The Other Wrist (Dorothy Parker)

Manhattan, 1932

Ouch! Damn! Ugh.

Ugh? Of course there’d be blood, what did you expect? But don’t drip it on the floor. Keep it in the sink or there’ll be an extra charge on your bill for the clean-up. Hotel service isn’t what it used to be.

A clever trick, a nasty nick
But were you really trying?
Not deep enough by far, my dear
If you’re intent on dying.

Or is it? I’d say you’ve done quite some damage this time. Look at the stuff gushing out. Too bad it’s not blue. Damn, my whole arm’s trembling. Why do I always think this will be easy? Nothing like a little pain to focus the brain.

This wouldn’t be happening if I were working. I might stick around if I weren’t so alone. God, what an awful year. None of the men worth remembering. A few pitiful stories published, a poem here and there. I ought to be at the typewriter, but what’s the use? Face it, honey, you’re no damn good, and they’re on to you at last. Now hurry up and do the other one, won’t you?

But what a clumsy dilemma: Right-handed, you decide to slash your wrists. So naturally you take the razor in your right and slice into the left. But now your left hand, less adept to begin, is further impaired by wound and pain. How are you to achieve an effective slitting of the right—hold the razor in your teeth?

If right makes might, and left is deft
Which shall be first to sever?
From this dilemma you’d be spared
If you’d done them both together.

The trouble is, I make the writing look so simple. Anyone can do it—until they try. They don’t know that for every five words, I cross out seven. And each year it gets harder. So naturally I have to drink and go to parties and amuse myself with people I wouldn’t be caught dead with when I’m sober. It’s not easy being a wit in the middle of a depression, but it’s like a bad habit I can’t seem to break. And no one pays attention when I’m trying.

Here, run some water or the blood will stop flowing. Last time I used barbiturates and ended up in the hospital. The time before that, sleeping pills. And before that, the first time, a razor. Sooner or later I’m bound to get it right. I should have brought a bottle in here to keep me company. A bathroom is such a stupid place to die.

Another drink will help you think
Strong enough to dull the pain
And when the critics say you stink…

Tell them to go to hell. They can’t hurt you nearly as much if you hurt them first. God, listen to you. You’ve been published everywhere that counts—The New Yorker, Collier’s, Vanity Fair. You’ve written films and plays. You’re pals with Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. Weren’t you ever, ever happy? Of course you were, but you wouldn’t admit it. To have been satisfied would have diminished it somehow.

Oh, hell, this is taking forever. I should get in the tub naked and think about old lovers, that’ll make me bleed. God, what a wretched lot. Not one of them ever really tried to love me. Please! Can’t we just skip ahead and have me lying in state—white silk-lined coffin, slender body black gowned, a red rose clasped to my breast, alabaster face framed by dark bangs, sad eyes closed forevermore. Let them say what they like.

            She was fun to dance with, but if you’d married her…Well, it wasn’t your emotion she was interested in.

            She had a superior talent, for heaven’s sake.  How could anyone be so depressed about being talented?

            She could be charming when she tried. She just didn’t try very often.

            And that nonsense about wanting a family and a house in the country—pure alcoholic sentimentality.

            Well, everything she did was pretense. Remember when she used to subscribe to undertakers’ magazines and wear that perfume they use on corpses?

            Oh, do be kind. Can’t you say something nice about her?

            Why? She always savaged everyone else.

That’s gratitude for you. What would Benchley and the Algonquin have been without me? I was the best of them, the leading light. If ever we shone, I was the flame. Oh, to be dragged down by second-raters…Where’s the razor? Quick, quick!

Take the knife, hone the blade
Whet the appetite
Slice into the tender vein
My god, you’re getting trite

Maybe there comes a time when it doesn’t hurt anymore, when you just trudge on bravely until the end. But I need to dull the perceptions. They’re too sharp to face unassisted. So I drink and talk clever and pretend I don’t care. And all the while I’m betraying my talent and the friends who’ve stuck by me. I have done good stuff, damn it. Is the best to be over so soon?

Look, the blood’s drying, and the other wrist’s still undone. Don’t tell me you’re stopping here. Life shouldn’t be allowed to go on like this…But it does, and heartbreak is always good for a verse or two. Plus you’ll have a scar—not too big, not too wide. A lovely thin white line, and if you hold your glass just so at parties, people can’t help but see.

Dab it up, bind the wound
Not too tightly though
Leave a little trickle
To gaze on and for show.

There must be something I’m waiting for. What is it? What is it? What is it?

(Copyright©Arliss Ryan, 1996)

Onion River Review, Fall 1996

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