SINKING FUND, a collection of nine stories by Jamila Jones, opens the door into a world of self-aware souls who touch but for a moment before retracting into inevitable isolation. Set in downtown New York in the decade of the nineties, Sinking Fund depicts a sophisticated demi-monde of casual love and casual vice, a world whose denizens could be called cynical if only they weren't so lost. Yet the protagonist of these stories clings to the hope that her search, amid the despair, for some way, any way out of this cruel amber will in the end succeed. And in the end it is her sheer persistence in the face of futility, like Sisyphus, that becomes the only true faith.
Excerpts from SINKING FUND
All excerpts copyright©1998 by Jamila Jones
From Love Affair:
The things that give me headaches, namely my compulsive behaviors, are waiting to strike. Today's headache would have started yesterday morning if I had given myself time to think about things. The image of Daniel's face, his words from two nights ago, are weaving their way into my thoughts as I start on the first cup of coffee. Blessed coffee. Poor Daniel, otherwise known as my latest "victim."
"This wasn't supposed to happen." He whispered. He sighed. He flattered me with the hint of delight in his surprise. It was an unusual embrace. It felt suspiciously like something real, and I wondered somewhere in the back of my mind, "How much? How much do I want this? How much is this one going to cost me? How much can I hold back?" I felt him beneath me and his skin was like warm water melting me, pleasing me. I turned to wax and was molded to him. He didn't taste like anything at all. He was sweet like refined sugar is sweet, without any characteristic flavor. His sweetness was that of the sugar water left for hummingbirds at children's windows. Is that why I went there? Was I like a little hummingbird unable to find enough nectar; drawn to drink pure sugar for sustenance? I felt guilty for wanting him so much. It felt like my desire might explode in my face. It might be toxic in too high a dosage. I was willing to risk it.
It's Saturday morning and I wish I had more money. I live on the bottom floor of a duplex. It's the underground floor and I can't tell what time of day it is, but it's light enough for me to know it is day. I hear the phone ring, and I'm surprised because no one ever seems to call me when I'm at home.
"Is that Nicola."
"There's a party tonight. You should come."
"I'm kinda tired. I think I'm going to stay home and study."
"Aw, Nicola, come on. There's a band and everything."
"Where is it?"
"Soho, in a loft on Broadway."
"I'll call you later. I'll see how I feel."
"All right. See ya."
She knows I won't be there. I won't feel comfortable. I don't even know why I'm friends with Sarah. She's always sick or taking a bath unless there's a party. What fun. I turn on the light and pick up a nearby magazine but I've got to get out of here. I throw on some jeans and a bra under the tee shirt I'm wearing and grab a jacket and my cigarettes.
The air is just cold enough to make me uncomfortable, but not cold enough to make me cold. If I leave my hands out of my pocket for more than two minutes they'll be numb. But that's inevitable because I have to smoke. Actually it's grey enough to be morning, but I think it's closer to mid-afternoon. My vision is blurred and I can't see anything from a distance. I'm looking at the street signs and I can't read them unless I'm right underneath and somehow I know that it is not a permanent impairment. It is my mind just trying to keep me from looking out too far ahead of me.
SMOKING BY PREGNANT WOMEN MAY RESULT IN FETAL
INJURY, PREMATURE BIRTH, AND LOW BIRTH WEIGHT
Crack. The match sounds like music, and it starts to burn. The cigarette is fresh, pristine. When the two collide, for one moment, it is bliss - the sweet smell of tobacco, the first drag. I hold it for a long time. I can feel it traveling right through me. And, inevitably, I release the smoke. For me smoking is not definably an addiction, it is a belief, a way of life, it is eating, sleeping, and breathing all in one. Most of all it is comfort in a comfortless world, and it gives me something to do with my hands. Smoking curbs my drinking and my bingeing. The smoke is peace at $2.50 a pack.
This afternoon the booth was not lit. Her eyes were free of kohl. The last remnants of tiredness from her sleepless night hung on her as she lit a cigarette.
"Do you have a question you want to ask, or do you want me to tell you what I see?"
"What is your name?"
"My name is Tina."
"Well, is it all the same price?"
"It just depends on what you want."
"Which one is better? Just tell me what you see."
She began to shuffle the large cards. They were colorful and the pictures that flashed in and out of view made them seem powerful and strange. Her wide little hands and painted pink nails mastered the cards and moved them into a random order which would somehow come into line with my destiny. I was afraid. It seemed wrong to try to know what was coming into my life, but I needed a future. I needed symbolism and destiny. I knew no other way to get it. I waited. She smoked as she shuffled, ribbons of smoke drifting lazily above her head. A passerby from the neighborhood waved and she waved back.
"Cut the cards."
I cut them. They were slippery and the weight of them made my fingers clumsy. From the inside of the booth, it seemed to me that we were like little dolls in a box with a plastic window for people to look in on to see the color of our eyes. In our doll box there was a fake crystal ball. The walls were painted red. A small fan and space heater insured comfort. It was strangely comfortable here in the way that small dingy spaces can sometimes be. She laid out the cards one by one, deliberately considering each one through the smoke she blew.
I nearly fell down in the shower this morning. And then I realized that it's been a year since the death. A year today. I was really doing fine. The normal showering activities were going on. And all of a sudden I just sort of twisted in a way I never do twist, and I started to fall. I could feel my balance tipping like a see-saw until by chance I didn't fall. I would love to think that this had nothing to do with anything, but I'm worried. Even if the loss of balance was only due to an excess in ear wax, say, or anemia, I worry if only because I worry too much. It's because of the death.
Does anybody love anybody any more? And if someone that I loved is dead, and if I'm grieving, sleepless nights or tears won't really be anything but temporary therapies or balms. And sometimes I wonder if those are the things we need anyway. So I don't cry about it. I try to sleep at night.
After a while you get used to a certain sense of loss, just in your daily life. And then what? Then you get up and the hot shower water washes away last night's dream, and you move. You move through the day paved with people gliding on the possibilities of the present. And you play stories for yourself, projecting them in your mind, perhaps above your eyes on your skull behind your forehead. And you play them in order to remain faintly amused as you pass, intact, impermeable, unable to be soaked with tears that aren't yours, through your life. Around your ankles flow the salt rivers of generations who have lost lovers and parents and children and selves. Your stories keep you from seeing and hearing the ugly things that we can't even speak about. And who does that make you?
Our streets are running with these rivers, and each year we buy the hip boots to wade through them; this year's fashion statement. That's what this whole thing is about. Sometimes the undercurrents in the brine surprise us, make us lose our footing. Some of us fall in our showers, some of us regain balance. But what tips us over is not as strong as our desire to wade through it, to push it behind, to stay dry, to be blinded by our own projected lights. We drown and we drink the blood we're drowning in and call it wine. It's wrong. It's our own blood. What kind of vampires does that make us?