Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Seventeen: Love and Genitalia

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Besides the obvious sexual rush, ol’ bird buddy, my burgeoning affair is ripe with espionage. Here’s how we carried out our first meeting.
It was Tuesday afternoon, my hormones working themselves to a boil, when I found Guido bareheaded, the cowboy hat positioned just-so against his neck. I replaced it, cocking it leftward in that carefree Desi Arnaz tilt, then took the earliest opportunity to grab some java and head out for a break with Mr. Pan.
I had to wait for Donno to finish mowing the courtyard, then I slid away the magic stone and pulled out a matchbox from Donatello’s Restaurant in Tiburon. INside was a neatly folded slip of lavender paper with the following message: The gander remains a goose till Monday. Our most supreme set of bars is a concealable handgun. Fly the doubloon and I will come to worship the Teflon.
My first thought was that Juliana had seen too many James Bond movies. But I know she had her reasons. The gander remains a goose refers to a Canadian goose, meaning Scott is in Montreal till Monday. Set of bars refers to Cage, and since Cage invented chance music, Our most supreme set of bars means our best chance, plus a concealable handgun, a Saturday Night Special, so Saturday is our best chance. The doubloon refers to a gold piece – my signal banner, and she will come to worship at the what is commonly coated with Teflon – a Pan. Got it?
I took the message with me and left the matchbox for future deliveries. That night, I made a call to my pal Geoffrey, and composed my response. I couldn’t be so clever as Juliana, because my response included a lot of specifics, but I figured it was an unavoidable risk.
So! Here’s how it played out (please hum the theme from Mission Impossible).
Seven p.m. As the sun nears the Pacific, I stroll from my apartment to the Shorefront Motel. I check in with Geoffrey and Flora and duck into their apartment for the beginnings of a Scrabble game. I am playing half-assed, forsaking a cigar in order to keep my breath minty-fresh, and Geoffrey, in his usual humor, is limiting himself to synonyms for sexual intercourse (lay, boff, shag, boink).
At the same seven p.m., Juliana heads out for a walk down the hillside streets of Hallis to the Humpback Diner. She sits at a table in the back, orders a bowl of minestrone and pretends to read the Chronicle, all the while planning her escape.  After finishing her meal, she leaves her payment and a generous tip, heads for the ladies’ room and, after freshening up, continues out the adjacent door, a little-known back exit giving way to the rear lot of the Shorefront. She crossed to Room 14, the door of which has been left graciously unlocked by Mr. Urban.
Fifteen minutes later, the same Mr. Urban takes me to the bedroom of his apartment and into a spacious walk-in closet. At the back of the closet is a removable panel with a combination lock. Geoffrey dials around and, and slides open the panel the reveal the bathroom of Room 14. (Geoffrey theorizes that his motel, which is equipped with several of these passageways, used to be a bordello serving the local lumbermen.)

I give my mentor a fond cuff on the shoulder and emerge to find Juliana Kross laid out on the bed in a gown of snow-white satin, slit all the way up to reveal the length of her right leg and a few inches of hip besides. Requiring no further invitation, I kneel at her feet, with the idea of working my way up.
And get this, Audrey: Juliana is an oral fetish! She waited until I was flat on my back, buck naked, sporting a woodie to beat the band, then retreated to the bathroom, leaving me with instructions to close my eyes, and think of anything which would cause me to lose my erection. And promised an ample reward if I succeeded.
I decided to replay one of those classic anxiety nightmares. I’m back in college, it’s finals week, and I have neglected to drop a class which I’ve never once attended. Say, Elementary Physics. I pass the test or I fail. I wasn’t sure if it worked, but soon I detected the rustle of Juliana’s satin and a pleasant warmth around my personal arousal indicator.
It seems that Juliana loves the control, the immediacy of response, of a penis growing to firmness inside her mouth. Her husband, who must be a flaming idiot, doesn’t like letting someone have that kind of control over him. I imagine he ain’t into bondage, either.
Beyond the physical comeliness and sexual enthusiasm, there is a real power to this woman, Audrey. I envision a lighthouse sending out beacons. The sharpness of eucalyptus. The first step into freezing ocean water. To feel it running along my limbs, to find myself inside of it, it’s too much. I am a ruined man, a cowboy on an asteroid.
The brightest Pleiad left the Shorefront at one in the morning with a gentle, long-held kiss to my cheek and a backward glance. Her alibi is a late-night movie at the Pacific Theater down the street. As for me, I made use of the cable TV to watch the lacrosse championships from Columbia, Missouri, then crept into the closet, past a sleeping Flora and out to the front desk. Geoffrey gave me an enthusiastic hug – exultant in my pleasure, no matter how ill-advised – and sent me stumbling back to my apartment.
I am so thankful that I can write this to you, Audrey. Otherwise I might burst. But I do require absolute confidence. The Krosses have friends everywhere, including Big Sur, so consider yourself an undercover agent. I can’t even tell Jackie, for fear the information might put her job in danger.
I will be writing more often, but not visiting as often, and next time south I may want to abduct every homer you’ve got. And, of course, I won’t be able to partake of any shenanigans, because I am ah honest, monogamous adulterer. I hope to make it up to you with tantalizing reading material.
I apologize for sending two pigeons, but I had to get all this down, and I didn’t want to cripple poor Gertie.
Hope things are well with you, the shop, and Lieutenant Katie. Give my pigeons a kiss.
Love and genitalia –

