A FINE BEAUTY
Now and then the sweat drops along my arms.
It rolls down my face. Nothing helps on my temples.
Ice there melts in a flash, flooding my neck in tepid water where, I am
sure, are floating bits and chains of
ooze, or fragments of ferns; then the hollows at my collar bones become
pools, tremendous lagoons in
gestation, where things wriggle, rise and drop to the bottom, and larva
growing feverish in the amplified heat in this cellular room, this white
cube with a bed in which I lie, in this perspiring body where my brain
an ancient virus before the lightning in a primordial world shocks it
to rapacious life.
Out the window stuck in the wall of opaque glass bricks against afternoon
light I see across the street the
sidewalk and the telephone pole, the gray side of a building, with cracks
in the wall and in the pavement.
It is a useless, breathless window, naked, painful to the eyes.
The kindly face of the Mexican nurse smiles at me. An old woman with silver
hair, her eyes are asleep.
She wets my lips with water and I wait, I try to talk and she smiles.
Is it over with?
I don't remember. I hear her moving about the room, a crackle of her starched
I close my eyes.
She becomes a young woman,and a fine beauty, with black curls that tease
her ears, where she stands at
the window shackled by light. Slowly she bends her head, peers out over
the delicate iron grillwork at the
empty plaza, the fevered flat stones swimming in heat. Her eyes wander
and start to a stillness, as first the
click of boots, then the hazed figure of a caballero reaches her.
He is the only one in the plaza, but she knows he is a real man, brave
and more handsome than her morning
She is too tired to argue.
The heat has weakened
Slowly she drapes the mantilla
across her lips, over her ashen smile.
It is Him, she knows, by an Act of Faith.
Dios mio, what a man!
A white cloud fills my skull. Soon, how long?
I feel something on my temples. The wall opposite me is fluorescent with
sunlight and the window space
even brighter, when I blink. It hurts. The nurse says a few words, which
I don't understand, and I feel her
squeeze my arm, both of which are secured to the bed as my legs are.
I am a little apprehensive as is natural. But it will be over quickly,
before I know it.
Thankfully, I feel numb.
The pain in my chest is a dull thing, and I wonder if there are bandages
beneath my hospital shirt.
Is there a glimpse of white in the space between the buttons? Perhaps
the wound is mortal, at this very
moment edging toward my heart,and the raw flesh cut during an act of morbid
heroism throbs in quiet
pulses of red that stains the sheets and fills the room with a salty odor,
as from a rose floating on brine,
or a knife . . . . .
The problem is my imagination.
I want my brain to be silent. I want my thoughts harmless, the space between
them an abyss in which I will
surmise nothing, where I will rest, free of obsession, finished with this
nervous chase for meaning in a
shadow, in a glance of a bird, or in this limp of this ant crawling on
I want the silence of geometry, the calm of pacing over harmless figures
of no ulterior motive, on concentric
circles, walking round and round.
Peace, at last.
Silent, the nurse puts the electrodes on my temples.
In the next moment the length of my body will mimic a ballistic arc, my
back will be lifted up, with the ankles
and the wrists against the straps; on the tips of the divergent fingers
tiny dots of blue will be burning.
The head will be thrown acutely back, with the lips bloodless against
the teeth. Pellets of sweat will boil from
the hair roots and the eyes of this face will switch up the sockets, into
the instant whiteness.
THE WISH OF PENNY GALES, A PRIVATE EYE
And now the glittering thing - a marquee - frames the name Penny Gales.
Her death is a small item in the papers. It was long ago that she was
the star in silent films but the item
noted she was a true artist, unique in that medium of early giants. The
rare degree of expressiveness
that she wrought through the flat celluloid made the audience feel, in
the theatres were sighs and sobbings
and gasps of wonder all simultaneous and rising on the signals of this
genuine genius of her art.
I get a letter from her lawyer informing me that I have a part in the
apportionment of her Last Will,
which contains an unusual paragraph devoted to me.
Besides the mention of that money that I would receive, Penny herself
spoke out of the page directly to me.
