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V.《V》


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Chapter Fourteen

 V. in love

 I

 The clock inside the Gare du Nord read 11:17: Paris time minus five minutes,  Belgian railway time plus four minutes, mid-Europe time minus 56 minutes. To  Melanie, who had forgotten her traveling clock - who had forgotten  everything - the hands might have stood anywhere. She hurried through the  station behind an Algerian-looking facteur who carried her one embroidered  bag lightly on his shoulder, who smiled and joked with customs officials  being driven slowly to frenzy by a beseeching mob of English tourists.

By the cover of Le Soleil, the Orleanist morning paper, it was 24 July 1913.  Louis Philippe Robert, due d'Orleans, was the current Pretender. Certain  quarters of Paris raved under the heat of Sirius, were touched by its halo  of plague, which is nine light-years from rim to center. Among the upper  rooms of a new middle-class Home in the 17th arrondissement Black Mass was  held every Sunday.

Melanie l'Heuremaudit was driven away down the rue La Fayette in a noisy  auto-taxi. She sat in the exact center of the seat, while behind her the  three massive arcades and seven allegorical statues of the Gare slowly  receded into a lowering, pre-autumn sky. Her eyes were dead, her nose  French: the strength there and about the chin and lips made her resemble the  classical rendering of Liberty. In all, the face was quite beautiful except  for the eyes, which were the color of freezing rain. Melanie was fifteen.

Had fled from school in Belgium as soon as she received the letter from her  mother, with 1500 francs and the announcement that her support would  continue, though all Papa's possessions had been attached by the court. The  mother had gone off to tour Austria-Hungary. She did not expect to see  Melanie in the foreseeable future.

Melanie's head ached, but she didn't care. Or did but not where she was,  here present as a face and a ballerina's figure on the bouncing back seat of  a taxi. The driver's neck was soft, white: wisps of white hair straggled  from under the blue stocking cap. On reaching the intersection with the  Boulevard Haussmann, the car turned right up rue de la Chaussee d'Antin. To  her left rose the dome of the Opera, and tiny Apollo, with his golden lyre .  . .

"Papa!" she screamed.

The driver winced, tapped the brake reflexively. "I am not your father," he  muttered.

Up into the heights of Montmartre, aimed for the most diseased part of the  sky. Would it rain? The clouds hung like leprous tissue. Under that light  the color of her hair reduced to neutral browns, buffs. Let down the hair  reached halfway over her buttocks. But she wore it high with two large curls  covering her ears, tickling the sides of her neck.

Papa had a strong bald skull and a brave mustache. Evenings she would come  softly into the room, the mysterious place walled in silk where he and her  mother slept. And while Madeleine combed the hair of Maman in the other  room, Melanie lay on the wide bed beside him, while he touched her in many  places, and she squirmed and fought not to make a sound. It was their game.  One night there had been heat lightning outside, and a small night bird had  lit on the windowsill and watched them. How long ago it seemed! Late summer,  like today.

This had been at Serre Chaude, their estate in Normandy, once the ancestral  Home of a family whose blood had long since turned to a pale ichor and  vaporized away into the frosty skies over Amiens. The house, which dated  from the reign of Henri IV, was large but unimpressive, like most  architecture of the period. She had always wanted to slide down the great  mansard roof: begin at the top and skid down the first gentle slope. Her  skirt would fly above her hips, her black-stockinged legs would writhe matte  against a wilderness of chimneys, under the Norman sunlight. High over the  elms and the hidden carp pods, up where Maman could only be a tiny blotch  under a parasol, gazing at her. She imagined the sensation often: the  feeling of roof-tiles rapidly sliding beneath the hard curve of her rump,  the wind trapped under her blouse teasing the new breasts. And then the  break: where the lower, steeper slope of the roof began, the point of no  return, where the friction against her body would lessen and she would  accelerate, flip over to twist the skirt - perhaps rip it off, be done with  it, see it flutter away, like a dark kite! - to let the dovetailed tiles  tense her nipple-points to an angry red, see a pigeon clinging to the eaves  just before flight, taste the long hair caught against her teeth and tongue,  cry out . . .

The taxi stopped in front of a cabaret in the rue Germaine Pilon, near  Boulevard Clichy. Melanie paid the fare and was handed her bag from the top  of the cab. She felt something which might be the beginning of the rain  against her cheek. The cab drove away, she stood before Le Nerf in an empty  street, the flowered bag without gaiety under the clouds.

"You believed us after all." M. Itague stood, half-stooping, holding the  handle of the traveling bag. "Come, fetiche, inside. There's news."

On the small stage, which faced a dining room filled only with stacked  tables and chairs, and lit by uncertain August daylight, came the  confrontation with Satin.

"Mlle. Jarretiere"; using her stage name. He was short and heavily built:  the hair stuck out in tufts from each side of his head. He wore tights and a  dress shirt, and directed his eyes parallel to a line connecting her  hip-points. The skirt was two years old, she was growing. She felt  embarrassed.

"I have nowhere to stay," she murmured.

"Here," announced Itague, "there's a back room. Here, until we move."

"Move?" She gazed at the raving flesh of tropical blossoms decorating her  bag.

"We have the Theatre de Vincent Castor," cried Satin. He spun, leaped,  landed atop a small stepladder.

