issue 7 home | broken news | criticual urgencies | cyber bag | ec chair | ficciones | gallery
letters | reviews | secret agents | serials | stage and screen

HomeArchivesSubmitCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
by Andrew L. Wilson (Continued from Cyber Corpse #5/6)

In which the Reader Suffers through a Few Pages of Random Exposition in the Style of a Nineteenth-Century Novel

Mike had tried before Drunk to write a novel but always without success, and his repeated gaffes had made him desperate -- desperate for the adoration of readers and for the praise of editors and the lascivious flattery of serpent tongued agents eager to make a killing with the latest bestseller. Well, memoirs were in that year after the dismal Irish one with the children starving to death in Limerick. Mike figured he could write a memoir about his own darkest days and his losing battle against liquor and his lust for the young women with waxed legs he saw at the beach as he hulked there with his bare ugly orangutan feet stuck deep in hot sand.
     Mike's brutal father had beat him regularly, without compunction or a shadow of remorse, once to within a millimeter of his shallowly mouth-breathing life. His mother moaned prayer and insult as she expired, her last breath a foul cough full of tar-stained phlegm. Mike had spent the last ten years trying to get over his rank childhood by crawling inside litre bottles of various brands of alcohol and curling up there in the fetal position.
     Drunk cost him over two years of aching fifteen hour days hunched over the laptop until his tendons sizzled with carpal tunnel syndrome -- another Merck Manual acronym to add to the growing collection he'd inaugurated with his diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
     But Mike's agent, Molly Heinrich, had raved about the book, declaring it to be the sweetest memoir on the market. Molly Heinrich, with her frozen hair and liver spotted wrists, in a pale pink pantsuit, expanding on and out about the book over a steeply priced lunch at Le Cirque.
     You're the next Dave Eggars, she'd trumpeted, as one waiter served the lobster bisque and toast points, and another deftly poured Puligny-Montrachet.

Mike knew that his depression, raging cruelly, had deprived him over the years of the mental focus and agility that allows others to prosper as literary figures right out of prep school. Drunk was a crucifixion to write, and if it failed he would have had to blow his head off with one of George's antique shotguns. But Drunk was not only well reviewed, it struck a nerve in the public. It was a season, as we've already pointed out, for bleak memoirs. And Mike's association with George had instilled in him a darkly humorous spirit of faun-fun that shone through the life-wreckage his pages autopsied in such malignant detail.
     When Drunk ratcheted, by word of mouth and a rave review by Michiko Kakutani, to number #4 on The New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction -- only three numbers down from O.J. Simpson's I Did It -- Mike breathed a long, stinking sigh of relief and toasted his success with a grand vin de Bordeaux binge so dramatic that he was finally able to enter the hospital without fainting at the automatic doors to pay a visit to the comatose June-- now fed by tubes and attached by a tangle of wires to a blinking EKG monitor, her brain drifting like a wisp of gray cloud across the stony expanse of No Man's Land.
     Mike slumped in the plastic chair, gripping June's limp fingers, the bouquet of rain-wet chrysanthemums laid across her feet, and sobbed for hours at the horror and shame of it all.


George had been dining out on his love affairs for as long as he could recall but he'd never had the audacity to pen a novel about any of them. He kept a little notebook, soft leather-bound, with their names. Yet he didn't glamorize his past. If you want glamour, his mother had once told him, go to the moving picture show.
     George had once made a lucrative living as a Senior Editor at K___. He occupied two floors of a brownstone and filled it with leather chairs, chinese jars, antiques and books. He even had some Picasso etchings, Matisse. He invited only his most intimate friends there, which usually meant women.
     He was at once feared and appreciated in the Upper Manhattan social circles in which he moved with such lapidary ease, his face cracked in a knowing smile. Women loved him, and dogs followed him. He never had a dog of his own but he could have had them all. In fact, the women who appreciated him most were always pressing him to get a dog or trying to pawn off on him their own shivering pugs. But George didn't want a lap dog. He wanted a dog suited for a manly leather-and-wood study or the cabin of a well appointed yacht, a dog that would look noble and pure of heart trotting along beside one across a dismal, wet field at dawn, eager to retrieve birdshot-shot mallards sprawled face down in the muck.
     George, graced with a lean and strapping outdoorsman's body -- at thirty five, he looked forty; but then, oddly enough, at forty-five he looked thirty-seven -- jogged to keep in shape, huffing along the winding paths of Central Park, Jacko bursting joyfully ahead of him to scatter pigeons.