First she said,
my death if not of natural causes is not, could never be suicide,"
and after a description of her life
philosophy with a sketch
of previous travails
that should have been cause
enough to self-destruction
but which urge she did not
succumb to, for she had changed
from the way she was when she was impetuous young when she might have
done it but not now, she continued, assuming that
her death - of the immortal Penny Gales - must be unnatural,
"go anywhere, dear, enjoy yourself, but while you are doing so, be
and find this man or woman who is responsible for not allowing me to
breathe in the air you now enjoy.
Find him, dear Cinnamon, convey to him my disappointment in a manner
he is unlikely to forget.
I am a private detective, I confirmed.
The lawyer nodded and I understood that if I were to carry out Penny's
commission, but only then, was the
money mine. Otherwise the amount would be a token of her affection for
me, plainly, a sweet kiss from my
departed friend from wherever she was, who was paying for vengeance.
The room was empty, I rose from my chair, the lawyer wrote out a preliminary
check, and we shook hands.
I folded the check into a square and as there was nothing else to do,
for this man was a stranger, I quickly
pivoted around and walked out. The door knob, brass or gold, blinded me
with its reduplication of the sun
out of the window.
THE DEATH OF PENNY GALES
Perhaps I should explain the circumstances of Penny's death.
I knew Penny well.
I had lunch with her many times, and dinners, and had been to her house
for elegant parties that were
nevertheless intimate, with guests who it seemed were of some genuine
closeness to her, and I knew
some of her past through her own explanation and through the rumor of
other persons, and of course
what anyone could avail himself of in the medium of print, the sensational
stories, the bitter divorces,
the flings across Europe and the Caribbean; in other words the fearless
extravagance of youth that
anyone must be a saint or pennyless if he did not do it likewise too,
because this thing called time,
this marauder, is on wings and you are gone before anyone knows it, the
least of all you.
And the one morning comes when you expect to see another day and you do
That was it.
You live forever after then in the irrevocable past tense of friends'
memories, which quickly grow dubious.
In her youth she was a fine beauty, indulged in the palaces and atmospheres
of money of the world, when
she was a star, blatant in the severe silence of film.
And in spite of my problems, I loved her, so I felt no choice.
Indeed, I was compelled to do as her Will requested.
But how did she die?
Exotically and boringly, commonly
with no imagination;
the usual of the way celebrities
do it, and also daringly, puzzlingly,
only with the most intelligent effort
was the causative agent
disentangled from the
bloodstream in her flesh; and the common with the bizarre were so thoroughly
stirred and compounded
that of which of the two was the first to do murder was impossible to
figure out, so intimately and so
closely in time apparently were they associated.
What was certain was that both could kill her and most likely both did.
There was the star-killer perennial, that trio that have strutted across
many a night and stage of depression
and unfulfilled yearning, of sex and anguishing fame, the team of barbiturates
and alcohol, some unknown
thrown in; and the imbibers die, roll over, with their icing eyes curving
up into their clammy sockets, staring,
the slurred voice of course on the phone slurring to the defiant lover
the Why did you leave me?
the How could you to me? the Don't you love me?
The phone slipping off her hand the black coil uncoiling with the black
twisted phallic shape slumping past
the sidelong glance of her quickly freezing eyes the lights inside of
which are switching out one by one like
those in a theatre with the last fan's back darkening out of it through
the EXIT door and the last light winks
out. The phone thuds on the lush carpet pile, a soft coagulated sound,
Only Penny was not on the phone, not alone, perhaps not sad I don't know,
her handsome man had
kissed her and they were playing yes; but later I'll come to that. But
she had keeled over exotically too,
by an arcane chemical analyzed, concentrated and found in her liver, a
lucky insight during the autopsy,
the table touching her of cold steel, and no familiar name to the fatal
chemical but the long conjunction
of its constituents, the alpha-gamma-9-dextratromiole-etc. sort of thing,
which granulated her liver as
though in the shock of sudden dead.
No doctor knows it.
Most likely a chemist's dream.
Accurate against life.
But she was found with a smile.
On the silk sheet her slender fingers were reposed in that spiritual grace
and unimprovable elegance
attained only in the marble sculptures and realized intentions of the
maximum artists of the world now
Finally, it seemed she found herself at the end and untied, with no great
thrashing about, the knot of her
tortuous life, which proved she was not alert to her murder, her premature
grave, that she would have
And she was killed twice.
