chil. No one else understands me,” he said.
        We both kept running in silence for a while. He probably didn’t expect me to take the moral high ground, but this was exactly how I had planned our farewells. I could already hear Harley’s Dobies in the distance. How happy I had been taking care of them! There was no doubt in my mind that they would never thrive under the care of the junior Drummond. I hated to give them up, of course, but give them up I had to. Lou commented on the “hound-sounds,” as he called them, already stirred up by our approach though we were hundreds of yards away.
        “They are aroused by the smell of Evil,” I said.
        “You actually like those freakin’ monsters?” he replied.
        “The pleasure those Dobies have given me,” I said, “will cancel out much of the pain of losing them—and losing you too, Lou.”
        “Why do you speak of losing me?” he said. “I’ll be around. We’ll still be the best of friends, won’t we?” How respond to such incorrigible insensitivity?
        “You’ve got all this pent-up anger. I wish you’d let it the fuck out!” he persisted, sniffing at me in disdain. “If you don’t, you’ll wind up like old Harley, a boozehound. But don’t let it be on my account.”
        “Fat chance,” I said, “of my ever taking to drink, or of giving you the satisfaction of laying the blame on you.”
        Distracted again by the dogs, Lou announced that today they’d be in for a special treat. He pulled from his pocket not the usual stones, but a couple of those fake bones that dogs like to chew on. “Won’t they be surprised!” he said.
        As always, the barking grew fiercer the closer we approached. But Lou had to toss those conciliatory bones much sooner than he had supposed. The moment we came in sight of Harley’s mailbox, both animals leaped for us as far as their chains would allow—and snapped free of their collars as if they’d been made of paper.
        We stumbled to a halt, and I caught a glimpse of Lou’s bulging eyes, watched him cower, observed him as he raised his arms in front of his face. As for me, I felt I had nothing to fear. Of that I was absolutely sure. As if pinned to the spot, I just stood there. The details get blurry from that point on.
        He has come to visit me again today, bringing the mail, the papers, and a box of my favorite Belgian chocolates, which I am now at last able to suck on without experiencing any longer that excruciating pain in my severely mauled jaw. His arm is fully healed. He reminds me now and then that if he had stayed out of the fray, not tried to help me after the dogs knocked me down, he’d have emerged without a scratch. Roscoe’s jaws, he insists, were locked onto my throat. He adds that it took a couple of blows to the poor pooch’s head to dislodge him, and that Reggie, whose teeth were sunk into my face, released me only in order to attack that flailing arm of his. An arm which flailed, he hastens to remind me, in defense of a friend who never hesitated about pulling him out of a jam or two. I find it difficult to work myself up into a fit of sympathy for Lou. He chides me for my “misjudgment,” he calls it, in setting the collars of those “hellhounds” as loose as I did.
        Every time I see him—he’s here about once a week—he plies me with cheap little gifts, some practical, most hardly so. Why does he keep visiting me? Is it to expiate his (to my mind inexpiable) guilt? Not at all. Not a word of remorse has passed that monster’s lips. He insists that he has always been and wants to remain my “friend.” But I, quite to the contrary, am well aware that his crudely plotted purpose is to sniff out the hiding-place of all those Coctons that have vanished from the Chilton Mazzia Gallery. He has cleverly avoided hinting at this true reason for his fairly regular visits. He hopes that I shall broach the subject, keeps returning in a futile effort to wear me down—each time with new and insultingly thoughtless gifts. To illustrate his lack of taste: last week, against hospital rules, he urged upon me that bottle of cheap Scotch from which I had, in a moment of despair, taken only a single nauseating drink (in my constant nightmares I reek of it still), but I was quick to make him an offering of it, as better suited to his palate than mine. Next week I expect he’ll bring me plastic bones, maybe the same pair he bought to make peace with Harley’s Dobies.
        I want to swing out and smash the fucking him in the face. He feels so deliciously good about himself! The thought, however, of delivering such a blow sends ripples of pain through my entire right side. I recall nothing of how my arm and clavicle were broken during the attack. The doctors estimate the better part of the year for the completion of all this reconstructive surgery.

“Canine Virtues” was published in the 2012 edition of The Labletter.

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