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Pools of Light

Stuart Ross

Pools of Light

“You want me to leave,” she concludes.

“No of course I don’t,” I say, but of course I kind of do.

“Let’s get married, then,” Ellory says.

“Yes,” I say. “Let’s get married.”

“Oh baby.”

“Where should we go to make it official? City hall?”

“No, take me to Rome, baby.”

I pick up my phone, but before I can go to Expedia in Safari, because I detest the buggy functionality of the Expedia app, my eye catches a cascade of messages from my girlfriend.

“What are you seeing?” Ellory asks.

“I’m looking for flights to Rome, babe.”

“Economy Plus. At least.”

“Okay, sure. I’m on Expedia.”

“No, get off that. Go to the United app. Forget it, I’ll call my guy.”

“Yes, call your guy. Ah, Rome. I’ve only been there in the movies. You will be my bella dia, and I your vero romano. Are we crazy, baby?”

“Not at all,” Ellory says. “Plots are wasted on the young.”


The vintage Mercedes is a pushy reddish orange, a high-school graduation present from Ellory’s father. The top’s down, even in the garage, and Ellory drives us out of the city and toward O’Hare.

“God, there’s so much news in the news these days, right,” I say, trying to make some small talk we were too horny to make last night. “I love the news. It makes me feel less alone.”

“I don’t believe any of it,” Ellory says, tuning the cassette deck radio to Chicago’s #1 Hip-Hop and R&B. “Find me a cigarette, will you sugar?” Some of her smoke blows back into my face. She looks so coughingly old when she says, “I learned in college that white people love critiquing consumerism unless black people are rapping about it. When I wear my Louboutins I’m just some basic white bitch, but if this R&B ho puts them on her Discover card she’s a strong black woman?”

“These rappers don’t see their whole race in bondage,” I reason. “They just pick up the microphone and feed it garbage.”

“What do you do for work?”

“I’m in management consulting.”

“You’re good at that.”


“You like it?”

“No, nobody does.”

“You can quit and manage some of properties. Daddy’s been having issues with these anarchist professors from UC-Berkeley who want a new microwave. Daddy doesn’t want to buy them one, and now they’re threatening to buy their own and take it with them when they break the lease.”

“Sounds like they’re forgetting what Marx says about leaving with the microwave at the close of Capital Volume II. Do you have black friends?”

“You seem like someone who listens to jazz.”

“I don’t even have white friends.”

“I didn’t even meet a black man until John Paxson came to Chrissy Cohen’s Bat Mitzvah. Oh honey, I’m going to ask a DJ in Roma to play ‘Big Pimpin’ for us. And we will dance the night away, to the end of love.”


We fly first-class to Rome.

“Look at this light,” we say, as we walk the walled-in Vatican, and history agrees the pooling of light at the Vatican is rich, magnificent, just superb. We walk for hours among the priceless masterpieces, until we’re finally in the Sistine Chapel.

“Wait a second,” I say. “This isn’t the Sistine Chapel. There’s no white finger.”

We keep walking, and promise each other we’ll keep this secret forever, that we thought we were in the Sistine Chapel before we actually got there.

The next Vatican room and then the rest of them are all crazy packed, getting more and more packed, and this one has to be the Sistine Chapel, oh God, I’m so tired of looking at priceless art, no photos allowed—no photos! I snap a photo of the guard anyway, who points at me—Silenzio!

“Do you want to talk about how, like, everyone in the Sistine Chapel is white? On the walls I mean, on the ceiling. Well, most of the non-Asian tourists in the room, too.”

“No, not really. Unless you do. I didn’t even notice it until you said that.”

“Do we need to say anything else about the Sistine Chapel?”

“No, I think Wikipedia’s got it covered.”


Back at the hotel we share a champagne toast, have great sex. Ellory sleeps off her jetlag well into the afternoon. I leave the room in search of an engagement ring for my Illinoisan signorina.