In a hospital in Tijuana, in a cramped room with a bed and nightstand,
the clock ticking, and a nauseous
sweet smell coming out of the viscera of the walls, a smell like candied
cement, I can follow the endless
combinations strung out in time of a finite number of events. Eternity
goes nowhere. I have been watching
out the window for entertainment, at the chipped sidewalk, the fraction
of telephone pole I can see; a dark
cloud must be passing overhead as outside is suddenly in shadow, when
a child in a triangular dress runs
past clutching a bottle with a white cone on top. She is wearing her mother's
high heels and their stumbling
clicks of sound seem to conjure upward the pillows of dust that scatter.
The scene goes empty, now only
of the horizontal lines of the sidewalk and the base of the building upon
it and the vertical line of the
telephone pole; a severe set utterly devoid of color or hint of having
been once in a living world through
which this child may dash,
a girl composed of curves
and volumes softer
than the severest forms
presumptions of geometry;
deep in a gray, burnt shadow, in which time seems to stop, and this atmosphere
invades the room, or perhaps more accurately, infiltrates my brain and
I stare without the slightest movement
at the scene, not even blinking, my elbows dead at my sides, my teeth
barely touching, and the nauseous
smell of the plaster rises in the darkened room; I lie horizontal as though
suspended in the chloroform of a
collector of ambiguous specimens who has placed me in this dusky setting.
Then a pure white throw of a line, broke and instantly disappeared, zigzagged
upon the upright matter of the
telephone pole, with a pure crackle and daze of smoke.
The lightning missed the hospital by the width of the Mexican street that
fills the frame of my window.
I arched my back by force of habit and new beads of sweat joined the old
ones on my brow.
MARTINIQUE & OTHER EYES
But Penny's maid of many years with her was cool as ice that is about
to melt and doesn't, the process being
arrested by an inner temperature that never succumbs below a certain point.
All the doors of the mansion
were open to me, and the secrets, too, by edict because of the terms of
her Will, and I lost no time in visiting
once more the structure of elegance, stone, and memories in which she
had lived in the tree-densed
seclusion of her estate in Beverley Hills, in the precision plots of her
lawns and the gardens of her collections
of flowers from all the earth, the lines and lines of tulips which she
had loved to the destruction in her mind of
every other kind which she nevertheless collected due to an acquiescence
of her will to the abstract
obsession of collecting the best of flora
that she admired with the eye
of a geometrician, for late in life
became her private love
and discovered forte
that approached genius to her own great astonishment.
No windows were broken.
And it would have been impossible undetected, the security systems were
everywhere, an octopus of deep
complexity whose electronic tentacles of sight and sound and even neurotically
sensitive touch twisted
through all the house and grounds, to catch the whispers, the uninvited
sounds, the hidden sights in the
unlikeliest places everywhere, the crooks and crannies here, and there
the stems of roses.
The wrinkled black Martinique confided details, such as television cameras
hidden in the iron gate under
cover of plastic ivy, and throughout the house, and especially, with her
eyes frank and too wise in
indifference, in the bedroom of Miss Penny Gales herself which no one
And the video-tapes, did she tell the police they existed? I ask the old,
yet languid Martinique, who says, No.
And Why not?
They did not ask. Am I supposed to tell them everything, to invent questions
for them that I am to answer? And Martinique whispered a foul word to
Outside in front of the high iron gate and across the wide clean street
there is an old man who stands and
watches for the time that it opens, with a look of devotion in the frank
love and almost religious awe that
changes his face from the long and narrow mask that it was before. He
waits for Penny to appear,
has waited for years, and sometimes she waved at him, then he would stand
immobilized before the figment
of his imagination come true, the epiphany of his suspense, of the time
spent suddenly incarnated in the thin,
bejeweled wrist and the wax and wan
of her wrinkled, and grateful hand.
He smiled an earthless grin.
And, 0, yes, Martinique says, one jewel box is empty that was full and
the other is still full.
I did not snoop in Miss Penny's bedroom and I noticed it just now, yesterday.
