Late for La Feu
Late for our party now, and with no fashion to it, I tried mother’s mobile phone again.
“Still not answering,” I said.
“It’s after midnight,” said Alain.
“It’s always after midnight, Lain.”
Twelve-oh-one, and quiet.
The clock blinked neon red:
We were returning to the theatre for the party, you know that part. Just like the year before, Last New Year’s Eve. We had driven down the week before, for the Christmas play, which I hadn’t been a part of, some house favorite my mother’s Nameless troupe got funded somehow, those poor faithful fucks. We had been up all night the prior night and hadn’t seen my mother since she left mid-conversation during dinner the night before. So we stayed up all night drinking wine and standing in the cold air, on the landing, smoking cigarettes and spitting into the alley. We were staying in my old apartment, on mother’s estate. He turned the radio on. Static filled the car, hissing and screeching as he flipped between stations; weather forecasts, local news, an all point’s bulletin about a car wreck somewhere:
….From Saint-Roch Mont Fleuri were re–
And it cut out with a long, defeated note, a high F sharp before resolving into the audible silence. Lain put in an unmarked CD from an old leather sleeve I always kept in the car, and the static hum ran short, trailing off and out and in came lovely, lovely music.
Rachmaninoff doesn’t exactly set the mood for a party, and would, I think, be a more appropriate soundtrack for something more solemn than a long car ride through the winding roads by the Catalan sea, though lovely and deep blue, almost black, spotted like a bird’s egg white and calm, a calm sky and a calm sea. A near-perfect mirror where the Earth and Heaven met, where the sky hit the water and turned in upon itself, lighting, if but a touch, that lonely port. Abandoned now. No more war. Not now, at least, just monuments; there will be more. Monuments to monuments, that monolithic road up Le corniche;
La prada first and then Le porte de l’Orient—a war memorial—aren’t they all? And like the war it was more beautiful at night, in silhouette, sharp and exquisite in the dark but dismal in the clearer, more sober eye of day. The small port Vallan des auffres was a popular hang-out when I was in high school, when I first got my driver’s license. Camille and I would drive out there at night when mother stayed over at the theatre, after arguing with Ed, and we’d swing by to park among other parked cars, all filled with the most popular kids, d’jeunes; and it became more and more exclusive, so exclusive until, finally, no one was allowed and no one went.
It’s a greeting card road, a tourist trap. And like every destination, visited only to be seen, for pictures and poses, it’s embarrassing when no one’s there, when it’s out of season and the lighting’s off, the sun never quite right during the Fall. One façade after another, experiments of a lonely god with poor taste. There was nothing to see but the view.
“Are you excited?” Lain asked. “I’m not really in the mood to get drunk, but I am very thirsty.”
As was I.
“I guess,” I said. “I hate that Lianne won’t be there.”
“She’s so sweet,” Lain said. “She’s going to be just like your mom.”
I simply looked at him. Perceptive as he was, he backtracked:
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But…”
“Don’t say but if it just cancels out the first part!”
“She’s going to drink, and she’s going to curse like a drunken wildfire.”
“I can see that,” I said. He smiled a feeble smile. “Lain, it’s cool. Relax.”
“I’m perfectly calm, dude.”
“Just think,” he said. “One day it’ll all be yours. And you’ll have to play out that half-assed story every year and burn it all down too, to keep that little lie alive.”
A question seemed caught in his throat: “Would you ever put the fire out?”
Tick tock, tick tock. Rachmaninoff! God dammit, already! We were supposed to be going to a party, not a funeral, but Lain insisted; something about despair always cheered him up, and I allowed him that indulgence. For a while, at least. The illusion he was in control comforted him, and I let him keep that comfort as long as he could hold onto it without taking mine, and even a little past a soft-line I’d drawn, a line he would never cross, not willingly or knowingly. He wasn’t stupid. Finally, I had enough:
“Play Madame Butterfly,” I said. “As lovely as Rachmaninoff is, it really does sound like someone reading a violin’s suicide letter.”
Tick tock, tick tock.
“Fine,” he said. “As much as I like Puccini, I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. Ever. I learned the lyrics, look up the translation, and then I understood it less. I liked it more, I think, when I had no idea what was being said.”
“But you still don’t?”
“How is that worse?”
