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Harlequin Moon Series

 

kjwolverton@gmail.com

 

The Techno Sadhu RADIO THEATRE PRESENTS

 

A COSMIC PSYCHO DRAMA

The synopsis, or as I encapsulate my zen cowboy short stories, a zazen parable puzzle…

 

It is the prequel, the story,  life on the perimeter… the story of Santiago McBoil, a man who is the antagonist, but in this case, a man who opposes himself. He is half Mexican, and half Irish. His mother, was a Myan woman from the disputed Mexican border of Guatemala highlands , and his father was a vagabond, a Jack of all trades and hopeless lush, from the Republic of Ireland. Santiago McBoil, was bred in the jungles of Mexico, but was raised as an illegal migrant in the United States, who joined the American Army at the age of 21, at the height of the Vietnam War, and was a participant of the Mylai massacre. It is story of Santiago in midlife crisis who is chasing illusions of paradise while running away from the nightmares of the hell he has lived through.

 

The Harlequin Moon

Chapter 1 ALL IS FAIR IN LOVE AND PARKING METERS

 

PROLOGUE

Santa Fe, New Mexico, 4th of July 1994­­

Santiago McBoil smoked an unfiltered camel as he circled the faded yellow 77 Dodge truck around the central plaza of Santa Fe. Affluent tourists crowded the expensive little square. As usual, Rastafarians, rainbow children and few genuine old hippies were passing hand carved stone pipes around at the sandstone phallic monument. He had to stop several times to let camera snapping vacationers pass. He could see the reflection of his beat old truck cast from the picture windows of the high priced tourist traps. It was poverty sliding over wealth and the contrast made him laugh. When he caught a glimpse of his face he suddenly felt betrayed knowing he wanted the beautiful life as much as anybody.

He looked down San Francisco Street to see the setting sun in the purple hazed mountains twenty miles to the west. The nuclear city, Los Alamos, sparkled with tiny points of light. Sky rockets were blossoming like magenta wounds in the dusk. Firecrackers poked sharp holes in the city noise. The wail of police sirens echoed from the barrios.

Santiago wanted to stop at Billy’s Bar near the plaza but a parking space was impossible to find. Just as he turned the corner on Water Street he saw an empty meter. A woman driving a new Lexus had turned into a driveway and then reversed to come back to the vacant space. Santiago saw her and cut a quick u-turn and whipped into the open parking meter. As he got out of his truck the Lexus pulled up next him and stopped. A woman powered down the passenger window and gave Santiago a scalding look.

            “Bastard,” she hissed.

            “Hey…all is fair in love and…parking meters.” He laughed at the sour look on the woman’s face but as she accelerated away the Lexus ran over his right boot. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he yelled and looked down at his flattened toe knowing he always paid for what he got.

            He left the Dodge and limped towards Billy’s Bar where he could think about what he was going to do with the rest the evening and ponder what was left of his numbered days. It had been months since he had the opportunity to bore Billy with his pissed off view of life. The bar was not what it had been when Santiago first arrived in Santa Fe nearly ten years before. The owner said the bar was missing valuable tourist trade. What had been a perfect beer swilling dive changed it into a yuppie palace. In the beginning it was bamboo tables, rattan chairs, phony palm trees, black velvet paintings of hula girls and as dark as doom. Now it was Santa Fe style hacienda furniture, Spanish tiles and big windows that let the whole world gawk in and out. Santiago was resigned that every thing changes, but still it had been the only bar downtown where old drunks and suicidal veterans could hangout unnoticed.

            Santiago pushed open the swinging doors and peered through the amber glow of evening light to see if his drinking buddies were sitting at the antiqued ironwood table by the rounded kiva fireplace. Three lesbian looking androids looked back at him then frowned into each other. He glanced to the right of the small stage with the hand painted screen where sometimes his pals would sit. A jet-set couple decked out in a turquoise and silver had that table. At the bar was a collection of yuppies but down at the far end sat an old tunnel rat, Junkie Bob, who had also been in the Mekong Delta in 68. He was the only one Santiago knew who liked to drink beer better than himself, but just now he didn’t feel like hearing Vietnam stories of subterranean murder. He didn’t want to remember. He was tired of assassins who died in sacrifice to bullshit.

            Santiago went to the other end of the bar and found an empty stool near the stuffed cowboy dummy that always stood at the bar. He sat there for the next two hours alternately spinning out his bitterness to Billy the bar tending owner and the dummy who was a better listener. Billy was bald headed and looked like Mr. McGoo of Looney Tune fame. He had been a draft dodger who stayed at the University of New Mexico long enough to get a doctorate in nuclear physics. The government hired him to be creative in the Atomic City until he got busted for smoking dope at one of the reactor test sites. Now he ran the bar and talked computer talk to anyone who could go into theoretical math. Billy only stopped at Santiago’s end of the bar to replenish his beer or smoke a cigarette.

Santiago said to Billy, “It’s better to live 20 beautiful days than 20 fucked-up years.”

“Yeah, sure, but remember reality is the best fantasy,” Billy said then served a customer demanding a Heineken.

Santiago was thinking of his shattered marriage and the other woman, Martina. He passed over the thought once again of how ironic it was, that he had lost a wife who still loved him while he still loved a female enigma  who could love nobody. He knew Martina was crazy the first time they met in a festival winter of 1982. Probably she was still crazy but he had to see her again. He wondered why in the hell she mailed the unaddressed letter, post marked from Paris, two years before – a letter with only four significant little words. Those four words had sent him on his futile search. He thought of the words again – The Mountain is High.  If he was going to find her, he had better do it soon. The circle of his life was closing.           

Santiago had stopped in for a quick beer but kept drinking for the next three hours. There was a sign hanging on the wall, “Billy’s Bar has no favorite drunk – We all take turns.” One beer led to eight beers, chased by seven shots of tequila accompanied with stupid laughter. He looked at his face in the beveled mirror behind the bar and saw only the graying beard and the deep creases around his blue eyes. Ugly bastard, he thought. He didn’t know which disgusted him more, his tortured face or the bullshit patriotism of the Fourth of July.

            Leila, his ex-wife was having a party at the house Santiago had built when they had arrived in New Mexico in 1986. Their daughter Tara had flown in from Glasgow with old Scottish friends and wanted to see him. Tara asked on the telephone if he would help with the barbeque. She told him to stop being a jerk and come back home. He said yes, and would arrive in the late afternoon. He meant to do that but his thirst for alcohol increased with every mile he came closer to the broken marriage. It was two years since Leila had kicked him out. If he had not stopped at the bar maybe he could have returned to his old family life while he was still sober.  He preferred the odor of booze, Mr. Clean and stale ashtrays. He was at home with drunks.

“I looked for truth Billy, but it doesn’t exist,” Santiago slurred.

            “Yadda, yadda.”  Boredom flattened Billy’s face.   

            Santiago was drunk. But even with a numb brain it was perfectly clear that running on alcohol did not cure the blues. His life had fallen apart.  Ten thousand miles of beer soaked bars trailed the two years behind him. He had rolled along their wooden surfaces like a bowling ball, bouncing into beer mugs and shot glasses until he was into the return gutter and spun back to the beginning of the game -- an alcoholic hole full of pretend cowboys who trailed contemporary pathways from cosmopolitan congestion out to open Indian Country. He was back in the same shit heap, with the same stoned faces, repeating the same beer-barrel-marijuana-mantra.      

“The beautiful dream is nothing but a nightmare,” Santiago said.

 “Yadda, yadda. “  Billy rolled his eyes to fly speck shapes on the stacked beer mugs lined up along the bottom of the bar mirror.

 Santiago’s fiftieth birthday was two months away. Being fifty had become an obsession. The diagnosis from the VA hospital changed everything. Everyday was precious yet wasted and being drunk only concentrated a growing paranoia to the memories of ghosts. Santiago felt he no longer existed. His mind floated up on the ceiling and looked at the body down below. It was someone else who had lived his life long before -- someone else who once had youth, romance and adventure -- someone else who had seen death -- now death was looking for him.

“Life is fucking irony,” Santiago mumbled.

“Yeah sure,” Billy whistled through his teeth while focusing on flies landing on beer mugs.

 Double-crossed life and death was the excuse for Santiago to drink, or at least that is the lie he told himself. He was still alive when he should be dead and those who disserved living were rotting secretly in rice paddies on the other side of the world. He settled for surviving and braining himself so he couldn’t remember. That was it, the sum total. In 1974 he ran away from Nixon’s America and the curse that was still going on in Vietnam.  He jumped a freight ship to Scotland and met Leila in Glasgow a few months later. The birth of their daughter a year later almost convinced him he could live again until they moved to the island.

 He flicked his memory back and thought of the second time he found Martina in 1986 and all of the catastrophes that followed. He could see Martina. He heard her voice – always that teasing voice, testing him. She was a bitch from Hell, yet damn, he would do anything to see her again. His thoughts settled onto her face but it was blurred. He pushed the thought of her image into darkness… maybe she was just a myth.  He thought of the island again

“There has to be more to life than this! I got to do something special... Why not? Hell man, half a century,” Santiago said.

            “Yadda, yadda.” The flies had become fascinating.

            Santiago slapped his beer bottle as though it had insulted him and as it smashed on the floor he screamed, “It’s not here!” The buzzy room went completely silent and all eyes turned to the bar.

“Goodnight Santiago. Go home and sleep it off!” Billy said.

             “Come on, jus’ one more.”

            Billy pointed at the swinging doors and said in a flat voice, “I’m not telling you again!”

            Santiago slid off the barstool and wavered on his feet. “Ah, I didn’t want to be here anyway.”  The customers began whistling and clapping as he stumbled out onto the street.

Two years before, he wanted to return to a dream world so he had gone on a long trip that took him around in a lost circle. The dream was not found and guilt was impossible to escape. It was a wild goose chase from America to Europe and back. He was trying to shake the burden he carried since the mud of the Mekong. All he found was the confusion of having separate lives that didn’t fit into one time or even begin to make sense -- the living past and the dead present. 

            “Fuck!” Santiago said as he got to his old Dodge saw the parking ticket and at the same time remembered the barbeque with Leila and Tara. It was nearly midnight and he had blown it again. There was no use stopping at the house. He managed to drive a drunken wobble all the way to Albuquerque without getting spotted by the cops. He checked into a sleazy motel and collapsed on red and white flowered nylon bedspread in a dingy smoke yellowed room scented with whorehouse deodorant. He lay there for a moment, the ceiling spinning and his head banging, while deep inside he felt completely crazy and alone. He turned his head into the smell of the room and groaned, “Damn, this place stinks…”

He looked at the telephone on the bedside stand, then pulled the bottle of malt whiskey out of his travel bag and took a large swig.  Seven hours away in Scotland the sun would be coming up on the only friends who had never denied him, Neil and George. George was dead but Neil was still very much alive – Neil who had saved his life, and had come to know him better than any other man. He was only a telephone call away.  Santiago picked up the bottle of whiskey and looked at it for a few seconds and then punched the phone card numbers. The phone rang seven times. Santiago was just about to hang up when a gruff sleepy voice answered.

“Aye…yes, yes.” When Santiago said nothing the voice barked, “For God sake…what?”

 Santiago laughed at Neil’s early morning irritation and said, “This is Acme Vacuum Cleaner Company offering the best suck of the century.”

“Ach, I should have known it was you, you bloody old loony,” Neil said.

 “Don’t call me an old loony. I’m more youthful by the day,”

“Where are you – are you back in Scotland?”

“Not yet, but I’m heading that way.” 

  “You’re daft, Santiago. It’s the wee early hours of the morning here.”

  “Of course it is but what’s important is that you get up immediately, go find a bottle of whiskey and then tell me about your miserable Scottish weather.”

   “Fuck off you American waster! It’s a mere mist and that is what makes it such a bonny land.”