A Chinese box, 9 by 8,
inlaid with jade and ivory dragons, was where Miss Penny kept some of
her diamond trinkets, little intricate
measures of gems, twisted into brooches, butterflies, stallions, peacock
earrings, mythological beasts, and
goatish satyr grinning lewd with tiny ruby teeth.
The other box seemed untouched, simply lying across the room from it,
on the white stand with the stills
from her silent films. The taking of the one only, none of the others,
shows a rush to be gone, I surmise.
And did Miss Gales have close friends who visited her? I ask her directly.
Close friends who were liable to her bed and jewelry. Yes, she nodded,
Many in the past.
No, I mean, I say, Who was the last with her?
And she shrugs, because in fact Penny did not call on her often, there
were times when Penny was alone in
the house, when the maid was in her apartment on the first floor, virtually
separated from the house, and then
any visitor that came would be unknown to her.
But, she mentions archly, There is the video-tape.
She stops, importantly silent.
And the recordings.
They are in the Master Control Room
and she shows me where,
adjoining Penny's bedroom in fact.
All's there, but do not ask me,
I know nothing about where things
The knobs and dials - nothing, she shrugs and walks out, being sure to
close the door after her.
I am left alone in the electronics chamber, stared at by dials and groped
at by the tiny switches and levers
that stand rigid and antennae-like out of the black consoles strung around
me in the soundproofed room.
I push a button.
The screen, sliding down out of the spongy ceiling, glitters to life.
Dates, times, and locations, identify the sequences, and I learn the controls
soon enough, the volumes,
the trebles, and the bass. Each room of the mansion is swept by a camera,
and the maid's apartment too
which I am sure Martinique does not know or has long since forgotten her
indignation, then the grounds of
the estate slide past, it seems with every tree scanned and between the
rows of tulips a camera stares down
to record a beetle crawling for hours across or a hummingbird still with
its invisible wings or one of the
brood of Chihuahuas sniffing and sniffing the lens and finally the darkness
of its yapping tongue and then the
blur as the tulips appear again through the gossamer of saliva, particles
of flying earth the dog runs away.
At the front gate there is a sequence of two weeks, of postmen, delivery
trucks and boys, guests for lunch
or dinner, professionals in trim suits and briefcases, a few celebrities
I recognize, but mostly they are faceless
to me, ciphers of the common life, meaning nothing.
But the camera's eye is not still, but scans sometimes sideways and even
up, and down and I realize that
there are 2 perhaps 3 cameras searching.
Vapor trails overhead, traffic in the street.
I remark the old man
across the street
sometimes on a chair with legs crossed, with a sign that says
I Love You.
He seems to be always there, still his features are hard to see because
of the distance. He crossed the street,
it seemed, to touch the ivy that covers the iron gate that is opened electronically
like the door to a bank vault
with a hiss of power. He has a handsome, worked face, with silver gray
hair, his open-throated polo shirt
reveals a sinewy neck; arms with a glinty mat of hair and tapering fingers
that alight delicately on the ivy,
with sure control. Once, he glances directly into the camera and the glittering
screen shows his eyes as two
intense spots that seem indelible. For a moment I consider if they will
ever erode from the screen, if the
projection or the film has the power to remove them, intimidating there,
adamant, like black, black rivets.
The empty living room cuts into view, where the strong afternoon light
shines on the carpet and around the
porcelain gleam of the China vase, on the waxed wood of the table and
reverberates on the white
perpendicularity of the walls like flat milk thrown against the motionless
The black riveting eyes return to me.
In a few minutes I recognize again
the young man
who has already appeared
at the front gate,
opens to him. I see his drive along the mansion's lane. The convertible
is expensive and infuriates the pack of
Chihuahuas that scatter alongside it shrieking nervously, stumbling against
each other's haunches.
They look grotesque in their fury, with their bats' heads and manic movements.
The young man seems annoyed. The lines the ovals of his features integrated
into a tawny Adonis with curls
even and eyes of melted sky twist into a growl of striking vehemence at
the poor imbecile animals that are
breathing in the deadly fumes of the Alfa Romeo. Then he disappeared inside
the house, to reappear in the
next sequence in various rooms as the cameras catch him.