Then George's publishing house went into a slow decline. Everything in the business was askew. But that was the world for you -- the bottom line in the ledger always rules.
     When he quit publishing, he decided to buy a cottage in Montauk and enjoy his Uncle Sydney's inheritance. He kept the sagging Connecticut farmhouse, surrounded by decaying apple orchards and fields growing to wild grass. Sometimes he went up there to work, or just to enjoy an edgy feeling of proximity to Philip Roth.
     Yet George had been spending more and more time at the seaside, contemplating his errors in life, his miraculous escapes, and the evanescence of human hopes. And coming up with clever lines to use at parties. Daphne's were always at the top of his list. George wasn't one to go out of his way to impress strangers; he enjoyed, rather, delighting his friends more deeply at each reunion.

He sometimes thought he ought to have stayed in Manhattan, weathering the squalls in Publishing. Maybe he could have discovered a hot young writer. There were so many of them these days -- girls fresh from graduate writing programs at Barnard, Sarah Lawrence, and Columbia.
     Yet George was shocked when Faith Resno sent him a review copy of her novel, F*cked Up Girl-Cherry in Manhattan.
     Actually, it wasn't so much a novel as a collection of short stories. And the short stories weren't so much short stories as collections of punchy scenes, some no more than a few lines in length.
     But what really threw George for an agonizing loop was that two of the stories dealt at great length and in mordant, sarcastic detail with Faith Resno's sexual affair with an alcoholic yet beguilingly clever aging editor -- unmistakably himself truly.
Faith Resno's novel brought back the past with an unwholesome clarity.
     Christ, George wondered. What happened to those lost days of middle age? In what snows had they melted? His mind fairly swarmed with memories; not only of his careerist days, but of his overprivileged youth. George shooting skeet with his Uncle Stanley, that red-faced loon, drunk off his ass by ten in the morning. George reading Middlemarch to the hiss of a radiator, the city encased in dull snow flurries. George breaking wind in a lecture room at Philip's Academy, loudly and with gusto, and the lecturer -- a Mr. Addison -- pausing at the blackboard in sweeping mid stroke, tight lipped, chin shaking with indignation as the boy's titters fly up like swallows in a disturbed hayloft.
     Had he always been such a clown? Was it something that came to him naturally? Or were George's clever witticisms merely a means of postponing the vast yawn of disgusted boredom with all of life he'd felt building inside himself since infancy?
George met and chatted up Faith Resno at a predictable Central Park West party. His dazzling conversation moved her away from the crowd, against a patch of stippled wall half hidden by a large tropical tree. As George entertained her, convulsing her with laughter as a torturer convulses his victim with pain, she ran her tongue provocatively along the edge of her martini glass.
     George felt Faith's girl-heat through the tightly constricting blouse and shimmering blue lycra pants she wore. The talk swirling around them at the party was all shop and chic new writers. But George took a different approach. He regaled Faith with Life, not letters. He described the hellish ordeal of detox. He described the burning boredom of his defunct marriage to a woman who now sold real estate in Miami.
     George was a wolf in shark's clothing. Faith licked her rim as she followed his eyes around the room. When he wasn't studying her for the least sign of any flaw in her sexiness, she appreciated his profile. Noble, somewhat haphazard, his face showed signs of intoxication, but he kept control over himself. He didn't jostle her, didn't spill a drop of the Oban flashing in his glass.
George feared that in later years Faith would go all frumpy. Yet when he saw her stride into the Russian Tea Room in rain-slick L.L. Bean boots and shining fire-engine red rainslicker, he fell in lust all with her all over again.
     Over the borscht, Faith ran down the log of her latest conquests, and declared -- while smearing a cracker with two pats of monogrammed butter -- that she had a voracious appetite for sex.
     George found her singularly Attractive, but it was more than that. Although her face had delicate bones, although her pale skin flushed at the neck, although she looked like a child when she sat up straight, George loved Faith for the forlorn, orphan-like lilt of her wit. She didn't rival him in cleverness, exactly, but when they set each other off --
     And why shouldn't he set her off? And why shouldn't she him?
     Never mind that George was old enough to have sat on Papa Hemingway's knee, and to have played golf with a tottering gramps born last mid-century; Faith's skin felt to his fingers like the dew-moist petals of an orchid.
     In those days, George kept a notebook in which all the clever things he'd said to women appeared on the right hand pages, and all the clever things women had said to him on the left. Most of the left hand pages were blank. Conclusion: By and large, as a rule, women are not that clever. Only Faith Resno had been a shocking exception.
     First rule of rules, George thinks: don't ever muddy them with exceptions.


