It all happened like the unrolling of a carpet. Swift but only gradually revealing.
Now I’m asking Max what he’s been telling Edna about Claudine.
Now PUNCH is laughing and pointing.
Now Max is saying Claudine has placed dibs on three of my plushies.
Now Edna is saying Claudine doesn’t even know who I am.
Now PUNCH is laughing and Edna is saying that Max has Claudine thinking I’m still Lewis.
And then PUNCH is taking a swing at Max.
Too drunk for fighting, PUNCH falls forward, while Max skips backward and Monday steps between Edna and Max, catching PUNCH and placing him upright whence he turns and takes a swing at Monday who evades him by standing still.
Punch sits on the floor.
I stare at Edna. Edna shrugs. Max walks away. Punch gets up, looking a tad confused. I endeavor to explain:
— Here’s the thing, PUNCH: I said TALK to him. Not sock him in the face. Kay?
— You heard HER. (pointing at Edna as though she were a poster, and shrugging Monday off as he tries to bolster his drunken comrade) MAX doesn’t even care about your journey. He isn’t going to represent you as a WOman. He has no respect for women. Hell, he has no respect for men. He has no resPECT. NO respect for the work.
We stare at him.
— NO respect. NONE. No respect for the WORK!
— PUNCH, you’re smashed.
— Lola, you’re a sucker.
— Okay. I’m a sucker and you’re smashed. Let’s sit you down for a minute.
Monday and I put him a couch. PUNCH again slaps Monday away. Boo is taking up a chaise and two seats with a group of admirers. One of them is familiar: I suspect he writes for SuperGenius and I wonder if Max hasn’t coached Boo yet.
Punch leans forward and holds his face. Boo reaches a long leg out to nudge him with her foot. He moves away. Glowers at Monday who turns and walks off.
Now I have to admit: I’m a bit agitated. I don’t like it that Claudine is being misled. I don’t like thinking Max would allow that. Hiding, I’m thinking. Hiding me behind Lewis. And I do wonder if he’s been doing this for some time. And I’m hurt, to be honest.
He’s in the kitchen when I enter, glad to smell coffee being made. Edna, he informs me, has sent someone out with a tray already; but I help myself to a large mug and fill it. For PUNCH, I wink at him, adding, I’ll talk to YOU later. Is my voice shaking? I half hope so.
Unfortunately PUNCH is no longer on the couch when I return. He is, instead, talking in hushed tones to a handful of collectors and curators all of whom are taking turns catching him and holding him up.
— Lo! PUNCH is giving us a hard time!
— Well now, I’ve come to save you all. Can you help me sit him down?
So back to the couch we go.
Boo is still holding court. Her boys are loud and vying for attention. SuperGenius boy is imitating Claudine Dumas by holding a shag pillow on his head and saying, “Who’s that young lady Max keeps calling Lewis?” Boo kicks him and he turns to look at me.
They all explode into laughter while I stand there, sick to be honest, but still holding onto PUNCH. I sit him down where he lurches sideways holding a finger in Boo’s freckled face, suddenly shouting, “YOU!” and then falling over. I glower at Boo and co.
— Well then. Now he’s better behaved than you are.
Boo looks penitent.
— Here, I’ll take that for him.
— Good, I apparently need to talk with Max.
As I walk away, Boo is suddenly all motherly and her boys have dispersed — the one from SuperGenius stands by the couch and pokes at his cell phone, no doubt finally aware that he might have been missing a story while courting Boo Dolly.
When I find Max, I notice that SuperGenius has followed me. So I tug Max into Edna’s guest bedroom and shut the door in the boy’s face.
— Max, what’s with Claudine? And what do I need to know about Edna?
The party throbs on outside the door. Max sits heavily on the bed and caresses his forhead. He confesses that my market is in “an odd flux just now,” that indeed it’s true that Claudine is confused but he’s tried his very best to explain things to her.
— She IS in the market for some plushies, though, Lola. And it would be great if she had them. Establish a steady ongoing market for your work — the new series. It’s been hard. The word is it’s just flat out auto-bio and it’s putting a bad light on your older stuff. Too much weltschmertz, growing pains — I don’t’ know. And Edna! She’s just looking to court that asshole, that idiotic curator —
Stung by his recitation of recent criticism, I cut him off.