Photo by MJV

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Sixteen: Cryptic Language

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Juliana opened her eyes to weak gray light, cutting short a vague, unsettling dream about a cruise ship. She sat at the captain’s table, directly in front of a stage. All the other passengers had returned to their cabins, the captain to his watch. Her only company was a flamenco dancer, a muscular alchemy of leather pants, thieving eyes and dark, bushy moustache, standing at attention on the stage. Finishing her champagne, Juliana turned to him with a smile and placed the empty glass at his feet. He grinned and began to dance, stamping his black boots in a circle inches from the glass, then cupped the stem between his feet, flipped it up to his hand and tossed it over his shoulder. It landed with a delightful smash. Juliana applauded and filled another glass.
And this must be another dream, because it was not her house. Common white flocking on the ceiling above her, a small room bearing in on her. She nestled into her pillow and blinked her eyes, trying to clear her mind.
She heard breathing. He lay back in his elegant black curls, a long tree of a man stretching this way and that under the white sheets, a single calf and foot poking out at the end of the bed. Her head cleared with a whoosh and she remembered the previous night, a thousand small movements, pleasure so harsh and brisk she feared she would lose herself. She rubbed a hand over her stomach, smiled and turned to the face next to her: thin, angular lines, a handsome nose, full lips set in a near-smile. It was tempting to kiss him awake, watch his eyelids flutter open, the lips reach around his teeth. But now, she had a chance to explore.
The bedroom was outlined in ghostly white furniture, a wicker trunk next to the closet, a shoulder-height dresser across from the bed, adorned with a milky, off-white slab of marble. But it wasn’t marble; it was a section of tree, sanded down, coated with milky stain and varnish.
At the foot of the slice lay an abalone shell filled with strips of paper. They had names: Cuesta del Rey, Arturo Fuente. Cigar bands! Over the dresser, she found a diploma – Liberal Arts, Cal Northridge – and two framed black-and-white photographs: a nude male, satyr-like, lofting a tumbled mass of seaweed over his head; and a nude female, walking away from the camera, the slopes of her body mirrored by the rolling hills of the coastline.
Next to the dresser stood a full-length mirror. Juliana formed a photograph of her own: limbs from a willow tree, languid lips puffy and chapped from overuse, crow-s-feet at her eyes, her hair a puzzle of shadow about to take flight from her head. She shook it over her temples, just to complete the chaos, and shifted sideways to include the face of the sleeping man, behind her left thigh, calm as a statue. She took the picture with a blink of her eyes, and moved on.
She followed the hall to the living room, a framework of peach-colored loveseats, milky white coffee and end tables, an entertainment system of neat gray components, CDs arranged alphabetically on a narrow shelf. None of this was anywhere near what she would expect of a bachelor’s apartment. But then, wasn’t this neatness and good taste to be expected? After all, when Juliana Kross fucked around on her husband...
Oh, dear, thought Juliana. The weight of her actions began to take hold, to pull the skin tight around her shoulder blades. Do you know what you’re doing, dear Jewel? You have entered uncharted territory, girlfriend.
Whereupon a roadmap appeared, in a simple frame over the end table. She started at the top and worked her way down: a series of close-knit stripes, a series of circles bracketed by two groups of lines; bold stripes holding faint polygons and symbols – was a treble clef?  Another three staffs, wandering erratically like the ridge of a mountain, then shapes – a cat, a sea lion, and a human hand. Below the diagrams was a typewritten quote. Just like in the old movies, the words came alive in the voice of the beloved.
“In the nature of the use of chance operations,” said Scootie, “is the belief that all answers answer all questions... that meaning is in the breath, that without thinking we can tell what is being said without understanding it.”
“John Cage,” Juliana continued. “Born Los Angeles, California September five, 1912. Died August 12, 1992.”
Scootie crossed the room, clothed in a pair of silk boxers in monarchial stripes of red and gold. He stopped next to her and studied the diagram, clearly his pride and joy.
“Page Nine from the Concert for Piano and Orchestra, 1958.”
“Original manuscript?”
“Dad bought it for my graduation. Found it at an auction for the music department at UCLA.”
“My, my,” she said. “So why aren’t you touching me?”
Scootie laughed. “It’s a new day. I was waiting for permission.”
Juliana took Scootie’s fingers and lifted them to her breast.
“Permission granted.”
Scootie proceeded to a full massage. Juliana shuddered, closing her eyes, then stood on her toes to kiss him, sucking his upper lip into her mouth. From there she worked her way down, licking both nipples and each rib before slipping a finger into the waistband of his boxers and tugging them down. Scootie, meanwhile, seemed determined to continue his explication of Cage’s work.
“Cage believed... that composition could be a form of visual... art as well as a utilitarian... instruction, that the performer could be trusted to interpret... abstract ideas as well as... God that feels good...”
Juliana stopped for a moment, and lifted her lips from Scootie’s cock. “Scootie? Do I hear pigeons?”

