The Illustrated Unmade Again

My good friend and talented artist S.R has illustrated my erotic short story Unmade Again. Her distinctive drawings have previously graced several of my stories and essays.

unmade-car

Murky, very very murky, decidedly, definitely so –how else could I describe my motives for not fucking Margot. Before getting in the car I stared up at the window where I had just left Margot lying unclothed and spread-eagled on the mussed-up bed. That thought made me hesitate for a moment, but I got in the car anyway and started the ignition.

As I drove at speed through the somnolent streets of her neighbourhood I was in considerable physical discomfort. Pressing my crotch against the steering wheel afforded some relief but what I really needed was the release that can only be obtained through the agency of the other, the rapture of bodies mingling and dissolving in unison until the mutual, desired annihilation of orgasm.

So why the fuck hadn’t I? I thought to myself bitterly as the car jolted over a series of speed bumps. Of course, I could try to convince myself that I was being virtuous by remaining faithful to my wife, but it was going to be a hard sell as the taste of her salty, yet curiously perfumed secretions were on my tongue and coated the inside of my mouth.

Besides, there had been that episode with the plump girl at the chemists even though that had been something of a disappointment to all concerned.

I couldn’t return to work in this state and going home was out of the question, so I merged onto the freeway and headed north towards the suburbs.

Really the whole situation was ridiculous. Here I was driving pointlessly past the strips malls and industrial parks with the semen slowly seeping out of my penis and staining my boxers when I could be enjoying a post coital nap in the arms of a pretty girl.

However, it was absurd that I had somehow become entangled with a girl almost half my age in the first place. That’s not to say that Margot wasn’t smart and precocious for her age but at the end of the day she had just turned eighteen. I pretty much guessed from the start that she was looking for someone to have her first time with before leaving for college. First time with a man that is. From the texture of her kisses and the evasive answers she gave to my leading questions I knew she wasn’t as innocence as she made out, however I figured her experience didn’t extend beyond dormitory romances in that fancy all girls boarding school of hers. Which only increased my attraction to Margot, I’m sorry to say.

Mind you I liked her looks from the moment I saw her. For a split second I almost mistook her for a boy although this was partly due to her been kitted out in the runner’s uniform of black shirt and trousers. She looked so young and frail that her presence amidst the heat and noise of the kitchen of the Mahogany Rooms seemed completely incongruous. What was she doing there? Obviously working but a more unlikely candidate for the position of runner could not be imagined.

Intrigued I sauntered slowly up to the table where she was methodically cutting up a loaf of crusty bread and arranging the slices in metal baskets. Composing my features to look enigmatic I breathed a deep hello. She looked up briefly and gave me a hard stare before returning to her task without saying a word. So much for elective affinities I thought and carried on home.

After a couple of rather more circumspect approaches that yielded the exact same results I gave up trying to engage her. Yet on several occasions I caught her intently staring. She would immediately lower her eyes and would pretend to be absorbed in whatever mundane task she had in hand. What was her problem with me?

I tried not to think about her, but her image always appeared while I made love to Sarah. Brief fantasies of her slender body, her long fingers clumsily grasping my penis, those staring eyes boring into my soul and reading there my polluted desires immediately culminated in a climax of hitherto unknown intensity. Afterwards as Sarah sought the perfect position in her sleep and she tossed and turned I would lie unmoving, staring into the darkness, completely devastated by an aching sense of utter dissolution.

unmade-girlThis wasn’t the first time I’d had an unreciprocated crush of course, but never before had I been so possessed with want.

I had hoped that as this lustful itch was just another diseased product of my overactive imagination which I would tire off when nothing happened. I knew that given time this too would pass before fading away even from memory.

She had other plans however. She’d been waiting all along.

Is there anything more exhausting than driving without a set destination? I had no place to go but home, yet I had to do something that would delay my arrival for as long as possible without being too late or in too much of a state as to arouse suspicions. I stopped at a strip mall coffee shop. Maybe caffeine would straighten out my endlessly circling thoughts.

*

Yes, Margot had plans. At some point she had decided to include me in these plans of hers. Of course, I was totally oblivious of all this when I came across her struggling to fill the ice bin while I was completing my stock take. Being at heart an old-fashioned gentleman I offered and proceeded to shovel the ice for her. Margot (though at that point I was still unaware of her name) came out with something from 1984 and so, me being the argumentative person that I am, countered that I always preferred Brave New World. She asked me why as she hadn’t read that particular book, but would make a point of keeping a look out. Eager, so very eager and so easily impressed. I made a quick mental note to tread carefully, yes sir, very carefully indeed.

