You hurt me, she said. I don’t like it when you hurt me.
I struggled to extract myself from the puddle of sweat and fluids that Ivy and I were leaving for the maid. Vertical is so much more challenging than horizontal when you’re in the condition I’m in. It seemed impolite to suggest that I wasn’t having a good time, but truthfully our violent, if brief, coupling was already indistinct to me, like something that had happened retrospectively, to someone else. The only thing that remained was this awful headache that recalled an insignificant aneurysm. It made me wonder whether someone had placed something in my drink, or maybe in all the drinks, 20 years’ worth.
My hands were shaking as I reached for another infusion of fermented joy. The bottle on the night table crashed to the floor in an unexpected rebuke, so I struck out for the living room. And as I returned feeling warm and numb, open bottle dangling from my hand like a nightstick, Ivy started reaching for the phone.
You pervert, I’m gonna call the police, she said. Fucking your own 16-year-old daughter.
Give me a cigarette, Daddy, and I won’t call the cops right now.
I handed her the whole pack.
Ivy is obviously confused about the timeline; she was 16 years old when she disappeared four years ago, which would make her at least 19, even accounting for a woman’s prerogative. She had been turned over to me a few weeks earlier by a man named Schiller, who called himself Ivy’s personal representative. Everything he said sounded like an insinuation.
I’m sure you’re extremely grateful to be reunited with your beautiful little girl. Such a lovely flower.
I didn’t ask if he was fucking her; if I’d been in his situation I would. Like most men, my morality is largely dictated by my appetites.
I was so pleased by Ivy’s sudden return that it seemed churlish to inquire as to whether this girl really was my daughter; Ivy was shorter and fatter now, had a Boston accent and a different set of awful tattoos, but she did have my daughter’s most recent haircut, the one featured in all the posters. So I paid Schiller’s finder’s fee willingly, minus a twenty percent negotiator’s discount, and showed Ivy to her room, a living museum of the things my daughter liked five years ago.
I was initially disappointed at such low quality fakery, but allowed them stay around because the girl’s naked ambition amused me, and her pimp seemed eminently disposable. I immediately recognized that Schiller was a pennies on the dollar man; they’re shinier than hundred-dollar bills. Most people consider me an excellent tipper; they don’t realize how much money I’ve got in my pocket. This girl obviously did. By the next morning, she had already started expecting more money, and every time she sees me, she asks for even more. I’ve given her enough to keep her going, but not enough to keep her satisfied. Look, money has never been the problem. Not a lack of money, anyway.
Ivy wiggled her finger to lure me back into bed for another visit to her fuck pouch, or maybe just to chastise me again. Really I’d rather lie down.
What do you actually want?, I said, assuming the answer was money. The delay had made it obvious she didn’t actually intend to call.
Money, she replied, though not in so many words. You know they’d love to find any excuse to put you on ice. Big drug kingpin like you.
I’ve always hated it when people refer to me as a drug dealer, but drug kingpin isn’t so bad. My organization sells the greatest product in the world; people will line up for days to get it, and pay whatever price you seek. I began selling the stuff in high school, and expanded my concession when I joined the army, providing an alternative form of comfort to the troops. Initially I specialized in the stuff that makes anything infinitely amusing, but in the army I found that more potent concoctions were preferred. These were discerning customers, no bullshit.
Ivy was three years old when I left home to begin my overseas sojourn; I left her in her mother’s hands, certain that she’d be safe. I had no idea.
The army was a place for misfits and heroes. I was a misfit who became a hero one day, which made me a hero the rest of my life. Wounded, I saved the lives of three guys on my infantry team because I was absolutely certain they would have done the same for me. They gave me a medal to go with all the insignificant ornaments I’d already received, but the world still runs on money. So when I returned home, I built a business any man would be proud of, enlisting some of my army friends to expand my distribution network.
It was my wife’s idea to buy a penthouse apartment and furnish it with French chandeliers and Chinese vases. She brought in a decorator who had worked with several movie stars, because we all know they have such amazing taste.
I thought that all this would be enough to make up for whatever deficiencies, but she soon started staying out all night and leaving our young daughter by herself. Eventually I paid her to leave me, enough to fund a few happy months of trouble-free addiction in exchange for the rights to our little girl, an excellent bargain for all concerned. Fuck you if you think I didn’t have a good reason.
Ivy cried for days when her mother went away, but eventually she got over it, and she no longer had to endure the embarrassment of having her mother show up in no condition, or not show up at all. I saw other women but kept them away, because I didn’t want Ivy to assign them undue significance.
And things were fine until ivy was twelve and she started getting into trouble; staying out all night, going out with older men. Sometimes they would call the house, then hang up when I got on the line. Finally I met one of them; he was dressed like a Sunday comic strip.
Is he your pimp?, I said.
Yeah, he’s my pimp.
If you ever need money.
Eventually one of them got her hooked, and she contracted the permanent influenza. Even the idiots who work for me began noticing.
Wonder if she’s buying the stuff from us, we might even give her a discount, Ingo said. Ha Ha Ha. I smashed him in the face with a shot glass.
And then she ran away, or maybe she just disappeared. I paid detectives enormous sums of money to look for her, but got nothing in return but a bill. I would’ve paid any amount to bring her back to me, but always remained on the lookout for a deal.