Itague grew excited, describing L'Enlevement des Vierges Chinoises - Rape of  the Chinese Virgins. It was to be Satin's finest ballet, the greatest music  of Vladimir Porcepic, everything formidable. Rehearsals began tomorrow,  she'd saved the day, they would have waited until the last minute because it  could only be Melanie, La Jarretiere, to play Su Feng, the virgin who is  tortured to death defending her purity against the invading Mongolians.

She had wandered away, to the edge of stage right. Itague stood in the  center, gesturing, declaiming: while enigmatic on the stepladder, stage  left, perched Satin, humming a music-hall song.

A remarkable innovation would be the use of automata, to play Su Feng's  handmaidens. "A German engineer is building them," said Itague. "They're  lovely creatures: one will even unfasten your robes. Another will play a  zither - although the music itself comes from the pit. But they move so  gracefully! Not like machines at all."

Was she listening? Of course: part of her. She stood awkwardly on one leg,  reached down and scratched her calf, hot under its black stocking. Satin  watched hungrily. She felt the twin curls moving restless against her neck.  What was he saying? Automata . . .

She gazed up at the sky, through one of the room's side windows. God, would  it ever rain?

 

Her room was hot and airless. Asprawl in one corner was an artist's lay  figure, without a head. Old theater posters were scattered on the floor and  bed, tacked to the wall. She thought once she heard thunder rumbling from  outside.

"Rehearsals will be here," Itague told her. "Two weeks before the  performance we move into the Theatre de Vincent Castor, to get the feel of  the boards." He used much theater talk. Not long ago he'd been a bartender  near Place Pigalle.

Alone, she lay on the bed, wishing she could pray for rain. She was glad she  couldn't see the sky. Perhaps certain of its tentacles already touched the  roof of the cabaret. Someone rattled the door. She had thought to lock it.  It was Satin she knew. Soon she heard the Russian and Itague leave together  by the back door.

She may not have slept: her eyes opened to the same dim ceiling. A mirror  hung on the ceiling directly over the bed. She hadn't noticed it before.  Deliberately she moved her legs, leaving her arms limp at her sides, till  the hem of the blue skirt had worked high above the tops of the stockings.  And lay gazing at the black and tender white. Papa had said "How pretty your  legs are: the legs of a dancer." She could not wait for the rain.

She rose, in a near-frenzy, removed blouse, skirt and undergarments and  moved swiftly to the door, wearing only the black stockings and white buck  tennis shoes. Somewhere on the way she managed to let down her hair. In the  next room she found the costumes for L'Enlevement des Vierges Chinoises. She  felt her hair, heavy and almost viscous along the length of her back and  tickling the tops of her buttocks as she knelt beside the large box and  searched for the costume of Su Feng.

Back in the hot room she quickly removed shoes and stockings, keeping her  eyes closed tight until she had fastened her hair in back with the spangled  amber comb. She was not pretty unless she wore something. The sight of her  nude body repelled her. Until she had drawn on the blond silk tights,  embroidered up each leg with a long, slender dragon; stepped into the  slippers with the cut steel buckles, and intricate straps which writhed up  halfway to her knees. Nothing to restrain her breasts: she wrapped the  underskirt tightly around her hips. It fastened with thirty hooks and eyes  from waist to thigh-top, leaving a fur-trimmed slit so that she could dance.  And finally, the kimono, translucent and dyed rainbowlike with sunbursts and  concentric rings of cerise, amethyst, gold and jungly green.

She lay back once more, hair spread above her on the pillowless mattress,  breath taken by her own beauty. If Papa could see her.

The lay figure in the corner was light and carried easily to the bed. She  raised her knees high and - interested - saw her calves in the mirror  crisscross over the small of its plaster back. Felt the coolness of the  figure's flanks against the nudecolored silk, high on her thighs, hugged it  tight. The neck top, jagged and flaking off, came to her breasts. She  pointed her toes, began to dance horizontal, thinking of how her handmaidens  would be.

 

Tonight there would be a magic-lantern show. Itague sat outside L'Ouganda,  drinking absinthe and water. The stuff was supposed to be aphrodisiac but it  affected Itague the opposite. He watched a Negro girl, one of the dancers,  adjusting her stocking. He thought of francs and centimes.

There weren't many. The scheme might succeed. Porcepic had a name among the  avant-garde in French music. Opinion in the city was violently divided: once  the composer had been loudly insulted in the street by one of the most  venerable of the Post-Romantics. Certainly the man's personal life wasn't  one to endear many prospective patrons, either. Itague suspected him of  smoking hashish. And there was the Black Mass.

"The poor child," Satin was saying. The table in front of him was nearly  covered with empty wine glasses. The Russian moved them from time to time,  blocking out the choreography to l'Enlevement. Satin drank wine like a  Frenchman, Itague thought: never outright falling-down drunk. But growing  more unstable, more nervous, as his chorus of hollow glass dancers grew.  "Does she know where her father's gone?" Satin wondered aloud, looking off  into the street. The night was windless, hot. Darker than itague could ever  remember it. Behind them the small orchestra began to play a tango. The  Negro girl arose and went inside. To the south, the lights along the Champs  Elysees picked out the underbelly of a nauseous-yellow cloud.

"With the father deserted," said Itague, "she's free. The mother doesn't care."

The Russian looked up, sudden. A glass fell over on his table.

