The Carcasses of Apples
The market collapsed in late January, largely due, as ever, to hot hand fallacies frittered out over the dining tables of New York between faceless men in brandless suits. She’d watch them, feasting like wasps on carcasses of apples, unaware that the flesh they sapped from was fading fast with the coming frosts. There was nothing to do but gaze on, red-lipsticked and smiling, as they fixed their feathers with wax and flew up to the sun.
“How the hell do you know about that?” a man with jet cufflinks had slurred at her a month ago, when she had let the mask slip to reveal a thought behind the easy flattery and flirtation.
It was easier to say nothing, to hide behind naivety and youth, than it was to sit through the uneasy suspicion of a woman there for more than a table display. “How in hell does an escort know about commodity future trading in crude oil markets?” She smiled blankly at him, wondering what lie to respond with.
“George, let it go,” a companion had hissed at him. “It doesn’t matter where she learnt some big words, man.” But the man had stared back at her with round red eyes, hard with anger.
“No, tell us, honey,” he continued, the slur now gone. “Who do you work with? The MLIU?” He hit the table hard with his napkin, the wine spilling from the glass over the cloth. She stared back at him. Best to play dumb. The truth was worse.
“What’s the MLIU?” She asked the gathering, lightly. “Some government thing?”
“See, George,” the companion whispered. “She doesn’t know what she’s on about. She’s just showing off.”
“The wine is great.” She grinned at George, his forehead wet with sweat. “Sorry for all the questions. Didn’t get the chance to learn all this stuff studying film studies, you know.”
There was a flicker in his pupil, the last dying seconds of suspicion. “Sorry, doll,” he muttered, flicking through his wallet for a credit card. “Can’t be too careful these days. Everyone’s out to get you.”
She laughed, too loudly, too long. “I know more about space than commodity trading. I’m just fatally curious. Don’t you worry about me.”
He sighed, drunkenly grabbing at her knee. “A good businessman,” he sighed, “worries about everything.”
She walked home alone, despite the offers of drinks up at hotel bars, shared chauffeured cars and called taxis. It was cold, the sky hard without cloud and the streets bare. The lights of each store flickered off into nothing until there was nothing but the occasional rev of an engine or howl of a siren, somewhere out in the beating mass of streets. She called him, then, as she always did.
She doubted the men she spent each evening with would ever believe the reason she turned down each bored proposition. The reason being a 5ft 7 accountant from Michigan, with a thing for herringbone suits. He wasn’t handsome. He wasn’t rich. For the investing mind, he would have baffled them as a prospect. But every night at 4am, she called Josiah Millbank, the man who never judged her on her profession.
“What did they offer tonight?” he asked, as ever, with amusement.
“Espresso martinis at the Hilton.”
“You’ve lost value since last week then, Suze,” he laughed. “You were worth a weekend in the Cote d’Azur on Thursday.”
“I guess I’m getting older, then,” she shut her eyes, suddenly tired. “I’m a depreciating commodity, after all.”
“No, you’re not,” he replied. “They just don’t get what’s valuable about you. The asset assessment is totally wrong.”
“What’s valuable about me then?” He didn’t reply, so she tried again. “Is it my great maternal instinct? I’d be a great genetic proposition, right?”
“No,” he replied, after a while. “You’re really smart. It’s frightening.”
“You have to say that. You can’t call me stupid.”
“Watching you is like watching a rattlesnake. Anything in the room, you are aware of it twenty seconds before anyone else. The speed of your mind is just on overdrive. I can see why you unsettle people.”
“Thanks,” she replied, sarcastically.
“No, don’t sulk,” he responded, his voice echoing down the line. “I mean it. They all see you as beautiful and sexy, but that’s not what’s exceptional. You’d be the best disruptor on the board if they saw you as a project to have beyond the bedroom.”
“I’m not beautiful.”
“Jesus Christ, Suze. I’m not dealing with your insecurity tonight. Tell me what you’re doing tomorrow.”
In her head, he was the way out. Out into the crumbling towns beyond New York, out to a small bedsit by the rattling tracks where the weeds flowered yellow by the window, and he would hold her, gazing out at a city she never wished to return to, and she would be free of the fingertips of wealth that grazed her skirts. How strange it seemed, she thought, in the empty concrete valves of the block, to want nothing so much as the absence of money.
The Metropolitan had taken a while to run the story. It didn’t erupt until after the market crash was well underway. There were a bunch of reasons for this, largely legal ones, but she got on the subway and was forced to lean on the wall and read it, feeling her hands become numb with terror. Her face was front page in a mass of ugly yellow, magenta and cerulean dots, smiling suggestively, surrounded by the wasps that flitted in and out of the news channels with the same monstrous lick of shame, closing business after business, chain after chain.
The headline barely mattered alongside the brazen copy, writing about some monster she didn’t recognise, a drunken prostitute stumbling around a maze of financial fraud, staying silent and profiting off expensive dinner parties and luncheons, offers of presents and gifts.
It didn’t matter that it was 5.56am, she needed to call him. She could barely type the number, her vision blurring with tears.
“Someone’s told. Someone’s told everything and it looks like it was me.”
There was a long pause.
“But Suze, you did tell. You told me.”