“Because now I’ve put in effort, only to know less. So, now, every time I hear it, I still hear the beautiful, mysterious song that’s always been there. But there’s another part of my brain that says, ‘You don’t know shit!’ Hahaha!’”
Un bel di, vedremo
Levarsi un fil di fumo…
“I love this version,” I said. “When Lianne was still in her crib, I’d play this to get her to go to sleep. And she loves it, always trying to sing along, you know, faking the words, yaourt – that’s the word. Do you know what that word means? It’s one of my favorite words. It’s a French word, yaourt; literally it means ‘to yogurt.’ But really, it’s a word that describes what someone does when they’re trying to sing along with a song but don’t really know the lyrics but that doesn’t stop them from putting in something, trying to fake it, and hope it sounds close enough to what’s being said that no one knows it’s faked.”
Sull’estremo confin del mare.
E poi la nave appare…
“That is a great word,” said Lain. “I think my favorite is—I think it’s a Yiddish word: Protshkeh. A protshkeh is something that is only broke because somebody tried to fix it.”
“That’s a great fuckin’ word,” I said.
“You know it,” Lain said. “It’s like the right-click button on your laptop.”
“How did that happen?”
“Well, I ordered a wood varnished laptop because plastic, ugh, it just feels… It feels like what a strip club looks like during the day time. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but for some reason, when you look at it, you feel dirty. The problem with the laptop was, it felt fine, didn’t overheat and stayed warm. But it got covered in fingerprints and scuffs and grit gathered on it easily. One night I woke up, couldn’t go back to sleep. And the left key was covered in dirt and had a hair on it. Instead of getting rubbing alcohol and wiping it down like a sensible fucking adult, I turned my shirt inside-out and rubbed it until it came lose and finally until it jammed.”
“Hey,” he said, “at least you don’t have to explain why there’s hair on your mouse.”
Why was it there? Oh, ohh. I felt my cheeks turn red, and hoped that, for the dark, Lain couldn’t see, despite the fact I blushed so loud, a violent, neon red. He could sense the shame, somehow. I dialed a different number, an older number, mother’s disposable for disposable people, homme jetable.
. No answer. Again, no answer. Again and again and again. Lain hadn’t noticed this errant behavior, or had decided to mention it to be polite.
Poi la nave bianca
entra nel porto…
“She never answers,” I said. “It makes me wonder. How does she become busy? She never answers the phone. She doesn’t answer the door.”
… romba il suo saluto.
Vedi? È venuto!
“Oh, don’t you know?” Lain said. “A woman of her stature, she has someone on hand, you know, to be busy for her.”
“Have you tried the desk?”
I glared at him. And he understood.
“Okay, okay,” he said. “I’ve never gotten through to anyone at that place. I’ve called from the parking lot, when I fucking know that no one’s there, and it’s still busy.”
“My mother thinks, and this is just a theory mind you, she thinks that if the line is always tied up, the caller will assume the place is busy. And if it’s busy, then it must follow that it’s open, busy, open—hey, busy is fun sometimes. I guess she does it to give those people hope, the people who want to get drunk alone but have too much pride to do it by themselves.”
The little illusion, indeed.
Io non gli scendo incontro. Io no…
Mi metto là sul ciglio del colle e aspetto…
“I’ll give that to her,” I said. “My mother knows how to work the Chinese cheese.”
“What the fuck is ‘Chinese cheese’?”
“There are some customers, tourists for the most part, who can’t really tell if a show is good or not, and decide based on the popular opinion. If everybody else seems to enjoy it, they’ll decide it’s good because others think it’s good and, generally speaking, it isn’t proper to stand out when you’re in someone else’s country.”
“Ne peut pas dire un poulet d’un pigeon,” he said.
E aspetto gran tempo
e non mi pesa.
We were too late to see the start of the show by then, Tragos and making his living being killed, the crowd cheering on, mother in her red dress, thank you, thank you, love, give money, the tradition continues. I hated to miss seeing Robert, poor Tragos, hoping to give him a cheaper wine, or at least a wine his girlfriend wouldn’t protect. I tried to call one last time. That creepy voice-mail picked up, with the passive-aggressive robot. I let it finish. Because I’m a fucking lady.
“Answer your God damn phone woman!”
