Matthew Licht

Big Black Widow

Here she comes, stomping down Fifth Avenue, a sexual nightmare on two legs: Big Mary, the terror of all those smaller than she. In other words, everyone.

So many years since she last tore herself out of the shadows.

She was still horribly beautiful, and dressed in black.

Her black hat was hung with a black veil. Long black gloves showed off her biceps and the whiteness of her skin. At fifty paces, she had me on the verge of premature ejaculation.

She didn’t see me, or couldn’t see me. Lesser creatures, the ants all around her, don’t really exist. We’re just packets of energy with little or no mass, aimlessly adrift in nature, while she spans and dominates the world. I could’ve turned around, or ducked into a building, or grabbed a cab. She closed in, staring off into space. Her eyes blazed red, as though she’d been weeping.

“Hey Mary.” We’d been off our playground across the Hudson River for decades, so I didn’t say, Hey Big Mary. That nickname might still be a torment.

She looked around. She seemed lost. ‘Maybe she doesn’t live in the city,’ I thought. ‘She’s just here for the day because someone she loved, or admired, has died.’ It was still difficult to imagine that Big Mary could have friends. What a huge, lonely life she must’ve led.

“Oh. Hey. It’s you.” Her lips moved slowly, like the wings of some magnificent demon.

“Wow, you look exactly the same,” I said. “I mean, you look great. How are you?” Man how stupid can you be? You see a woman dressed in mourning, and ask her how she’s doing.

“Oh, great, except that I’m a widow now.”

“Oh no. I’m sorry. How long were you married?” I mean, who the hell was the lucky guy? A professional wrestler? A monster from Hollywood? And how did you kill him?

“Not even twenty years,” she said.

“Well hey, that’s more than most couples get.” The more I spoke, the more I felt I hadn’t grown or made any progress since the woman I’d just bumped into arrested my development in the Fifth Grade. But that was already more education than most people got.

“Yeah I guess,” Big Mary said. “Hadn’t thought of it that way, yet.”

A moment was about to slip by. Had to grab it, get it back, make it stay, but moments are much more powerful than they seem. When they want to go, they go. “So, uh, you live around here?” The Upper East Side, where everyone who doesn’t live there wants to, was her natural habitat.

“Yeah. It’s weird, our apartment’s in the same building as the funeral parlor. I mean, how convenient. You die, all you gotta do is head downstairs. Don’t even have to put a sweater on.”

It was early spring, a bright day with a cutting chill wind. Big Mary hugged her arms. “Jeezus maybe I should’ve put a sweater on. I got a whole goddamn closet full of cashmere and camel hair.”

Herds of alpacas and vicuñas had been rendered into cloud-like garments to warm Big Mary’s broad alabaster shoulders.

She looked at me, then. We were more or less eye-to-eye.

Memory plays tricks with perspective and creates monsters. Black clothes accentuate height. Big Mary used to wear drab monochrome outfits to school. They were custom-made by her Mom, since store-bought clothes were expensive, and none of the shops in town had anything that’d fit her colossal daughter anyway. Mary’s family was poor.

She let me drape my coat on her shoulders. “Jeezus Mary you used to scare the hell out of me. I used to have nightmares where you’d clomp down the street and knock down buildings and uproot trees. No matter where I hid, you’d find and eat me.”

“Oh yeah?” She looked as though she’d forgotten her husband’s funeral for a moment. “Maybe fate has brought us together today so I could say I’m sorry.”

So she remembered the time she and her ogress cronies dragged me into the little house-schwitz on the playground. They tied me up with a jump-rope and threw me to the floor. Big Mary loomed far overhead, straddled, dropped to her knees. Torture was a kiss, something grade school boys were supposed to dread. But she also whispered that she was going to suck the eyeballs out of my head.

 That was one long, dark recess.

“Tell me about you,” Big Mary said. “You live in the city? Whuddya do?”

