Friday, December 20, 2013

Operaville, the Novel: Chapter Twelve: Sheer Hell

Read the novel here a chapter at a time, or buy the paperback or Kindle book at Free on Amazon Kindle, Dec. 24-25.


Running water. Have to pee. Running water. I puncture the wall of sleep and come out the other side, a newborn babe to September 21st, longing for the womb. I feel a dream squirming in my back pocket; I try to pull it out and discover that I’m wearing no pants. Damn. I’m almost certain that it was a good one.
            Have to pee. Running water? I hear low, off-key whistling, and I know she’s in the bathroom. I’m not about to give her another free show, so I head for the front door. Trey the Fish is off to the Caymans, and there’s only one other car in the clearing, my old BMW. Doubtless she uses it so she can beat it senseless on my dirt road.
            I trot down the steps, naked, head for the golden grass of the orchard and release an arc of golden spray. The question in this rare position is, what do you do with your hands? I opt for freestyle, placing a fist on either hip and letting my dick fly solo. This provides a plentifully proud posture to my pissing. Man! Shouldn’t have had that last Tecate. Ah well. Let’s go face the beast.
            I pull on a pair of boxers and head for the bathroom. She’s rinsing the shampoo from her hair.
            “Greetings, former wife! What the fuck do you want?”
            I suppose this has become a pet greeting, because it fails to get the least rise out of her.
            She pulls a wet strand from her face. “I already got what I wanted.”
            “Nice hot bath?”
            “Nice hot screw. Jesus, pal, take a look at your own dick once in a while.”
            I peek inside my boxers and yegods she’s right. St. Peter is sporting those pink and purple splotches along his helmet, a sure sign of female chemicals.
            “I don’t know how you do it, honey, but when I arrived last night you were sound asleep with a raging boner. I managed to administer a blow job and a chick-on-top without waking you. What was really hot was, you kept crying out in Spanish: ‘Dios mio!’ ‘Chingada muchacha!’ I think you even said ‘Ay caramba!’”
            She starts snorting, which finally sets me off.
            “Shit! You can’t… You can’t fucking do that! I’m… I’m…”
            “In love? Whipped?”
            “Taken! Spoken for! Closed for business! Jesus. I’m not even safe in my fucking sleep. What the fuck is your problem?”
            I’m getting pretty loud, but Allison is the coolest evil bitch in North America. She runs a fingernail along her knee as she gives my question serious consideration.
            “My problem… is that I dumped you and married John for the express purpose of playing high-society monopoly. It turns out that John has all the money, but none of the personality. And you! You go out there with your little piece of pseudo-intellectual Internet crap and bag yourself a diva, effectively leapfrogging me by four or five levels. You won’t even let me have this, you shit!”
            She snaps her mouth shut and stares forward. It may just be a trick of light and steam, but I could swear I see a tear rolling down her cheek. For this I should send out press releases, for this I should run up the road seeking witnesses. My ex-wife, the Typhoid Mary of childbirth, crying.
            “I didn’t try. That is apparently why it worked. I found something I liked and told everyone why I liked it. Pretty goddamn simple.”
            “Thanks bunches, Dear Fucking Abby.”
            That’s better. “Fine. But really, I can’t fuck you anymore. So please behave and I’ll make you some breakfast. You like huevos rancheros?"
            She gives me a witchy smile. “I’ve already had your huevos.”
            I can’t help laughing, and I immediately feel guilty. But dammit, it’s funny. Despite my best efforts, I sometimes like my ex-wife.
            I manage to toss together some eggs, thin-sliced taters, refried beans and green peppers and dare to call it Mexican. I leave Allison on the couch with that and a Mimosa. She looks as hot as ever, god damn her, but I really have to see about changing the combination on the gate.
            I head in for my toilette and reappear a half-hour later as a pirate: tri-corner hat with plume, necklace of shark’s teeth, black satin sash, billowy shirt, cheesy fake cutlass, black leather boots halfway up my calves. I am one fuccan buccaneer.
            “Shiver me timbers!” says Allison.
            “Thank you, I think. I have some top-level access to the SFO wardrobe department.”
            “‘Pirates of Penzance’?”
            “No, but excellent guess! ‘Il Pirata,’ by Bellini. A rather groundbreaking little opera, actually.”
            “Tell someone who cares. I’d better get going. Thanks for the loan of the penis.”
            “Apparently, that’s the reason I’m here.”
            She stands to give me a kiss on the cheek. “Poor pirate. Everybody wants his dick.”
            And she is gone, into her/my Beamer and up the road. That was way too easy. I take a scan of my desktop, pocket the keys and wallet, and take the radical move of forsaking my cell phone. Nothing more annoying than anachronistic pirates.
            We meet at the Coffee Society in Cupertino and leave the Lexus at streetside. She waves a hand along her costume. “So what do you think?”
