Her name was Cocaine. She was from Miami. I’ve never been to Miami but I always imagine people are having more fun down there. Cocaine liked to have fun. She liked to dance. I met her at a party. It was late and I went into the living room to get one last drink, and there she was, dancing by herself.
    Hello, I said.
    Hey, she said.
    She didn’t stop dancing. I poured myself a vodka and soda. Do you want a drink? I said.
    No, thank you, sweetie. Can’t you see I’m dancing?
    Yes, I said. I can see that. You’re an excellent dancer.
    She smiled. I sat down on the couch. I pretended to check my phone. I put it away and watched her. She didn’t seem to mind.
    I’m Aleksandr, I said.
    She told me her name.
    Cocaine? I said.
    Yeah, sweetie.
    That’s your legal name? I said.
    She nodded. Why, what’s wrong?
    Nothing. That’s a nice name. What’s your last name?
    Jesus, sweetie, you’re full of questions.
    She danced for a while longer and then sat down next to me.
    Can we smoke in here? she said.
    We’re not supposed to. We can in my room though.
    She got her bag and followed me.
    We lit up our cigarettes.
    So you know Chris? I said.
    Who’s Chris?
    One of the roommates. This is his party. It’s all his art friends, I think. Are you an artist?
    No. She smiled.
    You know Miranda?
    No.
    Mallory?
    No. Maybe my friend Tanya does. But she left already. She went home with some girl. You have any music?
    What do you want to listen to? I said.
    Something I can dance to.
    Of course, I said. I put on some Biggie Smalls and she was dancing again. I sat back on my bed and watched her. I’d never met someone who liked dancing so much. I fell asleep. When I woke up I was under the covers and my jeans and shoes were off. She was asleep next to me. I watched her for a little bit. She looked so peaceful when she was sleeping. She was wearing one of my t-shirts. God, she was beautiful.

She was Haitian. You don’t look Haitian, I said. What does a Haitian look like? she said. I don’t know, I said, but not you. My father is Irish, she said. Fucking Irish asshole. Tell me how you really feel, I said. We ate brunch. She came back to my place and we watched a movie and smoked a pack of cigarettes and got drunk.

She began spending a lot of time at the apartment. I didn’t mind but when my roommates starting giving me dirty looks, I nearly doubled my rent contribution, which seemed to pacify them. Coco cooked me food. She worried I didn’t eat enough. You’re too skinny, she said. Eat, eat. What, are you a fucking ballerina? You eat like a little bird! She took photographs. I want to be a photographer, she said. You should take a class, I said. I don’t have the money, she said.

The last weekend of every month she would disappear. There’s something I have to do, she said. What? I said. I just need some alone time. To think, to take photographs. Where do you go? I said. Just around, she said. Okay, I said. Don’t worry, sweetie, she said. Everything’s fine.

Coco’s brother came to town. His name was James. He looked liked Coco’s twin. He arrived when Coco was at work. We sat on the couch.
    How was the trip? I said.
    Good, he said.
    You drove all the way up, straight through?
    Yeah, he said. No, I stopped at a motel for one night. But pretty much right through. Can I smoke in here?
    No, but we can in my room.
    Can I put my bag in there? I have a present for Coco and I don’t want anything to happen to it.

After he showered we went for pizza and then to the bar where Coco worked. It was a small place in South Williamsburg. She was working by herself that night. She hugged James and cried a little. It’s my little brother, she said. She poured us drinks. The last customer left and she locked the door. How are mom and dad? she said.
    The same, he said.
    Did they get my postcard?
    They tore it up, he said. They tell people you joined the army.
    The army?
    Yeah. He shrugged. To explain why you’ve been gone for a long time. He has some pretty good stories worked up. You’re in Afghanistan and your communication home is limited. You work in Intelligence and can’t get away, your work is so important. Top secret stuff. War has been tough on you. You have PTSD. You have anxiety attacks so you can’t fly home. Bullshit like that.
    Tell him I’m a bartender, she said. See what he says.
    She poured us another round.
    Did you get the money? she said.
    He glanced at me.
    It’s fine, she said. He’s on our side.
    Yeah, I got it, he said. He smiled.