   “Bonny my ass! Hey, listen. I’ve got a plan for a little holiday in a place where the sun always shines and the beaches are full of sexy women who roll down their swimming suits like a strip tease show -- slow and tantalizing.”

     “What mad idea have you cooked up now? Wait a minute, I’m not paying for it this time you wee chiseler!”

“Neil, I want to go back to Corsica. Meet me there. You had a good time when you met me there the last time didn’t you.”

“Aye, I did, at least what I can remember of it. When was that?”

It was in 85 Neil, when I was rich and famous.”

“Ach aye, you did have money once. Say what was the name of that girl I wandered off with? Was it Martha?”

“Martina... “

“Yes of course, Martina, what lovely lass she was…hold on, didn’t you have something to do with her later on?”

Santiago said nothing for a few seconds, being surprised the plan was so transparent. “Uh…yeah, just a little detour from marriage for a while…”

Santiago, you are not going back because of her?”

“No way, Neil -- it’s my Birthday.”

“What?”

“My Birthday. I’ll be fifty.”

“No, not already. Christ man, are we that old?”

“What do mean already? Neil, Vietnam was a thousand years ago. As they say, if we’d known we were going to live this long we should’a taken better care of ourselves…”

“Fifty? I must be due for a Pulitzer Prize by now…”

“Yeah, you should have got a one for all your bloody war photos…”

“Aye, bloody is right…”

 “Hey, let’s talk about something a little more fun. So, I want to do something special for my fiftieth birthday - that is, if I don’t die first.”

            “Don’t be daft, Santiago. If you were meant to be dead it would have been in 68. Anyway laddie, you’re younger than most men who are thirty.”

            “Hey, death’s always a possibility -- guy’s fifty are dropping like flies.” Santiago’s memory chip instantly flickered from the helicopter evacuation out of the Mekong Delta in 68 to the VA hospital report in 96. Fucking rectal cancer, the last gift from the Vietnam…one giant pain in the ass…

After an hour of boozy talk Neil agreed to rendezvous with Santiago on the island and they said a sloppy goodbye. Santiago laughed at the whole idea. It was crazy; he had just come back from Europe. He lay back on the pillow and passed out. Late in the afternoon he woke up feeling like his brain was leaking out his eyes. “Ah Jesus,” Santiago moaned as he crawled into the bathroom and spewed yellow vile into the bowl. He lay on the bathroom floor for an hour waiting for the retching to stop. The talk with Neil and the unaddressed letter from Martina kept coming back into his thoughts. What else was there to do but return to the island?

Later in the evening, his head and body calm, he went into the center of town and found a cyber café. Santiago E-mailed Neil. AUBERGE DE LA RESTONICA, SEPT. 20. DON’T FORGET MY BIRTHDAY GIFT -- IF YOU CAN’T FIND 20 YEAR LAGAUVULIN MALT, GLEN FIDDICH WILL DO. YOURS FOREVER, SANTIAGO.

 

Santiago booked tickets the following morning with the last of his plastic credit lifeline. As he was walking out of the travel agency he glanced up on the wall and saw two large tourist posters that were like tarot cards of his past and future. On beach scene from the Bay of Ajaccio, viewing up the Gravone Valley into the snow-capped mountains of Corsica. By the time Santiago’s foot stepped on the outside pavement, his soul was in another world.

The Harlequin Moon

Chapter 2, The Mountain is High

September 18, 1994

Whiskey fueled Santiago’s flight from Albuquerque to Houston. He retained the alcohol buzz to JFK and then stayed drunk at thirty thousand feet over the Atlantic until he landed at Charles De Gaulle. In Paris, he tried to find Martina through ancient telephone numbers during the three hour layover.

 

He called Axle, an old friend who had been a rock star in Europe during the 70s – Axle who had been the link to Martina – Axle who had given the musician’s maxim   “Love the one you’re with,” and Santiago took his woman. He was amazed when Axle suddenly answered.

            “My God, I don’t believe I finally got you,” Santiago said. “I’ve called dozens of times in the last two years, and all I ever got was the answering machine…”

            “Santy Baby is that you?”

            “Hey Superstar, how come you never call me back?”

            “How can I call you when you never leave a number, Dude? Where are you man?”

            “Paris for the next few hours…”

            “Paris? Oh man, I don’t believe it. I just split Paris yesterday. What are you doing there? Hey you gotta come see me. No, wait Dude, I’m splitting for Hong Kong in the morning…”

            “Axle, do you ever stay home? No wonder you lose your girl friends…”

            “Oh right Dude…I remember -- Hey mofo you stole my old Lady – shiza, I knew I shudda tied her up and put her in a dungeon…”

            “Hey Axle, you’re the one who told me to…”

            “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.  Dude, I lose more poontang than you’ll ever find in a life time. So WTF? What you do’n in Frog Town, man. Those French women will bleed you blind.”

            “Speaking of French women, do you have any idea where Martina is these days? I got a letter she sent from Paris, but there was no return address.”

            “Martina? Right, I was think’n it was that other chick you ran off with…what’s her name…Yeah, but is was Martina. First thing Dude is remember Martina’s Corsican. She would slice your throat if she heard you call her French. And second thing is Dude; I don’t give a frig if I ever see her sweet little saucy pit again.”

            “Axle, are you still mad at me from all those years ago?”

            “Screw no Dude. I could give a rat’s ass less about that old story. You ain’t the first mofo that poked one of my old ladies.”

            “Look, Axle that was a long time ago and…”

            “Santy Baby don’t sweat it. Shiza man, you and me got history. screw Martina. No Dude, I’m just pissed with her cause she ripped off my Roy Orbison collection. Man, I had those records from when I was a kid. He’s the fool that inspired me to get into music. Wait a minute, maybe it was Sally that American chic who took my records…hey, wait, who’d you run off with, Martina, Sally or that Hungarian witch, what’s her name…Ulna?”

            “I didn’t run off with anybody, but it was Martina...”

            “Right, Martina, right Dude, she was a wild trip. Hey. You ever hear anything from her?”

            “Axle, that’s what I just asked you.”

            “Oh, right man, yeah right. Hey, who are we talking about? See all these fantastic women are beginning to look the same. Dude, I don’t even know who I last slept with and I think she’s still in my bed.”

            Santiago held the phone in his hand for a moment, trying to figure which one of them was drunk. “Look, Axle, do you know where Martina is? I need to find her.”

            “Whoa Dude, she steal your collection too?”

            “Axle, I’m serious. Where’s Martina!” Anger and desperation was beginning to pile on Santiago’s voice.

            “Calm down Dude. Hey man I don’t know where she is. The last time I saw her was two or three years ago. She was in Paris with her weird half brother and he was talking about getting a sex change operation. Dude, her whole freak’n family story is where the dis came from in function – you know what I mean?”

            “She’s got a half brother?”

            “Fubar huh? But that’s what she said, but sex change or not I’ll tell you the kid was a flaming queen – but if Martina is related that’s not too surprising, considering she had more balls than most studs I know.”

            “So you don’t know where she is?”

            “Satan knows Dude. She said something about going back to the old man on the mountain, wherever the fuz that is…”

            “The mountain?”

            “Yeah, the freak’n mountain, Dude…she was probably talking about the mountain of cocaine she could stick up her nose again. Screw, that witch could snort.”

            “Mountain…” Santiago could see the words in the letter.

            “Hey Dude, listen…call me back later…this cowgirl here is taking my donkey out for a walk… and hey, whoa babe, slow down, uh, yeah Dude, call back in an hour or so. Nice talk’n Dude.” The telephone line snapped like a dry twig and then it was dead.

 

 

            Santiago looked around the airport terminal only slightly aware of the hum of overhead lights and the steady thud and slide of moving feet. He saw her face, her brown eyes, the soft silences under the cheek bones and her dark auburn hair falling across her breasts. He could taste her lips. Her eyes looked back at him. He could hear her voice when she teased him as they lay in bed, “…you have an assassin’s face…”

 

She had no idea of the irony of those words nor would she have even cared. She lived in her own world and Santiago knew he was chasing a phantom. The letter from her two years before had only succeeded in bringing the end of his marriage.  He should have stayed with her the first time they were lovers in Saigon, then the second time years later, by accident, during the winter festival in germany…but the love for his daughter brought him back to temporary sanity.

De Gaulle International was full of jet-age travelers but Santiago’s eyes fell on a conspicuous group of American soldiers. Sucking-chest-wounds flashed in his mind and Neil dumping him on the floor of the chopper as it pulled up from the mud. He could see through his blood smeared eyes the bodies scattered around the burning village below. The vision vanished and the Class “A” uniforms of the new soldiers solidified within the De Gaulle terminal.

They were just kids born after the muddle of Vietnam. Ghost faces drifted silently amidst the army green. Santiago erased the flash vision by searching through the old telephone numbers again. He called another number in Corsica. No answer. The phone rang blue notes in empty space. He went to the bar feeling hollow. He gulped a double scotch then stumbled off looking for the duty free, the phone again, the bar again.

 

It was a three hour parade of loneliness accompanied by the electric hum of an artificial world. Santiago called the number in Corsica once more. Eloise answered in French but her accent immediately betrayed her upper class English history. Eloise and Santiago talked long enough to convey her ignorance of Martina’s where abouts and for him to say he would be in Ajaccio by lunchtime. He went to the Air France counter and confirmed his flight to Corsica.

 

            September 19, 1994 

Santiago arrived on the late morning flight. A taxi took him to the center of Ajaccio and to a reunion with Eloise and other expatriate British friends he had known when he lived on the island. Eloise was an octogenarian and the matriarch of the expatriate clique eager to meet for a wine soaked lunch. They sat out on the patio of a high rise penthouse. It was here in the same apartment ten years before where Martina had appeared like a phantom. Santiago looked over the balcony down the six floors to the harbor and palm tree boulevards.  To the north Mount Rotondo floated in the fall haze.

            “Santiago, I don’t know how you come up with these incredible tales,” Eloise said. “You get yourself in so much trouble you simply frighten me. When are you going to grow up?”

            “At the last possible moment sweetheart.”

            “Honestly, you and Oscar are both just overgrown brats. But do remember, if you ever need my help again, I shall save you despite my better judgment.” Eloise looked sternly at Santiago. She thought of him as her second son. She looked across the table and regarded her son Oscar who was smiling at Santiago. She knew he loved Santiago as a friend and the brother he never had. Eloise frowned. How could two men in their fifties still be so absolutely hopeless with life?

            “Well I think his adventures have been absolutely marvelous,” Vaughn said. “Santiago you really should write these stories down. If you don’t, I bloody will.”

             “Darling,” Ronda said. “I think Santiago has got the point.”  The wine put Vaughn into a repetitive phase.

             “But he has had such absolutely marvelous experiences since he left the island, and anyway I’m amazed he’s still alive after that Piccadilly with...oh my God, I’ve forgotten her name,” Vaughn said. “Tell me Santiago, do you really think she was worth the trouble?”

            Oscar laughed. “Santiago if intend to put your head in the lions mouth again, I shall not pull you out this time.”

            Eloise looked across at Santiago and saw the look in his eyes. “Have another glass of wine you two louts, but both of you will have to take your foot out of your mouth first.” She remembered sending Oscar to get Santiago out of a situation that was rather difficult.

            “Sorry…but what was her name? Was she worth the price old man?” Vaughn said oblivious to delicacy.

             “Martina?  No, I guess not,” Santiago said. He looked across the bay and tried to squeeze the feeling out that was suddenly rushing in.

             “Oh for God sakes Vaughn, you are like a bull in a china shop.” Ronda lit a cigarette and blew smoke out her nose. ”That business was so long ago, I’m sure Santiago would just as soon forget the whole bloody mess. Let’s talk about that marijuana in New Mexico. I can’t believe it looks like broccoli. How do they do that?”

