stuart ross — my natasha

I was out to dinner with Natasha and Times New Roman. I thought Roman said he needed to blow his brains out. But he actually said, I need my brands to stand out. So I finally took Natasha’s advice and went to the slow-loading portal, picked an audiologist attractive in thumbnail only. I told this doctor what I’d heard, and that I probably had sensorineural fatigue. My audiologist said, that sounds serious. Turns out it wasn’t sensorineural fatigue, it’s just that in Manhattan, intimate restaurants are loud. At Christmas this woman mailed me a calendar in the shape of an ear. I marked next year’s dinners in the flaps and folds. And maybe I go to dinner with all the wrong people. But that’s not something my audiologist can help me with.
I fell in love with Natasha when I saw her elbow turn a page at the prose poetry reading. I’m not funny, so I use Comic Sans. Natasha spends her nights in Calibri. Her theory that in Manhattan there’s no theory. We pay these rents to never hear a man biting off more females than he can chew. But we can’t go out to dinner anymore, so what’s the point of not having kids. The restaurants are no longer accepting new patients.

Natasha was stuck with Roman, a notoriously private man. She agreed to meet me at our cemetery, with his poodle, Fendi, who wore a designer mask. We eggshelled down the path with the rest of the barely living. One tomb had the family name Even, as if to tempt the idea that death is odd. This Sontag not that Sontag, that Jung not the Jung, but I saw, surmounted on the oaken tomb of that Orestes, son of the Clytemnestra, a fat finger pointing skyward in this pointless system of blame called human pointing. I pointed to a man sleeping on a Kennedy and asked Natasha, can the poor, too, be notoriously private? We can’t do this anymore, she said. We’re going crazy.

I have an idea to bring you back to sanity, I said later in text. Now more than ever to live for words one must fear not the insanity, but attempts to get rid of it. We drove through the empty rush hour to the last cabin in the Catskills. When we arrived I faked a fire in the abandoned garden. That night was the first time I saw Natasha brush her teeth, in the half sink below the leaking shower. I cleared the dishes and she lowered the music. I want you to write, I said. I used to glaze over your work, thought your books were teaching me how to skip them, but then my feelings changed, which is how I knew I had them in the first place, and your soul reportage left me ashamed for my own standard of living. 

She said I could clean out her inbox, if I needed something to do. I learned self-portraiture in America had been moved to October, and more than half of diseases go unfinished. The cabin’s connection spotted out, and like a tinnitus leopard, crouching in the corner, or the oxy-eyed owls juicing the doorframe, an exotic world returned. I drafted an email to Fendi and Roman that said O leopard, O owl, grant me this time to study my loneliness with Comic Sans. Achievers have feelings, too, and overscheduling scuttles my soul. I miss going to restaurants with Comic Sans. If Emmaus were open, it wouldn’t even have a wait. 

Back in the city Natasha returned to Times New Roman. Fendi died of a Covid only poodles can get. It was okay, deeply on brains for us, because our thing had never been a back in the city thing. I watched her judge my goodness as a problem. I watched speed enter her face. The thing about me, I’m very vascular. The thing about Natasha, that’s where my blood is. One day I’ll hear this even deeper down. Memoir is the aching place of those who hear everything.

STUART M. ROSS is the author of the novel Jenny in Corona (Tortoise Books, 2019) — follow his work @myskypager.