The Chinese Spice Box

       Peter Wilentz was spending Thursday evening at a party with his fellow accountants.  To be precise, he spent thursday evening with his  friends in a hot tub, fully clothed, and with Montserrat pumping bad perfume into the air.  His host tactfully hinted that clothes were not a necessity in a hot tub, that they might even be optional, and  that they certainly were not fashionable.

      "Of course it's not fashionable.  If we wanted to be fashionable we  wouldn't be accountants."

      "But you're soaking wet.  You'll get pneumonia."

      "Nonsense.  I've already gotten it by sitting fully clothed in a hot  tub, so I can't get it twice.  The worst thing that would happen is if I  came down with a cold, and I have no objection to receiving all the colds  the world can offer.  But don't mind me, go right ahead with your decadent  and sensuous lifestyle and simply pretend I'm not here.  You could have even  sex with that rather stupid woman sitting beside you.  I wouldn't notice,  though Montserrat will be filling the air with tortoise cologne to make sure  I don't have to notice."

      "This woman is my wife!"

      "Oh dear, don't tell me you're one of those liberals who think that  just because you're married you can have sex.  Not that I, as a devout Jew,  have anything against marital sex.  Quite the contrary:  no religion  recognizes and places the proper highest value on marital sex as Judaism.   No other religion treats the subject with the maturity and profundity the  subject deserves.  No other religion gives the female orgasm with the proper  respect, especially Islam.  All of Judaism treats marital sex as a positive  good, in complete contrast to the life-denying dogmas of other faiths.  But  there is a distinction between valuing sex and actually engaging in it.   Particularly on the part of people who have never considered the subtle,  complex philosophical ramifications, and in fact show an alarming  shallowness about the subject.  Certainly people like you, who incessantly  talk about their feelings, smoke illegal narcotics from time to time,  actually like E.L. Doctorow and Graham Greene, and would never cover Alger  Hiss with excrement even if you had a perfectly good opportunity to do so.   And you're so obvious about the Song of Songs.  But as I said, don't mind me  at all.  I will simply sit here and read elegant and thought provoking  articles in Commentary.  I will read profound articles about the great  problems in civilization and the need to confront the growing decadence.   And you, in your turn, can contribute to that decadence all you want."


      That same thursday evening Ignatius Wilentz was at a meeting and was  conducting an exam to Mary Lightfeathers via cellular phone.  "Talmudic  exegesis.  Question One.  Offer thirty-seven reasons why lizard-flambé can be served for dinner."

      "But it can't be.  The Torah specifically forbids it."

      "No, Miss Sarahson, that is a reason against serving it.  The aim of  the exercise is to provide thirty-seven reasons for serving it.  Please try  again, Miss Sarahson."


      At the same time Ms. Roda Ellen Van P--- was having a conversation  with the official from the Thai embassy.  To be precise she was chatting  with him as he hung upside down, outside the apartment window, and she was  chatting with him with a large machete in her hand.  If it seems odd that we  have not mentioned Ms. Roda Ellen Van P--- for the fast few chapters,  perhaps it would be wise to reveal that in fact we have seen her several  times as the Master of the Marthas, the Master and the Margarita, Martha and  the Muffins, and have some Madeira, my dear.  As part of her  responsibilities she planted marigolds in her carpet and subjected them to a  special saline solution in order to make the crucial element of mermaid  soap.  It was she, along with her Thai maid, who had appeared before Vanessa  and Elizabeth six days earlier as part of the Flannery O'Connor Brigade and  it was she who had planted a bugged copy of George Bernanos's Diary of A  Country Priest.  Because of the bug Ms. Roda Ellen Van P--- now knew that  Elizabeth Concrete had just gotten married to Charles Harding, a development  that she found very disturbing.

      But it was not Elizabeth that bothered Ms. Roda Ellen Van P--- at this  moment.  It was the continued attraction between her maid and the Thai  embassy official.  As Ms van P--- leaned down to talk to the dangling man  she asked "Have you ever heard of the story of Jezebel?"

      "Uh, no I haven't."

      "Well Jezebel was an evil queen of Israel, responsible for the murders  of many of God's prophets.  So at last God appointed a general to seize  power.  Jehu, the general, assassinated Jezebel's son, the present king and he and his followers raced to Samaria  where they saw the haughty queen standing by a high window, not unlike the  way I am standing right now.  And as Jezebel was leaning over the window sill, the servants who were inside, much  like my maid is currently inside tending to the marigolds, all got together  and pushed her out the window to her death, where the dogs ate her up.  And do you know why I am telling you  this?"


      "I'm telling you this because there's no way on earth this could ever  happen to me.  What I am more concerned about is your secret conversation  with my maid where you said that she should dump 'this crazy woman' and go off and elope with you."

      "Oh did I say that?"

      "You certainly did.  My maid's lingerie is wiretapped, so I could hear  you very clearly."

      "Well I must have been joking.  But is it wrong to want to make her a  honest woman?"

      "She's already an honest woman."

      "Then she can make me an honest man."

      "I don't see why that's necessary.  Personally I think that hanging  you upside-down twenty-two feet above the ground where you would surely  break your neck if I cut this rope with this machete would you make a model of veracity.  In fact I'm sure of it, I've  done tests.  But you seem to misunderstand the nature of my mermaid soap.   Once it is mass-produced it shall make sexuality complete irrelevant.   Hundreds of millions of woman shall be liberated from the voracious demands  of their husbands.   When I first met my maid she was working as a waitress  in one of the more tactful brothels in Bangkok.  She was a young girl then,  too nervous and emaciated to make a good prostitute, but she was gaining  confidence and weight at such a rate that her entry into the profession was  inevitable.  But when I met her I thought she would make the perfect servile  companion, and so I spoke to her in perfect Thai (an advantage you  understand of only sleeping six hours a night since the age of twelve) and  she agreed to follow me.  I have since taught her how to polish the silver,  how to handle hydrochloric acid without maiming herself, and how to speak  English (as well as French, just in case my father calls.)  So naturally I  have no wish to throw this all away just so that you could have your way  with her and then simply abandon her."

      "I can't believe you're a citizen of Thailand."

      "My dear embassy official, I'm as much a citizen of the Thai republic  as you are."

      "Thailand's a monarchy."

      "Yes, it is, isn't it.  How unfortunate."  And she gave a huge hack at  the rope with her machete.

      "Kindly don't scream.  It will wear out your vocal cords and will not  bring you any assistance.  So you simply must understand that if you touch a  pubic hair with your head I will simply have no choice but to kill you."

      It was not easy for the embassy official to form an argument with all  his blood rushing to his head, but "Aren't you being ungrateful?  After all  the work I've done to make sure that your landlord doesn't get his hands on your maid."

      "I don't see why I should be.  You only want her for yourself."

      "Perhaps she wants me for herself."  But then Miss Van P--- gave  another hack at the rope, and he promptly backtracked.   "ThoughIcouldbeverymuchmistaken!"

      Miss Van P--- smiled.  "It would appear that you've learned your  lesson."

      "So are you going to untie me and let me down from here?"

      "No, of course not.  That would be too extreme.  I think I shall let  you remain there for a few more hours.  I have some work to do, and I simply  can't let myself be disturbed."  And she closed the window and went back to  her desk.