After a tour of the pigeon coop, Juliana sat at the kitchen table in Scootie’s red satin bathrobe, studying a poem titled “Sweetwater Vaughn (Route 84” as Scootie tinkered with the cappuccino maker.
“So, explain this again?”
“Well, Cage was able to achieve what he did partly because he wasn’t faking at all. Before he began all those loony experiments, he was considered a talented classical pianist. In that respect, I consider my evenings at the Fetzle piano strictly a recreational pursuit. I do, however, have some facility with language, so I’ve been applying Cage’s chance operations to poetry. That was assembled using words on roadsigns between Sweetwater, Texas and Vaughn, New Mexico. I was returning from a trip to Austin with Jackie.”
“Taking vacations with attractive female co-workers?”
Scootie shot a blast of steam from the espresso machine and laughed. “We were checking out bands for a roots-music festival. Besides, Jackie and I are more Platonic than The Republic.”
The suggestion of jealousy brought Juliana back to her recent crimes. Her tone became suddenly businesslike. “Scootie, I will tell you, honestly, I’m no good at this. I have the gifts of an actress, but not the heart, and I’m deathly afraid I’m going to slip up somewhere.”
Scootie looked back from his work to eye her across the kitchen counter. “I understand that, Juliana.”
“And I’ll tell you what else. I don’t buy into this miniseries bullcrap about biblical justice, and the way that people who engage in adulterous affairs always self-destruct, and lightning flies down from the heavens, and nobody ever likes them again, and they never get invited to parties, and children and young dogs spit at them on the street. We’re in a double predicament, what with our professional relationship and the proximity of my house to your workplace. I want us to be very... I want this affair to be run like an undercover operation, a spy mission to a dangerous country. I refuse to let any of this ruin our respective places in this community, or to have an ill effect on the Fetzle Center.”
Scootie brought cappuccinos to the table. “Understood,” he said. “Tell me what you want.”
Juliana felt a rush of power, from her chest up to her head. So this was what command felt like. She relaxed into a smile and went on.
“While at work, we discuss nothing but Fetzle business, no matter how secluded we might feel. We will treat each other with a slightly detacehd, not unfriendly courtesy, as we always have.”
She blew across the top of her drink and took a sip. “You will never again set foot in my house, no matter how tempting its nearness and how extensive my husband’s absences. In fact, meeting here is not a good idea, either. Maybe we need a neutral location.”
“I have just the thing,” said Scootie. “I’ll check it out, and get back to you.”
“Good. Only, how do you get back to me?”
“A hiding place.”
“I’ve got it,” said Scootie. “The statue of Pan, behind the Equestrian, er, Swan Theater. Around the base, beneath his left hoof, there’s a loose stone. We can leave messages there.”
“No one else knows about it?”
“I was leaning against it, having lunch one day. That’s the only way I would have noticed.”
“All right.” Juliana thought about it some more. “So how do we know there’s a message there? We can’t be hanging around Pan all day – people will think we’re pagans.”
“Guido. When you’ve got a message for me, just slip off his cowboy hat, and place it on the table, leaving it just-so against his neck.”
“And for me?”
“Hmm...” Scootie sank his face into his hands and rubbed his eyes. “Your answering machine? A series of touch-tones?”
“No. Too close to home. But I can see your office window from my living room...”
“Yes! I’ll nab one of those gold banners from the gala, and hang it out my window.”
“Does anyone ever go out there?”
“Maintenance guys. If they ask, I’ll tell them I hung it on the sill and it must have been blown outside.”
“Okay. Just tell me if they ask more than once.”
“One more thing,” said Juliana. “We need to write our messages in code. Not real code, mind you, just vague, cryptic language. For instance, if my husband is gone for the weekend, I’ll write something like, ‘The rooster returns on Monday.’”
“The ship sails at midnight.”
“Exactly. That way, if anyone discovers a message, they’ll just think it’s a couple of kids playing spy games. And just one last thing, Scootie.”
“You are absolutely terrific in bed.”
“Thank you.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Fifteen: How Does One Properly Initiate An Affair?

