Dinner Along the Amazon
And she lifted the dress and she floated, all in red, across the room toward the windows—gathering whisky all the way. The Lady of Words was pinned against the glass. If only F.N. Thompson could see her now. His Lady. Laugh.
Le Bistro was slowly filling. Annie felt late. She always felt late in the rush.
There was music here—and that was good. Helen Reddy was singing a song called “Time.”
“…carry me on…” she could hear, as she raced, or seemed to race for a place, alone, at one of the tables. She sat. Her coat was a weave of red and orange: and, above it, her face was powdered, over-white and she wore her deep green specs, the ones with the silver frames and her gloves were as long as giraffes and her shoes were like tongues that could taste the floor.
Here was a haven-place. A home. Relaxed: “A Pernod, s’il vous please.” Amongst the true companionship—the anonymity of peers. Of peer-sons. Wow! She breathed. She sighed. The Lady of Words who hadn’t made it out the window yet. Tonight.
Off with the gloves, then: one by one, expose the nails; one by one by one by one; the “Pernod fluted into frame; the boy who brought it beautiful; the waves of Helen Reddy’s singing one by one and when I one by one go home my heart like a one by one stone: will they one by one call me their own when I one by one go home?
Her fingers, laid out in neat array at last upon the zinc, were very pale and shell against the grey. She was mirrored, now: and waited. She counted up her muscles, thinking: here are poems: here are my poems: my desperation in repose…
It was good. It was written: published—and good. Even Hugh had thought it was good—in his back-handed way—even in anger, good. And, here was freedom—if someone would come.
The faces scattered round the room were English, French, Canadian, some above leather, some above dumpy-wool and duffle. And their feet all leaned so easy on the floor. It was lovely to watch their feet and to wait. There were faces she knew and some she did not. There were shoes she didn’t give a damn about and some she longed to hold between her teeth and suck. Some shoes had even come across and said hello. It was getting early now—and the earlier it got, the more she thought: if someone doesn’t come, I’ll have to let some one sit down. She was cast adrift: anonymous, and yet they knew her. Her specs were a ruse against the dangerous light—and a signal of respect for friends. And every one of them who stayed for words was good about her book: no flattery, just pleasant praise, acceptance, gratitude that she’d survived. The pleasure of her peers, who knew you survived, or did not survive, a book. And then…
There was Frannie.
She could see him beyond the glass refractions and he had to break through the Gauloise fog to reach her.
“Hello,” he said. His hands were in his pockets.
“Yes. Well. You didn’t phone, you see. And I thought you might have telephoned when he hung up—and then I got unbusy and…I drifted over here. Sit down.”
He did not sit down.
She watched him—sideways, while he watched the room. He did not look well. He did not look sane, somehow.
“Sit down. It would be nice. You draw attention, when you stand.”
“Maybe I want to draw attention.”
“Frannie. Shit. Sit down.”
He sat: a sort of glide to the chair, his hands still deep inside his pockets, shoulders hunched, his hair across his face.
“Here we are,” she said. She reached for a cigarette and held it tight between her teeth. “I’d like a match, if you have a match,” she said.
Frannie fumbled around in the depths and hauled out a Zippo lighter and flicked it open. He struck the flint with his thumb and placed the flame at her disposal. The waiter came. Frannie ordered a bottle of wine and Annie held her glass up, empty. Frannie and Annie.
The waiter took the glass and went away and they were left alone again.
“How come you’re in Montreal?” she asked.
“I’m writing a screenplay,” he said. And he gave the word a smell as he said it.
She knew he hated it. “It’s a living,” she said.
“So’s dying,” he said, “by comparison.”
Annie smiled. “Remarks are not literature, Mister Hemingway,” she said.
“And you are not Gertrude Stein.” He finally turned and fully faced her. “Thank the Lord Jesus.”
The waiter brought the wine and a glass and Annie’s per-nod. Frannie began to talk.
“It’s rained four days,” he said. “It will rain for one day more—and then it will snow.” He poured his wine. “This place is nice: I’ve always liked this place. The tabletops are zinc. They’re French, you know. This whole idea is French. The whole idea of zinc is French.”
Annie watched him, feeling careful: moored, not quite adrift.
“You zinc zis isn’t Frenzh…“he rapped the top of the table. He was trying to smile. It took a long time. And it never quite came.
Annie locked her hands. Please, Frannie: don’t be dumb, she tried to say, but couldn’t. And then she looked up and Frannie was weeping: soundless, immobile. “What’s wrong?” she asked in the gentlest way she could. “What is it, Frank?”
“For Christ’s sake, pay no attention.” He got out some rainy wads of Kleenex and a pair of old, blue gloves and set the gloves aside while he blew his nose.
Finally, he said: “It’s good to see you, Ann. I’m glad. I’m very glad you’ve had success.”
That did it. “Come off it, Frank,” she said.
She bit her lip and looked around the room. She’d pin him, if he wasn’t careful. And then she looked right back. “I’m sorry,” she said, and meant it. She was. She knew he didn’t need another hurt. “You want to go?”