 

"- or nearly free."

"Fled to the jungles, I understand," Satin said. A waiter brought more wine.

"A gift. What had he ever given before? Have you seen the child's furs, her  silks, the way she watches her own body? Heard the noblesse in the way she  speaks? He gave her all that. Or was he giving it all to himself, by way of  her?"

"Itague, she certainly could be the most giving -"

"No. No, it is merely being reflected. The girl functions as a mirror. You,  that waiter, the chiffonnier in the next empty street she turns into:  whoever happens to be standing in front of the mirror in the place of that  wretched man. You will see the reflection of a ghost."

"M. Itague, your late readings may have convinced you -"

"I said ghost," Itague answered softly. "Its name is not l'Heuremaudit, or  l'Heuremaudit is only one of its names. That ghost fills the walls of this  cafe and the streets of this district, perhaps every one of the world's  arrondissements breathes its substance. Cast in the image of what? Not God.  Whatever potent spirit can mesmerize the gift of ir reversible flight into a  grown man and the gift of self-arousal into the eyes of a young girl, his  name is unknown. Or if known then he is Yahweh and we are all Jews, for no  one will ever speak it." Which was strong talk for M. Itague. He read La  Libre Parole, had stood among the crowds to spit at Captain Dreyfus.

The woman stood at their table, not waiting for them to rise, merely  standing and looking as if she'd never waited for anything.

"Will you join us," said Satin eagerly. Itague looked far to the south, at  the hanging yellow cloud which hadn't changed its shape.

She owned a dress shop in the rue du Quatre-Septembre. Wore tonight a  Poiret-inspired evening dress of crepe Georgette the color of a Negro's  head, beaded all over, covered with a cerise tunic which was drawn in under  her breasts, Empire style. A harem veil covered the lower part of her face  and fastened behind to a tiny hat riotous with the plumage of equatorial  birds. Fan with amber stick, ostrich feathers, silk tassel. Sand-colored  stockings, clocked exquisitely on the calf. Two brilliant-studded  tortoise-shell pins through her hair; silver mesh bag, high-buttoned kid  shoes with patent leather at the toe and French heel.

Who knew her "soul," Itague wondered, glancing sideways at the Russian. It  was her clothes, her accessories, which determined her, fixed her among the  mobs of tourist ladies and putains that filled the street.

"Our prima ballerina has arrived today," said Itague. He was always nervous  around patrons. As bartender he'd seen no need to be diplomatic.

"Melanie l'Heuremaudit," his patroness smiled. "When shall I meet her?"

"Any time," Satin muttered, shifting glasses, keeping his eyes on the table.

"Was there objection from the mother?" she asked.

The mother did not care, the girl herself, he suspected, did not care. The  father's flight had affected her in some curious way. Last year she'd been  eager to learn, inventive, creative. Satin would have his hands full this  year. They would end up screaming at each other. No: the girl wouldn't  scream.

The woman sat, lost in watching the night, which enveloped them like a  velvet teaser-curtain. Itague, for all his time in Montmartre, had never  seen behind it to the bare wall of the night. But had this one? He  scrutinized her, looking for some such betrayal. He'd observed the face  some dozen times. It had always gone through conventional grimaces, smiles,  expressions of what passed for emotion. The German could build another,  Itague thought, and no one could tell them apart.

The tango still played: or perhaps a different one, he hadn't been  listening. A new dance, and popular. The head and body had to be kept erect,  the steps had to be precise, sweeping, graceful. It wasn't like the waltz.  In that dance was room for an indiscreet billow of crinolines, a naughty  word whispered through mustaches into an ear all ready to blush. But here no  words, no deviating: simply the wide spiral, turning about the dancing  floor, gradually narrowing, tighter, until there was no motion except for  the steps, which led nowhere. A dance for automata.

The curtain hung in total stillness. If Itague could have found its pulleys  or linkage, he might make it stir. Might penetrate to the wall of the  night's theater. Feeling suddenly alone in the wheeling, mechanical darkness  of la Ville-Lumiere, he wanted to cry, Strike! Strike the set of night and  let us all see . . .

The woman had been watching him, expressionless, poised like one of her own  mannequins. Blank eyes something to hang a Poiret dress on. Porcepic, drunk  and singing, approached their table.

The song was in Latin. He'd just composed it for a Black Mass to be held  tonight at his Home in Les Batignolles. The woman wanted to come. Itague saw  this immediately: a film seemed to drop from her eyes. He sat forlorn,  feeling as if that most feared enemy of sleep had entered silently on a busy  night, the one person whom you must come face to face with someday, who asks  you, in the earshot of your oldest customers, to mix a cocktail whose name  you have never heard.

They left Satin shuffling empty wine-glasses, looking as if tonight, in some  tenantless street, he would murder.

 

Melanie dreamed. The lay figure hung half off the bed, its arms stretched  out, crucified, one stump touching her breast. It was the sort of dream in  which, possibly, the eyes are open: or the last vision of the room is so  reproduced in memory that all details are perfect, and the dreamer is  unclear whether he is asleep or awake. The German stood over the bed  watching her. He was Papa, but also a German.