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Coming in from the Pacific, a Cessna pilot would have found Fetzle Mansion a carnival box of black and gold, a thirty-foot banner declaring WELCOME HOME, STEPHEN from the front balcony. The facade was speckled by a dozen giant origami swans (or cranes, as Scootie had pointed out) constructed from gold foil. The windows were covered by six-foot-tall blowups of the Stephen Swan caricature, and high overhead flew a helium-filled blimp, commandeered from a Suzuki dealership and outfitted with feathered wings, neck and head.
The courtyard behind the mansion resembled a polka-dot dress, its green expanse marked off by circular tables striped in black and gold, and every five feet of the arborway sported a giant bow or bundle of balloons.
Seated at the tables were some of the wealthiest citizens of the Monterey and San Francisco bay areas, dressed in their finest rental evening wear as they enjoyed a Mexican buffet and a twelve-piece mariachi band. Jackie and Aggie stood in one of the Mansion’s rear balconies, spying on the festivities as they enjoyed a rare five minutes of peace. Aggie was ostensibly there to give Jackie a box-office update, but really she was looking for dirt on the now-legendary Kross-Jones wrestling match.
“I’ll tell you, Jackie, I’ve never seen anything like this. I was as cynical as everybody else when we still had a hundred tickets yesterday, but that telephone has been shouting its blessed little head off ever since.”
“Pretty sweet,” said Jackie. “Scootie was right on the money.”
“Ah, yes,” said Aggie with a knowing wink. “But you know our valued chairladies will take all of the credit, what with their brilliant last-minute giveaways.”
“Yes, damn their overdressed bee-hinds. That giveaway made about as much sense as an espresso stand in the middle of Death Valley. I’ll bet it did more damage than good.”
“It certainly didn’t help staff-trustee relations,” said Aggie, finally edging around to her real target.
“Yessirree. That was a nasty little set-to. I didn’t think ol’ Juli Kross had prairie oysters of quite those proportions. I keep thinkin’ of the look on that poor boy’s face comin’ back outta that office. White as a vanilla-flavored ghost. She musta given him one horrific tongue-lashin’. And I’ll tell ya, I expected Scootie to go to the mat on this one. It’s not like him to give up like that.”
Aggie let out a quiet laugh. “When it comes down to it, Jacqueline, we are mere employees. And the colors of the monarchy are black and gold.” She waved a pinky in the direction of the courtyard.
“What really grabs my gonads,” said Jackie, “is how much energy them California sharks put out pretendin’ they’re vegetarians. Sometimes I’d rather be a waitress in some greasy-spoon in Austin. At least I’d know where I stood.”
Aggie released an affected sigh. “Yes, and I think about retirement, and working in my garden. For now, however, I’d best get back to the box office, before my assistants go crazy.”
“Why don’t I go with you? I’d like to check out the seating chart so’s I can give the ushers a full report.”
They started down the back steps, slipping under the green waves of wisteria, each of them carrying a private thought she didn’t dare express. For Jackie, it was the sight of Juliana Kross, sitting at her table without her husband. For Aggie, it was the first secret she had successfully kept in years.

