Jude persuaded Ted to take a detour from his customary walk to the Q to accompany him to the wine store. Jude knew Ted’s routine when he wasn’t on the road or doing a local show: grab the Q home to his Fort Greene condo, work out at its world-class gym, hit up speakeasies with aimless college friends who rarely left Brooklyn. There had to be other things Ted did outside of Hap, but Jude didn’t want to know about them.
“I saw Frank last week,” Ted said while weaving to avoid oncoming pedestrians. “I told him you were having doubts about the Hap franchise.”
Jude was amused. “Oh, yeah? What did he say?”
“That everyone at Hap is searching for the absolute—and that this makes us special.”
Jude laughed. “Did he change into his sneakers while doing so? Because it sounds like he’s turning into Mr. Rogers.”
Ted sighed. “I loved Mr. Rogers even though I hated that show.”
“I love how you told Frank I had doubts—kind of biblical.”
“I have doubts that aren’t anywhere biblical,” said Ted. “Like, I’m not a hundred percent on Daria. Not even fifty.”
“Mariette decided for us.”
“I could feel you dying when she said ‘We call ourselves The Family with capital letters.’ ”
“Mariette doesn’t even like the girl.”
“I mean, how smart is she anyway? Her degree’s from BC, but she only went there a year. And it’s BC for God’s sake. How could anyone go through five schools just to get a bachelor’s? She could be a loose cannon.”
Jude laughed again. “Ted . . . some of the things you say.”
“Like what things I say?”
“Men want loose cannons.”
“Men? You mean like men who wear skin bracer?”
Jude shook his head. “You only get to be a guy for so long, dude.”
“As long as I have sperm,” Ted said from across the distance of two Hassidic men hauling vintage Samsonite luggage, “I can be a guy until I’m eighty.”
This caused Jude some consternation. “Do you want to still be doing what you’re doing now when you’re eighty?”
“No one wants to be doing that they’re doing now when they’re eighty.”
“And there you have it. It’s the wind-down for Hap.”
Ted’s expression rebelled against this fait accompli. “I’ve been giving it a lot of thought myself—your doubts, I mean—and I think it’s your way of mourning Ethylynn.”
“My way of mourning Ethylynn is feeling sad,” said Jude. “Believe it or not, I do. I miss her a lot. But it’s April and she died in November. Life goes on. We’re Hap for fuck’s sake.”
Ted’s smile indicated he was glad to hear this tone and willing to rest the topic.
Jude couldn’t do that, however. “But haven’t you noticed how her death has affected Hap? It’s like he’s guilty or something. Like somehow her working at Hap caused her to get killed. It’s irrational.”
“I feel bad for him. He’s hurting.”
“Oh, come off it.”
“You’ve been with Hap four years. Can’t you see it? He really feels like we’re his non-capital-letter, non-ironic family.”
“I don’t feel like anyone’s non-ironic family.”
“Me either, but I act nice to people who really do care. Ethylynn cared.”
After silence, Jude declared, “This is so not us.”
“But do you think saying that something is so not us is just a shield from reality?”
“What reality? I feel like you’re having an argument with yourself and you’re throwing me in the middle.”
At the wine store, Jude cajoled Ted and his sperm inside. At the counter, before encountering any salable merchandise, Jude made the introductions. “Ted, this is Michele with one L, and this is Nicole, also with one L. Together, they are Cat Power with no L.”
Michele smiled. “L stands for lucky.” She was in the throes of lining up wrapped sticks of Trident gum on the counter.
Nicole started talking about how she had to explain to some customer not ten minutes before the significance of Seiko watches and the Bond movies. She couldn’t believe she’d have to do that at this kind of store in Manhattan. Because of this situation, she decreed that people were stupid.
Both were the kind of girls for whom you’d just cut to “hot.” If they were pretty, if their teeth were white, if they had plush and heaving implants, if the ink was interesting or the silky hair down to there—none of that mattered because it was subsumed into the much larger category of HOT. They obviously liked being hot and flirted mercilessly with Jude, texting him twice when he was obscured within an aisle.