      The revelations had returned to Vivian Chelmnickon in the aftermath of  Dr. Roget's visit.  In his mind there were images of an angel flying over  the roofs of Ottawa, a tax auditor being audited, and the shining image of a  noose.


      Adrian Verrall had, since his return from Medicine Hat, tried to  seduce three more girls.  The black eye he received made him unable to cook  dinner so the bouncing blue ball had made him some eggs.  Since the ball didn't have a mouth, it was not surprising that  it was not very interested in making sure the eggs tasted good.  So the  result was a most unappetizing mulch which was, however, very high in  protein and low in cholesterol.  Lucian Rudman was at her home reading her  textbooks and wondering whether you could arrange a "Whodunit Mystery  Weekend" with 371 people.  She thought about comets and wondered where you  could use them to create an interplanetary train system.  She was slightly  disturbed to hear strange sounds outside her apartment but she learned to ignore them.  Absent mindedly she used the latest  petition of Aquilla Rogers to have Miss Van P--- expelled from Chattenden  Passey to sketch a few preliminary drawings.


      At about eight o'clock that evening Genet Vovelle made a telephone  call from Senegal in order to speak to his eldest daughter.  "Hello,  father." said Pandora Vovelle.  "How are you feeling today?  It must be very  early in the morning."

      "It is, but my measles makes it very difficult to sleep.  I mean I had  just overcome my third outbreak of chicken pox when I came down with the  measles."

      "You realize father this is punishment for your sins.  I know that  sounds disrespectful and deliberately rude, but that's because it's meant to  be.  From what I've learned the mother of your new child is younger than  either of us.  What is the name of our new sibling?"

      "Your baby brother is named after his father.  He's a rather  intelligent baby though he's only a few weeks old, and I personally think  he's very attractive."

      "No doubt he is.  I myself can't wait to see a photograph of him, so  you must send us one as quickly as possible.  Well I'm actually fairly busy  so I can only hope that you keep suffering horribly for your adultery.  Have  you ever undergone mumps?"

      "No, I haven't."

      "Well, you soon will.  Goodbye father."


      "Yes, father?"

      "I know you'll always side with your mother.  She was always with you  as a child, and even now in New Brunswick she gives you your strength.   There is something, however, that I have to tell you.  There is one thing  that you don't realize..."

       But Pandora then hung up on her father.


      Constantine Rudman was sitting on his couch, thinking about Vivian  Chelmnickon, or rather lolling on his couch brooding about Vivian  Chelmnickon.  He could not think about his homework, or about his essays or even about the grove of thorns.  Only Chelmnickon, only  how he whimpered whenever he remembered their meetings, only how he always  made a fool of himself whenever he appeared to him, only how he always raved against Chelmnickon behind his  back, only how he would sneak a peak at Chelmnickon's works and give  vicious, unfair summaries of them.

      And what about that piece in The Times literary Supplement?  How dare  that bold fashionable pipsqueak say that the European left was pro-Brezhnev?    Not that he gave any evidence, but of course bold courageous people don't need to give such pedestrian things as  facts or evidence or even logic when sneering at the left.  All those sleazy  bastards.  How they claim how Reagan brought down the Soviet Union, and how they sneer at those who had  reservations, not that they're ever named or confronted, no, just an  anonymous leftist orthodoxy rampaging through the universities.  If you say you support Reagan and foreign policy, you're not  just supporting Solidarity.  To say that he had a "good" foreign policy, you  have to support his "constructive engagement" with Botha, and his support of  the tribal hack Buthelezi while piously denouncing tribalism and racism.   And consider old Iraq, how we couldn't compromise on its annexation of  Kuwait, but we let Botha and Malan hold on to Namibia for eight years, to  get the Cubans out, and what about UNITA, who cried and shit their pants and  slit others throats when they lost, and who had the support of Botha,  Mobuto, Deng Xiaoping, and all free democrats of the world?  And what about  the support for Mobuto in Zaire, allowing him and the fucking Belgian royals  to rape his country dry, and what about Reagan's euphemisms for the Liberian  generals, and allowing Morocco to swallow up the Spanish Sahara, and backing  the warlords in Somalia?  And what about his support for the IMF, forcing  austerity on Algeria and forcing down living standards so that only Islamic  fanatics could resist?  And what about the Palestinians, and Reagan's  acquiescence in the invasion of Lebanon, and his support for the Maronite  thugs of Sabra and Shatila?  And what about his policy on Iran and Iraq,  leaving aside "October Surprise" and Bank of International Credit and  Commerce, we fund both sides and let them bleed their own countries to death  while we sonorously prattle on how fanatical Muslims are?  And we forget  that it was Iraq who shot the U.S. Stark and what about the USS Vincennes,  five years after our very useful condemnation of KAL OO7, which is also full  of holes?  And what about Pakistan; how we tried to end dictatorship in  Afghanistan by propping up despotism in Pakistan?  And how we played footsie  with Marcos and the South Korean bureaucrats.  And how we crippled the  Vietnamese; you can say what you like about the party, but its not fair, not  honorable, what we did to them.  In order to have the embargo removed, the  Vietnamese must do two things.  First, they must withdraw from Cambodia,  after having removed the bloodiest of Stalinist dictatorships, whom when it  was in power the Republicans, and the neo-cons, and the Encounterists used  to vindicate their atrocities in the Vietnam War, but when it was out of  power they all made sure that it kept its seat in the UN, and gave it all  the money it wanted to fight the Vietnamese, while pretending that some  puff-piece liberal was really in charge.  Second, the Vietnamese must give  explanations for 2,500 missing Americans, half of whom Reagan knew, or  should have known, were dead anyway, and consider that the missing rate is  the lowest for any American war fought this century, and consider there  isn't a shred of evidence that a single man might be alive, but there's been  a nice industry of hoax-mongers and mercenaries who pretend there is, and  consider all the soldiers in the first place, how the neo-cons, and  neo-liberals and Neutered Republic, shouted how cruel the left was to the  returning soldiers, how they sneered at the college education of the  protestors, how they extolled the noble working-class origins of the  soldiers, how they sobbed at how unappreciated they were in decadent  America, and how they deliberately let them die horrible painful expensive  deaths and forged studies because they would rather let the soldiers die in  agony than make the dioxin companies pay a single cent for Agent Orange.   And there's the agreement with Indonesia to let them butcher East Timor, and  the brothels in Thailand.  And there's the billions spent on useless nuclear  weapons which could have been used to wipe out poverty, wipe out illiteracy.    And there's the blood purge in Latin America, and how Nixon saw democracy  die in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay and didn't care, and how they  whitewashed Videla, and how in Brazil they choose one corrupt capitalist  crony after another each time saying that this one would be nice and decent  and efficient and they wouldn't at all be like those corrupt predecessors,  and each one was more corrupt and incompetent than before.  And there were  the massacres in Guatemala, in El Salvador, and after not giving a shit  about Somoza when he was in power, no after praising Somoza when he was in  power, they found the Sandinistas and their free elections too dictatorial  and they sent drug-dealing rapists to slaughter and bleed the country.  And  they did all of this in your name, Vivian Chelmnickon.  All of this was done  on your behalf Vivian Chelmnickon, the reason that you are free not to  return to your country was because they raped and massacred uncounted  thousands of innocent people who hadn't done you a bit of harm.  And why  not?  Because they're only half-caste whores who deserve to have their cunts  slashed and their breasts cut off, they're cultureless holes and they don't  know anything and they'll never possess your inimitable pedigree of  suffering.  And what about CyprusCyprus partitioned thanks to Nixon's and  Kissinger's schemes with Greek dictators and Turkish authoritarians.  Now  Reagan gave a Turkish dictatorship carte blanche.  But that's not the worse  of it.  You could expect the Republican party to support any NATO  dictatorship, it's like puppy love, or son of a bitch love, but what about  us?  Here we've spend thirty years guarding Cyprus and we haven't done  anything to make sure the Greek majority get the land which the Turkish army  illegally expelled them from.  No we just prattle on about how  "internationalist" we are, how "peace-keeping" we are, how we "keep the two  sides apart", but we wouldn't ever do anything to help, oh no, we'd never  use our influence to pressure the United States and Turkey to do the right  thing.  And it's not just the sycophantic tories who don't do anything.  The  liberals didn't do anything while they were in power and what about the New  Democratic Party?  And it's the same thing in Bosnia.  We're supposed to be  the internationalist ones, but we don't give a damn,, don't do anything,  don't ever think of anything beyond our "fashionable" confines, don't ever  help the socialists in Cyprus, just do fashionable prattle, mindless  thinking, no critical rigidity, nobody cares, nobody knows, nobody ever  knows how to think in the party.

