MACHO: On Black Holes, and the Fantasies of Men

Frances Dodds recalls two men who laid bare the fragile lines between desire, pain and manipulation — and questions the framework of her own fantasies.

Frances Dodds | Longreads | April 2019 | 23 minutes (5636 words)

I’d responded to the Author’s anonymous posting on Craigslist, and when I showed up to the interview, I still didn’t know who I’d be speaking with. I was 23, in grad school in New York, piecing together my rent with odd jobs. The month before, I’d replied to an equally opaque Craigslist ad and found myself wobbling over cobblestones in stilettos, club promoting for a man known to the Meatpacking District only as “Doc.” Doc had informed me that I was an “8” among regular girls, but in club world I was only a “4,” given my 5-foot-3-inch stature. He wondered: Did I have many girlfriends over 5-foot-11 I could bring around? They didn’t need to be actual models, just tall enough to be mistaken for models by drunk men from across dark, strobe-lit rooms. I needed a new job.

The Author shuffled into our interview at his Upper East Side apartment, his velvet slippers whispering against the Oriental rugs. He was pushing 80, a small man with bushy white eyebrows and a bulbous nose that pressed flat against his face. He had a full, pouty lower lip and a thin upper lip that curled under when he smiled.

The Author had been a staff writer at an iconic American magazine for three decades and had written a remarkable number of books, mostly memoirs. He’d been blind since early childhood, and while his is surely a story of overcoming great odds, the Author was notorious for his poor treatment of assistants. He actually alluded to this in our interview, telling me there were some unsavory rumors out there and not to believe a word of them. I was dubious but desperate for money. And there was a small part of me that hoped he’d softened with age. Or maybe that he’d sense some unfulfilled potential in me. That he’d treat me with the care one gives to a rare find — plucked from the detritus at a yard sale, snubbed by foolish bygone handlers.

The Author, his wife, and their two adult daughters went to their house on an island off the New England coast every August, and I was expected to go along. The only way onto the island was a 20-minute ferry ride from the nearest seaside town. One road ran through most of the 14-mile island, a hamlet of spruce tree forests and rolling pastures. The island was a private sanctuary for the Northeast’s inconspicuous elite, and on the drive from the ferry station, mansions flickered through the trees. The Author’s house was at the end of a short, wooded drive. He’d built it in the ’80s, with the help of a Modernist architect who’d designed a few New York skyscrapers. By the island’s standards, the house wasn’t sprawling or flashy, but it was distinctively lovely, perched on an embankment above the frigid harbor. Down the hill toward the beach was a pool and a pool house, tucked into an alcove of trees. Past the pool, a pathway cut through high grass and down to the rocky beachfront. I stayed in a spare basement bedroom, with a window that looked out onto the harbor. Their cook, a Brazilian woman in her 80s, slept in a room adjacent to mine.

It didn’t take long to realize that my presence was more a thing to be tolerated than embraced by the family. I wasn’t asked many questions about my life aside from those necessitated by politeness. And to be fair, I can’t imagine what it would be like for your most intimate family memories to include a revolving cast of paid help, always on their way somewhere else. Anyway, it seemed like I was mainly there to enable the Author’s wife and daughters not to be there, so he and I were often alone. My job title was “editorial assistant,” though the only editorial skill required was basic literacy. I read the New York Times aloud to the Author every morning, then we perused headlines from The Guardian. Then we responded to his emails, of which there were generally few of note. Then there was lunch, his nap, a walk, and an afternoon activity. Aside from the nap, we did everything together.

Working with an elderly blind person requires some physical contact. Mostly, ours occurred on the Author’s daily walks. We would leave through the front door, pick our way up the wooded path and walk a ways along the meandering blacktop road, flanked by towering spruce trees. The Author would place his hand on my shoulder and walk behind me as I pointed out potential hazards ahead: protruding roots, cyclists, yapping terriers, etc. It was easier to feel some warmth toward the Author during these strolls, since his vulnerability was more evident. Perhaps this affected him as well, as he tended to be kinder when there was a possibility of being marooned on a cliff plunging into the sea somewhere. He could be funny — even charming — at times, if frequently inappropriate. Once, as I helped him while he struggled to get his arm into his coat, he said, “It can often be hard to find the hole on the first try!” I allotted this a laugh; it was early on. But the comments became less funny. On various occasions, the Author asked me how much I weighed, when I lost my virginity, whether I’d ever been with a woman. I’d typically demur with a light rebuke, though I was tipsy after dinner one night when he asked that last question, and I answered truthfully, since the answer denied him the fantasy he was looking for anyway. In retrospect, I am sure the thrill was in the coercion of any response at all.

