Dry Ice

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

At school, Sue kept her off-campus sexual industry activity away from

all but a few trusted friends. Glenn Kenny -- who Joel Lewis later

labeled as Sue's "sometimes lover" -- knew.

 

A few others did, too, but very few of her boyfriends knew, and even

fewer of the people who worked around her on the school newspaper.

 

Only later, when she lost control of her life, when she allegedly

slipped over the edge into her first bout with "alcoholism" and what

Floyd would call a less severe version of bi-polar disease, would the

players and situations of her sexual world spill over into the world of

everyday interactions.

 

How much of Sue's freakouts were real is still questionable. She

certainly seemed to work against her own aims, often gaining nothing

from elaborate planning.

 

A bitter Glen Kenny two decades later would emphasize this point,

although he was convinced Sue did not "fake" her final demise.

 

"All those people who think she was so clever and manipulative that she

engineered this as a stunt had not seen her in ten years," Glen told

Joel. "If she was so manipulative, why was she living such a

hand-to-mouth existence that she couldn't afford a phone."

 

Which only went to prove how Sue sheltered herself even from her closest

friends. Sue did have a telephone when she disappeared. She simply chose

not to use it.

 

But Glen's point highlighted Sue's whole life. For all she did, she

received little for her efforts. She exerted herself, spun great webs,

and in the end in every instance, came up empty. And for some

inexplicable reason, she seemed satisfied with this, using this lack of

achievement to win yet more sympathy -- a commodity she seemed to

treasure more than cash.

 

She liked to be the center of attention, even in its negative aspects,

confusing notoriety with infamy, and like the old adage said, she wanted

to be talked about, even if people said bad things. And though she

struggled to maintain her multiple lives, then and later, keeping her

go-go life in Nutley separated from her life as a mother, and artist,

and friend. She did little or no drinking at home, but claimed she drank

to excess in order to get through the torturous hours dancing, claimed

she was being stalked by men who wanted to hurt her, yet willingly went

out to meet them or call them when they beeped her, continually

contradicting what she said with what she did.

 

For Sue, each group of people made up an alternative reality, when she

stepped from one to another, she literally stepped out of one universe

and into an entirely different one, with herself as the only connection

between them.

 

Sue was known at college as the ultimate party girl, someone who would

organize a party in a minute, and generally as someone else's house. She

one time held a party in Belleville, when a lawyer named Dan went away

for a few days and asked her to look after his plants. When her best

friend Mindy went to Colorado, Sue Merchant moved in, calling everybody

she could think of to come party. She volunteered often to take care of

people's houses, and until word got around about the partying and the

condition in which she left these residences, many people took her up on

her offer.

 

As with most of her activities, I avoided her, and her parties, too busy

with school work and making a living to take up her games. But she did

invite me, at least once.

 

But I did get a call from one of the writers on the newspaper one late

Friday afternoon. I remember having the day off from work and looking

forward to doing nothing. School had not started again after the Winter

break.

 

"Hello, Al? Sue said I should call you."

 

"Sue?" I asked, having gone out with a Susan last year.

 

"Sue Merchant."

 

"Oh?"

 

"She's got a party up and says we should invite you."

 

"A party?"

 

"In Belleville, at some lawyer's house."

 

"And she asked for me, specifically?"

 

"Sure, you're a friend of hers, aren't you?"

 

"Just barely," I said. "I've edited her work for the school magazine and

we've talked about art and writing. But that hardly serves as the stuff

you can bring with you to a party."

 

"Hey, I'm only passing on the message," the guy said, and gave me the

address in case I changed my mind, telling me Sue's parties were "a real

hoot."

 

A week later, I came back to school and the story of the party has

spread, mumbling talk about orgies and drugs, though I couldn't pin

anyone down, or find anybody who would actually admitted going.

 

"The guy was out of town," someone from the SGA office told me.

 

"Who was out of town?"

 

"The lawyer Sue borrowed the place from. Sue was supposed to turn the

lights on and off or something, but she had a party instead. Nearly

wrecked the place from what I hear."

 

But even this person didn't have the details first hand.

 

Joel Lewis would later uncovered many to whom Sue confided, men and

women who said Sue was using drugs. But when pressed many of the people

I talked to could not actually ever recall a time in which they saw Sue

using drugs to extreme. She seemed to talk about using drugs much more

than she actually used them.