George was mildly startled by the invitation to Faith Resno's book release party, to be held at The New York Public Library. Yet he resolved to be at his best, and bought a sartorial suit especially for the occasion. Attired like a duke, he combed his hair back carefully. He had just enough of it left to cover his gleaming skull.      
     Crushed in the speeding taxi on his way to the Event, George began to suffer from a hellish head-clamor of anxiety. It wasn't exactly a leap into the unknown -- he was sure to be on kidding terms with most of the luminaries in attendance -- so why did he feel like a ski jumper at the top of the chute? He wished he'd limoed his way to the doors, or at least brought along a heavily scented date swathed in shining furs.
     Suddenly there he was, flanked by dumb lions. He climbed the rain-glassy steps with the relaxed, bouncing stride he'd once perfected as Literary Publishing's next boy wonder.
     As he stepped across the threshold into a vast, high-ceilinged room reverberating with monkey noise, a waitress veered toward him with a tray of sushi. He waved her off and made for the bar, where he ordered a double Oban and tipped heavily to assuage the Guilt of Existing. With half the scotch still in his glass and half aflame in his esophagus, he headed breezily over to the knot of star-fuckers and yes-people in Prada which, he assumed, contained Faith as its molten sexual core.
     He was not wrong (George rarely was, as the reader has seen). There she was -- the toast of the Young and the Flip. Clad in an emerald, spine-baring sheath, twisting and turning around the hand that held her burning cigarette (which gave the odd impression of being the only part of her that was still), Faith barked out a deep, implosive laughter that had the violence of a smoker's hack. Was she on dope? She seemed to be talking to three people at once. A tall, bald young man in a black silk suit had his hand on Faith's elegant nape, but he might as well have been manhandling her elbow for all she seemed to notice him. The others, slim and cackling girls all, wore the crazed expressions of cartoon seahorses.
     When Faith turned to him, it was with a little flicker of fear which she quickly masked with a triumphant Georgie! She hugged him, and George felt the lighted tip of her cigarette scorch his cheek as they pulled apart.
     George couldn't help but recall a piquant moment in Faith's story, "Long Island Unsound," in which, at the end of a lengthy, whining argument with her boyfriend -- a famous aging editor -- about the relevance of Norman Mailer to a new generation of readers, the protagonist matter-of-factly stubs out her cigarette and flips her hair behind an ear to bend forward and suck on his cock.
     Sadness pierced him. Jacko had been just a scrambling puppy then; Faith had gazed at him with unironic love in her eyes over a steaming platter on which lay two perfectly red boiled lobsters.