Through the use of four maps I locate Via Condotti, and then an intimate shop just off this Egyptian drag. Over the diamonds stands a stunning Italian woman, probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, a volcanic goddess spurning all dormancies, a fortissima erupting from the molten pages of a Paganini concerto, and she repairs cutely to my English, which I have trouble getting out of my mouth, but she listens with a switchboard operator’s patience, as if she’s accustomed to directionless American males who stumble into her intimate shop off Via Condotti, struggling, once they see her, with the fluency of their God-given English even more than with the nothingness of their Italian. She is perhaps a woman from a very tiny village where grapes and women like her are the only exports. She knows that if you speak two or more languages, you are European, and if you speak one language, you are American.

I tell this bella dia the entire story of my layover love affair with Ellory Allen. She suggests, “How do you say in English, maybe wait, yes, maybe think it through before you marry this crazy American bitch?”

Pas du tout,” I say, and then apologize for using Criterion Channel French.

Pas du tout,” the jeweler responds, in perfect French.

“Will you just squeeze my chubby Americano cheeks,” I conclude, “and sell me the largest diamond you think I can afford?”


Ellory is only just rousing when I return to the suite. I kneel down beside the somewhat small, somewhat hard bed—not so comfortable like we have in America—and gaze into my lover’s shocking blue eyes.

“Are you leaving me for an Italian countess?”

“There are no other women,” I say, thinking about my girlfriend, the Via Condotti jeweler, Elizabeth Shue in The Karate Kid, Adventures in Babysitting, and Cocktail; Ellen Reed from Family Ties, Jennifer Connelly in Career Opportunities, Samantha Mathis in Pump Up the Volume, Ally Sheedy in War Games, and the photo of baby Nas on the cover of Illmatic. “All of my life’s fantasy is right here, right now, with you.”

“I had a strange dream,” Ellory says. “Apollo was trying to hurt me.”

“Did you, babe. Because I still feel like we’re living in one.”

“I actually don’t want you to propose in Rome, honey. We must go to Greece.”

Clutching the Via Condotti diamond behind my back, tears falling from my eyes, I say, “Greece, yes. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that. You will be my Narcissus, and I your Echo.”


Ellory calls her guy. A few hours later, after an airport pasta repast—the most al dente short pasta either of us ever chewed—we fly first-class to Athens. And as the plane goes down the sun rises, and we wander the old city, I’m talking the really old-ass city, seeking pools of morning light, for here in Athens pools of light pool even more than pools of light pool in Rome.

“There’s one. That’s a pool of light.”

“You’re right. That is a pool of light.”

At the Pax Americana Hotel I read in a trilingual guidebook that Greek prostitutes are the meanest sex workers in the world, and that the Parthenon served as a sort of central bank for the ancient Greeks, a discovery that surprises me, while also seeming quite obvious: the Parthenon looks like a Central American Bank.

“I know where we should make it official,” I say. “The Parthenon!”

We ride a free bus that cost fifteen euros and stand on the ancient land around the Parthenon, thinking to ourselves, this is ancient land.

“Isn’t all of the land on earth ancient?” Ellory says.

“Well you know, there are those volcanos that form new islands. There’s another one.”

“Another island?”

“Another pool of light. No, no it’s gone. No, now it’s over there.”

“Listen, Ty, I need to tell you something.”

“What is it, baby,” my chest tightens, and that’s become a familiar feeling.

“I love you, baby.”

“I love you too,” I say, staring at the central American bank. I summon a delightful, olive-skinned Greek boy I call the garçon. This garçon speaks better English than most Americans, and I let him know a magical moment of proposal will soon occur, and I want the boy to capture it on film.

“Do whatever it takes, man. Don’t be afraid to use all 36 exposures in this disposable camera. You see it here, this camera? This is a cam-er-a, not a phone. I bought this camera especially for this event, at the airport in Roma…”

“…give me $20,” the garçon interrupts. “20, American.”

“Here are some coins from your European Union.”

“I need none of this. 20, American.”

“Isn’t it enough to be in the presence of love? I’m going to propose. She’s going to leap…”


“…she’s been waiting her whole life to leap…”


I give the garçon the $20 I keep with me for moments like this.