            “Luscious as always. Especially the copper band. Kinda surprises me, though. I expected something regal and operatic. Maybe Queen Elizabeth herself. Is there an Elizabethan opera?”
            “Rossini wrote one. In fact, he took the overture and used it for The Barber of Seville. But darlin’, I get enough of those one-ton dresses. I thought something in the merchant class would be more comfortable.”
            “So you’re slumming.”
            “You got it, baby.”
            “Shakespearean, please?”
            “Thou speakest true.”
            When I was younger, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire resided in Marin County. The setting was an oak forest spiced with bay laurel, and it felt about as British as California gets. A decade later they moved it to Casa de Fruta, a weird sort of rest area/agricultural fun park 40 miles south of San Jose, and I had no faith that it would have the same atmosphere. It sits in a cradle of hills covered with that golden grass that evokes vineyards and Steinbeck, but certainly not Jolly Old England.
            I was entirely wrong. Once you enter the main gate into the merchants, alehouses, jousting matches, strolling musicians and period-talking geeks, the grass hills and the dry heat fade from your attention. They also managed to find the same potpourri of oak and bay laurel to satisfy my scented memories.
            Maddie, of course, is a massive hit. Having learned her acting by performing Shakespeare, she interacts with the vendors and barkers on their own time-machine level. Having no such talent, I have found a cheesy dodge. When in doubt, I recall every bad pirate movie ever created and channel the dialogue.
            One of our merrier encounters comes at the dunk-tank, where a foole sits upon a board, awaiting a soggy fate should a patron strike the bullseye with a “cannonball” (a softball wrapped in duct tape). The foole incentivizes his clients by hurling insults. A pirate and a gorgeous lady make an irresistible mark.
            “What hempen homespun have we swaggering here? ‘Tis Johnny Depp’s homely stepbrother!”
            I enlist for five balls. Sir Don Rickles ups the ante with each toss, a strange blend of Elizabethan and Hollywood.
            “Thou lump of foul deformity! Try thy inconsequent skills.”
            “I’ll be sendin’ ya to Davey Jones’s Locker, y’scurvy dog.”
            Ball one. Inside.
            “He speaks, yet he says nothing! Do ya feel lucky punk? Well do ya?”
            “Ahr, ya landlubbin’ scalawag, to the plank with ye!”
            Ball two. Outside.
            “Aw-hahaha! You whoreson cullionly barbermonger – your purpled hands do reek and smoke. Hasta la vista, baby!”
            “I’ll be puttin’ the black spot on ye, ya lily-livered sprog!”
            Ball three. An inch too high.
            “Methink thou art a general offence, and every man should beat thee. You can’t handle the truth!”
            “I’ll have ya keelhauled, ya traiterous squiffy.”
            Ball four. One inch low.
            The foole is about to release another volley when he breaks character. “What the hell is a squiffy?”
            “A buffoon,” I reply.
            “Aye, that’s good.”
            “Thanks. Did a little research.”
            “Do you mind if I use that? I’ve got this… pirate thing tomorrow.”
            “Oh, by all means.”
            “Hold!” says Maddie. “Enough of these… futuristic mutterings. And thou, thou rapscallious varlet, thou has picked thy every joust from the pocket of the Bard. Thus far, I spy thee A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard the Third, Romeo and Juliet, Sir Clint of the East Woods, King Lear, Julius Caesar, All’s Well that Ends Well and Jack Nicholson. Thou hast not one unplagiarized thought in thy puny little melon.”
            The foole gives Maddie a cold stare and says, “How foul and loathsome is thine image.”
            “Taming of the Shrew.”
            “Avast!” I shout. “Now ye be talkin’ to me wench.”
            “Oh-hoh!” he says. “Verily, good sir. Better to insult the man who now doth possess only one ball!” He takes a deep breath and launches into a stream of invective from (I am told) Henry IV, Part One. “Why, thou clay brained guts, thou knotty pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow catch!”
            “Ahr!” I rejoinder, and release a blazing fastball.
            Strike one. The board collapses and sends my rival into the drink.
            “Down to th’depths with ye. May the sharks dine on yer cockles and muscles.”
            The foole stands in his tank, squeezing the water from his hat. “I desire that we be better strangers! Let’s meet as little as we can.”
            Maddie plucks a five-dollar bill from her cleavage and drops it into his hands.
            “As You Like It.”
            The front man hands her our prize – a bracelet of dried flowers – and she slips it on. As we walk away, the foole is already working on his next target.
            “Ho, look on that fellow! All that is within him does condemn itself for being there.”
            “Macbeth,” says milady.
            I smile. “Thou art a lady of extravagant wit.”
            “I thank thee.”
            “And one sexy bitch.”