            Eloise’s son Oscar, who was a farmer and the same age of Santiago interjected, “I bet that is why Santiago’s life is so extraordinary – he’s been smoking broccoli all this time instead of dreary old pot…”  Everyone laughed except Santiago.

            “It’s all in the cultivation I guess.” His words were vacant. He was ready for the Restonica Gorge where he had once been with Martina and in a few more hours he would rendezvous with Neil.

            The layers of alcohol in the last twenty-four hours began to shape the day into a blurry soap opera. Santiago’s mind was floating. He should have been exhausted but memories sparked him with a curious energy. Too many bottles of Domain Peraldi later he shambled onto the afternoon train for Corte as the English colony waved an over-wined goodbye and begged him to stay in touch. Santiago fell in a seat and passed out.

 

            The conductor had to ask Santiago twice for the tickets. “Eh, oh sorry.” Santiago stammered.

            “Oo la la,” the conductor said.

            The agony of attempting to speak French came back. “Excusez moi... pardon,” Santiago said meekly.

            The conductor sniffed, looked at Santiago sourly then took the tickets and whispered in French, “Touriste, salaud de col.”

            Santiago stiffened with the Corsican slang obscenity. He felt anger rising as images from the past slipped by the window. He tried to forget.

 

            By rail it is 90 kilometers from Ajaccio to Corte.  The diesel powered couches of the Corsican Railway climb slowly over the mountains, through the tunnels and make the journey in two hours. Santiago finally began to relax into a doze when the train arrived seventeen minutes late at the Corte station.

 

Jostled awake, he grabbed his backpack and stepped wearily off the train into the hot afternoon sun. A thread of mountain air wisped over his face as he moved across the platform. He flicked his eyes from side to side half expecting phantoms to be standing under the silences of the mottled stone depot. It all looked so familiar. People walked around him greeting friends and family. He searched for Neil but all he saw were Corsicans and other tourists.

            Santiago considered the long walk to the hotel, but the decision was made for him as passengers and taxis disappeared leaving dust and silence. Santiago rubbed his face and tried to push some feeling into his brain. His body felt its fifty years. He was aching from plane and train seats embossed into his spine. The prelude to a giant hangover was banging in his head. He reached into his pocket for his ever present aspirin and gulped four. There were still a few hours of light. The walk would do him good. He slung the backpack onto his shoulders, took a slow deep breath then pointed himself towards the Restonica Gorge.

            Santiago knew the road leading up the first three kilometers to the Restonica Gorge was  gentle and winding, but then changed abruptly at  Auberge de la Restonica. The next thirteen kilometers ascended to high alpine country, nearly four thousand meters above the Mediterranean.  He had been there with Martina when the top of the gorge lay in ragged white remnants of winter and the foot was baked in the summer sun. The Restonica River was fed by melting snow and glacier fields the year round. The clear water was so icy it felt like fire.

            He adapted to Corsican time and stretched the walk to nearly three hours. The sun set early as it always does in the gorge. Twilight held back the night. As he approached the Auberge, Santiago laughed. Nothing had changed about the rustic granite stone hotel but the number of dogs. Beastly permutations of mutt-lust yapped and waggled their tails accompanying him to the glowing lights of the entrance lobby.

            He hesitated at the heavy wooden double doors and peeked through the engraved glass windows.  He thought again of Martina being there with him one late night ten years before, but now he hoped to find Neil, who he loved in another way. Two pink faced Germans stood at the lobby desk while to their left stood a finely dressed woman. She was talking to someone out of sight. Beyond the woman Santiago could see a broad arched doorway. It opened to a small den with a rock-faced fireplace and two reddish cracked leather armchairs.  In one he could see the back of a balding head and corduroy knees protruding. To the right of the lobby was another doorway opening to the dining room. It was impossible to see more than the corner of an empty table. Santiago pushed the doors open and bumped his way into the lobby.

            The finely dressed woman was rattling out a string of Italian giving swift instructions to a man who appeared to be either an obedient servant or a groveling husband. The woman stopped in mid-sentence as she bounced her eyes off Santiago and then raised one shoulder, as if to fend off a cold wind. Santiago was used to such a chilled reaction, the way a mongrel dog knows what it means when a man stoops for a rock. It must be her husband, he thought.

            The two Germans were asking a bent old man at the counter if a room was available. Santiago passed on through to the den to have a closer look at the knees. He saw a protruding belly in a sweater pushing the weave tight. A fleshy face beamed up and coughed, “Bonsoir Monsieur.” He returned the greeting, observing the other armchair contained a small poodle wedged into a cushion. He hunched his shoulder to the side and let the backpack slide off next to the armchair. The poodle gave it a sniff.

            “That’s it pal, guard the bag -- you’ll make a great watch-dog.”

            The poodle’s eyes fell sleepily. He walked back through the lobby door entering the dining room and saw two couples sitting at separate tables. Santiago looked beyond them, through two large glass doors opening onto a patio. He could see the dim figure of a man turned away looking in the direction of the river. The man stood straight with his arms crooked at the elbows, hands on the hips and Neil’s hallmark, the Scottish kilt. Santiago quickly stepped to the kitchen window that served as a bar. A gray haired lady was placing glasses on a shelf.

            “Excusez moi, c’est possible, duex verres de whiskey s’il vous plait, et merci beaucoup.”

            The woman smiled, answering in perfect English, “Oh, you must be thirsty. Do you want ice?”

             “No, just whiskey, merci. Is it okay to pay later with the meal?”

 “But of course, Monsieur.”

            Stars were beginning to fill the clear night sky and the mountains around the Auberge were like frozen black waves. He was within three steps of Neil when he said in a John Wayne imitation, “Pardoner, you give up drink’n red-eye?”

            Neil whirled, his kilt spinning around his legs. “You wee rascal, you caught me up!” Neil laughed and both men stepped together to embrace. One of the whiskeys tipped and went down his back. “Ah you wee bugger!”

            Santiago stood back and held the remaining whiskey between them, “Maybe you ought to try putting some of this in your mouth. I’m told the effects are wondrous.”

            Neil and Santiago had no family blood yet many times when they were seen together people would assume they were brothers because of their similar frenetic energy.

Neil was tall and refined and had the face of a blonde Greek God.  Like most Scots, Neil’s eyes were blue, but not the washed-out color of the northern skies. They were like the azure seas of the Aegean. His complexion was also a contradiction to his nationality.  In the long gray of Scottish winters, his skin would become sallow, looking drained of blood, but three days in the sun would change it to copper. It was the molecules of history moving when a dark wanderer arrived from solar south lands and left his seed in Scotland. Despite the possibility of transient blood being in his veins, Neil was bred a Gentlemen. He was born into money and was trained with all of the fine tunings it could bring in the British class system, yet he was a rebel. Instead of going into the mercantile business as his father and grandfather had done he chose his own destiny and had become photojournalist and then a combat photographer. It was because of that profession he had met Santiago in the killing fields of Vietnam and by fate been his savior.

            Santiago was not a Gentleman and no amount of privileged school would have ever made him one. His character was rough-hewn with none of the grace that Neil stepped into automatically. Santiago should have had a “BORN TO LOSE” tattoo on a bicep for if there was a hard road to travel he would find it. Santiago did not give his confidence easily but he trusted Neil who besides owing him his life had seen his ruffian nature too many times. Santiago was not a pretty man. His body seemed to be intended for several men. His head was stuck on without the conveyance of a neck and his face was thin lipped with a crooked nose and mousey colored hair. He had the brown eyes of his Mexican mother but his skin had inherited the pallid complexion of his Irish father that made him pinkly conspicuous on sun tan beaches. Age had solidified the lean wolf look that was like an aged Marine Corps poster face.

             Neil coughed, “My God I think that’s a wee bit stronger than it is in Scotland. You sure this is whiskey?  It might be petrol.  You know the bloody French!”

After several whiskeys, sitting at an outdoor table in the cool evening, they ordered a traditional Corsican meal -- ribs of young goat. Wine fell in cascades. They were like two boys in an amusement park with their pockets full of tickets. Ride after ride they journeyed together, howling when they felt the floors dropping from under them, laughing at mirrors bending images. They told stories like rabbit and duck shoots, chasing their histories from amusement to amusement, unraveling into a review of several journeys they had traveled together. They roared with laughter about the time in Yugoslavia they had been caught by a farmer, nude body surfing on his mountain of grain and later how it surprised the young country girls when they saw the seeds in their pubic hair.

            “It’s just as well they couldn’t understand English, because neither of them would have believed the story,” Santiago said.

            “Yes, I rather suspect they both thought we were a couple of bloody poofters.

             “Yeah, but the look on the ladies faces was priceless, even though I was embarrassed to death.”

            The journey of their mutual histories went on for hours but both stayed away from the story they wanted to forget. Finally there came sighs of exhaustion and lusty belches. Their bellies burned bright from flames of Eau de Vie. They were falling from the edge of their travels when dizzy nausea began to rise. The sound of gagging came from the sudden vacuum of the stomach as it wrenched out of the body. Their laughing stopped and at the cost of several hundred French Francs the earth around them looked like splattered minestrone.

            The rapids of the river a hundred yards away rolled into the night. Both men who were clearing their drunken heads became thoughtful. Santiago looked at Neil intensely.

“Do you ever think about what happened back there?”

“Everyday and never,” Neil said.

“It was screwed up, wasn’t it?”

Neil coughed, looked towards the river and said, “In a word, Aye. Screwed.”

“They screwed all of us didn’t they?”

“Aye, they screwed us and there is nothing we can do about it now. You saw what came out of My Lai. They burnt Lieutenant Calley and everyone was happy to point a finger at him. Poor Bugger. They were all guilty and we are all guilty.”

“Us grunts were all assassins,” Santiago said.

“No, you were the assassin’s angels. You soldiers did everything Nixon and Ho wanted you to do.”

 “Yeah, I guess so...why did you carry on doing war after that crap, Neil?”

“What else can I do? Maybe one day truth will be published on the front page and the whole miserable world will stop believing in lies...”

“Yeah, maybe, who knows…”

“What about you Santiago? Are you still doing art?”

Santiago looked at Neil for a long moment. “I did up to two years ago. It kept me busy and I still had the idea that art was worthwhile. Then finally it just seemed stupid painting pictures on walls. When my marriage fell apart, I realized I wanted to do something bigger.”

“Bigger?”

“Yeah, I want to paint the Golden Gate Bridge.”

“Piddle off,” Neil laughed. “No, tell me you waster.”

“I started writing Neil. I started writing the whole insane story, but I don’t know where it’s going.”

“Writing?”

“Yeah, I’ve got 39 rejection slips so far. Every publisher says it’s not their kind of novel.”

“You are writing a novel? What?”

“I guess that’s the problem, I don’t know what it is and neither do the publishers. Maybe I’m only crying in my beer, but so far it has kept me from putting a bullet through my head.”

“Ach man, you’ve survived too much to even suggest such a pathetic idea.” Neil stopped and put his hand on Santiago’s shoulder. “Are you writing about the Mylai?”

“I started to. It seemed like that was the only reason I was still alive, so I could tell the story, but once I got started…I don’t know…my marriage fell apart, my life fell apart and the writing just became something else. I went off in a completely different direction. In the end it seemed that life was more important to write about than death.”

“Aye, I don’t know how many more destroyed worlds I want to photograph…Angola, Rwanda, the Gulf War, Serbia…aye it’s only death.”

  Santiago did not want to take that line of thought any further and said, “Do you think your ex still loves you?”

            Neil frowned. “I don’t know who she loves. She loves her job. She loves her cats. Last year she loved a professor of English. She loves herself.” Neil set silently for a moment, his eyes staring at his feet, and then he said quietly. “What about Leila?”

             There was a long pause. “Christ knows. I guess the same kind of stuff. She loves our house - at least what used to be our house. She’s got her studio. She loves the studio. She loves all those real artists she meets in New York and London.  Maybe she used to love me...maybe she loved something in me that wasn‘t there. Frig’n crap…who knows...I don’t know.  I seem to have died years ago and they forgot to bury me…then of course I medssed up everything and went running after an illusion.”

            Santiago took a deep breath and pushed back from the table. He arched his neck and crossed his arms over his face as if to fend off an invisible whip. Neil stared at the empty bottle of l’eua d’vi. Together they groaned. 

 

 

             The starry night belled silently into the rushing song of the river. Insects throbbed in cadence. The little Mediterranean owl echoed in the black walls of the valley with its one note call meshed into the concert of darkness. The Restonica River grew loud. Its message laced over the emptiness of the table. Alpine air drifted past the two men. Bands of warm fragrance mixed with the cool invisible fingers that came down from the high mountain glaciers. The scent of pine began to overpower the smell of used alcohol. There was the sound of a small electrical buzz, then a click and suddenly the lights went out. Officially at one o’clock in the morning, the guests should be in bed. The timer was automatically doing its duty. Then slowly like images that gradually manifest on Polaroid photographs, their contoured shapes took form. Santiago could see a light reflection cast on Neil’s shirt and a very faint shine on his forehead.  He turned around and saw the light was from a new crescent moon hanging in the ceiling of the night.

Santiago began telling Neil an old folk story he had seen performed by Gypsies in a troubadour show. “Once upon a time, a hideous frog had fallen hopelessly in love with a beautiful woman who had come to the pond to gaze upon her own perfect reflection. The frog spoke to the woman from under the water. She fell in love with his voice, but he was afraid to raise himself to the surface for fear he would lose the beautiful one because of his ugliness. It was a frustrated love, viewed from above by a Gypsy who sat in the crescent moon playing a bluesy clarinet.”

 

Santiago stopped the story, was silent for a long moment then said drunkenly, “It’s the Harlequin hanging on the lip of that crescent up there… the Harlequin Moon that makes us crazy.” Santiago wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He took one of the paper serviettes from the table and blew his nose. “Ah screw  it. screw them all…”

            “You feel like a wee walk up the valley?” Neil said.

            “You know I was thinking the same thing. It‘s a good night to tell you what happened to my life and how I blew it -- nothing but irony Neil, just irony.”

            The two old friends walked off into the darkness. Santiago was on a pilgrimage to the past and as they walked between worlds, the Restonica Gorge seemed the perfect place for such a journey. They walked up and up and into the middle of the night. In late September it is still hot during the day but the nights begin to grow cool and that makes for good walking. The 13 kilometers from the Auberge to the end of the road above timberline can be done in a few hours, but as Santiago opened his heart to his friend it seemed a lifetime. In the middle of the night Santiago’s words were laced into the small sounds of creatures that celebrated the music of the river as it rolled in the rhythm of its endless cycle.
 

The Harlequin Moon

Chapter 3, Steel Mill Lovers

 

Corsica 1994

Santiago began telling Neil an old folk story he had seen performed by Gypsies in a troubadour show. “Once upon a time, a hideous frog had fallen hopelessly in love with a beautiful woman who had come to the pond to gaze upon her own perfect reflection. The frog spoke to the woman from under the water. She fell in love with his voice, but he was afraid to raise himself to the surface for fear he would lose the beautiful one because of his ugliness. It was a frustrated love, viewed from above by a Gypsy who sat in the crescent moon playing a bluesy clarinet.”

Santiago stopped the story about the Harlequin Moon, was silent for a long moment then said drunkenly, “It’s the Harlequin hanging on the lip of that crescent up there… the Harlequin Moon that makes us crazy.” Santiago wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He took one of the paper serviettes from the table and blew his nose. “Ah screw  it. screw them all…”

            “You feel like a wee walk up the valley?” Neil said.

            “You know I was thinking the same thing. It‘s a good night to tell you what happened to my life and how I blew it -- nothing but irony Neil, just irony.”

            The two old friends walked off into the darkness. Santiago was on a pilgrimage to the past and as they walked between worlds, the Restonica Gorge seemed the perfect place for such a journey. They walked up and up and into the middle of the night. In late September it is still hot during the day but the nights begin to grow cool and that makes for good walking. The 13 kilometers from the Auberge to the end of the road above timberline can be done in a few hours, but as Santiago opened his heart to his friend it seemed a lifetime.

In the middle of the night Santiago’s words were laced into the small sounds of creatures that celebrated the music of the river as it rolled in the rhythm of its endless cycle.
        

            Scotland, 1975

Santiago was an American by accident, being an illegal immigrant of a Mayan Mother and an Irish vagabond father, he joined the united States Army at  21 to keep from going to jail, and get his citizenship, that is if he survived the war in Vietnam…which he did at least in body…at 30, trying to be an artist, in 1974 he deserted Nixon’s America and bummed his way to Scotland to look up his friend old friends George and Neil who were war photo-journalists, and Neil especially who had saved his by being in the wrong place at the right time.

Santiago had been in Scotland only three weeks when he met Leila who was 22 and who also was attempting to be an artist. Nine months into their romance Leila gave birth to a beautiful blue eyed girl. They named her Tara. At six months of age the baby girl was the center of their life. It was at this point Santiago and Leila decided to marry. They had gone through the worst of the parental nightmare and they were still together. But he had inherited the itch to move on from his father and that would not change.

Santiago's Irish father. Daniel McBoil, who after ten years wondering through Mexico and South America married Rosa, a Mayan descent Mexican, and they sneaked into the American border at Tijuana and set up a shabby home in the skid row quarter Los Angeles and had 7 children.  In the 30’s and 40’s the children were considered half-breeds even by undocumented Mexicans because of the mixed blood. The mother and father gave the children Spanish names to spite their neighbors. Times got hard in Los Angeles, mainly because Daniel couldn’t stay away from a double Irish curse, whiskey and wild women. They moved from Los Angeles to Arizona, then to Oklahoma, on to Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska and then stopped in Kansas where the family nearly starved on a tenant farm during WWII. Daniel decided to find a better land. The fetus of Santiago traveled in the womb of his mother. His brothers and sisters plus piles of cherished junk were stacked on a knocking worn-out 1932 cattle truck Ford. The truck took them all towards what Daniel said would be mountains of gold in the west. They were thirty miles from those mountains when the truck died an overdue death in Pueblo, Colorado.

It was the biggest steel-mill town west of the Mississippi River. It was 1945 and the War made this stinking steel pit an oasis of commerce and industry. The winter snow turned black within a few hours from the heavy coal smoke belched from the Bessemer furnaces burning at maximum production. These were the last good years for the steel town, and it was Santiago's fate to be born there.

            Leila was fine boned, with delicate hands and feet. She was pixie-faced and had strands of sandy hair that turned straw blond in the sun. Her softness was denied at times by the relentless determination that made her small chin stick out like a chisel.

She thought Santiago was a handsome man and sometimes he reminded her of an American Movie Star, the way she imagined them being so vain, so American, but that was not her attraction to him. She saw reflections of herself in Santiago. It was the curiosity that draws ones vanity to the mirror. They were of the same metal, but the only common denominator of their personal histories was ironic. She had been born in the ash-black iron furnace town of Motherwell, one of the corroded suburbs sitting like molting vultures on the hills circling Glasgow.  It may have been magnetic grime that pulled these steel town children together.

Santiago had found art as a child and he had used it all his life as a gimmick to open doors. After his hitch in Vietnam he began to take his talents more seriously. Art was no longer just a vehicle but a belief. Neil beckoned him to Scotland. He left the American catastrophe to discover art in Europe.

 At sixteen Leila was told that she had talent, and she found her real passion during years of art school. Like Santiago, she was driven by an obsessive self image. She was an artist and her existence was by proving herself through work.

Santiago and Leila both lived by their work – not the kind of work that raises a person up in the morning to the drum of the clock, marching one off to factory floors and the buzz of a neon cube. It was not the work that hesitates for ten minute coffee breaks, thirty for lunch -- not work that punches out time, then a journey to a bar, then home to watch television, check the clock knowing morning comes too early and know it’s just another day.

No. Their work was not that work. Their work was far worse, for at least one can justify slave-work which gives proportionate money for time. It is money that pays the rent, buys the food, covers entertainment -- money pays the price for servitude. It is another day, another dollar and it is justified. It supports the economy. It is the system.

One chooses money or one chooses freedom. It is only the blessed that have both. Leila and Santiago wanted that blessing and to be original in a world of clichés. Santiago and Leila had chosen the hard way separately. They both wanted to be artists and to live life as a creative event. They both demanded freedom. When they met each other on the same path, with eyes of youth, they knew they could share the beautiful pain of the journey and it would be something only they would understand.

       A time came when the dynamics of their relationship changed. She became stronger. He became weaker. She had found her own work, separate from him. She was making her own money on her own terms. What held her to Santiago was their daughter Tara. He was held by a paralysis of nightmares that amplified the diminishing belief he was still a human worth being an artist.        

            Leila had strayed a time or two from Santiago, nothing serious, only slight diversions from the hard hammer of their life together. It was a kind of relief for just a few short days. When the initial lust passed she found the lovers no better than Santiago, and they were not the father of her beautiful daughter. She always returned to Santiago even though she no longer had passion for him. Leila was Scottish and the morality of Calvinism underlay her beliefs. She could not desert her man. He was once her hero.

Santiago felt the loss of Leila's passion long before it ever became obvious. He responded by becoming careless and unfaithful but these brief forays into infidelity served more to bang-up the vehicle of his ego than to give it a good lubrication. Street walking whores gave him anonymous satisfaction better than the skirmishes of screwing someone he knew, someone he would see again. It was a vicious downward spiral. Santiago slid from one form of creative frenzy to the next. The belief that he was an original artist simply evaporated. His attempts to create paintings and sculpture became self destructive. Halfway through each work, where it is grotesque and yet almost perfect -- at that point he became claustrophobic. He was a man tied in a sack caught by a raging river flowing to the flat edge of the world. The problem was the sack was tied from the inside.

Santiago had come to Europe to meet George and Neil, both he had known in Vietnam. George was a correspondent For the London Times and Neil was a freelance photojournalist. They had been reporting with an infantry company in the Mekong Delta in which Neil had saved Santiago’s life when he carried him to a Med-Evac chopper, but the real story was never printed. Santiago meeting them again was to find resolution but also an opportunity to have a three month painting holiday. Somehow three months had turned into years. Some holiday. He had found a wife, a child, a house with a mortgage and wrinkles on his face. He became middle-age but felt as though he had gone to bed one night in the bloom of his youth and woke up in the morning an old man.

A cold panic set in. At first he laughed at the feeling. Then his Scottish friend, George, talked to him about the horrors of becoming forty. George had to see a psychiatrist. He was on sedatives. He could not work. He had no concentration. He felt death was next to him. Santiago laughed with Neil about the condition of their friend, “Poor slob -- it won't happen to me.” But Santiago was lying. He new exactly what George was feeling. Santiago became forty and that thing of fear grew in him. It was cold and seeping like rising damp. Instead of going to a psychiatrist, he went into his Irish roots and a bottle, a very deep bottle. He swam to the bottom but he could not drink his way up. Along with the booze came the purple haze of marijuana and psychedelics that let him live in fantasy like he did once he was released from the army in 68. He could forget the phantoms of Vietnam by being a freak in a foolish world. It was okay. Slowly his wife and child were obscured by the smoke of his burning world. He became reckless and destructive. Leila became distant and resigned. The baby girl was the only love between them.

                                                ***

When uncertain of where you are, move to a new space. That phrase should have been Santiago’s family motto.  Beginning with the truck ride in the womb of his mother, and throughout his early life, he was moved from house to house, state to state. By the time he was in his early twenties, the family pattern had been successfully transferred to Santiago.  He moved his own puzzle pieces from state to state, country to country. He was running but believed he was searching for something. When he met Leila nothing changed. In the seven years of their marriage they had moved eleven times.

