Nina’s glasses were from Calvin Klein and every time she served wine (in Chicago), she broke one or someone did. Every time I was over (three or four get-togethers) it happened. Then in New York (they had left us), her fiancé left.
He left her because she was an alcoholic.
(And she took cocaine onto a plane.) From Amsterdam, at the end when they’d moved, and were living in NY. It was too much (for the fiancé). His father was like this, too. You can’t repeat it. You can’t keep having this. I think he said as much to her about why he had to go back to Chicago.
I saw her at her studio apartment in NY, and she was drinking and from a ruddier, thicker glass. It wasn’t going to break. It was fine. We had wine. She had brought out two of her bottles.
I didn’t know her well. I’d known her for a long time.
It was only a triviality (incidental, whatever) that I saw her at the start of a journey of my own away from my own alcoholic fiancé who had disturbed our prospects with his drinking. My own father had been a drinker, too, and I then had left Chicago, a situation, and then I saw her, almost by accident in New York. Whatever.
It was because of Facebook.
False conductor. Lame agglutinant. Weak strap.
I decided to see her still because I did know her still (because of the internet). I didn’t miss her, or remember her, but I did remember her get-togethers—in Chicago—and the Calvin Klein glasses blown out bowl-like and thin, to hold a lot of wine on a tightrope it felt of thin-design, and they broke. Of course they did. I think I must have even broken one of them. Anyone would have. They smashed like the victims they were blown to become. I don’t remember her—she was studying fashion. People at her get-togethers in their social infancy (our early twenties) joked very immediately and weakly about Jewish weddings, because a glass is breaking, ok. They called me over. They tried to marry me, the available Jew. Fine. They said I was cheap.
When I saw her in her apartment in NY we had aged about 8 years, and she was working for the designer Ralph Lauren, as a tailor. She tailored the clothing touch-and-go during photoshoots, for the advertisements. It was frail work—they could just dismiss her—but it paid very well and she lived in an expensive environment. A studio in actually Manhattan. Her face was too white, her fiancé had really just left. He had that month.
She opened the second bottle and started to work on it, another Pinot Noir from a very good place, and she was this serious person working on all of this like a series of red documents—head down. The second bottle is solemn. You can’t have three but only two. Two bottles are allowed at the home. Not three. That would be nuts, three. She drank with some solemnity, the second one too slippery, away from her into her. Her eyes looked at a pond getting engraved in the wall.
The stomach, a dynamic jug.
She told me she’d been falling apart. Her father had to come to visit, just to make sure at night her heart was beating. Her fiancé wouldn’t speak to her any longer—she had fucked other people. He told her, he had thought too much of his father, a troubled drinker. He saw him in her. He could not be with her, fuck her (his father), any longer. She reminded him of pain. Ok. And, too, it was too much cocaine for one person, in-flight he couldn’t believe like that, her excusing herself to the plane’s little bathroom, and her confident, her aggressive return. In her seat she told him, the plane going down, it was landing, that it was going down. He had had to hold her. She was sweet. The whole time she talked to me about these things, Nina was very sweet. And I remembered, she had been sweet.
She said, “I’m telling you I was a mess, and I started buying all this art. Just this month, I’ve become a collector.”
She pointed around to what she had. A sculpture of a person made out of fluorescent beams. It was hideous. The spine of it awfully—very stupidly—flickering. “Is it bothering you?” It was. She pulled its plug. She had a goldfish in the kitchen that was genetically manipulated so it read in Helvetica (this was a while ago that I saw her, the boom you remember around that font, the documentary about that font you might recall)—reading on its side, FEED THIS CUNT.
“What happens when it dies? Does it depreciate, what happens?”
“It dies and you mail it to Geneva, OH, and the artist there will embalm and bronze and send it back in a little fish coffin you’re supposed to keep open, in the kitchen still.”
“Still in your kitchen?”
“Yes. This artist—Felix Laviendra—makes many animals for different rooms and they all die and there are different coffins and things you have to do, but I don’t have anything else in his series.”
“Well this is a studio apartment, so what rooms do I really have?”