Outside the store Ted asked, “Did you pay them to give me their numbers like that?”
Jude laughed. “Of course.”
“You’re such a prick.”
“So why not either or both of those girls?”
“How much did you pay either or both of them?”
“They’re actresses—bad actresses. But Nicole is phenomenal at acupressure.”
“Enough to get them in to see Jessica Chastain in whatever Jessica Chastain vehicle is coming to Broadway.”
Ted only grunted at this. “I know nothing about Broadway.”
“Did you see Michele lining up her gum like that? She’s OCD like you.”
Jude laughed. “I told Hap I was paying them.”
“What’d he say?”
“Not to do it.”
“I rest my case.”
Jude laughed again. “When I told him I call them Cat Power he said it sounded like Motion from Dance Fever. I have to say that was pretty good.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Ted, you need to live beyond your years.”
“It’s exhausting just doing what I’m doing. I can’t swing living beyond my years.”
“You have the capacity.”
“Just because I have the capacity doesn’t mean it’s a valid quest.”
“I like that you’re using the word quest.”
“Oh, fuck off being Grammar Nazi. You’re an old lady, Jude. Why don’t you be the one to take Motion home? I don’t see you getting any action except hooking up with Mariette when you’re both desperate.”
“Desperate? Where the hell did that come from?”
“Mariette doesn’t even look for anyone.”
“Yeah, but there are lots of guys who find her.”
“Men, Jude. Skin bracer men. They’re all these forty-eight-year-old shit if I know what they do.”
“Why don’t you just tell us if you’re gay?”
“Jude, this is the way I am. You don’t define people by ticking off a Facebook menu.”
“Just answer the question.”
“You’re a homophobe.”
“That means you’re gay.”
“That means you’re small-minded.”
Jude was highly annoyed that his Samaritan ploy even required defending. “I just want you to get some good sex before you die. I’m just sharing the wealth.”
“I knew it,” snapped Ted. “You’re a Communist.”
“You know what Mariette says when she’s having her period? ‘I’m falling to the Communists.’ God, I love that girl.”
“Good thing you’re fucking her to show it.”
“Ted, man, I’m just trying to help with the creature comforts.”
“By paying the creatures?”
“That’s one way in life you can get satisfaction. Probably the only way.”
“Can’t anyone have a private life anymore? That’s one thing I’d be satisfied with.”
Ted’s pocket made a noisy appeal to which he was happy to respond. “Oh, Christ, it’s him again.”
“My grateful Columbia student. Every day another fucking text.”
“That means you’re doing your job.”
“No, it doesn’t. It means this kid doesn’t have any friends.”
Jude felt he was bearing the weight of that major part of the world without any friends. “Welcome to twenty twelve, Buddy Love.”
When the two parted ways, Jude and his two bottles of pinot noir separated by a strip of cardboard took to feeling sorry for Jude rather than Ted. The only girl Jude ever fell in love with was in third grade, at a public school he attended for not even a year. Her name was Cassie and she was ordinary. He remembered that she called the shark itself “Jaws”—“And then Jaws jumps out of the water!” He met her again when they were in college, at a local bar during the Head of the Charles. She went to Holy Cross and didn’t wear makeup but tried to look sexy in her plain Old Navy clothes that were tight and revealing because she was heavy. She was drunk and nostalgic for any period of her life. “I want to be a wild mustang!” Everything she said sounded like a Fleetwood Mac song.
His parents’ well-timed divorce put an end to the Cassie episode. He was packed off at the will of his father to an absurdly expensive experimental boarding school where he felt he got a shoddy education. Then it was another superlative school where a course called “Films of the Nouvelle Vague” in Grade 7 changed his life. Also at the will of his father, he continued with the viocella as if he were a virtuoso. Elton had in mind a Benjamin Britten concerto performed flawlessly and kept after his son with quotes from Nietzsche (“Life without music is a mistake”). Eventually Jude came back with his own quotes (“Silence, exile, and cunning”) and abandoned the instrument and the cause in favor of Cartier-Bresson’s artless art that Elton Elsevier didn’t give a flying fuck about.
