Wormwood. Wormwood will be my “rosebud.” Here’s how it goes: At the beginning of “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles, in his titular turn as a newspaper magnate, exhales this final phonemes thus launching a plot to decipher its secret meaning. (Spoiler alert: it’s a rugby jersey!) I’ve often thought that in my ideal death scene, my last word would come billowed aloft a wheeze of licorice breath as the la Fée Verte dances me gaily into the light. (In this version of my death, of course, I’m a rheumy-eyed old gent aged “infinity” and still decadent enough to be imbibing absinthe on my deathbed, surrounded by the beautiful and damned – as my widow-to-be, the Contessa, dolefully shakes her head.) In my not-so-ideal death, my last words would likely be any of a number of expletives, or perhaps some mundane turn of phrase such as “oops,” or “no, really, I simply couldn’t stand another éclair,” or “is that really a thought-crime these days and what the hell is state-sanctioned termination-parlor, anyway?”
Note: wormwood, you see, is the secret ingredient in absinthe.
Anyway, not long before being lured by the sirens of Sonoma, I did a brief stint south of Market, trawling for pillow-talk amongst the heartsick and reckless sylphs who just as soon kill as kiss me. Autumn had passed before I realized that the tragic beauty I was dating (whose soul had gone gaunt from the wrong mix of booze, cigarettes and literary theory) really meant it when she said she hated loving me. At the apex our boredom, when the novelty of drunkenly unlocking her door with my own key began to wane for both of us, she dispatched me to her girlfriend’s apartment with the ominous suggestion that “It might be interesting.” It wasn’t. The woman and I watched a movie, limped through some awkward conversation and, finally at a loss for anything more to say, she asked in her Checkpoint Charlie accent if I “Vould you like some ice cream, or perhaps some absinthe?”
“Both,” I replied. I had, after all, always wanted to try ice cream.
She smiled darkly. The rocky road had freezer-burn so we abandoned it, spoons clanging into the sink. The woman then produced two glasses, a fancy slotted spoon and a pair of sugar cubes, white like blind dice. Spoon in hand, she suspended the sugar over our glasses and ran tap water through it. The pale emerald below fogged into a milky pearl.
“This,” she said, raising her glass, “is going nowhere you want to go and everywhere you want to be.”
“But I just came from there.”
She nearly yawned, but then suddenly put the drink back like whiplash. I did the same. Regret, this night, tasted like anise. Especially, by the fourth round.
Issues of transubstantiation loom large for me: I can turn wine into ink and ink into wine but neither into the blood through which they’re filtered. This is fine. I have enough blood. I am, in point of fact, a man of sanguine humour. However, this disposition suddenly curdled into brackish melancholy, as cream forfeits to the pitiless pucker of a lemon rind: worm holes were bored through the wooden puppet head that stowed my mind.
I rallied my wits back just long enough to slip from the woman’s flat before her harpy wings could completely envelope me. I staggered the rain-slickened streets and staved off madness just long enough to find a friendly couch (at my pal Meerschaum’s) where I rode ride out the rest of the pageant of beasties dancing on my dendrites. But they’re still there and likely will be until all my muttering is scrubbed from this earth. More later.