Juliana stumbled through the pine trees behind the theater and found the dimly lit stage door. She wandered her way through various autumnal backdrops from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and discovered Dave, the Center’s robust tech director, talking into his headphones.
“Okay, Vijay. Are we set on the mike? Yeah, just for the intro; Swan goes unplugged from there. Yeah, go to black, I’ll fetch the mic stand, then I’ll give you an audio cue. Okay, whoops! Got my emcee here. Be right back. Hi, Mrs. Kross, I’m Dave. I’ll be your host for the evening. Would you like anything from the bar?”
“I’ll take one of each. I’m petrified.”
“Hey, those are your friends out there! Besides, I know your type. Nervous as hell right up to stage time, then you go out there and come back with a belt fulla scalps. Former actress, right?”
“Well, yes, I...”
“Dave knows all.” He put his hands together and performed a swami bow.
“Well, as long as you do,” said Juliana. “Any special instructions?”
“Yeah. I want you to enter from stage right. I’ll be here on the com, and I’ll give you three distinct signals. First, I’ll hold up a handful of fingers at five minutes. Next, I’ll hold up my index finger when we’re down to a minute. Then I’ll give you this traditional theater signal” – he circled his thumb and finger in the “okay” sign – when it’s time to hit the stage. Got it?”
“Got it.”
“Couple other things. The mike is live, so please, none of the old comedy shtick.” He tapped an imaginary mike and said, “Is thing on? Is this thing on? God, I hate that! Just speak in your natural voice, about three to six inches from the mike, and my man Vijay will make the adjustments. Oh... wait a minute.” Dave put on his headphones, exchanged a few phrases, then returned to Juliana. “Hey! Good news. You can forget our first signal. We just hit five minutes. Why don’t you head on over to stage right?”
“Oh, um, yes,” said Juliana, turning to go.
“Oh, and Juli,” said Dave. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Stephen wants an indirect intro. He’ll come out a few minutes after you leave the stage. Kind of a theatrical thing.”
“Oh, and one other thing.”
Dave put a hand to the side of his mouth. “Kick some ass, wouldja?”
Juliana laughed and headed across the stage. The stage-right entrance afforded a gap of three feet between the proscenium and the curtain. Juliana lifted her index cards to the narrow band of light and reviewed her notes: sponsors, committee chairs, a brief bio of Stephen. And her real worry, the young man who would be there when she finished, helping prepare Stephen for his performance. How could she possibly face him? If it had been merely a matter of drink and spousal vengeance, it might have been easy enough to set aside, but the visions... Two nights of spotty sleep, a waist-high view of a lanky, dark-haired man, eyes closed tight, body rumbling as he surrendered, the ripening fruit in her mouth spitting out fluid that tasted of mozzarella cheese with a snap of sage...
For Christ’s sake, Juliana – introduction? You’ve got a job to do, girl. Dave leaned in from the other side of the curtain to lift an index finger, and now her inner argument was blotted out by the pounding of her heart. For a second she though she heard Scootis’ voice, lambasting her viciously, but now Dave was giving the okay sign, and everything else cleared out. She glanced in the stageside mirror, nudging a stray hair back into place, then split the gap, whispering Dave’s instructions to “kick some ass.”
It came out exactly as he had said: a bright, fluid moment, over before she knew it, the words escaping her mouth as easily as breath. The spotlight seemed to calm her, bring her back to that 18-year-old Tracy Lord, endowed with all the sureness of Hepburn. Only one thing struck her as odd: the place was packed. And there seemed to be people in the back, standing.
She returned to her spot at stage right, the applause lending a sonic backrub, but she had little chance to cherish it. Beyond the break of the proscenium sat a wretch of a man, charcoal stains spotting his face, his hair a tangled mop strewn with stalks of wild grass. The actor eyed her distractedly, as though he were facing the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Juliana was about to say something when Scootie rushed in with a Styrofoam cup.
“Hi Juliana,” he whispered. “Could you stand over there? Thanks.” He turned to the ragman. “Here’s your espresso. Lukewarm. Hardly worth my time.”
Stephen drank it down with a steady swallow. Scootie, meanwhile, was just cranking up.
“Listen, you counterfiet Englishman. You may be a big fucking star in New York, but here you’re nothing! Nada! Zilch! These people knew you when you were shitting your diapers, and they don’t give a good goddamn about your gold statuettes and all those directors you slept with to get to the top.
“You haven’t even bothered coming back for forty years, and believe me, the locals are pretty hacked off about it. They only bought tickets to this freak show to watch the old man crash and burn. Washed up! Ove the hill, baby. Now get your sorry ass out there and try not to fall into the orchestra pit!”
Stephen looked up with a sick, determined smile and said, “I’ll show you! I’ll show you!” And then he was gone straggling into the spotlight. He stopped to take in the audience, as if he were meeting a stranger on the road, then rolled out Shakespeare in dulcet, rumbling tones.
“No, they cannot touch me for coining. I am the king himself... Nature’s above art in that respect. There’s your press-money. That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper. Draw me a clothier’s yard. Look, look, a mouse!...”
Scootie stood in the shadow of the wall, letting the signature fray of Stephen’s voice fill his ears like chocolate milk. Then he remembered where his new hearing came from, and turned to find Juliana next to a baffle, looking lost.