 

"Sue told me that she was doing black beauties-- speed," Nicole told

Joel years later. Sue apparently told tales of a campus "doctor

feelgood" who supplied her with these drugs, a phrase she would use

nearly two decades later in describing the Nutley doctor who prescribed

her Xanax.

 

The fact that then and now, people generally talked around the edges of

Sue's activities, repeating to others when Sue had told them was true,

often failing to witness Sue's deeds for themselves. Thus, when Glen

Kenny said Sue lived so marginally that she didn't even have a phone, he

clearly repeated what he so often heard from Sue herself.

 

Those few who actually involved themselves deeply in Sue affairs feared

to repeat what they knew or saw, expecting some kind of retribution from

Sue or one of Sue delegates. She had a way of getting even with people

who slighted her, turning one friend against another like so many

tumbling dominoes.

 

I asked people what they feared, but even with that questioned, then

hedged, saying that Sue was the kind of person who could eke revenge in

clever ways, through other people.

 

"Sometimes you'll get phone calls in the middle of the night, or someone

you care about will get a phone call," one person said down at the

Student Mobilization Committee office.

 

"So what's so bad about that?"

 

"It's what get said. Awful things, about your girl or boyfriend. If you

never get those kind of phone calls, then you're a lucky man. Sometimes,

no one will say anything at all, just breathe on the far end of the line

until you hang up."

 

"And you know Sue is doing this?"

 

"Sue? Pick up a telephone herself? Don't be kidding. She gets other

people to do her dirty work, telling people she's on a mission or

something."

 

"And other people actually do this for her?"

 

"So it would seem. Just be grateful you don't get any."

 

I saw Sue shortly after this exchange, parading across campus, her

blonde hair a stark contrast to the gray mass of other students huddled

against the cold. She seemed deliberately underdressed and walked as if

she felt nothing. I called to her. She did not hear or if she did, chose

not to acknowledge me as she vanished in the direction Hobart Manor. I

wasn't sure what I would have asked her had she stopped, perhaps I would

have thanked her for the invitation, and for not having someone wake me

up in the middle of the night.

 

But I did not get another phone call inviting me to a party either, nor

was I one of the lucky few to whom she sent invitations when she did her

sex show as Show World later.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

What went on inside Sue's head remained a mystery. You could not trust

her to say exactly what she meant. She was too full of plot twists and

conspiracies. But that may have been exactly the point. She seemed to

defined her philosophy on life and her place in the world when she

published the short story, "Dry Ice" in the school literary magazine.

This piece of paranoia showed the pattern of her thinking, and how

little it had changed over the of plot twists and conspiracies. But that

may have been exactly the point. She seemed to defined her philosophy on

life and her place in the w

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Dry Ice

 

 

After she held the piece of ice for a moment, she looked at the reddened

mark it had left on her skin. It was dry ice.

 

What should she do? she wondered. it was dusk and she left the market.

It could have been anyone's market, on any street fit for any city.

 

The fog over the setting sun created a sundog, and the girl stared up at

it with steady eyes. The colors seemed to her like lightning In a

nightmare.

 

She looked at her feet before she even started to walk away. Her sandals

were out of season; her toes were cold and numb.

 

"Dry ice and colored lightning," she said softly to herself. All the

while the girl wondered why anyone would care to operate a market which

could pass for any market in the world.

 

She knew it was tied together.

 

She knew he was tired and needed rest.

 

The girl felt like a bird who had lost all interest in sailing. She was

a thin bony bird who trailed unfriendly streets because of an

uncontrollable insidious energy.

 

The girl bird flexed the bones which were her fingers, her claws. They

moved on command, unlike her feet, which sometimes rested immobile or

the pavement when she wanted to leave.

 

There were people, sticks with machine gun eyes, all around. They walked

the streets. The tiny creature knew that if she kept going, kept her

feet steadily hitting the ground, she could avoid the marble fire of

their eyes.

 

But this time her legs froze. it must be the dry ice, she thought,

keeping her gaze down, pretending she had dropped something. Soon her

body followed, and like a snake, she coiled into a graceful circle, a

puddle on the street that concealed any ragged bones ever thrown into

it.

 

The Sticks let loose their smooth fire but the marbles didn't even

ripple the surface as they pierced her like laser beams.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

It seemed to me from this that Sue believed she was fighting a private

cold war with the rest of us, and if she did not maintain herself, keep

on walking, and talking, and lying to us, she would not survive.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Seeking Power

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------


Sue Walsh story: 1998 menu

Spielberg menu

Main Menu


email to Al Sullivan