December 19, 2013
Curtis woke up to the sound of hammering coming from the kitchen. It wasn’t loud, not like a hammer hitting a nail. It was more of the persistent and highly annoying tap tap tap of careful carpentry. Curtis took a quick inventory of his body; the tap tap tapping wasn’t helping the pounding headache that was reverberating through his cranium, and there was a taste in his mouth that reminded him of licking ninevolt batteries when he was a kid. He blinked and the sound of his eyes flapping caused a stabbing pain in his head to ping from front to back and awaken an unpleasant sensation in his stomach. Curtis couldn’t tell if he needed to vomit or take a dump or both, so he just lay there, hoping the sensations would subside. He shifted in bed and felt a sharp twinge in his right ankle, like it had been dislocated or just wasn’t hooked on to his leg properly.
Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap.
Curtis inhaled and, using every single ounce of strength he could muster, pulled himself to a sitting position. The sensation of being upright caused him to gasp and choke back a rush of hot bile rising in his throat. It was acrid and sudden and tasted distinctly of olives. He waited for his guts to settle.
Curtis put on his glasses and looked at his foot. It was slightly swollen, nothing too serious, and there was a ring of soft purple bruises caressing the bones around his ankle.
Testing his ability to put weight on his foot, he stood tentatively, and noticed the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times with Sepp Gregory’s moronic face staring back at him. It was the author photo that went with the review. It was above the fucking fold. The photograph itself was beautiful, unmistakably Marion Ettlinger’s work, and it sent a toxic spasm through Curtis’s body. Why would the most famous literary portrait photographer in America take a picture of Sepp Gregory? Wasn’t that some kind of betrayal?
Curtis read the first line of the review and realized he’d read it last night. Other bits and pieces of the previous night began to fall into place. The martinis. The rave reviews flood ing in from every corner of the country. The celebratory champagne. The unmistakable feeling that he was doomed.
A bleary memory emerged from his ginshriveled hippocampus, a warning buzz that he’d done something incredibly stupid. He’d made a pass at his agent. He was sure of it. A drunken lunge of parted lips and slobbery tongue. She’d parried it skillfully enough; he remembered the powdery taste of the makeup on her cheek. But had he really copped a feel as they’d hugged good night? Yes, he realized. Yes, he had.
Curtis hobbled into the kitchen, where his roommate, Pete, was bent over, focused on hammering small nails into the sole of a shoe he held clamped between his knees. Pete had been working as an apprentice cordwainer, learning the art of making bespoke shoes for discerning Brooklyn hipsters. Curtis thought it was an unusual thing for someone with a degree in philosophy from Princeton to do. Who wants to make shoes?
Wasn’t that the kind of thing that the first immigrants to Brooklyn did so that their children could go to good schools and study philosophy? Why the reverse evolution? But Pete was into all kinds of goofy stuff like that. He enjoyed reading steampunk fiction and wore suspenders to hold up his wool pants. He almost always wore a tie and jacket when he went out and Curtis didn’t even want to think about all the hats. Pete had wanted to become a milliner before he heard the siren song of cordwainery and the tiny apartment they shared was cluttered with hats and molds and forms and all kinds of arcane tools. Curtis had thought about basing a character in a story on someone like Pete, but then he’d be living with Pete in his imagination and it was hard enough to live with him in the apartment.
Curtis put a plastic capsule into the automatic coffee maker and pushed the button to start it. He took a bag of frozen Indonesian stirfry out of the freezer and a bottle of coconut water out of the fridge and sat down at the table across from Pete. The smell of leather and lanolin caused Curtis’s stomach to growl.
“Do you have to do that in the kitchen?”
Pete looked at Curtis. He put down his hammer and twirled the ends of his handlebar mustache into tight little points. “Late night?”
“Something like that.”
Curtis chased a couple of Advil with the coconut water and then gingerly elevated his foot onto a chair and placed the frozen vegetables on top of his ankle.
Pete nodded. “What’s with all the coconut water in the fridge?”
Curtis considered the coconut water. It didn’t taste that great, but was supposed to contain all kinds of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
“I thought I’d try it.”
The coffee sputtered in the machine. Curtis didn’t make a move to get up. Pete noticed the frozen vegetables on his ankle.
“What happened to your foot?”
“I jammed it on something. Took a martini step.”
Pete twirled his mustache ends again. “You need better shoes.”
MARK HASKELL SMITH is the author of five novels: Moist, Delicious, Salty, Baked, and Raw: A Love Story (all published by Grove/Atlantic) and the non-fiction book Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers and the Race to the Cannabis Cup (Broadway Books). His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Vulture. He lives in Los Angeles.
Adapted from RAW: A Love Story, by Mark Haskell Smith, Copyright © 2013 by Mark Haskell Smith. With the permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic.