Ellen Cooper, Untitled (detail), 1982.
Signs of disbelief.
Sighs of apprehension.
The house of Hades.
Hardly an endeavour.
The requirements of the mis-en-scene.
A peu pres mais pas toujours la meme chose.
This wasn’t the place to say it but the enterprise smacked of redundancy. Dunce. Dunce. The word itself was kind of bouncy. The syllables rebounded like a ball in a fives court. Her main problem, she thought, was to overcome the thisness of the now, the actuality of being. Ahah-caught again. The barb of the hook. That was what gave the now its form, shape, articulation, spelled out the matrix of a consciousness. Blanchette, a stalwart firmly grounded kind of character with a cautiously optimistic disposition, had never quite reconciled herself to the fictive mode, to the projection into otherness; for so it seemed weighed against the concrete nodes of her daily existence. She cast her own light, she felt, was her own source of illumination, and if her thoughts shed pale shadows she would not hide among them, would not thwart their implications. If she had characterized herself philosophically, as Nimbus Frugard might have done, she would probably have seen herself as a blend between Aristotle and Camus, between empirical exactitude of observation and the conceptual grandeur of pure action undefiled by veiled intention. Though of course, Nimbus would note parenthetically, intention had its point, its place. The locus of intention, as it were. Luxurious musing, a rare instant of repose.
Blanchette clasped her hands behind her head, pressed her palms against the thick dense mass of her hair. She stretched out her long limbs in front of her and propped her feet on the parapet that surrounded the terrace. What the French call un terrain vague stretched beyond the villa to a jagged line of trees, cedar, pine, eucalyptus. It was still early and a low mist hung over the terrain making it steam. Waking abruptly, she had steered her still torpid body outside as though she were someone else, like a somnambulist. Now her senses were registering, her mood was acquiring some definition, a contouring—and her stomach a craving. If the horns of a dilemma had a shape, she thought, that was the shape of her need. The dilemma was not her favorite kind of beast. Intrigue was not to her liking. An entree she would have favored still more. She had been eating cans of local sardines for days, sometimes with a piece of bread. Occasionally one of them would harpoon a fresh fish off the shore.
Blanchette eased her left shoe off with her right foot and then the right with the bare toes of her left. The brick felt cool and slightly abrasive and she spread her toes confidently. Feeling somewhat ridiculous, as though she were verifying her own physical parameters, she ran her index finger along the inside of her thigh, tracing the outline of the muscle. It felt smooth, resilient and moist from sitting out on the terrace. The sensation was light and friendly, reassuring. She passed her hand over her grey cotton tunic, encountered the small bumps of her breasts. Everything still seemed intact.
Blanchette swung her legs down from the terrace wall and squeezed her damp feet back into the canvas shoes she had found on the corner of the street. They were apparently men’s shoes, color khaki and the soles were worn unevenly. The left heel sloped but the insides were quite clean and they were her size, no mean achievement given the length of her own feet. Most of all they felt comfortable which was the main thing. They would need to be for what she had to do.
She had barely identified the two options that were open to her when a slight cough at her left elbow gave the lie to another human presence on the terrace. Her dog, The Infidel, a scruffy street mutt with occasional glimmers of far-reaching pedigree had a cough too but it was more rasping and less controlled. This cough was a civilized cough, discreet but apologetic, firm but not too insistent, altogether contained. Blanchette leaned back, pivoting on her chair, stretched out her arm and reached for the person who had stolen up on her. Her fingers were stopped by the person’s waist and she jumped up, laughing. Their bodies sprung together like a rubber band released, they clasped each other like a vacuum seal. This should have been the end, she thought.
I can’t and this isn’t, this isn’t the end. My existence here is too precarious, she thought. The ceiling peels even though I repainted it. The floor gathers dust every day. Her tiny quartz timer displayed in alternating mode the time and date, 6:30, 11:10, she had trouble remembering which was which. Then she noticed one of the numbers changed while the others stayed the same. At 12:00, she thought, I’ll know whether it’s night or day. A chase. Time chases day into night, the night pulls back the day. Night is a coal black mare. I cannot waste these golden moments on footing and crossfooting columns, entering numbers into squares, filling the grid. Night is not … an instance of despair. Polymephus is the son of Poseidon.
Suddenly an ally. Outside the bombs are detonating, the sirens shriek. She opened the gate and ran down the hillside. At the bottom the dirt track swerved into a paved road. A small group of people clustered on the stoop of the grocery store. Where are they, she asked them. One said, On the other side of the trees. The other said, Just behind you. A blue flash electrifies the street, the blast of an explosion. Here a celebration, there annihilation, the same detonation. We will let them leave with their arms, as of old vanquished knights left with their swords.
Blanchette coasted down the street and tried very very hard to conjure up the notion of violence. Its motions she knew. It was quite unrelated to the color violet, which was close to it in the dictionary. As a human member of the human race, she felt mortified but obliged to confront the characteristics that other members of the class human exhibited. Among them was the power to detonate bombs and firecrackers for apparent enjoyment on the one hand and with some kind of incomprehensible retaliatory motivation on the other. Sudden loud noises that shook buildings were unpleasant but Blanchette as she passed successive buildings imagined them crumpled into mounds of rubble. There was deciduous dentition, being the teeth of babyhood that fall away and she wondered whether it would be appropriate to apply the word to architecture. Deciduous architecture would be architecture that fell down. Nearly a whole city had collapsed like a pack of cards.
Finally a Christian clock struck 12:00, either eight minutes early or late by her time-piece. Violence, she thought, is known innately. There is nothing gentle about the process of birth, we are not eased into the world. A small child bites ferociously and pulls hair tenaciously. The impulse of tenderness is there but cannot be counted on. Hurt is built into being.
Blanchette turned another corner and arrived at her destination. She bolted the frame of her … she hitched her mount to a post, strode across the lobby and let the elevator take her to one of the upper floors of a high building. In the corridor she listened intently for the murmer of voices. The meeting was in progress. She tapped on the door and turned the handle. The room was dimly lit, crowded and smoky. Blanchette eyed her companions slowly and carefully, one at a time, to make quite sure that she could place everyone in the room. She could feel the air crackling with anticipation. She supposed they were on the verge of a very important decision.
DEA EX MACHINUS