“The mad scene from King Lear,” he said. “He took out Gloucester’s and Edgar’s parts, but it seems to work.”
“He’s a... method actor?” Juliana guessed.
“Yeah, sort of,” Scootie chuckled. “Stephen’s eccentricities? The ones you were warned about?”
“He likes to be thoroughly debased before he takes the stage.” Scootie retreated from the curtain and joined Juliana. “When Stephen first went to New York, his career went absolutely nowhere, for three or four years. He was about to pack it in and return to California when he met Matt Sodgkin, a pitcher for the Yankees. When Stephen asked Sodgkin what motivated him on the mound, he said, ‘Fear. A terrifying fear of failure.’ Sodgkin’s pitching coach would psyche him up before each start by denigrating him for a full fifteen minutes, calling him a no-account meat-thrower who never shoulda made it past Little League, that he was one or two losses from going back to Double-A. Made Sodgkin absolutely desperate to succeed, and to prove his coach wrong.
“Before his next audition, Stephen asked Sodgkin to do the same for him. Sodgkin spent twenty minutes in the alley outside the theater, pasting Stephen with every insult he could think of. The stage manager thought they were about to come to blows, and almost called the cops. Stephen got so worked up he proceeded to go in and blow the place down. That was Songs for Scotland, the one that got him his first Tony.”
Juliana was beginning to get the idea, and smiled. “So tonight, you’re Matt Sodgkin.”
“I got a mean fastball.”
Applause poured in as Stephen wrapped up King Lear. He spoke in his regular voice about “the incredible siren call of the stage” as he cleaned himself up – picking grass from his hair, using a towel to wipe the smears from his face. He headed cross-stage to a makeup table, putting on his next face as he recalled that first legendary Lear at the Fetzle Center.
“No matter where I have gone, I have always felt the sand of Hallis Beach between my toes. I realize, however, that this is really only my second run in this town, so I would ask you critics out there to please, be easy on me.” Laughter, then applause. “I would like to continue with something from my first success, a Broadway play penned by the great Ella Masterson and titled Songs for Scotland. I dedicate this to my very best friend, a former pitcher for the New York Yankees name of Matthew Sodgkin.” Stephen donned a tam o’shanter and was off to his next scene.
“Whatever happened to Sodgkin?” Juliana asked.
“Carl Yazstremski hit a line drive up the middle and hit him on the head. He couldn’t quite see straight after that, and he lost his nerve.”
“I guess failure is not the thing he should have been afraid of,” said Juliana, snickering.
Scootie grinned and held Juliana’s eyes in his. She was overcome by shame and turned, shuffling into the darkness backstage. Scootie followed, and found her in front of the dressing room, her eyes fixed firmly on the gold star below Stephen’s name. Scootie stopped short of reaching out to her.
“Juliana? Are you okay?”
“Scootie, I’m so... what I did to you the other night, it was disgraceful, attacking you like that just to get you to give away tickets. I don’t...”
“Juliana, I didn’t give away any tickets.”
“...blame you if you never want to speak to me again. It was an unspeakable use of power, and I...”
“I didn’t give away any tickets.”
This time she heard him.
“You... what?”
“I didn’t give away tickets. I knew you’d be busy, and, well, possibly too disturbed to notice, so I simply refrained from doing anything, in the hopes that no one would...”
“You cur!” Juliana punched Scootie on the shoulder. “You pig! How dare you not...”
She went to push him, but he grabbed her hands and grinned devilishly.
“How dare I not respond to fellatio?”
Juliana looked at her hands, limp rags in Scootie’s grip, and was overcome by laughter. Scootie put a finger to his lips but succeeded only in cracking himself up. When Juliana slipped a hand around the doorknob, they stumbled into the dressing room, landing in a tangle on the carpeting. Scootie tapped the door closed with his foot, then covered her with kisses, roaming freely over her neck and cheekbones. He was undoing the straps of her gown when she formed a “halt” sign and planted it against his chest.
“Scootie... as much as I am enjoying this, there are too many people here, and besides, I think Mr. Swan will be returning for a fresh round of abuse.”
Scootie laughed and assented with his eyes.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” she said. “Take some tissues and clean yourself up in the stageside mirror – you’ve got some lipstick on your right cheek. I will clean up in here, sneak out the back, and take my assigned seat in the audience.” She stopped to consider what came next. How does one properly initiate an affair?
“Do you live alone?”
He nodded.
“Good. I want you to slip out to the employee parking lot during the second act and find my car. Green Volvo, remember? It’s got one of those gas caps that’s hidden under the rear license plate. I want you to write down the directions to your place – only the directions, no names, no personal references – and leave it there for me. I will stay here for about an hour after the show, and then I will drive directly – or perhaps, indirectly – to your place. Okay?”
“Check,” said Scootie. He rose to his feet and pulled her up. He took a box of tissue, and was ready to go, but felt the need to say something in parting. “Juliana?”
“Yes?” she answered, out of breath.
Scootie held her chin and kissed her. “I give you license to attack me anytime you like.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, and he was gone. She walked carefully to the mirror, flipped on the light and went about straightening the pleasantly jumbled features of her face.

