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Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel - Excerpt

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Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel - Excerpt
A week before Quito I was sitting up in bed in New York, the edges of my awareness lapped at by traffic. I was sitting there with one hand holding open the book I was reading, and the other hand placed above the head of sleeping Vaneetha. There I was, pinned in space and time like a specimen in a box.

Vaneetha had turned away and slid down the bed so that nothing of her was visible except for the dark disheveled Vaneethian hair from which the lamplight was extracting all these twisting strings of a greenish iridescence. I wouldn’t have figured that even the darkest hair could react to light in this way, and the discovery blinked in my mind as just the smallest, quietest symbol of the multiple discoveries that could still be made between us if we–unless it was mostly me–weren’t so ambivalent about making them.

Once a week had become more like two times, and on our nights together I was usually awake like this for an hour or so while Vaneetha slept and breathed beside me. Sometimes she’d twitch like a dreaming dog, and in part due to my intense feeling for dogs, shared by my entire family, this would induce a shiver of tenderness in me. Yet exactly because I experienced this tenderness I wondered if I shouldn’t stop showing it when we were both awake. It could lead to us feeling, harmfully, that we were together. And as our relationship was predicated on not wanting to be in a relationship yet, that seemed unlike the best idea. We were both in agreement that contemporary courtship was far too accelerated these days. That was how Vaneetha explained why she’d had so few partners, and how I explained why I’d had seventeen or more. Nevertheless it eventually became up-in-the-air and unspoken whether we were sleeping together brother-sister style and mostly refraining from outright sex except when drunk because a) we weren’t courting each other or
b) we were, only slowly, just as these things should be done and never are.

In any case it often seemed at night that I would make a better dog owner than boyfriend. It wasn’t apparent to me how best to treat Vaneetha, each woman being so different. Whereas every dog, in spite of the really incredible variety of the species, required more or less the same regimen of food and water, walks and affectionate pats on the head. However in the city it actually exacted a lot less responsibility to have a girlfriend than a dog. And I really wanted one or the other, since like any person, or dog, I too craved affection. Hmn.

It was almost a type of peace to arrive each night at the same mental impasse. Plus I felt at home in the quiet, like a local. I was sensitive and weirdly sympathetic to that moment when the refrigerator kicked in and began to hum. Then the groans of a garbage truck would as much confirm as interrupt the hush. And there was the bonus sensation of authority I got as the last one up, the presiding mind.

So I would return to certain issues like hands to a notch on the clock. It would always dawn on me, late at night, that life is made of days–and your life isn’t likely to pick up whatever your days pass by. Granted, this was really a postmortem analysis of the given day, carried out when it was already yesterday or tomorrow, depending on point of view. If it was one of the nights that Ford (roommate one) and his girlfriend Kat were spending downtown with us, they would have finished giving one another the business to the accompaniment of frightened bedsprings.

And if it was past two then Sanchez (roommate two) would have gotten up out of his humid sleep to shut off the TV he’d equipped with a hot cable box transmitting pirated pay-per-view sporting events, feature films, and porn in an endless jostling stream. And Dan (roommate three) might or might not be around, since more and more he moved very quietly through the world, subsisting on snacks and growing thin and spiritual and haunted-looking, and only occasionally briefing us between classes and lab at NYU med school on what he was learning there. Lately he’d expressed the opinion that general uremia must be the least painful way to go in the end, and had assured me and Sanch that there was little to no scientific evidence linking coffee, even my six cups daily, with cancer.

Sanch said, "Yeah man fucking Hugo Chávez drinks sixteen espressos a day. And that’s after his staff weaned him down from twenty-four."

"Amazing!" I was really impressed with this man. "Who is Hugo Chávez?"

"He’s, like, a revolutionary."

"Sounds like it," I said.

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