I woke in the early morning, so I thought, the phone glowing with the blinking numbers: 6:15; but here in France, you don’t have AM or PM, you’re expected to know, and from the look outside, I couldn’t tell if it was getting darker or if dawn was breaking, for Lain had obscured the window once, and it had remained obscured:
One day as we were working, I was at my desk, laptop on hand and writing away, he asked if he could shut the blinds, annoyed by the beam of light cast across his face by a most impertinent sun. I said we couldn’t, as the blinds being up allowed the air conditioner to run. He put his laptop down and took off his shirt, a ratty, green affair that one would assume had a checkered past. He pushed it between the blinds and returned to where he sat.
Finding the light not properly curtailed, he rose again, went to my bureau drawer, and picked out a black, long-sleeved cotton shirt. He squeezed it between the curtain rods and stuffed the rest behind the other shirt and smiled as the beam of light bowed out and fell away from where he was sitting.
And now to wake with the only light in my bedroom an electric candle, a most unique present, the black and green in the low light mixed to impersonate the dim but dark blue of a coming dawn. I liked it, the way such opposites mixed enough to make me fall for the idea of a rising sun. I kept it that way, often waking in the night with that same rising or falling feeling, falling happily for the same trick, to think of dawn coming sooner, to think of Lain.
I could hear him in the other room at his computer, in the kitchen. I threw the covers off and sat up on the side of the bed. How did I get into my room? I wiped the vitreous humour out of my eyes, ran my fingers through my hair, and stood, wobbling into the next room.
Lain’s word processor banged away, emulating the noise of an antique typewriter. I checked my phone as I sat on the couch: I found that it was indeed much nearer dawn than night. My missed calls—had I been mistaken? I saw the calls from Camille and from Lance, god dammit Lance, but the Queen was nowhere to be found.
Had I dreamed it?
“Lain!” I shouted.
“Have you been fucking with my phone?”
“I have not,” he said. “I value my nuts too much.”
But Camille had called.
“What day is it?” I asked. I couldn’t believe my phone.
“Friday,” said Lain. “I just let you sleep; you seemed out of it, so I carried you into your room and covered you up.”
A whole day had passed, all of Thursday gone.
“Have you spoken to Camille? Did you get in touch with her?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Was she at my mother’s?”
“No,” he said. “She said she got a call and didn’t go to the party. But she went down to the theatre yesterday while you were asleep and she wanted you to call her when you woke up. They’re still dragging bodies out. For a day now—they’ve had to take them out one at a time, and no one wants to volunteer. That’s just selfish.”
I rang up Camille.
“Hello?” so spritely. It reminded me. I needed my mints.
“Yeah, hey,” I said. “This is Renette…”
“I’d gathered as much!” she said.
Fuckin’ smart ass.
“Yeah, have you heard from my mother?”
“I sure haven’t,” she said. “I’m at the theatre now; this is horrible. They’re still pulling people out.”
“Lain told me,” I said. A moment of silence. What does one say to such horror? It numbs the mind to any response.
“I think we’ll join you down there once I get dressed and have a shower.”
I interrupted her.
“Hey!” I said. “Hey, were you at mom’s the night before last? New Year’s Eve?”
“No, I got a call to meet your mom at a restaurant, and when I got there, she wasn’t there. Why?”
“I’ll tell you when I see you,” I said. “Somebody broke in; I’m not sure what they’ve taken, but I’ll find out and let you know. Alright, yeah yeah, love you.”
I rang off.
“They’re still dragging bodies out of the theatre.”
“That’s what I heard,” he said. “Do you feel like going down?”
“Let me get a shower and brush my teeth,” I said.
I stood and put my phone away. I dug my underwear out of my ass as I walked. Look, guys, you might think a thong is sexy—and it can be, I’ll grant you that; but it’s wearing a wedgie.
I closed the bathroom door long enough to take my mints, hidden in a can of shaving cream. One mint will put some pep in your step, two and you’ll not be shamed to sing; three mints and you’ll sing out of key in pride. I took three, swallowed them with the tap water I was using to brush my teeth. Ah, fucking fresh breath!