Photo by MJV

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Fourteen: Letter to Audrey

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There’s your story, O pigeon pal, and I suppose I promised Juliana whatever it was she wanted from me. I’ve been in something of a walking coma ever since. With one exception: my hearing has become superhuman.
I went golfing with Stephen Swan yesterday, and as I stood on the first tee I realized I could identify the vehicles on Mt. Hermon Road by the swaths they were cutting: whoosh! Dodge minivan, slash! BMW Boxster, swish! Toyota Corolla. I heard kids playing at the Burger King down the block: four girls, two boys, ages three to nine, the five-year-old was Mexican, the six-year-old Japanese, and the three-year-old had a bad cough. His name was Sidney.
There’s a pond next to the second tee, and I counted the birdcalls of 23 different species. Then Stephen came over and said something very mundane, like, “I believe you’re first off,” and I detected this unique fray at the edge of Stephen’s baritone, something you will find in perhaps one of a thousand voices. This is what makes his voice so powerful, this tiny band of scuttled waves on the edge of his oscilloscope. I could almost draw a picture of it.
Fifty yards from the tee, a power cable stretches across the fairway, and anyone striking it is entitled to a second tee shot. Stephen whipped out his four-iron and did the most extraordinary thing. He cracked a drive into the center of the cable, and like a cartoon slingshot it catapulted the ball right back in our direction. It landed in the pond next to the tee, twenty feet away. I can already hear Stephen stretching this into one of his wild anecdotes (involving Kirk Douglas and a midget). But the most incredible thing was that, twenty minutes later, as we stood on the fourth tee, I could still hear that cable vibrating! A diminishing but distinct C-sharp.
It would be simple to dismiss Juliana’s friendly rape as an act of vengeance perpetrated by a frustrated chairwoman, but I sense something larger at work. Some cosmological force has rattled my senses in a spectacular way, and I don’t think this is the end of the story. Perhaps after the gala tomorrow, I will send another pigeon.
Coo-coo, baby.