James had stolen a large sum of money from their uncle. A sum he might miss. I’d miss it. I’d want it back. He’s an asshole, Coco said. A rich motherfucking asshole and he deserves it. He basically stole some money from my dad but he won’t admit it. He deserves this. In the end it’s only a little bit of money to him. He won’t even know it’s gone. Coco poured us shots. Let’s go dancing, she said.    

Coco walked out on Broadway and went up to the JMZ stop on Myrtle. She checked her phone and answered a call. I couldn’t hear what she said. She put her headphones on and got on the train. I followed her. She transferred to the uptown 6 at Bleecker and got off at 51st Street. She walked to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and went inside to the bar. Another woman was there. In her twenties, I guess, blond hair. They kissed on the cheek and ordered drinks. About ten minutes later a man came up to them. He was in his mid-fifties, I’d guess. Dressed in a suit. He greeted them and kissed them on the cheek. He ordered a drink. They talked. They laughed. They seemed to know each other. The man paid and they walked out. They went to Le Bateau Ivre on 51st Street. They ordered dinner. After they ate they walked back to the hotel. They went up to the 24th floor. I waited in the lobby until someone came up to me and asked if they could help me. I think I looked suspicious since I was hanging around. I panicked a little so I left. It was 1am. Hope this helps, bro.

We went for sushi at Nobu. I ordered a bottle of saki. I don’t know if I could ever live in Park Slope, she said. I mean, it almost feels too nice, too safe. It’s like the fucking suburbs with the perfect moms pushing their five hundred dollar strollers with their perfect little designer babies and everyone lives in their perfect brownstone. I think we should look for a place near the bar. That way I could walk to work and since you work from home it could be anywhere. I’ve always wanted to walk to work. I could walk to work now technically from your place but it’s kind of far and ever since that fucking crackhead tried to steal my shit, I can’t do it. It’s crazy. I didn’t used to be afraid. I wasn’t afraid of anything. I could walk anywhere. Now every time someone comes up behind me I reach for my mace. I like Fort Greene but I couldn’t walk to work. But whatever, sweetie, we’ll figure it out. It’s your birthday. Happy birthday!
    I ordered more saki.
    Jesus Christ. Thirsty?
    It’s my birthday, I said.
    And you can do whatever you want, she said.
    Whatever I want, I said.
    We finished the meal. I paid. Nightcap? I said.
    Okay, she said. If you want.
    I do fucking want.
    We went to a hidden bar in a basement of some building in Tribeca. Coco knew all the secret, hidden bars. I was drinking scotch. Do you bring him here? I said. Or do you just take turns fucking him and order room service?

I walked down the long, white carpeted stairs. It curved around to the bar area. They were at the end: Coco and Angelika, the blond-haired girl. Mr. Mason was standing in between them. He had his hand on Angelika’s shoulder and they were all laughing. I walked up and kissed Coco on the cheek. I shook hands with Angelika and Mr. Mason.
    It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Mr. Mason said. Coco can’t stop talking about you.
    Oh yeah? I said.
    It’s all good, my friend. All good. She’s crazy about you. I’m glad you made it out. What are you drinking, Aleksandr?
    A beer, I said. I was under orders to only drink beer or wine.
    I looked at your portfolio online, Aleksandr, Mr. Mason said. Coco sent me the link. I hope you don’t mind. Can I say you’re extraordinarily talented? Very, very talented. I like your work. My son is studying graphic design in Savannah, Georgia. The South, right? But it’s not too bad down there and the school is really top notch. Did you study in New York?
    For a year, I said. At SVA. Then I dropped out. I just figured it out on my own.
    A self-made man, he said. I love that. Like myself. One year at Boise State and then I was out of there. It was holding me back, I truly believe that. I believe we’re the most successful: the self-made men. We know how to work hard and get shit done. Nothing’s worse than a man who limits himself, who says he can’t do something just because he doesn’t have a degree, some goddamn expensive piece of paper. I built my business from the ground up, with just a damn good idea and a hell of a lot of hard work. Hell, I’ve got MBAs applying to my company who don’t know a damn thing about running a business. About the work involved, the skill, the nitty gritty details, the creativity needed. They think because they went to a few classes and took out fifty thousand in loans to attend the damn school they know more about running the business than I do. Starting fifty thousand in the hole, how is that a smart business move? Education has its place of course and the day you stop learning is the day you start dying, but it doesn’t have to take place in the classroom. You just have to be open to the world, to the people you meet, to be humble and willing to learn what you can from those around you. But that’s superb, Aleksandr, running your own business. Being your own man. I have a feeling I’m going to like you.