            At first Leila liked the sense of freedom. But in the seventh year that freedom turned bitter.  That freedom meant not having a home to call her own; not having pieces of furniture and precious little things and not having a sense of belonging. Freedom became a jail of being nowhere and having nothing.

Leila wanted to keep things that were important to her -- a fragile teacup, an old battered chair or all her lovely plants. The only thing they had not lost in the transfer of those years was their daughter. Now Leila was beginning to worry about Tara. By the eleventh move she had had enough. Damn the man! Now he was talking about moving to another country where once again they would have nothing and be nobody. She had enough freedom. She wanted to find a place and stay.

            Santiago continued to project his vision of a paradise in a better world. “It will be fantastic. We will go where the winters are sunny and wine is cheaper by the gallon. We’ll save money and sell all our things that are too big to move.” He looked at Leila with a dream crossing his face. “We’ll split for a place better than Scotland.”

            “When?”  Leila gasped.

            “Uh, maybe in about a year we'll go,” he said.

                                                           ***

Six months later, still in Scotland, Santiago began to create three-dimensional objects that he called functional sculpture. He joked to his drinking friends and then laughed, “It's art you can sit on.” The truth was his acquaintances saw the work as odd furniture.

Santiago was carving a piece of sculpture in the draughty barn he had rented for a studio. He held onto a high-powered electric disk grinder that was screeching, shrill and penetrating.  His ears would ring after he had turned off the machine. Wood dust swirled up from the cutting wheel covering his body and face in a layer of lung clogging cellulose. His eyes were shielded with goggles. His nose and mouth were covered with a rubber face mask. To moderate the noise, he stuffed soft pieces of rags into his ears. The cold air fogged his goggles.  After a few minutes of breathing the mask became a wet portable dungeon containing his head. He was defiant to his body twelve hours a day. The vibrating grinder choked him and brought arthritic stiffness to his hands and arms.

            He turned off the machine and stared at the wood dust that covered the floor. Santiago thought, this is miserable dying time without being dead, but felt nothing at all. He saw cold dead bodies in the heat of the tropics. He looked at the silent electric monster he held in his hands, and his eyes began to fill with tears. His head was drowning inside the goggles and mask. He began to gag and then he panicked. He pulled the rubber prison off his face. He tried to control the urge to scream. Dead faces came into his mind… the walking wounded…the sucking chest wounds…the women with faces burnt off...children with no legs, no arms... He thought he was going mad. He was slipping. He had to find something real. Leila would save him again.

He went home. He opened the door and stepped into their small apartment. His head was swirling with fear. Leila came out of the kitchen.  Concern in her eyes gave a brief flash of hope to his need. He was wrong. 

“Love, Neil called today? Do you know?” She said.

 “Know? Know what?”  Santiago said flat voiced.

 “Your friend George is dead.” She said. Her eyes touched his. “He died last night. A heart attack,” she said softly.

  Santiago could feel the ground around the cold February grave. He could not believe George who had been in the most dangerous point in his life was now dead. George who knew what he knew about what he had done in Vietnam – not the story that was printed – not the lies the commanding staff had produced. George was there and had seen it all. Now he was gone. Santiago looked at Leila and saw someone he didn’t know. He walked by her without saying a word and went to the closet room he used as a study. He sat down at the desk and looked at scattered sketches and photographs. Then it came.  He wept the tears of a small man in a big world, too cold, too dead.  Leila came into the room and held Santiago in her arms. Neither said anything.  She held him firmly.

   “I am sorry,” Leila said.

   “George was one of the good people in this world...he tried to do things...”  Santiago’s attempt to put words and meanings in some kind of order failed.

 Leila put her arms around him and said, “I know he was a special friend.” She rubbed his back.

Santiago wiped the back of his hand under his nose. “Most people are only acquaintances. Few are friends…but yeah, some friends are special…” He remembered George and Neil who had been there on an insane day of death. Neil had photographs of that event until the commanding officers  opened the back of his camera.   George tried to write about it but the Brass canned the story and sent them both back to London. Santiago was unconscious until he woke up at the Evacuation hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. It was George who told Santiago a year later how Neil had saved his life. Now George was dead and only Neil and Santiago knew the truth of that terrible day. Neil was alive and photo documenting the Cubans in Angola.  Santiago was alive, crying. Crying for George or for himself he just didn't know. George had become a syndicate journalist and traveled most of the time after Vietnam. They had rarely met socially since he had been with Leila. Their only contacts came when George had written a few articles on Santiago’s eccentric career in Scotland.  Neither of them wanted to talk about the war and what couldn’t be made right after so many years. George drank as much as Santiago. One time Neil joined them when he was back from a war. The three of them chased women, got saturated with whiskey and did not say Vietnam or dead villagers once.

“I took him for granted, like nothing could ever kill him -- he was a man that had survived -- the foolish fight to stay alive...” Santiago said this more to himself than Leila…

 There was something more difficult to admit. George was only a couple years older than Santiago. His death hung like a silent bell. Santiago whispered, “A man is standing next to you then he is dead. A bullet explodes in his brain or a sickness pulls him down.” Truth in life had not been real to him for years and now middle-age had Santiago in its grasps. He had to prove he was still alive by the simple act of moving his body.  He had to run. He could forget the dead. He pushed Leila away and walked to their bedroom and closed the door.

  

  The next morning Santiago told Leila he needed to be on his own for a while. It was a normal habit of his. Every year they had been together there would come a point when he had to go off for a few days, get drunk, look for his youth and act as if he was free again. After the blowout, with a fine-tuned hangover and dirty laundry, he would return to the safe haven of his loving woman and beautiful child. Leila would be angry but Tara always hugged him and was happy he came home. This time it was different.

The Harlequin Moon

Chapter 4….MARDI GRAS IN A YELLOW ROOM

FEBRAUARY 1983

 His friend had died, and it broke his heart. There was something more difficult to admit. George was only a couple years older than Santiago. His war buddy’s death hung like a silent bell around his neck. Santiago whispered, “A man is standing next to you then he is dead. A bullet explodes in his brain or a sickness pulls him down.” The truth was life and death had not been real to him for years and now being almost middle-age, death had Santiago in its grasps. He had to prove he was still alive by the simple act of moving his body.  He had to run. He could forget the dead. He pushed Leila away and walked to their bedroom and closed the door.

  The next morning Santiago told Leila he needed to be on his own for a while. It was a normal habit of his. Every year they had been together there would come a point when he had to go off for a few days, get drunk, look for his youth and act as if he was free again. After the blowout, with a fine-tuned hangover and dirty laundry, he would return to the safe haven of his loving woman and beautiful child. Leila would be angry but Tara always hugged him and was happy he came home. This time it was different.

                                            ***

Santiago bought a discount ticket on a holiday tour bus to Germany. In February, in the dead of winter, it is festival time in Germany. Leila arranged for a baby-sitter and then she took Santiago to the tour office one late evening. It was an over-night bus to Dover. He would be in Bonn by 11 a.m. the next morning.

“When are you coming back Santiago?”  Leila asked.

“Don't ask me. I'll come back!” How could there be questions when he had no answers?  

Santiago...”

 “Damn it! Stop taking my space from me!”

  Leila did not understand. She could see the desperation in his face but she did not know how to make it disappear. She knew not to plead. A cold dry kiss, and then she walked away.

 Santiago looked for somewhere to buy a bottle. It was a long journey from Glasgow to Dover made even longer by being miserable with lies and confusion. He sat in the back seat of a bus with his coat up around his mouth where no one saw him pulling at a fifth of whiskey through the black night. Just before Dover, Santiago went to sleep. The bus bumped him awake as it crawled onto the ship’s ramp.

 

The interior of the ocean ferry was stinking from diesel truck fumes and bright with lights. People were slamming car doors and scraping their feet and baggage on the metal decks as they bustled to the upper deck lounge bars. There was already the sound of drunken laughing on a beer drinking holiday. The winter festival had begun; the German version of the Mardi Gras.

Santiago found a seat in the bar. His eyes were red. The electric light blurred edges around passing strangers. He went to the toilet to hide his self-pity in a closed metallic stall. He returned to the bar when he heard the anchor chains being raised and knew the bar would now be open. The ferry started to move away from the dock. He topped up his alcohol content with two double shots of straight whiskey. One space faded into the other. He was semi-conscious of the ships bar and then he was in the back seat of the bus as it lurched onto land. His self-pity followed him in the bus on the three hour journey to Bonn.

Santiago went off into the frenzy of the winter festival. He obliterated his mind with schnapps and made a fool of himself trying to persuade a young beautiful lesbian to leave the company of several gay men. He had no success with the girl but one of the effeminate followers thought he was sweet and offered to go in her place.

Santiago laughed. “You're not cute enough yet pal, but who knows after a couple more rounds.”

At four o'clock in the morning he collapsed in the corner of a beer house. Santiago was ignored along with the other crashing drunks.  A musician wearing a derby hat and a white striped shirt with red arm bands was playing bawdy German polka tunes on a piano while thumping a base drum with his foot. People kept tripping over Santiago's feet and slopping beer on his clothes.

                                               ***

The next day Santiago was cried-out and drunk-out. He smelled like a bucket of sour cabbage and milk. He began to rise out the heaviness. He had no feelings of being up or down. It was that numbness that came in battle when he no longer cared whether he was alive or dead. A strange liberation came over him. He was a spectator of life that had nothing to do with him. He decided to leave Bonn on the afternoon train and go to Frankfurt where years before he spent his last months of the American Army in a division hospital. He had made friends with a few German hippies during the pot smoking anti-war summer of 1968. Germany was where his life as a killer was buried.

  At seven o'clock darkness made the gothic train station look as gloomy as it was. It was the place he had gone through dozens of times while he had been recuperating in the Army hospital. He stood in front of the carved stone building feeling loneliness and desperation. Little had changed. The pavement under his feet was cold as it had felt all those years before. He shivered and went back into the warmer air of the station vestibule to telephone an old number in a little black address book. He wondered if his German friend, Axle, would remember him.

“Oh God, frig’n German,” Santiago murmured under his breath as he dialed. The phone rang three times then a woman's voice answered.

 “Ja,…uh,,,hello… eh…wer ghet es inen?” Santiago stumbled into words.

 “Hello, you speak English?” a female voice said, accented but not German, more French or Italian.

 Santiago was relieved from his terror of foreign words and her voice was nice. “Yeah, I'm an old army buddy... uh… is... does Axle still live there?”

  “Who are you?” she asked, slightly wary.

  “Oh, I'm sorry… this is Santiago... I'm an American… an old army friend…. from a long time ago... uh, back in the sixties...“

  “Are you Santy, the one in the hospital?” Suddenly the voice was curious, colored with warmth.

   “You know me?” Santiago said.

 “Where are you?”

 “I'm at the train station, in Frankfurt. I'm here for a few days, and I thought it would be good to see Axle...” his voice trailed off not knowing what to say next.

 “Have you a place to stay?”  

 “Oh, uh, no, I hadn't planned anything yet.” Santiago said.

“You must stay here. Axle will be very hurt if you stay anywhere else.”

“Well, okay, I guess that problem is solved,” he laughed.

 She laughed too. “No problem at all. You are at the central train station?”

 “Yeah, that's right, the big one downtown... I just came in from...”

 “Okay, stand in front of the station and I will be there in ten minutes.” Her voice was excited.

“Right, uh right,” Santiago said slightly puzzled.

“Okay, bye…oh…here is the telephone number at the hotel where you can reach Axel…” The woman gave him the number and then the click of the closed line followed.

 “What the hell…” Santiago muttered to himself. He went to a phone booth and when he finished, picked up his small bag and went back out into the cold night.

