Airless Spaces by Shulamith Firestone
a selection from Airless Spaces by Shulamith Firestone
The Turkish Filmmaker
He stood out on the ward immediately. Wild, handsome, though with bad skin and the beginning of the paunch of middle age, this character did not belong in a ward full of adolescents and old ladies. One wondered how he would find his way out, and what brought him in in the first place.
I was attracted to him, I can tell you that. I surveyed my lost figure and my once gorgeous hair and knew I looked blah now. But still I thought if I could make myself useful he would be a friend to me. I found out he was a Turkish filmmaker who had tried to put himself out via carbon monoxide from the stove. He had grants at City College and some other places to do educational specials.
My chance to speak to him came. Once he was sentenced to an indeterminate stay in the ward I tried to come to his aid with helpful information. “The only way to get out fast is to have people on the outside rooting for you. Have someone call about you repeatedly and say you are needed for a film shoot and time lost is money lost.”
It appeared he had a girlfriend who was a partner who could do this admirably. ” Thank you. Now what do I do while I’m in here to kill time?”
I shared my big secret: “You pace.”
“You mean you walk around? There’s nowhere to walk.”
“That’s why you have to do it systematically. You cover the corridors back and forth even when they’re busy. You might even try counting. Or doing it with a companion.”
He considered this as if I were loco, but in the next few days, as I knew it would, his boredom became so painful that he would try anything. Unfortunately for me, it was not me he chose as his pacing partner, but rather a beautiful Chinese girl whom I particularly disliked. She was a goody-good who did not seem to have any mental problem at all, just homelessness. Together they walked the halls, chatting it up, and they made it look almost normal except that they were always there. Meanwhile, my advice to keep up the outside pressure was also working and wheels were turning. I saw his girlfriend come to visit him: she was a tall, heavy, striking actress in a cape. As for patient “activities,” which everyone had to prove himself in before any kind of discharge, I was surprised to see him flattering the young therapists and getting around them that way. Just counting the days till his discharge.
I tried once more before he left. I had left my checkbook in my apartment which was near where he lived. They wouldn’t let me leave the ward under any circumstances since I was “involuntary” and would probably never come back. I didn’t have a friend I was speaking to and I had no way to pay my rent.
One morning at six o’clock I was tormented with the idea that I should go to him and ask him to go to my apartment. The urgency of it told me that it was more than my rent worry involved, that I was afraid I would never see him again.
I snuck into his room and stood there for some time watching his sleeping back. He looked large and heavy, a husband figure. I could just imagine waking up to that sleeping bulk day after day.
Well, the upshot was I didn’t have the nerve to ask him for this favor. I did see him again, once on the street in passing, when he barely said hello; and once at a Westbeth opening, where he was with a striking girl, the same or another one, and he didn’t say hello. But I distinctly saw him give his phone number to the Chinese girl with whom he has paced the halls according to my best advice.
After they raised her dose to 42 mg. of Trilifon Lucy felt very nearly fainted. She felt a rush of bad sensation comparable to her mental telepathy when her grandmother died (that lasted about three days) in which all the blood rushed to her head and when it rushed back again she felt old and ready to die.
But there was a good aspect to fainting too. As she was about to lose consciousness she felt an overwhelming relief. The black velvety edges of the swoon. If only she could faint all the way, blackout, and never wake up again.
Airless Spaces by Shulamith Firestone is available from Semiotext(e).