Dinner Along the Amazon
What’s that? Daisy is squinting at him—darkened, in her corner.
I was standing—standing there, thinking I stood beside my father, but—in fact—we were separated, somehow. And—some other person took my hand. And held it. All through the service. Very hard, I remember: holding me very hard. And then, when the service was over—letting go. And I looked up and realized it hadn’t been my father.
I don’t know. A man. Some other man.
A pause: a hold, while Daisy blinks. And then she says: how long ago was this?
Eleven years. Or ten.
Daisy takes up another cigarette. Caleb rises, crossing, already flashing his light and lights her darkness with it—almost meanly, so it seems to Daisy.
And you remember her? Your mother? Mary?
No. (The light goes out. He crosses back to the empty plates.)
Well—anyway—the Pope died, too. (A beat.) She got him in the end. (Another beat.) Or someone did…
Then: laughter. Daisy rises from the corner.
Laughter, someone once said to Daisy, is braver than silence. She thinks of that, now, but—looking at Caleb—knows she mustn’t say it. That would be another intellectual joke that—if he didn’t laugh—she might lose faith in. And she needed it: no, not the joke—the faith. She gets herself another drink and looks across the room. You don’t understand me, do you? Sad. How sad, she says. And to think I once had a face—like yours—as beautiful as yours: every nuance lovely, innocent and lovely. (A pause.) And sinister. (She turns away, dropping ice cubes into her glass.) Then, one day, in the mirror, the loveliness—the innocence—is gone. And only the sinister remains (she faces him): as I’m sure you can see.
I’m a loser. Loser of things, I mean. I mean: lose things. Lose them. Always. Nearly always. I am nearly always…things. Some people find things. Find them. Finders. In the street. In taxi-cabs. In other places of inconsequence. The difference isn’t losers-winners: it is losers…finders. Caleb? Where was it you found Arnold—he found you? Where are these places one may be a finder: find…? What is it one must do? Or be? To find things for oneself?
(All of this—of the above—from I’m a loser down to for oneself she wants to, means to say aloud: but can’t. Instead—aloud—she says what follows:)
I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad. And, when Arnold returns, I shall be very glad. (A pause.) I have a friend—a close friend, very close—whose name I do remember, by the way, but which I won’t divulge, because…Because. At any rate, this friend whose name I won’t divulge, is married: down the Mountain—and her husband has a penchant for—(she watches Caleb now, to see what he will do—to see if he will cringe, or curl) are you wondering what I’m going to say? Thinking—is she going to say this husband of her friend has a penchant for horses? Goats? For Germans? Men in raincoats? For the Dutch in wooden shoes? What are you wondering, I wonder? Well. To kill suspense—I’ll tell you: tell you what the penchant was (or is)…This husband of my friend has simple, very simple tastes. He likes to be beaten (watching) half to death.
Caleb doesn’t stir an inch. His hands just dangle down between his knees. His mouth is closed. But, across his brow, the drifts of hair begin to catch—are held by beads of sweat.
Beaten. Half to death. Imagine. Think where he had to go in order just to find someone—someone he could trust to beat him only half to death. Someone who wouldn’t kill him. Think. Imagine. Where he had to go. And what he had to do. The care with which he had to…choose. And think what his wife went through, until he was returned: came back, returned, as from the grave—a happy man, but…beaten half to death.
Daisy takes a drink and almost chokes. On laughter:
hah! When I told this story to another friend—a certain Mrs Bresson—when I told this story to her, she said a very witty thing, I thought. Which half? she said. Oh—(laughter under ice cubes) which half? I think it’s just a scream.
Caleb, in his chair, begins to stir: begins to lift his hands—to try to find some other place to put them, one by one—one here, one there, one here, one there—but all they do is sag again—fall back between his knees and dangle, where they were, as helpless now as then, before he tried to get away and hide.
You’re tired, says Daisy: tired. Oh do forgive me: this is unforgiveable. Look at the time. It’s nearly midnight, now—and you have had a long, long flight—and I just go on talking, while you must be nearly…
OH! I nearly said it. Nearly said: half dead…! Half dead. Why—you must be half dead!
Caleb doesn’t budge. Not even the corner of a lip is moved.
Attempting to sober—to escape her laughter—Daisy says: you’re tired, forgive me. That’s all I meant to say. Okay?
Now: to go on—to get on with this story I was telling you. The wife of this man (the wife being my friend)—you must attempt to feel her panic: think of how she worried, what she went through when he went away, was gone. Such long periods of time, sometimes, he’d go away—you must imagine how she felt, how ill she was: became. Because she knew that, needing what he needed, he must find and frequent the darkest places—places in the dark: and dangerous. And always, she knew, he must be so careful to select the most delicately poised and…balanced of perverts (She waits a moment, thinking about this herself—and then she goes on:) and then he must exit with this man…this boy…this man…and find with him some room, somewhere and brave out that dark with him
brave out that dark, together with a stranger, having whatever it was he needed so carefully applied—having it applied, so neatly and so carefully—with instruments and implements I dare not mention; think of…
and survive it all
The silence that follows this surveys the house from end to end.