Perfect Weather for Meat

Mike, Henry and Iris ride along with George up the New England coast. Fernando Joao, the Portuguese novelist and poet, has invited them to the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It's a hot clear day in August; perfect weather for a religious festival, George declares.
     It is now dusk. George parks his battered BMW in a small lot next to a scrapyard, and the four friends stroll through trash strewn streets, guiding themselves by glimpses of a Ferris wheel between three decker houses and the smell of frying dough.
     Fernando Joao is standing by the fenced entrance to the barbecue pits, small and dapper in a silk jacket, his small goatee threaded with gray hairs. He embraces George, then Mike, then, awkwardly, Henry. He kisses Iris's hand. Delighted, he murmurs, his dark eyes shining. His breath smells of roasted meat and anisette.
     He leads the way, with a sweeping gesture, into the press and jostle of the crowd, Henry holding onto Iris' hourglass waist like a shipwrecked sailor holding onto a spar as they push their way towards the barbecue stand. When George, pointing to a sign above the window that reads, Tickets Only -- No Cash shouts, Where do we buy the tickets? Fernando grins and yanks from one of his trouser pockets a roll of tickets as thick as a deck of cards. He peels off a wad of the tickets, hands them to Mike, and gestures toward a window surrounded by pornographic color photographs of bottles of wine.
     Vinho, vinho!
he cries.
     Mike nods and lunges through the swelling crowd toward the wine window. Just halfway there, he finds himself surrounded by a group of men each holding a metal barbecue skewer, longer than Don Quixote's lance, on which chunks of raw red, blood-dripping meat have been skewered. The men smile politely as they step around the flabbergasted Mike and stride towards a denser crowd gathered under the roofed barbecue pit -- hundreds of dark haired men jostling one another, jockeying for a better view of rows of sizzling and smoking skewers laid across the coals. Then he pushes his way to a window where a girl with a large, beautiful bust and sparkling dark eyes shouts, Yes?
     Mike lays down the string of paper tickets and asks for wine.
     A bottle
     He shakes his head, holding up two fingers.
, the girl says, laughing. She swipes up the tickets, swiftly tearing and counting out sixteen. Mike watches saucer-eyed as the girl empties two bottles of vinho verde -- a greenish white wine -- into big plastic cups. She caps the cups and brings them over to the window.
     Thanks, he shouts.
     She tosses her hair, already pursing her wasp-stung lips to query the next customer.
     Mike, with the trickster precision of a practiced inebriate, places one brimming cup on top of the other and holds the tower of vinho in one big hand as, with the other hand, he snatches a stack of smaller plastic cups from a pile next to the window. He then strolls, lurching a little whenever he is bumped, back toward the barbecue window where his clueless friends are assembled. As he approaches them, Fernando turns from the window holding a paper carton full of bloody chunks of meat. Fernando speaks to George, who darts quickly off to one side and then strides just as quickly back to the small group holding a skewer aloft like The Man of La Mancha.
     We salt the meat now, Fernando says.
     Fernando has to maneuver sideways for a place along the nearby long aluminum counter upon which stand plastic buckets full of salt and seasonings. Mike glances into one of the buckets, commenting:
     It looks like road salt.
     George holds the skewer steady as Fernando scrapes each chunk of meat briefly in salt and impales it on the lance. Blood drips down the skewer over George's hands.
     After a few moments, Fernando pauses to accept a cup of wine. They all raise their cups and drink.
? Fernando asks.
     Sure! Mike says.
     Fernando slaps Mike's shoulder.
     Drink deep
     Mike empties his cup and refills it. Henry and Iris are fondling one another fondly as the strings of colored bulbs blink on in deepening dusk. George, taller than anyone in the sea of bodies, carries the skewer aloft like a religious icon, and -- Fernando directing him with terse instructions -- presses his way through the shouting, sweating knots of men and lays the skewer across the barbecue pit in which red hot coals wink through the gray ash. Almost at once, the meat begins to brown.
     Other skewers, George sees, have large onions, peppers and even potatoes impaled on them.
     No vegetables
? he asks Fernando.
, Fernando cries, laughing. Just meat! Then he turns to Henry and Iris and, pointing to a part of the large open space covered with a grape arbor and strings of bulb lights, politely asks them to go and save a place at a picnic table.
     Mike pours another vinho verde for Fernando, then one for himself, As he drinks he looks around, blinking at the beautiful young women in tight clothes. He feels himself getting drunker. The sky is dark blue. The roasting meat gives off waves of fragrance. George and Fernando are chattering in Portuguese. Where in God's name, Mike wonders, did George learn to speak Portuguese?


