One Decadent Life: Part Two
Eunice was doing a vigorous clean-up in the bedrooms of the ‘debbils.’ The smell was atrocious, and though she knew what it meant, still she was not used to it. She shoved all the bedding into the two washers; when the tumblers were full of water, she poured in quarts of chlorine bleach. As she came out of the laundry room, she heard someone hammering away at the front door. It was the man from the airport, with the missing luggage.
As she stood on the doorstep signing receipts, out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw someone, in a red shirt, standing in the thick shrubbery. She looked again – no-one.
The airport man Jose, who’d seen Tere and David when they’d flown in, gave her a conspiratorial grin — “Four days, on de dot.”
“Oh yea!” she ambiguously responded.
“O ye,” he answered, “How dey doin’?”
“Bad. Real bad.” She glanced to her right again, and Jose turned — “Thot I saw summun ovah in de bush.”
“You shore you not doin’ none a’ dose magick powdahs yo’se’f now, You-neese?”
She laughed, “Gowan,” and she had the man take the bags downstairs to the bedroom suites.
As per Marilyn’s orders — which included paying off the airport staff to hold back certain of her New York guests’ baggage, for up to a week — Eunice was to search their contents, and flush away any white powders she found. Talcum powder, sugar, coke or heroin, if it was white and powdery, it went. It was her luck that her two charges were out on the beach.
She was not always able to do a search, depending on how vigilant the guests were. But Tere and David seemed to have given up. And in this case, she was very glad to do it.
She opened Tere’s two cases first, shook out the clothing and put them on hangers. All pockets were checked. In one of a dozen cosmetic bags she found a yellow plastic prescription bottle: XANAX the label read. She opened it and extracted a crumpled glassine bag full of white powder. She cautiously took a sniff, and a few grains whisked up her wide nostrils.
“Aw Lawd!” Eunice yelled and dropped the bag. Standing before her was a man — the one she’d seen in the shrubbery. A shock of grey hair stood up straight from the broad forehead, and his middle was covered in what appeared to be a bright red shirt. But it was moving about, glowing… a medium of manifestation. So she knew at once what she regarded was not an actual man — that is —
“Who be ye, Speerit?” she called out, and crossed herself three times.
The Spirit did not speak. But he pointed to the bag she had dropped. She hastily fetched it up and took it to the toilet. Trembling, not yet understanding what the Spirit was about, she flushed the heroin down the drain, and came back into the room.
The Spirit was leaving through the doorway, heading towards David’s room. She followed — at the door of the room, the Spirit stopped — started forward — stopped — retreated — wavering at the doorstep. Eunice wondered at that.
“Izzat Debbil keepin’ you out?”
The arms of the apparition suddenly shot over its head, and it rose from the floor and disappeared into the ceiling. At that, a loud, bone-wracking moan resounded, increasing in volume, then still louder, so Eunice shuddered and held her hands over her ears. Thereupon a crack of thunder shook the foundations of the house. A window upstairs shattered, and she heard objects falling and breaking. The moan then faded out, and all seemed strangely peaceful, quiet again, normal — if ever anything is normal — once more.
She hesitated to step over the threshold, and went back instead to finish her search of Tere’s effects.
She made certain the glassine bag she had just emptied was secure in her pocket. Inside a gold face-powder compact she found another fat little stash. What seemed to be a new, unopened box of Tampax weighed heavily in her hand. She opened it and exclaimed, extracting a quart size, zip-locked bag full — that took four flushes to go down. She poured Clorox in the bowl and scrubbed it out, flushing again, then mopped the bathroom.
She was feeling a bit dazed, and sleepy. She remembered the sniff, “Dat debbil, he be sea-doosin’ me… damn.”
At the bottom of one suitcase was a green metal candy-box, the old-fashioned type. It was fitted with a hasp and padlock. Eunice decided she did not have time to look for keys, and from the size of it — twice that of the Tampax box — it would take alot of flushing. It was fairly heavy… Eunice put it in a garbage bag, went out to her vehicle and locked it in the trunk. “Mebbe Daddy can use dat poison, fer some good…” She knew such drugs could be a palliative in cases of extreme pain, and to ease the dying, once it was ritually purified.
The maid hurried through David’s one bag, easily discovering six small bags of white powder. These she rinsed down the sink, washing it out thoroughly. She arranged his toiletries on the bathroom shelves, and jumped as she saw the red-shirted Spirit flash past in the mirror —
“Who you be? Speerit?” she asked it again. She knew he had to be for the good. Since the thunderclap, the atmosphere in the bedroom was full of a diffused light, calm and almost dreamy. “Who send you?” she demanded. A faint tinkly laugh soothed her ears… she yawned. “Waal I shore do need a nap, or som’fin. Dat debbil got me!”
She went upstairs and surveyed the kitchen, planning to go home for an hour or so… She steeled herself for David and Tere’s questioning, the anger and accusations. But she was used to that. It was part of her job. Often the people would leave right off; she had a feeling the woman would.