I walked into the living room where Lain sat gathering his things, stuffing notebooks and loose-leaf pages into that stinky valise. Ugh, have you ever wanted to shoot a suitcase? No? Moving on.
“So, I thought we should go check mom’s,” I said. “See what was taken…”
I thought, if a day had passed, what had Lain done?
“If I’ve been asleep for a day,” I said, “what have you done?”
“Well, I woke up,” he said. “And it’s been downhill since then.”
“I mean, did you call the police?”
“Yeah, as soon as I woke up I called,” he said. “I told them what happened, and they came over, I let them in. We walked around and checked. It didn’t seem as if anything had happened. I looked around the house, I didn’t find anything missing. I did find this, though.”
He took a small card from his pocket. It was white with a black silhouette of what looked to be the raised hands of a music conductor. A strange relic, indeed. I took it into my hands and turned it over. The number was unintelligible.
“Have you called this number?” I asked. I handed the card back to Lain.
“It’s a director’s number,” said Lain. “I left a message, haven’t gotten a call.”
I tried to call my mom again; straight to voicemail, that passive aggressive voicemail.
“Please leave a message…”
Fuck you, Robot!
I decided to check on my little sister Lianne, to call Robert, my step-dad. Lain referred to him as a volunteer firefighter.
“Hey Rob,” I said. “It’s Renette. Have you heard what happened?”
“Yeah, I talked to Lain earlier today. Have you heard from your mom?”
“No sir,” I said. “I’m worried, you know. I’m not really fond of the woman but she is my mother.”
“Yeah, ha-ha. She’s something else. Lee wants to talk to you.”
“Renny!” oh Lianne, make me feel old.
“Yes, Lianne,” I said. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t want to stay here,” she said. “I want to come stay with you. I’m scared.”
“It’s safer there,” I said. “We had a break-in at mom’s last night.”
She was quiet.
“I miss you,” she said. She sounded so defeated. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” I said. “I’ll call you when I get home tonight. Okay?”
“I’ll you a story!”
“Okay,” she said.
“I said Liaaaaaaaaneeeeeee…”
“I love you!”
“I love you too,” she said.
“I love you too,” I said. “So, so much. I’ll let you know when I talk to mom. Okay? Okay. Okay. Bon. Au revoir!”
When she was first born and mom was always away, I had to keep her at nights when my stepdad worked at a textile mill, and I couldn’t sleep without her, my little Lee. If I couldn’t hear her, couldn’t sleep; was she asleep? Is she asleep, I’d think, but Lee felt fine. I’d get her from her crib and bring her back to my room. She’d wake and cry until I took her back to her crib, I’d lay her down and hum until she fell asleep. I’d go back to my bedroom and turn the baby monitor off. I kept it on, she never cried, so I’d go get her again.
She’d wake and want to play, and never want to go back to sleep, but I’d put her back in her crib, cradle her and sing, humming myself to sleep just standing there. She went back to sleep, back to my room, over and over until finally, without disturbing her, I got into the cradle with her, a child between two parents, and her tiny, tiny hand in mine, and finally I’d fall asleep beside her. It’s hard for me to sleep alone, to this day. But I have Lain. Monsieur Pinon.
I put my phone on the charger and went into the bathroom, slid off my underthings, hopped into the shower, washed my hair, and sitting down I had to shave my legs. Lathered up the soap and slid that razor down until that cool burn I always loved.
I finished up, stood and dried my hair first, then put on deodorant, pulled on my panties, long socks then some old jeans and a t-shirts, Rolling Stones, that giant, open mouth with the tongue sticking out. ‘Cause I can’t get no (satisfaction).
But I try, and I try…
Lain was in the other room on the phone. I opened my mouth to say something and with that one finger aloft said, “Shush,” in a quiet way. I took out a magazine from under the table in the living room and sat to wait on the call to be over. He was putting in a lot of Yes, I understand, of course, of course, etc., and within a few, quiet, tense moments he rang off.
“Camille is down at the theatre,” he said, “and she found someone she knew in the theatre.”
“She said she went down there to get some of her set design sketches, thinking she may have to apply for work somewhere else if we can’t find a director, and while she was standing at the exit door, where they’re still dragging bodies out, she had been collecting the masks of the dead as they brought them out, and in the crowd, she didn’t know anyone until she noticed a young girl she only knew as ‘the Extra.’”
