Authors: Martin Amis
A SUICIDE NOTE
[numbers added by scanner]
This is a suicide note. By the time you lay it aside (and you should always read these things slowly, on the lookout for clues or giveaways), John Self will no longer exist. Or at any rate that's the idea. You never can tell, though, with suicide notes, can you? In the planetary aggregate of all life, there are many more suicide notes than there are suicides. They're like poems in that respect, suicide notes: nearly everyone tries their hand at them some time, with or without the talent. We all write them in our heads. Usually the note is the thing. You complete it, and then resume your time travel. It is the note and not the life that is cancelled out. Or the other way round. Or death. You never can tell, though, can you, with suicide notes. To whom is the note addressed? To Martina, to Fielding, to Vera, to Alec, to Selina, to Barry — to John Self? No. It is meant for you out there, the dear, the gentle.
M. A. London, September 1981
AS MY CAB pulled off FDR Drive, somewhere in the early Hundreds, a low-slung Tomahawk full of black guys came sharking out of lane and sloped in fast right across our bows. We banked, and hit a deep welt or grapple-ridge in the road: to the sound of a rifle-shot the cab roof ducked down and smacked me on the core of my head. I really didn't need that, I tell you, with my head and face and back and heart hurting a lot all the time anyway, and still drunk and crazed and ghosted from the plane.
'Oh man,' I said.
'Yeah,' said the cabbie from behind the shattered plastic of his screen. 'Fuckin A.'
My cabbie was fortyish, lean, balding. Such hair as remained scurried long and damp down his neck and shoulders. To the passenger, that's all city cabbies are — mad necks, mad rugs. This mad neck was explosively pocked and mottled, with a flicker of adolescent virulence in the crimson underhang of the ears. He lounged there in his corner, the long hands limp on the wheel.
'Only need about a hundred guys, a hundred guys like me,' he said, throwing his voice back, 'take out all the niggers and PRs in this fuckin town.'
I listened, on my seat there. Owing to this fresh disease I have called tinnitus, my ears have started hearing things recently, things that aren't strictly auditory. Jet take-offs, breaking glass, ice scratched from the tray. It happens mostly in the morning but at other times too. It happened to me in the plane, for instance, or at least I think it did.
'What?' I shouted. 'A hundred guys? That's not many guys.'
'We could do it. With the right gunge, we could do it.'
'Gunge, yeah. Fifty-sixes. Automatics.'
I sat back and rubbed my head. I'd spent two hours in
Immigration, God damn it. I have this anti-talent for queues. You know the deal. Ho ho ho, I think, as I successfully shoulder and trample my way to the end of the shortest line. But the shortest line is the shortest line for an interesting reason. The people ahead of me are all Venusians, pterodactyls, men and women from an alternative time-stream. They all have to be vivisected and bodybagged by the unsmiling 300-pounder in his lit glass box. 'Business or pleasure?" this guy eventually asked me. 'I hope business only,' I said, and meant it. With business I'm usually okay. It's pleasure that gets me into all this expensive trouble... Then a half hour in customs, and another half before I firmed up this cab — yeah, and the usual maniac fizzing and crackling at its wheel. I've driven in New York. Five blocks, and you're reduced to tears of barbaric nausea. So what happens to these throwbacks they hire to do it all day for money? You try it. I said, 'Why would you want to go and do a thing like that?'
'Kill all the niggers and PRs?'
'They think, you know, you drive a yellow cab,' he said, and raised one limp splayed hand from the wheel, 'you must be some kind of a scumbag.'
I sighed and leaned forward. 'You know something?' I asked him. 'You really are a scumbag. I thought it was just a swearword until you came along. You're the first real one I've met.'
We pulled over. Rising in his seat he turned towards me gradually. His face was much nastier, tastier, altogether more useful than I had banked on it being — barnacled and girlish with bright eyes and prissy lips, as if there were another face, the real face, beneath his mask of skin.
'Okay. Get out the car. I said out the fuckin car!'
'Yeah yeah,' I said, and shoved my suitcase along the seat.
'Twenty-two dollars,' he said. 'There, the clock.'