      Constantine stopped.  Much of this was hardly fair, though the stuff  on the NDP was right on the money.  After all it wasn't as if Vivian  Chelmnickon had actually supported any of these actions.  And was it his job  for him to do so?  He had his own dictatorship to fight.  (But was that just  an evasion, treating eastern european dissidents the way fashionable  hard-hearted pragmatic liberals claim wishy-washy sentimental liberals treat  black and third-worlders:  allowing them to indulge their sentimentality and  their vindictiveness and letting them go on in a muddled way, and give  facile solutions to intractable problems?  Or was this too an evasion?)  And  wasn't it wrong to criticize his views on Israel?  After all, can Poland  truly have too few Zionists?  And wasn't all this in bad faith, ignoring and  denigrating Chelmnickon's suffering, while he lived a comfortable and  fatuous life in this most comfortable and fatuous of countries?  And who are  you, living in one of the world's wealthiest countries, to criticize the  consumerism of the new Eastern Europe?  It raises expectations that can't be  filled, and it could lead to disaster, but it's not for you to criticize.   And you haven't even bothered to read The History and Limitations of  Hegelian Analysis?  Who are you to say anything at all, you, filled to the  brim with "intolerable" and "excruciating" guilt, but who hasn't changed  your life one iota?

      The smells again, the stinks again, I must suffer them all again, must  suffer them even though I do not experience them.  Must realize again and  again the pettiness of our humanity.  "Man's a rotter, and his critics even  more so."  What we need is misanthropy with a human face, not liberalism  with a human facade, no more iron fists in velvet revolution gloves.  I  don't understand love, I've never experienced it, I can't imagine it.   That's not it, I can only imagine it, for I've never seen anyone like it.   My parents didn't love each other, and I didn't even love them, but of  course that's so obvious.  You create an abstraction and you giddily search  for flaws to show it couldn't possible exist.  But it doesn't exist, it's  just a euphemism for lust and sexual bad faith, covered over with social  mores and economic coercion.  Are men more likely to beat their wives when  they're pregnant?  Or maybe that's just another media rumour that we'll soon  all forget we ever thought.  And isn't it all biological, or moderately  biological enough whatever the fashionable euphemisms the biological  determinists have?  Women are unequal because biologists say they're unequal  so any equality is impossible.  Or they're morally superior, like the  psychologists say, and men are such weak-willed fools any equality is  impossible.  Or both sexes are equal, but they're such wretched people that  only philosophers far away from women, like Nietzsche, are any good.  I'm  supposed to be a socialist, but I'd prefer any truth from on high, even if  it was only that everyone are rats and they should be ground to power in the  generators of my Maclaurin series.  Why do I have to live in a world of  flesh when We can live in a world of lead?  Of course, it's so obvious, it  takes so much courage, so much bravery.  It's not our fault that people live  in poverty and sickness and disease in the midst of our wealthy society,  it's their fault.  It's not our fault that despite our repeated  interventions and our callous racism and our greed that Latin America is a  continent of poor, unstable pseudo-democracies, it's their fault.  It's not  our fault that because we refuse to arrange decent universal prenatal care  and refuse maternity leave, paid or unpaid, and because we refuse to give  care to poor women who can't pay, that many of these women give birth to  poor babies who live in rotten surroundings; no, it's their fault.  No, it's  not our fault that because we looted and drained Ireland and treated its  people as if they were pigs and manipulated religious sectarianism that it's  a poor country racked with religious strife; no, it's the Irish's fault.   It's not our fault that we did the same to Africa and Asia with similar  results; no, it's their fault.  But then you're hardly being fair, are you?   When you look at it each democracy in Latin America is looking better and  better, except when it isn't.  There's progress in Mexico, progress in  Brazil, progress in Argentina, just as there was progress in the past, and  everything's getting better in those countries, until of course they aren't  and there's a really big crisis, and it turns out the models of the IMF and  The Economist were practicing Keynesianism on the sly, and so of course they  collapsed.  And there is a whole horde of scholarship that shows beyond any  doubt that the Irish nationalist historical narrative couldn't possibly be  true because it plays into the hands of the IRA.  And all the journals  agree, there is no evidence that the Irish really supported nationalism  anyway, and if they did it was only because they were bigoted and stupid.   What kind of Marxist ignores Bew and Patterson and the third one, what's his  name, so easily?  And aren't African-Americans horribly victimized by  liberals and just waiting to be liberated by school vouchers?  After all,  we've been looking for progress for three decades and if we wait long enough  and complacently enough we'll see it, or ignore it until it comes.  We must  have the courage to say that the Anglo-American middle class are the most  wonderful people in the world, that they have never committed any mortal  sins, that they have alleviated any injustice as fast and quickly as they  possibly could, we must have the courage to say that the middle class that  rules our world, runs ours newspapers, owns our money and elects our  governments, we must have the bold, striving, stunning courage to say that  they are completely innocent of any of the world's problems.  And anybody  who suffers in this world can purge himself of his sins by simply groveling  over to the grand temple of western civilization and on his belly shout out  all his sins, where he (or she) will be anointed as a bold new unfashionable  intellectual and be allowed to take a bath in leaden semen.  Lead will save  the world, the fact that a disproportionately high number of black children  in the United States suffer from lead poisoning notwithstanding.  All this  maggot-ridden flesh will be replaced with eternal lead.  The scent of lead  will be a new aphrodisiac as sexuality will be replaced with the eternal  loves of stock-market quotations, people will get three full meals of lead  every day, as the shiny material sings and stings on their tongue.  Lead  will purge us of all the petty fights, the cheap adulteries, the easily  obtained whores, the beatings, the kitsch of domesticity, the mindless  sentimentalities, the tomatoes that hit John Seinkewicz in the middle of the  night, the truckling to your own children, the amoral sensuousness of an  irresponsible and decadent media, the diluted cultures, the mindless  solitudes, the cheap empathy-sessions, the endless trivia of sexuality; it  will purge all this and so much more from our marriages, and put it all on a  leaden plain of responsibility, as we move to a world that must be perfect,  because it is the best of all-possible worlds.