“I haven’t finished my wine.”
Annie laughed. “You’re a hopeless drunk.”
“And you think that’s attractive?”
“No. What is, these days?”
Anger: “Christ! I was only kidding, Frank. Jesus! Hopeless!”
“I’m not complaining about my hopelessness. Don’t you.”
Annie sat silent. She looked around for someone to pin. It didn’t matter who, just someone. She began to feel a chill and she wove her coat around her shoulders, drawing on the long black gloves. With a terrible sense of foreboding, she felt the floor return beneath her feet. Her face began to freeze with a desperate poise. I’m here: she thought. I’m here, goddamn it. I’m here.
Frannie began to finish his wine. It took him almost an hour.
Annie thought: I wish F.N. Thompson would come. I want to be carried out a Lady.
The Saturday 3 a. m.
In the room, they lay on the bed, in the dark.
“Funny,” said Frannie: “how we talk in voices, like Hugh—and terrible puns like me and French, like you.”
“Funny? Why funny?”
“Dunno. Just funny.” He drew on his cigarette and made an orange firefly. Bang. It went out.
“Do that again. It was nice.”
He did it again. And then he began to make it dance around in the shifty dark above the bed. “My father used to do that.”
“Yeah. He used to sit on the other side of the room, when we were going to sleep as kids. My brother and me. And Dad would make these zippy fireflies all around the room.”
She could feel him shake.
“What is it, Frannie?”
“Oh shit. I don’t…I really don’t know. I’ve been crying like this…waking up, even waking up, crying. Weeks. I don’t…I really don’t know why.”
Annie put her hand out: felt his naked stomach with her fingers, slowly rubbed his stomach—side to side—her fingers arched. The weeping vibrations slowly ebbed and her hand lay still: “Go on,” she said. “Finish about your dad.”
“Oh. He used to rea
“And hymns. He used to do us hymns. He wouldn’t sing: he’d just…it was just the words. There was one—you remember: ‘Who would true valour see, let him come hither…?’”
“One here will constant be, come wind or weather. There’s no discouragement—shall make him once relent—His first avowed intent—to be—”
“A Pilgrim. Yeah. I know.”
Annie rolled onto her back. She got off the bed and went across the carpet. Somewhere, she found the whisky and brought it back.
They drank. And Frannie went on, propped up, with his legs beneath the sheet: “He wanted to be a poet, you know. My dad. And so did I. But, I ain’t. Films, for Christ’s sake. Fucking screenplays. For creeps without assholes…” The crying began again, but now it was only tears and his voice: “Do you know the last time I stayed in this hotel? When I was…after I was married. Here. Downstairs somewhere—we had our honeymoon. Someone and me. Marian. Me. In this hotel. And I’m queer, for God’s sake. Queer. But, I got married. Yeah. I sure did. Loaded with integrity. That’s me. All because—why? I don’t even know.”
Annie didn’t speak. She felt like ice. She drank—and sat at the foot of the bed, with the extra blanket round her shoulders.
“And the latest is,” said Frannie, “I fell in love with Hugh.” After the silence, he laughed. “A married man? You believe?”
“What does it, Annie? Eh? What does it to us? Eh? What does it to us?”
Annie didn’t speak. She was thinking: “us.”
Frannie went on: “I never have time to write. I mean, I never have time to write. I never do. And I think—keep thinking—if I could just get out of this rut: if I could only write—if I could only find some nice, queer kid and fall in love, if I could only be my…” (whispered) “self. Be me. But—it’s been so long. Such a long, long time since I was…anyone. Ann. You know? Since I was anyone.” He laughed—but it was cynical. “And I am a. hopeless drunk. And I…”
He drew in his breath. “What?”
Annie got off the end of the bed and came around to the side.
“Shut up about your goddamn self and shove it. Go to sleep.”
She yanked the sheet and got underneath and threw the extra blanket down around her feet. Her back was to him: solid. He could see the shape of her shoulder and head.
He sat very still. But, all at once, she reared on her elbow and shouted at him: shouted—over her shoulder: “And you cry one more goddamn tear and, so help me Teresa, I’ll throw you out my fucking window!” And then she lay down, flat—and was gone to him: useless, unhearing. Stone.
Frannie finished his cigarette and gulped several times from the bottle. But he didn’t cry again. He sighed, instead, just once and then got up and went to the bathroom.
When he’d gone, Annie lay there thinking—wide awake: cold sober: afraid. She couldn’t understand what he meant.
She understood him, but not what he meant. His breaking—but not his being broken. I mean—he’s F.N. Thompson, for God’s sake; F.N. Thompson. He has four books. Four books—and I just don’t understand. He can’t not know who he is. He can’t. He calls me Kabuki Bogan—and My Lady and he used to make me laugh.
She listened. She heard him pee—then silence. But, he didn’t come back.
And she lay there, thinking now, well—I guess I’ve pinned another one I didn’t want to pin. And me? I was only…(drifting) waiting for someone.
She watched the windows: heard the rain, she saw the sky. It would be all night, before it would be morning. All the whole night; and then, just another day.