Martinique opens the door, whom he ignores pointedly and strides into
the living room with coarse power
and an arrogance of the streets, while in the background Martinique whispers
a loud, unmotherly curse at
Penny enters from another room with her arms outstretched to hold his
large hands, she is charged with
happiness and she obviously cuddles him in an adoration before which he
struts and stretches his tall manly
frame and proud, smiles at her, for they are captives of each other.
It's a mystery, I think, scratching my chin, because the man's the obvious
gigolo and no matter what, Penny
Gales was just too old for inflaming like that a young man's heart, and
I feel pity, sympathy for her, my old friend.
The price is hidden, when you have the money to buy anything.
Strange, I wonder if she ever herself looked at these tapes in which her
days, her nights were frozen,
each gesture, each word recorded.
The cameras followed them everywhere
in the huge house
except the bedroom,
yet Martinique seemed certain
cameras were there as well.
Later, I asked her the gigolo's name.
Serafino, or Fino, Penny called him, which means Fine. The Best.
I stare at Penny in the screen embedded in darkness, a woman more sophisticated
than anyone could
realize, whose past had touched poverty and wealth, despair and love,
the ego-consuming idiocy of fame
and the frightening glimmer of a touch of genius.
She was like the best of one of her exotic gardens in which flowers of
all kinds thrived and wilted, in surprise
and defiance of their displaced climates under artificial lights that
never slept, in a humidity controlled by
Penny seemed a child at the end of her days, for when she closed that
door with her handsome Serafino
the years and the eternity of her life began to be measured in seconds,
and I noticed an airy lift in the silken
collar of her gown as if ruffled by the pale wind of an intensifying mortality.
The cameras are all placed to be invisible, observing behind special mirrors
or fanlights, behind walls and
ceilings brushed with a paint translucent to reflected light. And there
were one or two that were the eyes of
paintings hung strategically in unobtrusive places the better to capture
moments of intimacy or confidence
between two people who are gossiping or plotting, for the sound recorders
were sisters to the lens and were
everywhere too, in the garden, on the roofs, because Penny loved the sound
In spaces embedded in the walls the electronic gadgetry were correctly
efficient, oiled to perfect muteness,
with their images of sight and sound sent directly on to the tapes in
the banks of Master Control Room
where I sat with my fingers on a switch,
my head angled in meditation,
my eyes flickering with the images
that rushed on and unpeeled
on the screen
from the sparkling blank surface.
And the screen goes abruptly into haze, white, continuous, then the door
to the bedroom again and that is
what remains on the screen for hours. The other camera, the intimate camera
wherever it might be, in the
boudoir mirrors, in an innocent corner, switches on and stares at the
proceedings, through its lenses the
reflections of the colors and shapes, of Penny and Serafino, are rushed
and inverted, mingled in the
spectrums, and metamorphosed into cybernetics, serried numbers in cold
distances, on the metal tape, where their numerologies must somehow embrace,
where their laughter and life are reduced to the
pantomime of robots on the screen thin as atoms.
Penny's bedroom is a box in cream, a bed with a canopy, a great polar
bear imposed on the floor, curtains
and shutters, vases with flowers, crystal sculptures, memorabilia, photographs
of the great, dressers and
mirrors, and a nude in steel of her by Giacometti, she was very young,
reaching for the sunbeam that came
through a circular porthole high in the wall behind the bed the body too
melodramatic and sugary in the style
of Art Deco, 1932.
Despite the effort at elaboration it was in fact a simple room, a homey
retreat whose contours were peaceful without the suffocation of nostalgia.
She could see the tulips in the garden below, in the rows that went on
and on, lines and lines of dots of colors, and a crescent of the vast
grounds, the curves of plane trees along
the various paths, and the one acacia that she loved especially, with
a significance she would never explain
but which you knew in the way she touched it and in the way and dreaming
grace that she had when she
walked in the very density of its cool and aimless shade.
And where I am now the heat
without air-conditioning my room with the window low
on the street on which the sun pours its white shadow is like the core
of the space in an inefficient oven ,
the heat ridiculously concentrated there, so randomly intense.