      Constantine rose.  It was time again for him to bleed himself.  He  spread out the Citizens, undid his shirt sleeve, wrapped the tourniquet  around his arm, and raised the knife into the air.

      When suddenly his arm was twisted around his back and Constantine was  thrust to the floor.


      Keeping track of the boring proceedings around him Ignatius Wilentz  continued his examination.  "Question Number Two:  Discuss the influence of  The Song of Songs/The Song of Solomon on the life and philosophy of Baruch  Spinoza."


      Madame Vovelle was reviewing the correspondence of the Flannery  O'Connor Brigade, and she remembered an incident in her past.  She had been  invited to address a congregation one fine Sunday in Montréal, where the  cardinal himself would be there to hear her speak.  The congregation greeted  her politely and applauded as she approached the rostrum.

      "I could not really come up with a talk before you today, so I thought  that I would talk about my impressions of this congregation.  And the first  thing that strikes me is how well dressed you all are.  You are all in your  best suits and dresses and, and, and....

      "And I can't stop thinking how utterly appalling this all is.  Do you  really think that God cares the slightest about how you dress?  That He  intends these Sunday services to be some sort of Fashion show?  It's not  that He wants you to appear in blue jeans and casual clothes, because  clearly that's the sort of laziness only the United Church would tolerate.   But I am going to very blunt; only meretricious whores would dress up like  this.  Only stupid shallow girls with lipstick minds and petticoat souls  would dare affront the Lord like this.  In fact, I'm going to attack you all  personally.  Now if we were nineteenth-century Anglicans we would snot and  snort about all the poor people and their shabby clothes in their rented  pews.  But because we're all Catholics, I'm going to start off by attacking  the rich people first.  In the front row there is an attractive seventeen  year old girl, the brown-haired one sitting by her mother, whom, I have  learned from reasonably well-informed sources, is having sexual relations  with the leader of her school's volleyball team.  I want to propose to you  that we stone her to death.  Now obviously only people without sin can cast  the first stone, (after that it's anyone game.)  And who is without sin?   Well, I personally think that the dear cardinal here is as good a candidate  for sainthood as anyone else, so would you mind casting the first stone,  your grace?"

      "No, thank you.  It was kind of you to ask though."

      "Oh.  All right."  And Madame Vovelle sat down and the service  proceeded as usual.


      Vanessa was remembering the love letters her cousin-in-law read to her  during his first frantic Christmas without Natasha.  They were like Aunt  Sarah's letters, less moving than amusing, and less amusing than  uninteresting.  Typical lines were "Your goblet is like a navel that never  lacks apricot punch," and "Your hips cover me with kisses, your wine is  better than love."  She remembered how crushed Giles was at her laughter,  more sarcastic derision, and she remembered the first time she saw her uncle  laughing at Sarah's letters.  "How can you treat her like that?" she asked  rhetorically, since she already knew how a brother could treat a sister.   "I'm sorry, but there are limits to compassion, and there is only so much  sympathy you can have for people who just breed and bleed and advertise  their misery."  She wondered if this sort of heartlessness was endemic to  her family.  If it was, then it was a strange sort of heartlessness, since  Ignatius sent considerable amounts of money to his sister, and tried to  arrange all sorts of jobs with assorted Israeli friends.  True, the money  often got lost, or it ended up in post offices that spontaneously burst into  flames, while the friends who were supposed to give a good job to Felix  Simricky had the bad habit of suddenly dying, being run over by camels,  assassinated by Syrian terrorists, being arrested for treason and suffering  from intense spells of dyslexia.  And everytime he heard about this,  Ignatius wrote another check, and couldn't stop laughing.


       Constantine Rudman got up from the floor to notice three men who had  somehow materialized in the darkness.  The first two wore black suits, with  large floppy hats, and with the strange accents that could be heard from  their titterings, they seemed like parodies of Italian mobsters, though  Constantine was not laughing.  "Who are you?"

      The leader stepped forward, while another man close behind him flicked  a switchblade in and out.  Behind both of him was an old, silent man whose  hands were behind his back.  He clearly had the most dignity.  The leader spoke.  "I call myself Marinetti.  Over here,  Gabriel's parents called themselves D'Annunzio."

      "You're futurists."


      "You were intellectuals who supported Mussolini."

      "It's so nice to meet literate Canadians, don't you think so,  Gabriel?"

      D'Annunzio shrugged, thinking that Canadians had little to offer him.

      "But you're all supposed to be dead!  What are you doing in my  apartment?"

      "Why we're here for the same reason that a horde of insurance agents  invaded Medicine Hat two days ago.  And for the same reason that Dr. Oliver  Corpse received twenty butterflies in his mail yesterday.  And we're here  for the same reason that there's going to be a big Wagner rally in Ottawa in  a few day's time.  But..." and he laughed, "not for so benevolent a reason."

      D'Annunzio closed his switchblade for the last time and from his  sleeve took out Constantine's steak knife, as Marinetti continued.  "We too  represent art, but art for a different purpose.  It is said that irony is  the glory of slaves.  So iron must be the glory of slaveholders.  Iron and  Lead, this shall be our future, and we will create an art that pays homage  to it; image poetry filled with long lines of indecipherable metaphors that  will crash down on the vulgar's head like a guillotine; paintings made with  special lead compounds, we will repaint Rembrandt and Raphael, and as the  sweaty crowd of Libyans, proles and Abyssinians crowd in one hot holiday  sunday, and the room is suffocated with their ungodly stink, the room will  grow hotter and hotter, until the special compounds boil over and asphyxiate  the worthless slugs with mustard gas.  We shall broadcast ballets of  executions on television and radio, and out of the barren rock we will  sculpt prisons for our enemies.  We will write novels about the great pack  wolves of humanity, and how they rip and tear the weak and infirm venison of  the world.  And we are here, for the bloodpurge."

      "The what?"

      "We've been waiting for this for centuries.  Waiting for damnation,  waiting for the climax, when a conspiracy shall murder someone who is  already dead.  And on that day hope itself, false liberalism itself, humanitarianism itself, will die a wheezing, petty,  self-pitying and valueless death.  And we will take over in its place.   Oooo, Gaabrieel?"

      D'Annunzio moved to the third man, while Marinetti went to introduce  him.  "Constantine Rudman, may I introduce to you Vilfredo Pareto.  I would  like to say more, but Mr. Pareto can't respond.  That's because we cut out  his tongue.  You wouldn't happened to have any knowledge of this man?"

      "I vaguely know who he is." replied Constantine.

      "Allow me to tell you more.  Pareto here is one of the founders of  modern sociology.  He is also one of this century's foremost anti-Marxists,  known for his work on the circulation of elites and the impossibility of a  real democracy.  He is also known for his pungent comments on such sickly  phenomena as humanitarianism and pacifism.  So we naturally thought that he  would make a perfect fascist.  But we were wrong.  You see, what did he do  when Il Duce took power?  He ran off to Switzerland, wrote a manifesto 'in  support' that called for free speech and liberty.  And that really annoyed  us.  It's so hard to get good intellectuals on our side:  Croce, Ortega y  Gasset, Unamuno, Nietzsche.  Just when you think they oppose liberal  democracy and you can really count on them to keep their mouths shut while  you crack a few skulls they go racing back to grounds of common decency.   Once a whore, always a whore?  Not in Croce's case, we were really all quite  annoyed.  Not like Ludwig von Mises at all, who was so sympathetic to us  before the Anschluss.  Now there's a man who realize to get liberty you need  lots of lead and a few thumbscrews.  But this dilly-dallying by Pareto here,  it's extremely annoying, and we're simply not going to take it anymore.   Gabriel is going to torture Wilfred here until he cries.  Then we're going  to kill him."