            A little bit later, we arrive at the mead counter, where a lady of enormous endowment is one sneeze away from falling out of her cups. The man in front of me, a duke in a stylish black waistcoat, receives his drink and takes much leisure slipping his tip between her jugs. This is a long Ren-Faire custom, and the ladies seem to welcome it so long as it fattens their purses. I order up two meads; the lady sets them on the counter, along with her mammaries. I turn to Maddie and ask, “May I?”
            I deliver my gratuity and am about to pocket the remaining dollar when Maddie snatches it away.
            “My good man!” she calls. Her target is a strapping college kid with a floppy peasant-hat.
            “Yes mum.”
            “I wonder if thou wouldst sit upon thy counter.”
            “Beg pardon, mum?”
            “Thy bum, sir, upon thy counter!”
            He raises his hands in surrender, turns around and hikes himself up, presenting a pair of slim buttocks in black pantaloons. Maddie tugs at his waistband, slips her dollar inside, then sends him off with a spank.
            “I thank thee, sir.”
            She takes her mead and walks away. The womenfolk deliver a rousing applause. But then, applause and Maddie just seem to go together.

            An hour later, we’re sitting on a bale of hay, watching a troupe of theatrical combat artists. They’re quite good, and also loud. They’re finishing up the show with a sword dance, blades interlocked as they pace in a circle. I feel bad for the thickness of their costumes, and the heat, and the exertion. They are clearly suffering for their art. But I feel just as bad for myself, and these militant yellowjackets, who refuse to leave my turkey leg.
            “Damn these wretches!”
            “Dost thou… oh! Permission to forego Elizabethan?”
            “Thanks! My tongue is worn out. Are you familiar with the bee-and-switch?”
            “Amazingly enough, no.”
            “Take a hunk of turkey – don’t be stingy – and place it on that bale in front of us.”
            I do as she says. Sure enough, the yellowjackets gather for a convention over my discard.
            “Given the choice between being swatted at or not being swatted at, the bees prefer to take their lunch outside the war zone.”
            “Thou art a wonder, and a gift to all mankind. Zounds! Thy magic crystal doth emanate with strange… emanations.”
            “God! Who writes this stuff?” She pulls her cell phone from its leather holster and flips it open. “Well! What witchcraft be this? It’s from you.”
            She hands me the phone, which reads, Hi Maddie. Are you having fun?
            “Odd! But I left my, um, magic crystal at home.”
            At home. I see Allison driving to the vista point at the top of Highway 9, watching me drive past, then returning to my cabin. She spots the cell phone atop my desk and sees the potential for large quantities of mischief. She may be an evil fucking bitch, but she’s consistent. All that talk of high-society jealousy must have re-invigorated her instincts.
            “Hmm… My ex-wife.”
            The phone goes off again. I am so screwed. I have to show it to her; it’s her phone.
            Isn’t it odd that some other woman has Mickey’s phone? And that she’s sitting on his couch, across from a love note addressed to Don Jose?
            “Your ex-wife has access to your cabin?”
            “Yes. I left the gate open one night. I think she saw the combination. If I hadn’t mentioned it, she’s a psycho.”
            “Yes, you had. Oh! Another one. This is quite a little show.”
            I see from Don Jose’s calendar that he went to see you in Seattle at the end of June. How odd that he was still fucking me on July 7.
            “Well!” says Maddie. “Isn’t that lovely? And so specific!”
            Maddie’s amused tone is reassuring. I might even get out of this unscathed. Allison’s previous crimes have given her a complete lack of credibility. The phone shakes again.
            But why should you believe me?
            “Precisely,” says Maddie. “God, Mickey, I think you need to get a restraining order.”
            Another buzz. Maddie hits the button, begins to read, then peers closer, squinting. Her face bunches up, like someone who has just bitten into a lemon, and she looks at the screen again. She clamps a hand over her mouth, looks at me with wide eyes, then drops the phone on a hay-bale and walks away. The sword-dancers finish. The audience applauds. Maddie disappears into the swirling crowd.
            Katie and I were involved in our parting session, face-to-face on the living room rug, our limbs bundled together like a tangle of yarn. I noticed our reflection in an old mirror that I kept stowed against the wall. I saw my phone on the coffee table. I knew this was our last time. I flipped open the phone, and motioned for Katie to look into the mirror. I pressed the button. It was such a beautiful shot that I never had the heart to erase it. The line of digits above the phone reads 0707. I can assume that Maddie knows what this means. The photo disappears as another message flashes in.
            I hope you’ve enjoyed my little presentation.
            I am dying to respond, my thumbs are itching with curse words, but at this point I’d only be feeding the fire. I pocket the phone and head off into the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, feeling like I’d like to take a match to the whole fucking thing.