Grimacing, George removes the smoking skewer of dark dripping meat and carries it two handed to a metal table where he and Fernando, working together, extricate the meat from the skewer by swiping it through what looks like a tuning fork; with each swipe, chunks of meat fall into the paper carton Fernando has placed there. Shouts float up from the crowd, past the strings of colored bulbs, to hang in the warm night sky. Mike, sweating from the alcohol, is bumped back and forth as he follows George and Fernando over to the grape arbor, where Iris, sitting on Henryís lap, waves to them from a picnic table.


Iris rakes up her hair and twists it into a ponytail as the men begin to eat the dripping meat with their fingers.


When Mike goes for two more bottles of vinho verde the girl at the window, smiling, seems to recognize him. She thrusts out that amazing bust as she places the plastic cups on the sopping counter.

Pascal, Nietzsche and Mike

Midnight finds Mike, George and Fernando sprawled on Horseneck Beach around a faintly flickering fire fed by chunks of driftwood. Henry and Iris have already escaped down the beach into the amorous, surf-sussing darkness. No more will be seen of them for the next half hour, at least.
     As George and Fernando chatter like mockingbirds in the bright syllables of Portuguese, Mike lies back and gazes into the harrowing depths of the Milky Way. Suddenly he remembers: as a boy in the suburbs of Chicago, he used to take a blanket out onto the lawn and spread it over the dew-damp grass and recline staring up at the night sky, awaiting with eager dread the moment when, by dint of a fierce concentration, his natural and wrongheaded sense of direction would be suddenly reversed and he, Mike, would gaze not up but down into the seething, drifting Abyss.
     With his natural sense of Down and Up reversed, Mike the boy's scientific mind would go to work, and he would reason: Here I am, a little boy, stuck to this dew-damp, cricket-infested lawn in Lake Forest only by the paltry force of earth's gravitational field. But, really, this planet is only one piece of rock, circling in ellipsoid orbit a humdrum middle aged star at the extreme end of one of the flowing spiral arms of the Milky Way, which is so far across that it takes light one hundred billion years to get here from one of the other spiral arms --
     His mind would go to work like this, chewing on the facts, to offset the terror he felt when it seemed to him that at any moment he might, without cause or warning, fall into the glittering Abyss.
     When Mike read for the first time George's favorite philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, that walrus-moustached free spirit, he was mostly underimpressed by the sentiments he found there, but he did experience a distinctly hair raising shock when stumbled across this sentence

If you gaze too long into the Abyss,
the Abyss will gaze back into you.

Wasn't what had terrified him the most on that suburban lawn the sensation that the universe was, in some way, staring back at him? That the darkness between the stars was, in some strange way, aware of the fragile little self of Mike the boy? The thought that the Abyss actually wanted him, was summoning him unto Itself?
     Mike had similar shocks of recognition at least twice more in relation to Literature, each deepening his appreciation of those solitary nights and mornings he spent staring through the brighter stars of the spiral arm into the shimmeringly liquescent dimness of the Milky Way and beyond even that sperm like spray of gaseous light to the unbearable space looming through it.
     Once, in reading Kafka's In the Penal Colony for college credits, it occurred to him that he had felt, at those tortured yet blissful moments, exactly like one of the men condemned to be executed by the inscribing machine. He had felt the Abyss writing its name in his flesh.
     Again, in reading Pascal's famed pensee: When I remember the unbearable solitude of those infinite spaces . . .
     And, once again, while reading a novel about a man whose spine gets injured in a car wreck who is then placed in a halo cast, attached to a table, and turned upside down, so that he must use a complicated sequence of mirrors in order to see the faces of his family and well-wishers when they come to visit him.
     Yet, as much as a literary work might remind him of some fragment of what he had felt gazing into the night sky as a boy, the experience of it was unutterably his own, and he hadn't the slightest notion of how he might ever communicate it in a piece of prose. Perhaps chaos, Mike thinks, his head buzzing, can't be enclosed in words. But then -- ?
     He becomes aware of the Pleiades revolving a glacial counterclockwise.
     No, what he feels is actually the earth rushing through space like a woman with her head on fire.
Then Mike feels it happening again, quite suddenly and yet with terrifying slowness: the beach sand lumped uncomfortably beneath his spine becomes almost insubstantial as the earth wheels on its axis and Mike, attached magically to a random ball of spinning rock and earth, stares down into through the glimmering depths of the Milky Way into the blackness extending unutterably beyond.