                                                    ***

Santiago’s friend Axle was on tour. He was a musician and his band had found a gig in Amsterdam. He wouldn't be back for a few days he told Santiago on the telephone.

“Martina will take care of you!”  Axle said. “Don't go away, just relax, and let her do what she wants to you.”

“She doesn’t sound German. Is she French?”

 Nah, she's a crazy Corsican I met when we were on tour there and followed me home.  But hey man, she’s a fantastic cook, among other things...and remember man, love the one you’re with…”

 It was like the old saying, while the mice are away…but there was something more. Martina and Axle seemed to have a free-love relationship. Martina shared the philosophy more than Axle knew and played the part well. She was an actress by profession, at least that is what she told most people…

Axle’s few days turned into weeks of unbelievable coincidence… for in February of 1968 Santiago thought he had found the woman of his life in a Saigon brothel, and fallen in love, during a seven day Rest and Recuperation leave, the Army gave combat weary troops after the Tet offensive… that was before he was returned to Charlie Company in the Mekong Delta, and 6 weeks before he would be evacuated to a Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany… she had followed his trail to Frankfurt in 68, only to discover he had been returned to the USA…she remained in Germany continuing her career as a call-girl of amazing abilities…

Martina was not a classic beauty, but she had a face that Santiago could not stop looking at … it was her cat shaped eyes, the finely arched dark eyebrows and her full crescent shaped lips with their sensuous shape. She was tall, lean, with long beautiful legs and arms…perfectly proportioned female carnality. Her skin was smooth and still tanned even in the midst of winter. Her hair appeared black but when light went through it became dark auburn with shades of old brass. But it was her eyes that seemed every color of brown and green and long dark lashes that mesmerized Santiago.

In Saigon, in a pigeon kind of English,  she would not tell Santiago how old she was, but she was keenly intelligent and he thought she was 19 or 20 even though at moments she seemed much younger. She treated him like a Holy Warrior, who was wounded… the evidence was the  bouncing betty shrapnel in his back… but more than that, she saw he needed a Goddess to shelter him the living hell of war… she was kind to him, even merciful… also… he did have plenty of good old Yankee dollars that never seemed to come to an end…but she had no idea of her prophecy when she said in Saigon, “You are…bad as me…  Santy, you…  assassin…”

And now, 15 years later, She spoke three languages and had read classical philosophy and most American contemporary literature. She loved Kerouac, Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, but was equally inspired with William Blake and Mark Twain.

Once again, she was in his life. In her own way, now she was more beautiful. She told him she was not originally from Vietnam, but an island in the Mediterranean. Now she was someone worldly, exotic, experienced, and Santiago’s obsession. In Frankfurt, together again by fate, they slept in the same bed the first night, but did not kiss or make love.

They talked in a chrome yellow bedroom until the dawn sun came through lacy violet curtains of the apartment windows. It was a game they were playing. They held each other close, naked and toyed with the idea of something to arrive, tantalizing and teasing yet not giving access.

The first moment of seeing her once again, Santiago was more than shocked that an old story would follow him through what he thought was a dead moment during a time of killing... yet, once again he was fascinated by Martina's beauty and intelligence, but falling in love was one thing he did not want. The game had high stakes… there was too much to lose…

His wife and daughter were only minimally tugging at his guilt. He was not so afraid of the loss of them, as he was terrified of giving Martina something that would not be returned. She would rip his heart to pieces and he knew it from the beginning. He continued to hold Martina, naked and warm against his body the next night, but it was more difficult for him. He wanted to stop the stupid game of titillation and make love to her. She turned softly into him as they drifted towards sleep in another long day and night of talking. He listened to her breath.

“Are you awake?” he said.

“Oui…yes, a little bit.”

“I want to listen to some music. Do you mind if I put an album on so I can go to sleep?”

“No, that would be nice. Put Keith Jarrett on, the Coln Concert, okay?”

“Sure, anything, just so I can stop thinking.”

But before Santiago moved, Martina sprang up from the bed and almost danced on her tip toes as she went the stereo under the large windows with the lace curtains.  Santiago watched in utter amazement, for even though it had a history of sleeping together, it was the first time he had seen the full beauty of Martina’s body.

Holy frig/n Bejesus  flipped across his thoughts and lust tightened his throat. It was easy enough to see Martina had a delightful form even with clothes on, but somehow she had always managed to slip into bed without him seeing her take clothes off. He could feel the satin richness of her body in the dark, but this was the first visual display that snapped on him like a better built mouse trap. His mouth went dry. She put the album on, tossed her black hair like a wild horse then turned and smiled.

“You’re looking at me. Thou shalt not covet Axel’s property,” She laughed raising her hands shyly to cover herself as she walked slowly back to the bed, not once taking her eyes off Santiago.

The room was darkened from the night and the lamps were turned off, yet light came in from the winter overcast sky that glowed orange with the city through the violet lace. The light reflected off the yellow walls and Martina’s body glowed like a golden statue. Her legs were elegant, long and could have made money for any hosiery company. But it had been the view of her sculpted back and perfect pear shape that inflamed Santiago’s desire.

She dropped her hands and stood still, letting him soak up every inch of her image. Her breasts not large, but shined with gold light shaded with burnt umber.

“Have you had enough or do you want more”

“Stop it you wicked little devil and come here,” He said, knowing he had given himself away by the raspy break of his voice.

If Santiago had been a younger man – a man so hungry… he would not bothered to chew before gulping – but he had learned to pace himself in the course of a hundred different one night catastrophes and of this one, Santiago desired neither speed or instant gratification. For once he wanted to arrive in paradise as slow as the second coming of Christ.

Martina lay next to him on raised elbows. The soft first notes of Keith Jarrett’s concert piano rang celestial chimes into the smoky amber room and they both stopped what was almost begun and listened. It was as though that composition had been designed for this moment. The singular strings of each note echoed not only in the concert hall, but reverberated in the hot neutrons bouncing between Santiago and Martina.

As the Jarrett’s musical theme began to build, their faces came together, not kissing, but just breathing in the scent of each other. Santiago let his lips drift slowly up the soft velvet of Martina’s graceful neck and then hovered around the corner of her mouth, then sifted like smoke to the long lashes of her closed eyes.  He raised his mouth and let his lips slide across to her brow falling ever so slowly down the bridge of her nose. Martina moved into him and slowly danced in time with the deep notes of the piano as it dropped into a bass chord. She let her lips speak the silent language Santiago knew and breezed them like a new testament of religion around the ridge of his lips. Each time the music shifted in tempo they invented another delicacy of touch… exploring the field of dreams blossoming on the small world of two faces.

The music was organic and began to grow out of its quiet spring beginning to throb in the heat of summer sun. But still, Santiago danced with his lips like a gypsy in a moment of pain and defiance. Martina responded in style, them entering each other, yawning, thirsty as though only one last mortal drop was left. Martina’s hands went around Santiago, searching for the secret door to eternity.

They both shuddered and moaned in perfect pitch to the toll of Jarrett’s middle C chord, he had left hanging like the ringing bell of heaven. They were like this with the music, on and off until dawn flooded the morning with light. It was then Santiago found in Martina what he had been waiting for her his whole life, and then they slept.

                                         ***

He told Martina about his wife and his daughter, but avoided any talk of the time they had been together in Vietnam. She told him her stories, how she left Vietnam in search of him and the occasional escort dates that led to work in the theater in Germany. She told him about her father who was a mysterious Corsican aristocrat who had business with Mafia in the heroin trade in Vietnam during America’s war. Before that, he had been part of the Nazi Vichy Government of France during WWII. She talked about her arrangement with Axle, and one of his musician friends who she met occasionally for sexual experimentation.

Santiago and Martina held each other close. The smell of her perfume covered him in a shroud of lust. He would feel his lust rise again and again. He was reborn with her youth. They began to build a rhythm of words and intimate looks, their eyes locked without embarrassment. It was a kind of tide of touch, the sea kissing the beach, that pulled them together, a therapy they both needed.

They drank bottles of white wine and smoked long joints of hashish. She was crazy and beautiful. He was just crazy. He played a close hand with his secrets and only let them drop one by one. They made trades. He told her about his one and only homosexual night when death shared the same foxhole in the back country of Vietnam.

She told him about her erotic fantasies. She revealed one of her German lovers she betrayed committed suicide.

He told her about his fear of death, of becoming old.

She would laugh and say what she had said in 1968 in a Saigon brothel, “Don’t get so close to me old man – you have an assassin’s face.”

They went for long walks. Santiago would breathe in her scent. She would become the actress she was in Germany and play out improvised pieces in the middle of a street. She loved to act, to create theater. She laughed and showed her beautiful teeth and sang out, “I'm alone with a mad-man, locked in a yellow room in a blue city!”

Santiago began to want her, really want her.  Little by little she was taking him. She wanted him to make the first move. He was only a step away from lust to love. He forgot about the return ticket to his wife and child.

One week became two.  At the end of the second week, Axle’s musician friend arrived. His name was Wolfgang. He was a fleshy German, but sexy. As the evening slid along on glasses of wine and hashish, Santiago realized there was a new game being played and jealousy began to raise its ugly head. Martina wanted them both. Wolfgang took off his clothes and jumped into her bed, ready for the fun. Santiago was outraged and a wave of sexual confusion swept over him. He moved quickly to the bed room door and snarled, “Two is company, and three… is screw you!”

He went out slamming the door. He walked into the kitchen and heard their hysterical giggles through the walls. Within minutes, sexual moaning sifted out of the yellow bedroom.

He sat down at the kitchen table and scribbled an angry letter, trying to say what he felt. He wrote three pages then stopped knowing he was a fool. Martina was beautiful, but she was driving him crazy.

 He did not want to play the game any longer. He glared at the pathetic words then crumpled the pages and threw them into the waste basket. The sounds continued in the bedroom growing into a groaning rhythm. He found his small bag and stuffed his few belongings into it. On another small piece of paper he wrote GOOD LUCK YOU WHORE and laid it on the kitchen table. He opened the front door and went out into the cold winter night air. In thirty minutes he was at the airport booking a flight to Scotland.

The Harlequin Moon

Chapter 5  Holiday in the sun  

 The mardi gras in Germany the winter of 1983

One week became two.  At the end of the second week, Axle’s musician friend arrived. His name was Wolfgang. He was a fleshy German, but sexy. As the evening slid along on glasses of wine and hashish, Santiago realized there was a new game being played and jealousy began to raise its ugly head. Martina wanted them both. Wolfgang took off his clothes and jumped into her bed, ready for the fun. Santiago was outraged and a wave of sexual confusion swept over him. He moved quickly to the bed room door and snarled, “Two is company, and three… is screw you!”

He went out slamming the door. He walked into the kitchen and heard their hysterical giggles through the walls. Within minutes, sexual moaning sifted out of the yellow bedroom.

He sat down at the kitchen table and scribbled an angry letter, trying to say what he felt. He wrote three pages then stopped knowing he was a fool. Martina was beautiful, but she was driving him crazy.

 He did not want to play the game any longer. He glared at the pathetic words then crumpled the pages and threw them into the waste basket. The sounds continued in the bedroom growing into a groaning rhythm. He found his small bag and stuffed his few belongings into it. On another small piece of paper he wrote GOOD LUCK YOU WHORE and laid it on the kitchen table. He opened the front door and went out into the cold winter night air. In thirty minutes he was at the airport booking a flight to Scotland.

 Eleven years later…The Restonica,   September 19, 1994

The water of the Restonica River slid from the top of the mountain down towards the sea. The sound of heavy regular breathing was like a soft drum in the night as they trudged up the Gorge, while Santiago told a story, juggled like balls in the air, sequences out of order, out of place to the Neil…Neil, the only friend who truly understood him and who had saved his life in Vietnam 26 years before by being in the wrong place at the right time…

            “I went back to Leila and she allowed the charade of our marriage. A kind of screwed up confidence came back to me but my heart had turned to stone. I scared Leila, but she wanted my attention despite knowing she should get me out of her life. She swallowed her pride and decided to follow me one more time,” Santiago let the words fall bitterly.