The knowledge that he had come from the union of complete opposites—like the mating of a horse and a donkey—did Jude no good in life. His parents met at Skidmore; his father was a music professor, his mother an art student. It wasn’t like she didn’t know things. She was a painter, or tried to be. It was no secret during their eleven years of marriage that Elton had contempt for his wife—this sudden, explosive realization that she was ordinary, a figurative painter happy with figurative painting. He’d made a very obvious mistake; he grossly misjudged the caliber of his life. He seemed embarrassed of this fact even in front of his son.
After the divorce, Jude’s mother moved back to Virginia to live with her mother and attempt a career in dog portraiture. When this went nowhere, she left her art but followed her subjects. “Your mother has gone to the dogs!” Elton enjoyed blaring into a phone. Her life did turn out to be dogs, and at the time of her death she was performing Reiki on arthritic ones at a grooming salon.
Jude thought back to when he was Ted’s age, twenty-five. His mother and Wes hadn’t married but were happy together. Wes turned out to be a great guy. They were driving back from a weekend in Vermont when it happened, the head-on collision. Jude’s father didn’t come to the funeral. Amos Plotnikoff did, but without Anik. He told Jude that she’d left him, had left the country.
“Where?” asked Jude.
“She said Prague, but I’m not sure. Maybe she’s still in the States. It’s because of my religion, my spirituality. She’s got no time for that. A complete hedonist.”
In the weeks that followed, as executors on both sides disentangled which possessions could not be considered joint, Jude rode each of Wes’s four remaining motorcycles all over New England. There was one, the Ducati Monster, that he bonded with. Wes’s family ultimately gave him the bike because it needed so much work. For another six months he drove it through Lexington Center, looking for Anik. And then one day she was there, at the ATM.
“Where did you go?” he shouted from the street, inside a helmet, as if what he’d done all this time was simply ride around the block twice.
“I’m sorry about your mother, Jude.”
“Where?” he demanded.
“I’m living in Prague.”
The bike panted loudly and anxiously when Jude kicked. “With who?”
“With one million people.”
“How many of them in your pants?”
She hesitated and walked closer to the bike. “He has a place in the Holesovice. He’s a Berliner but felt it too suffocating with too many artists.” She hesitated again. “I really do love him.” After a moment she added, “Wanna fuck?”
If the only girl Jude ever loved was Cassie with her wild mustangs, it was only because Anik was already a woman when he was born. When she settled in Prague she told him she was traveling to San Francisco a lot. “A friend is giving me use of his place.” She always seemed to have a friend who was a him and in possession of a place.
Jude and the Monster went to San Francisco on a train, and for two years he had occasional opportunities to stalk her with his Leica. Then she told him that the place she’d occasionally have access to was in New York, so Jude and the Ducati came back east. The bike by then was an albatross, but he couldn’t give it up until he totaled its sorry ass.
The last time he talked to her—at the Shake Shack, a week before this disappointing turn with Ted at the wine store—Jude found that Anik had changed her tune about love. “I’m tired and old,” she said. “I’m done with love affairs.”
“Do you have to be done with love when you get tired and old?” he asked.
She laughed at him. “I suppose that if you never start with love, you have a lot saved up to use later. Like a giant white reservoir—one that people jog around and cover with graffiti.”
He ate his fries without looking at her. “Do you mean me?”
“Why not love Mariette? She’s a pretty girl.”
He looked forlorn after finishing his last. “I loved the Ducati.”
She laughed. “And look what it did to you.”
This proposition struck him like lightning—in that it was so absolutely wrong. “What do you mean what it did to me? Look what I did to that bike.”
She looked away.
“You fucked me out of pity, Anik.”
She smiled. “If that were true, I would have done it only once.”
He felt hopeless trying to put a logical spin on his life. Hopeless trying to make drama out of nothing.
“There’s no one who can say who gets hurt more when something good goes bad,” he insisted. “No one.”