MORSE CODE KISSES – Jesse Hilson
January 30, 2022
At the Annual Sorority Auction at the Lambda Psi, in the parlor made of oak and gold, Morgan Geld bid way high on a bronze likeness of Kali (all the girls went ooooh) and shut down the “stealth Zelda” across the aisle.
“Do I hear one hundred, two?”
The room was full to bursting with students, mainly women. When bidding is decisive, an audience at auction will applaud, as if at an opera.
Morgan didn’t even go to Cornell. She was visiting one of the few men present, her supposed boyfriend, Terry Marble. Supposed because lately he felt conditional. During intermission, by the table of crudités, Morgan watched as Terry leaned too close to a brilliant Asian girl with a pierced nose. The trifling brat had explained to Morgan in a high, breathy voice what a stealth Zelda was: a Jewish American Princess undercover as a goy.
“Cornell is full of them,” the antisemitic student explained as she lingered in Terry’s physical space like a magnet and Morgan burnt her at the stake with her eyes.
The $1,000 Morgan bid on the Kali statue was a warning shot. Across the bow of every woman present. Hip alumni ladies in their 30s cornered Morgan:
“Thanks so much.”
“It’s for a good cause.”
“It’s for missing children. Where do you go to college?”
Morgan sneered. “That’s my good deed for this lifetime.”
It was Valentine’s Day, 2003.
Terry grazed her shoulder with an open hand, a pale mockery of all prior graspings. Mentioned some soiree on Catherine St. that he and Klaudia (pronounced “cloud-ee-uh”) were trekking to. “Coming with? It’s Valentine’s Day.”
It’s all Love. No one offered to carry her Kali as they made their way through the snow. Freezing fog linked every streetlight. And below zero, breath died.
From the house’s yard the muffled bass was like a chopped-up siren-roar, a robot underground who raped, devoured Nintendo princesses by the score. A spooky pixie with a bankroll held Morgan in her arms so tender at the door, like sisters reuniting, then took ten bucks, waved her in, from the next accepted more.
The coat-check cheeba monkey, gay, examined her fur coat, asked with stereotypical eyebrow raised if it was fake, and swore to guard the Hindu figurine not knowing what it cost her. Without her sheath Morgan Geld resembled heroines from Austen, if Austen put her heroines in spiky collars from the pet store and torn black t-shirts reading MORS SYPHILITICA.
In clever parallel of Tolstoyan balls Terry and Klaudia disappeared into the tiny whirlpools found between the plankton dancers. The basement’s stairwell, once they were down there, was blocked to all escape by a big-boned grad student in ironic party frock and a shaved-head banjo player who argued over UN Resolution 1441.
Green light at the rave turned everyone to kelp. A tall guy with dreadlocks danced like a stack of barrels threatening to fall on the bomb-ass lesbians breakdancing inside a thronged circle where Morgan stood and watched.
A crazed guy across the circle was videotaping, got her attention. She came to life, thought fast enough to blow the camera double kisses, in Morse Code: -. = the letter N. The dot was a punctuation for the drawn-out dash of her concupiscence.
A curious sound effect within the music pulled all the time within the room into one corner, gradual as a bent bowstring, farther, painful until it couldn’t be borne, then let the time snap back just in time to leap inside the next measure, as if sneaking at the last second through closing subway doors.
Morgan only glimpsed Klaudia when she was kind of ¼ dancing, ¾ drinking from the same water bottle refilled from a mysterious source. Terry, the boy who had invited Morgan to drop in, or at least made no struggle to prevent her when she gave warning in an email she was coming to Cornell (which is the same thing), stood behind Klaudia arms over her shoulders. With his hands he held the bottle while she drank from it.
Morgan Geld when she stagger-swayed into the circle danced like underwater ballerinas might: spins, expansive curving arm movements, wearing on her face the poise and dignity of 1819, under a strobing light. Whereas all the other girls were more like martial artists, shadow boxers shielding their personal spaces. The half-crouch, the liquid torso flexes, all while fixing faces at some boundary between disgust and pleasure.
Morgan Geld never stalked Terry through the basement’s maze of branching catacombs but did not leave the party either.
The whirling party-emerald slowed, drifted up the basement stairs and filed, facet after facet, out the front door onto the snow to form at dawn gregarious clumps, then reassembled facing west on Catherine St. The phalanx forming in the dawn exhaled balloons of frozen steam and at some signal trickling through the crowd began to drift.