“I will do now,” the garçon says, camping behind one of the Parthenon’s ATMs.

I get down on one knee and present the Via Condotti diamond but Ellory says nothing betrothed, nothing betrayed. “I’m flustered,” she finally says.

“You’re never flustered,” I say, with a confidence that surprises me given I’ve only known this woman for about ten hours of non-cruising-altitude time.

“Please rise,” she laughs nervously.

“What’s wrong?”

Ellory begins to cry, and I sniffle along with her, until I see, over my fiancé’s perfect white shoulder, the garçon snapping pictures. I attempt a cut-it-out gesture but he keeps taking photos.

“I love you,” Ellory says. “I really do. I love you for bringing me to Rome, and bringing me to Greece, and even suggesting Jerusalem. I know you would take me anywhere, to Babylon, to Memphis. I told you everything. I have no secrets left. You know exactly who I am, and still, you love me. But I just need more time to think. I still haven’t gotten my period.”

“Well, that’s good. It’s only been a day. Maybe you’re pregnant.”


“Do you regret I gave you an internal cumshot?”

“Not at all, baby. I wish I knew about internal cumshots when I was a child. But, Ty, you must know, that even when I don’t have my period, even when I don’t have any decisions to make, I will need time to be alone, by myself, I will need time to think. I want to give you a child, I just don’t want to make any sacrifices, and I don’t want to breastfeed—I’m not into matriarchy or invisible female labor. I won’t perform visible or female labor.”

“God, babe, I hate visible and invisible female labor, too. I have read all about this,

believe me—when that flight attendant smiled at me on the puddle jumper to Athens? I told her to take it back. And if I can help it, I will perform all of the seen and unseen female labor. If I can’t help it, I will cheer you on.”

“You will have to put your elbow in the milk to make sure it isn’t too warm. I’m

never going to do that.”

“Your elbow, my love, will never see the inside of a saucepan.”

“We will need a lot of help, Ty. A lot of resources.”

“I will always give you time to think,” I say, still making a cut-it-out gesture at the garçon. “I do have to say, though, that I thought you would leap. I thought this was our time.”

“You must know I will never leap again, Ty. I already leapt once. With another man. My God I wish I hadn’t. Why didn’t I know you then.”

“Where’d you leap, babe?”

“On the steps of Montmartre.”

“You can leap again.”

“No, babe. There are no second leaps for an American woman.”

“When did that happen?”


“It doesn’t matter. Take as much time as you need.”

“You’re sure,” she brightens.

“Of course. I would do anything for you, El. When we met all other women scattered, like droids in the presence of the force.”

“You giving me this time makes me love you even more. And I didn’t think that was possible, Ty, because I love you so, so much.”


I narrow my gaze in the direction of the pompous garçon, put my fists up like Little Orphan Annie. This hairless child is still snapping photos, writhing his microbody like a scummy fashion photographer. If ever developed these snaps of me reasoning away my disappointment with the non-leaping Ellory would look more like the surveillance grind of a social-media concern than the greatest moment of anyone’s life. At first I walk toward the young brute. When I begin a light jog, the garçon drops the camera, scrams. I pick it up and tap the wallet in my pocket. It is now $20 lighter than it was before. I’m more upset to lose the $20 to that running boy than anything else I’ve spent, so far, on my future bride.


Later that evening, we have dinner at a restaurant that reminds Ellory of any-old-Greek-restaurant-back-in-Greektown, Chicago, only it’s even pricier and doesn’t offer complimentary valet parking, nor does it have autographed photos of Chicago’s #1 Storm Team on the walls behind the cashier, but there are photos of World Trade Center light beams, and sprays of fireworks over the Statue of Liberty.

“More of this delicious local wine? It’s the sangria of the Greeks.”

“Yes, more wine,” Ellory says. “And yes, Ty, I will marry you. You gave me time to think today, and time to think is the only thing I’ve ever wanted.”

“There’s something I want, too,” I say, slipping the Via Condotti diamond on my bride’s finger.

“Oh, Ty, it’s so beautiful.”

“Are you speechless?”

