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Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey Read Online (FREE)

 

The woman cleared her throat. “You know we’d all heard the rumors. The arrest in Provincetown after he’d tried to hail a cop car as if it were a cab. A drunk and disorderly charge after a dispute at some bar. The rumors and then the excuses, didn’t we know how the cops hated Norman, the real story was about a cabaret license, the cops were fascists anyway, there was no trusting them. And look”—the woman on the screen sighed—“the police did deny cabaret licenses arbitrarily, especially to black musicians, to black singers, and Norman was involved in a protest, helped circulate a petition, but also, separately, he got too drunk at a bar and the police were called and he was charged with a drunk and disorderly. And it’s not like that was the only time—I mean there were also those whispers about Adele’s makeup not quite covering up a black eye, a split lip, a bruise on the neck or the shoulder or the arm. The temper, the affairs. He’d shown up drunk to a lecture at Princeton, no it was Brown. He’d flown into a rage and hit his sister across the face, or was it his mother, was it his mistress. Not that I’d”—she paused, leaned toward the camera—“not that I’d ever seen anything, anything definitive. Later it turned out”—she leaned back—“or anyway I read that he’d spent that very afternoon, the afternoon of the party, drunk with a friend at an actress’s apartment, in the actress’s bedroom, the friend passed out and the actress trying to fend Norman off, Norman refusing to leave until the actress threatened to call the police. Anyway, that’s what I read.”

 

The woman uncrossed and recrossed her legs. She smoothed out her skirt, leaned back in her chair. “Adele provoked him. That was the line. Also that she had affairs of her own, and that is true. And not just with men, with women, threesomes. Once, at a party, she took off all her clothes and tried to start an orgy. She pulled another girl’s hair, tried to scratch her face, and this was all in public, on the sand dunes out in Provincetown, dozens of witnesses. And sure it was true but the, the shit she got for it and the shit he didn’t.” She shook her head. “Adele was known for”—lips pursed—“for her outsized appetites, for her lingerie, all Frederick’s of Hollywood, to hear the gossips tell it that woman had never owned a pair of cotton panties in her life, she was a sexual exotic. You’ll find that in the biographies, that exact phrase, sexual exotic. I know, I’ve read them. You’ll find that Adele’s mother was Spanish and her father was a Peruvian Indian and that she herself was born in Cuba. You’ll find that she was a painter, too, a talented one, but that’s introductory material, it always gets dropped quickly. Well”—she cleared her throat—“I’ve read one biography and a big chunk of another. Not that Norman wouldn’t hit a white woman, he beat his fourth wife up at least once, and not in private, and she was a blonde, she was paler than me. But the fact that she wasn’t white, that Adele wasn’t, I think it made it easier. Not for Norman to do it, but for the rest of them. For the rest of us.” She drank down what remained in her glass in one long swallow. “For me,” she said. “For me to do nothing. I hadn’t inherited my mother’s, her carnagione, her complexion, her skin tone, but I had inherited her shame about it. And I think I thought that if I said something everyone would notice that I didn’t belong. That I didn’t belong, either. And anyway the scales were always going to be tipped in Norman’s favor. I mean, it’s Norman Mailer, public intellectual, on one side, and on the other”—she waved her hand—“some bitch. Some bitch Norman happens to have married. Who even remembers the names of all of his wives, never mind the fights, the affairs, the middle-of-the-night— I mean I don’t. But the way they talked about her, before. The way they talk about her even now, in the biographies. I do think it was easier. To look away. To say she dragged her girlfriend into the bathroom to fuck, Adele never could get enough, didn’t we all know that, look at her mouth, look how it’s painted red, look at the dresses she wears, look how they’re cut. It was never the race thing outright, they always covered the race thing with the sex thing. Spread the stories around, said see, said she got what she deserved, no more, no less.”