SPOILER ALERT: this alternate ending contains, in some sense, spoilers. It is not necessary to read Lee and Elaine first in order to appreciate it, but we highly recommend it!)
I still have the card from Steve Ross’s grave I pinched the first time I took Heather to Green River Cemetery. If I hadn’t visited Hannah, I might never have become so cathected to Steve Ross. At the time of her death the back part of the cemetery, which is now quite full, was just Hannah, four stacked film reels, anonymous then (now labeled with Stan Vanderbeek’s name), Steve Ross, and a bunch of small as-of-yet unmarked boulders for the rest of his family. I didn’t really know much about Steve Ross except that he’d been head of Time Warner and died of cancer. For some reason the fact they called him Steve made me think he was either young or gay. I’d heard that he purchased the land, 111 new plots, himself, when he was dying, perhaps because he wanted the runoff from Pollock’s grave to water his own. But later I found out the actual sale was put together by his wife Courtney.
I had no idea how Hannah had wangled herself a spot, especially since she didn’t believe she was ever going to die. There, too, I later found out it was her husband who bought it, and he must have worked fast because she was in the ground a few days after she died. I visited her a lot, and then discovered my other favorite ghosts. But that first day, it had just been Hannah and Steve that I noticed, so I always thought of them as pioneers – and they had a special place in my heart as well as in that part of the cemetery (then so empty) – especially Steve, who made it all possible. That was three years ago.
“It must be close to the anniversary of his death,” I say, excited, running ahead of her. “Now I can look up his obituary. I wonder who the flowers are from. There’s a card!” I grab it, feeling like a criminal (a familiar feeling).
It says: ‘Delivered to Steve Ross. Green River Cemetery. Dear Eights, We love you and miss you with all our hearts.’ Then a big heart drawn in, then signed, ‘Quincy.’ My heart gets big and crazy.
“Quincy,” I say. “Maybe it’s Quincy Jones,” feeling like a fool. Of course there are a million Quincys but my mind is so pop that the link-up’s immediate. I wonder out loud what the connection is but don’t say something really stupid like maybe Steve Ross produced “We Are The World.” Maybe Warner Brothers is Quincy’s label. I even think about when Quincy was my favorite tv show, which I haven’t thought about in years. Remember Quincy? You probably don’t. Jack Klugman? That one? Early morgue. I’ve always loved it.
“You could find out,” she says.
“Yes! Yes! Maybe I could call up Time Warner – no, the Ross family,” I say, trying to catch my breath.
“Keep it simple. Call the florist.”
Why didn’t I think of that?
“I’ll call the florist,” I say, chagrined. “But what can I say? ‘This is Courtney Ross and we got these wonderful flowers and the terrible weather washed the writing on the card off,’ or ‘We lost the card and need the address…’”
“Keep it simple,” she says again. “I find that when I lie, if it gets too complicated, I have trouble keeping it straight in my own head.”
“I know what you mean,” I say, though I do it all the time.
“And don’t say you’re Steve Ross’s wife. Say you’re a personal assistant from the Ross family.”
She’s much sharper. ‘Personal assistant’ is so much better. Later I find out ‘Keep it simple’ is a twelve-step thing.
“Yes, we got these wonderful flowers and the card from Quincy and we know several Quincys and I just wanted to make sure of the last name,” I babble on.
Even as I’m saying it, it seems pretty demented, the part about knowing a lot of Quincys. It’s never going to work plus I’d be giving myself away and maybe they’d catch me. But for what? I haven’t done anything. Then I slip the card in my jeans pocket and we run away to the next plot.
It was the first time she’d been to the cemetery, though she’d been hearing about it from me for a long time, ever since I knew her, when we were writer fans and friends. I would tell her about this book I was writing about the women artists buried in Green River Cemetery and especially about Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning who I assumed had been friends and how maybe in my book they would come back as ghosts and fall in love, which always made her laugh. She gave me the manuscript of her second novel, NOTICE, which she couldn’t sell and which I promptly fell in love with. I thought it was sexy though some people had trouble with it and couldn’t finish it.
For the past six months I’d talked about the cemetery and the book with her constantly but I hadn’t actually been working on it at all. Ever since we’d gotten together. Longer than I’d ever stopped writing. Because I was in love. And when people would ask us, “How is it being two writers together?” we’d look at each other and laugh and say, “We don’t write.”
But it wasn’t funny. Not any more. It left me feeling like a ghost myself. So we decided that after that weekend, we wouldn’t see each other or call each other, let alone touch each other, for a whole week, because we hadn’t been able to write our books since we’d started fucking and after four months it was interfering with everything, even with that, because not writing meant we didn’t know who or where we were anymore. But it seemed tragic, like we were breaking up forever, and I was afraid of what would happen when we did see each other again.
It was early October but it was very cold. We pulled into the back, like I had the first time I came to Green River looking for Hannah Wilke’s new, still-wet, grave with the yet-fresh flowers, no headstone, just a little place card made of bronze. I showed her Steve Ross’s family plot. I still didn’t know much more about Steve except that he was head of Time Warner when he died and I’d read one article in the Business Section of theTimes about what happens when big CEOs get sick in which they said he started out as an undertaker at Frank Campbell’s, which struck me as funny. It didn’t say that when they get sick they buy cemeteries. Now it’s packed. They had to squeeze director Alan Pakula into a corner by the back fence when a pointed steel pole came loose from the truck in front of him on the LIE and rammed his head as he was making an early getaway from the city right before Thanksgiving. But like I said, when I first saw it, there was only Steve and Hannah and four anonymous empty film reels and somehow I’d communicated my obsession with Steve, as well as with all the women artists, to Heather and she was dying to see them.