Aren’t you at least going to pour me a drink?, Ivy II said, not realizing the bottle was empty. So I toddled back into the living room like a tranquilized bear, with Ivy trailing along behind me like a postscript. I poured her one with an ever-more shaky hand, then she helped herself to another, as I navigated myself into the chair where Schiller was already sitting.
Hello, friend, he said. Looks like you’ve got yourself into a pickle.
Looks like it, I said. If Ivy actually was my daughter.
Schiller’s expression was as easy to read as the herald on a crosstown bus.
W-w-w-well of course she’s your daughter.
I was getting bored with this conversation, so I wandered out onto the balcony, and Ivy followed me like my conscience. She’s the kind of girl who’d rather be smacked in the face than ignored.
Give it up, Max, Ivy said. Can’t you see he’s got the whole scheme worked out?
She threw her empty glass onto the ground. I was surprised it didn’t break. Fascinated even. It just rolled around helplessly.
You’re still in big trouble, daddy, she said. Problem is you raped me. The cops would be thrilled to find an excuse to throw you in jail.
And my lawyer would be just as thrilled to bail me out an hour later.
I was saying the right words, but my brain was as fuzzy as a plush toy, and I just wanted to lie down.
Give me some money, big daddy. And we’ll call the whole thing even.
She wobbled toward me, rubbing two fingers together, stumbling over her high heels, and for a fraction of a second I was convinced she was going to fall. Instinctively I reached for her, stepped on the glass and skidded into the railing, which collapsed under my weight. The last thing I heard was her screaming. An accident, a plausible accident. No one would ever know if I fell or was pushed, least of all me.
At first, I prayed that I would die, but I’m paralyzed now, requiring 24 hour nursing care. The doctor says it’s a miracle I survived, that a pile of rancid garbage bags on the sidewalk helped break my fall. He was trying to sell me on the proposition of how lucky I am.
My associates visit my bedside periodically to let me know that the bathroom faucet in my apartment is still dripping, but I don’t give a fuck now. The pain uses up half my mind, the dull throb of conversation, the world I’m no longer a part of. Anyone who visits me, I know they’re stealing my money, I know they’re draining me dry. In the old days, I would’ve fucked them up for sure.
My mother came over to let me know that I was being punished for all the bad things I’d done. Way to go out on a limb, I think to myself, now that you know how it all turned out. And she wraps up the conversation with a request for money, and I tell my associates to give her a little. What do I care? What do I care? I’m half dead already. I’m just waiting in line to die.
Weeks passed, I think; in the hospital, every day is the same. The TV is blaring, but no one is watching. But one morning, the most relentlessly angry nurse was smiling.
You’ve got a visitor, she said. Your daughter’s here. She’s been calling every day; she’s so eager to see you.
And for a moment I believed I was really going to see Ivy again. And then Ivy II walked into the room.
How are you feeling, daddy?, she said, as she parked her plastic baggage on the unused chair in the corner. I wanted to tell her that I wished that I was dead, but I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. The nurse left the room, still beaming.
It’s good to see you, Daddy, she said, posing with a cigarette next to the No Smoking sign. I need more money. If you don’t give me some, I’ll go to the police.
I had so much to tell her, but was too tired to say very much. How they’ll never believe a shakedown artist like you. And anyway the money’s all gone, or will be once the hospital’s done with me. I don’t even have a pocket for you to reach into anymore. And yet it was good to see her, still wearing skirts too tight to safely walk around in, and heels so high that at first glance strangers assumed she was at least five feet four.
And she finally took a look at me, immobile in my bed, and her permanently hard expression started to fade away. She put out her cigarette in her water glass and wobbled over to the guest chair by my bed. I could see that she had tears in her eyes.
Oh Daddy, I forgive you, for everything you ever did to me.
Forgive me for what? A mediocre fuck? And no, I hadn’t asked the doctors whether my dick still worked. If you don’t ask the question, there’s still hope.
She took my hand and held it for a long while, but I didn’t feel anything.
That’s nice, I said. But I’m not your daddy.
I tried to talk tough, but tears were streaming down my fucking face. All my burdens had suddenly gone away. Or maybe it was the morphine.
I’ve gotta go now. Find some other rich motherfucker.
I know you know. I’m sorry. I’d like to say it was all Schiller’s idea…
It’s OK. Tell me your real name.
She paused, as if considering it, then reached into her purse for her phone.
I think of you like my real dad sometimes.
Was I an OK dad?, I whispered.
You were the best. You always remembered my birthday.
The mean nurse had tears in her eyes when she reappeared to tell Ivy that visiting hours had come to an end. Ivy II kissed me on my cold sweaty forehead, and I watched her walk away. And my heart was broken for a moment, but only one, because my favorite time of the day was coming soon.
Morphine!, the doctor cried out.
Morphine!, the nurse replied, as I drifted off into a rapturous confusion. I spend most of the day there now. I’ve even seen ivy there; the real one, before the tattoos and hair dye and boys. Grateful for all I’ve done for her.
Back in the present tension
Ivy came to visit once, to remind me of my stupidity and see if there was any money left. The answer is no; the hospital will eventually take it all. I haven’t seen her since. Truth is, I’m glad. Visitors would just piss me off.
And now the obligatory retrospective:
I can’t settle scores anymore so I’m just trying to settle my debts.