[previous room here]
THE ELEGANT LINES OF OUR CHANDELIER RECALL THE ART
DECO STYLE BORN IN 1920S PARIS. OPTICAL-QUALITY PRISMS,
ARRANGED IN CONCENTRIC RINGS, HANG IN SPARKLING
COUNTERPOINT TO AN IRON FRAME THAT BEARS THE MARKS OF
THE WELDER’S TORCH. AVAILABLE IN 3-, 5- AND 7-RING SIZES.
We had been horribly, atrociously wrong. From the very start. All this talk about armoires – hell, there’s no fear in speaking it now, yes, I’ll say it, Montpellier armoires – and cut tables and hungry mirrors, when the stupid, irrefute fact of it had been staring us in the face all along, turning a bit in the saccharine wind of our breath, shimmering, taunting, dumb as a dewy rose set aflame with a lit fart. And now it stared us in the face.
It’s said that bad augurs come in threes, perhaps because there is no shotgun shell with only two pellets, shotguns being resolutely opposed to furthering any illusion of the couple form. But this one had indeed come alone. A solitary light fixture with no family ties, a drifter. Without any other furnishings. Without floor. Without ceiling or wall or window. Without house. Without space. Just… hanging from itself, this bundle of once glass house, dragged from the stripped carcass of a Surrealist dream, left now to dangle as if not anti-domicile but a whole city, dropped below its surface, bound by its captors and interrogators to itself by its own railroad tracks, those ties still bearing the marks of the welder’s torch, now bent to wire open its lamprey mouth of concentric teeth and teeth made of wall and window, agape and straining.
We were silent, but the room was not, as the iron restraints groaned beneath the tremendous concentric pressure of the crystal beast.
To break the still air, to distract us, to make any sound in this, M-with-eyes began to speak.
It was a war. There were communists being fought, somewhere in the broad vicinity, though it isn’t quite true to say that what we were fighting was communism itself, which waits ever and always, an acid fog at dusk within whose veil hides the riotous clatter of small and manifold things, and which builds, as a coven of mice in the corpse of a whale do over the course of a winter, replacing its organs with new infrastructure vein by valve, and it isn’t even quite true that we were fighting communists, just people in the vicinity of what was not communism per se but hoping to be so and so it raised a tremendous racket and we had to come to take care of business.
I was there not because I was a communist or not a communist but because there was a war, and when there was a war, there was I. It was many decades ago and we were in the jungle, where there was war, communism, and much fine hardwood lumber, but the thought of profitable export was far from anyone’s mind, communism’s distaste of profit or not, and it was the afternoon, it was a thick, muddled afternoon, there beneath the trees, the canopy and flies and idly dropping gobs of bird shit that fell with plops onto other gobs of monkey shit and also onto feathers and also on the muzzle of my gun where it dried stinking and bright as paint.
As a child I had been often surprised by the profundity of what comes out of birds, but never again since.
We had been there for a month, we had started to rot, not metaphorically, just actually, and as for communism, it was going nowhere fast, in either direction or for either side, and meanwhile, it just got hotter and we rotted and the light of afternoon tried hard to make it through the fibrous leaves and plunging gobs but succeeded only in being a green dusk to last straight from dawn until it was actually dusk and then still on into what passed for night. There in that light on the ground in front of me I saw a leopard, shit-flecked, it stood next to another leopard, a tiny one, and the cub was lying, quiet, still, yet made small motions as if breathing in slumber or as if the maggots had begun doing what must be done, and the pattern of rustle gave no doubt which was the case, and sure, circle of life, cloaca to cloaca, put the smoke out in the beer and drink it down anyway, Nature et fucking cetera, but the leopard had not yet left the smaller one, it just stood in the fake dusk as the little one was processed by the writhing things. And it wasn’t crying because that isn’t something leopards do, yet I am no leopard.
We were on a mission, because communism was getting everywhere, like smoke or revenge, half a platoon was trailing behind, letting me scout ahead because I had good eyes, or so they thought, not knowing how they leaked at the sight of life rummaging around inside a tawny mass, already I could feel my face camo start to run and smear and even though I told myself, don’t do this, not here, not now, that thought made it all the worse, the thought of the distance between the unweeping leopard and my attempted refusal of weeping, it got me in the guts, and then it really started, the eyes broke like ampules and I knew had no choice, no, none at all.
I drew my machete and gashed my forehead with it, deep, down to the shit-white bone, and then I yelled AARRRRGGHH.
When the platoon came running in sweat and clatter, I feigned to stagger and said there had been an ambush, there were still rebels around, true communist ones no less, and the platoon charged into the humid underbrush to roust the reds, and not far from there, they came upon a small village, barely a village, just a small density of homes, and although it was denied by those there that they had ambushed anyone or that they thought much about communism one way or the other, this was not listened to and the huts were set aflame to set an example, and I walked toward the guttering light, cast pink and yellow through the bright lace of the jungle’s layers, and although one cannot see one’s own face, I could feel mine, because those whose homes were torched looked back at me and I knew, I knew that although there were still tears now and perhaps for a different reason, tears of quiet, infuriated shame turning to steam in the heat of the massacre, to join that vapor bursting free from the kettled curves of damp wood, I knew the ruse had worked, and the blood that lapped down my face in successive drying tides covered the fact that I had ever cried, and the smoke from the burning village gathered thick as the leaves of the trees, and it got into my eyes, and although it stung, this did not for any reason make me cry, and the other soldiers were so impressed at how I stood there, smack dab in the middle of the torched, gusting ash of an entire town, speckling my salt and blood-daubed skin until I became the cast of a statue of a ripped angel of death, flecked pale, how I stood there without moving, without coughing, without speaking, with eyes rimmed by blood dried black and dusted grey with carbon traces of homes, eyes that still did not blink as the fire spread out and then the jungle I had caused to burn cracked and popped and did not stop, its light a drunk shimmy laid over the half-dusk already there from dawn onwards, and that was how communism was beaten, just like turning on a light at noon.
As for us, being not soldiers but archaeologists, boyfriends, cooks, whores, killers, insurance claims adjustors, down-market insurrectionaries, dish washers, massage table repair persons, architectural historians, plumbers, actors, and thieves, we had no choice but to retrace our steps, away from this dissected house and its endless, and maudlin, and wholly beige sheen of health.