But of course, I didn’t. I rushed in like I always do and without hesitation agreed to see her outside of work and after that I suppose you could say that one thing led to another but that’s not how it seemed during the moments we shared. It felt more like I had found a fellow traveller; an accomplice to guilty pleasure, a partner in grubby crime. Which made ours a gloomy affair, intensely focused on the inevitability of its dissolution and the rapidly diminishing amount of time left available to us. Even on those languid afternoons when I would kiss and caress her neck, breasts, navel, cunt and the minutes would stretch and expand into a preview of eternity I was still oppressed by the knowledge that this was going to end sooner rather than later.

I couldn’t postpone my homecoming any longer. Hopefully the coffee and the constant cigarettes would mask the taste of Margot on my breath but to be doubly careful I brought a pack of mints which I rolled around my mouth while I was caught up in the constant snarl ups.

unmade-mirror (1)Sarah was busy preparing dinner when I arrived home, enabling me to go upstairs and brush my teeth and change. When I came down she launched into a long-detailed account of her day. At the appropriate moments I would insert what I guessed where the correct comments but all the while I was re-staging my latest encounter with Margot, the sensation of satiny smoothness as my fingertips tracing intricate patterns on her inner thigh, the willowy wands of her arms outstretched over her head, the miracle of firm youthful flesh yielding against the weight of my own body, skin on skin, world without end, amen.

After dinner when we were comfortably entwined on the sofa watching TV Sarah remarked that I seemed rather distant tonight and asked me what was troubling me. I made a feeble excuse about a hard day at work which, thankfully, she didn’t ask me to elaborate on. I made sure to pay attention after that, even though I was developing a dread of the moment when we finally turned in for the night and went to bed.

I knew that Sarah was definitively in the mood by the way she took me by the hand and led me upstairs. I, however, was torn. On one hand my balls had been aching all day long after the frustrations of the afternoon and there was nothing more I longed for than to bury my prick deep inside Sarah and yet on the other I felt that such an act would be a betrayal. A double betrayal in fact. I would be betraying Margot by jumping into bed with my wife and by doing so, as a means to assuage to my lust for Margot I would be betraying Sarah.

Before, admittingly, I had derived a dubious delight in whispering in Margot’s ear full details of my latest couplings with Sarah while I stroked Margot’s slick clitoris and then to gain further devious pleasure later on when I would re-imagine the whole scene as Sarah straddled my hips with her eyes averted as I talked non-stop of touching, kissing, licking, fucking another girl while she watched until she came with a heart-rending sigh and I would shudder at her unwitting complicity. However now that Margot was leaving and there was no knowing when we would next see each other again, if ever, I felt a bizarre sense of loyalty for the girl as well as the stirrings of a probably long overdue guilt towards Sarah.

In bed Sarah made her intentions clear by sweeping her hair back and exposing her slim neck. unmade-womanHaving her neck kissed was always the prelude to sex. As my tongue and lips travelled downwards towards her shoulders I knew I could put an end to her amorousness by simply sinking my teeth into the delicate skin and bite down hard. Sarah didn’t like me to play too rough except on specially designated occasions. I couldn’t bring myself to do it however, some rogue scruple had taken hold of me and instead I suggested that we try something different.

Sarah was initially coy but soon relented when I said that it would be like the old days again when the first flush of love had led us to try everything every which way.

Propping herself up with right arm Sarah raised her body over mine, her knees either side of my closed legs, her cunt just centimetres above my erect penis. At my urging she wetted her middle finger of her left hand and placed it inside herself. Studying her closely I put my right hand on my cock and gently pulled my foreskin down and then up. Soon we were in a rhythm set by my words. When I could see that Sarah was approaching orgasm I would slow the tempo down, dragging out the climax until the tension became unbearable. Towards the end I broke my own rule and raised my left hand to her mouth. She grabbed my wrist and brought my fingers into her mouth which she proceeded to suck and nibble. I remembered from somewhere that this was a sign of orgiastic tendencies.

Afterwards as I drifted to asleep with Sarah in my arms I wondered who hadn’t heard the call of the orgy at some point or another in their lives. Liberation from the self-amidst the writhing bodies. Endless replication in a succession of mirrors. Tender, trembling virgins laid out star-wise within sacrificial circles. An abstracted conceptualization of the act in of itself, divorced from any affect. Recently I had become obsessed by the idea that I would never be really be satisfied until every conceivable act of sexual intercourse in the world had occurred; until the very idea of sex itself was spent. When that day did dawn, though, surely it would herald the apocalypse?