      The contempt in Pareto's eyes belied Marinetti's smug assurances as  the latter checked his handcuffs, while D'Annunzio removed the tourniquet  from Rudman's arm.  Marinetti turned back to Rudman.  "The problem with torture is its aesthetic side.  I mean so many  torturers have no sense of their artistic possibilities in their work.  Some  castrations here, broken limbs there, electroshock and cigarette burns, it's  all so ordinary.  That is why I am one the most resolute opponents of  torture in the world; I just can't let worthless amateurs go mucking about.   You see, I have a dream.  I have a vision.  I see today a world of wretched  people, of people who either have to be led, or to be prevented from  leading.  I see a world of malcontents spreading toxin with their stilted  bodies.  I see women malcontents, crab-faced lesbians, seeking to emasculate  men with sociology textbooks.  So many ugly people producing so many ugly  thoughts.  And I say to myself, this does not have to exist.  For I see a  new world, still filled with ugly people, but these people are marked,  separated, segregated, unable to spread harm or semen throughout the  generations, and on their backs, or on their fronts, lie the masterpieces of  torturers.  Consider Pareto here.  I have managed to create two separate  sorts of acids.  One creates a green pus when used on the body, the other a  yellow pus.  Combine both of the two, and make enough slits on his back, and  I can give you the flag of Italy!  A just punishment for this disingenuous  traitor, don't you think so?"

      "No." said Constantine, summoning the courage to speak.

      "Well, if that's your attitude, then you won't get to see it.  We did  come here for other reasons.  Gabriel, please."   D'Annunzio retrieved a  suitcase and opened it before Marinetti, who took out the contents.  "We  have all sorts of wonderful things here, and we're eager with anticipation  to try them out.  Here we have an old-fashioned camera.  American, I think.   Gabriel, do you know what year this comes from?"


      "Yes, 1922.  That's very likely.  Of course it's supposed to be  attached to a tripod, but that wouldn't fit in the suitcase."  Marinetti  placed it in the far corner of the kitchen counter.  "Ooo.  I like this.   Castor oil, the all-purpose medicine of the future.  But don't worry, we  shan't give you a dose.  Rocks from Gibraltar, and funeral services from  Dublin, I don't think you'll find those too interesting.  Some blackmail  notes in French, you can't trust those homosexuals.  But this, this is very interesting.  Gabriel, please come here."

      D'Annunzio extracted what at first appeared to be some rope, but what  was in fact a noose.  "Fine craftsmanship, don't you think?  Of course  electric chairs are so much quicker, so we shouldn't be sentimental.  But this noose goes back a long way, back to the  last century in fact.  It was this very noose that in 1891 hanged a Mrs. A.  Clare.  Naturally you've never heard of the woman, but we consider her  execution to be one of the greatest moments in Anglo-Saxon justice.  And, of  course, it's so much better than a tourniquet."

      "What?" but before Constantine could do anything, D'Annunzio wrapped  the noose around his neck and was yanking him into the kitchen.  He dragged  Constantine to the refrigerator, thrust him to one side, and started throttling him from the other, using the  refrigerator as a pulley.  As Constantine was being throttled Marinetti  chortled.  "Why do you resist?  Don't you know that hemp will save the  world?"

      Constantine gasped and sputtered, but he managed to slip the noose off  his neck.  Immediately he fell to the ground and struggled to catch his  breath as the Futurists laughed.  He started to get up.  "You won't win.   I'll fight you."

      "You fight us?  Your country doesn't have the will, you're simply soft  wax that any demagogue can inscribe on whatever he likes.  And you just want  a talmudist who will inscribe you in her own image."

      "Well, suppose I do..."  But then Marinetti extracted a box of  chocolates from his suitcase.  "It would be better if you had some sweets.   Allow me to offer you some."  Still dazed and on his knees Constantine  reached out and swallowed a very good one with milk chocolate and caramel.   "These must be poisoned."

      "Now I consider that an insult!" said Marinetti, and he was justified,  because the chocolates were actually quite delicious and not at all harmful,  even if you considered the sugar content.  "It's such a pity you're so  suspicious because I think you're just the sort of person whom I'd like to  give all my cherries.  Well I'm afraid we simply have to go now."  And the  three of them simply vanished, leaving nothing behind except the 1922 camera  on the far kitchen counter that Constantine had already forgotten.


      At the same time, in the flat above Lucian Rudman and the one below  Ms. Roda Ellen Van P---, Vanessa Wilentz had stopped remembering her  relatives and was working on her post-modernist project.  Elizabeth had stepped out that evening and she was alone in her  room.  On the radio was a program from CBC stereo, playing pieces of  classical music that were only occasionally interrupted by the announcer's  fatuous comments.  She nervously tapped her pen on the desk three times,  then began to write.

      "We behold a purge of lilacs, bursting through the snow.  In a sea of  white we see toboggan tracks."  She had never seen the countryside, except  on television, except for a skiing trip that the school took her on, except  when she left Ottawa on family vacations to Toronto.  Her father was even  worse in this respect, he had never seen cows until he had fled the ghetto,  and almost gave himself away because he feared they might try to eat him.   "In lilacs we see the impotence of our age."  Then followed three paragraphs  of Adorno and hard analysis.  "Across the sea we came, we came and saw a  world where even the rats were clean, we saw a world where the lilacs had  hope.  And we started the blood purge and in this country of snow and  self-pity we made them irrelevant in their own country, an endless dole for  self-centered bureaucrats and fashionable sociologists."  That wasn't right,  it was too political.  Political in the sense of too strong an opinion  disturbing experience.  The infiltration of jargon.  Perhaps a paragraph on  jargon versus anti-jargon?  The dialectic of jargon versus anti-jargon  producing all sort of little jargons happily dancing with their toy rattles?

      "For my professor, solipsism is very fashionable."  She wouldn't  include that in her final copy, but it was true that the professor's all  time, absolutely favourite novel this month was Alice through the Looking  Glass, and that he always carried two mirrors in his pocket, so he could see  the infinity of reflections in them.  He loved boolean logic and algebraic  problems (though he didn't understand either), helped write the analytical  problems for the Graduate Record examinations for the children of alumni,  found differential equations completely absorbing in his shallow way, and  smuggled all this and much more into a prize-winning essay on Emily  Dickinson.  He personally believed that mathematics would be the next big  thing in literary criticism, and he wanted to be in on the ground floor.   The professor was a post-modernist, post-marxist, post-feminist,  post-structuralist, post-Gaussian, post-deconstructionist, post-political,  post-apolitical marxist, post-political marxist, post-talmudist-feminist,  post-scholastic-feminist, post-scholastic anti-feminist, post-catholic, post  structuralist-anthropologist, post-marxist-feminist-structuralist,  post-kantian-marxist-feminist-structuralist,  post-kantian-marxist-feminist-structuralist-anthropologist,  post-kantian-kantian-modernist-marxist-feminist-marxist-marxist, post  kantian-kantian-modernist-modernist-marxist-marxist-marxist-marxist,  post-marxist-marxist-marxist-marxist-marxist-scholastic-marxist-feminist-marxist-marxist-marxist,  and 100% pure Berkleyian.  By the time you got all of this down on paper the  essay was half over, which may explain why her professor was the most  prolific author on campus.  The key thing was never to believe in anything  too much and to be sure you always had an escape hatch if things went wrong.    Of course all she was doing was simply smuggling in Faulkner and Absalom!  Absalom! into an English essay.  Some snappy criticism, and then--bring on  the dancing wisteria!  It was all terribly subversive, since subversion  could now be defined in weird and wonderful ways.  One moment you're looking  at Paradise Lost, and then the subversive Risk games, the nihilistic chess  games, the shocking window cleaners and the revolutionary tenured  professors.