"You must turn over," he repeated insistently. She was too embarrassed to  ask why. Her eyes - which somehow she was able to see, as if she were  disembodied and floating above the bed, perhaps somewhere behind the  quicksilver of the mirror-her eyes were slanted Oriental: long lashes,  spangled on the upper lids with tiny fragments of gold leaf. She glanced  sideways at the lay figure. It had grown a head, she thought. The face was  turned away. "To reach between your shoulderblades," said the German. What  does he look for there, she wondered.

"Between my thighs," she whispered, moving on the bed. The silk there was  dotted with the same gold, like sequins. He placed his hand under her  shoulder, turned her. The skirt twisted on her thighs: she saw their two  inner edges blond and set off by the muskrat skin on the slit of the skirt.  The Melanie in the mirror watched sure fingers move to the center of her  back, search, find a small key, which he began to wind.

"I got you in time," he breathed. "You would have stopped, had I not. . ."

The face of the lay figure had, been turned toward her, all the time. There  was no face.

She woke up, not screaming, but moaning as if sexually aroused.

 

Itague was bored. This Black Mass had attracted the usual complement of  nervous and blase. Porcepic's music was striking, as usual; highly  dissonant. Lately he had been experimenting with African polyrhythyms.  Afterward Gerfaut the writer sat by a window, discoursing on how for some  reason the young girl - adolescent or younger - had again become the mode in  erotic fiction. Gerfaut had two or three chins, sat erect and spoke  pedantically, though he had only Itague for an audience.

Itague didn't really want to talk with Gerfaut. He wanted to watch the woman  who had come with them. She sat now in a side pew with one of the acolytes,  a little sculptress from Vaugirard. The woman's hand, gloveless, and  decorated only with a ring, stroked the girl's temple as they spoke. From  the ring there sprouted a slender female arm, fashioned in silver. The land  was cupped, and held the lady's cigarette. As Itague watched she lit  another: black paper, gold crest. A small pile of stubs lay scattered  beneath her shoes.

Gerfaut had been describing the plot of his latest novel. The heroine was  one Doucette, thirteen and struggled within by passions she could not name.

"A child, and yet a woman," Gerfaut said. "And a quality of something  eternal about her. I even confess to a certain leaning of my own that way.  La Jarretiere . . ."

The old satyr.

Gerfaut at length moved away. It was nearly morning. Itague's head ached. He  needed sleep, needed a woman. The lady still smoked her black cigarettes.  The little sculptress lay, legs curled up on the seat, head pillowed against  her companion's breasts. The black hair seemed to float like a drowned  corpse's hair against the cerise tunic. The entire room and the bodies  inside it - some twisted, some coupled, some awake - the scattered Hosts,  the black furniture, were all bathed in an exhausted yellow light, filtered  through rain clouds which refused to burst.

The lady was absorbed in burning tiny holes with the tip of her cigarette,  through the skirt of the young girl. Itague watched as the pattern grew. She  was writing ma fetiche, in black-rimmed holes. The sculptress wore no  lingerie. So that when the lady finished the words would be spelled out by  the young sheen of the girl's thighs. Defenseless? Itague wondered briefly.

 

II

 The next day the same clouds were over the city, but it did not rain.  Melanie had awakened in the Su Feng costume, excited as soon as her eyes  recognized the image in the mirror, knowing it hadn't rained. Porcepic  showed up early with a guitar. He sat on the stage and sang sentimental  Russian ballads about willow trees, students getting drunk and going off on  sleigh-rides, the body of his love floating belly up in the Don. (A dozen  young gathered round the samovar to read novels aloud: where had youth  gone?) Porcepic, nostalgic, snuffled over his guitar.

Melanie, looking newly scrubbed and wearing the dress she'd arrived in,  stood behind him, hands over his eyes, and caroled harmony. Itague found  them that way. In the yellow light, framed by the stage, they seemed like a  picture he'd seen somewhere once. Or perhaps it was only the melancholy  notes of the guitar, the subdued looks of precarious joy on their faces. Two  young people conditionally at peace in the dog days. He went into the bar  and began chipping away at a large block of ice; put the chips into an empty  champagne bottle and filled the bottle with water.

By noon the dancers had arrived, most of the girls seemingly deep in a love  affair with Isadora Duncan. They moved over the stage like languid moths,  gauzy tunics fluttering limp. Itague guessed half the men were homosexual.  The other half dressed that way: foppish. He sat at the bar and watched as  Satin began the blocking.

"Which one is she?" The woman again. In Montmartre, 1913, people  materialized.

"Over there with Porcepic."

She hurried over to be introduced. Vulgar, thought Itague, and then amended  it at once to "uncontrollable." Perhaps? A little. La Jarretiere stood there  only gazing. Porcepic looked upset, as if they'd had an argument. Poor,  young, pursued, fatherless. What would Gerfaut make of her? A wanton. In  body if he could; in the pages of a manuscript most certainly. Writers had  no moral sense.

Porcepic sat at the piano, playing Adoration of the Sun. It was a tango with  cross-rhythms. Satin had devised some near-impossible movements to go with  it. "It cannot be danced," screamed a young man, leaping from the stage to  land, belligerent, in front of Satin.

Melanie had hurried off to change to her Su Feng costume. Lacing on her  slippers she looked up and saw the woman, leaning in the doorway.

"You are not real."

"I . . ." Hands resting dead on her thighs.

"Do you know what a fetish is? Something of a woman which gives pleasure but  is not a woman. A shoe, a locket . . . une jarretiere. You are the same, not  real but an object of pleasure."

