My chronicle has no beginning, middle, nor does it have a convenient denouement. How can that be? Omitting those fundamentals betrays the sacred responsibilities handed down by the memorialized ghosts of acceptable literature.
"Oh," you smugly declare, "he’s attempting to be cute in order to command self importance."
Au contraire. I’m not endeavoring to appear cute. Or artsy. There’s no beginning to my tragedy because I’ve been fettered by Constance Carpenter’s very existence since infinity. And since, by definition, infinity hasn’t a beginning, middle, or, by its very interpretation, a conclusion - what else is it if not perpetual?
I vacillate slightly, fearing my zeal will induce snobbery from those unable to comprehend, although the threat of ridicule doesn’t make my words any less truthful. However, I do look to you, dear reader, for some measure of sympathy and, yes, absolution if that’s how you choose to conduct yourself.
"It’s only another love story," someone will sanctimoniously snigger behind wafted hand.
Another love story indeed. But nothing in the trashy novels lying atop your bedside table could prepare you for my tale of woe.
For your sake, however, I’ll emanate from some sort of a beginning. I’ll be meticulous, otherwise I fear you’ll not derive sufficient interpretation, therefore, my doomed love will not be thoroughly respected.
If my daughter, Wendy, hadn’t left her bicycle in the front yard, and if I hadn’t tripped over it, shattering my kneecap, conceivably none of it would ever have happened. But then, we’ll never know, will we?
However, Wendy did leave her bicycle in my path that moonless night nine months ago and, because she did, I’ll never see her precious face again. Already her image is only a black and white configuration, as is my namesake, Michael Junior, and Thea, my wife of ten years and the mother of my children.
Unless you’ve existed in some drugged-out stupor, you know me. My face has adorned covers of numerous magazines and newspapers the past few months. Also, my wife and that woman have monopolized the talk-show circuit, slandering me with frightful felicity.
For the benefit of those who’ve been living in a vacuum, allow me to present myself and recount my side of this wretched black comedy.
I was baptized Michael Raymond Fellows. Until nine months ago I lived an affable existence in a small community near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Thirty families made their homes on the south side of beautiful Lake Catherine in houses built one and all from pastoral log cabin kits. We were known as "Abe’s Bunch," a dubious tribute to the late, great president.
I maintained our sheltered lifestyle with a lucrative sales position at the Razorback Printing Company in Hot Springs. Thea had her sensible Chevrolet Caprice Station Wagon while I, on the other hand, sat on pure leather in my 1960 fire-engine red Lamborghini Miura SV. Yes. I was cool. And fast. Life was wonderful and I . . . but I ramble.
Anyway, thanks to Wendy, my left leg was in full cast and I was worried sick that Brad Tilley would surpass me in sales before I returned to work.
Thea, an avid bowler, was competing in one of her numerous tournaments while entrusting our son's care to the pink smocked ladies of the facility's nursery. Wendy was in school where, judging by the endless sheaves of wax-coated papers, she learned nothing but crayoning.
I, robbed of my mobility by a child's toy carelessly abandoned, was propped up on the sofa channel surfing through an endless parade of insipid talk shows. Barely awake, my thumb jabbing automatically, nothing prepared me for the vampy, heavy-lidded eyes gazing into my psyche from a scene in a grainy black and white movie. In that moment, fleet but forever, her haunting beauty cauterized my soul.
The white, alabaster face filled the screen, looking only at me. She had been crying. Her delicate lips fluttered but there was no sound.
She wore a flapper-style dress. The tassels ringing the bottom swayed provocatively as she walked toward the camera. Her exquisite mouth moved but still no words could be heard.
Printed words appeared beneath that breathtaking face, "I love Rodney, I can never go with you." Then, realization dawned that I was watching a silent movie.