Lovesick and haunted by all the disappointments that attend a failed betrayal I pretend to be sick so that I could stay at home for the rest of the week.

Lying in bed desperately seeking the oblivion of sleep that managed to elude me I realized that Margot wasn’t the first girl I had treated in this fashion. In fact, it was a trait of mine not to sleep with women that I truly craved.

I had tried to forget about them but now the memories returned to taunt me, all my lost loves, those unfulfilled romances, the unmade girls.

Susannah with her depthless blue eyes, delicate ankles, translucent Nordic skin that bruised so easily and so beautifully. Nadine whispering in the taxi as I fumbled with her bra-strap that her fantasy was to be raped. Sharon and her heavy breasts, blood coloured knickers and neurotic hesitation. Rebecca who I shared a flat with for a time and always held my eye as she was being fucked by her Australian boyfriends. Elizabeth and the swish of the riding crop. Georgina, poor little rich girl Georgina at 5:15 am in her massive, empty apartment in Cromwell Gardens after a coke and vodka fuelled night, asking me to stroke her hair, but even this contact was almost too much for us in our brittle state. Brooke, but I try not to remember Brooke in case my heart breaks all over again, even after all this time. However, I cannot escape the knowledge that I have tried to suppress for a while now, that in many ways Margot bears an uncanny resemblance to Brooke; and not just in looks either.

All those girls, where have they gone, and do they think of me like I think of them? What we could have been and what have we become? So how I come I still remember them when I forgotten the girls I did sleep with? Is my nature that perverse?

Yes, it is. Deep down I always knew it, but it took Margot to bring it to the surface. She has unwittingly led me to a place within that I had no desire to explore, into a dark alley where hell is always around the corner.

No doubt her leaving has left me feeling aggrieved and bruised. Like a fluffer after she has finished getting the cast ready for the action that is commencing elsewhere, or like a pimp that has studiously groomed his girl in preparation for turning her out only to find that some bolder, badder pimp had stolen her and beaten him to the punch.

Undoubtedly, I had done my damnest to subtly corrupt her. Otherwise what was the point of all the dirty talk, libertine novels and artful erotica if not to seduce her? But what exactly had I achieved? Was her body to be a banquet and I alone denied a taste of her succulent sweetmeats?

Visions of her kept me up at night. Looking in the mirror after going to the toilet I saw that my brown eyes had gone grey in hue.

In the small hours I really started to lose it. I pictured Margot as some divine slut, the beloved whore of my heart. I could imagine her eyes closing as her mouth closed around the flaccid member of some aging professor… been spied on in the changing rooms of an upscale department store by a handsome middle aged lady store clerk…in the showers after a morning swim been soaped between the legs by a pretty baby dyke with blank doll like features…taking home smooth faced incipient queers from the student bar…on her hands and knees being ridden from behind…her fist inside the womb of a sad-eyed woman with large breasts…and most compellingly of all Margot, just Margot legs wide open with her fingers moving across the inverted triangle of hair searching for the hollow opening…the mark of rapture on her features…

After a few days I returned to work to avoid a trip to the doctor. For a while I thought about visiting Margot but decided it was a little early at my age to have a full-blown mid-life crisis. I promised to Sarah that I would help more around the house. Soon, perhaps I will re-read Crebillion fils Les Égarements du coeur Et de l’esprit.

Hi-Vis, Lo-Res Ragnarok

James Cauty-The Aftermath Dislocation Principle
James Cauty-The Aftermath Dislocation Principle