Melanie could not speak.

"What are you like unclothed? A chaos of flesh. But as Su Feng, lit by  hydrogen, oxygen, a cylinder of lime, moving doll-like in the confines of  your costume . . . You will drive Paris mad. Women and men alike."

The eyes would not respond. Not with fear, desire, anticipation. Only the  Melanie in the mirror could make them do that. The woman had moved to the  foot of the bed, ring hand resting on the lay figure. Melanie darted past  her, continued on toes and in twirls to the wings; appeared on stage,  improvising to Porcepic's lackadaisical attack on the piano. Outside thunder  could be heard, punctuating the music at random.

It was never going to rain.

The Russian influence in Porcepic's music was usually traced to his mother,  who'd been a milliner in St. Petersburg. Porcepic now, between his hashish  dreams, his furious attacks on the grand piano out in Les Batignolles,  fraternized with a strange collection of Russian expatriates led by a  certain Kholsky, a huge and homicidal tailor. They were all engaged in  clandestine political activity, they spoke volubly and at length of Bakunin  Marx, Ulyanov.

Kholsky entered as the sun fell, hidden by yellow clouds. He drew Porcepic  into an argument. The dancers dispersed, the stage emptied until only  Melanie and the woman remained. Satin produced his guitar; Porcepic sat on  the piano, and they sang revolutionary songs. "Porcepic," grinned the  tailor, "you'll be surprised one day. At what we will do."

"Nothing surprises me," answered Porcepic. "If history were cyclical, we'd  now be in a decadence, would we not, and your projected Revolution only  another symptom of it."

"A decadence is a falling-away," said Kholsky. "We rise."

"A decadence," Itague put in, "is a falling-away from what is human, and the  further we fall the less human we become. Because we are less human, we  foist off the humanity we have lost on inanimate objects and abstract  theories."

The girl and the woman had moved away from the stage's one overhead light.  They could hardly be seen. No sound came from up there. Itague finished the  last of the ice water.

"Your beliefs are non-human," he said. "You talk of people as if they were  point-clusters or curves on a graph."

"So they are," mused Kholsky, dreamy-eyed. "I, Satin, Porcepic may fall by  the wayside. No matter. The Socialist Awareness grows, the tide is  irresistible and irreversible. It is a bleak world we live in, M. Itague;  atoms collide, brain cells fatigue, economies collapse and others rise to  succeed them, all in accord with the basic rhythms of History. Perhaps she  is a woman; women area mystery to me. But her ways are at least measurable."

"Rhythm," snorted Itague, "as if you listened to the jitterings and squeaks  of a metaphysical bedspring." The tailor laughed, delighted, like a great  fierce child. Acoustics of the room gave his mirthfulness a sepulchral ring.  The stage was empty.

"Come," said Porcepic. "To L'Ouganda," Satin on a table danced absently to  himself.

Outside they passed the woman, holding Melanie by the arm. They were headed  toward the Metro station; neither spoke. Itague stopped at a kiosk to buy a  copy of La Patrie, the closest one could get to an anti-Semitic newspaper in  the evening. Soon they had vanished down the Boulevard Clichy.

As they descended the moving stairs, the woman said, "You are afraid." The  girl didn't answer. She still wore the costume, covered now with a dolman  wrap which looked expensive and was, and which the woman approved of. She  bought them first-class tickets. Closeted in the suddenly-materialized  train, the woman asked: "Do you only lie passive then, like an object? Of  course you do. It is what you are. Une fetiche." She pronounced the silent  e's, as if she were singing. Air in the Metro was close. The same as  outside. Melanie studied the tail of the dragon on her calf.

After some time had passed the train climbed to ground level. Melanie may  have noticed they were crossing the river. To her left she saw the Eiffel  Tower, quite near. They were crossing the Pont de Passy. At the first stop  on the Left Bank the woman arose. She'd not left off clutching Melanie's  arm. Out on the street they began to walk, bearing southwest, into the  district of Grenelle: a landscape of factories, chemical works, iron  foundries. They were alone in the street. Melanie wondered if the woman  indeed lived among factories.

They walked for what seemed a mile: arrived, finally, at a loft building, in  which only the third floor was occupied, by a manufacturer of belts. They  climbed narrow stairs, flight after flight. The woman lived an the top  floor. Melanie, though a dancer and strong-legged, now showed signs of  exhaustion. When they arrived at the woman's rooms, the girl lay down  without invitation on a large pouf in the center of the room. The place was  decorated African and oriental: black pieces of primitive sculpture, lamp in  the shape of a dragon, silks, Chinese red. The bed was a great four-poster.  Melanie's wrap had fallen away: her legs, blond and bedragoned, lay unmoving  half on the pouf, half on the oriental rug. The woman sat down beside the  girl, resting her hand lightly on Melanie's shoulder, and began to talk.

If we've not already guessed, "the woman" is, again, the lady V. of  Stencil's mad time-search. No one knew her name in Paris.

Not only was she V., however, but also V. in love. Herbert Stencil was  willing to let the key to his conspiracy have a few of the human passions.  Lesbianism, we are prone to think in this Freudian period of history, stems  from self-love projected on to some other human object. If a girl gets to  feeling narcissist, she will also sooner or later come upon the idea that  women, the class she belongs to, are not so bad either. Such may have been  the case with Melanie, though who could say: perhaps the spell of incest at  Serre Chaude was an indication that her preferences merely lay outside the  usual, exogamous-heterosexual pattern which prevailed in 1913.