My job title was ‘editorial assistant,’ though the only editorial skill required was basic literacy.

In the afternoons, we watched documentaries. I sat with my finger perched atop the rewind button, ready to go back for anything the Author wanted to hear again. That summer we worked our way through the televised gospel of Stephen Hawking — first the 1997 Stephen Hawking’s Universe series, and then the 2010 miniseries Into the Universe. The TV was located in the library, which — aside from the kitchen — was my favorite room in the house, with its high, slanted ceiling, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, wall of harbor-facing windows, midcentury couches, and sea of white carpet. One day, after we’d watched an episode or two, the Author was in an inquisitive mood. He didn’t ask for my thoughts often and tended to grow peevish if I volunteered them too freely. He was irritated whenever I mentioned my own writing, or even that I was in school. He would usually clam up when I asked about his professional experiences or his writing process — as if I were trying to steal something from him. But that day, he asked what I’d most enjoyed learning from Stephen Hawking.

I told him I was intrigued by the MACHOs. MACHO is an acronym that stands for Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Object. They are, in essence, roaming bodies of dark matter, which emit little or no radiation. They’re unattached to any one planetary system and float freely through interstellar space. The best-known type of MACHO is the black hole. Since they give off no light of their own, the only way to detect them is when they pass in front of a star. When that happens, the gravity of the MACHO bends the light of the star around itself, warping and magnifying it, making the star seem brighter.

The Author considered this. Then he said, “Oh, I get it. That’s because you like macho men. Right? You like them because they give it to you really hard?”

The abruptness was intended to stun, and it did.

“Isn’t that true?” He prodded, his upper lip curling.

***

During that time, I was talking on the phone most nights to a guy named Jackson who I’d gone to college with in North Carolina. We’d met my freshman year in a foreign policy class. As the professor lectured, I’d peek at him through the periphery of my vision. He was distractingly attractive: 6-foot-4, with a built, muscular frame. He had thick, tousled brown hair and a row of big, white, perfectly square teeth I’d later learn were veneers, his real teeth knocked out in a basketball game. But his eyes were his most striking feature — translucent as a blue lagoon, fringed by long dark lashes. They were lovely in a soft, smudgy way, an almost feminine punctuation in the context of his otherwise masculine body. He was a couple years older than me, and it never occurred to me to try catching his attention. But one day, as I hurried toward the door after class, I felt a sharp tug on my backpack. I turned and there he was, grinning down at me, his veneers dazzling. “What are you gonna be for Halloween?” he asked. I babbled something about a sexy Dr. Seuss costume. He laughed, which shocked me out of my stupor. His laugh was loud and abrasive, not unlike a donkey braying. I wondered if it could become endearing and wasn’t sure.

We walked outside and he asked for my number. I gave it to him, but soon after I started dating someone I was with for the rest of college. Then I moved to New York. But throughout all of those years — five — Jackson stayed in touch, in a plodding, deliberate sort of way. He kept his distance but stayed in sight, checking in every few months. And that August in New England, cocooned in the half-reality haze of grad school, on an island where I knew no one, I seemed to finally find the space to let him in. So I’d leave the house through my basement door at night, and pick my way down to the beach in the dark. I’d find a rock to sit on beneath the vast spackling of stars and talk to Jackson.

***

Most mornings I’d wake up to write for an hour or two, and then have breakfast with the Author in the kitchen. This often involved holding my breath on behalf of the cook while the Author took his first bite of whatever she put in front of him. “Blueberries!” he’d shriek. “I told you I never wanted to taste a blueberry again!” Toast would materialize. The Author was a highly capable liar, I’d discovered. His favorite route to getting his way — whether haggling down a rate with the plumber, cheating me out of weekend pay, or guilt-tripping his wife about some appointment she hadn’t known to make — was to insist, in a tone of indignant outrage, that he had told you something he definitely had not. Still, breakfast tantrums aside, the kitchen was my favorite room in the house, and it was most beautiful in the mornings — crisp sunlight pouring onto the beechwood floors through the sliding glass door, which opened onto the back deck, which looked out on the harbor, its glacial waves frothing against the rocky shore.