“You could get the living room or the bedroom animal, which does your studio most feel like to you? What are the choices for the living room and the bedroom?”
“A ferret and a dik-dik . . .”
“A dik-dik!” It is fashionable still, I think, to squeal over “dik-dik.”
She laughed, and drank. She laughed to drink with laughter.
(The dik-dik, I looked up on Laviendra’s website, came in tangerine or mauve-glo with its throat cut. But not dead, you let it bleed though. The art is what it leaves on your carpet. That’s another thing, the density of this awful Midwest artist, it’s enough already, the daftness of that region, it comes up—who has carpets? Everybody rents.)
Now that we were looking around at all her things—
“Oh my father brought that here. He said it’s a meter. He said this is how much alcohol I can have in one week. He said to pour everything in there, and then I’ll know what I’ve had and what I’m having.”
It was enormous—a very long and not un-wide Copier vase, expensive and known in and around Amsterdam for its Bauhaus lines, simple and direct (still impressive to make). Dated 1944. It was green a wilted emerald and stretched and glistening like glass will, a somber green nurse of glistening—its function shone. That is the Bauhaus solidity in things. But no flowers in it and I asked, “It looks empty unless it’s a trick of the light. Are you using it as your father has directed and if so, are you finished with your week’s allotment?”
“Yes, I have drunk all my allotment. But wine is fine. I think I have about two or three of those vases per week, of vodka, and a little soda. So the soda’s extra and this wine is that extra soda.
“I keep so much extra vodka around,” she explained. “After an emergency.”
She explained, “That fish is engineered to swim in vodka, that’s vodka in the bowl. And it only takes, like, Absolut. It’s so fortified a little creature, it won’t die except it’s been wound like a clock so you don’t have to kill it. I think she’s set to die this Tuesday, actually. But last month, I was out of my own vodka in the middle of the night, and it’s so dangerous outside, so I started to drink from her bowl, with a tea straw, but I left her half, but in the morning I was too ill to leave the apartment but I wanted more and I almost killed it—she can’t have water, it actually kills her.
“She was flopping and suckling on basically the puddle I could bear to leave for her, and I had to go into work—it’s so tenuous there—and I was only able to replenish her bowl in the late evening when I came home, after drinks, so tired and my fingers ruined by all the needles, you really have to get on your knees and work so quickly under the flickering lights at the warehouse where they do the shoots, they give me migraines, so I work through them, and you have to go for drinks, and basically—so when I saw her next she was just barely living, hardly trying only tremulously sucking at the puddle I left for her—her air. FEED THIS CUNT. Alright, I will. I did so. I poured in such the good stuff, really apologetic, Belvedere, Absolut, really good things, and I’ve never drunk from her bowl again. I know now to keep her bowl completely filled and I completely fill my freezer with so much vodka, much more than what fills that Copier vase, so when I finish the vase of vodka in, like, a couple of days or a day, I often fill it again a few more times. But tonight, I opted for wine with you. It’s so wonderful you are here. You’re so beautiful. You’ve become astonishing, Susan. I haven’t seen you in a long, long while.”
I marveled. Wow. Nina was such an alcoholic. Maybe she was then, I don’t remember. It was uncomfortable. I mean, look at what I had just left.
“Well. I’m glad you didn’t kill her!”
“Oh no. I think she’ll die on Tuesday. I have her mailer ready, it’s free. Free to ship. It was expensive, about what I make a month. Her coffin is going to be platinum, and she’ll wear a ruby crown. Birth of July.
“I’m doing well.”
It was all bleak. I marveled at the internet keeping us connected like this. I hadn’t known her at all, and now this. This extreme discomfort. I thought I’d cry. I swallowed. I looked around.
“This fern is my friend. It gives me so much oxygen.”
“To be very honest with you, Nina, this Copier vase is the nicest thing you have. I don’t care for this other art. The art you collect. To me, it’s very—concept-y. The vase is just—a beautiful object. It endures. With its clean lines. The green of the glass is a comfort, very elegant, like a legume brandy poured into the process. What’s the process? You heat sand? To make glass?”