      "Imagine an infinity of mirrors creating infinity of reflections."   No, cross that out, that was too much sucking up to the professor.  Write  the first thing that comes into your head.  "The talmud notes that there is  nothing worse for a bride to lose her groom before her wedding night."  Why  had she written that?  Was it even true?  It was an appropriately sonorous  statement, but she might have gotten it from reading the Jewish response to  missionary literature.  Elizabeth, thinking of Elizabeth.  It was too late  for her to lose Charles before the wedding night, but... Did she want  something to happen to her?  She was always envious about her sexual  success, yes, how she was always the most popular girl at any party.  She  envied her carefree and obvious love with Charles, but she also envied the  way that she cared only for Charles above and beyond that.  This monogamy,  this relative chastity contrasted with her own petty love affairs.  It was  true, she sometimes fantasized about being invited to join in a threesome  and it was also true that she wished she could be invited so she could throw  the offer back in their faces.  She resented her generosity as well; since  the Concretes were much wealthier than the Wilentzs, it was usually easier  for Elizabeth to pay her share of the rent, give her more generous birthday  presents, buy more expensive and delicious food.  Elizabeth was always the  one who paid for pizza, and she was the one who brought in cable and paid it  our of her own pocket.  Vanessa vaguely wondered who she was going to get to  take her place when Elizabeth went off to join her husband.  Her friends  were really Elizabeth's friends.  Perhaps she could get Constantine's sister  to take over.  Perhaps she could get Aquilla Rogers to move in, as she  brushed aside her latest petition to get Ms, van P--- evicted.  She noticed  that fertilizer wasn't dripping on her head.  Ms. Van P--- and her maid must  be busy tonight.

      Woman's nature is twisted and molded by men to fit their own desires.   Now all that she needed is a snappy line to summarize all this.  Think of  something.  Think of something feminine.  Or not so feminine, try some easy dialectic, neutered paradoxes for the Isaiah  Berlin crowd.  Are paradoxes feminine?  Then you can circumcise them for  your pleasure.  T.S. Eliot and Adrianne Rich, united to confuse the world.   Try a teapot.  "I saw a room of teapots stuffed with turpentine instead of  tea."  Turpentine doesn't quite have the right rhythm.  Try something  equally useful but not terribly pleasant.  Not dangerous, like hydrochloric  acid.  How about, how about lithium!  That's it, the third element on the  periodic table.  Women are saints, whores, dull people you see in  hairdresser's shops, the writers of an inordinately large number of  middlebrow novels, and she was just a sour Jewess lesbian that Elizabeth  carries along out of her good nature.  Charles thought that she would die  for Elizabeth, and she would, but just to show that she could do it, so she  could show how much better she was, so she could show that she was actually  good after all, so she could show that she was capable of some great  relationship.  She'll crucify myself, you bastards.  What do you actually do  with lithium anyway?  She was actually looking forward to being tortured to  death, as long as it did not involve great amounts of pain.  Not the  fingernails, more like malnutrition and sleep deprivation.  Like in "The  Confession."  That's so much more civilized than Beria.  They use lithium in  medicine, don't they?  When she first met her, Elizabeth was so charming and  witty and clever in a left-wing sort of way.  And she still is, but Vanessa  couldn't take it, thought it was sophomoric and shallow.  She envied that as  well.  And of course admitting you're envious was really just a clever way  of indulging in it, sort of practicing masturbation under the guise of  self-criticism.

      Sexuality.  Women do not particularly care for homosexuals, but men  can't live without lesbianism.  Denounce all the feminists who really get  under their skin as dykes and drool all over their love-making.  Lesbianism is porro unum est necessarium for every  pornographic magazine and video.  In a "Big-Matt Arnold" sort of way, with a  fetish for moderation, complete with sex-manuals written by Jeremy Bentham,  lingerie made out of Hayek and trade statistics, garters from Wilfred  Laurier himself and Edmund Burke's own personal whip.  An orgasm of decadent  decency, pity the denizens of My Lai, to have their vaginas slashed by the  army knives of such a "pragmatic" "non-ideological" people.  She thought she  should take some of these thoughts and write them down in her essay before  she forgot them.  Man drools over lesbianism, is stimulated by virginity,  over-powered by abstinence, and fascinated with all varieties of female  heterosexual desire.  Pornography is anything that manipulates female sexual  desire for male ends.  Which leads to the conclusion that no portrayal of  women's sexuality should be allowed.  Indeed,  in order to protect women  from the degradation of male lust, women must be abolished.  But then she  paused.  The anti-pornography feminists weren't going to go anywhere.  Too  many on the left supported civil liberties for them to win, the right was  only mildly amused by their support, and as for the New Republic crowd:   these were the people who thought the best way to fight identity politics  was not to vote for black politicians.  Dworkin and MacKinnon were easy  targets, and for once deserving ones.  And when you think about it,  anti-porn feminists were such pathetic losers, the only people they could  convince was the Supreme Court of Canada.

      "Economics is the dismal science.  The leaden science." Ok, you've  plagiarized Carlyle, now what?  How about a very long and scintillating  paragraph on the topic in question.  Then back to the purple prose.  There's  some very interesting metonymies that can be looked at.  Note the change in  point in view.  Keep an eye on the clock.  "Falling through the rainbow is a  fall of leaden rain."  Try not to use rainbows, they're too common a metaphor.  You  have to use it in a new and unprecedented manner.  "A league of accountants  carry rainbows in their suitcases."  No, too cute.  "I can give you segments  of rainbows wholesale."  No, too whimsical.  "I strangled my bride with  rainbows."  A little too grotesque.  It brings to mind some sort of moor (In  Ontario?) where there's some sort of flower running ubiquitously around. "The rainbow  as a sign of fecundity, being sickened in the lead that flows through  underground rivers."  Sounds very English, very gentile, not at all Jewish.   Try something else.  "The talmud says that the red in rainbows are actually  the blood of those who died in the flood.  The rainbow is not merely a sign  of redemption, but of somber memorial.  Joy and grief should be our  reactions to them."  Don't know whether that's in the talmud at all, but it  sounds like it should be there.  After all this is the book that tells us  that God rebuked the angels for celebrating the drowning of the Egyptian  army in the Red Sea. And it does sound rather profound, but it has nothing to do with lead.  Come  to think of it, it has nothing to do with lilacs, purged or perfectly  healthy, either.