“No, I can still talk.”

“Good. Because I want your last name. I want yours, instead of you taking mine. I want to be Tyrone Allen. I don’t want to be Tyrone Rossberg anymore. I never did.”

“Yes. Everything I have is yours, my darling. But Daddy will have some papers he’ll want you to sign.”


We fly first-class from Athens to Chicago. It’s the Fourth of July. The windy city feels hot and still. Neither of us have slept, so we’re hyped-up and speeding down the expressway in Ellory’s Mercedes. We park in the garage, leave the top down, and ride the elevator up to her condo, on the 40th floor.

In the elevator she lunges for me, pushes me against the wall and says, “oh Ty, I do love you, I really do. You aren’t tired of me, are you baby?”


“And you love me, don’t you.”

“More than anything.”

“We just never grow up, do we. We keep making the same mistakes. I love that about us.”

Ellory opens her unlocked door. Sunlight smashes through the high, curtainless windows, drowning the open concept in cold pools of light. The room feels cold, too, never lived-in, empty except for a king-size bed in the center, sheeted in masculine pink. Along the walls are framed covers of Crain’s Chicago Business, bookended by snarling African masks. My feet are on the Persian rug she told me about back at Trump International, and against the long windowless wall a boutique style closet, with a wedding gown hanging in the center. There’s a reproduction—or maybe it’s one of the real things—of Edvard Munch’s drawing of Death and the Maiden, a fat-bottomed woman tongue-kissing death, here represented as a horny skeleton. And there’s also a deathly man, a human being, I realize, half-dressed in a tuxedo. His pants are white, and a white tie, undone, hangs around his wrinkled red neck.

He is Sheldon Fink, I realize, because he’s the same man who won all of the business awards on the wall.

“God bless America, bitch.”

“Shelly,” my bride-to-be says. “I’m sorry.”

“Who the fuck is this?” Shelly asks, pointing at me.

“I got swept up,” Ellory says. “In other things. And I didn’t know how to communicate.”

“You were able to communicate the flights you needed.”

“Thank you for those flights, Shelly, really, I mean it. You have a way with first-class standby that would amaze any woman.”

“What the fuck’s in Athens? Isn’t Athens bankrupt?”

“If it isn’t obvious, Shelly, it’s over.”

“I left my wife for you, cunt. I left my soldiers for you, I left my daughters. My children are never going to speak to me again.”

“Just talk to the lawyers,” Ellory says, “about writing them out of the will, and you’ll get a card on your birthday.” She walks over to her gown, fondles the intricate beading at its breast. “Men like you usually leave their wives for their daughters, don’t they Shel. That’s how my father’s always done it. Shelly Fink, Tyrone Rossberg, Tyrone Allen, Shelly Fink.”

“Just Ty’s fine, Shelly.”

“We’re getting married tonight, baby.” There are tears in Fink’s eyes. He seems unusually humbled, for a man like him. I want to lunge at him, for insulting my fiancé, but I also wants to hug the old man, shield him from whatever swipes Ellory takes next.

“I’m sorry you’re upset, Shel. I am able to acknowledge that you’re upset, as the politicians say. But it’s been over between us for a long time.”

“We’ve only been screwing for a week!”

“I’m going to marry Tyrone.”

“Just Ty,” I say.

“Just Ty, Shelly. Not you, too. Really I’m sorry.”

“You kissed me,” Shelly shudders, “in the pouring rain. And told me you would love me forever.”

“Did you think I would stand in the rain for the rest of my life and scream your name? I stand in the rain for me.”

“You want to know something? Nobody loves you.” Fink sniffs up his sniffling, points at me, and says, “certainly not this Cabrini Greenberg. He’s just a boy.”

“I’m 40. Actually, I’m 40½.”

“He can’t keep up with you. Look at his suit.”

“This is a new suit,” I say. “We bought it on the Via Condotti at one of Italy’s finest fast fashion stores that has yet to open a stateside flagship…”

“…Shelly I am sorry, but you should leave, we have to get ready.”

“This is my apartment, you festering gape. All of it.”