The man to whom she spoke appeared. The worm. Slicked-back, greasy hair, parted in the middle. An oily mustache curled upward toward rodent eyes, his mouth twisted into a sarcastic smile. He dared to put his filthy hands on my love and pulled her, kicking and screaming into a tank-like limousine. It thundered away into swirling fog. The camera pursued her wheeled prison until the words THE END flashed on the screen.
Too soon, I longed for one more glimpse of my silent darling. The movie credits flashed by but only one line would mean anything to me. I sought the name of the most ravishing female ever to grace the skin of this wretched planet.
I picked up the yellow pages and looked up the number of the television station. I established the film’s title was Paulette’s Folly but, no, they didn’t know where to acquire more of Constance's movies. And no, they didn’t know how to get in touch with her.
I dropped the phone into its cradle, drenched with perspiration, my brain accelerating to Mach 5. By the time Thea returned, I was hanging up the phone after calling every video store in Hot Springs searching for her movies. I was also a human time bomb primed to detonate.
Only one store had a film of her. I asked them to reserve it, turned to Thea who was depositing her bowling ball bag in the hall closet.
"Go to Movieland Video on Euclid Street and rent, no, buy this movie." I hastily scribbled down the title and held it out toward her.
Thea closed the closet door, shifted her body in my direction and gave me a portentous stare. Looking back, I can appreciated that she had justification to be moderately perplexed. But consider my state! I’d been on the phone for over an hour searching for anyone who knew anything about the woman I loved.
Yes, indeed, my heart belonged to Constance Carpenter. How, you say, could that be? Was I demented? No, gracious reader, I was in love.
Love! The purist sensitivity of my soul had fulfilled itself and I realized something few mortals are ever blessed to know: that hidden deep within us all, a treasure chest overflowing with unblemished, virginal love awaits for a worthy recipient. Most of humanity is doomed to never experience this wonderful sentiment in its full intoxicating intensity.
I’d smoked nearly a pack of Benson-Hedges, a nasty habit I cannot stop, and half-smoked butts had fallen from the tiny ashtray onto Thea’s teakwood coffee table.
"Michael, what in heaven’s name is wrong with-"
"Go to the video store on Euclid Street and bring back the fucking movie I’ve written down on this piece of paper!"
Thea’s body constricted as she drew an irregular breath and stared at me with bulging eyes. Her mouth opened and closed, closed and opened; tiny hands clenched into tight, infinitesimal fists. She took a step toward the devastated table; stopped, resumed her guppy interpretation before abruptly fleeing down the hall soon to return with furniture polish and rag.
"You’ve ruined the coffee table, Michael." She charged, brandished rag and polish but stopped short of her destination when I hurled an end table in her direction. Fortunately, it missed, and fractured against the wall instead. The stunned silence that remained sucked all the air from the room.
Searching out the source of the hubbub, Wendy appeared beside her mother. Remember Wendy? There they were, mother and daughter. Mirrors of the other. Mouths opening. Mouths closing. In unison.
When Michael Junior bellowed from the nursery it sounded like something between a scream and a blubber. A wet, choking sound. Loud. Demanding. Thea and Wendy looked at each other, their mouths drooped, eyes wide.
I laced my fingers behind my head and, with extraordinary difficulty, without shouting, said, "Wendy can watch Michael. Please go to the video store and bring back the movie they’re holding for me."
Thea contemplated me, her mouth snapped shut, and she held the furniture polish and rag in front of her, like an Andy Warhol tableau. She seemed about to speak but instead reached for Wendy’s hand and left. I heard her gather up Michael, the front door slammed and soon the station wagon roared out of the driveway reminding me that I should see about getting her a new muffler. The only sound in the house was the irritating whine of an obese woman on the tube exhorting how much better her life was since she began using Preparation H.
I chain-smoked another half-pack of cigarettes before Thea pulled into the driveway. She stalked into the living room, a glacial, unyielding scowl frozen on her face. She inserted the tape into the VCR, and left me to my Constance. Already I was in ecstasy, marveling at the film’s title, Captain Kidd’s Marriage.