“I know that girl!” I said. “She’s a very talented young actress, but she never wants to have the lead in anything, so she plays the background characters… I just don’t know her name. What else did she say?”
“She wants us to meet her down there and then go to the Exchange and see if we can find out more about who she is.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “I guess, what else do we have to do? Sit around all day with you?”
“I love you Lain,” I said. He blushed, “No you don’t,” he said.
“But I do!” I said. “Come here.”
He put his pen and valise back on the kitchen table and walked over. I wrapped my arms around him. I felt a weakness in him, in his movements, his restraint—he probably understood what went unsaid but understood between us.
“Come lay down with me,” I said. “I need a friend.”
“Renette,” he said. His defense was weak.
“Where do you have to be?”
“Where?” I kept on.
“To take care of you while Mme. Nanty’s away,” I said.
He went to speak, “You can’t go back on that!” I said. “You can’t break a promise with mother,” you know. “She’ll break your dick in half.”
I grabbed his dick.
“I’ll break it in half,” I said. I bit him on the neck and kissed up to his ear. “But I’ll put it back together.”
I pulled over to the bed, into bed beside me, and I slid under his shoulder and put my head against him, taking his hand to a comfortable place.
“Do you think this…”
I ran my finger along the inseam of his jeans. His eyes glazed over and I knew I had him then, a snake-charmer; I pulled his pants down, kicking them off with my feet, taking his boxers off with my feet, grabbing his dick again.
“Here,” I said, sliding my panties to the side, pulling his now throbbing dick inside of me. “Now, fuck me. Fuck me until it hurts.”
Lain did as he was told.
We arrived at the theatre about an hour later. True to her word, Camille was by the front exit, watching gurney after gurney come out with masked, but briefly, people; each mask was handed to Camille by the door. I put my car in park, gathering our things. Lain looked at me, “Your hair looks like…”
He smiled. I kissed him on his forehead. “Good boy.”
I locked the car doors and walked across the lot, Lain trailing behind me—trying to analyze my walking, that masculine idea that my manner of walking betrayed whether or not I had been satisfied; poor Lain, had I not been satisfied, he’d have fucking walked.
“Hey!” Camille called over to us. “I thought you would be here earlier. I was about to go to The Exchange by myself.”
She looked at my hair, then Lain’s sheepish smile. She knew. She was kind enough not to care.
“Here,” she said. She handed me a frilly mask, made of painted linen, almost a soft wood. “It’s the Extra’s mask,” she said. “You remember that little girl?”
“Yeah,” I said. “She’s been in everything.”
“Well,” Camille said. And she paused, as did Lain, as cart after cart came bouncing out of the flung open doors. It had been days; the practical nature of un-gluing each man and woman and child from each seat, carrying them over the other rows of bodies, hadn’t occurred to me; such a thought would, of course, not occur to any person of sound mind. I’m surprised Lain hadn’t considered it. Each person on each sliding gurney had a long strip, red along their forearms were the glue had caused their skin to be ripped off as they were pulled out of their seats. We went silent, Camille silent, and Lain had out his sketchbook.
I couldn’t wrap my head round it: someone had gone to great lengths to stage it all, all for what? For mourning? For the fire light to be the spotlight on some macabre show intended for a blind audience? We look forward to mourning, as a wake is certainly not for the sleeping ones; it’s easy to think dispassionately, as it is to see the fire on a black-and-white television screen as beauty; it is quite another matter when the flame gets close enough to lick your face. We don’t think of the people, not in movies or in stories, especially when in such numbers. Row upon row of actors died, but all in the audience; my mother’s troupe had, I assumed, survived; I hadn’t let hope die they my mother made it out.
In crime you have motive and desire, an element of fantasy for sure; you have to achieve someone’s death, to shoot or to poison? That is the question; it’s hard to get caught when no clear motive is present, or you lived among the squalid in Whitechapel as the Ripper roamed the streets just plain old Jack before he became eponymous.
It was too elaborate to have been done by one person, hard work went into that show, and what a dead crowd—that’d be the review of such a show; you have to plan it out, something of this magnitude, well in advance, all in the dark, all parts of an unseen orchestra playing the right notes at the right time to execute such an elaborate mass.