Oceans of perspiration soak the edge of the sheet that I have thrown off,
lying rumpled on the dust-gray
floor with the top of my pajamas. I am contemplating too flinging my pants
across the room at the door
and lying naked in this hellish bed, let the nurse see me, let the hair
on my chest, the conflagration of my
genitals, subdue her into the astonishment of a religious smile, the young
woman with the eyes of a hag
and fingers of a beggar.
I'll do it, the hell with it.
It's too hot!
And naked, and cool, I can ask myself the better and remember more likely
the questions of murder,
of the past, the personages, and of the far too clear lines of this lucid,
How many deaths have occurred?
The miles I have gone to come to this!
This terminal border town of incendiary dust, where bullfights are evented
on the whims of sailors.
It is into the Ring that I followed him, after having lost him many times
and even given up the search forever,
because, as it is said in many countries, many languages, Life becomes
short and you must use it or begin
to die very seriously.
I found him of course by accident, in this miserable place in an alley
full of holes in the earth and mice
squeaking over the dust
with their snouts in filth,
called El Minchorro
which I learned later was Gypsy
a disgusting peeling thing
discolored with ash,
the cheap paint of burnt umber as if vomited on it and its cockroaches,
worse than a brothel.
And there at the bar, in leather and silver string he is standing, laughing,
his curls spinning oblivious of crime,
as if life were good only for one thing.
And the Mexican moon, full and romantic like pleasure dipped in gold,
or like a disc-shaped creature of the
sea suddenly aflight by one of those miracles that peasants all about
the world readily believe, is hanging high
over the smoky-smelling hills of poor Tijuana, where the hovels seem to
pant in the darkness in putrefying
embrace, of crackled plaster, of discarded wood boards, of grimy linoleum.
He turned around (a friend had just come kissed his earlobe) and saw me,
as if I were the reason that he
turned around, while I glanced over the room to seal off any means of
The room is like a box, a curtain here and there, and red lights, but
for all the dilapidation there is an
elegance about the scene, like a glimpse into Hell with all the devils'
profiles burnished, unearthly handsome
in the flames and in the jukebox music of faded love and giggles.
I see no other door but the one through which I entered, and nobody notices
but him that I am in love with
no one there, and in that ludicrous moment his jaw tenses, his moist eyes
long for jealousy,
the last unbuyable emotion before death, for it is for him that I have
come and strange justice.
The clock among the bottles of tequila or mesquite, and loose American
cigarettes, says 10:30.
THE OLD FAN
And every morning he is there
across the wide avenue in front
of the gate, where he has proven
so the other residents in mutual
amusement have restricted their complaints.
The police no longer came. Sometimes, he appeared in the mornings with
a small card table and a chair
and cardboards with a box of crayons or spray paints, to make up amusing
various signs during the day,
till twilight or before when he would disappear.
Nobody knew where he went then and, really, no one wondered much.
He was just a character, fortunately for everyone an amusing one, apparently
The old fellow was kind, said Hello, Good Morning, and bowed like a gentleman
from another era,
which he was, with his silver hair and silent-screen good looks, always
The vagrancy charge could never stick, when they had tried it, because
he always had money, at least
one $100 crisp new bill in his pant pocket and silver change, and a driver's
He parked his car around the corner, under the big maple tree.
They remembered him to be a most polite man with the smile of a priest.
And he liked bright colors, mauve pants especially, and a hairy old chest
still retaining the distinct lines
of the pectoral muscles.
The Old Fan, and Martinique, Penny's faithful maid, sometimes spoke to
him, a few polite words really
with the important thing being the friendly smile, and a few times she
even sent him something to drink,
an iced lemonade she makes herself, when it is really sweltering hot.
Too old for me though, she winks at me, I likes them young.
And his sign reads
I LOVE YOU, FOREVER.
No one remembers when he first started appearing across the wide street
in front of the gate hidden
behind the ivy. Already, in my mind, I see a pool of blood and yet it
is impossible because I am sure he could never enter the grounds undetected
nor find himself within the very bedroom or silken sheets of his idol,
without a dozen alarms going off, dogs showing their teeth, the police
rushing to, and every sound of
his steps and happy beat of heart recorded forever.
His capture takes no time.
So it could not happen and something must have, because Penny is dead.
