SLEEPING WITH DUCHAMP
I have got the most ferocious cramps, and Marcel, that bastard, will not bring me a single goddamned aspirin. I have been pretzelled under four blankets all morning, alternately whimpering and bellowing for painkillers like a harpooned whale, were whales able to demand aspirin -- but nooo, someone is too busy playing fucking chess to tend to his ailing mistress. Lazy, cheap fucking French. I try annoyance as a tactic. "Duchamp!" I yell, Americanly, the ch clenching out past my rear molars like a stale cubed caramel, sounding like the 1950s dad cheering on his son at Little League, C'mon, champ. That same dad would no doubt call his daughter a nickname like Kitten. Nobody is calling me Kitten.
He says he doesn't paint me because he is interested in motion, and I am so still. I think it is because he is interested in things that can be reduced to angles, a category from which I am as exempt as a bucket of snowballs. He says he is leaving the whores to Picasso. I know it's because he can't crack me up into my component parts, can't break me into planes. I am more than the sum of my parts. He wishes he had thought to rename me when we started.
"MarCEL!" I hate being reduced to this, this Liz Taylor shrew, like I'm a bad before picture for prescription drugs meant to suppress female hysteria and general squeamish ickiness, but my uterus is imitating one of those blood-pressure-cuff things that has been miscalibrated to fit a Gwyneth-Paltrow-sized twig-arm. My abdomen certainly has a circumference greater than four inches, especially with the fifteen gallons of water I'm retaining, not to mention the brandy whose stupid fancy crystal decanter was conveniently within arm's reach, unlike the aspirin. "Marcel!" He'll try to fuck me later. At least he doesn't bitch about my smoking in bed, or wandering around in slips and pink foam rollers. He probably doesn't even notice, the bastard.
He hates me because I refuse to learn his stupid chess and persist in calling the knights "horsies." I won't play any game at which a machine is capable of beating me. He says I am a machine -- a process -- that's why he doesn't paint me. I say I am the Deus ex, the principle of unpredictability, the human element. The feminine one. He hates me because he can't guess what I'll do next. If I could get out of the fetal position maybe he'd find out. There are all kinds of stereotypes about the French, but Marcel is a raging example of the truth in at least one of them -- that they love nothing more than taking their own sweet fucking time. If it takes him seven hours to move a chess pawn in a game against himself, there's no way in hell he's going to actually grace me with an aspirin before I'm menopausal.
Against all odds, I manage to get up when I hear the bathroom door open and close and the hollow porcelain clank of the seat being lowered. He'll be in there for a while. I grab a fistful of aspirin from the bottle in the kitchen and chew them absentmindedly as I walk towards the library, little crushed bits avalanching down the black nylon front of my cheap American slip. I walk quietly, the way some flowers turn toward the sun throughout the day. The library looks elegant in the slanty afternoon light, the kind of photo you'd want in a retrospective, with some misguided caption like Here's where Duchamp honed the craft of his chess mastery or some bullshit. Not the truth, which is Here's where Marcel sat on his bony ass playing with glorified dolls while his not-even-girlfriend hemorrhaged to death. I walk to his chessboard, look at the game he has been playing with himself for years. Bastard. I pick up a horsie and head back to bed, my feet slapping the wood floors while the horsie grows warm in my hand and my stomach makes like a fist. I'm back under the blankets in no time, doing my own impression of a still life.
Through my down shroud, I hear the bathroom door open. Any minute now he'll be in here, demanding his precious chess piece back, and then he'll try to fuck me. He says he's leaving the whores to Picasso, that he can't divide me into my parts. I tell him I am that part of the machine that is the most still. I tell him I am the power switch.
Sherman's work has been featured here before (see below) and likewise in THE2NDHAND's broadsheets and in our best-of anthology ALL HANDS ON; we are happy to hear anew from her, though she still abides way way out there, way way west, dear reader. Visit her here.