Chapter no 23

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Lola Maldonado left her phone number for Sam at the pizza place. “Mr. Lee, I don’t know if you remember me,” she said to Dong Hyun, “but Sam and I went to high school together. I heard he’s back in town. Tell him to call me, if he wants.”

Dong Hyun passed the message on to Sam. “You should call this girl,” Dong Hyun said. “Nice-looking. Nice manners.”

“Work is crazy right now,” Sam said.

“It will make your grandmother happy,” Dong Hyun said. “She worries you don’t do anything but work.”

“I don’t,” Sam said.

“It will make me happy, too,” Dong Hyun said. “Don’t you want to make an old man happy?”

“Fine, old man. I’ll try to call.”

Sam called Lola about a month later. They were about to begin the debugging phase on Mapletown, so there was a brief lull in the schedule.

“Yo Masur!” Lola greeted him. “Took you long enough. What are we doing tonight?”

They agreed to go to the Arclight to see The Matrix. Lola had already seen it three times, but Sam hadn’t seen it yet.

Lola and Sam had been in all the same classes in high school—they had dated briefly their senior year (one had to go to prom with someone) and drifted apart when they’d gone to college (Lola, to study computer engineering at UCLA). She was smart, funny, tough, pushy, a little mean. But smart was the main thing Sam liked about Lola. She wasn’t special smart, like Sadie, but she was smart.

Although it hadn’t meant that much to him, Sam had lost his virginity to her. They’d been studying differential equations on an oppressively hot day in September. The power went off and his grandparents’ house became Palm Springs, and Sam and Lola ended up taking off their clothes. “We gonna do this, Masur?” she had said. And he thought, Why not? His foot hadn’t been bothering him that much. He did not love Lola, but he really liked her, and he was comfortable around her.

“It’s not your first time, is it?” he asked. In those days, Lola wore a cross around her neck, and he knew her family was Catholic. He didn’t want the occasion to be too significant for her if it wasn’t going to be significant for him.

“No,” she said. “Don’t worry about that.”

They had serviceable, unmemorable sex, using a condom his cousin had given him as a joke, and when it was over, Sam’s foot burned.

“Was that your first time?” Lola had asked.

“No,” Sam lied. He didn’t want to grant her the power of his virginity. Including Lola, Sam had had four different sexual partners in his life,

and he had never enjoyed sex with any of them. He had slept with one boy and three girls. While no one had ever mistreated him, sex had given him considerably less pleasure than masturbation. He did not like to be naked in front of other people. He did not like the messiness of sex—its fluids, its sounds, its smells. He worried that his body could not be relied upon. He could not imagine wanting to have sex with, for instance, Sadie or Marx, people he adored. The boy who had been his lover attributed it to Sam having low self-esteem because of his foot, but Sam felt that was reductive. He wasn’t sure he would have liked sex, even if everything on his body had been in perfect working order. Though there was some truth to what the boy had said. Sam did not believe his body could feel anything but pain, and so he did not desire pleasure in the same way that other people seemed to. Sam was happiest when his body was feeling nothing. He was happiest when he did not have to think about his body—when he could forget that he had a body at all.

Lola was unchanged from high school, except for her hair, which was now a viridescent bob. She had big, brown eyes and was tiny, busty, and strong-looking. She was wearing a tight, red-and-white poppy-print skater dress and lug-soled Mary Janes, and she smelled like the same orange blossom–scented drugstore shampoo she’d been using as long as he had known her. The only makeup she wore was bright red lipstick that felt almost like a warning to Sam—weren’t red things in nature dangerous?

“What did you think?” Lola asked him when the movie was over.

“It’s like Ghost in the Shell,” Sam said. “The anime, you know? It’s kind of a rip-off.”

“I’ve never seen it,” Lola said.

“Well, if you like The Matrix, you should see it,” Sam said.

They decided to drive to a rental store in Hollywood to pick up Ghost in the Shell, and then they went back to Sam’s place to watch it. He hadn’t had anyone over except his grandparents and Marx that once.

“Masur, what is up with your pad?” “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, except it looks like a serial killer lives here,” Lola said. “Or someone in witness protection, who might have to leave at any moment. You don’t have anything on your walls. You’re sleeping on a mattress on the floor. You’re a grown-ass successful man with a futon. Half your stuff is still in boxes.”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “I’ve been busy.”

“You should buy, like, a poster, or a plant, or something. Act like you live here, why not?”

Sam put in the DVD. Lola took off her shoes and curled herself into Sam, and he let her. No matter how hot it was in the day, L.A. was always cold at night.

It was pleasant to be near Lola. It was pleasant to feel her warmth against his warmth. He had been profoundly lonely since he’d come to Los Angeles, though he hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself.