E uscito dalla folla cittadina,
un uomo, un picciol punto…
We were nearly there anyway, and I could see the square as the familiar sights rose out of the darkness. Lain paused between verses, perfectly polite, he always was. The square was dark, all those shops were closed; the florists, the rental stores for coats and ties, dresses short and long. Mother owned them all, every shop on the lot. Lain was gathering his things, his old headphones, some fountain pens, that old valise, old and stuffy, stained with ash and white scuffs marked the faded black leather. I had gotten him a new one, elegant and white and pleated, with white trim and a binder. But he wouldn’t throw it out. It did suit the sort of rugged, writer / artist character he played so well. So he kept it around, that stinky piece of shit.
“Hey,” Lain said. Ah! I get so wrapped up in my own nonsense sometimes, the real world jumps out like a ghost, a jump-scare that exists just to say, ‘Hey, you remember comfort?’ If you’re on your way to a party, and you’re with a friend, and they’re quiet and twitchy – say something. They’re having a situation.
I put the phone in my purse. It was dying anyway. They had started, or so I thought. The smoke was rising into the air in great swirling puffs, ever brighter in contrast with the darkness of everything around it, except for its mother, the greater fire underneath that sent it screaming upward.
Lain seemed disappointed when we pulled into a parking space, to the side of the theatre, the worker’s entrance.
“I really wanted to talk to Falstaff,” he said. “A man without honor.”
The entire back-lot and backstage area was on fire. And I imagined everyone lined up around the drapes, my mother leading the mob, counting down from ten to one over and over, the line of petrol along the edge of Juliet’s balcony. Over the Capulets onto the sliding boards and Camille, Camille was there! Poor Camille, the only Face and there alone, there to watch each little dream of hers, each little background, every bird and cloud, turn into fire and vanish.
I put the car in park and Lain took off his seatbelt, opened his door, sticking one long leg out, then the other, ducking under the low clearance of my tiny, tiny car. He closed the door behind him and I remained in the car. I turned the rearview mirror to face me, and looked into my eyes. A little bloodshot, but those little capilarries are hard to see in the dark, and drunkenness would not be hard to swallow. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, breathed in, breathed out. Took off my seatbelt, slid out of the car and closed the door. I clicked the lock button on my keychain and the headlights flashed and the horn beeped. It echoed, and I only then realized how very quiet so large a celebrating crowd had been.
Lain slung his satchel over his shoulder and walked across the packed parking lot with me. I took his hand and pulled him closer and he smiled. The walkway was overgrown and narrow, but nobody went in, at least very few Faces, and Players weren’t allowed to perform in the real world, and complaining is very common place, if not theatrical. The coat-room was dark, and through the tinted glass I strained to see, something, anything, a familiar face in the shadows.
I heard Lain’s pocketwatch chime with a mechanical bird song. It was 1 AM, the New Year had snuck up on us unannounced, and proceeded without our notice or ritual.
No one was in the lobby but the desk was lit from above with an emergency light. The power was out, the shiny table reflecting the weak, pale pink of the florescent bulb. The door to the auditorium was locked.
“Fuck!” I said, pulling on it. The darkness on the other side was still but steady. The moment froze, a broken breeze. And then a great burst of fire lit the sky and shook the door frames. I staggered back, tripped over my own feet. I scrambled to get up, grabbing at Lain’s jeans, then his tangled mess of arms. He pulled me up, back on my feet. The glass in the dark frame shattered, sparkling, glittering in the fire light as it fell in silence to the carpet, a quiet red.
The broken breeze collapsed and time slowed down. I felt the blunt force of something against my arm, and it was Lain, his arms around me, pulling me away, pulling me away from the comfort of the little world I was trying to find to hide away in. When it seemed safe, or at least safer, Lain reached into the empty frame and unlocked the door. He took me by the hand and we walked into the auditorium together.
The gallery had raked seating. Each row was slightly higher than the row in front of it, helping everybody see. And every seat was full, the house lights down and the stage lit but loudly empty, there were three sections, one conic section in the center, two walkways toward the stage, one broke off to the bar, the other near the stage led to the lot out back, intersecting in front of that great proscenium arch, the portrait frame for that great stage.
