Swims a Most Majestic Vision
by Jason DeBoer
(Author's note: This is an experiment in which each word used in this story also appears in William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," barring some modification of the original elision. The words of the play have been restructured into a narrative of an abusive marriage. In effect, the language of Shakespeare has been fragmented and then recast, drawing on certain themes from Nietzsche, Sade, and Bataille. It is a work born from violence, both Shakespeare's and my own, as I first began the story by knifing apart "The Tempest" in a Kathmandu hotel room.)
Caliban was not the first to drown at home on the couch. He never died, no matter how much he should have. He only drowned. Slowly, instinctively. Here death did not work very hard. At night he lay there brained by his bottle of rye, solemn and patient like brown water, in repose as the moon graced midnight freckled with its own filth. The silence pleased Caliban. "Together, my bottle and I," he would whisper, alone, as if it were the only goodness.
It was a rotten carcass of a marriage and they both knew it. Still, there was some part of it that Miranda resolved to hold close, to restore and strengthen. It was a foolish wish. Madness. In his deafness her project would die. "It is only a falsehood that my remembrance summons," her conscience told her, but she did not understand. Often she thought it was no rift between them, but a coil of closeness, an irreparable discord in which the hurt was tended between them as some fertile indulgence. As if each were cruelly dedicated to the other...
She found a picture of them as a young barefoot couple, when his crimes were only "mischiefs." A time of ignorant comfort, when he said he bedded only her and they laughed with assurance that there would be no ending to their love. "Hell is what my trust was then, as if I demanded to be wrong." He had charmed her once, there had been gentleness, before the wilt of ardour. When did this sorrow supplant love? Their marriage was now an abysm and all her service slavery, the words "I love you" but a spoken vanity. The ensuing remorse made her ache. She suffered useless, human pains...
Miranda knew a little peace each day when Caliban was at work. She too found compassion in his rye and by the sixth glass she was uplifted, severed from the apparition of her life. As the fumes killed her senses she would embrace the table, perfumed with sloth. Lost. Forgetting for a while the sun's slow burn on the earth. Drunk. Some stray grief dancing in her head. "I long for the night, when even my blame sleeps."
There were no noises of children in their house. She chose to be barren. "I want no son, no father, no man any more." Her lie to Caliban was that she came from a long line of bad wombs. An "hereditary defect." Caliban did not want to be a parent either. Still, he would mock her for the birth she could not, would not give.
All his credit was plunged into whores. Thousands lost in bondage and liquor. When he cheated in green and silver it disturbed Miranda the most, as these were the colours of the distance between them. She loved to molest a dollar, just as he lived to stroke leather black as pitch, and if she could not halt the drift of his love, she would fight for his money. To prevent or manage its loss, Miranda was inclined to a lingering vigilance, an inquisition every time he returned home. Austerely, with trials of cutting questions, she measured how much money was washing away. She would feed him guilt for dinner. It did no good. No amends came before her. None.
The liquor made her stronger and gave her confidence, at times she was insolent and would roar at his waste, but in the end he had her bawling. Then he was gone, out drinking with the rabble, to whistle at women and worse. Miranda had a vision of his unseen actions, clustering with the dregs of his friends. "All the devils with glasses raised, devouring any thing to try and fill their husks." The scene crept distinctly into her imagination. Caliban, a drunkard without discretion. Mouth foaming to suck the breasts of a whore...
Waking from a noise, her dream was dismissed. She felt a swift dulling of hope. His approach was always the same. An odious footfall. Caliban would sway into the screen, fooling with his key, tripping on the step. Miranda was fearful. He came into the room near the bed, stooping for his bottle. He cursed and expelled a belch, stripping off his garments, and she thought fright would devour her. Danger swallowed the complexion from her face. But then nothing. He was asleep. It was a good night, slumber hushed the enemy. "Even his snoring is poisonous. It has the savour of ridiculous crimes."