The idle rogue Al the Angle surveys the scene from the window of the 33rd floor apartment of a high-rise in the unfashionable north-eastern suburbs of Agartha where he’d holed up. He searches the horizons, the immediate, the distant, both the approaching and receding, for the event.
Lighting a cigarette he pauses before turning around dramatically to address his small audience.
“Well, fuck me sideways, backwards and every possible other angle, but blow me first, just after we have shared a glass of Kool-Aid Sangria. Though later my doves and darlings, my languid loves, for now I have to share my vision, the revelation at hand, and I need my cherished clan to bear witness because there are massed ranks of Powers, Principles and Intelligences seeking to crush and destroy the Great Work that we have just commenced, at every turn, every corner and from every angle. Of course every fibre of my being is flexing and straining to avoid this eventuality, but they are legion, their ways are not our ways, their procedures are obscure to the minds of man and I am, after it all, only human. So you are my heirs to whom I entrust everything, for the Process must be completed, we will prevail!
“Now hear this.
“Can you hear it?
“Here comes the drums, banging the tune to the end-times.
“It will be a hi-vis, lo-res Ragnarok.
“See the indeterminate warring factions ordering their indiscriminate followers around.
“Whose side are we on?
“Let’s not worry about sides; we have been spoiling for this for the longest time so that vengeance can finally be ours.
“They have taken us for fools for too long, first they say yes, then no, stop then go.
“To which I say enough already with your canting jargon, your cunning linguist stunts, your arrogant argot.
“The lion has awoken and that means war, trouble and more.
“The writing is on every wall for those who have eyes to see.
“For when they say peace and security then the world is lost.
“Can you see what I see?
“Apocalypse.
“Aftermath.
“A world no longer just numismatic or hypostatic or statistical.
“Time for a change
“Can somebody in the house say yeah?
“Fuck yes.
“But all this is the work of tomorrow, for now let the show start, the games begin. Let’s drink, ball and shout.
“Can I get an amen?”

(Another elliptical installment in the Showtime series. Random other parts can be found by following the links to Uneasy City, X Marks the Spot, and Rapturous Ascendancy).

The South

Borges-Performance 1970
Borges-Performance 1970

… while we sleep here, we are awake elsewhere and that in this way every man is two men.” Jorge Luis Borges 

 

Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg’s 1970 film Performance is a goldmine of counter-culture and avant-garde influences. References to AngerArtaud, Bacon, Burroughs, Crowley and Genet abound, however the greatest acknowledged debt is undoubtedly to the Argentine fabulist and writer of philosophical fictions; Jorge Luis Borges.

Early on in the movie we glimpse one of the gangsters reading A Personal Anthology, while later on reclusive rock star Turner reads out aloud an excerpt from El Sur (The South) from the same volume. The second part of the movie set in Turner’s decaying Notting Hill mansion, (long before the gentrification of the area), is particularly redolent of Borges with its themes of identity, doubles, labyrinths and the constant, disorientating use of mirrors. One of the final scenes in the movie is of a bullet travelling through the brain that shatters an image of Borges. Legend has it that when the director Donald Cammell committed suicide, by a shot to the back of his head in 1996, that he didn’t die instantaneously and while he waited to die he requested his wife to fetch a mirror so he could study his reactions and repeatedly asked her if she could see the picture of Borges yet, a particular eerie and grim instance of life (or rather death) imitating art.

El Sur is a particularly appropriate choice as it foreshadows themes present during the movie and certain elements of the ending. Borges rated it as his best story and suggests that it could be read in an entirely different way, without clarifying of course which is the correct reading.

 

El Sur

The man who landed in Buenos Aires in 1871 bore the name of Johannes Dahlmann and he was a minister in the Evangelical Church. In 1939, one of his grandchildren, Juan Dahlmann, was secretary of a municipal library on Calle Cordoba, and he considered himself profoundly Argentinian. His maternal grandfather had been that Francisco Flores, of the Second Line-Infantry Division, who had died on the frontier of Buenos Aires, run through with a lance by Indians from Catriel; in the discord inherent between his two lines of descent, Juan Dahlmann (perhaps driven to it by his Germanic blood) chose the line represented by his romantic ancestor, his ancestor of the romantic death. An old sword, a leather frame containing the daguerreotype of a blank-faced man with a beard, the dash and grace of certain music, the familiar strophes of Martin Fierro, the passing years, boredom and solitude, all went to foster this voluntary, but never ostentatioous nationalism. At the cost of numerous small privations, Dahlmann had managed to save the empty shell of a ranch in the South which had belonged to the Flores family; he continually recalled the image of the balsamic eucalyptus trees and the great rose-colored house which had once been crimson. His duties, perhaps even indolence, kept him in the city. Summer after summer he contented himself with the abstract idea of possession and with the certitude that his ranch was waiting for him on a precise site in the middle of the plain. Late in February, 1939, something happened to him.