From that moment I ceased belonging to the world as a functioning human being. I lived only for Constance. How could a woman, whom I didn't even know was alive, infatuate me, you say. And if she were alive, she be as old as dirt.
If that is your realistic approach I’ll not denounce you. Nevertheless, you must appreciate the depths of my euphoria. I wasn’t pragmatic. The exquisite creature had claimed my immortal soul.
Oh, all right.
I acquiesce that I knew she was a film star of the silent era, and being such she was old. But I also knew God would never mold such perfection, put her on this miserable planet, and allow the aging process to defile her. No! One hundred thousand times no. He’d not alter one atom of her being. Of this I was as positive as I was that a politician could not be truthful.
For the next six weeks I lived on the sofa, driving Thea insane with errands, searching for tidbits of information about Constance. Her social life ceased. She dropped all outside activities to look after the house and children and follow up leads I might have concerning my mysterious obsession. I plastered the living room with faded photographs and movie posters of Constance until the room became a paper shrine. Wendy refused to enter my sanctuary and Thea strung up a bed sheet blocking its view from the hall.
Why did she scour the countryside for information about a woman who had taken possession of her husband? I don’t know. Oh, I know what she has spewed forth on the talk shows. That she assumed I was going through early male menopause.
Though Thea failed to discover where Constance lived, she was alive. An actuality I’d never doubted. The day after the cast was removed from my leg, Thea walked in bearing the information I lived for.
"There’s a fan club, Michael."
I lay on the sofa exercising my leg, accelerating the healing process so I could investigate Constance’s whereabouts myself. I never believed Thea searched as assiduously as she might have.
If I hadn’t been so completely possessed in those days I might have observed Thea’s physical state more closely, though I doubt the deep, swarthy circles beneath her eyes would have mattered to me. Or the loose way her clothes hung on her. But I never saw Thea anymore. I spoke and looked at her but I only saw my Constance.
She stood before me, mouth twisted into a lifeless grin. The skin so tight across her face the bone structure showed dramatically.
She looked like one of the starving children from Ethiopia they keep showing on television. Her complexion resembled mildewed chalk.
My cursory examination came to an expeditious end when her communiqué penetrated my eardrums. "Fan Club? Where? What’s the address? Phone number?"
Thea raised a transparent, blue-veined hand that had been hanging motionless at the end of a sleeveless arm and, with a small grunt, held out a piece of paper. When I snatched it from her she sighed theatrically, then methodically trudged from the room; a rumbling, liquid cough seemed to call out for sympathy.
A man’s name and the name of a town were written on the paper. After checking information and finding no listing, I knew immediately what must be done.
After everyone was secure in their beds that night, I spent the remainder of it stockpiling what I had accumulated concerning Constance Carpenter. It took two suitcases and I even managed to catch a nap before Thea drove Wendy to school the next morning. As I knew she would, she took Michael Junior with her. She never left the house without the children anymore.
I lugged the suitcases to the Lamborghini and left forever the piney woods of Arkansas. I stopped by the bank and withdrew half of our joint savings and checking account. I’m not a cad. I didn’t leave her destitute.
Aided by a map and a peace I’d never known, I headed for Silver Hawk, Colorado to find one Reuben Barlow who, for all I knew, was the last member of the Constance Carpenter Fan Club. Like a mindless creature I drove west on I-40 to Albuquerque, New Mexico then got on I-25 headed north toward Denver.
Silver Hawk lay due west from Leadville along the inflexible spines of the Rocky Mountains. As I drove through the town made famous by little Molly Brown, survivor of the sinking of the Titanic and the cruelty of Denver’s elite, I was in rapture. Would Reuben Barlow be an obstacle or a resource in my search for Constance? Either way, a few miles were all that lie between him and me.
After asking around I located Reuben’s rustic cabin. When I stepped from the Lamborghini the thin mountain air reverberated with the sound of a single gunshot. The missile shattered the window on the driver’s side and penetrated the seat that I had a moment before vacated.