Photo by MJV

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Thirteen: The Birdhead

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Two days later, Scootie kept his ill-gotten knowledge tucked in his pocket. Still, riding in the cavernous back seat of the DePlombs’ DeSoto, the object of his concern a few feet away, he couldn’t help picking up additional clues.
For one thing, clothes. It was a bright, pre-summer morning, and Scootie dressed accordingly: khaki pants, cream-colored jacket and a florid jungle tie. Juliana wore a charcoal blazer, navy blouse and pleated gray skirt. And then there were her physical gestures. She kept picking pieces of lint – real or imagined – from her clothes. She placed the back of her knuckles in various contemplative poses about her face, and ran her fingernails over her teeth. Her eyes remained fixed on a spot two hundred yards to the side of the car.
Scootie tried several times to initiate innocuous conversation, but each time had to repeat himself when Juliana failed to hear him. Mrs. DePlomb had no such problem. She was more than happy to speak for the four of them, inevitably comparing things to something she had seen on one of her world travels. Mr. DePlomb, who had years before learned his place in the marriage, grunted amiably.
Even considering her recent traumas, Scootie was not at all surprised when Juliana tapped into some auxiliary tank of charm. They found Stephen Swan in baggage claim, looking exactly like his publicity photos. He was a thin, spry man of 58, wearing a black leather jacket, brown corduroy pants, and a shock of gray-blond hair seeking some semblance of equilibrium (a style Jackie had termed “Andy Warhol redux”). Juliana led the way, approaching Mr. Swan with an extended hand and the usual knockout smile.
“Mr. Swan. I’m Juliana Kross. It’s a great pleasure to meet you.”
Stephen returned her greeting with a sideways smile and a roving actor’s eye. “And a pleasure to meet you, my dear. Excuse my surprise, but you are not precisely what I expected.” He pulled her closer with his handshake and whispered, “Something more like the matronly, and I’m sure delightful, grand dame behind you.”
The comment reminded Juliana of her duties, and she quickly stepped back to introduce the DePlombs and Scootie. Stephen checked off each handshake with the remark, “Delighted, delighted,” but added a comment for Scootie.
“Used to know an actor named Scootie. Funniest thing how he got his name. Had a middle ear infection as a toddler, used to scrabble around sideways like a crab. Can you imagine?”
“No,” said Scootie.
“He used to demonstrate it for us backstage. Ah well – lead me to my carriage.”
Scootie and Mr. DePlomb carried Stephen’s estimable baggage – no doubt loaded with costumes. Scootie noted with some chagrin the complete lack of media; two stations had expressed interest, none had come. He thought of the 150 tickets lined up like maroon soldiers in Aggie’s file box, and felt his butt settling further into the sling.
Knowing how eager the ladies were to shower their attentions on the celebrity, Scootie rode shotgun and cocked an ear toward the back seat.
“I am a linguistic man, by nature and occupation,” said Stephen. “And I am dying to learn the many inflections of the word ‘dude.’ I am told one can carry on entire conversations with it. Of course, after all these years of Shakespeare, there’s not a soul believes I grew up among beach bums.”
Once at the mansion, Stephen lagged behind the others to smoke a cigarette, then interrupted Scootie as he was lifting a suit bag from the trunk.
“Scootie. Are you a golfing man?”
“I’ve been known to dig a few divots.”
“Well. I will tell you. I am bound to the blue-haired ladies and the overserious Rotarians tonight, but I would love to spend tomorrow belching, scratching and inventing new curse words. Do you know a little nine-holer hereabouts?”
“Sure. There’s one in Scotts Valley.”
“Fan-tastic.” Stephen tossed his cigarette to the ground and grabbed a hank of his unwieldy hair. “I am told also that you will be assisting me backstage, you unfortunate soul, so this will give me a chance to prepare you.”
“I’d be honored,” said Scootie.
“Fine.” Stephen turned to the Fetzle’s front entrance to find Mrs. DePlomb and Juliana smiling at him. He made a stage aside to Scootie. “I may be working on my third divorce, but it’s a damn shame that woman’s married and twenty years too young for me.”
Scootie looked the same direction and said, “Yes, it is.”
A few hours later, Stephen stood in a corner of the ballroom, doling out backstage stories like a priest handing out wafers. He had some unexpected competition from 82-year-old Fay Swanson, who lived next door to the Swans during Stephen’s childhood.
“Well, I’ll tell ya. I knew young Mr. Swan was an impresario long ago – when I discovered him in an old abandoned barn, putting on a burlesque show with all his little girlfriends.”
Stephen slapped a hand to his forehead. “Yikes! I am uncovered.”
“So were your little girlfriends,” said Fay. “But even at seven, Stephen had a sense for production values. He had a dozen flashlights bundled together for a spotlight, a red felt curtain he had purloined from God-knows-where, and I’ll tell you what else – them girls had tassles!”
The circle erupted in scandalized laughter as Stephen played the good sport, hiding behind his hands in mock shame.
Scootie was spying from the entrance to the library. Jackie snuck up from behind, saying, “Isn’t that ol’ girl a card?” and letting out her husky Texas laugh. He had noticed a lot of this sneaking up of late, as well as a greater general degree of affectionate behavior. All of which seemed to indicate that Jackie was receiving special attentions from her cowboy friend.
“She is my absolute favorite,” said Scootie, watching the sparkle in Fay’s fading blue eyes. “She reminds me of my crazy Armenian grandmother.”
Jackie began kneading Scootie’s shoulders like a trainer prepping a boxer for a big fight. “So. Have you seen your lady-love?”
Scootie had given up fending off Jackie’s implications. “No, I haven’t. And have you been getting laid a lot?”
“Now that you mention it. We went to a weddin’! Grand ol’ Mexican gent, foreman of the ranch, married off his daughter. Oh, Scootie, they had an Aztec dance troupe and... Hey! You wanna know about Juliana, or what?”
“As long as you seem so eager to tell me.”
“She’s in the kitchen, ostensibly helpin’ out with the horz-dee-orves, but in actuality shootin’ down glasses o’ wine like they was Orange Nehis. And you should see what she’s wearin’!”
There was no need for description. Juliana entered on the arm of Virginia Mendheart, not obviously drunk but definitely loose in the limbs. She was wearing a full matador’s outfit, pantalones reaching just below the knee, gold spangles down the sides. a crisp white pleated shirt and a high-waisted jacket shooting out sequin geometrics of white, gold and sunset orange.
“She looks like she’s on the attack,” said Scootie.
“And she’s comin’ your way, El Toro. See ya!” She gave Scootie a smack on the butt and retreated to the crowd around Stephen Swan. Scootie stood there helplessly as the tag team of Kross and Mendheart bore down on him. He produced his best phony smile and extended his arms in Virginia’s directions. She slapped them away.
“Scootie, we want to talk to you about something.”
Trouble. Big trouble.
Juliana fixed a hand to either bespangled hip. “It’s about this ticket giveaway.”
“We think you should give it a shot,” said Virginia. “And this time you’re not going to talk us out of it.”
“We are not going to sit around and let that talented man come home to a bunch of empty seats,” said Juliana. “Why should we let those tickets sit around and rot when we can damn well give them away and at least put some butts in the seats?”
Virginia placed a firm hand on his shoulder and stared bullets into his eyes. “And make no mistake, Scootie. We are willing to pull rank.”
Now he was getting pissed. He tried hard to cool his jets, but couldn’t help producing a level of intensity equal to theirs.
“You two have the power to overrule me on this matter, but not before I’ve had my complete say. I have worked pretty damn hard to build relationships with my radio contacts, and to establish a reputation as a savvy, intelligent media buyer. This gala may be a one-shot, do-or-die proposition for its esteemed chairwomen, but next week, and next month, you will be gone and I will still be here, trying to sell tickets for shows that are much less spectacular but no less essential to this center. Every single media person I deal with knows that to give away gala tickets two days before the show is a desperate, circus maneuver performed by amateurs, and forgive my bluntness but I do not appreciate your attempting to cover your respective butts with my professional reputation.”
Juliana had been balancing on her toes, waiting for the bull to charge, leaning farther forward with every word. Now, she exploded.
“I am sick of this! Sick! Sick! Sick! Sick of you men always telling me what to do! I have had it! I have had enough for three lifetimes! I am the head of this gala, and from now on I will...”
Juliana stopped when she saw the look in Scootie’s eyes, the look in Virginia’s eyes, and her right hand gripped around the crumpled wad of Scootie’s shirtfront. She let go and heard a button drop to the floor, rolling toward the fireplace of a crowded but very quiet room. She thought it best not to turn around.
“Take me to your office,” she said.
Scootie turned and ascended the stairs, feeling Juliana’s heavy breath behind him. He opened the door to his office and reached for the switch, but Juliana grabbed his arm.
“Don’t,” she said.
Scootie made his way to the desk, following the scant light seeping in through the window. He turned to find Juliana inches behind him – a cold, mannequin face.
“Juliana, I...”
“Don’t say a word.” She stared him down with black eyes then placed her hands on his waist and lowered herself to her knees. Her hands moved with mechanical grace as she undid his belt and drew down the zipper.
Juliana pulled out Scootie’s cock and studied it in the faint light – a noble, passive birdhead over a nest of dark, soft wire. She cradled the warm, pliable eggs of his scrotum and watched as the birdhead blossomed.
Now here, she thought, is something I can control.

Photo by MJV