— We’ll need to introduce me to Claudine again. Okay? I’m serious. A real pow-wow. I’ll show her my junk if I have to but she’s not to think she’s buying Lewis.
He rubs his head.
— She was here earlier. I pointed you out. I tried to get her to come meet you but she said she had enough women’s art. She’s impossible.
— Women’s art?
— Sewing. Fabric. Crafts. Look, she’s OLD. For fuck’s sake.
— She owns like half my career at this point.
— Look, I’ll arrange a dinner. I’ll have her and you over and show her your arc.
—My arc. That’s a nice one.
— Yeah. Look: how’s PUNCH? Can we get him to leave? I’ll talk to him when he’s straightened out — but. With the reporters here and — and where’s Monday? Keep them apart, will ya?
— Max. I’m not your bouncer.
— Goddamit. You can talk to him. I can’t TALK to him. Even when I do, it doesn’t STICK. I’ve lost it, Lola. I’m not in the driver’s seat anymore.
— Maybe you never were. Maybe you just thought you were until PUNCH took a wrong turn.
— Wrong turn? His whole career is wrong turns.
His phone buzzes. I turn to leave.
— You love it.
— Lola? Thanks.
Back into the party.
Edna is in the kitchen cutting a sheetcake that’s covered in led lights.
Boo on the couch holding PUNCH’s hands and talking close.
SuperGenius is pacing, a finger in one ear and the phone near his face.
I spot Monday in Edna’s study sitting on her desk and talking to someone out of view.
When I walk in I see that Monday is talking to Kate fucking Weber.
— Kate. For fuck’s sake I shoulda known. Your boy is out there posting a story already.
— My boy?
— Co-worker then?
Kate turns to Monday and asks what in fuck I’m talking about. Monday turns back to me.
—What in fuck are you talking about, Lola?
— Well, Mr. Monday: Kate’s been pitching some gossipy shit about Max to The Art Machine and they turned her down. So now she’s pitching SuperGenius. One of Boo’s admirers is apparently out there doing the same.
— Ha. Okay. Sooooot?
— So Kate here, I’m sure, would love an earful and here you are giving her one.
Kate gives me the finger, exits.
— We were actually discussing Edna’s library. But now maybe she’s out there asking Boo’s new friend what he’s got.
I sit down and spin in Edna’s deskchair.
— Monday, do you think I could coax you to go home? You know. Avoid PUNCH?
— Why don’t you just put HIM in a car? Why kick me out?
— Look: I don’t think he’ll leave if you’re here. Hell, I don’t think he’ll leave if Max is here. But if you left. Then I could get him home.
— Oh. I see. We’re in caHOOTS.
— Yeah. Okay. Whatever. Go quietly.
But just as Monday is heading out, PUNCH shows up in the doorway, Max behind him, trying to steer a path toward the bathroom and saying “Nope. THIS way.”
Punch turns on him.
— NOPE. THIS way. THESE two. These two are in caHOOTS! I heard you, Monday, you wannabe upstart bullshit artist.
Max’s renewed attempt to steer PUNCH toward the bathroom is shrugged off.
— NOPE. Nope. THIS way. HERE. YOU two. Nope. YOU!
And he lurches toward Monday.
— YOU think I’m going to work with YOU? You? You think he’s going to work with ME? Me??? Max, and YOU and YOU. NOPE! NO WAY!
PUNCH’s drunken yelling has captured attention. Max attempts to whisper in PUNCH’s reddening ear but this causes PUNCH to shout louder.
—NO NO NO NO NO. YOU. YOU think. You. Using me. Using us ALL. HEY,You – you LOLA Boeys: he doesn’t care if you’re LOLA or LEWIS! Long as Claudine DOOOmas keeps giving him money. Money moneymoneymoney. MONEY LOLA LEWIS BOEYS. Lola not one of the boys no more…
I punch him hard across the jaw. Monday catches him.
He slugs Monday. Monday drops him.
Max picks him up. He head butts Max.
Kate Weber is in the doorway bent double laughing, taking pictures with her cell phone. Boo is wrestling the phone away from SuperGenius. The collectors are putting their coats on.