But she’d tell the story like always. How the bags had been in the Ste. Maarten airport, and that they got searched. “Alot o’ drug mules dey come frew heah. So dey sutch de bags.” That usually shut them up fast. “Poh-leese in Sayn’ Bart’s — they don’ look kinely on no-one bringin’ no drugs ovah to the eye-lan.” If anyone was truly set on getting off their addiction, they took the loss as providential. The others got the first flight out.
She was getting into her car when she saw David and Tere coming along the road from the beach, arguing. She drove up to them, stopping for an instant:
“Yo’ bags they bin foun’. The man put ‘em downstairs…” She never saw two people disappear so fast.
“Them damn fools.” She was glad to be going out, to avoid the brunt of their displeasure. From the magenta cascade of the bougainvillea, the astral form of Orestes gleamed after her.
December 11, 1985
Revelatory evening with The Blessed… My client never showed up, so we spent all evening talking, ordering from the Lyric Deli (naturally) and digging in my filing cabinets. I showed him the ms. I had started of his ‘Spirit of Filth’ diatribe. As he read it, tears came into his eyes. I absolutely adore him, ‘my adorable genius.’ *
Discovered he too is a disciple of Santeria! He had never told me… he’s heard of Orestes, but never gone out to Union City. He wouldn’t tell me who his babaloa is.
He did tell me about the Causewell’s enclave in St. Bart’s, where David is undergoing “The Cure.” Though I’m not supposed to tell anyone, ever… this place is a kind of outpost of Initiation. Ostensibly a retreat, where people can clean up from heroin. But it’s more than that. There’s an entire family of Santeros ruling the island! I think I have to go…
He gave me David’s number but told me not to call for three more days, to give The Cure a week. Tere’s down there with him but Rene said she’s probably going to leave (I wonder how Rene knows all this?)
He’s still sleeping… I love sleeping with my brother… we broke out his gold pajamas (mine are royal purple.) When he wakes up we’ll go get the Xmas tree. And this morning —
I dreamed that David came like Virgil to travel with me through certain courses of Manhattan. He was dressed in a long black overcoat that reached to his feet… or was it a priest’s cassock?
We were standing on what the dream named “a field of industry” — approximately where they are planning to build some gigantic monstrosity to be called Battery Park City, at the foot of the World Trade towers. We saw the great, broad Hudson River flowing beyond this derelict field, in a cold silvery twilight. We were at A Dead End… the atmosphere was one of dread, and death.
This field and its river-bank, as far as the eye could see, was ringed by old factory smokestacks, squat industrial warehouses of vast extent, by half-wrecked skyscrapers of glass and steel: all of it the architectural detritus from our post-post-Industrial Revolution’s neglect. In just one spot, directly before us, was a precious fragment of the original bank, curving down to touch the water. At this spot of green grass, we lingered.
To be with him was the greatest pleasure. I experienced it as an enormous relief. A perfect transparency of thought and understanding lay in our wordless communication. Whatever we turned our eyes upon we grasped simultaneously, deeply, penetrating to its elements of the Undying.
Then we were walking through the streets of Soho, entering art galleries, coming out and going on to the next. David seemed to grow sadder and sadder as he stood before each painting. I comprehended in his countenance a purely spiritual assessment of each work of Art. Most were devoid of any aesthetic power of intent. The vaunted ‘modernity’ of the works was frighteningly meaningless. There was nothing to worship; not any God anywhere; all was fatuity, and for basest commerce.
We knew the milieu of “Art” around us as a corrupting game, its products mere playing-cards in a grotesque gamble of the dealers. David seemed to be trying to resign himself to the proliferating blasphemy. The world we lived in gave our aesthetics no value. The spiritual necessity to create was not relevant in these so-called ’successful,’ impious slatherings of paint.
We wondered for what reason we underwent the infinite anguish of creation.
He drew my attention to an artist who worked only in the color black. A long dialectic ensued — the genius of a monochrome obsession — that this pigment may be a sacrament, a modern atavism that might be worth investigating. We agreed that color could be puerile… we felt infinite scorn for those who would “brighten up Life,” those who tried to “emphasize the positive,” whatever that might be.
We then descended to the Lower East Side… though it’s uptown from Soho, there was a sense of falling.
David brought me before a tall white building, which at first I did not notice was different from the others, five-storey tenement structures. At its base was a commercial shop, and a door to the right to enter the dwelling. But when I looked up, to its topmost stories, there appeared to be a small, Grecian temple floating thereon.
David pointed out for me a certain window: “There is where I lived and studied, and Worked as a true Artist.” I understood that to have been a period of naive youth, a desperately short period. He pointed to another window, further down: “There is where I lived with Joanna,” a name I don’t understand. Then he pointed to a very small window, near the street:
“That is the room where I died.”
So I had been ranging Manhattan in the company of his ghost — but even so, he did not seem less real than real — and this Spirit who was he went on, strangely cheerfully, detailing other moments of his life, embodied in one or another of those windows in the tall white building. So I did not interrupt him to ask — just how and when he had died.
Then we were racing uptown in a taxi, he was going to a dinner-party, a very exclusive scene, and I was not invited. We sped past Twenty-Third Street, where my Chambers are, but I did not get down. I was going to try and stay with him, as long as I could, on his way Uptown.