She drifted all the way, against her will, to sleep.
In the bathroom, Frannie sat on the John, drinking whisky from the bottle. The light was obnoxious white, unshaded. Still—he refused to sit in the dark.
It was odd: being drunk, so terribly drunk, stark naked, sitting on the John, in this, of all hotels. He hadn’t even thought of Marian for years. She was married again, now: happy, with kids.
He guessed he really had upset Kabuki Ann—surprised, because he’d thought, he really had, that Annie was riding high. Of course, she was always riding high but…Joke. Bad joke. Bad. Bad joke.
Jesus: oh Jesus; why did they have to speak in voices when they meant their hearts to break?
He rose. Go to bed.
He crossed to the sink. He set the bottle down. He opened (God knows why—he wished forever after that he hadn’t), opened the medicine-cabinet door and found the whole of her mystery: staring at him, flashing in his face. Her collection.
The Sunday 11 a.m.
Frannie had left her sleeping, Saturday morning. All day Saturday it rained. And all day Saturday, she stayed in her room and wandered between the windows and the bathroom. She had a little food sent up, but hardly ate. She gave herself the needle: 4 p.m. and went again to sleep, without the pause of thought.
Now, it was Sunday. Down below in the church there’d already been one Mass and now they began to arrive for the next. And Frannie, he’d been right: quite right. It snowed. The park was full of ghosts.
Annie made herself sit still. She was dressed. Erect. Immensely real. The mirror told her so, far off across the room. And now, she truly waited.
Music. That would have been nice. And then it was. There were bells. Obtrusive. Making her count. Don’t count.
The shells at her finger-ends were resting on her knees. Behind her, on the bed, the razors waited, laid in their boxes—some on velvet, folded.
She lifted the book from her lap. Open.
“I have made razors of my life, my words,” she read “because my life, my words have razored me…” and closed it over, flat and open, cover up on the bed, in hand.
She rose in one step to the windows.
Jesus and St. Teresa: here.
And she flung the book to the street.
And she waited.
And she waited.
And she waited.
Kabuki Bogan came out of the Bar and Grill and noted the woman behind the magazine counter, coming on duty: late again. There she was; pinned: her handbag; humbugs; jangling bracelets; lips and lacquered beads. And her pointed crest: L’ÉTOILE. The Star.
By the doors to the street, Annie paused. The man stood ready to let her through, unseen. She smiled: “Merci.” And was gone, till, maybe, some other success she’d engendered overtook her by surprise, and brought her back.
And the old hotel still smelled the same and 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, the same brocaded chairs. The people were changed, perhaps: but never their image. Never the basic reflection of what was there.
Daybreak at Pisa
For William Hutt
This is a scene from a work-in-progress: a play about the poet Ezra Pound. The characters are self-explanatory; but perhaps it should be said that the cage referred to is the cage in which Pound was kept at the end of the Second World War by the American military authorities while he was being detained in Italy before being sent to the U.S., where in time they would attempt to bring him to trial as a traitor. In the end he could not be tried because he was found to be legally insane.—T.F.
Pre-dawn: and Ezra burns in his cage, caught in the white hot glare of a searchlight.
He wears his overcoat against the cold—its collar turned up next to his ears. His mad, electric hair appears to be standing on end. His hands are in his pockets, as far into the depths as they can get. But the whiteness of the light and its intensity prevent us from seeing the features of his face. T
And Ezra says: “That moon of yours is a travesty, my friend. Your sense of subtlety is worse than mine…Might I suggest a filter of cream and gold? Old Ceres’ moon, with honey dripping from her lips…? And a bowl, with a spoon if you please…”
There is no reply.
“I’m hungry, damn it!” Ezra says. “A person’s stomach knows when morning comes. If you could just turn out that light—I bet you’d find the sun could find the sky all by itself…It doesn’t need your help, you know. It’s not a moron, boy. There is a track it follows every day.” He raises up his hand and points. “An old, well-beaten track. With breakfast at one end and supper at the other…” His finger traces the track across the sky. “Eh, boy? You hear me? Yes? If you put out that light of yours—who knows? The hen might lay her egg and we could eat…”
Ezra withdraws his hand from the air and puts it back in his pocket: cold. “You want me to starve out here? You bastard, boy! Put out that God damn light!”
An egg sails out across the stage and breaks on Ezra’s cheek.
“You fascist pig!” a voice calls out from somewhere in the wings. “Soo-soo…you piggy-pig!”
More eggs are thrown, and slops.
But Ezra stands his ground.
The walls behind him, of the cage, are spotted with garbage, some of it making scarlet blotches on the stones.
The climax of this outrage comes when a pail of muck is emptied through the lattices of Ezra’s roof onto his head.
But, though he cowers against the wet of it, he straightens once the streaming ends. And then—the movement slow, deliberate, precise—he lifts his fingers to his cheek and wipes away the egg, placing his finger-ends inside his mouth and sucking them clean.
When this is done he reaches out towards the light and raises up his fingers: one, and then another.
“You there, with the arsehole,” he says. “I dare you to sit on my breakfast now…”