      "Leaden smugness keeps us from seeing the sorrows of the rainbows."   No, that's not right.  Almost rhymes, and that shouldn't be the case.  Time  for another irony.  "We can not live without lead, just as we cannot live without kitsch, for to try to transcend  lead, to build a world without lead, is this not a typically leaden task?"   Great, we sound like the Democratic Party with too much caffeine.  "Men are  angels,"  make that men and women are angels.  Or perhaps we should just let  it be men, they deserve it after all.  "Men are angels, but angels with  leaden wings, they seek to attain the heights, but their wings draw them  back to earth.  And the harder they try to fly the crueler the descent."   That sounds good.  At least "the crueler the descent" is better than "the  harder they fall."  But it wasn't really true, since she didn't believe in  original sin.  How about this?  "All of us could be angels, were it not for  the wings of lead we placed on ourselves to imitate them."  That's much  better.  Or slightly better.

      "For centuries we purged the lilacs with leaden scythes."  Not bad, it  sounds very hip, it's a nice metaphor for the European fear of nature up  until the Renaissance.  (Or was there a European fear of nature before the  Renaissance?  Was this something seen on a documentary, in a flawed work of  popular history, or in a real history that was 15 years old and now out of  date?  God, it's like the historiography of the witch hunts; you crash and  burn there all the time.)  Anyway, it lacks something, you need more  analysis.  Well actually you don't really in CanLit, since does anyone  really think a pipsqueak like Atwood could even catch Adorno's stray  contempt?  The trouble with you, said Elizabeth, is that you have no sense  of fun.  Or humor.  You should loosen up a bit.  Or a lot.  Elizabeth was  probably right, and she envied her for being right.  She was too much the  cloistered intellectual, like her librarian parents, reading books that must  be obscure because no-one else cared for them.  She remembered reading the  book of poems by Rilke that Ignatius Wilentz gave her and five hundred close  acquaintances; her uncle was so moderately overjoyed he rushed out and help  pay for this term's textbooks.  There was too much sarcasm in her blood, in  her bile, its all purplish (much like this essay).  Perhaps a male doctor in  a nice big white lab coat should bleed it away so she can be a nice girl and  marry the first boring dweeb with nine inches.  Bloody hell he will, the  world needs more sarcastic people.  It needs more cynical people.  She  doesn't know the price of anything, but she knows how valueless everything  is.  Masscult love, computer permutations, sneaking themselves into our  souls.  So what if she becomes a bitter old spinster.  Better that than a  smug old bachelor smuggling death into our world.  But you're still  envious...  Jerking off again...

      A counter-response, an actual response to what you're supposed to be  reading, instead of metaphorical jabs at all the inconvenient places.  Try  some place exotic.  But what is exotic?  To the European mind all foreigners  are lascivious.  Actually, it's completely wrong to say Jews are neurotic.   They're just serious people with a taste of irony.  Why did you think that?   It's like when you were fourteen and all you couldn't concentrate and all  you could think about were the blue purples and the purple blues.  And then  there'd be times you were staring at into space and then you'd think Ashes.   Or Toboggans.  But try to think of someplace which isn't a substitute for  your sexual failures, someplace that doesn't hide your basic dullness,  somewhere where allusions aren't dancing through your head.  Imagine a place  where you are.  What would it be like?  Try to concentrate.  Try not to  think of lilacs, rainbows or lead.  Put pen to paper (or fingers to  computer) and start writing.

      "She got off the ship when it docked into the harbor.  After walking  down the gangplank and moving to the shops that clustered near the wharf she  was accosted by a fortune-teller."  A fortune-teller?  That sounds too  Arabian.   Perhaps she could get off in Marseilles.  "The teller flattered  her and offered to look at her palms for a pittance.  She laughed and  accepted, and the ugly old man peered at her hands with a magnifying glass.   'Ah' he said.  'You are a woman who dreams her own dreams.'  'And who  doesn't?' 'You'd be surprised.  I see a lover in your past.  You left him  one Friday evening.  Why?'"

      Yes, why had she?  She stopped writing.  Why had she left him that  rainy Friday?  The answer was simple.  She wanted to go to the synagogue and  he didn't.  But that wasn't the full reason.  He was the first person who  had ever gotten close to her, the first person who got into her mind.  And  once there, he began to remake it to suit himself.  It was not that he was  openly anti-Jewish, he was far too tactful a gentile to say things like  that.  It was more in the way he always seemed to have tickets for some  special event that just happened to fall on a mildly crucial holiday.  It  was the way he just kept talking for just a little too long and little too  harshly about some wonderful religion of love and tolerance.  It was the way  he laughed a little too loud at her sneers at Peter, especially when Peter  was being very pompous and smug and really, really deserved them.  There was  always the strange feeling that he was trying too cleverly to convince her  that she was too intelligent and too serious for her own good.  To everybody  else, including her Jewish friends, he was a fine, decent, loving human  being, and her complaints, badly presented and unconsciously confused, were  just part of her own sour and unsexually insatiable nature.  They could not  see how he was trying to assimilate her, into some sort of cotton-candy  fluffiness, behind which there was nothing at all, a special sort of happy  nihilism.

      She asked for more in the relationship, in an attempt to dominate him  and control him more closely.  She never would do that again, because it  brought her nothing, because he was happy to fill all her desires, because  it gave him the opportunity to corrupt her, to bribe her.  She deliberately  became more erratic and eccentric; he applauded it, saying it made her more  feminine.  He was completely disarming: she never kicked him in the shins  even once.  He even dropped hints to her parents that he might convert to  Judaism.  But she saw he had no intention of doing so, that he would rather  charm rabbis and cantors and leave her only a hollow shell.  She gave  ultimatums, he accepted them all with good cheer.  It was only when he had  arranged for the two of them to go to a concert of her favourite band that  she suddenly developed the irrational idea of suddenly demanding that they  stop everything and go to her synagogue for services.  It was completely  irrational; Vanessa barely went there at all, and there were only a few  minutes before the concert began.  Naturally he refused, and so she left him  and appeared in the temple soaking wet and in tears.  She cried so hard and  so loud that the ushers requested her to leave.  She spent two absolutely  miserable days until she found out on Monday that he had already started  seeing someone else.  After that she was always a little suspicious about  pacifists.

      "'I left him.  He wasn't good for me.  What else do you have to tell  me?'  'I see a great amount of frustration in your life.  You possess...'"   Careful, now, we don't want to flatter ourselves too much, do we?  "'you  possess great gifts, but you can't use them for any good.  Nothing you do  will serve anyone any good.  Your life is marginal, and irrelevant.'   'You're being too vague, I want to know more.'  'Before the moon rises today  everything will be crystal clear to you, but it will be far too late.   Failure is inevitable, and it is senseless to resist.  Such gifts are  ultimately worthless, I have known many people who have done far better  without a trace of them.  Allow me a prayer to my many gods and to the great mother, allow me this old barbarian custom  and let me partake of this sacred rotgut.  Allow me to pick me teeth with my  holy toothpicks, there, that's so much better.'  And the fortune-teller took  out a strange lotion, which smelled and looked like moldy, putrescent fat,  and a bit like urine as well.  He eagerly started to rub it over his face,  as he took a swig of his rotgut.

      "Then, without warning, he started rubbing it on her hands.  'What are  you doing?' 'It is part of my faith.  I am commanded to smear this holy oil  on all whose palms I read.'  'But it's disgusting!'  'You are wrong, it is  actually quite common-place and it soon becomes innocuous.  See, already the  smell has dissipated, and soon the stickiness will evaporate as well.  I  must now go, for I have many other palms to read before the day is done.   Until the day when there is only the rack and the brothel!  Farewell!'

