The Wild Things Go Downtown [story] by Virginia K. Nalencz

In retrospect, Max decided that wearing the wolf suit had been a mistake. It was a Halloween party, but costumes were optional. The host lived in a vast loft in Lower Manhattan, in one of the few slivers of downtown real estate without a trendy name: not SoHo, not TriBeCa, not NoLita, not NoHo. Max hopped a cab, holding his tail when he slammed the door.

“How about SoSo?” Max said to himself, settling back on the cracked vinyl seat. He was bitter about going to the party alone. Lisa, his girlfriend, had refused to go with him because he’d made her dog run wild that afternoon. They’d been painting the kitchen in the apartment where they were planning to move in together, a plan that was also possibly shot to hell, thanks to the dog issue.

The cabbie stuck his turbaned head out the window and snarled at a swerving truck. “Krishnuuuuuuhamama!” Max read the I.D. plaque on the windshield and was reassured to learn that his driver was one of the army of Singh brothers piloting cabs in New York. Along the FDR Drive a switchboard of taillights throbbed.

Max had gotten in trouble playing get-the-door with Gompers, Lisa’s Clumber spaniel. Gompers was fifteen years old, a colossus of matted hair and drool, but Max loved him, for Lisa’s sake. Fifteen was how old in people years? One hundred five. How many people over one hundred years old have any fun at all? Get-the-door meant that Gompers, rising from slumber at Max’s knocking, flung himself in the direction of the front door, yapping and delirious, a puppy again for a few brief moments. The game had ended with Gompers dashing between the legs of Lisa’s ladder, and Lisa nearly falling off and spraying paint beyond the drop cloth into the toaster, which was too bad. But it was not the end of the world, as Max had remarked.

“I know that,” Lisa had said, sounding disappointed.

Max had noticed that women often reacted negatively to being told that it was not the end of the world. Maybe as a gender they were actually looking forward to the apocalypse? He opened a “do not use” application in his brain and filed it under “Götterdämmerung.” Too late for this argument, unfortunately.

Max leaned forward to pay the driver.

“It is immaterial,” Rajiv Singh told him with his musical trill when Max discovered that he had only two dollars for a tip that should have been three, at least. His hands fumbled in his chest fur, looking for his inner pocket, a feature that was absent in the wolf suit. Max felt the reproach in the squealing tires as the cab pulled away.

The party was on the sixth floor. Walk-up. Max peered into the shop window at street level: a Portobello mushroom nestled in an extravagance of green tissue, accompanied by a single purple satin pump with a stiletto heel. Was it a shoe store or a grocery? It was downtown, so no one was telling.

About half the people at the party were in costume. The others gave lame excuses for not dressing up, like, “I’m doing a Seventies revival,” to explain their egregious platform soles. Guys with muscle definition in white T-shirts and faded jeans said, “I’m Bruce Springsteen,” and the men in the room said to themselves, “In your dreams,” and a few of the women said, “Well, close enough.”

A pair of transvestites standing next to the bar were done up as twin Barbies in high heels, pink vinyl skirts, rhinestone chokers, ruby lips and shaved heads. Barbie One offered Max a stick of chewing gum. “Cigarette?” he said.

“Hey, Ned,” said Max, recognizing the host. Guy from the office.

“Miguel, my life partner.” Barbie Two smiled and took a piece of chewing gum.

“Where’s Lisa?” asked One.

“Dunno. Wish I could find her,” said Max. Suppose she’d met someone else, a gladiator with lean, glistening abs? Max patted his hairy stomach and felt the beginnings of a paunch. He decided not to worry. She was probably off in a corner having an elevated conversation with a couple dressed as Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter.

A black-robed woman nodded sagely at the Barbies. “Living art,” she remarked.

“So, you’re going as what?” Max asked her.

“I guess I could be a priestess,” she said. “Or a Goth?” Her name was Claudia. She expelled cigarette smoke through her nostrils. There was a zipper hiding in her cleavage that riveted Max’s attention: silver teeth between black-swathed breasts.

“I guess I don’t have to ask about you,” said Claudia.