While the Author napped after lunch, I’d take a book down to the pool. I loved the pool because a line of trees blocked it from view of the house, so I could be certain no one was watching me. I was working my way through David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster and also Philip Roth’s American Pastoralswapping out their variations on virtuoso depending on my mood. Though, really, I wasn’t in the mood to read at all. I’d sit on the edge of the pool and lie down, the hot concrete searing the skin of my bare back, my feet dangling in the cool water. Then I’d touch myself, not to the thought of anyone in particular, but because the empty moments were asking to be filled, and my bourgeois surroundings had filled me with a sluggish appetite for low-hanging pleasure. I knew I should be using every spare minute to write, since the school year — and its tuition, for which I’d submitted to eternal debt serfdom — was fast impending. But I didn’t know what to write about, and in those moments, that didn’t seem to matter. Life stretched ahead with boundless potential. Who could have predicted, just weeks before, that I’d be lying here in the sun on this island? Maybe I’d been too quick to assume that everything I wanted wouldn’t simply present itself to me like hors d’oeuvres at a party paid for by someone else. A few orgasms in the summer sun was as good a use of my time as any.

***

Jackson hadn’t turned out to be much like I’d imagined. During those college years he often asked me to lunch, and while I usually said no, occasionally I said yes — because I found his persistence flattering, and because he presented these outings under the pretense of friendship. We’d go to one of the local luncheonettes near the beach, festooned with metal crab cutouts and faux-weathered fishing nets. Jackson carried himself with the ease of a tall, white, notably good-looking man. It was fun to be with him in public — to observe the stares of other women when we entered a room. I had to endure some clumsy jocular flirtation on his part, ruffling my hair and the like. And then there was that laugh; every time it discharged I nearly dove under the table for cover. But there was also a surprising gentleness about him. He was kind to people without being patronizing, and unexpectedly knowledgeable about the world. At times I was taken aback by his off-handed intelligence, how he could hold his own in a debate without overheating. And sometimes, apropos of nothing, he’d stop, sigh heavily, and say, “Frances…” Then he’d reach out and squeeze the palm of my hand between his forefinger and thumb, just briefly, but with surprising pressure. I never read these gestures as threatening; they struck me as impulsive but restrained displays of affection. It was these sorts of behavior — the odd, strangled intensity of them — that both fascinated and repelled me. There was a disturbance in him that I couldn’t trace to the source. But it was always there — fluttering, flexing, and convulsing just below the surface — rippling through the studiously casual sidearm hugs he’d give me as we said goodbye.


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I still had a year of school left when Jackson graduated and moved home to Charlotte, where he’d grown up. His family owned a company of rental properties, and he began working as a landlord. My last semester, I got into grad school. A few weeks later I got a package in the mail: a necklace from Tiffany’s — the classic heart tag charm, on a sterling silver chain — with congratulations from Jackson. That first year in New York, when I’d come home for holidays, Jackson would ask if he could pick me up from the airport near his house and drive me the hour and a half to my family’s house in Winston-Salem. The round-trip seemed absurd for him, but it saved my parents the drive, so I figured, why not? I’d get in his car at the airport, and the whole back of his giant suburban would be filled with bouquets of flowers. As he drove I’d take him in: the masculine sprawl of his body, the sunburn on the back of his neck, the calluses on his palms, the loose and easy way he let the steering wheel slide through his hands, the Big Gulp in the cup holder. I didn’t understand why he was using his college degree to roof houses and put in floorboards, drain pipes, rewire light fixtures. It seemed like a waste of his intelligence, and I told him that. But we’d talk about the dramas of the tenant families who lived in his houses — many of whom he’d become close with. He spent a lot of time with his mother and grandmother, and he’d always say he wanted to show me his grandmother’s garden, how much I’d love the azaleas. The fantasy was explicit: I’d move back there to be with him someday. It was specific enough to include our four unborn children.

Back then I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly, I didn’t like him more. He was everything I was supposed to want — did want, theoretically. But when the conversation shifted away from small talk or politics, when we’d stop at a diner along the highway for lunch and he’d slide into the booth next to me — giddy to squeeze my thighs with his massive hands, braying tenderly as he leaned in to kiss me, whispering that I was perfect — I’d feel the disturbance, a barely restrained hunger rippling through his body. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew its origins were deeper than boyish infatuation. I liked Jackson in moments of serious discussion, masculine rhetoric on display. But the moment he became silly, teasing, vulnerable — intimate — the attraction fizzled. And yet, I let myself be pulled along by the gravity of his desire, by the fantasy of being wanted by someone so objectively desirable.