Yet she had been lucky to be alive, from the confidence she had given
me of her past and from what
Martinique told me in reticencies, off and on, first phlegmatically and
slow, then with a liking for me
that matured, faster and the past then of Gales came back in a sheet of
images and sound with no amplitude
no frequency, the voice of the past.
Martinique touched her lace collar with a crooked finger daintily, her
lips pursed and very carefully
she speaks, because she wants to let you know she is only telling the
truth as she saw it with no malice,
only with the eyes of an employee and friend of a kind, she hopes because
Penny was good to her indeed
and she only had good memories of that good woman, bless her soul now,
and Martinique's eyes became
lost, becomes pale, as the sand in the full hourglass trembles and one-by-one
the grain lifts upward through
the narrow neck of the present
and into the past of that yesterday
in the garden, was it 20 years ago?
Oh my, oh my.
She never knew I saw her.
I was cleaning the windows on the third floor, the side of the house facing
her favorite garden,
when I saw her there between the acacia tree and the plane of tulips.
That wasn't unusual of course
because she loved those flowers. She'd gotten them herself from Venice
from a holiday there
and she always took time in the day to admire them.
I kept on cleaning the window, watching her on and off.
She was a beautiful woman, you know.
She always had that, up to the end. She had the eyes of a baby.
And then I saw her raise her hand to her head, there was something shiny
in it and I squinted real hard
to see it was a gun, Miss Penny's gold-plated revolver. She held it on
her forehead, she was standing
so still, her left arm straight down her side, and the barrel of it right
Like a statue she looks like, but it happened so fast really.
I screamed and I think I hit the glass of the window. I thought I heard
the sound, you know, the gun go off,
and I saw Miss Penny slump against the tree with her left arm, rubbery,
weak, and the gun dropped down
with her hand and her head, her chin sagged to her chest.
But she was alive, I could tell that.
Then she looked up and I could see, she took a deep breath.
She is leaning against the tree
all this time and she gets up
and walks very slowly
back to the house,
with the gun still in her hand,
like she has forgotten it.
She didn't seem to want to leave the garden. She takes a long time coming
back and I watched the whole
time. I don't know what really happened. I couldn't ask her of course.
I don't know whether she pulled the
trigger, so the gun misfired, or she changed her mind the last second.
But after that time she was a changed woman.
I guess Miss Penny decided something out there in the garden.
I will tell you with no doubt that she was a happy woman and she was a
lucky woman to come to that.
I try to imagine it as Martinique speaks:
Penny is 53, with a puff of wind that stirs the leaves above her head.
The gold glint strikes my eye.
The maid screams, which I do not hear because I am below on the path lined
with maple trees
from where I see the tulips and the lonely figure of the aging star.
She turns once, I see her face small in the distance under a haze of quickening
The bullet enters her brain in a clean hole the size of a dime, spins
through the billion neurons of her life,
rips memories around, twists them over each other, confuses the logic
of their sequence, forces disparate
pieces to join, so that the end comes at the beginning and the middle
blows out into space, and
- the silence comes violently.
The white silence.
But this never happened.
The bullet never left the chamber.
The trigger tensed backwards,
the hammer cocked,
the chamber clicked in place, the squeeze ended, eternity waits, but the
hammer plated in gold, shadowed
and glinting in the acacia-flavored sunlight, becomes motionless, freezes,
refuses the waiting bullet.
The imbecile flow of time continues.
Her skin against which the barrel end of the revolver lies is cold and
in spite of her tan, for she lies
by the pool side for hours amid the violets of the fringing landscape,
the skin is pale; a wisp of a strand
of her blondness unknots in the breeze and twists helplessly.
After she pulls the trigger, the skin is damp, suddenly flushed.
I I knew her very well and I know that she found pleasure in life, getting
old as she was, she had told me,
now indeed that she had accepted more profoundly than ever before the
fact of her mortality.
When you are young you think you will live forever and it is hard to understand
that your perfectly healthy
body will not last the irrevocable march of the hours that become days
and then so quickly centuries;
that for you too there will be a morning when the sun does not climb;
a last night when as you close your
eyes and stir into rest with a flutter, a voluptuous ease of sweet life,
you slip into the stream of the never
ending inhalation of eternity.
Does your life pass before your eyes?
Certainly, there is time for that.