But as for V. - V. in love - the hidden motives, if there were any, remained  a mystery to all observers. Everyone connected with the production knew what  was going on; but because intelligence of the affair remained inside a  circle inclined toward sadism, sacrilege, endogamy and homoSexuality anyway,  there was little concern, and the two were let alone, like young lovers.  Melanie showed up faithfully at all rehearsals and as long as the woman  wasn't enticing her away from the production - which, apparently, she had no  intention of doing, being a patroness - Itague for one couldn't have cared  less.

One day the girl arrived at Le Nerf accompanied by the woman and wearing  schoolboys' clothing: tight black trousers a white shirt, a short black  jacket. Moreover, her head - all her thick buttock-length hair - had been  shorn. She was nearly bald; and but for the dancer's body no clothes could  conceal, she might have been a young lad playing hooky. There was,  fortunately, a long black wig in the costume box. Satin greeted the idea  with enthusiasm. Su Feng would appear in the first act with hair, in the  second without: having been tortured anyway by Mongolians. It would shock  the audience, whose tastes, he felt, were jaded.

At every rehearsal, the woman sat at a rear table, watching, silent. All her  attention was concentrated on the girl. Itague tried at first to engage her  in conversation; but failed and went back to La Vie Heureuse, Le Rire, Le  Charivari. When the company moved to the Theatre de Vincent Castor, she  followed like a faithful lover. Melanie continued dressing transvestite for  the street. Speculation among the company was that a peculiar inversion had  taken place: since an affair of this sort generally involves one dominant  and one submissive, and it was clear which one was which, the woman should  have appeared in the clothing of an aggressive male. Porcepic, to the  amusement of all, produced at L'Ouganda one evening a chart of the possible  combinations the two could be practicing. It came out to 64 different sets  of roles, using the subheadings "dressed as," "social role," "sexual role."  They could both for example be dressed as males, both have dominant social  roles and strive for dominance sexually. They could be dressed  different-sexed and both be entirely passive, the game then being to trick  the other into making an aggressive move. Or any of 62 other combinations.  Perhaps, Satin suggested, there were also inanimate mechanical aids. This,  it was agreed, would confuse the picture. At one point someone suggested  that the woman might actually be a transvestite to begin with, which made  things even more amusing.

But what actually was going on at the loft in Grenelle? Each mind at  L'Ouganda and among the troupe at the Theatre Vincent Castor had conjured up  a different scene; machines of exquisite torture, bizarre costuming,  grotesque movements of muscle under flesh.

How disappointed they all would have been. Had they seen the skirt of the  little sculptress-acolyte from Vaugirard, heard the pet-name the woman had  for Melanie or read - as had Itague - in the new science of the mind, they  would have known that certain fetishes never have to be touched or handled  at all; only seen, for there to be complete fulfillment. As for Melanie, her  lover had provided her with mirrors, dozens of them. Mirrors with handles,  with ornate frames, full-length and pocket mirrors came to adorn the loft  wherever one turned to look.

V. at the age of thirty-three (Stencil's calculation) had found love at last  in her peregrinations through (let us be honest) a world if not created then  at least described to its fullest by Karl Baedeker of Leipzig. This is a  curious country, populated only by a breed called "tourists." Its landscape  is one of inanimate monuments and buildings; near-inanimate barmen,  taxi-drivers, bellhops, guides: there to do any bidding, to various degrees  of efficiency, on receipt of the recommended baksheesh, pourboire, mancia,  tip. More than this it is two-dimensional, as is the Street, as are the  pages and maps of those little red handbooks. As long as the Cook's,  Travellers' Clubs and banks are open, the Distribution of Time section  followed scrupulously, the plumbing at the hotel in order - ("No hotel,"  writes Karl Baedeker, "can be recommended as first-class that is not  satisfactory in its sanitary arrangements, which should include an abundant  flush of water and a supply of proper toilette paper"), the tourist may  wander anywhere in this coordinate system without fear. War never becomes  more serious than a scuffle with a pickpocket, one of "the huge army . . .  who are quick to recognize the stranger and skilful in taking advantage of  his ignorance"; Depression and prosperity are reflected only in the rate of  exchange; politics are of course never discussed with the native population.  Tourism thus is supranational, like the Catholic Church, and perhaps the  most absolute communion we know on earth: for be its members American,  German, Italian, whatever, the Tour Eiffel, Pyramids, and Campanile all  evoke identical responses from them; their Bible is clearly written and does  not admit of private interpretation; they share the same landscapes, suffer  the same inconveniences; live by the same pellucid time-scale. They are the  Street's Own.