My friend knew one day it must follow that her husband would not come back: return, or be returned; that he could not be always returned to her intact—alive. That is—she knew that he must die—be killed—by a stranger. By some strange man—or boy—whose name would not be known: whose face would not be known to her. And this she COULD NOT BEAR—(the silence fled the house) because not knowing who she was herself, she could not bear another stranger in her life—who could—who would deprive her life of
Silence. Caleb, at last, knows where to look. He looks directly at Daisy. At her face; her hand that is frozen to its empty glass; her other hand that reaches up to touch her hair.
Then, Daisy speaks and says: she wanted, at least, to be able to gaze on the stranger’s face and say, I know. I understand. I know. She wanted to…forgive him. Fold up her own identity inside of forgiveness. Do you…do you understand?
I think so. Yes.
Anyway, at last unable to tolerate her anguish any longer, my friend decided she must say to her husband—(and did—I mean, she said it) at whatever the cost to me and whatever the cost to you, for God’s sake go and find someone and bring him here. (Daisy pauses and then, in the other woman’s voice, her friend’s, goes on:) Bring him. Bring him here. To live with us. To be with us.
TO BE WITH US.
And so—he began to go away less often less and less and less; until, one day—a young man appeared at the door. And has been there ever since: in the curious phrase of my friend—they have been there all together, ever since. And
(now she turns and looks at Caleb. Tears. Without mascara. Tears. Just tears and she smiles at him—putting out her hand)
and so—that is why I am so glad you’re here. At last. So—very glad you’re here.
And when Arnold returns—I shall…No: there is no gladder, is there. Nothing better than very glad. So that will do, whenever he comes. If he does.
Before you go to bed: before I show you where it is—will be—where you’ll sleep, would you get a chair and water all the plants? You can see how small I am. You can see that, without
Good. Done and over. Finished. The parcel is safely delivered: the package has been accepted, cod. The flowers will be watered. What is there left to say?
The Book of Pins
A Friday 2:15 p.m.
The old hotel still smelled the same and it gave off the same gold light. In the lobby, the dark oak panels shone with the same deep glow of oil-of-lemon wax and the smoky mirrors reflected still the same old women in the same brocaded chairs. Nothing changed. The people were changed, perhaps, but never their image—never the basic reflection of what was there.
When Annie Bogan came out of the Bar and Grill, she noted that the woman behind the magazine counter must just have come on duty. She was putting away her handbag, eating a humbug; jangling her bracelets, staring around the lobby, fixing her lips. Annie continued to watch the woman’s assemblage from over by the elevator doors. Fifty-five, perhaps, or more; with a thin, French mouth and jaw-breaker eyes, way in behind her glasses, the lenses of which were encased in tortoise-shell and lacquered beads. Her hair was faintly mauve, with a rinse; and her pale blue smock had a pointed crest that read: L ’ÉTOILE.
Annie thought of her, then, as Star—as Mademoiselle Star, who shone in the lobby of the old hotel. The lobby was her place. Her fame was to be there.
Good. That pins another one.
The elevator came. Two men got off and, thank God, no-one else got on. Turning to face the front and reaching for the button, Annie saw, with some panic, a pair of feet in flapping galoshes, charging through the revolving doors and over the carpet towards her. Quickly, she fumbled for her floor and pressed eighteen instead of twenty-two. But, still—that didn’t matter. The main thing was the doors had closed and Annie had achieved her goal. She was going upstairs alone.
2:20 p. m.
She rarely stayed in hotels, but, whenever she did, it was always at the pinnacle: the top. Twenty-two floors, or ninety, or ten—it didn’t matter how high or low—she always had to be the farthest away the hotel could offer. When it couldn’t offer the top, she went somewhere else. She might even go to another city. But, over the years (she was now approaching forty-two) the old hotels of her choice had come to enjoy her patronage and, mostly, they gave her what she wanted. Fame, in its way, had these advantages: rooms you liked; private tables in the Bar and Grill; a man to open doors and get you through unseen; a certain separation from the race the totally unknown could not afford. Who else but the famed could refuse the company of strangers—the touch of hands?
Annie’s room was the last on the left, with windows facing both east and south. Her views were of the park and the dark cathedral; of streets slipping down to the town and the river itself, the black St. Lawrence: oiled by ships in transit; arched by bridges; strung with lights. It was autumn and the leaves had fallen: the very best time of year to see in all directions, including down. She had always preferred the November streets, alive and wet with snaky neon; reflections everywhere; and everywhere, the bent, unseeing eyes of passers-by. The very best time of year. In every way.
The telephone rang.
“Annie Bogan, please.”
“Mademoiselle Bo-gan n’est pas ici, M’sieu’.”
“Uhm-oh.” (Whoever it was could not speak French, she supposed. All the better to keep him at bay.)
“Eh? S’il vous plait, M’sieu’? Un message pour la?” (Dead silence.) “M’sieu’?” (More fumbling silence: a sort of sigh.) Annie now amused herself by adding a sing-song tone: “Okay! A vo’service, M’sieu’. Bye-bye…” and had all but completely hung up, when the voice came through with a shout:
“You bitch! Is that you?”