            I spend the next hour in a desperate wander, all the worse because I am not certain if Maddie wants to be found. I recall passing a bellydancing performance, a leathermaster’s shop, an African import booth with hand drums and marimbas. Meanwhile, I’m conducting a mental review of the haybale fiasco, like a football coach reviewing game footage. I think I actually gave a decent performance, but I never stood a chance. You can’t deny a photograph.
            I am standing behind a crowd, watching a man juggle large wooden blocks while standing on a loose tightrope. He looks a lot like me. The village drunk staggers by with a quintet of sexy bitch pirate girls who look like they could toss you into a stew and eat you for Thanksgiving. He looks a lot like me. I continue along the dirt thoroughfare as a maker of toy catapults takes aim with a tiny water balloon.
            The jousting arena is bright and dusty, the shaded bleachers packed with onlookers. The knights have finished their battles and made way for long-haired equestrian maidens, clad in sexy leather dresses dotted with jewels and weaponry. One of them floats past on an enormous creature the color of straw. The rider is slim, with long, dark hair, an olive complexion, a brilliant flash of smile biting down on a ruby-crested dagger. She looks a lot like Allison.
            I find Maddie at a nearby pen, stroking the muzzle of a black horse. She seems to be talking to it, likely recounting all of my sins. I approach with cautious steps and think it best not to speak. She raises a pair of eyes gone red with crying and gives me a listless nod. This is so not the woman I came with. She folds her hands together and lowers her gaze to my shoetops.
            “I am stranded, Mickey. I have tried to think of ways I could just be gone from here, but I can’t. So here’s the thing: you and I are over. Some women give second chances. I do not. This… fierceness surprises people, but it’s a tradeoff. I trust people completely, until they betray that trust. And then I leave.”
            She sniffles, and takes a breath.
            “So here’s how we get home. I have an IPod in my purse. I’m going to sit in the back seat of your car, and listen to music, and you are not going to talk to me.”
            “But I…”
            She slaps me on the arm, hard. “Not a word! You cannot possibly explain away…. You have no chance of forgiveness. I can only appeal to your sense of decency and… and your love of opera. I have to open in two days, and I am under enough stress already. Consider it your duty to get me to my car, so I can get home, so I can get myself onto that stage. Now go. Walk. I’ll walk behind you.”
            I march to my car, not daring to look back. I open the door for her, and I drive for an hour and a half without speaking. She’s right. I do this as an opera fan, because the rest of me is dying. I pull in past the Coffee Society, and I park next to her Lexus. I look at her. She gathers her things, takes off the IPod, and looks at me. I pull her cell phone from my pocket and hand it to her. She snaps it into her holster.
            “Goodbye,” she says. And she’s gone, into her car, backing up, off down the road.
            For a long time, I stare at my dashboard. Then I look up and see dancers, a whole room of teenage girls in tights, running through ballet moves with their instructor. The logical thing is to go get a cup of coffee. But then I notice the flare of white fabric at my wrist, and I realize that I’m a pirate.

Photo by MJV

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