Blind to all fault, destiny can be ruthless at one’s slightest distraction. Dahlmann had succeeded in acquiring, on that very afternoon, an imperfect copy of Weil’s edition of The Thousand and One Nights. Avid to examine this find, he did not wait for the elevator but hurried up the stairs. In the obscurity, something brushed by his forehead: a bat, a bird? On the face of the woman who opened the door to him he saw horror engraved, and the hand he wiped across his face came away red with blood. The edge of a recently painted door which someone had forgotten to close had caused this wound. Dahlmann was able to fall asleep, but from the moment he awoke at dawn the savor of all things was atrociously poignant. Fever wasted him and the pictures in The Thousand and One Nights served to illustrate nightmares. Friends and relatives paid him visits and, with exaggerated smiles, assured him that they thought he looked fine. Dahlmann listened to them with a kind of feeble stupor and he marveled at their not knowing that he was in hell. A week, eight days passed, and they were like eight centuries. One afternoon, the usual doctor appeared, accompanied by a new doctor, and they carried him off to a sanitarium on the Calle Ecuador, for it was necessary to X-ray him. Dahlmann, in the hackney coach which bore them away, thought that he would, at last, be able to sleep in a room different from his own. He felt happy and communicative. When he arrived at his destination, they undressed him, shaved his head, bound him with metal fastenings to a stretcher; they shone bright lights on him until he was blind and dizzy, auscultated him, and a masked man stuck a needle into his arm. He awoke with a feeling of nausea, covered with a bandage, in a cell with something of a well about it; in the days and nights which followed the operation he came to realize that he had merely been, up until then, in a suburb of hell. Ice in his mouth did not leave the least trace of freshness. During these days Dahlmann hated himself in minute detail: he hated his identity, his bodily necessities, his humiliation, the beard which bristled up on his face. He stoically endured the curative measures, which were painful, but when the surgeon told him he had been on the point of death from septicemia, Dahlmann dissolved in tears of self-pity for his fate. Physical wretchedness and the incessant anticipation of horrible nights had not allowed him time to think of anything so abstact as death. On another day, the surgeon told him he was healing and that, very soon, he would be able to go to his ranch for convalescence. Incredibly enough, the promised day arrived.

Reality favors symmetries and slight anachronisms: Dahlmann had arrived at the sanitarium in a hackney coach and now a hackney coach was to take him to the Constitucion station. The first fresh tang of autumn, after the summer’s oppressiveness, seemed like a symbol in nature of his rescue and release from fever and death. The city, at seven in the morning, had not lost that air of an old house lent it by the night; the streets seemed like long vestibules, the plazas were like patios. Dahlmann recognized the city with joy on the edge of vertigo: a second before his eyes registered the phenomena themselves, he recalled the corners, the billboards, the modest variety of Buenos Aires. In the yellow light of the new day, all things returned to him.

Every Argentine knows that the South begins at the other side of Rivadavia. Dahlmann was in the habit of saying that this was no mere convention, that whoever crosses this street enters a more ancient and sterner world. From inside the carriage he sought out, among the new buildings, the iron grill window, the brass knocker, the arched door, the entrance way, the intimate patio.

At the railroad station he noted that he still had thirty minutes. He quickly recalled that in a cafe on the Calle Brazil (a few dozen feet from Yrigoyen’s house) there was an enormous cat which allowed itself to be caressed as if it were a disdainful divinity. He entered the cafe. There was the cat, asleep. He ordered a cup of coffee, slowly stirred the sugar, sipped it (this pleasure had been denied him in the clinic), and thought, as he smoothed the cat’s black coat, that this contact was an illusion and that the two beings, man and cat, were as good as separated by a glass, for man lives in time, in succession, while the magical animal lives in the present, in the eternity of the instant.

Along the next to the last platform the train lay waiting. Dahlmann walked through the coaches until he found one almost empty. He arranged his baggage in the network rack. When the train started off, he took down his valise and extracted, after some hesitation, the first volume of The Thousand and One Nights. To travel with this book, which was so much a part of the history of his ill-fortune, was a kind of affirmation that his ill-fortune had been annulled; it was a joyous and secret defiance of the frustrated forces of evil.

Along both sides of the train the city dissipated into suburbs; this sight, and then a view of the gardens and villas, delayed the beginning of his reading. The truth was that Dahlmann read very little. The magnetized mountain and the genie who swore to kill his benefactor are – who would deny it? – marvelous, but not so much more than the morning itself and the mere fact of being. The joy of life distracted him from paying attention to Scheherezade and her superfluous miracles. Dahlmann closed his book and allowed himself to live.

