Blake, man —
Forgive the lapse, chap. Been waylaid conducting important research: indeed, the search for a unified field theory of women continues. At least ex post facto. And no thanks to the Lumaville Daily Echo, by the way. It’s with some relish that I admit to having spent a week on the clock, wine-soaked and wrong, accumulating data, errata and other curios wholly unworthy of the company ink. The upshot? I’m a couple hundred words short on that vampire dance club bullshit you assigned (if you run the photo three columns it should plug the hole and if you cover my ass with Der Editor, it’s my treat at The Arch).
That said, I’d lay on the usual field report, but I’m too wrecked at present. Below are the some notes and stray thoughts, some salient points and foreshadowing of the heartbreak more sure to come than tomorrow’s edition. Edit at will. And don’t show Marlowe. She thinks I’m a cad already and doesn’t approve of the project (though it could be argued she’s done a similar study herself, but with less staff. Or would that be more staff?).
I’ll spare you the woman’s name, except to say it comes in the rueful hues of both long and short vowels, starts with a gasp and ends in a sigh. Sophie Dover. Of course, it wasn’t the name she initially gave me, but given my own upgraded byline, I wasn’t going to quibble (“paging Chris F.”).
Day one: “The suicide hotline put me on hold,” came her first smoky words when our elbows met atop the bar.
She snapped her phone shut, her expression bemused. I was deep in my cups at the Bitch and Bastard (as I’ve learned the art school townies have nicknamed it due to the reproduction Madonna and Child looming above the bar). “They’re under staffed this time of year. Holidays, right? I didn’t take it personally,” she continued in a mannered and measured voice, more strings than brass, more viola than cello.
“Are you suicidal?” I hazarded.
“No, no, fuck no. My ex-husband, he volunteers there. But I think he’s suicidal, so sometimes I call for him,” she said, stepping off her bar stool.
She was a rangy, slinky woman. Her thin wrists twisted as she spoke, as if she were twirling an umbrella.
I could hear Rigs’ voice in my head braying on about picking up strange women in taverns: “There’s no quality control,” he would crow, “We’re at the age where we should be doing strictly referral business.” But seriously Blake, which one of you mugs would ever’ve been able to refer me to this unusual beauty?
Eyes the color of the fecund earth, her gaze so concentrated that anything she examined took on added gravity; hair, cornsilk dusted in nutmeg; lips, when still, bowed such that their apex formed a textbook embouchure, bringing pangs of heartache every time she shaped a word beginning with W.
Our conversation continued on her sofa adrift in a tempest of wine and smoke. Compare, contrast. Same books, same films, she had better taste in music, though my passing familiarity with Bach got me through some early hurdles. She let me lure her into some clumsy sophistry about the interrelation between sex, death and food, expressing my dismay over not being able to fit love into the equation. “Love is when you share your plate,” she said and smiled, then rose and lit a candle ensconced in a leaded glass lantern.
She claimed to have given up on literature, preferring instead to peruse picture books of the sort that ballast coffee tables between hipster kitsch and the kind of esoterica proffered by museum stores.
One such tome was an anthology of woodcuts depicting Mad King Ludwig and his longsuffering footmen Porknuckle and Schticklefish, Bavarian folk characters who consistently find themselves in impossible and embarrassing circumstances whenever doing the king’s bidding.
Her eyes agleam, she bellowed in the monarch’s voice “Porknuckle! Schticklefish! Bring me a filet of pantomime horse,” then snorted, “And mead, damn it! An ocean of mead!”
She turned the page and with a pitying smile she interpreted the block prints: “Porknuckle and Schticklefish, then look to each other and sigh. They trundle off, their shoulders slack, ever the handmaidens to their own, inevitable humiliation.” Then she kissed me.
I noticed her fingers were trembling and she ran them through her hair. I lit a cigarette, but before I got in the first drag, I found myself kissing her again. After a moment, she said off hand, “Let’s do it now.” Then down the hall, her slight hips swinging, a tune on her lips.
I took the first and final drag of the smoke I had lit and let burn.
“And bring the lantern!” she called from her bedroom.
When I awoke in her apartment late the next morning, there was placed at the end of the bed a fresh towel, a new toothbrush and a fake mustache. The first two sprang from her hospitality and a gift for hosting that had kept the corks popping all night with the rhythmic regularity of a marching band. The mustache, I thought at first, was a joke and humoring her, I put it on. It was not the lick-and-stick costume shop variety, but a well-hewn push broom of the sort seen in theaters. A gale of laughter came when she first saw me. Then she shook her head, squinted, and after a few strokes from her whetted fingers, approved.
She put me out on the landing, embraced me and off I went. This same ritual occurred every morning for a week. At night, we’d make love — my body would leave hers, and there, as I lay naked and panting, she would begin to invent my new identity: thinking aloud, mulling sideburn extensions, beards in various states of pruning, caterpillar eyebrows, all matched to a rack of suits left behind by her ex-husband who also wears a 44 long. She left it to me choose the accents and stage business that would complete my transformations. Meanwhile, my own costume hung moldering on a peg in her closet.
“Tomorrow, I have no idea who you will be to me, or who I’ll be to you. We can only carry on with these crude approximations,” she explained, but later suggested that the fact was she didn’t want to distress her ex-husband by seeming as though she were interested in any one specific man. Instead she would diffuse the situation by making the one seem like many and thus, to the prying eyes of everyone from her chatty landlady upstairs to the postman and baristas pulling coffees down the street, I was her many lovers.
It’s here, Blake, that I will end this missive, having loped the hilly streets, shopping cafe windows for my chameleon reflection. The freak behind the counter keeps banging the espresso machine’s goddamn portafilter against the sink. I’m going to fucking kill him unless I split. Be assured, Porknuckle and Schticklefish are dutifully by my side.
As for my unified field theory of women, Blake, I’m discovering that anomaly is the norm, which is to say I haven’t much of a theory. More as I sober up?
P.S.: Remember the girl in Malta?