After the surgery, he hadn’t wanted to be with other people. He had wanted to be alone with his pain. But then as the months passed and he

began to feel somewhat better, he wondered where Sadie had gone. At first, he had assumed Sadie was respecting his need for privacy, but as time went on, he felt something off between them. She had not visited him in the hospital or come to see his new place. He wondered if she was repulsed by his amputation, though that didn’t seem like Sadie.

She never spoke of anything but work with him, and at work, they were, literally, in two separate worlds. They had a staff of twenty working on Both Sides, and days could pass without them needing to speak. Their company had grown, so it was inevitable, he supposed—but sometimes, he longed for the intimacy of the apartment on Kennedy Street.

He missed Sadie more than he had missed her in the years he hadn’t spoken to her, because there she was, every day. It looked like Sadie and it spoke like Sadie, but somehow it was no longer Sadie. Something was wrong, but he decided he would wait to find out what it was until they had finished the game.

Lola and Sam reached the end of Ghost in the Shell. “Yes,” she conceded, “it’s like The Matrix, but I still love The Matrix.” Lola drew her knees up under her and she turned to face Sam. “I hope this won’t come off as too fangirl, but I loved Ichigo. Those are great games. I tell everyone I know that I went to prom with Sam Masur.”

“That’s flattering,” Sam said.

“I’m not flattering you. It’s the truth.”

“It’s not just my game,” Sam said. “I made it with my partner.” “Oh yeah, sure. The chick from L.A., right?”


“I remember her from high school. She won the Leipzig Family Scholars Prize for our region, right? I was up against her, but she won. I doubt she even needed the five thousand dollars. She was smart, but always had a stick up her ass, honestly.”

“What’d she do?”

“Nothing. She seemed kind of cold, I guess. It was a long time ago.

Forget I said it.”

“Sadie can be cold,” Sam conceded. “She’s an introvert.”

“I remember that she had great hair, though,” Lola said. “That shiny Beverly Hills blowout that all the Jewish Westside girls get.”

Sam wasn’t sure if this comment was anti-Semitic or not. “I think her hair just looks that way,” Sam said.

“No one’s hair just looks that way,” Lola said. She leaned in to kiss him, and he kissed her, and then she put her hand between his legs, wrapping her fingers around the cylindrical chamber of blood sponges that was his (and every) penis. He felt the corpora cavernosa, commanded by nerve messages from his subconscious brain, fill up with blood, and the tunica albuginea membrane, the penis’s straitjacket, trap the blood inside. He pulled away.

“What is it, Masur?” Lola said. “We’ve done this before. You don’t have a girlfriend, right?”

“This kind of thing is complicated for me.” Sam sat up. “You remember about my foot?”

Lola rolled her eyes. “We did have sex, Sam.”

“A couple of months ago, I finally had to have it removed and the recovery has been pretty gruesome, and I’m not the type of person that’s ever been much good with intimacy in the first place, I guess.”

“Sure,” Lola said. “I get that. Does it hurt right now? One to ten.” “Maybe a six, or a seven, if I move?”

“That’s no good,” Lola said, nodding. “It’s cool. We can have sex next time.” She took his hand. “You want to smoke some weed? I’ve got a joint in my purse.”

“I’m not into drugs. I like being able to have a clear head.”

“How clear a head can you have when you’re always in pain? Masur, trust me on this, no one has ever needed pot more than you.”

Lola lit the joint, which they passed back and forth while watching Ghost in the Shell for the second time. It was Sam’s first joint, and he could feel his mind gently slipping away, but at the same time, he wanted to act as if the drug was having no effect.

“You’re so high,” Lola said. “I’m not,” Sam insisted.

Toward the end of the movie, Lola said to him, “Do you want to show it to me?”

“My penis?” Sam laughed uncontrollably.

“No, your stump.” Lola shrugged. Sam could not help but notice that she seemed a lot less high than he was. “It might help you. Plus, I saw what it looked like before, so I can offer you a point of comparison.”

For whatever reason (maybe his inexperience with marijuana), this seemed like a solid argument to Sam. He took off his shoes, and then he took off his pants, and then he took off the prosthetic, and the two socks he had over the stump.

Lola looked at the stump appraisingly, and then she shrugged again. “It’s not that bad. It was probably worse before. Now it’s finished-looking, at least.” She put her warm hand over the stump, and it felt different than when he touched it or when a doctor touched it. She ran her index finger along the red-and-pink scar that looked like a firmly closed mouth, and a slightly pleasurable, slightly painful electricity coursed up and down his spine. She bent down and kissed it once, leaving the red stamp of her lips. He was going to tell her to stop, but he really was too high, and then it was over anyway. She squeezed the stump with her hand and she sat back up. “You’re going to be okay, Masur. I swear.”

Sam felt like crying, but instead he started to laugh.

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