The lady V., one of them for so long, now suddenly found herself  excommunicated; bounced unceremoniously into the null-time of human love,  without having recognized the exact moment as any but when Melanie entered a  side door to Le Nerf on Porcepic's arm and time - for a while - ceased.  Stencil's dossier has it on the authority of Porcepic himself, to whom V.  told much of their affair. He repeated none of it then, neither at L'Ouganda  nor anywhere else: only to Stencil, years later. Perhaps he felt guilty  about his chart of permutations and combinations, but to this extent at  least he acted like a gentleman. His description of them is a well-composed  and ageless still-life of love at one of its many extremes; V. on the pouf,  watching Melanie on the bed; Melanie watching herself in the mirror; the  mirror-image perhaps contemplating V. from time to time. No movement but a  minimum friction. And yet one solution to a most ancient paradox of love:  simultaneous sovereignty yet a fusing-together. Dominance and submissiveness  didn't apply; the pattern of three was symbiotic and mutual. V. needed her  fetish, Melanie a mirror, temporary peace another to watch her have  pleasure. For such is the self-love of the young that a social aspect enters  in: an adolescent girl whose existence is so visual observes in a mirror her  double; the double becomes a voyeur. Frustration at not being able to  fragment herself into an audience of enough only adds to her sexual  excitement. She needs, it seems, a real voyeur to complete the illusion that  her reflections are, in fact, this audience. With the addition of this  other - multiplied also, perhaps, by mirrors - comes consummation: for the  other is also her own double. She is like a woman who dresses only to be  looked at and talked about by other women: their jealousy, whispered  remarks, reluctant admiration are her own. They are she.

As for V., she recognized - perhaps aware of her own progression toward  inanimateness - the fetish of Melanie and the fetish of herself to be one.  As all inanimate objects, to one victimized by them, are alike. It was a  variation on the Porpentine theme, the Tristan-and-Iseult theme, indeed,  according to some, the single melody, banal and exasperating, of all  Romanticism since the Middle Ages: "the act of love and the act of death are  one." Dead at last, they would be one with the inanimate universe and with  each other. Love-play until then thus becomes an impersonation of the  inanimate, a transvestism not between sexes but between quick and dead;  human and fetish. The clothing each wore was incidental. The hair shorn from  Melanie's head was incidental: only an obscure bit of private symbolism for  the lady V.: perhaps, if she were in fact Victoria Wren, having to do with  her time in the novitiate.

If she were Victoria Wren, even Stencil couldn't remain all unstirred by the  ironic failure her life was moving toward, too rapidly by that prewar August  ever to be reversed.

The Florentine spring, the young entrepreneuse with all spring's hope in her  virtu, with her girl's faith that Fortune (if only her skill her timing held  true) could be brought under control that Victoria was being gradually  replaced by V.; something entirely different, for which the young century  had as yet no name. We all get involved to an extent in the politics of slow  dying, but poor Victoria had become intimate also with the Things in the  Back Room.

If V. suspected her fetishism at all to be part of any conspiracy leveled  against the animate world, any sudden establishment here of a colony of the  Kingdom of Death, then this might justify the opinion held in the Rusty  Spoon that Stencil was seeking in her his own identity. But such was her  rapture at Melanie's having sought and found her own identity in her and in  the mirror's soulless gleam that she continued unaware off-balanced by love;  forgetting even that although the Distribution of Time here on pouf, bed and  mirrors had been abandoned, their love was in its way only another version  of tourism; for as tourists bring into the world as it has evolved part of  another, and eventually create a parallel society of their own in every  city, so the Kingdom of Death is served by fetish-constructions like V.'s,  which represent a kind of infiltration.

What would have been her reaction, had she known? Again, an ambiguity. It  would have meant, ultimately, V.'s death: in a sudden establishment here, of  the inanimate Kingdom, despite all efforts to prevent it. The smallest  realization - at any step: Cairo, Florence, Paris - that she fitted into a  larger scheme leading eventually to her personal destruction and she might  have shied off, come to establish eventually so many controls over herself  that she became - to Freudian, behaviorist, man of religion, no matter - a  purely determined organism, an automaton, constructed, only quaintly, of  human flesh. Or by contrast, might have reacted against the above which we  have come to call Puritan, by journeying even deeper into a fetish-country  until she became entirely and in reality - not merely as a love-game with  any Melanie - an inanimate object of desire. Stencil even departed from his  usual ploddings to daydream a vision of her now, at age seventy-six: skin  radiant with the bloom of some new plastic; both eyes glass but now  containing photoelectric cells, connected by silver electrodes to optic  nerves of purest copper wire and leading to a brain exquisitely wrought as a  diode matrix could ever be. Solenoid relays would be her ganglia,  servo-actuators move her flawless nylon limbs, hydraulic fluid be sent by a  platinum heart-pump through butyrate veins and arteries. Perhaps Stencil on  occasion could have as vile a mind as any of the Crew - even a complex  system of pressure transducers located in a marvelous vagina of  polyethylene; the variable arms of their Wheatstone bridges all leading to a  single silver cable which fed pleasure-voltages direct to the correct  register of the digital machine in her skull. And whenever she smiled or  grinned in ecstasy there would gleam her crowning feature: Eigenvalue's  precious dentures.

Why did she tell so much to Porcepic? She was afraid, she said, that it  wouldn't last; that Melanie might leave her. Glittering world of the stage,  fame, foul-mind's darling of a male audience: the woe of many a lover.  Porcepic gave her what comfort he could. He was under no delusions about  love as anything but transitory, he left all such dreaming to his compatriot  Satin, who was an idiot anyway. Sad-eyed, he commiserated with her: what  else should he've done? Pass moral judgment? Love is love. It shows up in  strange displacements. This poor woman was racked by it. Stencil however  only shrugged. Let her be a lesbian, let her turn to a fetish, let her die:  she was a beast of venery and he had no tears for her.

