Venus Drive

Stories

Sam Lipsyte

Picador

OLD SOUL

You could touch for a couple of bucks. The window of the booth went up and you stuck out the bills. They might tell you not to pinch, but I was a stroke type anyway. Some guys, I guess they want to leave a mark. Me, I just like the feel.

I went over there on the way to see my sister. There was a lit-up eye with an eyebrow over the door, a guy in front with a change belt, an apron that said Peep City. Peeptown was up the block. They didn’t have an eyebrow over the eye over there.

Why do they make these places so dark? I like to cop tit in the light. Guess I have no shame. Maybe I got through shame a long time ago. Somebody said I had an old soul, which I took to mean I’m older than I am, or that I’ve been places I haven’t been.

You could hardly see in there, in Peep City, and all that disco, that ammonia, it made me sick. I looked around for a girl with a good set, one who would maybe tell me I was sweet. Sometimes they asked about handjobs, blowjobs, all the jobs, but I never wanted to go that far. I felt sorry for them. Somebody told me they were exploited. Me, I always paid in full.

This time, just to break habit, I went for what one of them had down below, a few bucks more. She was a giant with plenty on the chest, but I put a fivespot out. She swiveled on the ledge, pushed an ass dusted with glitter out over the sill. I palmed her there, thumbed a pimple near the crack. What am I paying for this for? I thought, thumbing it.

The giant was talking to another girl pressed against her on the ledge. The other girl was a sway of hair that moved like a metronome. The sway took on the color of the strobes.

"What’s he doing down there?" said the other girl.

"Jeez, nothing," said the giant.

I dug a knuckle in.

"What the fuck," the giant said. The blind was buzzing shut.

"Prick," she said.

There was a bucket near the door with soapy water in it. I got down like you do for a shoelace, dipped my knuckle in the bucket. The man in the apron came up.

"I got ass germs on it," I said.

I figured it was Peeptown from now on.

There were still a few hours before my sister’s visiting hours were over, so I went to visit a friend.This was the guy who explained to me how the girls in Peep City were exploited. The ones in Peeptown, too. He worked the graveyard in the shipping room of a superstore. Another year, he told me, and they might let him come upstairs. He worked mornings in his apartment, stuffing envelopes, selling pot. A guy like that, you hope he has a secret calling, or maybe a guitar. But Gary just wanted to live. Or maybe he thought he wanted to be free. Some do.

When I got there Gary loaded up a pipe and passed it over. I told him all about Peep City, the pimple, the girl.

"You should stay away from that place," said Gary.

"I don’t have much choice now," I said.

"All those places, man. Your soul is sick."

"I thought you said I had an old soul," I said. "Now it’s sick."

"It’s an old sick fuck," said Gary. "Go see your sister. You’re going to be sorry you didn’t see her."

"I’ve got time," I said.

Time stops, goes, stops again. When you have an old soul like I do, everything gets old really quick. Nothing is new. An avocado, a glass of beer, it all tastes like it’s been sitting out on a table too long.

Gary fell unconscious from all his freedom. I found happy hour somewhere. I knew the bartender, a brush cut from the big one. He was German, the other side. All he had now were a few shelves of New Jersey vodka and a thing about the Jews. I let him rant. I figured with a soul as old as mine, maybe I fragged his brother at the Bulge.

"I’m an old soul," I told him.

"Oslo? Fuck it."

"Not Oslo," I said.

"No souls," he said. "Fuck it. Norway, too. Odin is a yid."

A girl in a tank top got up in my lap. She didn’t smell, but her shoulders, her hair, they had a dirt sleep shine.

"You look like that rock star," she said. "Do you get high?"

"I am high," I said.

"No, I mean high."

"Oh," I said. "Sometimes."

"You’re buying," she said.

We went someplace, her place, her boyfriend’s, her mother’s, who could tell? You can’t tell from a sofa. Or a couch. You can’t tell from a coffee table, or a cross on the wall. She took what we bought and locked herself in the bathroom. I was on old soul time. I lost track of bathroom time.

"Sandy?" I said. She’d know who I meant.

I was getting ready to break down the door. I was getting ready to be the guy who has to tell the whole story to the police, and maybe get punched by them for being the guy who was there on the sofa, the couch. The door opened and Sandy came out, clean and wilted in a towel. Her hair smelled of honey, or hibiscus, one of those. Her eyes were pinned and she handed me a bag, some works.

"There’s bleach in there," she said.

"No, thanks," I said. "I just want to take a leak."

I stood over the bowl but I couldn’t get flow. When I lie about having to take a piss, I can’t piss. I stared at the wallpaper, woodpeckers. On the beaks, or on the breasts of some of them, and on the leaves of trees, was a fine red spray. It was on the rim of the bowl, the tiles, too.

I went back to what I was sitting on and sat with her.

"I guess I should blow you," she said.

"I have to go," I said.

"Don’t leave."

"You can keep what we bought," I said.

"You’re nice."

"I’m sweet," I put my hand in her tank top, on whatever her habit hadn’t eaten off. "Aren’t I sweet?"

"You’re sweet," she said.

"I have an old soul," I told her.

"What do you mean?"

"I’m advanced," I said.

"I’m intermediate," she said. "I got a badge in camp."

I took a train uptown to where they were tending to my sister. There’s a whole block of enormous buildings for people who are running out of luck. My sister was in the Someone-Someone Pavilion. Ventilator, feeding tube, they had everything in her to keep her from going anywhere.

There was a guy in the room I knew from somewhere. High school. Homeroom. Guess he had a name with the same first letter as mine. I once caught him with his finger in my sister under the Ping-Pong table. When he saw me that time he pulled his finger out. Don’t be a schmuck, I told him, finish up. Now he had his hands on his knees, a book in his lap.

"Good thing you came," he said.

"How is she?" I asked.

Close to the bed, I saw what a dumb question it was. My sister used to be pretty for her type. She was still pretty, if you like girls who are skulls with a little skin on them, a few strands of cotton for hair. It was hard to believe she was going to live another minute. It had been months this way. I wanted to get in the bed, hold her, but I thought I might knock a tube out.

"Do you mind?" I said to Homeroom.

I locked the door and sat on the chair, the book. It was something about a process, a grief process. I guess the guy had been boning up.

"Hey, you," I said. My sister did a snort through her air mask, this noise like everything that had always been my sister was clotted and wet inside her and we might need a tool to scoop it out. I gathered up the covers, slipped my hand under her gown. I knuckled in down there. Her knees opened in her sleep. Her nipple went up. I pushed the tubes off, bit down.

"Hey, you," I said, into my teeth.

Sometimes when I tell this story to people, I say my sister opened her eyes for a moment and our souls touched, my old soul and her pretty much dead one. I hope they don’t believe it. My sister died a few hours later, but I was far away. I went to Peeptown. The place had really gone downhill. Then I found Gary and we went to the Jew-hater’s bar. Gary had a bump nose and took the German’s theories badly. Gary, I said, shut up and get a guitar. This place needed strummy music and maybe the hate would go away. I’d seen it happen, in other lives. Sandy was there, loaded, doing lap hustles for the dream of a bundle. Turned out Sandy was the bartender’s daughter. Deirdre was her true name. We were together for years and years, here and there. I’m sure she was a whore in the time of Bismarck.

Her soul is older than mine.

Excerpted from Venus Drive by Sam Lipsyte.
Copyright © 2000 by Sam Lipsyte.
Published in March 2010 by Picador.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.