Lain said something, something distant, as I approached the closest person to me. They were still, too still, too quiet, and so stiff and cold to the touch. I tried to lift an arm, one fragile, cold arm—and it wouldn’t lift. It was glued—literally glued—into the seat. And one after another, every person in the crowd was motionless, lifeless, masked and glued into their seats. The fire from behind the stage, the actor’s paradise raged on, the stage so starkly, so well-staged; nothing there, and never had nothing said more. It was beautiful.
Lain shook me again.
“You have to call your mother!”
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t. I was transfixed, bewitched, stunned stupid by the scale of it all. I imagined that those people, the children at least, the quiet, the dead, those who imagined they might live on, as ghosts or go to heaven, I imagined a whole group of children, ghosts, on the stage and performing, translucent and smiling, laughing without sound, playing to a gripped audience, with their own dead eyes watching them like a one sided mirror blind, or a blind man seeing nothing in that darkness but understanding a reflection somehow.
Lain whisked me away, and everything went quiet. I was on standby, on auto-pilot, outside of myself as we bounded along, down every silent row, that was most striking: everything that wasn’t said, the fire raging on, and Lain doing his best to be the man, to be macho, to be brave, trembling as he tried to pull one arm off the rest, a sick peeling sound, and he stumbled back.
“Their eyes…” I said. “Look.”
Beneath their masks their eyes were wide, somehow focused, paralyzed perhaps, an anesthetic maybe, the work of a twisted taxidermist who had embalmed the living like a mad god’s toyhouse. It was beautiful. Lain shook me again.
“You have to call your mother!” he said.
“It’s beautiful,” I said. “It’s perfect.”
He kept shaking me. I felt it but I didn’t. Then his hand went into my pocket and I snapped out of it immediately. I grabbed his hand and said, “Okay, mother fucker! Okay! What? What!”
“You have to call your mother!”
I tried and tried and tried. It was like an atheist praying, to a God that, if it existed, was fucking deaf.
He threw his satchel to the ground, looking for cigarettes or his medication. The broken breeze repaired, time snapped into place, and I took time to notice Lain. He’d fallen—he’d sat down. He had his pill bottle out. Take four times a day as needed for fucking freak-outs.
I didn’t know what to say. I held out my hand, “Come,” I said. “Let’s see if anyone’s enjoying the show.”
We walked up and down the aisles and through crosswalks. Eerie and quiet, I didn’t recognize anyone, not in the seats I checked. Neither did Lain, not a Face or a Player that we could tell. All focused with blank eyes, rapt and spellbound.
A burst of fire shook the floor and I grabbed Lain’s arm. I thought of mother in her red dress, the Queen of Agamemnon, his wife, standing above him, watching him die and loving it.
The door to the back lot—we couldn’t go out back, or get that close, the metal doorknobs were too hot to touch.
Lain’s thoughtful silence hovered for a moment. Then the moment stretched out and yawned, waiting awkwardly.
“I don’t know what to fucking do!” I shouted.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said. “Come on.”
I took out my phone and lined up a shot, had to move to the center, from a mid-level perspective to get it in the frame just right. I took picture after picture until the phone warned me off: 5% remaining.
“Come on,” said Lain. “Let’s get the fuck out of here before somebody shows up and thinks we did this.”
We made it back to the car, and Lain was in the driver’s seat waiting on the lighter to pop back out, striking his over and over to no avail. How terrible, I thought, how hard it must be to stand in front of the ocean and die of thirst. I put in a call to Emergency one-12.
“Emergency?” said a woman’s voice. “Can I get your name and location please?”
“Yeah, hey,” I said. “My name is Renette Brisbois. I’m at La petite illusion at Rouge Point. It’s a theatre… It’s owned by Rose-Marie Nanty. The stage is on fire and there are people dead inside.”
“I’m sending emergency response,” the woman said. “Please remain at the scene.”
I put the phone away.
“We can’t,” he backed away. “Are you fucking crazy?”
“We’ll get in trouble!”
“You can’t get in trouble for dancing!”
I got closer to him and tried to put his arm around my waist. He shied away. “Here, look – Lain, give me your – put your hand – here, on my waist. Lain! Lain, don’t you fuck with me!”
“Okay, okay!” he said. He took my outstretched hand. Our fingers interlocked. “And one, and two, and three…”
Don’t you shed a tear, my love
Just keep on dancing, dear.
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