By Daisy Alioto
“Where is the worst place to die?” asked Noah. He slid a few inches deeper into the hot tub and looked around at everyone’s reaction.
Cecily was facing away from him. She ashed her cigarette into a glass tray emblazoned with an Italian beer brand.
Noah waited expectantly. His chest hair undulated under the water, which glowed green in the slope’s flood lights. At this distance, the night skiers looked like they were wearing gas masks.
My boyfriend was the first to answer. He was always the first to answer.
“The bathroom at Penn Station. Louis Kahn,” he said. Like we were handing out grades.
Noah pointed at him slowly. “A plus, Henry!” he said. Cecily shot a look at Noah. He was being a little patronizing. But so was I, in my head.
“Luckily for Cece, she would die before she would use the bathroom at Penn Station,” Noah said. That lightened the mood.
I dug a bit of orange peel out of my mulled wine and began to make a list in my head: Robert Lowell died in the back of a taxi cab, clutching a portrait of his mistress, on the way to see his ex-wife. Isadora Duncan died in a convertible, strangled by her scarf. As my mother would say, she choked on her own vanity. For a while I was obsessed with a woman named Elisa Lam who drowned in a water tank at a seedy hotel. Her Tumblr blog continued to churn out pre-scheduled posts after her death. Ghost content.
Noah reached back and pulled himself to the rim of the tub, where my boyfriend was already sitting. I looked back and forth between them. I wondered if Noah and I would ever have sex. I thought about fucking him every day, but my ability to picture something was no longer a good indication of whether or not it would occur. “I wouldn’t mind dying here,” my boyfriend said. Were we still talking about that? He squeezed my shoulder with his pruney fingers.
I remembered a conversation we had months earlier. Before Cecily had even suggested skiing, or maybe after the couple she would have preferred to ski with dropped out. Henry looked at me with the glossy gaze of someone used to being deeply hurt. “I know you think I’m too childlike. I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to be a child,” he said. Wow, I thought. Ok, I thought. “My therapist says that’s the jealousy that undergirds our attraction,” I said.
Noah was offering my boyfriend another beer. He had arranged the bottles in a triangle, like pool balls. He passed my boyfriend two beers and carefully rearranged the triangle. I admired the slight bulge of his stomach over the waistband of his swimsuit. I’m sure Cecily hated that bulge. Noah was what the gays would call a ‘bear’ and Henry was a twink. We should switch boyfriends, I thought.
When I was in 6th grade, Cecily and I were in the same camp cabin. Once, we took a three day excursion from camp to go canoeing on a river in New Hampshire and on the final day detoured through the suburbs to get ice cream at Dairy Queen. Cecily and I went to the bathroom while everyone else waited in line. She turned to the side and inspected her flat stomach.
“Dairy Queen is white trash,” she said.
When my dad picked me up, sober for real this time, we passed the same Dairy Queen and his eyes lit up with nostalgia. “Hey,” he nudged me. “How about a chocolate dipped cone?”
“Ew,” I said. If he was drinking or my mother had been there I know he would have gone in anyway. He would have parked and huffed and said “Well I am going in and you can stay in the car.” He would have slammed the door and come back out and eaten his ice cream sitting on the little parking lot curb with his balls straining against his madras shorts– just to spite me. I wish that’s what he had done. Instead, he cried quietly until we reached the highway. “Sorry,” he said. “Withdrawal.”
“I think that Noah looks down on me,” my boyfriend confided before we left for Switzerland. “Just because I back up my points with whatever I happen to be reading at the time and not the entire compendium of human knowledge. What’s the problem with that?” he said.
“No problem,” I responded.
I read somewhere that liking and wanting are processed by different circuits in the brain. “The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong,” my mom would say. “Carl Jung,” she would add. I liked Henry most of the time and I wanted Noah all of the time.
Cecily stubbed out her cigarette. I could tell she was bored. She already told me about her plan for later in the evening: get a bucket of champagne and prawns from room service and order a bunch of shit online. “They don’t put the champagne and prawns in the same bucket of ice,” said Noah. “Thanks Professor,” Cecily said.
We were in that sweet spot after the holidays before I paid my bills. I still had money in my account, and extra even. Cecily’s style of clothing was not my style and yet I probably owed most of my sartorial sense to her. Her mother forwarded her J. Crew catalogs to camp where she circled pages of $40 tank tops. “White is basically the only color I wear,” she said. Even back then she liked garments you could look at and know in an instant they would disappoint you.
Daisy Alioto is the audience development manager at New York Review of Books. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Longreads, Paris Review and The Cut and her poetry has been published by Unbroken Journal and Triangle House Review. She is also a journalist with bylines at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The New Republic.