'I'm not giving you anything, scumbag.'
With no shift in the angle of his gaze he reached beneath the dashboard and tugged the special catch. All four door locks clunked shut with an oily chockful sound.
'Listen to me, you fat fuck,' he began. 'This is Ninety-Ninth and Second. The money. Give me the money.' He said he would drive me uptown twenty blocks and kick me out on the street, right there. He said that by the time the niggers were done, there'd be nothing left of me but a hank of hair and teeth.
I had some notes in my back pocket, from my last trip. I passed a twenty through the smeared screen. He sprang the locks and out I climbed. There was nothing more to say.
So now I stand here with my case, in smiting light and island rain. Behind me massed water looms, and the industrial corsetry of FDR Drive ... It must be pushing eight o'clock by now but the weepy breath of the day still shields its glow, a guttering glow, very wretched — rained on, leaked on. Across the dirty street three black kids sprawl in the doorway of a dead liquor store. I'm big, though, yes I'm a big mother, and they look too depressed to come and check me out. I take a defiant pull from my pint of duty-free. It's past midnight, my time. God I hate this movie. And it's only just beginning.
I looked for cabs, and no cabs came. I was on First, not Second, and First is uptown. All the cabs would be turned the other way, getting the hell out on Second and Lex. In New York for a half a minute and already I pace the line, the long walk down Ninety-Ninth Street.
You know, I wouldn't have done this a month ago. I wouldn't have done it then. Then I was avoiding. Now I'm just waiting. Things happen to me. They do. They just have to go ahead and happen. You watch — you wait... Inflation, they say, is cleaning up this city. Dough is rolling up its sleeves and mucking the place out. But things still happen here. You step off the plane, look around, take a deep breath — and come to in your underpants, somewhere south of SoHo, or on a midtown traction table with a silver tray and a tasselled tab on your chest and a guy in white saying Good morning, sir. How are you today. That'll be fifteen thousand dollars ... Things still happen here and something is waiting to happen to me. I can tell. Recently my life feels like a bloodcurdling joke. Recently my life has taken on form. Something is waiting. I am waiting. Soon, it will stop waiting — any day now. Awful things can happen any time. This is the awful thing.
Fear walks tall on this planet. Fear walks big and fat and fine. Fear has really got the whammy on all of us down here. Oh it's true, man. Sister, don't kid yourself ... One of these days I'm going to walk right up to fear. I'm going to walk right up. Someone's got to do it. I'm going to walk right up and say, Okay, hard-on. No more of this.
You've pushed us around for long enough. Here is someone who would not take it. It's over. Outside. Bullies, I'm told, are all cowards deep down. Fear is a bully, but something tells me that fear is no funker. Fear, I suspect, is really incredibly brave. Fear will lead me straight through the door, will prop me up in the alley among the crates and the empties, and show me who's the boss... I might lose a tooth or two, I suppose, or he could even break my arm — or fuck up my eye! Fear might get carried away, like I've seen them do, pure damage, with nothing mattering. Maybe I'd need a crew, or a tool, or an equalizer. Now I come to think about it, maybe I'd better let fear be. When it comes to fighting, I'm brave — or reckless or indifferent or just unjust. But fear really scares me. He's too good at fighting and I'm too frightened anyway.
I walked west for a block, then turned south. On Ninety-Sixth Street I hijacked a cab at the lights — I just yanked open the door and swung my case on to the seat. The cabbie turned: and our eyes met horribly. 'The Ashbery,' I told him, for the second time. 'On Forty-Fifth.' He took me there. I gave the guy the two bucks I owed him, plus a couple more. The money changed hands very eloquently.
'Thank you, friend,' he said.
'You're welcome,' I said. 'Thank you.'
I'm sitting on the bed in my hotel room. The room is fine, fine. Absolutely no complaints. It's terrific value.