I flattened out on the ground and constricted myself under the low-riding Lamborghini. "Constance!" I screamed, mouth full of dirt, heart full of terror. "I’ve come about Constance!" Spitting mud, I peeked out at scuffed brogans planted inches from my face. After an eternity, from somewhere above those worn shoes, a voice spoke.
"Whot ya wont wid ‘er?" The words were as ominous as thunder.
As he hadn’t invited me out, I spoke to the brogans from under the Lamborghini. I explained my feelings about Constance and, after an eternity, the brogans allowed me to squirm from under the car. When I did I was staring into the barrel of the longest gun I’d ever seen. I learned later that it was an ancient, but efficient, muzzleloader, circa 1800s
Reuben Barlow was a midget. Almost. The muzzleloader was longer than he was tall. A scraggly beard fell to his crotch, and he spat a gusher of brown tobacco juice between my feet and aimed the weapon at my already queasy stomach.
After he understood I meant no harm to Constance he loosened up. He’d been her third husband. She would eventually wed five more. Reuben escorted me inside his rickety cabin where I passed ecstatic hours thumbing through his scrapbooks devoted to Constance.
"Yeh,” he said, watching as I went through his precious memories, "you be possessed wid ‘er. I knows that look. Ourta. Bin carrin’ it ‘round wid me fer some fifty some-odd years."
I spent the night with the grizzled, archaic man, sharing a tremendous jug of homemade whiskey. My tongue was raw for days after. He confirmed what I already knew in my heart, that the years hadn’t touched Constance. Reuben became bleary-eyed as he reminisced. He’d been a director during Hollywood’s budding years and an educated man. When Constance left so did his taste for civilized company. He'd lived in the mountains so long he’d acquired the articulation and mannerisms of the rural culture.
Fighting sleep, I listened to his tales. He filled my head with stories of Constance only a man who had been intimate with her would know. Like her affair with the surrealist painter and photographer, Man Ray, who painted a very private, sensuous portrait of the cleft between her buttocks, calling it "Shadow Valley." She refused to have it displayed so, in spite, he went on to paint his celebrated "Lips." By the time my eyes closed for the night I felt like I had known Constance forever.
Next morning I awoke with a world-class hangover. Reuben stood in front of an old wood-burning stove stirring something in a huge black pot. He dipped a ladle into it, poured up a bowl, and gave it to me.
"Eat." He grinned toothlessly and wickedly through his beard. "It’ll make ya human again. It’s sour’d rice, with a tetch of the dawg whot bit ya."
It looked dreadful. Bits of brown rice floated in a bowl of thin, blackish gruel. Not desiring to hurt his feelings I slurped down some. Miraculously it stayed down and wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked. I drank a cup of coffee that could have liquefied tempered steel, politely refused another, and left Reuben in the doorway promising I’d keep him informed on my progress.
I drove back down the tortuous mountain road directly to Denver’s airport and bought a ticket to Dallas, Texas. Six hours later I applied my foot to the brakes of a rental car near the Redbird Airport in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. Leaving the car to its fate, I walked down Westmoreland Road searching for my Constance.
Soon I was standing in front of an old unpainted, Colonial-style house surrounded by dense, untrimmed shrubbery. Four columns rose upward from the decaying front porch giving a spooky impression of former days of grandiosity. I hunkered down inside the thick shrubbery to wait for nightfall.
Why hide? Why not just march up to the front door and knock? Why not openly declare my eternal love for Constance? Would that it had been that effortless, dear conscientious reader.
I was hiding from that woman, Gloria Dodsworth.
Reuben had warned me about her, calling her Lucifer’s daughter through tight jaws. Gloria Dodsworth had been Constance's' personal secretary since the early thirties and, if Reuben is to be believed, her only consistent lover.