While the Author napped after lunch, I’d take a book down to the pool. I loved the pool because a line of trees blocked it from view of the house, so I could be certain no one was watching me.

When the Author asked me what I liked about MACHOs that summer, what I didn’t tell him was that something about their condition struck me as romantic, metaphorically speaking. MACHOs can only be detected by astronomers when they pass in front of a star. I liked to imagine their passing contact as an intergalactic love affair — the star reaching out and enveloping the dark matter with its light, allowing it to be seen by the universe. I thought, that’s what we all really want, right? Not just to be seen, but seen by others as loved?

I’d go back to New York after the holidays, and in the mornings I’d lie in bed after my alarm went off, staring out the window at the sliver of sky I could see over the adjacent buildings. I’d remind myself that there was sky everywhere — not just New York — because somehow that made the anxiety less crippling. I was in a program that I’d sunk myself into unfathomable debt for, because I’d been told I was good enough to go. But I wasn’t sure what “good enough” meant anymore. Every morning on the nine-minute walk to the train I’d whisper, the sidewalk swimming through unspilled tears, “You’re OK. You’re OK. You’re OK.” I’d get on the train and watch the stops slip by, willing myself to study the faces around me, as if one would have the story I was looking for. “What do you have to say?” I’d ask myself, over and over. “What do you know?” Over and over, the answer would come to me, hollow panic whipping in through the closing subway doors, its breath hot on my neck: Nothing.

And then, on the mornings of special occasions — Christmas, Valentine’s Day, my birthday, Mother’s Day — “Because I know what an amazing mother you’ll be someday!” — a package would arrive in the mail with a piece of jewelry from Tiffany’s: pearls, diamonds, engraved gold baguettes. They were glittering reminders that someone out there believed I was exceptional. Even so, about a year and a half into this, after pawning a few “Jackson jewels” to pay rent, my ethical misgivings won out over my sugar-baby delirium. Ahead of my birthday, I asked him not to send a gift. “I’m going to send something,” he replied. “Well,” I said, “All I want is nail polish and socks.” So a box arrived bearing 100 bottles of nail polish and 20 pairs of socks emblazoned with our college logo. “So your feet will be warm when I’m not there to rub them,” the note read.

***

“Please stop for a moment,” the Author said, during a Sunday morning newspaper reading, somewhere between Opinion and Style. He scooted closer and felt around for me, placing his hand on my thigh. I looked down in surprise.

“I need to ask you something,” he said. “Do you remember when you woke me up from my nap the other day, and you kissed me on the mouth, and you said that if you were a different type of girl …” He trailed off. “I want to know, what did you mean by that, if you were a different type of girl?”

I stared at him. “Um … what? That never happened.” Then, generously, “You must have dreamed it.”

No,” he said sharply, furrowing his brow. “It did. You’re lying. You’re a lying girl.”

“No, really,” I said, brushing his hand off my leg and scooting to the next cushion. “It didn’t happen.”

A sequence of thoughts flickered through my mind. What the hell do I do, yell at him? I’m on an island. Where are his wife and daughters? I only have three more days here. Will he pay me if I leave now? He’s so vindictive, and I really need the money. I’m on a fucking island. Fuck.

“Should I keep reading?”

He sat in silence for a moment, a petulant pout knotting his bushy eyebrows. “Get my can of nuts from the kitchen,” he snapped. “I already told you I wanted them. You know, you’re really not a very smart girl.”

Later that day, at the clubhouse, we sat outside on the deck as his wife caught up with friends inside. We faced the harbor, where sailboats sliced through the waves, propelled by a cool breeze. In spite of my loathing, I felt a fleeting twinge of sympathy for the Author, sitting before all of this beauty and seeing none of it. Then he said, “You remember you signed a contract saying you would never write anything about me, yes?” I cocked my head. “Mmmm. No actually, I don’t believe I ever signed anything.” And then I said something I really meant at the time, because I wanted more than anything to bludgeon his ego. “But don’t worry. I have no interest in writing about you.”