The interior of the cab began to expand, as the speed increased, and then I was flying along the riverbank, trying to spy out, on the West-side, some fair swath of green. Across the river, in New Jersey, huge faceless dead factories fronting the water were just beginning to catch fire.
[End Diary Entry]
*Footnote: “Adorable genius!”
A constant exclamation of the artist’s impresario, in Ben Hecht’s film, “The Spectre of the Rose.”
After a busy time on the ‘phone, Tere was packing. She had just enough time to catch the next flight to Saint-Maarten, where she’d have to stay over, to pick up a morning flight to Miami. And from there to London.
That crap about the airlines searching our bags, a total lie. Why aren’t we under arrest? It was that bitch Eunice. Maybe Marilyn has her do that… and whoever it was, they took my box of Kruggerands! Motherfucker.
David’s certainly blase enough. Doesn’t he care we could be arrested for possession any second? But wouldn’t they have been here already with the handcuffs?
Tere’s mind was buzzing with conjecture; aloud to herself, “But who the fuck knows how they do things in these primitive countries?” conveniently forgetting that St. Bart’s was ruled by France… one of the more advanced cultures on the planet. It was nerve-wracking and more than a little weird, and I’m not going to sit around one more day with that goofy maid grunting and grinning at me.
In a long black satin kimono David drifted into her doorway, “Whoever did that search — got everything.”
“Don’t I know it. Five thousand worth of dope, something to get square with in London. And my box of gold coins.”
“Fuck that is rude. They know we can’t put in a complaint…”
“I don’t care I just want out before they decide to come and drag us off to jail.” She slammed her suitcase shut and locked it with finality. Turning to David, “I am sorry to leave you, David. Are you sure you don’t want to come along?”
“It’s going on five days, Tere… I think I might be able to make it.”
“With that beast around? Brrr! You know she stole everything… Come with me, David. We can start fresh in England!”
“Start fresh? With cheap English dope, and you going into dealing again?”
Tere’s winsome smile curdled at his sarcasm, “Who said I was going into dealing? The House of Herve is still interested… they have a new flagship store. A tranny model is something new for them, you’ll see…” as she began to drag her suitcases upstairs. David pointedly failed to assist her.
Who is she kidding. The heifer’s twenty pounds overweight. She’s finished as a model. David understood she was not going off to some brilliant new life. Nor was she running from an imminent police action. She’s going to cop and David was getting a vicarious thrill, watching her prepare for it. That’s all she was doing, going to cop, and he envied her youth and vitality and its will to continue to dissipate.
“Who’s getting you at the airport?”
Tere looked confused, “What? Where?”
“In London. Won’t Herve send someone?”
“Uhh… yes of course.”
They stood outside the house, waiting for her taxi. Eunice was in the kitchen, getting a dinner started. David felt better than he had in days.
He was happy Tere was going. Though he loved her, he was relieved that the long era of her as an albatross around his neck was over. Something irremediable had forced its way between them. Four days together, without heroin, the differences between them stood out stark and arid. The wash of glamour Manhattan had overlaid was gone. No longer cool, hip, there was nothing ‘advanced,’ nothing ‘cutting edge,’ nor even vaguely sophisticated about them now.
A knife edge had descended and cut them in two. He was a serious artist, with a real crisis at hand. She was a former model… what psychic bond had once knit them together had been replaced by heroin. And now that the heroin was gone, it was difficult to remember what had made them friends in the first place.
London! It made him shudder. It was teeming with legal junkies. Yes, you could register as an addict, and get your daily dose. And not that lousy methadone purveyed in the States. No — cheap, plentiful, high-quality dope was sold openly, where the legal stuff retailed by pharmacies was not enough. It was a perfect dead-end existence for any sort of has-been, wanna-be, end of the line loser. None of that guilt-and-punishment business. One did not have to live as a furtive criminal, no — you could nod out on the sidewalk, in the parks, drop dead in a gutter in a perfectly legal context. It was neither inspiring, nor advanced, but society was protected! No longer ravaged and eaten up by drug-addict madness. So which was better: proscription, or a prescription?
But who knew? Maybe Tere was telling the truth. Maybe Herve would try and renovate her. But David watched the taxi pull away with a sickening, sinking feeling. There went his last Muse — who had proved herself to be a degenerate, with a criminal streak.
David’s head was spinning with the changes… that insane tale she’d told him, about Lola and Anya and Paula! He thought he’d try to call Paula, but he couldn’t bring himself to pick up the phone. He was alone now, completely alone — facing at least three more weeks of trying to get better. And to ready himself for a return to the city…
Three hours later, well-fed and deeply drunk, David was staring out to sea from his post on the veranda deck. He pathetically wished some venomous snake or insect might come along, and relieve him of the necessity to exist. David Manfred, visionary painter, killed by a bug… somehow that gave him consolation. He caressed a spot over his inside coat-pocket where rested the blue steel of the forty-five. Bramwell’s gun, he’d found in the closet… made him feel calm, to think he had an out, that he could do it.
I can do it. Maybe no-one thinks I have the nerve. I do. I can do it.
COPYRIGHT Held and ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
TERENCE SELLERS 1985-2015