There I was, camouflaged among the unkempt hedge, formulating a plan to get inside. I’d have to remain hidden until dark for my scenario to work. I simultaneously suffered from sweltering heat and being consumed alive by a multitude of insects as I waited for cover of night.
Finally darkness descended and a light came on in a corner room. Great. Now I knew where they were. Commando-like, I crept behind the house, flattened myself on the ground and wriggled into the spookiness of the crawlspace. Spitting out cobwebs and flying things, I slithered along, using my hands to probe the termite-infested flooring above me.
Joy overwhelmed me when my hand penetrated the flooring that was so rotten I pushed right through it before hitting something which stopped me but gave way to the touch. Linoleum. I had found the way inside. Working quietly, I punched out a hole large enough to squeeze through. Heaving a noiseless sigh, I crawled into the room.
Huddled in the darkness, I paused to catch my breath and examine my surroundings. I controlled my breathing but seeing anything in the night-shrouded room was hopeless. Moving slowly, with my hands held out like a sleepwalker's, I encountered a doorknob. Carefully turning it I found myself at the end of a long hall where, at the other end, artificial light bled from beneath a door.
Constance was behind that door.
My mouth went dry as wind-swept sand as I inched toward it. My heart thudded against its ribcage akin to voodoo drums and each step echoed in my ears like the clatter of a hundred Clydesdales against cobblestone.
Finally my hand clenched firmly around the light-seeping room’s doorknob. Twisting slowly, I suddenly swung the door back and stepped inside.
The woman for whom I’d abandoned my family, and career (never mind the Lamborghini) looked into my eyes, pointed a slender finger at me, a smile stretched across her ingénue-like face. She wore a flowing, diaphanous nightgown, looking like the angel-from-heaven she most assuredly was.
"Phillip! Gloria, it’s Phillip. He’s come back!" She clasped her hands, prayer-like, to her flawless breasts. "Phillip! Thank God you’ve come at last."
She looked at Gloria Dodsworth, an ancient woman with a hawk-like nose and a face covered with purple and brown age splotches. A most horrible monstrosity.
Constance jabbed the air with a delicate finger. "I told you Phillip would come back to me someday."
Gloria Dodsworth propelled herself from her recliner as if catapulted. "Aarg!" she bellowed, charging like a fusion of Nazi Storm Troopers and Japanese kamikaze pilots. I was ready. My fist connected just below her temple. Her eyes unfocused for a few seconds, hate burning through the pain, then she crumpled ungraciously to the floor.
"Oh, Phillip!" My Constance came to me, arms outstretched, just as I had fantasized a million times. Then we were kissing and crying and laughing and that’s when I realized that I was seeing everything in black and white.
While my heart struggled not to explode, we sank to the floor beside the insensate Gloria Dodsworth, and made love.
Actually that doesn’t accurately describe what took place. The truth is I was a total failure. It was over in a matter of seconds.
Even so, her face glowed as she looked up into my eyes. "Don’t worry, Phillip, I’ll instruct you in the ways of karezza." Little did I know what wondrous things were in store for me.
After we untangled, I cut the Venetian blind drawstrings and hogtied Gloria Dodsworth. I found a roll of electrical tape and taped her mouth, then deposited her in a closet in the room where I had gained access to the house.
That was my mistake.
At this point and time you might well question my methods and ask what Constance was doing as I set about my unsavory but necessary task.
She was gushing over with her love for me. Or rather Phillip. It seems she had me confused with someone from her cluttered past. Hell, I didn’t care, I’d have answered to 'Tinkerbell' if it meant having my Constance.
After securing Gloria Dodsworth I turned my attention to her. As I said, I saw everything in black and white. She was the same alabaster white I recalled from her movies I had seen. Everything else was an assortment of whites, grays and blacks. It was as though I had journeyed into a mad scientist's time machine and been transported back to the black and white days of early film. I felt trapped inside the celluloid with my Constance.