At that moment, I let go of the fantasy I hadn’t even realized I was still holding onto. I’d still hoped, in the end, that I’d look into his face and find a flicker of recognition there — some acknowledgment of another intellect worth refining, worth remembering as special. But as I looked at the old man, the hardened set of his jaw beneath softened jowls, I knew he thought nothing of me.

A number of women writers I know worked for the Author after I did. Despite his reputation, the job was a revolving door job for cash-strapped graduate students — and at least one after me did sign a vague NDA. I’ve wondered if he merely forgot to make me sign one, or if it was a policy established after I left. But I always found it strange that the Author, if he was so intent on no one writing about him, continued to bring writers into his home to do a job that anyone with seeing eyeballs and a set of vocal cords could do. He clearly wasn’t looking to impart any meaningful knowledge to the next generation of writers. The aspects of me he showed interest in were decidedly not writerly. Perhaps it was hubris; he told himself he was still “working,” so he needed a graduate student to help him. Maybe he just wanted to have authority over someone who would covet his accomplishments and look to him for approval he had the power to withhold. Maybe, as he slipped into the abyss of irrelevance, the black hole of his vanity was still looking for passing stars to magnify his dimming light.

***

As my month in New England drew to a close, Jackson asked if he could come visit me in New York. Doubt knotted my insides, but I figured, it’s now or never. When he arrived, he seemed huge in my shambly little Brooklyn apartment. I took him into my bedroom and we lay down. He nuzzled against me, trembling. “I love you,” he said. “I love you so much.” The mass of him felt suffocating, and something about the smell of his body nauseated me, which made me feel cruel, which made me twitchy.

We got up. I’d planned for us to go to a friend’s reading that night, and as we got ready to go, he began rummaging through his pockets.

“I can’t find my wallet,” he said.

“Oh, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere,” I said. “Anyway, I can just get you tonight.”

No,” he said, a flush of panic in his voice. “I have to find it.”

We began to search in earnest, looking in every imaginable place. He grew increasingly distraught, and when it was finally clear that we wouldn’t find the wallet, he lost it. Massive sobs racked his body. He gasped, weeping, that he was going to take me to a fancy dinner, and shopping, and everything was going to be perfect, but now it was all ruined. I had no idea what to do. Eventually I left the room for a moment, and when I came back he told me his mom had booked him a bus back to North Carolina for the following day. I didn’t argue.

The next morning, as I got dressed to take him to the bus station, I pulled open the second drawer of my dresser, and there was his wallet. I held it up, and asked falteringly if he wanted to stay. He said he thought it was better for him to go.

At the bus station, the old strangled intensity had worked its way back into his features. He cradled my face between his hands and stared into my eyes. It crossed my mind that he could probably crush my skull, if he wanted to. He got on the bus and I waved until it was out of sight, then turned back toward Midtown, rejoicing in the smell of trash frying in the street, my favorite leather sandals springy beneath my feet.

The next week he called.

“I need to tell you something,” he said.

“OK.” I was sitting on the fire escape of my apartment, smoking a cigarette and looking down at the grubby little garden below, where three plastic dinosaurs were lying next to a freshly dug hole — either newly unearthed or abandoned on the brink of burial.

“I want you to know why I acted that way when I came to see you. To give some kind of explanation. I …” he stopped. “Well, I have a problem with pills. Painkillers. It’s been going on for like five years.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that while I was there with you in New York. I left them behind, and I thought I could make it through the weekend, but … when I lost my wallet I felt too out of control.”

“Oh Jackson,” I said. “I’m so sorry. Does anyone else know?”

“No, you’re the only person I’ve told.”

I asked if he’d let me help him make arrangements for rehab.

“Maybe,” he said, pausing. “But there’s something else too. Something else I haven’t told anyone.” I felt it quivering over the airwaves, zigzagging between the jagged skips in his breath.

“I was abused when I was a kid.” He held his breath for a moment. He started to cry. “From when I was like nine to when I was fourteen. It was — is — someone close to the family. I could never tell my mom, it would kill her.”