They cheered when blending with a larger flood of citizens as they turned en masse up Eddy St. (“in Collegetown since before you were born”). Terry Marble could be spotted through the bars of the shifting crowd-cage by his puffy orange coat. He told Morgan once he wore it since it mimicked Buddhist saffron robes.
Past Seneca Street, then left on Buffalo, the morning sun behind them cast each person’s shadow all acute onto the angry backs and shoulders of the ragged rank in front. Morgan didn’t know she was caught in one tributary of the largest antiwar demo in all of human history.
600 cities, 8-30 million people. In Rome alone, 3 million. A global spasm of dissent against the vampire oil mafia Kellogg Brown and Root and the DC chicken-hawks who aimed to lay a big egg, big bang in the middle of the Middle East. The commentariat wanted war. “UN inspectors are too slow, too biased, too Old Europe, too anti-semitic.” So said Fox News all day. Even Lib-Dem Brits in Parliament were waiting for a 2nd resolution. The New York Times intoned: “There are two superpowers on the planet today: The US and worldwide public opinion.”
She followed the crowd on its path through history, thinking she would be getting an omelet. She was no constituent of the demonstration nation. She was wealthy and apolitical even as her dad eyeballed a Senate seat. In the footage they were playing on repeat, Saddam discharged archaic shotguns in the air while frantic US commentators jabbered everywhere. Morgan had watched it on TV on the sofa beside her dad, thinking: “Let’s go in and get him.” He did look very sleazy, that’s for sure. She remembered from Manhattan club life how stinky eager Arab suitors were.
Terry and Klaudia like two evasive strokes of the brush blended into a moving landscape. “War Is So 20th Century!” A grinning Catholic nun displayed the sign. Morgan saw a student on the sidelines start to douse a US flag in kerosene being filmed by antic Morse code guy. Like an oyster spooked, her throat closed up. She used her dancer’s shoulders to become a small droplet, which leaked like mercury through several close-knit lines of students and professors up ahead. All losing body heat rapidly, all trying to forestall Iraqi dead. Hooded anarchists, belts of riot gear emitting (as if gamma radiation) fear, chatted with the neo-hippie moms, across their chests strapped sleeping baby-bombs. They had a chance to cross-pollinate united in their utter hate of Condoleeza’s misdirection tricks and all the cowboy geopolitics.
She couldn’t see the Buddhist robes nor the Chinese brat’s hat of powder blue.
The marchers were so vain, they probably thought this march was about them. They asked one another to create a protest-souvenir: to videotape them shouting shrill slogans only when the red RECORD light was on. After pounding deafness at the dance their shouted phrases at the march could not have been more angrily direct, without need, since everyone in earshot was another antiwar marcher. Except her.
The stealth Zelda bright-eyed and well-slept in a kuffiyeh yelled with such grad school gusto a yard away from Morgan’s poor eardrums, as if performing for some crowd within the crowd that was hard to pinpoint.
“History is seldom made by well-behaved women.”
So was she still his girlfriend now?
She wasn’t going back home to Mommy and Daddy’s parlor in the Catskills without getting his attention.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Bush and Rumsfeld got to go!”
But she never did catch him, no matter how she filtered, stalked, became a samurai of jealousy. She heard the hoarse speeches. She listened to the bitter panoply of older left-wing bugaboos — sweatshops, unions, Palestine — which for the moment had emulsified like drops of oil in water with the wider population’s newer fears of global bloodshed.
Invade Switzerland for all she cared. She had her war. If Betty and Veronica were opposing poles, then Klaudia had out-Veronica’d Morgan. And that was unacceptable.
She couldn’t find a person to skirmish with, to tell them so. Terry was missing from his house when she got there finally. His housemate let her in to get her bag and things. In the den of cat hair, they had a cup of tea. She pumped him with such cleverness for info on her rival from the Ivy League. He spoke with studied judgment since he wanted to triangulate himself with care. She weighed the pros and cons of tossing him a hand-job (more?), right there on the couch. To use the co-signer of Terry’s lease for childish revenge and fun.
But the housemate wore green Crocs, a t-shirt with the image of an ugly rapper who she didn’t even know, and worst of all, a necklace made of pukka shells and hemp. A choker, really.
Six years late on that one, homie, Morgan thought. So she dodged that bullet.
It was only once she’d passed the snow-white exit east for Unadilla, softly singing with John Mayer, tears like yolks about to break, some lucky woman’s body was a wonderland, only then did she tumble to it, the fact she’d managed to forsake the angry goddess to whom she’d made her heartfelt offering of all-destroying wrath.