The night of the performance arrived. What happened then was available to  Stencil in police records, and still told, perhaps, by old people around the  Butte. Even as the pit orchestra tuned up there was loud argument in the  audience. Somehow the performance had taken on a political cast.  Orientalism - at this period showing up all over Paris in fashions, music,  theater - had been connected along with Russia to an international movement  seeking to overthrow Western civilization. Only six years before a newspaper  had been able to sponsor an auto-race from Peking to Paris, and enlist the  willing assistance of all the countries between. The political situation  these days was somewhat darker. Hence, the turmoil which erupted that night  in the Theatre Vincent Castor.

Before the first act was barely under way, there came catcalls and uncouth  gestures from the anti-Porcepic faction. Friends, already calling themselves  Porcepiquistes, sought to suppress them. Also present in the audience was a  third force who merely wanted quiet enough to enjoy the performance and  naturally enough tried to silence, prevent or mediate all disputes. A  three-way wrangle developed. By intermission it had degenerated into  near-chaos.

Itague and Satin screamed at each other in the wings, neither able to hear  the other for the noise out in the audience. Porcepic sat by himself in a  corner, drinking Coffee, expressionless. A young ballerina, returning from  the dressing room, stopped to talk.

"Can you hear the music?" Not too well, she admitted. "Dommage. How does La  Jarretiere feel?" Melanie knew the dance by heart, she had perfect rhythm,  she inspired the whole troupe. The dancer was ecstatic in her praise:  another Isadora Duncan! Porcepic shrugged, made a moue. "If I ever have  money again," more to himself than to her, "I'll hire an orchestra and dance  company for my own amusement and have them perform L'Enlevement. Only to see  what the work is like. Perhaps I will catcall too." They laughed sadly with  one another, and the girl passed on.

The second act was even noisier. Only toward the end were the attentions of  the few serious onlookers taken entirely by La Jarretiere. As the orchestra,  sweating and nervous, moved baton-driven into the last portion, Sacrifice of  the Virgin, a powerful, slow-building seven-minute crescendo which seemed at  its end to've explored the furthest possible reaches of dissonance, tonal  color and (as Le Figaro's critic put it next morning) "orchestral  barbarity," light seemed all at once to be reborn behind Melanie's rainy  eyes and she became again the Norman dervish Porcepic remembered. He moved  closer to the stage, watching her with a kind of love. An apocryphal story  relates that he vowed at that moment never to touch drugs again, never to  attend another Black Mass.

Two of the male dancers, whom Itague had never left off calling Mongolized  fairies, produced a long pole, pointed wickedly at one end. The music, near  triple-forte, could be heard now above the roaring of the audience.  Gendarmes had moved in at the rear entrances, and were trying ineffectually  to restore order. Satin, next to Porcepic, one hand on the composer's  shoulder, leaned forward, shaking. It was a tricky bit of choreography,  Satin's own. He'd got the idea from reading an account of an Indian massacre  in America. While two of the other Mongolians held her, struggling and head  shaven, Su Feng was impaled at the crotch on the point of the pole and  slowly raised by the entire male part of the company, while the females  lamented below. Suddenly one of the automaton handmaidens seemed to run  amok, tossing itself about the stage. Satin moaned, gritted his teeth. "Damn  the German," he said, "it will distract." The conception depended on Su Feng  continuing her dance while impaled, all movement restricted to one point in  space, an elevated point, a focus, a climax.

The pole was now erect, the music four bars from the end. A terrible hush  fell over the audience, gendarmes and combatants all turned as if magnetized  to watch the stage. La Jarretiere's movements became more spastic, agonized:  the expression on the normally dead face was one which would disturb for  years the dreams of those in the front rows. Porcepic's music was now almost  deafening: all tonal location had been lost, notes screamed out simultaneous  and random like fragments of a bomb: winds, strings, brass and percussion  were indistinguishable as blood ran down the pole, the impaled girl went  limp, the last chord blasted out, filled the theater, echoed, hung,  subsided. Someone cut all the stage lights, someone else ran to close the  curtain.

It never opened. Melanie was supposed to have worn a protective metal  device, a species of chastity belt, into which the point of the pole fit.  She had left it off. A physician in the audience had been summoned at once  by Itague as soon as he saw the blood. Shirt torn, one eye blackened, the  doctor knelt over the girl and pronounced her dead.

Of the woman, her lover, nothing further was seen. Some versions tell of her  gone hysterical backstage, having to be detached forcibly from Melanie's  corpse; of her screaming vendetta at Satin and Itague for plotting to kill  the girl. The coroner's verdict, charitably, was death by accident. Perhaps  Melanie, exhausted by love, excited as at any premiere, had forgotten.  Adorned with so many combs, bracelets, sequins, she might have become  confused in this fetish-world and neglected to add to herself the one  inanimate object that would have saved her. Itague thought it was suicide,  Satin refused to talk about it, Porcepic suspended judgment. But they lived  with it for many years.

Rumor had it that a week or so later the lady V. ran off with one  Sgherraccio, a mad Irredentist. At least they both disappeared from Paris at  the same time; from Paris and as far as anyone on the Butte could say, from  the face of the earth.

 

 

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