“Not my gown, not my rug.”

“Even the shower rings.”

“Be my guest.”

“You’re my guest, bitch.”

Ellory takes a ginormous engagement ring off a European pillow and throws it in his face. Shelly ducks, then bends down behind him to pick up the ring. When he bends down I can see the outline of his white underwear beneath the white tuxedo pants. I say a little prayer that the pants don’t rip, because soon enough they will belong on my butt.

Ellory says, “Material things aren’t important to me.”

“HA HA HA! What do you want from her, kid? You want to tame her? You won’t. You want to save her? You can’t. She’s gone. She doesn’t want to escape. That’s why she keeps running.”

“She’s my dream girl,” I say.

“If this is your dream girl, kid, you’re having a nightmare.”

“Who’s having bad dreams, Shel? You’re the one losing right now. You can’t say you didn’t see this coming.”

Shelly and I are fighting. We’re rolling around on the floor. The older man is much stronger. “Please, I give up! Not my face, please. I’m sorry, Daddy! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Shut up, you freakin’ wimp.”

“Daddy, no!”

“Sicko. I’m not your father.”

“But aren’t you emotional at all, Shel?” Ellory says. “Won’t you cry for me? Or was I just another notch for you, just another property.”

“I’ve had two heart attacks, bitch. I don’t need to show my emotions. That’s the thing about my emotions. Like my property my emotions belong to me. And I’m going to survive you too, you pretentious cunt. What do you think your father will say about this?”

“Oh please Shel, don’t pretend this is some kind of inheritance plot and I’m the dowry. All I need from you right now is a little time to think.”

“I’m going downstairs to talk to your father. There are five hundred people assembling in the Trump International Paradise Room right now for our wedding…”

“…oh thank you for greeting my guests, Shel…”

“And when I return, I don’t want anything of yours in this apartment. Because nothing in this apartment belongs to you.”

“What about my Persian rug?”

“Why don’t you get on it and fly away.”

Fink pulls down the white pants, and then he seems to have an idea. He pulls down his tighty-whities, too, and stands naked. In sympathy with him I pull down my own pants, but leave my Instagram-purchased boxer briefs up. Fink suddenly seems ashamed, and holds himself in his hands. Through his fingers, his whiteish pubic hair seems permed. It is difficult, perhaps would be difficult even without the sunlight pooling in, to locate the penis that this perm protects.

I imagine it covered by Ellory’s mouth. I wonder in how many planet earth locations her swallowing of Fink’s sperm occurred—on an island in the Maldives, an abandoned castle in Liechtenstein, a Breck skin-in, skin-out, in a club lounge at the Barcelona airport. Shelly stands their naked for a long time. Then he pulls his underwear back up, takes off the white pants for good, and gets back into the cool brown suit hanging off the bed and leaves.

I go to the window, stand in Shelly’s place, and look out on a brawl of buildings I will never own. The cities towers look shy from this height, in submission, in pools of river light.

“What a nice day,” I say, staring down at my tux, “for a white wedding.”

“Turn around, Ty. Look at me.”

“I don’t even understand what I just participated in.”

“Oh baby you’re such a joiner. I love that about you.”

“This is the big mistake you were about to make,” I say, pointing to the Crain’s Chicago Business awards. “You were going to marry, like, the fourth richest guy in Chicago instead of me? He’s right. You claim you’re so alone, but I don’t think you can be alone for one second.”

“Believe me. I was going to leave him. But then we met, and we danced, and the best things happen while you’re dancing, and everything changed again. For the last time, I swear Ty, everything begins. You get to be Tyrone Allen, and I’m never going to be Ellory Fink. Believe in me. And if you can’t believe in me right now, believe in fate.”

“Fate is our style.”

“I know, baby.”

“I just want things to settle down, for like, a day.”

“I know. And they will. But right now, I need to get ready! Pull up your pants. We don’t have much time.”

Stuart M. Ross is a writer from Queens living in Chicago. He is the author of The Hotel Egypt (Spuyten Duyvil, 2024) and Jenny in Corona (Tortoise Books, 2019)

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