“Brandy. You’re supposed to have a nip? What about a nop? I’d like to have much more than a nip. A nop.”
I started, without any kissing, to touch her pussy, under the large fern that hung down (giving her all this oxygen). It’s easy to find and touch a pussy in a room full of moss and what and then that thing, a thing, the mauve-glo kitten, is so easy and findable like a flickering light murmuring in mulch. Astonishing. And all that alcohol (so much) had taken all of the concrete out of the air that is always there, in it, and I could just touch her, my old friend, like that. Things happen. This happens all of the time. Friends who didn’t know each other much, not a ton, are frequently reconnecting later on the internet and finding out that they could just fuck. You just—you don’t remember, you want to use a person different. If they never meant this much. It’s prosaic, it works, to load old (not even good) friends like coal into the network of new sex, because why would you not? Are you so uptight? Are you not?
Though we did not fuck. I touched her crotch. She didn’t remove her pants, so it’s still a crotch, and then I didn’t remove them for her. I’m small. Too petite for people maneuvers, and I’m shy. I wasn’t sure what was wanted. It was nice. She looked pleased, like alcohol had given her yet another gift. And vicious—alcoholics are so vicious. They’ll drink your breath, and I knew it.
We talked still more. She said—sometimes with my hand still on her, sometimes retreated a bit, sometimes really nicely, lightly, on her thighs, high into them—”I know this art is really strange. I guess I’m trying to make an investment. The Copier vase, too, is also my favorite. Copier learned the art of glassmaking from his father and then he transformed glass design really. A clean, strong object. And I know its real significance. My father bringing it for me like that on the plane, when he had to visit because I’m like this, this immense glass vase, a historic thing, something we have had in our family, my Dutch family, in our family home, forever—from my mother, my—by God—dead Dutch mother. Something as a toddler I was told don’t hold though I wanted to take it down and cradle it, I yearned for its empty, its solemnness. I yearned, I think, to take care of you (she talked to it). He brought it to me, just this month when Pascha left me, at the lowest point in life. If you knew how untrustworthy I’ve been—Susan. He must have packed it so carefully, to take it on the plane, and then he just left it with me, easily, God, he loves me. The meter isn’t if I can drink its length and no more—my father is really waiting to see if I smash it to the floor at night like a skull. And I don’t do that. And my life has dignity yet.”
I was disgusted. Very very just incredibly bored. By any story about allegiance to a dad. Please. I touched and touched at, like Bacon, like painting, at her cunt, and it filled my hand-bones with unbelievable merriness. I hadn’t drunk a drop. A drip. I don’t.
She looked at me. She said, “Please stop.”
I thought of her recently in Amsterdam. At an auction house for such stuff. Wow, I mean. A shelf filled there with Copier glass, even his famous graniver pieces, where he overloaded the process with so much sand it looks like ceramics. I asked someone, “Is this one of a kind?” I had found exactly it, a green vase, long and Bauhaus, what would carry several liters of vodka. A very memorable green. I heard glassmakers protect the colors they invent with their private chemical ratios. This green the most placid of legumes, old worn beatific leather of legume, shocked through with a clarity, a suddenness, made glass through what, a process? Like turning leathergreen on, like a light.
“No. Of course it’s not a singular thing. Leerdam glass, at this time, did of course lots of business. They made lots of pieces. It is of course exceptional still . . .”
Of course. I smelled into it, to check. It did not smell of the colophony of old vodka. It didn’t smell like the vodka-colophony of time. Of Nina’s apartment that smelled good, the dressing forms in different corners wearing her own creations that were so impressive, a high-goth, evening gowns like synched lakes. It smelled long.
The auctioneer, a great beauty, and too young it seemed to be such a thing, was interested. “What are you doing?”
I told her, “I thought this might have been a friend’s, that it had wound up with you somehow, and she had once used it to keep her vodka for the week. So I wanted to know, ‘Does it smell like vodka?'”
“That’s an unconventional use for a vase, and an antique.”
“Well, she was an alcoholic.”