Lunch – the bouillon served in shining metal bowls, as in the remote summers of childhood – was one more peaceful and rewarding delight.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up at the ranch, he thought, and it was as if he was two men at a time: the man who traveled through the autumn day and across the geography of the fatherland, and the other one, locked up in a sanitarium and subject to methodical servitude. He saw unplastered brick houses, long and angled, timelessly watching the trains go by; he saw horsemen along the dirt roads; he saw gullies and lagoons and ranches; he saw great luminous clouds that resembled marble; and all these things were accidental, casual, like dreams of the plain. He also thought he recognized trees and crop fields; but he would not have been able to name them, for his actual knowledge of the country side was quite inferior to his nostalgic and literary knowledge.

From time to time he slept, and his dreams were animated by the impetus of the train. The intolerable white sun of high noon had already become the yellow sun which precedes nightfall, and it would not be long before it would turn red. The railroad car was now also different; it was not the same as the one which had quit the station siding at Constitucion; the plain and the hours had transfigured it. Outside, the moving shadow of the railroad car stretched toward the horizon. The elemental earth was not perturbed either by settlements or other signs of humanity. The country was vast but at the same time intimate and, in some measure, secret. The limitless country sometimes contained only a solitary bull. The solitude was perfect, perhaps hostile, and it might have occurred to Dahlmann that he was travelling into the past and not merely south. He was distracted form these considerations by the railroad inspector who, on reading his ticket, advised him that the train would not let him off at the regular station but at another: an earlier stop, one scarcely known to Dahlmann. (The man added an explanation which Dahlmann did not attempt to understand, and which he hardly heard, for the mechanism of events did not concern him.)

The train laboriously ground to a halt, practically in the middle of the plain. The station lay on the other side of the tracks; it was not much more than a siding and a shed. There was no means of conveyance to be seen, but the station chief supposed that the traveler might secure a vehicle from a general store and inn to be found some ten or twelve blocks away.

Dahlmann accepted the walk as a small adventure. The sun had already disappeared from view, but a final splendor, exalted the vivid and silent plain, before the night erased its color. Less to avoid fatigue than to draw out his enjoyment of these sights, Dahmann walked slowly, breathing in the odor of clover with sumptuous joy.

The general store at one time had been painted a deep scarlet, but the years had tempered this violent color for its own good. Something in its poor architecture recalled a steel engraving, perhaps one from an old edition of Paul et Virginie. A number of horses were hitched up to the paling. Once inside, Dahlmann thought he recognized the shopkeeper. Then he realized that he had been deceived by the man’s resemblance to one of the male nurses in the sanitarium. When the shopkeeper heard Dahlmann’s request, he said he would have the shay made up. In order to add one more event to that day and to kill time, Dahlmann decided to eat at the general store.

Some country louts, to whom Dahlmann did not at first pay any attention, were eating and drinking at one of the tables. On the floor, and hanging on to the bar, squatted an old man, immobile as an object. His years had reduced and polished him as water does a stone or the generations of men do a sentence. He was dark, dried up , diminutive, and seemed outside time, situated in eternity. Dahlmann noted with satisfaction the kerchief, the thick poncho, the long chiripa, and the colt boots, and told himself, as he recalled futile discussions with people from the Northern counties or from the province of Entre Rios, that gauchos like this no longer existed outside the South.

Dahlmann sat down next to the window. The darkness began overcoming the plain, but the odor and sound of the earth penetrated the iron bars of the window. The shop owner brought him sardines, followed by some roast meat. Dahlmann washed the meal down with several glasses of red wine. Idling, he relished the tart savor of the wine, and let his gaze, now grown somewhat drowsy, wander over the shop. A kerosene lamp hung from a beam. There were three customers at the other table: two of them appeared to be farm workers; the third man, whose features hinted at Chinese blood, was drinking with his hat on. Of a sudden, Dahlmann felt something brush lightly against his face. Next to the heavy glass of turbid wine, upon one of the stripes in the table cloth, lay a spit ball of breadcrumb. That was all: but someone had thrown it there.

The men at the other table seemed totally cut off from him. Perplexed, Dahlmann decided that nothing had happened, and he opened the volume of The Thousand and One Nights, by way of suppressing reality. After a few moments another little ball landed on his table, and now the peons laughed outright. Dahlmann said to himself that he was not frightened, but he reasoned that it would be a major blunder if he, a convalescent, were to allow himself to be dragged by strangers into some chaotic quarrel. He determined to leave, and had already gotten to his feet when the owner came up and exhorted him in an alarmed voice:

“Senor Dahlmann, don’t pay any attention to those lads; they’re half high.”

