Andy adjusted the corset and regarded himself in the mirror. He wondered idly if he could turn the medical necessity into a fashion statement. Not with his scrawny body, he concluded, as he pulled a black polo neck over his head and tucked it into the waistband of his trousers. Already, the corset chafed the underside of his scraggy male breasts. Andy pictured the end of this day, when he could release himself from the torturous device.
He picked up a New York Times from the news stand on the corner, and walked the two blocks to his regular coffee shop. It was only April but the early morning sky was blue and he felt the faint warmth of the sun on his face. Despite the sunshine, he avoided the tables on the sidewalk and found a booth at the back of Carlo’s, where he could avoid the stares of the curious.
As he flicked through the pages of the newspaper, a headline made him pause. “SOLANAS RELEASED” was all it said. Andy laid the paper carefully on the table. He lit another Marlborough. There was no photo. But he could picture her face clearly, as though she was before him right now. Once more he saw her raise the gun. He instinctively covered his face, as he had done three years ago.
“You alright, Mr Warhol?” Carlo was placing a cup of soupy black coffee on the table. “Somethin’ wrong with your eyes?”
Andy lowered his hands and looked up at the coffee shop owner. He shook his head. “I’m fine Carlo. Just not been sleeping so well. The coffee will fix it.”
Carlo picked up the newspaper and looked at the open page. “What the hell’s John Lennon still doing with that Chinese chick? She’s seriously going to screw him up.” He dropped the paper back on the table. “You’re a friend of his, Mr Warhol. Can’t you talk some sense into him?”
Andy took a final drag on his cigarette. “Carlo, she’s good for John. I envy him, having someone like that. I never used to believe in love. I always though that everybody winds up kissing the wrong person goodnight. Maybe John and Yoko are an exception.”
Carlo shrugged and walked away. Andy picked up the paper and read the first few lines of the Solanas story. “Radical feminist Valerie Solanas, who shot pop artist Andy Warhol in June 1968, walked free from gaol yesterday, less than three years after the shooting. Solanas, 35, wrote the SCUM Manifesto, which calls for the elimination of men from society.” The corset dug deeper into his chest, a daily reminder of the injuries that had nearly killed him.
On the corner of East 16th Street, Andy pushed open the heavy metal door of the Factory. As always, he was the first one there. In the distance, the shrill, insistent ring of a telephone cut through the sunlit studio space. He walked over to the small kitchen area. He paused, his hand above the receiver. It was as if he was re-watching the scene from three years ago. Valerie had been standing behind him then, as he had picked up the phone. He looked around, but there was no one here. It was like watching a scene from TV. He only felt half there. The ringing stopped as he put the receiver to his ear.
“Still an early riser, Andy you shit?” The woman’s voice rasped in his ear and he closed his eyes, breathing.
“Saw you’d moved the studio. But I took a punt on you keeping your number. Still painting that consumer crap? Coke bottles, soup cans? Why don’t you do some more, like that lovely mushroom soup your mama made? Still love your mama Andy? Fuck knows why that bitch dumped an asshole like you on the world.” The voice paused and Andy could hear the woman take a long slow drag on a cigarette.
“Listen to me, little man. I’ve got your number. And I’m going to get you. Any day now.”