I made a date with the auctioneer later, for a late late dinner. I couldn’t believe she had the keys to such a house, the auction house.
“This is impressive,” I said to her. “They really trust you.”
She looked embarrassed.
I told her, “You know, I did not think that was my friend’s Copier vase earlier. I knew it wasn’t, but she did have one that was similar. It was still uncanny for me personally, to find it here. It deserved the gesture of smelling into it. Or, did I want to do something you would ask me about?”
“Oh but it really could be hers,” this delightful person persisted, not embarrassed at all. Too thin maybe depraved and having this pert old fashion sense, loafers, these things. It was delightful. “We have sellers from all over. It is a great auction.”
I wanted to whip her, for being so aligned with the auction house, speaking to me as if from its catalogue, calling it great like that. Of course it’s great. I wished to whip her professional enthusiasm into derisive lust. I said to her, “I think I can tell you’ve been beaten.”
I said to her, “The last time I saw my friend, Nina, the alcoholic, I left her apartment while she was passed out. Maybe she was dead. I filled her Copier vase, the one you have, with sink water, and left a little note.
“And I had heard, it had killed her.”
I really liked this woman. When someone came around in this touristy place, a restaurant close to the auction house, I didn’t hesitate. I bought her a bunch of tulips.
I said, “You know, we should open these back at the auction house, why not?”
“Your friend is not really dead, is she?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been online in 11 years.”
“How old can you be?” she wanted to know. She was holding the vase, my fingers in her but what I really wanted was digital access to her annulus.
“But how can you not know? You would have heard.”
“I didn’t know her well. It’s entirely possibly she is dead and that I don’t know.”
Leontine—her name—held the vase up and looked at it. We’d thrown the tulips down. I tried to use something from the auction to fuck her, but she was so honest and interested in the integrity of its objects or in her position as one of their protectors so I fucked her with only my own organic gliders, my fingers in different groupules, though everything is a dildo if you look at it at length. She said she didn’t like dildos.
She said, “Why wouldn’t I just want you, your fingers?”
“But look at all of this stuff,” I marveled. It was a great, great house.
“It doesn’t interest me,” she admitted. She told me about her photography projects (lizards she’d provoked in corners and shot) for a long time.
She said, “I can look up who submitted this vase to the auction.”
I thought we’d have to go to a computer but she pulled out her phone and there it just was, Nina’s father’s name. The surname I could actually remember. He’d submitted it, some other things, and some of the art of Felix Laviendra, too. That sealed it. And he was living here, at least, in Holland. In Hilversum. She showed me his name. Confirmed. A confirmed coincidence.
“I can’t believe it,” I said. “She never broke it. Here it is.”
Good for her, I thought. And wow, Nina’s dead.
I fucked this person with some violence, a domination I was interested in after years of playing the submissive role with the dead ends of men, and I ordered her, when I really had her in my powers, her heart clutched to me its annulus extruding, to break the vase. “Smash it,” I said, in a devil’s tone, detaining her pleasure until she would just do this. She threw it on the floor for me, with so much beautiful passion I easily made her come, or she easily enforced such a pleasure unto herself, to just smash the thing, to kill the thing for brandishing with too dull a thud a coincidence, and in being told what to do . . . anything . . . it doesn’t really matter, but the vase, where she smashed it down with strength, tilted in its legume Bauhaus long bloombag into a roll, and it rolled along the old floors of this established, esteemed, and ancient house until it stopped at a thick dark rug—expensive. Difficult to—impressive not to protect, to break. Copier was very good.
♦ ♦ ♦
This story was commissioned for ‘THE ZWAAN,’ a collection of fiction told by historical objects during their encounter at an Amsterdam auction house.
Objects as mute witnesses retain the history they have experienced like a vessel. Through the sensibilities of different writers/artists the objects can voice their material memory and thus engage in a dialogue across the limits of time and locus. New reflexive story lines are established that reflect rather the contemporary intersections and fractions of collective memory than a coherent version of truth.
A catalogue combining the texts and with photographs will be released March 2017 and distributed through Motto Books.
Concept by Carina Erdmann