Dahlmann was not surprised to learn that the other man, now, knew his name. But he felt that these conciliatory words served only to aggravate the situation. Previous to the moment, the peons provocation was directed against an unknown face, against no one in particular, almost against no one at all. Now it was an attack against him, against his name, and his neighbors knew it. Dahlmann pushed the owner aside, confronted the peons, and demanded to know what they wanted of him.

The tough with a Chinese look staggered heavily to his feet. Almost in Juan Dahlmann’s face he shouted insults, as if he had been a long way off. He game was to exaggerate constituted ferocious mockery. Between curses and obscenities, he threw a long knife into the air, followed it with his eyes, caught and juggled it, and challenged Dahlmann to a knife fight. The owner objected in a tremulous voice, pointing out that Dahlmann was unarmed. At this point, something unforeseeable occurred.

From a corner of the room, the old ecstatic gaucho – in whom Dahlmann saw a summary and cipher of the South (his South) – threw him a naked dagger, which landed at his feet. It was as if the South had resolved that Dahlmann should accept the duel. Dahlmann bent over to pick up the dagger, and felt two things. The first, that this almost instinctive act bound him to fight. The second, that the weapon, in his torpid hand, was no defense at all, but would merely serve to justify his murder. He had once played with a poniard, like all men, but his idea of fencing and knife-play did not go further than the notion that all strokes should be directed upwards, with the cutting edge held inwards. They would not have allowed such things ot happen to me in the sanitarium, he thought.

“Let’s get on our way,” said that other man.

They went out and if Dahlmann was without hope, he was also without fear. As he crossed the threshold, he felt that to die in a knife fight, under the open sky, and going forward to the attack, would have been a liberation, a joy, and a festive occasion, on the first night in the sanitarium, when they stuck him with the needle. He felt that if he had been able to choose, then, or to dream his death, this would have been the death he would have chosen or dreamt.

Firmly clutching his knife, which he perhaps would not know how to wield, Dahlmann went out into the plain.

Jorge Luis Borges 1944

 

Who’s The Boss?

Jarmila Maranove-the Trial 1983
Jarmila Maranove-the Trial 1983

The Melancholy Lieutenant woke up immediately when he registered the sound of a key being fitted into the lock and the scrape of the door as it grated against the cement floor. If they thought that the delay was going to make him sweat they were mistaken. He felt refreshed after his sleep and prepared for whatever fate they deigned to grant him.
Two men entered, both in plain clothes. Their superiors had probably decided to pair them up as a study in archetypal contrasts, which they had then made into their schtick, their routine. Naturally there was a squat, older harassed tough guy with the obligatory rumpled brown suit that he wore like a baggy second skin. The Melancholy Lieutenant felt he had read the script that this bad cop with the good heart beneath the gruff exterior was going to act out many times before. Of course the sleek, soft spoken and ambitious young detective, impeccably turned out in bold blue stripes would be all concern until he had found an angle into which best to turn the knife. Well let them play their little games, he thought, they will get nothing out of me because I’m keeping schtum, silent as the grave, his accent alone would give him away as a foreigner. Besides even to himself his story of parallel dimensions and vast inter-stellar conspiracies sounded like the incoherent ramblings of a deranged mind. But here he was, in this room where he shouldn’t be. But he doubted he could convince a pair of over-worked and cynical policemen the truth of the matter.
Seating himself in the chair the tough cop addressed the sleek guy who had decided to perch on the wooden table, all the better to lean over and presumably intimidate the Melancholy Lieutenant.
‘So who and what did we have here Boss?’
‘Dunno Boss, no papers, no ID card, no number, nada nowt and he’d decided to clam up whats more. We know nothing about nothing about him. Which is a little perturbing, both of us…and for himself there. I mean without any solid information we have to naturally assume the worse, don’t we Boss?’
‘Another fucking ghost then.’
‘Looks like it.’
‘Got a cigarette Boss?’
‘Sure Boss,’ said the good cop. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled a gold case which he presented to the older cop all in one smooth fluid motion. He took two cigarettes out, handed one over, and then rifled through his trouser and jacket pockets before finally finding a lighter. He lit his colleague’s cigarette first before lighting his own. Both of the policemen took deep drags before directing heavy clouds of smoke into his face. The Melancholy Lieutenant remained impassive.
‘So what are we gonna do with this guy? Obviously we need to process the fucker, but as what? As an agitator, subversive or just some poor bastard down on his luck? Or did he just lose his mind out west.’
‘Well he looks and holds himself like a soldier, and an officer at that. Maybe he was exposed to the Black Acid at the front. Maybe, maybe. I wouldn’t peg him as one of Red’s, and definitely not as a Wrather, but unless we find out more we can’t ever really be sure, can we Boss? What is your famous gut telling you?’
The bad cop studied the cigarette for a while before answering. ‘My gut is telling me that it’s hungry while my brain is telling me that I am tired. Are you not going to say anything there Sonny Jim? Huuh? What you say and do in this room could decide your entire future. So what’s it going to be, boy?’
The Melancholy Lieutenant didn’t move a muscle and kept staring into the middle distance, though he was worried that the gathering heavy silence would galvanise them into action. Although he was trained and held the necessary detachment to resist speaking out under torture, it was something he obviously wanted to avoid if at all possible.
‘So be it then, ‘the smooth operator said and stood up from the table, squaring himself up. ‘I think we need to show him who’s the boss, don’t we Boss?’
‘Ah hold on there Boss. Let’s not be too hasty. I got a feeling inside that we have to be careful, a wrong decision may come back to haunt us; bite us in the ass big time. We still have hundreds to process yet and of all the people we have seen so far this bastard looks most likely to have connections. He isn’t your run of the mill agitator anyway. Besides I think he realises who’s the boss.’
‘O.K Boss,’ he said relaxing and standing down.
‘So where are we going to process him then Boss?’
‘Chosher Fastness I suppose, the catatonic ward seems about right for this bleeding phantom.’
‘Yeah, a better class of loony up there.’
‘Officer class mental cases.’
‘Good monitoring as well.’
‘We can see how he responses to the presence of certain problematic inmates.’
‘Decided then boss.’
‘Yes no doubt. Call up the McNally boyos and get him loaded up into the van.’
‘Can’t wait to be shot of this one, let him become somebody else’s problem instead of ours.’
‘I’m with you on that Boss.’
‘Ah well, on to the next one.’
‘Never fucking stops does it?’
‘No and it never will either Boss.’