I hate awkwardness. I hate hidden, unspoken feelings. I grew up in the most goddamned repressed uptight family you could imagine. My father was a functional alcoholic. He drank in secret. My mother was very unhappy. I never found out why exactly. She never talked about it. Don’t ever say what you’re feeling, what your emotions are. That was my childhood. Just take it and bury it deep inside. Don’t express joy, sadness, frustration, any emotion. Everything’s fine, just fine. Don’t talk about sex, ever. My parents never once mentioned the word sex in my presence. They couldn’t do it. It was just one aspect of their repressed psyches. Everyone was so goddamn miserable. They were all trying to be something they weren’t. It wasn’t healthy. Openness, honesty, I demand it now. I can’t live without it. It took years of therapy to get to this place. To get to a place where I could communicate my feelings and be honest about my wants, my needs. I was expecting people to read my mind. You can’t run a business that way. You can’t have healthy relationships that way. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world to say and get what you want. It changes everything. Even if you don’t get exactly what you want, you’ve made your desires known. You’ve opened up the dialogue. Now you can get a counter-offer, come to a resolution. But the important thing is that you’ve expressed yourself. It feels tremendous. That’s how I operate now.

I make little films for myself. They are essentially pornographic. I admit that. I’m honest about that from day one. I say it without any shame, because there is nothing to be ashamed about it. Religion and society–they place that shame on people. It’s conditioning from childhood to be ashamed of sex and the sexual aspect of people. These films are for me and my wife’s viewing only. I don’t make any money off them. I don’t want to make any money off them. I don’t distribute them–that’s not what I do. I have my own business making money and I’m damn good at it and it takes up enough of my time. This is my personal hobby only. The girls are free to say no, to say yes, to leave, to stop–there is absolute and complete freedom. I have signed contracts, but only to protect the girls, so they fully know what they’re getting into it. It guarantees their wages; it guarantees the films will not be distributed. If that happens, which it will not, they get a large financial settlement. My wife knows about these films, these weekends in New York. I’m honest with her. I don’t have sex with any of the girls. I don’t have sex outside of marriage. I respect the vows I made, the wishes of my wife. These girls are essentially actors. There are no sexual favors. I want to be clear on that. My wife has forbidden it and I respect her boundaries. This whole thing won’t work without absolute trust. What the girls do in these films is up to them. There’s complete freedom. I may suggest; I never order. I want to explain these things, Aleksandr, because it affects you. All we do ripples outward and affects those close to us. I want complete honesty, openness. The world needs more of it. Cheers, friends, to honesty!

They were kissing on the bed. Mr. Mason was off to the side with his camera. It was VHS. Old school, he’d said. There was music on. It was Coco’s iPod. We’d all had a drink in the room and Coco danced with Angelika and they started kissing. They were naked on the bed. Mr. Mason’s white dress shirt was damp under the armpits. I got up and poured myself a scotch.