            “What a slut Martina was,” Neil said.

            “No, Neil. She wasn’t any more of a slut than me. She just didn’t care.” 

            “Why did you come to Corsica the first time – because of Martina?”

             “I'll tell you the truth Neil. Because the women are sweet and the air smells sweeter and the mountains are always high!” He laughed and said, “As they say in Corsica, La Corse, c’est trés tres tres speciale!” They walked on up the valley in the middle of the night, as the crescent moon reflected on the rapids of the Restonica river and the Mediterranean owl made its one note song as Santiago continued his story…

                                                                  ***

CORSICA the summer of 1983

Martina was only vaguely in his thoughts but she had started his curiosity of the island. The holiday in Corsica was an attempt by Santiago to rediscover how to be Leila’s lover again, or find a simple happiness, a magical cure, to pull them back together. If nothing else, it would be a small gap in time and space to relax, lie in the sun, eat good food and act like life was not an eternal struggle. Santiago had felt a familiar tingling before their departure to Corsica. It was the right choice to vacation on this island…but… the silence of Martina still singing in his mind…

            He had gone through the usual British travel brochures, instantly rejecting Blackpool, Benidorm and Bermuda. He hated being around the tourist masses and their obscene manner of invading other cultures, but there was something very special about the picture he saw of a small mountain village as he was thumbing through a booklet of France and its Provinces. He looked for other brochures about Corsica, but found nothing. He looked at the photo again, and the tingling was there. It was the same feeling he had on leaving America in the prime of his youth. Now there were two more people, life was getting scary and he was approaching forty. He saw Martina’s face and heard her voice… you… an assassin’s face

                                                            ***

It was a warm June in France after a depressing Scottish spring. Santiago, Leila and Tara were sitting in their overloaded beat up old Land Rover, feeling the sun through the open windows, waiting for the row of automobiles in front of them to board the ferry to Corsica. The aroma of the Mediterranean and the palm lined shores of the Riviera at Nice filled the air. They were smiling. Leila was reading a novel and Tara was asking Santiago what kind of food people ate in Corsica.  Suddenly a tall balding man veered to their open window. He seemed almost to fall, bending to his knees and bounced on his feet as he launched his smiling lips into their space.

“You are English, aren't you?” he asked.

“Scottish!” Leila spit.

The man ignored Leila's rebuttal. He told them he had seen the lady reading an English book and that he was starved for good novels. Friendly small talk followed. He wondered if they might have any other books they would be willing to sell. He carried on, not waiting for a response, launching into the story of his life. He was Australian, his wife was French, and they were divorced. He was taking his two young daughters to a friend's summer house to the north end of the island, the long peninsula called Cap Corse. There was a tiny fishing village called Centuri. They were going to stay there a week. There was plenty of room. The man acted as if they had known each other for years. He invited them to come and stay with him.

“The girls will have a fantastic time,” he said.

Santiago and Leila didn't know what to say. They had met overly friendly people before, and it was always a loaded trap.

At that moment the cars began to roll onto the ferry.  The dockworkers cursed the tourists with obscenities as they waved their arms in frantic cowboy car-herding style.

The Australian jumped up and as he ran for his car he screamed over his shoulder, “See you on the boat mate!”

Santiago laughed, and said, “He was certainly nice.”

“A bit of a nutter if you ask me,” Leila said, “aye, away with the fairies!”

On the ferry to Corsica, they met again. The man's name was Burt. Fifteen years of marriage to a French woman and living in the South of France had rubbed all the hard edges off his Australian accent.  He still had the attitude of people who live in vast open spaces, loud and wary but positive and giving without condition. Santiago and Leila warmed to him on the short crossing to Bastia. Tara fell in love with Burt's daughters. They were slightly older than her and already polishing their French chic. Altogether they made agreeable company and by the end of the five hour voyage Santiago and Leila couldn't resist the repeated invitation to come to Centuri.

                                                            ***

Centuri…a picturesque Mediterranean fishing village. Brightly painted fishing boats rock in the clear waters of the small port. Only yards from the pier are an erratic line of stone cottages with peeling plaster in the colored layers of calico cats. The village crosses cultures between France and Italy. Perhaps the name Centuri, together with the blue sky, the yellow heat, the khaki ground testified to a warm world where there was time for lazy living. This was an old village, comfortable in its aged decay. The tourists had come. The fishermen and the shop keepers could relax now.

The friend of Burt, who owned the house, lived in Paris. The ensemble had free run. It was an eccentric house. A stone building converted from a 17th century warehouse into something only a Parisian architect could imagine tasteful.  The exterior had its original stone face while the inside was partitioned into computer-drawn ramps and boxes. The small rooms were stacked cubicles for crazed monks on holiday. The style eventually became unnoticeable, like an ugly thing the mind chooses not to see. For the small group, it was wonderful; a free holiday camp only thirty feet from the beach and the sun was hot.

They stayed for a week with Burt and   his daughters.  It was an easy time at first. Burt was charmingly roguish.  He acted   the part of being a bachelor using his time and energy trying to impress the random semi-nude German female tourists on the beach.

Tara played endlessly with the two girls. They had games on the beach and high fashion parties in their little box rooms, playing with make-up, ear-rings, and exchanging garments.

Leila was acting like an Olympic Sun-Tan-Champion lying in the phosphorous heat for hours trying to capture Gold-for-Scotland. Fortunately there was enough Viking pigment in her skin to win her a medal of tint. She would be able to prove to her pale friends in Scotland she had been on a wonderful sun drenched holiday -- Scottish status points.

Santiago would occasionally dip in the sun warmed water but his normal routine was to hide in the shade, drink red wine and sketch mural and sculpture ideas.

The week passed peacefully, blissfully, then Santiago made a telephone call that changed everything. Another war began. He had been waiting for the proposal acceptance of a public art project in Germany. He had been told the committee would make their decision by mid-June. He could have waited until they returned to Scotland, where he was sure of a confirming letter, but it was an important commission. It was the artist's dream.  Gaining the award meant money and prestige. It would be the magic click that opens the lock of fame and fortune. He decided to telephone Munich.

  Leila went with him to a nearby cafe where there was a pay phone. He was nervous. It was a big moment for him. She was indifferent. He closed the door of the glass telephone box. He was an astronaut preparing for blast-off. A few moments later he stepped out of the booth, jubilant. The committee had accepted the whole proposal. It was fantastic! The commission that could finally put him in Glossy Art Magazines had come. At last he was about to make it as an artist.  

Leila hunched her shoulders and said, “Oh it will probably be just another waste of time. I hate Germany!” She remembered his earlier escape.

  Santiago was crestfallen. Without a word he went into the cafe and asked for two bottles of red wine and a packet of Gauloise, although he pronounced the word Gall-loo-sus. Two Corsican men in the bar burst into laughter and shouted at the ignorant foreigner “Ah oui, Gall-loo-sus!” Santiago felt destroyed. He would get drunk again.

                                                             ***

Leila had not meant to hurt Santiago. Her negativity came from frustration and to a degree, jealousy. It was a man's world. She was tired of Santiago's constant pursuit of his own success, his own power. She felt it was her contributions that made things happen for him, but the limelight always fell on him, flooding away the foundations of her art. Yes, she was jealous. Buggering luck! No. Not just luck. It was society that couldn't see her as the artist she was. She was the assistant to a MAN. It was society that relegated her to a backseat position! Damn it all! It was too much. It was years of the same movie, over and over.

The telephone incident was not the first time the pot had boiled over. There had been many occasions. Santiago tried to understand the humiliating position she was locked in, but he was a man.  He was an artist too. It was a struggle. More than that, it was a battle to be an artist no matter whom or what you were. It always had been and it looked like it always would be. He couldn't understand her jealousy. They should celebrate the victories together. Leila's flash of bitterness made him feel betrayed. She was acting like an enemy.  Fear of Eve's ancient role consumed him.

 They went back to the beach house, leaving the cafe as though it had never happened. Santiago was silent, morose. Leila was hostile. Burt immediately recognized the dark cloud over them. He once had a wife and knew what they were. He tried to clear the air with light hearted joking but Santiago was trying to disappear into a bottle of red wine. Leila refused to compromise for another man. She would fight the war by herself.

                                                ***

The day simmered while everyone removed themselves to their own private world. Only the children played on in their uncomplicated way in the shade of the tiny box rooms. Burt was wind-surfing in choppy seas. Leila was baking in the sun reading EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES. Santiago was slowly losing all hope of rational thought with the help of red wine. At five o'clock the party grudgingly came together for their evening meal. The previous evenings had been joyful affairs but now the table was sodden and heavy

  Burt sensed the need to pull the safety valve. Being married once was more than he could bear and he didn't have to put up with the theatrics of other people's marriages. He had the heart of a bachelor. Santiago needed help. Leila was a witch! Burt suggested that Santiago join him for a ride to a nearby village. He had some tools he had borrowed and they had to be returned, he and Santiago could stop and have a Pastis.

 “The Lady, can stay and watch the children,” Burt said casually.

“Just brilliant!” hissed Leila.

“What a good idea.” said Santiago.

  Burt felt relieved.

  Suddenly Leila said, “I'm coming too! I want to see the village! Why should I be stuck with the children?” Her chin was pointed like an icebreaker.

  Burt swallowed hard and decided to keep his head down. “Marriage,” he muttered to himself.  

Santiago was fuming with anger and the red wine. “Look, I just want to be by myself ... just for awhile...we'll be right back…”

  “I'm not going to be dumped with children while you two go off and get drunk. Damn you men!” Leila screamed. She was determined to have her way for a change. Men Indeed! She would show the chauvinist pigs.

  Santiago's drunkenness growled like a mad dog, “All right, if you want to be so frig’n pushy, but I'm telling you, stay out of my frig’n way...you just, never understand...a man’s got to have time to himself...” He reached for his glass of red wine and guzzled it down. He quickly refilled the glass and drained it again.

  Soon they were all stacked in Burt's little French car like coals in the furnace. The burn was audible. As they were leaving Centuri, Burt decided to stop for cigarettes. Santiago was sitting in the front seat and he turned to face Leila who was crammed in the back with the children.

  The mad dog was still in him as he barked, “All right, damn it! You so intent going on this trip, I tell you what! You go with Burt and the kids, an' I'll stay at the house!”

 Leila snapped back, “Oh Santiago stop acting like such pig!”

 Before she could say anything more Santiago jumped out of the tiny car. He was a broken Jack-In-The-Box banging a metal door behind him. He walked off into the dark surrounding the village. The night had come, the sky blue-black, but enough light from the crystal display of stars for Santiago to stumble his way back to their beach house. He retrieved the half bottle of wine still on the table and continued his meandering wobble to the beach where he sat on a large rock.

 A few minutes passed and Santiago cursed himself feeling incapable of resolving a conclusion to anything except his manic desire for alcoholic numbness. The gentle splashing of the night tide had lost its natural Mediterranean melody and had been replaced with the slushy friction of one sad world dissolving another. To Santiago, the world was on fire. Then from behind, he heard the small thud of Leila's footsteps.

“Son-of-a-…! I knew you'd come! Why can't you leave me alone? Just go back. You wanted to go so frig’n bad -- well go!” Flames circled Santiago.

“Stop being this way. Let me talk to you…” Leila pleaded.

“Go away. I wanna be on my own!” he screeched. He started to stand up and run away with his madness.

Leila grabbed him by the arms, her face pointing into his. She began to shake him. “Stop acting like a fool!”

 Santiago pushed Leila away. She grabbed at him again. He pushed harder. She pushed back. He responded as he would to another man, hard.

