A Serial Novel

A literary experiment in judicial philosophy and historical fiction, inter alia.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Chapter 11: Desperate Love

It was no secret that Jean-Pierre Perrin loved Floris van Graff desperately. It was almost equally well-known that she loved him quite a bit, but decidedly not desperately. In fact (as nearly everyone know) she openly linked her many (widely-publicized) affairs to her love for him, even though (as nearly everyone in Amsterdam had already heard) she flatly refused to go to bed with him.
Why? Because he was a poet. “A true poet, the truest of our generation,” she said. “And you have many more songs to sing.” A happy, uxorious poet is, of course, a contradiction in terms.
And sing he did, frequently and desperately, most often when somebody stood him a drink, which was more often than not. He was impoverished, but was an intimate of many of the wealthiest of his fellow countrymen who had temporarily decamped in the Low Countries. He was: 1) funny, 2) good at cards, (but not so good you didn’t have a chance of winning some of your money back), and, most importantly 3) contagiously lucky with the ladies. He was a hit with the women of Amsterdam because he was: 1) gorgeous, 2) a poet, and 3) openly, and desperately, in love with someone else.
Andre and Just and all the rest had each separately spent more money on Jean-Pierre’s food, lodging, drinks, clothing, and gaming debts than Jean-Pierre’s humble parents had probably ever seen in their lives. But this didn’t stop him from complaining bitterly at them for their perfidy. How could each of them (separately) have been such a shameless, faithless friend as to let themselves succumb to the wiles of that cunt Floris, when they knew Jean-Pierre loved her bitterly.
For their part, they were happy to stoke his flames, loudly admiring her to each other.
“What an artist she is with her hands, when she --”
“How could you have noticed what her hands were doing when those tits –“
“An excellent point. But she has a way of making every moment last.”
“Why, I remember, it must have taken her an hour just to remove her petticoats.”
“You think that you’re about to see her bottom.”
“Her luscious, delicious bottom.”
“As round and as big as the moon –“
“Hey, J.P. you could use that line in one of your poems.”
“But back to her hands.”
“Her hands alone deserve an alexandrine.”
“Oh what and alexandrine you could write, J.P. if only you knew the pleasure of her hands.”
“Her tits.”
“Her luscious lips.”
“Her playful lips.”
“With you, did she …?”
“Did she ever …?”
“Ah, J.P, if only you knew.”
It’s obvious then, why J.P. could be found, on the same night that Just and Andre were trying their little ruse, staggering under the weight of an intoxication deeper than the beer and the gin, with a manuscript that (if it weren’t so muddy) you could see began, “What an alexandrine I would write you if only I knew the pleasure of your hands.”
This was his latest ruse. He was writing hypothetical poems, as he called them, detailing how much greater his poetry would be if only she would sleep with him. But Floris de Graff had taste, and knew better. This last poem, he’d left on her doorstep, and it wasn’t half an hour later before her courier had brought it back to his quarters. “But what pleasure could I take,” her note rhetorically asked, “in that which is not to my liking?”
“Reject me if you like, madam, but not my poetry!”
When he ended his narrative-cum-diatribe, quatrains of bitterness and self-deprecation delivered in gasps between bouts of drinking, with this theatrical flourish, his friends egged him on further.
“No, not your poetry.”
“She doesn’t deserve a noble soul like you.”
“That’s what I’ve told you about her before, refined in appearance, but all coarseness beneath.”
“Coarseness is right.”
“But enough praise of her indisputable ferocity, gentlemen. Back to our dear Jean-Pierre.”
A few of his friends recognized that his desperate love was somewhat more desperate than usual, and somewhat less loving, and they tried to rein him in. It was Andre, though, who generally tried to keep Jean-Pierre in check, and it was Just who more often than not succeeded. Just didn’t often say much to either provoke or restrain Jean-Pierre. In this he was different than his other friends, but his quiet self-regard was like “truth’s cold check on beauty,” as Jean-Pierre had once put it in a poem dedicated to Justice. Justice had shrugged.
“It’s not truth that motivates me,” he said. “I simply reason that my words can have little effect on your passions, which move your soul so greatly. And so I wait to see which of your passions will move you.”
“That’s just what I mean Justice. Truth is one silent, cold bitch. And that’s just what I need.”
This little aside is, however, beside the point because neither Andre nor Justice was present that night. They were conspiring together, one on his way to a bed that the other is already beneath, in a room just a short carriage-ride from the residence of Floris de Graf.
It wasn’t long before Jean-Pierre was stumbling his way to that desperate vicinity. If Floris would not be convinced by the nobility of his soul, the only remaining ruse was to bear his abjection to her, to show her how desperate he really was, and how little beauty remained in that desperation. So he crept, surprisingly quietly for a man who had had such much to drink, up to her house and began (with an amazing adroitness) to climb up to the window where he knew her boudoir to be, considering as he climbed whether he ought to hope or fear that he would find her with another man at the moment when she would be forced to see the straits through which she had driven his soul.
That was when he saw three veiled and robed, but obviously feminine, shapes leave the house and get into a carriage. One of the women had the tall, full body of Floris de Graff, the other was equally tall, but willowy. The last was short, and quite a bit slimmer. If it weren’t so late, Jean-Pierre would assume it was a child. They were talking, it seemed to him. He could tell by the way their hands moved that it was an animated conversation. They were no doubt talking about how excited they were to be going to some masquerade. Jean-Pierre could almost see Floris’ smile behind the veil, her excitement at being with a man not as far beneath her as Jean-Pierre.
“That whore!” He swore, and jump back to the ground. Shaking the city grime from him clothes, he ran after the carriage as quickly as he could.
Fortunately, they didn’t go far. The three got out once again and walked into a modest building, nowhere near the grand residence he’d been anticipating. He watched and waited. Not five minutes later, he saw his perfidious friend, Justice knock at the door, and put a mask up to his face right before the door opened.
“That fine ass!” He yelled, a bit too loudly. Justice turned around and would have seen him if he hadn’t still had enough presence of mine to shrink back around the corner.
So, there he was climbing to yet another window. On the first story, he peered in the window and saw nothing but a sleeping figure. It took him a much longer while to get up to the second story window, because by then he was sober enough to realize what an idiot he was being and so his movement became slower and more self-conscious.
He felt the buzz of the night. It was warm but late enough that the only sounds on the street were the low groans of his exertion. These groans escaped his mouth involuntarily, but the words of song hummed back from them. It was a harsh, unconsoling song: it told him there would never be anything more than this singing. It was in this state that he finally reached the second story window.
The room exuded exotic sexuality, the sort of decadence that Jean-Pierre’s parents had warned him to avoid and that had been one of his primary motives for ingratiating himself with low-lives that society had had the gall to call his betters. There was a screen that divided the room. Floris must have been on the other side of that screen, because Jean-Pierre didn’t see her in the room, but the other two women were there. Just was just sitting up from bed. What was much more unusual was how he wasn’t even looking at the woman who was in that part of the room with him, the willowy one. Jean-Pierre could see that her hair was black, and combed back straight and simple, not at all what you’d think for a party, or rendezvous or tryst or whatever he’d stumbled upon (old assumptions die hard; he still hadn’t connected this with the adventures his friends had all been abuzz about).
They (Justice and the woman both) were looking at the floor, where another man (this would have to be Andre, which explains both his and Justice’s absence) was pulling himself out from under the bed. The third woman, and she wasn’t wearing her veil anymore so Jean-Pierre could now see that he was right, she couldn’t be more than thirteen or fourteen years old, stood in the corner. She had piles of unkempt, thick black hair. She was pressed flat up against the wall, and Jean-Pierre realized that the other people in the room probably couldn’t see her. His eyes briefly met hers. But she didn’t say a word. Jean-Pierre turned himself back to the other figures. Justice was helping Andre out from under the bed.
“What in the hell are you doing, you bastard?” Andre demanded (this struck Jean-Pierre as a little odd --- who, exactly, was it who was under the bed?) “I’d just about worked it out.”
“The point is moot,” said Justice. “I think our game is over. And so is yours, Celimene.”
He rose from the bed and snatched the veil from the woman’s face.
She was beautiful. The white veil had concealed her darkness. Her large, dark almond eyes. Her sun-browned cheeks. Her exquisite neck, a thin thread in the small light of the room. Andre was right. Why was Just being such an ass?
A large man came rushing into the room and grabbed both Justice and Andre, but the woman ordered him off. All three went behind the screen. He stood there for a few minutes more, until he realized that the girl, who he had quite forgotten was still staring at him. When their eyes met again, she put her fingers to her lips and herself walked quietly, stealthily behind the screen.
Jean-Pierre hurried down as fast as he could. He ran home, hoping the girl hadn’t called the large man or any other guards on him.
As tired as he was he stayed up even later that night, writing two more poems. The first, an invective in the style of Catullus, he titled “The Blond Moon is a Worthless Bitch.” The second which he judged to be his most beautiful lyric to date, he titled simply “My Dark Angel.”