      "And then he left, and she decided to keep walking the streets of  Marseilles.  It was already past mid-afternoon and as she walked past the  busy cafes and newsstands she realized she could no longer smell the lotion.  She laughed, and pirouetted down a side  street, she started to clap and to whistle and it was only when she was far  from the cafes did she notice that a child was watching her.

      "The child was a small beggar girl.  She was pale, but she had not  been maimed by her parents in order to attract more sympathy.  She was still  dressed in ragged clothes and there was dirt all over her.  But she was  looking at her, not asking for any money.  And then there was another small  little girl, followed by a little boy, just as poor and as dirty as the  first one.  'I didn't know there were beggars in Marseilles.'  The children  smiled innocently, they were still small enough not to be cursed with the  knowledge of what was to come.  And more beggar children appeared to join  them, and still more.  They barely talked, they just muttered a little, and  shifted their weight from foot to foot.  Occasionally one of them began to  cry, and she wished she had some sort of handkerchief to wipe away their  tears.  And still more children came up, and still more, until there were so  many in front of her it seemed that there were more beggar children than  they were people in Marseilles.

      "'This is so strange.  Is Marseilles not a rich and wealthy city full  of humane and decent people?  How can there be so many of you?'"  Well, come  to to think of it, there was some kind of big Socialist corruption scandal  there sometime in the past decade.  And wasn't Le Pen increasing in  influence there?  Anyway, what happens next?  So far you don't look too much  like a plaster saint.  "She only had traveler's cheques, and not nearly  enough of them to give to all the children.  Her only spare change had been  given to the fortune-teller and to the some of the shops she had stopped by.    'I wish I could give you something, but I don't have anything.'  All she  could do was ruefully pat the children on the head.

      "But it turned out that was just what they wanted.  That was all they  wanted, and in fact that was all they really needed.  After she patted the  first little girl, the second little girl came up after her, and then the  first little boy.  They all came, each in turn, one after the other,  politely and quietly, but when they left, they smiled, they actually seemed  cleaner, they looked healthier and even a bit fatter.  And then they started  to skip, jump ropes appeared out of nowhere, and a few hesitant hops began  to be made, followed by some reluctant giggles, and then there suddenly  burst a sea of hopscotches, of silly dances and spinning around.  And as a  crowd of adults came around to stare at the bemused woman who couldn't help  patting beggar children on the head the children started to skip and sing  and whirl around in dances like fevered dervishes."  Must suppress the  obvious temptation to comment on how particularly fevered dervishes whirl.   Bet Algerian dervishes have a really mean whirl.  Quite vicious, actually.   "The children were so active and vibrant that the crowd was more than a  little disturbed, fearing that the children, their own children, whom they  loved very much, which was why the children didn't ask for money (they were  too proud) but whom their parents couldn't help but dress them in rags, they  feared that the children were going to get ill or seriously get wounded by  their mad spinning.  But they could soon relax as the children's spinning  stopped accelerating, reached its peaks and started to slow down.  The sun  was beginning to set in the west, but the moon had yet to rise as the  children's laughter quieted, as they turned and skipped and hopped and raced  even more slowly, as she finished patting the last one of the beggar  children, while the children seemed to freeze, to wind down and then to stop  in position like run-down automatons.

      "There was a low murmur from the crowd."  Perhaps that should be made  an extremely nervous murmur, or a low chorus of disapproval.  "What had  happened to their children?  A few of them moved forward as not all the children had frozen yet.  They looked into  their eyes and saw that their eyes had gone blank, and that their lids were  closing.  Their skin was cool, yet shiny to the touch, the parents could see  their own reflections in their children's cheeks, and the dirt on them fell  away completely and as their rags turned into fine dresses and pants.  And  the children's skin, paled by lack of food, or burned by too much sun,  started to assume a uniform shade, sort of like gold, then like false gold,  and then the yellow started to turn an unprecedented shade of grey, heavy  and dense, as the children were completely suffused with a covering of lead.

      "The parents were horrified, but before they could do anything, an  evil mist began to appear, a cloud of noxious leaden dust appeared, gassing  many of the parents.  The survivors turned back and looked at her, helpless,  in a valley of leaden statues.  'Kill her!'  And she had no choice but to  look up at the risen moon and run through the valley and into hiding.  The  crowd chased after her, but even though they did not catch her, for the rest  of her life she had to keep running, she could never stay in any chosen  place, be it a sewer, a cave, a rubbish dump, before she was found again and  had to flee for her life once more.

      "And so she never knew that the statues did not just stay in the  center of Marseilles, but that because of her prayers, one day long after  her death the real benevolence of her act shone through, and the lead fell  off and the children were reborn, their dirt seemed to shine, their rags  were now something less shameful.  For these new children were no longer  poor beggars, but they were not angels either, and they spent the rest of  their days helping themselves and helping others, until the end of time."

      Fat chance.  Well she obviously couldn't give this to her professor.   Best to use the neatest images and confine oneself to facts and hard  analysis, post-modernist puffery be damned.


      Meanwhile, the meeting that Ignatius Wilentz was attending had come to  an inglorious and inconclusive end.  There was still time to ask Miss  Lightfeathers one more question.  "Talmudic Exegesis, Question number three.    Do a Deconstructionist interpretation of the Talmud."


      Drogheda Apartments was in a nice neighborhood, and it was a perfectly  respectable place for a papal emissary to have as his headquarters while in  Canada.  There was a certain charm and innocence in the whole place as midnight approached.  In apartment 208 five  year old Timothy Walters slept peacefully, thanks to Dr. Hermann's  intervention to the Holy Spirit to cure his whopping cough.  In apartment 217 Mr. and Mrs Avalon were spending their  first night together in many months as a direct result of Hermann's prayers.    In apartment 307 three college students were celebrating the imminent end  of term, which had gone off so much better because God had recently granted  them great powers of concentration.  All across the building people were  sleeping peacefully or dancing frantically with hope in their hearts and  love in their souls.  All across the building, with the exception of one  apartment.  In apartment 322, the lights were on, but the tape player that  had been playing Beethoven's twelfth symphony had long since shut itself  off.  For in the room, sitting on his chesterfield, was not Dr. Albert Hermann, the  Albert Hermann who said prayers on behalf of fictional characters, the  Albert Hermann who at twenty had offered to cut off his own arm if the  Hungarian government would free Cardinal Mindszenty, the Albert Hermann who  had struck everyone by his decency, bravery, honesty, erudition and  benevolence, the Albert Hermann who was the international leader of the  Flannery O'Connor Brigade and who carried the dagger of Saint Francis of  Assisi; no, Albert Hermann was not sitting on his chesterfield.  Only his  corpse was, for the man was dead, killed by the peculiar and noxious green  fumes that sifted out of the strange cube that was lying face up on the  carpet, a most mysterious contraption with shifting doors and secret locks  and special levers and indecipherable combinations and a strange shimmering  appearance, a puzzle box that carried on its front faces of men of undoubted  wisdom in the stark, subtly changing, drawing style of five dynasties, faces  which revealed to all who could approach the deadly thing the incontestable  proofs that the device that had killed Professor Albert Hermann was indeed,  a chinese spice-box.

Next: Book 3: Venus and Wagner: The Library of Heaven

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