The voice now had a certain familiarity, even held at arm’s length. She brought the phone back up to her ear.
“Qui va la?” She smiled. The standard English greeting in Quebec, since Wolfe.
“It’s me, you dumb-assed broad.”
“Come on, now. Don’t get smart,” she cut him off. “Where are you now? Are you here?”
“Of course I’m here. I live here. Christ! You don’t remember nuttin’. I always said you was nuts. So—what’s ya doin’?”
Hughie Gates. And, suddenly, she didn’t want at all to see him. Two seconds before, when first she’d recognized his voice, her heart sort of leapt up—but, now, his collegiate gaiety had brought her down with a bang. She remembered him real: as he was.
“I’m busy,” she said, too fast. “You know I’m very busy these…” she went on, trying to string it out so it wouldn’t sound unreasonable. “And just how did you, by the way, find out that I was here?”
“Claire. She knows everything.” (Hughie’s wife.)
“Really!” (I’ll kill her.) “And how are you?”
“Hating what? Montreal?”
“Teaching, dumb-ass. English. You know: an-glais.” Roars of laughter. God—he thought he was a bloody scream…
No. She did not want to see him.
“Hugh, listen, what can I do for you, hon? I really am quite busy.”
He paused. He was obviously thrown. Mostly, she was glad to see him: when she saw him. Over a year, but not quite two. A long way off and a long time ago. In Toronto.
“I thought we might have a drink,” he offered.
“No.” She had to say no. “It’s just this trip. I’m really kind of pressed.”
“Okay,” he said. And he came right down to the Hugh she had liked, the one she could abide, with his own voice: “I’ll tell you the truth; there’s a problem…”
Jesus. She didn’t need a problem. Not someone else’s problem. Not now: but, still…
“What is it? Is it Claire?”
“Come on, Annie: don’t be so crass. I thought you had more imagination than that. Jesus! A man says he’s got a problem and everybody jumps right in with ‘your wife, of course!’” (He was using his voices again.) “It is not my wife, dumb-ass: it’s…”
Someone was talking off-stage at Hughie’s end of the line. Annie waited. She might as well hear the worst and then hang up.
“Are you there?” she said.
“Yes, yes. Hang on…” More voices. Claire’s was one of them—and, then, one other: indecipherable.
Annie watched herself waiting in the mirror across the room. She was wearing red. Her face was absolutely white and her eyes were absolutely black. She was Irish, but her long, white face, black hair and vivid mouth had a way of making her image Japanese. Her wrists were Japanese—and her hands, with beautiful, cultured nails like pieces of elegant shell, were Japanese. And the red. She surrounded herself with red: all kinds and every shade of red, from pink through orange. And black and white. Kabuki. F.N. Thompson even called her that: “Kabuki Bogan: the Lady of Words.” And his letters always began: “My Lady…”
“Well, you see—we have a visitor. Who sort of wants to see you.”
No. “Who’s that?”
Annie caught her breath. She was lost in the mirror. Too bad: the pause would be telling. Still, she couldn’t help it. Frannie. Jesus-and-Teresa. Why? “So what’s the trouble?”
“Trouble?” His whimsy had returned.
“Don’t be dense, Hugh. I’ve already said I’m busy. And I could hear all those voices. Ergo: trouble. Now—come on. Tell me. Stop horsing around. There isn’t time for cute…”
“Well—fuck you, too!” He was serious, now: and angry. “Chri
The phone didn’t ring again. And she couldn’t, even though she’d gone so far as to look up the number, really telephone him. Not Hugh. Not after the past—and the present. No.
She’d tried to take a few drinks. But never—they never worked. They were not the same. It was not enough. Nothing but all the way was enough. And she thought of her arms—and the needle and just how long it had been since (careful) yesterday. And, well: it was now…it was sometime, now, in the afternoon. And she walked, had walked to the window and looked, had looked all the way down. It was twenty-one window-ledges down and she looked, had looked at the street. And then it was now. It was now in the afternoon and, yes, she would have to. Yes, she would have to. Yes. And she did.
She crossed the floor and drew off the dress and was still in red, because the slip was red and then she went and locked herself in the bathroom. She locked the door, because the locking of the door was a part of the process: always had been a part of the process. And always would—and always would—and always would be. Even locked in behind a thousand doors, she would always lock that final door. The farthest door. The furthest door. Farthest and furthest.
Farthest is place, she repeated: furthest is always in the mind…
And then, in twenty minutes (four o’clock) she came back out and lay on the bed. Her arm, which was sore, was across her face and her eyes were closed. In a moment, it would not be bad: so bad. And then it would slowly get better. And better. Until it was all all right. And the needle took effect.
She wished there was music. Music was always nice. Or Frannie. Or something. Later on, she might—she just might, yes, go out and see if there was something. Somewhere. But, now (she got up) a drink: a drink would go down very nicely, very nicely, thank you now, my love.