Blogger Art said...

Now you've done it.

I write that, most unfairly, because in fact I want to do it. You know. What I always do when I'm in the middle of a story, novel, screenplay, syndicated show. Continue writing the same story, but give everyone different names, different accoutrements. "If the characters are real to life, everyone will recognize them! No problem."

"But why change them then, Art? God, doesn't play dice with the universe, and the network doesn't play with the audience."

Why? Who knows why. "Because it's funny," I'd say. "The characters can take it. Why shouldn't the audience?"

I've been heading down that dark path for months now. I keep fantasizing conversations for our story:

Jake, the young man with pouches under his eyes, holding his hand over a bong to keep the smoke inside: That's some good shit, you've got there Dolores, but you know you're too young.

Dolores: But it's mine! I earned it.

Irene, the statuesque blonde: Let her have it, Jake. You weren't using it.

Jake: I don't know your name.

Irene: It's not important. (to Dolores) Your eyes are rolling away again. Where are they going?

Dolores: To the eternal land. That's what we're looking for right?

Gina: Is that the one where everyone is old or young?

Dolores: It's the place that has the ringer to the bell that will wake my ex-husband.

C.J. (falling out of the closet he has locked himself inside): Husband? But your husband never could play the bells like I can. (to Dolores) I've written a song, but it requires four hands. Irene refuses to help. She says I should learn to use my feet.

Jake: Irene's perfectly right.


But I've stopped myself because the characters belong to you too.
And now you've gone and written about a man--somewhat, but not completely like the constantly pining for love Just.

I couldn't not take that story up, you know. Viva the second round of protagonists!

11:21 PM  

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