Surrealist sexual playing cards lined the wall of Dali’s restaurant. Each was as small as a regular playing card and had the pair making love to each other in unlikely positions. Some cards had two men, some two women, some a woman with a monster. Often one or both of the lovers were blindfolded and innocent-looking—almost unaware as to what was happening to their lower body—but smiling just enough for the viewer to know that they were pleased by what was happening.
A platform where bands typically played was transformed into a place for the Law Association Awards. All of the major New York firms had tables. Sitting around Raul Dangler’s table were six partners and four other summer associates from Harper & Mann LLP. Lorraina Merewether, the head of the firm’s environmental practice, smiled seductively at the head of the table.
The first course was foie gras mini-hamburgers served with lychee martinis.
After this, an award was given to Harper & Mann LLP for being the most environmentally friendly firm for its use of solar power in its San Francisco Office, and for its revolutionary program moving from paper paychecks to electronic paychecks. As the award was given, Ms. Merewether gestured for the waiter. The waiter put a warm piece of walnut cranberry bread next to her arm.
The second course was pangolin steak and mustard-crusted raw salmon served with fresh raspberries in sake.
Another firm won an award for workplace diversity.
The third course was a half lobster served with a red wine from California.
Other firms won awards for promoting women in the workplace.
The fourth course was a tin tree sculpture with cheesecake lollipops growing from its branches. The lollipop tree was served with cotton candy flavored whipped cream on the side. At the base of the tree was a rectangular glass case of living Japanese beetles covered with a viscous golden fluid. Throughout the course, hidden jet streams beneath the glass case shot new fluids, causing the beetles to change colors to deep red, purple, and finally black. The wings of the beetles made a metallic but soothing sound as they scraped against each other. With each new liquid the pitch changed.
Between the fourth and fifth courses, Harper & Mann received a Women’s Rights award for its pro bono program for battered women. Ms. Merewether was also awarded individually for her leadership within that program. As she accepted the award, the announcer asked her how she did it. “Thankfully, I don’t need much sleep,” Ms. Merewether said. The crowd laughed.
The fifth course was deep-sea bass served still sizzling on a rock.
The final course was the largest cheesecake Raul had ever seen, crusted with candied Japanese Beetles.
“I can’t eat more,” said a fellow summer associate at the edge of the table.
“Are you kidding? I can finish that myself,” Raul said.
“A hundred dollars says you can’t,” Ms. Merewether said.
“You’re on,” Raul said.
Ms. Merewether tapped the chest of the waiter, as if they were old friends. “Has anyone ever finished one of these alone?”
“Not in my three years here.”
“Okay Raul. If you finish it, a hundred bucks. But you throw up—you lose,” Ms. Merewether said.
“I can do this,” Raul said.
Raul asked for an oversized spoon so he could eat the cheesecake in fewer bites. Each time he plunged the spoon in, the candied beetles’ shells would give resistance, then crackle and let the spoon plunge into the buttery soft insides of the cake. About halfway through, another partner put two fifty-dollar bills on the table. “Stop now, I’ll pay. You’re going to kill yourself.”
“No! I’m okay. I’m okay. I can do this,” Raul said.
“I don’t think you can do this,” the partner said.
“No, he’s a big boy—he agreed to do it. Let him do it. A deal’s a deal,” said Ms. Merewether. “Raul, you can stop any time.”
“I’m okay. I can do this,” Raul said and lifted his oversized spoon again.
Dali’s manager came over. “If he finishes it—Dali’s will put his picture up right there …” the manager said. Behind Raul was an empty frame between two playing cards with olive skinned women and monsters. “A photo of a Cameron Diaz was there—but someone stole it earlier this week.”
“Eat! Eat! Eat!” said the table when he resumed.
The kitchen help and table-bussers trickled in around the room, smiling to each other and speaking inaudibly among themselves. One started clapping but it did not catch.
Two bites before the cheesecake was finished, regret flooded Raul’s face. He fled to the bathroom. When he returned, the entire table clapped, the tables nearby hooted and howled. The manager took photos as he sat and finished the final bites. The kitchen staff drifted back to their jobs and the other tables returned to their own conversations.
“Would you like to take the pangolin blood home with you?” the waiter asked. “It helps settle the stomach.”
“Raul, do you want to bring home pangolin blood?” Ms. Merewether asked. Without waiting for a response, she patted the bill. The waiter took the bill away.
Ms. Merewether and Raul shared a cab to the after-party.
“What asshole becomes a cab driver without knowing how to get to 250 Fifth Avenue? It’s part of a fucking grid,” Ms. Merewether said loud enough for the taxi driver to hear. “How is your stomach?”
“Completely fine. I could’ve made it if I didn’t eat Joanna’s lobster,” Raul said.
“You ate Joanna’s entire lobster?” Ms. Merewether asked.
Raul smiled proudly.
The cab took them to the after-party, which was on a bar at the top of a midtown highrise. The bar was full of plush purple couches, and ambient music floated through the air. When they walked in, two Harper & Mann summer associates were already out on the balcony with shot glasses full of neon fluid. The rain had paused and they, laughing, tossed their shot glasses over the balcony edge onto the city streets below.
“Honey, come with me,” Ms. Merewether said to Raul, who watched the summers from the inside portion of the bar. “You did good tonight. You deserve something.”
Ms. Merewether led Raul to an old wooden door, which then opened to a large room. Half the walls were windows that looked over the Manhattan skyline. In the dead center was the Empire State Building. The view gave Raul a sense of power. Lining the walls were small cages filled with spiders.