Next to them lived a minister and his wife, both lightning white with the fear of god. Shrieking burst from their house every night at six. Caliban would turn off the news and stand observing through the glass. The minister, humming to his abominable heaven, beat the wife soundly yet preciously, as one would wreck a jewel. Their library shed its rattling din, lamps and holy books painted amply in blood and faith. He would crack her skull and leave her in a pile, then pray with a sanctimonious air... as if to wipe out his sin. His deity would always remain mute and without miracle.
Caliban would spy on them, drink in hand, and learn. To him the spectacle was more than a beating, it was something gallant and dreadful, a strange prerogative of marriage. "Light is the paragon of unworthiness, composed of an insubstantial god. Only darkness bears the hush of lasting power. Only darkness is without witness." Caliban would then look at Miranda through his empty glass. Her features melted and exposed only the wound of her mouth, a red circle fringed with teeth. She was a frail woman, a body, a standing displeasure. Her mind and its prattle were even uglier to him, and he told his bottle softly, "Within her chatter dwell all her stale qualities, but even when silent she is lying."
His whores told him no lies. With them there were never any dull accidents of discourse. And no mouths could be as lush. His lust curled awake when he thought of them, skins malignant and divine, lying on their backs only for him. Deformed nymphs, hollow and unsettled on the bed. "A twenty, my dear, to buy your poor, wet blemish..." All the trash and entrails that his cock had swum through. All those hours of flesh and folly, which were his dearest perdition. Shapes drenched in villanous sweat. Time bereft both of speaking and the desolate lack of speech. Caliban grew to cherish this blasphemy, this earthly desire to violate angels. "Such evil can be wondrous... Come, my rotten one, bare your blemish and feel the disease in your veins... Abjure a prayer with me... Let us strive to rend this globe from its trifling heavens..." He had need of these savage revels, to fuel the infirmity within him, to defy reason with something much stronger, with the disgrace of the infinite. Every monstrous union, all the lusty pinches in the dark, every gorgeous face he marred with his touch, every bashful virgin made to kneel and lick... Each of these actions served to make a sovereign gesture that went beyond the edge of language and removed even the knowledge of death. His hope was that his rage, at its zenith, would threaten the world and its beginning, like flame held to straw. To invert innocence and poison time with ecstasy, to incite a mortal destiny yet repulse all thought of ends, to hiss at death as its power abates... Yes, it was the noblest celestial dare, to strike a blow against death. The impossible was at stake. If he cursed and struck it enough, would death itself perish? Caliban thought of these things and the condition of his prick...
He came home from the office, lost in grumblings till the bottle gave its kiss. He saw Miranda moping near the wall. She stood in the curtains, weeping from the scarcity of love. The wetting of her eyes was her gift to him. A prize he could bear. An overblown compensation for the charity of his torments. Caliban often only came home to quarrel, to exercise his baseness. The marriage was a perpetual wrangle. His need to torment her demanded it. His grudge against her had its own arms and head, its own life...
Caliban took a drink and hunted for his fury. He came towards Miranda, strutting his malice. "I'll make a maze of your teeth..." The threats far from idle. "My princess of darkness, let me crown your precious skull. Come here..." With each loud aspersion her nose curled deeper into her bosom. Caliban saw her as harmless and blind, some damned worm incapable of indignation. A lazy slave unfit to pour his drinks. He felt the disdain that only marriage can produce. Miranda was silent, infused with a cramp of dismay. "Trembling yields its answer," her misery spoke, and she kneeled delicate before the blows.
With a bloody cheek, she was perfected. Peerless in her indignity and subdued for their unwholesome sex. He never made love to her, he infected her. She sadly presented him her behind, crying through brave, humble eyes. "His cock begins to swell... And then... then the afflictions come..." she thought before the groans. His heaviness itself was terrible. Mounting her despair, he plunged into it and thrust all their enmity into her uneasy form, driving into its plain, miserable obedience. When she was obedient she held the most power over him. There was a tyrant in her bush then, which Caliban resolved to murder. He abhorred the manacle of her sex, the soft regions which had once stolen his love, that had first made him worship, then marry her. For years his prick had been in a snare. The bachelor had been confined to the prison of a wife. Now, those affections, that stale need for a companion, did not plague him any longer. The horrible time of loving was over. A ghastly memory. His life was now a search for an abundance of pleasure, a lust without limit... where consciences dissolve into the senses, usurping even the spell of the temporal.