“Oh I write stories. For kids, mostly. Not little kids, though. Big kids, I guess.”

“Yeah? You make a living at it?”

“Not really. Not anymore. You got kids?”

“Zero. You?”

“None for me too. I split up with my girlfriend a while back. We had twelve years together. That was all we got. Too bad, because I think we both wanted more.”

“Well that’s pretty funny, isn’t it, us bumping into each other like this after so long and we’re both sorta available. I mean, you are loose, aren’t you?”

“Let’s go for a walk in the park, Mary. There’s a place I like.”

“You haven’t turned into some kinda ax-murderer, have you?”

“Oh, you never know.”

“Okay, let’s go. I don’t mind.”

She didn’t say, ‘I ain’t afraid of you or anyone like you.’ She’d grown polite.

The place I liked was near the carousel. The roundabout was curtained off and closed, due to the wind and cold. A playground for ghosts, the spirits of children who grew up and weren’t children anymore, though of course deep down inside they still were and would always be. The clearing was isolated, and quiet.

Big Mary pulled a face. “You like this place? That’s so weird, cuz it always gives me the creeps. I always jog around it so I don’t have to look.”

“You’re in great shape. You look like a…” I was about to say, ‘glamorous bodyguard’. “…A dancer, some kinda full-contact ballerina.”

“I just try to keep from falling all the way apart is all.” That New Jersey accent won’t go away, ever.

The carousel dissolved in the raking light. The city beyond the trees had dematerialized. I led Big Mary into a stand of ironwoods that grew from the mouth of a red brickwork tunnel. She said, “Look, I already apologized for what I did. I wasn’t really gonna hurt you anyway. I only wanted to smooch-rape you cuz I thought you were cute. Honest.”

“This is known as psycho-drama, Mary. It’s supposed to help people get over past traumas.”

“Okay, go ahead and kill me if you want. Do it quick, though. I’m not into pain.”

“You got the wrong idea. We bring the past back to life in order to make it go away.” I was lying. I lay down on the dirt, face up. The carousel’s organ began to play. The wind wheezed a ghostly music through its pipes.

“What the hell are you doing?” The wind blew Big Mary’s veil off her face. The lines showed. The years pounced into the moment like hyenas.

“This is the only playground we got left, Mary. Do it. But go all the way this time. Please.”

“You don’t mean it,” she said, but she knew I did. She moved, towered over the visible world, the way she had back at school. Her black skirt was a shroud, her black lace panties a chic touch of death. She went down slow, put pressure where the air went in, and where the blood raced to the brain. She knew what to do, where to go, knew how to meet a millionaire husband and how to snuff him when the time was right. Oh you big gorgeous cunning killer.

Everything was so sweet and black and final. But then she stopped, stood up and let the light have its way again. Sometimes I hate light.

“Why not, Mary?” I gasped. “Back then you said forever and ever.”

“We were in Fifth Grade, for chrissakes.”

“Life used to be so scary and serious, then it got light and sorta fun for a while, and now it’s all so dumb and meaningless.”

“Nothing changes,” she said. “The only thing that’s different is that when you’re all grown up it’s okay to be the biggest thing around.” She straightened her stockings, her skirt, set her veil back where it belonged.

“What’re you doing this evening?” I brushed myself off, shook the dead leaves and grass out of my hair. “Do you have to go to some gargantuan funeral banquet, or can I take you out on a date?”

“That’s what I wanted you to ask me out there on the playground,” she said.

We went to the Stork Club for drinks, had dinner at Delmonico’s, danced at Studio 54 and wound up as close to the stars as possible, at Windows on the World. The harbor and New Jersey sparkled like crazy below. We watched a storm come in off the Atlantic to erase the night and shake the skyscrapers to their foundations.

The next morning we went to the old Penn Station, that Roman Temple dedicated to Cronos, and caught a train to Jersey City to visit our old school. But the old red building had been torn down. An octoplex cinema was there instead, and its parking lot had engulfed the playground.

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