Max wouldn’t have rented a costume at all if Lisa hadn’t talked him into it. She was going in a copy of the white halter dress Marilyn Monroe had worn to stand above an air vent. Whoops!—it was okay, though, Lisa had nice legs. He felt a sharp pang, a little paper cut in his heart, at the thought of her in that dress. In the smoky darkness,

he’d never know whether she’d come to the party after all. The loft, crammed with people, was decorated with black velvet theatrical backdrop and iridescent skeletons in Kama Sutra positions. Flames leapt from candelabra; Max could hardly see a thing.

“Hey! I’d better be careful with you.” A woman handed him a drink, champagne in a flute. Then again, maybe it was bug juice with seltzer. Max found that his sensory awareness was all askew. What the hell—he slugged it down.

The woman was wearing an extremely short, extremely snug green dress, with tights the color of an avocado, and lettuce-like weavings in her bright brown hair. Great, a sexy plant. “Tinkerbell, I presume?” said Max. “Are you dancing?”

The techno jackhammer lured them into the knot of humanity writhing in the center of the floor. Tinkerbell was a flirtatious dancer, her movement repertoire heavy on slow bumping and semi-casual touching. Max shook his furry tail and let go. Another drink appeared in his paw. Electric twitches shot through his shaggy pelt. When he threw back his head to howl, a silver sphere beamed moonlight into his reddened eyeballs.

The music changed and Tinkerbell flickered off and on until she was transmuted into Claudia, the fashion Goth. Wild Thang! You make my heart sing! the speakers screamed. Claudia slithered up his fur. Another interpretation of her costume occurred to him: she was a vampire. Better get back to Tinkerbell—herbivores were safer.

“Please don’t go!” Claudia’s voice, and also her tongue, seemed to be in his ear. Pheromones bounced off her skin, from her glittery make-up. She danced him into a side room, where people lolled on striped sofas grouped around a coffee table.

There was yowling all around and Max was part of it. Up and down went his

paw, slaking his thirst. Lisa? Did she come to the party? Still Claudia, Claudia, all in black, clinging to his pelt, as all became noise in his brain, brainful of boogaloo yahoo boogerking cherrybing Bosniansmuslims Serbo-Croats Xanaxtictacs Hutus Tutsis maumau in tutus smarmanirvananineinchnails and puppy dogs’ tails matrix daytricks daytraders nightcrawlers chickbait hatecrime rollerblades spanking maids AIDSmash hash rash Waco wacko Sacco ingressi ausfahrting Saddamsdaddums Jalala Lalalalalalalalalalalala—You move me.

Max woke up on a sofa behind a screen. Lisa? He had to get up and find Lisa. She could get in a lot of trouble in that Marilyn Monroe dress.

“Hey.” It was Claudia. His head was on her lap.

“Gotta go,” said Max. He was surprised to find that a salamander was living in his mouth, curled around his tongue, making it impossible for him to speak clearly.

 

Out in the street, the downtown scents of chestnuts and ashes straightened Max’s spine. He was pleased to discover that in an upright position it was far easier to hail a cab. Money. He had no money. No money, no cabbie. Geez, he was childish. Lisa was right.

Then across the street, at a distance that he could not determine, one that had as much to do with time as with space, he caught a glimpse of a figure in a flippy white skirt. Lisa, surrounded by a pink glow. No, not a glow: pink vinyl. Barbie One and Barbie Two on either side of Lisa. What? She was going away with Ned and Miguel? No, she was coming toward him.

“Ned told me you were looking for me,” she said. She reached down to brush his fur from his face. Down? Why reaching down? He was sitting on the curb. “Let’s go home, Max,” Lisa said. By stretching to her full height she snagged a cab—Patel Singh this time, Max noticed with gratitude, wincing at the memory of the short tip earlier in the evening, so long ago.

When they were back at her apartment Lisa put away his wolf suit. He called Gompers and the dog curled up at the foot of the bed. Tangled there in the dawn with Lisa and Gompers, Max felt he had known all he needed to know of the animal world.

Yet in the dreams of which he would be forever unaware, he roamed again in the northern forests, seeking something to devour.

 

Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This story refers to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.]

Image by FDelventhal

Virginia K. Nalencz taught literature and writing at Temple University and wrote for the Temple Review. Her stories have appeared in Schuylkill and Lynx Eye. Nowadays she writes about the Philadelphia scene for the Center City Quarterly.