Blood, in unstanched drops, like wine made from her dead virtue, gave tribute to him. This virtue, unnatural as a funeral to Caliban, was invisible till it was stained. They were painfully bound together, her fear in constant nibbling at his weakness. His hands imprisoned her waist, still shaking with dread and something else... contentious waves without precedent. From her escaped a sudden word, "Monster!" Her body flamed treacherous. He seized angry breasts. She had the momentary vigour of a traitor, then it faded. As it did, amazement, fever transported him. Passion made him frantic. Space itself grew wanton. Wild. Incensed. Faster he bore down on her, sighing at the strain of his discharge.
After, she lay alone, her back gilded with his ooze. Her eyes mudded with tears, the dew of mourning, as she brushed the blood from her saffron hair. Miranda then felt her hate like roaring winds, for Caliban, for herself. "Forgiveness, no... Never. Never..."
Full of drinks and a new fortitude, Miranda prepared to pierce the paunch of his cunning. She plotted, a conspiracy of one, while he lay cradled in the laps of whores sowing his evil. She would not be cheated of her revenge. Her being grew perfidious, a glut of pure treason...
The next night Caliban left the house and, after a few hours, a fiend came home bearing his laugh. Wicked, full of drunken harshness, his suit stinking of sex, he drenched her in abuse. A vile rain of words. But his stinging tongue could not penetrate the warm fabric of her anger. Her very heart was howling for its freedom. Caliban stopped as he saw something mutinous in her stare. Miranda the coward had become proud and strange.
"Shut up, Caliban, you bastard." She had the gallows in her voice, which he flung aside. He vouched to tame her mighty desperation. "I'll kill you." He landed a blow upon her frown. Miranda did not run. She moved to scrape his eyes with her nails. Tumbling together, they fell on to the couch, throats hanging with fingers, and destroyed each other in quiet nuptial assaults. She was the weaker, and her arms soon fell in a droop. His bulk would not yield. The motion of his shadow, dropping like a dead god, had driven the breath from her. His teeth were bare with delight, as if they were playing. Drunkenly, with a faint laugh, vows issued from him. "I take thee as my wife... to hate, dishonour, and disobey. Yes, I do. I do. Marry me again, Miranda..." Caliban did not release her neck and her eyelids felt a certain drowsiness, like a shroud. The closeness of the grave. She sucked the taste of bones. She would be cheated of her revenge. Shaking, her hands hurried to find a weapon, hid with tempered patience for this occasion. There. Under the couch. Something sharp. Swiftly, she brought up its silver point. Caliban had no time to disarm her and could not deny her vengeance. Miranda saw his smile vanish.
The knife fell deep into one of his eyes, where the steel would remain. He stood upright to pluck the metal from its wound, and for a second his face held all the dignity and noble grace of unicorns. She beheld the princely arch of his sinews. A surge of muscles summoned up a royal plume of blood. His pulse was rising up in convulsions. Caliban felt the strangeness of one eyeball. He could not remove the knife.
Bellowing, Caliban struck wildly at Miranda, bending to mark her with the secret of his new majesty. He lost his footing with a weak departing sound, "Thus does sovereignty plummet... unwillingly." Reeling, he fell away. She eyed the ebbing of his throes. His swim wearied, turned to drown. Miranda felt a momentary envy. It took an instant to behold her loss. Doubt heaved in her stomach and the relief she felt was troubled. Oddly unrewarded. "The disturbed tears of widows should be missing." They were not. Yet the rite was strangely calm. There was only the harmless trembling of her nostrils.
Note: this story first appeared in print in Rampike and online in The Barcelona Review.
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