The pain in my face has split in two but hurts about the same. There's a definite swelling in my jaw now, on my upper west side. It's a fucking abscess or something, maybe a nerve deal or a gum gimmick. Oh Christ, I suppose I'll have to get it fixed. The mouth-doctor I choose is in for a jolt. These croc teeth of mine, these English teeth — they're about as good, I reckon, as those of the average American corpse. It will cost me, what's more. You have to splash out big for everything like that over here, as you know, as I've said. You have to tell yourself beforehand that the sky's the limit. All the people in the street, these extras and bit-part players, they all cost long money to keep on the road. There are taxi-meters, money-clocks, on the ambulances in this city: that's the sort of place I'm dealing with. I can feel another pain starting business in the slopes of my eyes. Hello there, and welcome.
I'm drinking tax-exempt whisky from a toothmug, and listening to see if, I'm still hearing things. The mornings are the worst. This morning was the worst yet. I heard computer fugues, Japanese jam sessions, didgeridoos. What is my head up to? I wish I had some idea what it's got in mind for me. I want to telephone Selina right now and give her a piece of it, a piece of my mind. It's one in the morning over there. But it's one in the morning over here too, in my head anyway. And Selina would be more than a match for me, with my head in the shape it's in ... Now I've got another evening to deal with. I don't want another evening to deal with. I've already had one, in England and on the plane. I don't need another evening. Alec Llewellyn owes me money. Selina Street owes me money. Barry Self owes me money. Outside I see night has happened quickly. Dah — steady now. The lights don't seem at all fixed or stable, up there in the banked sky.
Refreshed by a brief blackout, I got to my feet and went next door. The mirror looked on, quite unimpressed, as I completed a series of rethinks in the hired glare of the windowless bathroom. I cleaned my teeth, combed my rug, clipped my nails, bathed my eyes, gargled, showered, shaved, changed — and still looked like shit. Jesus,'I'm so fat these days. I tell you, I appal myself in the tub and on the can. I sit slumped on the ox-collar seat like a clutch of plumbing, the winded boiler of a thrashed old tramp. How did it happen? It can't just be all the booze and the quick food I put away. No, I must have been pencilled in for this a long time ago. My dad isn't fat. My mother wasn't either. What's the deal? Can money fix it? I need my whole body drilled down and repaired, replaced. I need my body capped is what I need. I'm going to do it, too, the minute I hit the money.
Selina, my Selina, that Selina Street... Today somebody told me one of her terrible secrets. I don't want to talk about it yet. I'll tell you later. I want to go out and drink some more and get a lot tireder first.
The sprung doors parted and I staggered out into the lobby's teak and flicker. Uniformed men stood by impassively like sentries in their trench. I slapped my key on the desk and nodded gravely. I was loaded enough to be unable to tell whether they could tell I was loaded. Would they mind? I was certainly too loaded to care. I moved to the door with boxy, schlep-shouldered strides.
'The same,' I said. 'Yeah?'
'Oh, sir. There was a call for you this afternoon. Caduta Massi? ... Is that the Caduta Massi?'
'The same. She — any message or anything?'
'No, sir. No message.'
'Well okay. Thanks.'
So I walked south down bending Broadway. What's all this mm-hm shit? I strode through meat-eating genies of subway breath. I heard the ragged hoot of sirens, the whistles of two-wheelers and skateboarders, pogoists, gocarters, windsurfers. I saw the barrelling cars and cabs, shoved on by the power of their horns. 1 felt all the contention, the democracy, all the italics, in the air. These are people determined to be themselves, whatever, little shame attaching. Urged out from the line of shufflers and idlers, watchers, pavement men, a big blond screamer flailed at the kerb, denouncing all traffic. His hair was that special mad yellow, like an omelette, a rug omelette. As he shadowboxed he loosely babbled of fraud and betrayal, redundancy, eviction. 'It's my money and I want it!' he said. 'I want my money and I want it now!' The city is full of these guys, these guys and dolls who bawl and holler and weep about bad luck all the hours there are. I read in a magazine somewhere that they're chronics from the municipal madhouses. They got let out when money went wrong ten years ago... Now there's a good joke, a global one, cracked by money. An Arab hikes his zipper in the sheep-pen, gazes contentedly across the stall and says, 'Hey, Basim. Let's hike oil.' Ten years later a big whiteman windmills his arms on Broadway, for all to see.