Again, no problem. I was exactly where I wanted to be. We spent five glorious days in exhilaration and mutual devotion. She reunited with her Phillip, I communing with my Constance. She made love commensurate with the goddess she was. She disciplined me in the art of lovemaking in a way that will never be duplicated.
She modeled old costumes she had saved from her movies. For me! Some I recognized; the flimsy, tattered dress she was wearing in Captain Kidd’s Marriage. The flapper dress, with its tassels at the bottom and the little skull hat from the very first movie. And many others. It was like I was having her for the first time, every time!
The karezza method of lovemaking in which my Constance instructed me caused me to feel deliriously happy to have been born of the male gender. I’m quite sure she had saved that most gratifying, sensual experience for me, and me alone. Or Phillip. At any rate it was an adventure of sexual undertaking no one but gods and goddesses should share.
Her prescription for making love intensified the primitive act of coupling into prolonged and mutually gratifying object d’art. The karezza way is to prolong the act for hours. Just thinking about it causes libidinous urges, regardless of the medication they place in my food to inhibit such erotic sensations.
Constance spoke soft, soothing words during lovemaking and experienced numerous small deliverances, gradually building up to the one where she talked in tongues and screamed Phillip’s name. Our glistening, sweaty bodies would then lie there for the few precious moments of rest we allowed ourselves. It was only after they came for me that I realized I was near starvation and had lost over thirty pounds.
I recollect the day they came for me as vividly as I do the soggy toast I had for breakfast this morning. We had been trying, or so it seemed, to eclipse the universal record for lovemaking. I knew she was building toward the world’s greatest liberation by the contortions in her face and her breath, which had become more of a whoop than anything else. She was astride me, bucking, sweating, gasping for air, riding me without discipline. Her eyes rolled up into their sockets and she screamed, "My God, Phillip, I’m dying."
And, as she fell across my heaving, contracting body, in the throes of my own explosive deliverance, she did. I thought I might join her, my exhilaration was so intense.
Abruptly, hands lifted her from my tormented body. I was rudely, embarrassingly, yanked to my feet and steel manacles bit sadistically into my wrists.
I’ve been in the hospital for three months now. Hospital. Big joke. It’s a friggin' nuthouse. They say they’re keeping me here until I become a rational, sane person again. Then they’ll lodge rape and murder charges against me. Somehow, that doesn’t sound right, does it?
I mean, if I was insane when I did what they say I did, how can they make me sane, then prosecute me for something I did while I was insane? It boggles the mind.
I don’t dwell on it. I just think about my Constance. In black and white. I still don’t see colors and, as of late, I even think in black and white. The quack doctors here call it achrona. I’m not concerned. I think only of Constance, and black and white is how I remember her
I watch TV some as they have been considerate enough to permit me that privilege, providing I don’t give them aggravation. Which I don’t. At least not until they commence to lying about my Constance. When they try to coerce me into signing forms acknowledging that I ravished, tortured, and murdered a ninety-year-old crone.
It’s then that I beg to differ with them. I ask if the celestial goddess that they pulled off me that day looked like a ninety-year-old woman. The shrinks shake their heads and produce photos of an elderly woman they claim is My Constance! It’s at those times they have to restrict me with a straitjacket and move me to the scream room.
I know who spread that fabrication. My wife and that woman. On the talk shows. Spreading relentless falsehoods. Lies. Every slanderous word.
How that woman escaped is beyond me. She was bound, gagged, and stuffed into a locked closet. Oh, I know. I saw her on Geraldo sniveling about her ordeal. How she'd broken down the door and found the opening I'd made getting into the house. How she'd crawled through, under, and across to wave down help from a passerby with her last ounce of strength.
And lies about how she lay there, hearing screams coming from my Constance. I don't deny she heard Constance cry out, but they were cries borne from rapture not torture.
They both are writing books and talking movie rights, getting rich while spreading their libelous lies. And who cares what I’ve been through? I mean, what do I have to look ahead to?
Nothing except my memories of Constance.