It’s hard enough to kill one person who won’t stop sending you pictures of their dicks on Twitter; but hundreds, none with a trace of death upon them? All ages and all races, none known to anyone, boys and girls. For one night somehow, we’d been there the day before. The sets were still up waiting to be fed to the fire, but certainly not like this.
Despite its being senseless, certainly there was purpose here. How do you tell a policeman that you do not know the name of a man once unmasked? Many of them I did know only by their costumes, their Edmunds and their Oberon, their bit parts and their Queens and sceptered aisle mood music. Underneath, we never knew, and maybe there was nothing.
Perfectly in their seats; that took time. The mechanics of putting an unwilling man in a chair—while not impossible—are hard enough to imagine. You have to overpower him, subdue him physically, and move the body into position. Hundreds of times, for different body sizes, different races and cultures whose only common sponsor was their death. Serial killers usually kill within their own ethnicity and sexual orientation; John Wayne Gacy killed white, male homosexuals, for he was a white, male homosexual. Jack the Ripper killed white, female prostitutes; for he was a write, male heterosexual. The Zodiac killer – he just killed happy people, but white happy people. This didn’t match a type, at least no type I knew. Here there were school teachers and railroad workers, whores, ladies, and lords.
Everyone had piled in my car, agreeing to go to the exchange to get information about the Extra and see where that took us in terms of our understanding of what the fuck had happened there. It was also an excellent chance to find out why Camille hadn’t been at the burning festival.
To see such things I’m sure it does to us such subtle things we’d never think, that kind of mourning is much different than, say, the loss of a pair of car keys, the loss of a parking spot; to lose so many, and so quickly, on the first page of a book—it wreaks a havoc that has no fitting emotion, and to see such, to live to see such things it pulls on you, a suction cup, pulling on your face until it’s down to the muscle tissue, finally to the skull, and it pulls more and more until it pulls you inside out. And confusing, to get such cross-eyed thoughts together, to try to get it across accurately without simply stating such.
It is not hard. It is impossible to feel this when it happens. You mourn in a way you’ve never known. There are different mournings, a mourning for a parakeet and mourning for a spilled glass of vodka. It’s easy to mourn something small, you lose a lighter. Fine. You get another one. Your father dies. The mourning changes, it’s a different color.
A child who dies young dies a different death than a 50 year old man. He had time to see it. It’s hard to know what others were not capable of seeing. None of those kids would ever see the Sistine chapel, and the men and women, never again. Not another play, no finer show. You are broken and the extent of your ability to hope is not to stop yourself from breaking, but understand the full measure of that breaking.
We mourn for Anna and for Virginia Woolf. But those are different mournings, and you’re never prepared. But it’s different. Anna never had a pulse but Virginia did. Anna never felt the train roll over her, Virginia felt the water. The mourning of people, people you can touch, it just breaks you until you can only mourn for yourself.
The evening—how long had it been?—before had overloaded my senses, stimulating a type of inability to mourn, if feel at all. In my experience, in such a culture, the culture of scandal, entertainment, and stories, reading Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, you expect it all to be resolved at the ends; there is a beginning and an end; and at the end, Sherlock or monsieur Poirot lay out the entire labyrinthine affair, the motive, the criminals, the whole diabolical denouement.
By the time the monologue is finished, you understand it all! How foolish he had been! And how neatly do they summarize it all, by understanding human nature, criminals and crime, the how and the why. It doesn’t work like that, I wouldn’t think, not in real life.
There are no clear-cut protagonists here, me least of all, and Lain? Ha! How he’d die to be resurrected as a Sherlock Holmes, though knowing him, he’d rather be Moriarty, the villain. There is no denouement in which the protagonist, and that’s not me for sure; for very often I just don’t get it, people that is; not in school, not at Lycee Montgrande, not at Flors Courent, but we were not brought upon this Earth to get it.
And when our wits are tested, when our hearts are strained, harder and harder unto breaking, we don’t always rally or elasticate, or re-solidify; we just break more, and the only point of rest, the only glimmer of understanding to be achieved then is the extension of our breaking.