Ms. Merewether was already in one of the reddish-brown leather couches drinking a clear liquid filled with ice and cucumbers. She looked over the skyline.
“Lie down. They’re getting us cigars. Take off your shirt.”
Ms. Merewether’s smile reminded Raul of the nude women on the playing cards. Raul rested in the nearest couch and removed his shirt. He took pride that his body remained muscular and toned with only two days in the gym a week this summer. An attractive woman came with one of the smaller cages and laid the cage on his chest.
“What the hell is that?” Raul asked.
“Just let the spider bite you. It’s fucking amazing. Fucking amazing.”
Raul’s concerned face melted into a smile. “Okay, I’m game.”
“Good. This is going to be good,” Ms. Merewether said. She held down one of Raul’s arms while the matron held down the other.
The spider was bright leathery yellow with light green splotches. It was the size of a baseball. Once out of the cage, the spider crawled across Raul’s skin. Raul’s body jerked instinctually. The spider’s feet felt like glass pins.
“Don’t worry, it’s coming. If it hits a vein—that’s payday.”
The spider bit Raul’s chest. Numbness flooded his body and everything seemed well.
Before the matron could recapture it, the spider scurried along his arm and bit down a second time on his wrist. Raul screamed and would have crushed the spider if his arm was not pinned. Looking down he saw a sack of eggs pulsating in the veiny part of his wrist.
Ms. Merewether laughed.
“Leave them, leave them,” the matron said. “Wait.” She recaptured the spider and left the room quickly.
“These places have to smuggle Tsche spider eggs into the country on the backs of carriers,” Ms. Merewether whispered, “which is both expensive and dangerous—especially if you have a premature hatching. Those are fucking valuable.”
Another woman brought cucumber drinks to them while they waited. The drink tasted like sticky, lightly sweetened water, but Raul sensed it was heavily alcoholic.
An elderly Asian man entered. “I’ll give you $20,000 if you let them hatch,” he said. His voice was calm and smoky.
“I can do that,” Raul said, laughing. “Can I still drink while I wait?”
The old Asian man smiled. “Only expensive drinks—it gives the spider’s bite extra flavor. You come here and the drinks are free.” The beautiful woman returned and began wrapping a soft white cloth around Raul’s wrist.
“Here here,” Raul said.
His wrist was turning purple and the bandages around it red with blood. Like this, they returned to the larger group outside.
Raul sat on a fluffy couch between Ms. Merewether and a fellow summer associate. As soon as Raul sat he started laughing uncontrollably. When this subsided, he turned to the summer associate next to him.
“Man, I feel like my soul is floating in and out of me—I try to stick it there,” he pinned the air, “like a pinned insect. Sometimes I care about others. Their fates and feelings. Sometimes I feel like shit for using women,” Raul said.
“Dude—what are you talking about?” the summer asked. “Holy shit! What happened your arm! Jesus!”
“Bug bite. Nothing serious. I was just um scratching it and it bled a little. Um, do you think. Did you see Judith throw her shot glass over into the street?”
“Man, Judith is a dirty sock,” the summer said.
“A what?” Raul asked.
“You know. You were a junior high school boy—your dirty sock. That’s Judith. Go for it, if you like.”
“No, I just didn’t hear the first time. Man, that’s gross. That’s hysterical. Ms. Merewether, did you hear what he just said? Ms. Merewether?”
She was turned away from him, talking to a firm partner.
She turned. “Yes Raul?”
Raul saw Ms. Merewether had been strumming his back like a guitar. Even seeing her touching him, he could not feel her fingers until he concentrated. When he finally felt her touch, his skin tingled pleasantly.
“Uhhh. Did you know that giant bullfrogs eat their own children for food? But the tadpoles stay close anyway, for protection from other predators.”
“No, Raul. I didn’t know that.”
“I saw it—I learned it at a frog exhibit. At the history museum. Strange—playing the odds like that. Isn’t it? What awards did we win today?”
“Women’s Rights Leadership and Environmentally Friendly Law Firm of the Year.”
“Yes. It is.”
“Oh shit. Oh shit. Wait. Wait. I have to call my parents and tell them I’m not coming home tonight.”
“Oh. Yes you do, yes you do,” Ms. Merewether said. She patted his chest then reached into his jacket, pulled out his phone and put it into his hand. “Guys. Guys. Everyone has to be quiet. Raul has to call his parents to tell them he’s not making it home tonight.” The crowd quieted and looked at Raul. The room became so quiet they could hear the other line ringing.
“Hello,” a gruff voice said on the other end.
“Hi Dad. I’m not coming home tonight. I’m aaah staying with some friends. I don’t think can phtha—you know. I think it’s better if I just stay with some friends.”
“Uh, Raul, you know you’re in New York City, right?”
“Right,” Raul said. “Yes sir.”
“Son, you also know, we—your mother and I—live in California now.”
“Right. Right. Yes sir.” He snapped his cellphone shut and looked up at everyone. “That was not fucking funny guys.”
The room broke into laughter.
“Guys, you don’t understand, my father is a fucking important general in the fucking U.S. military. And he’s going to be pissed tomorrow. He’s going to fucking find me and all of you, and blow our houses up.” Raul made an exploding sound, then looked down at his bloody bandages. The purpled skin around the sacks was sweaty. He could feel the spider eggs start to pulse in rhythm with his heartbeat. “Okay. It’s kind of funny. Okay. It’s funny.”
Timothy DeLizza was raised in Brooklyn, NY and currently resides in Washington, DC. He has previously been published in several literary magazines, including most recently in the Zodiac Review and Pif Magazine. You can find him at www.timothy-delizza.com.