After we hung up, I sat on the fire escape for a long time, staring down at the dirty plastic dinosaurs. I’d always felt it in him, the disturbance. There had been such desperation in his longing, such passion in his persistence. The pieces just never fit in a way that made sense to me. We never truly knew each other, never spent meaningful time in each other’s worlds. Jackson was the sort of man who could have any woman he wanted. Why me? Because I didn’t want him? I’d tried; I just didn’t. I’d been pulled along by the hope that the exceptional, missing piece of the puzzle — the thing I couldn’t put my finger on — was me. I wanted to be special enough to warrant that sort of adoration. But that day on the phone, I knew it wasn’t me. I was merely the fixation — the fantasy that allowed this wounded man to avoid tracing his disturbance to its source: a dark room deep inside himself, where the little boy he once was still cowered in a corner, beating against the door in fits of terror, begged to be let out. Maybe Jackson believed I was strong enough to open the door and hold the little boy inside. At that thought, a balloon of warmth swelled in my chest: He’d chosen me. But then, sadness: He’d chosen wrong. He’d chosen someone who didn’t love him enough.

But there was something else, too. When I turned away from him on that street in Midtown, I’d felt the relief of walking away from something that wasn’t meant to be. I’d given it a shot, and it didn’t feel right, and it was time to move on. I think Jackson felt it too. But instead of letting go, he flung out a noose fashioned from his own need and tightened it around my neck. I have no doubt that his confession came from a place of genuine suffering, and I hope it was the first step on a path to healing. But cast in the dying light of our relationship, it also had the dark flutter of manipulation. He knew I was slipping away, so he shared a secret sure to keep me within arm’s reach.

 I’d still hoped, in the end, that I’d look into his face and find a flicker of recognition there — some acknowledgment of another intellect worth refining, worth remembering as special.

We stayed in touch for years. I’d check in on how his recovery was going and see him now and again when I went home. He continued to send flowers on Valentine’s Day, even when we hadn’t spoken for six months or a year. Eventually, the flowers arrived without notes to say who they were from, but I knew. I responded to his texts and calls more sporadically — in part because his stalwart declarations of love made it impossible to pretend we were just friends, and it felt wrong to give him hope. But also his persistence began to feel less romantic and more like an intrusion. His tone, in messages that often went unanswered, became harsher and more resentful. I had a dream that he showed up at my apartment with a gun, and I woke up drenched in sweat. The fear felt like a betrayal, irrational, but it lingered. On the one hand, he was so gentle, he meant so well. On the other, I’d felt the disturbance rattling through his body, overwhelming him with a pain that, uncared for, struck me as unpredictable. I told my friends not to give him my new address if he asked.

If, when I first learned about MACHOs, I found the idea of their fleeting contact with a star romantic, the phenomena has since taken on a darker metaphorical meaning for me. I wonder if MACHOs are more like fantasies that others affix to us. Made up of roaming dark matter never belonging to any solar system, they are black holes of desire, untethered to any reality in which we actually exist. When they come near us, their gravitational pull bends the essence of our light around them, like a cape of shimmering potential. They make us shine brighter, if only for a moment, if only in our own estimation. But fantasies are by nature nomadic, and MACHOs don’t just bend light; they warp it.

Of course, we are always the suns of our own solar systems. So years ago, in this metaphor, I would have been the star, and Jackson and the Author would have been the MACHOs, distorting the reality of me for their fantasies, born from whatever need their inner suffering had wrought. The fantasy for Jackson was to possess me as a solvent for his pain, to affirm his worthiness of love. For the Author it was to possess the parts of me that were young, female, sexual, and at his bidding, to affirm his superiority. It seems unfair to compare the men — one an abuser, one the abused. And yet, how often the two entwine.

I still return to the island often, in my mind. In my sexual fantasies, to be exact. It took me years to realize that, as I flitted through spaces in which to house my imaginary trysts, I’d land on that one. Maybe it’s my subconscious way of reclaiming a place of beauty, in which I was made to feel subordinate — continually reminded that this world was not mine, and neither were the talents required to attain it. So in my erotic fictions, the house is emptied of its people. Even its designer, the Author, has no claim. It belongs to me and whichever faceless men I bring there. Their only purpose is to watch me: sitting on the kitchen counter, sprawled on the library rug, down by the pool — feet in the cool water, touching myself in the late-summer sun. The men are stripped of identities, positioned at my whim, their only posture one of worship. But there’s no denying it: I still need them there, to see me. In the absence of their gaze, the fantasy fades. I am submerged in darkness, unable to find the outlines of myself.

* * *

Frances Dodds is a freelancer writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She was formerly a senior editor at DuJour magazine, where she coerced famous people into mulling the meaning of life (with spotty success).

Editor: Sari Botton