 

 

After the Falls

Grosz-Ecce-Homo
Grosz-Ecce-Homo

After, (for there is always an after, the story goes on, there is neither resolution or finality, even death is only a pause, a quick breather in-between, a brief respite, a stage), the unstable reality of Eden Falls had been snuffed out like a candle-flame, the Melancholy Lieutenant had found himself, in a certain sense only because he knew that he was well and truly lost, on the streets of some Northern city in winter. He didn’t look at all out of place though, the avenues and boulevards were crowded with shell-shocked and war-wounded soldiers just returned from some calamitous battle; hungry, cold and bitter their talk was all of sedition, revolution, uprisings and coup d’états.
After the third night of rioting the authorities had cracked down and began to round up suspected trouble-makers and imposed a curfew at nightfall. The Melancholy Lieutenant was caught up in the dragnet and taken to a grim faux Gothic government building that had been converted into a temporary prison to deal with the influx of detainees. He was put inside a small room along with four other morose veterans.
Time passed by slowly, nobody spoke or moved, apart for the times somebody had to relieve themselves in the bucket wedged into the corner. Occasionally a guard would open the door, point toward someone and signal for them to follow. The person never returned to the room, instead a new inmate would take their place.
After three others had left the room with the guard it was his turn. He walked a short distance behind the guard, up narrow stairs and through dusty corridors that contained numerous offices. The guard stopped before a wooden door that had been painted a dim shade of burgundy sometime in the last century and searched through the numerous keys on the ring attached to his belt. He opened the door for the Melancholy Lieutenant and closed it immediately behind him.
He was alone, though he guessed this is where he would be questioned, perhaps interrogated. There were no windows, naturally, and the bare room was devoid of furniture apart from a flimsy trestle table and three rickety looking wooden chairs. The only light source was an old fashioned lamp, without a shade, that rested on the floor. Somehow the dull light emitted seemed to intensify the sombre gloom rather than dispelling it, which was obviously the intention of the police or the secret services or whoever was running the show here.
Though he doubted that a cat could find comfort in this derelict hole he was truly exhausted so he sat himself down in one of the two chairs facing the door. Obviously the single chair facing the wall was where he was meant to sit, but the hell with that. Sleeping with his eyes wide open he waited for his accusers to make their grand entry.

(This is the further adventures of The Melancholy Lieutenant, a recurring figure in my fiction. The previous installments are Eden Falls and X Marks the Spot. To make matters even more confusing these are just part of a larger series of loosely linked experimental surrealistic science fiction noirs starting with Showtime, though there can be read in any order.)