ICU

A pale, rotund woman with flaming red hair slowly unfurls her stockings, unclasps her bra, puts one leg up on her bathroom sink and begins inspecting the inside of her thighs with a mini-flashlight: “The Novelist’s window looked out across the courtyard and directly into the bathroom of an elderly Ukrainian woman who, at least once a day, usually late at night (when the Novelist liked to work, per his routine for the better part of his thirty year career, a routine he was not about to break, not now), liked to get completely naked and inspect her entire body from head to toe. The Novelist could not figure out what she was looking for, although he had some ideas, most of them related to dermatological issues. At first the Novelist thought about installing some curtains in front of his writing desk but then chose not to for fear of what looking onto a veritable blank slate would do to his creativity. No, for almost thirty years he had sat in this very same spot, at this very same desk, and looked across the courtyard and it had worked wonders for him. The previous occupants of the Ukrainian woman’s apartment had always kept their bathroom curtains closed, and so the Novelist had never even noticed the bathroom, or that he could look directly into it, until the Ukrainian woman moved in and took down the curtains. The Novelist thought about asking the Ukrainian woman to re-install the curtains, but he knew this was a ridiculous request, and so he abstained from confronting her, told himself that her nightly ritual was probably temporary, and that soon he would be back to his nightly ritual, sitting at his desk into the wee hours and looking out across the courtyard and letting his mind and fingers work in unison to produce the massive, encyclopedic and formally audacious novels that had garnered him enough attention so that he didn’t have to worry about getting a day job but not so much attention that he had to worry about becoming a parody of himself or becoming too self-conscious about what was expected from him by the people who were paying attention to him. This arrangement, with the Ukrainian woman, however, was not temporary, and after a year the she was still getting nude every night and inspecting her bits and pieces. The Novelist found it almost impossible to train his eye to look away from the Ukrainian woman (not that she was his type, per se, as he, like most novelists of his generation, preferred women who were tall, slender and Nordic looking, as much for their classic aesthetics as for the accrual of status when one managed to snag one for oneself) , and so being the devout Buddhist he was, decided to let his focus go where it wanted to instead of forcing it to go where he wanted it to go, which was away from the sight of the naked Ukrainian woman. He told himself that whatever he wrote as a result of his re-calibrated attention would at the very least be different, and therefore possibly interesting. Within six months the Novelist had completed six very short, pedestrian novels: Naked Ukraine; The Carpet and the Drapes; Red Ass Annie; ICU; Return of White Thighs; and Torrid Pampuski. He submitted all six novels to his agent, who forwarded them to his publisher, who liked them so much and saw such commercial potential in them that they created a new arm of their company dedicated solely to publishing what they called “Literary Erotic Fiction,” much in the vein of Maurice Girodias and the famed Olympia Press. The books, published under the pseudonym Ivan Franko, were the biggest successes of the Novelist’s career, allowing him to buy a small but lavishly decorated house in the country, where his new writing desk looked out onto a placid lake and a forest. However, he soon grew to hate the view as it generated nothing but the desire to drink hot cider and whittle away at the stray pieces of wood he found during his twice daily walks. Without the Ukrainian woman to look at he was unable to produce the type of books which afforded him the quiet, rustic lifestyle he was both loathe to let go of and loathe to continue. After months of not being able to make payments on his house the Novelist was forced to move back to the city, where he rented an apartment which had a view of a brick wall. The books he produced while staring at this brick wall were full of self-cancelling sentiments and obtuse language and stories with dead ends and they sold poorly enough that his agent and publisher eventually cut all ties with him, which, much like everything else, he took in stride, as best he could, which as he got older and older, was getting harder and harder to do.”

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