“Do you know when Steve died?” she asked.
She’d been asking, even before we saw the flowers, which I could smell before we saw them, a large slightly-wilted bunch of flowers on a stand beside Steve’s boulder.
“I don’t know,” I said.
We were looking at these two graves en route to the Ross area, graves of, I assume, gay men, one of whom was dead, had died very young, I assume, of AIDS, and one of whom just had his name there next to the dead one. I thought it was a little sick and strange. Of course older straight staid couples do this, but they are old people when they make these arrangements and from another time. It seemed strange to me for young gay men to have some silly little love song carved in stone that might have to be changed if the live guy finds a new boyfriend.
“Well, probably the other one is very sick too,” said Heather.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” Why don’t I think of these things?
I show her the result of the Steve Ross area – all stones, boulders – the Jackson Pollock motif. I wonder if Steve owned any Pollocks and who has them now. One of the kids, probably, the people who have boulders but no names. Maybe someday there’ll be a boulder saying ‘Nick and Tony’s.’ Now Mrs. Ross, Steve’s mother, is there too. It must have been bad. They say losing a child’s the worst. But she’s here now. Or maybe she was dead already and they moved her here. They do that a lot.
I’m still stuck on the card that’s in my pocket. I keep touching it to make sure I haven’t lost it or imagined the whole thing.
Why ‘Eights?’ I wonder why they called him ‘Eights.’ Could it be something musical? Well, if it really is Quincy Jones… I could call Quincy up and say, ‘I was at Green River Cemetery and I saw the card and was so moved and I’m a big fan of yours and of course, Steve’s, and I just wondered…I just wondered…’ I could talk to Quincy Jones! But I don’t know anything about Steve. I should check his obituary first. What if someone notices the card is missing? Someone from the family? I could just say, ‘I took it and was going to put it back as soon as I found out. I needed the number.’
The first Monday after that visit I decide to dial the florist. First time, I hang up. I practice the routine about being the Ross family’s personal assistant (wonder if I sound too old), but still haven’t quite gotten past the part about finding out the last name of the Quincy person. Finally I call and have the nerve to stay on the line. When I do, I get this young-sounding clerk. I barely get half the sentence out about Steve Ross and the flowers when he burbles out, scarcely able to contain his thrill, “Yes, yes, they’re from Quincy Jones. Quincy Jones! Isn’t that fabulous?”
“Quincy Jones, yes, yes, that’s what I …I mean – “ remembering my role “– I know, thanks, just wanted to check. We know two Quincys.”
I think now he’s excited to have heard from the Ross family. My heart’s bumping along and I feel breathless too, then silly, to have been so afraid and to have made up such an elaborate sleuthing strategy. Then I feel guilty to have tricked him. Then relieved, laughing at my fears, my feelings, and thankful. I got lucky. The guy’s probably been telling everyone about Quincy. And now he’s telling them this, too.
I don’t know whose idea it was to fuck in the cemetery. It would be our last night together. At least until we both started working on our books again. We thought it was going to be so cold we spent the afternoon in Revco buying safety pins and improvised a sleeping bag by pinning two shower curtains to a quilt. She had the idea that Revco would sell long underwear. I imagine the kind with little printed animals on them. Wrong. They had nothing thermal. And I could not have imagined how slippery the plastic shower curtain pinned to the outside would make the improvised sleeping-bag apparatus. Or how hilarious that part of it would turn out to be, though it didn’t feel so cold at all, once we slid inside the bag, once the terror, the fear that this was a terrible error, went away.
At first I felt so scared I thought I was going to pass out. It was only the third time in my life I’d had sex in a cemetery and the other two times I was on drugs. We started to kiss. A car pulled into the back. I thought I was going to faint again. My heart pounded at the thought of getting caught having sex on Hannah Wilke’s grave. We kept very still. The car – probably kids looking for a place to park, and not the cemetery police as I’d imagined – made a slow u-turn, crunched over the gravel, pulled out and was gone. Then, soon, the terror slipped away through our warming fingertips and was gone too. We rolled around on top of each other, reversing our positions, laughing, panting, breathing, under the covers. Now we were sweating. We lay there for a while to cool down, then flipped over on our backs, and looked at the stars. There wouldn’t be that many once I was back in the city. At least not that I could see.
It was so quiet. We were peaceful. It was beautiful. Romantic. Wild. Daring. But it had to be over. So finally, reluctantly, we slithered out of the bag. We stood up. We folded up the shower-curtain sleeping bag. We tried to be quiet but it was a noisy process. The plastic was crunching too loudly. By now we both felt a little weird. Not bad at all, but it made us very quiet too. What had we done?
Then we got back in the car. I was driving. I turned our car around and shone the headlights on where we’d been. We were already ecstatic. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, we were laughing, hysterical. Marking the place of all this taboo magic, the fabulous secret sex – perhaps desecrating my friend’s grave – was this huge shape. Evidence. But of what? You could plainly see it in the headlight beams, the brilliant grass flattened down, this long rectangle of green slippage, at least nine feet long by four feet wide, from the head of the stone where we started sliding downhill to where we stopped afterwards, but so spooky because what it looked like was that some giant long cow, or a herd of cows, had been lying down there. It was hilarious. We couldn’t stop howling. That scared me more.
Then I did one more thing. I guess I didn’t want the fear to be over. I made her get out of the car again back into the cemetery blackness and made her run up in the dark, then dash in the path of the headlights up to Steve Ross’s grave and pluck a flower, a big purple lily, wide open, still fresh, fragrant, from Quincy’s bouquet, to add, along with the card, to my collection.