Another Digression: Passionate Nuns, Lecherous Inquisitors, a Lost Manuscript, and an Auto-da-Fe

He sits up. George hands him the bottle of wine that he and Fernando have been swigging from. Mike swigs from it, his heart beating wildly. Under, over, around them is universal darkness; infinite spaces in which our selves will be lost. Our fragile illusions . . . Mike shakes his head. He drinks again. The cheap wine burns going down. He holds the bottle out stiff-armed and Fernando takes it. Mike, stumbling over his words, his mouth wet, his brain rushing to escape the vision of catastrophe pressing in on him with the roar of the Milky Way -- or is that the surf crashing as the tide comes up, pulled like taffy by the bleak lifeless moon? -- asks George:
     So when in the fuck did you learn Portuguese?
     Ah, Fernando says, laughing.
     George explains that over twenty-five years ago, when he was a budding young editor at K____, he read a manuscript of a novel submitted by a young Portuguese poet. Although English was clearly not the poet's original language -- the manuscript was riddled with laughable errors -- George was so affected by the content, which he found "stark, crazy, original, brutal and fascinating" that he immediately flew to Lisbon to meet its author and to arrange for a better translation.
     A True Story of Infamous Lechery Among Nuns of the Convent of the Sacred Wounds of the Excruciating Passion in the Aftermath of the Great Earthquake of Lisbon, 1755 was published to blaring fanfare by K___ that autumn. A Portuguese edition followed soon after that, followed closely by editions in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Turkish, Croatian, and Uzbecki. Later, of course, it was made into an acclaimed and controversial film by Roman Polanski.
     Although published as fiction, the novel was a detailed account of what Fernando insisted was a true story; he had seen with his own eyes a rotting manuscript written by a certain Sister Elizabeta d'Assumption, the last living survivor of the secluded Convent of the Sacred Wounds of the Excruciating Passion when it was razed by the army of the Portuguese king, and all of its female inhabitants heaped onto a pile of oil-soaked faggots and set aflame.
      (This last scene was by far the most effective one in Polanski's otherwise blundering film, George always maintained. The screams of the importuning nuns as their hair caught fire, the Knights, unable to control themselves, masturbating at the sight of the naked young women writhing in flames, and then a cask of gunpowder, lit by a shower of sparks, going off, blowing the entire courtyard to smithereens; well, it was excruciating, it was wonderful, it was an unsurpassed moment in the Cinema of Cruelty.)
      Sister d'Assumption escaped the auto-da-fe, as she steadfastly continued to claim in later life, only because her lithe beauty had caught the eye of the lecherous Inquisitor General. She was transported in a Porto barrel to Spain, where the aforementioned personage installed her in spacious apartments in his quarters but kept the windows shuttered and the doors under guard by Moorish slaves instructed to kill anyone who tried to leave or pass without his express written consent.
     To her mild shock, Sister d'Assumption found that the Inquisitor had no lascivious designs on her flesh -- no, his lechery went deeper, to the point of corrupting his entire soul. He insisted that Sister d'Assumption pen her memoirs. "And so she did."

(to be continued...)

Andrew L. Wilson craves him a stiff drink at the start of a hard workday. He also edits and publishes: L i n n a e a n S t r e e t


issue 7 home | broken news | criticual urgencies | cyber bag | ec chair | ficciones | gallery
letters | reviews | secret agents | serials | stage and screen

HomeArchivesSubmitCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch

Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.