There was a parasite inside of Jimmy's chest. "Hm," the doctor said and pulled down his mask. He was a specialist. "Have you ever travelled to South America?" Jimmy nodded. "I thought so. This is rare, not native to the developed Americas."
"Is it fatal?"
"Ha ha, ha ha, ha. Oh my. No." Jimmy breathed a sigh of relief. "Not exactly."
After a week the nausea was replaced by something like heartburn, just as the doctor predicted. Jimmy's wife Carla made the two of them lighter meals at dinner: steamed vegetables, white rice. "It won't help," he told her. The TV drew and re-drew Anderson Cooper's face.
"But it can't hurt," she said.
The next day at the gallery he felt a little better. Light-headed, but better. The crew was assembling Richard Pryce's latest piece, a series of abstractions build from discarded cardboard that resembled a city skyine, a row of human teeth, or the keys of a piano. It was entitled, "Me at 19." At 19 Jimmy was in Argentina, studying indigenous face masks as part of his year abroad. Funny thought, hthought. A tooth/key wobbled and hit the floor. "Watch it," Jimmy said.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"I'm the intern," the intern said. Jimmy's head hurt.
"Just be more careful next time, okay?"
"Okay," she said.
It surprised him as much as it would anyone when several minutes later, Jimmy jerked off onto the bathroom floor. "Ugh, my head," he thought, and flushed the paper down the toilet.
The next opening was several months away. The theme they chose was "Empathy," and after much debate Jimmy managed to convince the director that Pryce's "Me at" series ought to be included.
"It has pathos," he said, "which permits us to empathize with our past selves, and really feel what we were feeling." The director nodded. Jimmy saw an aura around his head and heard an avalanche.
"What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," Jimmy said. "I'm fine."
"I've got some work to do," he said.
The crew was setting up the lighting for "Me at 14," a mixed media piece featuring in oil on canvas a boy watching TV, but Pyrce had mounted a small hand mirror over the TV set.
"What do you think of it?"
"I think it's beautiful," the intern said.
They went to dinner that night for Israeli by the park. Jerusalem platter and a bottle of wine; chicken meat and liver and tiny hearts. It turned out they had a lot in common. That night, after they had sex, he Jimmy realized she was having her period.
"I didn't want to turn you off," she said as he washed himself in her sink.
"Well," Jimmy said. "You did."
The night of the opening and everyone was excited. It was early, but there was already a crowd. The singer looked exotic, ... maybe Indonesian? Jimmycouldn't make out what she sang over the chatter, just long resonant notes that closed when her lips moved over them. Richard Pryce's pieces generated a lot of talk, asdid the medical photos of domestic abuse injuries, which the artist cropped and framed in a way everyone agreed was exactly right.
"I love 'Me at 8,'" the singer said, on break. Jimmy brought her a glass of wine.
"Oh yes. I think it's beautiful."
They stood in front of the small glass figure of a boy. Two woven arms of wire were reaching their hands through his body and on to his paper heart.
"I read his parents had a terrible divorce."
"So have I."
"It really is beautiful. Empathy."
"I've seen this somewhere before..."
"I feel for him."
"Why are you wearing that mask?"
"Are you alright?"
I am walking down the hall in the house but it's not our house exactly. In the kitchen I see mom and I say, "mom, I missed you so much" and she says, "I know, dear, I've felt it all" and I ask, "why did you come back?" and she smiles. Then the room is crowded and I see all these men and boys and mom is laughing and jimmy with his father arm wrestling in the back I say "mom what is everyone doing here?" and she says "don't worry, dear, you've momentarily gone inside out" and it's starting to get too crowded when suddenly I'm struck by the strange patterns made by the shapes between their heads -- its a message! -- and mom disappears just as I think I can read it I wake up and the phone is ringing with words that make all the difference.