So what happens in the State of Pennsylvania, my father said, is that the state provides funds both to Planned Parenthood and also to pro-life groups. I work for the pro-life group. A lot of people don’t realize the state gives money to both.
    That’s interesting, Coco said. I didn’t know.
    This is a nice place, I said. We should come here more often.
    Every time there’s a Democrat in the office–well, since Casey, since Democrats aren’t allowed to be pro-life anymore–they try to cut our funding. And every time there’s a Republican in office, we try to cut their funding. So it goes back and forth.
    You provide adoption services? Coco said.
    Adoption, but also pre-natal testing, sonograms, doctor visits, checkups, counseling, since many of these women are under tremendous pressure to have abortions. We just try to be there for these women, to give them a choice to have their baby. That’s all we really ask. Give these women a choice. We should really be the pro-choice party.
    So how do you feel about Obama? Coco said.
    Should we get appetizers to share? I said. This kale salad looks really good.
    I don’t like him. Not at all. He’s terrible for our country, I truly believe that. Just terrible.
    What are you getting? I said to Coco.
    I don’t know, she said. Probably some pasta. What about abortion in the case of rape? she said.
    Do we have to talk about this? I said.
    Why not? she said. Why can’t we talk?
    I’m against it, even in the case of rape. Here’s why: even in this situation–and it is terrible and difficult and I have all the sympathy in the world for these women–there is still a human life. We can’t forget that. As Catholics we believe life begins at conception. And if you believe that, it applies to all pregnancies, even in the case of rape. I understand if the mother doesn’t want to raise the child–I understand that completely. But adoption, adoption is the answer here. So many people want children, and can’t have them, so there is still good that can come out of this.
    I know a girl who was raped by her uncle, Coco said. I went with her to get an abortion. I don’t believe there was anything wrong with that.
    The Branzini, I said. Is that a white fish?
    Oh my, my mother said.
    I respect your opinion, but I disagree.
    Can you really say that to this girl? Coco said. You’re wrong to get an abortion. Can you say that? After what she’d been through? After she was traumatized by this rape, now you say, You must carry the child of the man who raped you?
    Life begins at conception. That’s the first principle in all of this we can’t ignore.
    I don’t think it does, Coco said. It’s just a collection of cells.
    This bison ragu looks interesting, my mother said.
     When does life begin? my father said. Pinpoint that moment for me. At the heartbeat? That’s six weeks in and abortion is still legal. Brainwaves? Abortion is still legal.
    A woman has the right to her body, to determine what goes on in her body. The fetus is still a part of her body, and she can say what she wants and what she doesn’t want. Only she has the right to decide. To have some old white men deciding what she has to do to her body is like being violated all over again.
    What about the rights of the baby? my father said. If you agree at some point the fetus become a living, human being, a separate being from the mother, even though the baby is still in the womb, when does the baby’s rights as a human begin?
    How about the cheese plate? I said.
    Women will be getting abortions whether you like it or not. So why not provide a safe environment with real doctors, not some shitty illegal bullshit?
    This is a moral question, not a question of practicality. When does life begin, and are we going to respect the dignity of human life?

We took a cab and dropped them off at their hotel in Brooklyn. Fun dinner, I said. Yeah, she said. We were on Broadway. On the sidewalk two men were wheeling a stretcher with a black body bag on top. It was the Jewish morgue. Next to the body a group of people were smoking. I got out a cigarette and lit up. Sir, you cannot smoke in here, the driver said. I ignored him. He pulled over the cab. You cannot smoke in the car, he said. It is illegal. I’m going to smoke, I said. Sir, you are drunk, please get out. I’m going to smoke, I said. I don’t care what you say. What are you doing? Coco said. I am calling the police, the driver said. Aleksandr! Coco said. I got out of the cab. I’m going to walk the rest of the way, I said. What’s your problem? she said. What’s your problem? I said. I’m going to go dancing. I said. Dancing? she said. Yep, I said. Dancing, dancing, dancing. I’m going dancing. Look at me, I’m fucking dancing. I love dancing. I’ve never met someone who liked dancing so fucking much. Look at me, Cocaine. I’m fucking dancing. I’m dancing, dancing, dancing. Drive off. Drive off, you fucking bitch. I’m just gonna dance right here. All night. I’m dancing, Cocaine. All night long, I’m dancing, Cocaine!