Leila screamed, “You piece of crap!” she began to attack him with little flying fists with their untrained knuckles and thin fingers.

Santiago was not a large man but he was strong, much stronger than Leila and with one open palm-slap and a hook with his foot, he crashed the petite woman to the stony beach. She fell hard, bumping her head on a rounded stone, stunning her momentarily. Her anger dissolved in tears and pain. She began to sob hysterically.

“You rotten no good…jerk! You've really hurt me this time! You rotten male chauvinist pig! You hit me! You hit me!”

  Santiago furious, reached down and pulled her brutally from the fetus position she had curled into. “Shut up! Shut your damn mouth!  Do you think you would still be talking if I had hit you?  You wanted a fight and you got one. You're damn lucky I didn't hit you! Do you think I'd take this kind of crap from another man?  So shut your damn mouth and leave me alone!”

   Leila, her emotions out of control, her pride and flesh hurt, turned from his cold hate. With tears in her eyes she blindly ran towards the beach house.

Santiago sat for awhile on the rock, feeling the anger burn red. After a few minutes he could hear the mournful wail of sorrow pulsing from the dark shape of the beach house. Leila's misery was unrestrained. He felt ashamed. He went back to the house and found her in their bed, rolled into a ball of sobbing hurt. He reached to her shoulder and softly touched her. She turned looking up at him with one well developed shiny black eye.

   “Ah Leila... I'm sorry sweetheart... I'm a monster... I didn't mean to do this to you.  Darling I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please forgive me.”

   Love is so close to hate when one is blinded by emotion…. The boundaries shift easily as patterns in the sand…. Hate and love swirl together and definitions are blown away…. Hot sirocco winds tear at man and woman.

  Leila took Santiago into her arms…she made love to him violently… abandoned and with more passion than she understood…. A wild consuming lust roared through her body…. She clawed her fingernails into Santiago's back and they both screamed… Ecstasy took them into the night as the Mediterranean gently kissed the shores of Corsica

                                              ***

They left the company of Burt and his children the next day. Leila held him responsible for Santiago's lapse into bachelor chauvinism and afterwards would spit out, YOUR FRIEND BURT.

 

It was a quiver of neat little arrows aimed at Santiago. She was puzzled by the sado-masochist sexual enjoyment after the incident. The delicious but terrifying feeling echoed in her memory. Santiago had awakened a part of her she did not want to explore. Pain mixed into sex, yes, erotic. But still, it did not stop her from taking the opportunity to make Santiago feel like a women beater, aiming her blackened eye at him long after it had gone away.

Santiago kept up his defenses   “You're lucky that's all you got,” he would say. But   inside, the violence horrified him. He had seen enough brutality for ten life times. The war was over.   He cut down his drinking and tried to be good to Leila.  But damn it all, he didn't like anyone pushing him.

The remaining days of their holiday went without any further anguish, other than Santiago's sunburned buttocks acquired while lying on a nudist beach spellbound for several hours watching German breasts. Leila did not mind, she was getting a tan.

A COSMIC PSYCHO DRAMA

Chapter 6  Journey to the Isle of Beauty

 

TO RECAP FROM LAST WEEK

 

  Leila took Santiago into her arms…she made love to him violently… abandoned and with more passion than she understood…. A wild consuming lust roared through her body…. She clawed her fingernails into Santiago's back and they both screamed… Ecstasy took them into the night as the Mediterranean gently kissed the shores of Corsica… Leila was puzzled by the sado-masochist sexual enjoyment after the incident. The delicious but terrifying feeling echoed in her memory. Santiago had awakened a part of her she did not want to explore. Pain mixed into sex, yes, erotic. But still, it did not stop her from taking the opportunity to make Santiago feel like a women beater, aiming her blackened eye at him long after it had gone away.

Santiago kept up his defenses   “You're lucky that's all you got,” he would say. But   inside, the violence horrified him. He had seen enough brutality for ten life times. The war was over.   He cut down his drinking and tried to be good to Leila.  But damn it all, he didn't like anyone pushing him.

Chapter 6

Being Rich and Famous as Santiago had prophesied about “making it as an artist because of the big commission on the continent” was another joke.  There was just enough money to pay off their bank loan and fame was one tiny photograph buried in the middle pages of the Munich morning papers. In mid-project, Santiago in manic depression ran off to spend what little extra money they had on a train-station-whore in a flop house hotel. Leila had given up caring and asked no questions when he returned in the morning smelling of vomit and cheap perfume.  

          ***

As the spring came around Santiago had convinced himself that Corsica was calling for their return. He began to plan a new project -- a dream that would come true where they would all be happy at last. The revolution of independence was now undeniable to Leila. She was young and had everything in front of her. She would start Taking and stop Giving for a change. She loved Santiago but she could no longer worry about his neurotic fear of being forty. She would no longer be in his The Silence. A spiritual separation had begun.

          ***

The months passed. Both were preoccupied with their projects. Leila was directing murals and community festivals. Santiago was making sculptures no one bought. He didn't care because his other work was more exciting. He was converting an old three-ton truck into a moving home that would take them all to Corsica. After five months Leila realized Santiago was serious about moving to Corsica. She began to drag her feet. Why should she move just when she was beginning to succeed in her own life? Scotland was small and out of the mainstream of the Art World, but Corsica was nowhere! They argued. Santiago tried to convince her Scotland was the last place in the world to live.

  “You know one of these days they are going to drop the big one on this country! This place is the fucking atomic trigger for the next war,” he preached.  As though it made perfect sense he would add, “It’s a great chance for us to speak French, maybe even Corsican! You know if we don't like it we can always move back to America.”

  “You drive me crazy!” Leila screamed! “Why don't we move to America if we must leave Scotland? At least there is Los Angeles and New York. Corsica is just a bloody tourist island and we will rot there!” Leila was resisting what she saw as her own burial. She had just begun to live.

  Santiago played her resistance saying, “Look, just three months, and if it doesn't work out, we'll go to America.”

  She refused to talk about Corsica until the wheel of fate brought new people into their life. Through a mutual friend at a party one evening, they were introduced to a Corsican writer, who had lived in Edinburgh for several years. Leila was charmed by a man who was gentle and sensitive to her femininity. He handled her in a way that Latin men know. She was lured by something wild, mischievous. Maybe it was the Corsican side of his nature. It was a flirting game, but there was a genuine quality about this man. Santiago found him curious, enigmatic, but he liked his eyes.

  Jean Simon the Corsican, had come to Scotland about the same time as Santiago, ten years before. Both were part of the great social revolution that shifted young people all over the world to countries that seemed foreign and exotic.

 “Ten years is enough,” Jean Simon said.  I am tired of the cold, tired of the gray! It is time for me to go home.

  Jean Simon was returning to his island and he was happy to hear Santiago's plan of taking the family to Corsica. He offered to help them get established. He knew all the important artists on the island and he would be delighted in making the connections

 Jean Simon smiled directly at Leila and said, “This is fantastic! It means a little piece of Scotland will be in Corsica for me.”

  Leila smiled too. The island suddenly was much better than she remembered it and the thought of basking in the warm sun didn't strike her as a bad idea. Her attitude began to shift. Santiago looked at them both, noticing their lingering eyes.                                                       

***

The move to Corsica was tempting. Jean Simon reminded her of the how lovely Corsica was despite what a toad Santiago had been on the holiday. In the end it had been wonderful. The island was special.

 Jean Simon agreed with her observation but not her fear,   “Yes it is small, but there is a lot of potential.”  He looked her with his gentle smile. “Who knows, maybe we can do a co-production.”

  Crumbs of curiosity were being scattered in front of her. But Corsica, really? What chance for art? It was a long way from Paris. Corsica was a long way from anywhere. Fear would overtake her. Fear that once again she would be subjugated to Santiago's bewildering intensities and to be known only as his wife -- his little helper. The thought infuriated her. Damn it all! She was free. She was her own kind of artist and she would not disappear into his mad charisma again. And that thing -- that bloody gold painted lorry he had been working on! She began to think of it not as a lorry at all but a huge golden monster

  Santiago said, “Don't call it a lorry. It's a truck, but it is going to become something special. It is more like a ship than a truck, in fact I think I'll call it, a Land Ship”

 Bloody Hell! After eleven houses, now Santiago wanted to move into a truck -- his bloody idea of a portable shack. All of her beautiful objects, all of her precious little finds, all of her lovely plants! What would come of them all? And they had a beautiful cottage now in the country, at the edge of the city.

 Tara was happy and doing very well in school. Everything for the first time in years was in order. And her work, she loved her work. She was somebody. No!  She would not give up her hard won freedom to chase off with this man, chasing a dream about Corsica. A man she no longer desired as a lover, no longer believed his fantasies, and no longer understood as a friend. He was mad! The show-down had to come.

Maybe he would go but she didn't care. He could take his truck and sleep with it. After all he had shown more interest for it than he ever did for her or for Tara. It was simple. Their little girl would stay with her and she would figure a way out. She had managed fine when he had run off to Germany to visit whores and she would manage fine again.

 Enough problems. What had happened to Santiago? He had not always been that way, or had he? She could not remember. It seemed they had always been together and to remember back to the beginning was almost another life. Had there ever been passion or even romance?

Now it was another time. Corsica lay in front. Jean Simon made his island sound full of intriguing possibilities. He was nothing like the Corsican men she had seen on the island. There were no rough edges on him. Certainly not the bristle-chinned macho fishermen she couldn't help but notice. They were dark versions of Santiago. No, Jean Simon was refined. Gentle. Nice. Yes, charming. Corsica lingered in her thoughts.

On a late cold October day she was startled into reality, when she saw Santiago moving some of her small precious objects from the cottage into the three ton lorry he was now calling The Land Ship. She felt as though she was attending her own funeral.

  “No Santiago. I am not going to do it. I am not going with you,” she shouted.

  “Fine,” bellowed Santiago, “just frid’n fine. You better make up your mind whether or not you want Tara to stay here with you. She might get in the way of your career.”

  He was no longer making any attempt to try to persuade her to come with him. He could care less. He wasn't sure if he felt any emotion other than anger towards the woman that shared his bed. All she did was complain and resist any idea he had.

There are other women in the world. In fact too many women, he muttered to himself..

Santiago was floundering in his fear, drifting towards a conviction that life was stupid and love was a cruel companion. Perhaps an alliance with any women was impossible for him. What hurt him most was not that Leila was trying to find her own life, but that she was rejecting his.  He wouldn't let it happen again. It all felt so old, so very familiar. He would not let his heart die one more time. Another women leaving him, he could almost hear the footsteps walk away. He was playing the tough man. It was all so insane, so  crazy! So hard!

There was the little girl, his little girl!   It would rip his guts out to lose his little girl. The pain was coming too close. Santiago denied it by thinking about the eminent journey. There was the work preparing the truck for the fifteen hundred mile voyage to Corsica. Then the day of confrontation came.

  “To hell with it,” Santiago said. “Come if you are coming, stay if you are staying. I'm leaving in fifteen minutes, so make up your mind.”

He slammed the door of the cottage. He went to the Land-Ship. He walked around it kicking tires, something he had seen truckers do in America but not knowing why. He did it because he was angry.  In those few minutes love and hate boiled together into the strangest of all human emotions. Hope. What a featureless and irrational plane of existence hope is. It allows human beings to continue in impossible conditions, believing something good will arrive in the force of change. Who knows? Maybe true love is the eternal struggle with hate  and maybe it was Leila's love, damaged, bumped and bruised as it was which held them together.  She hoped Santiago's hideous lorry would sink into a bog of hell, but in the confusion of her own emotion she ceased to struggle and gave into Santiago's will.

  On a windy October evening, three people and an abandoned puppy that Tara had found just days before, sailed away from the shores of familiarity into uncharted waters. The ropes were not cast off, they were cut. Two miles down the road Santiago went into a sharp curve and the top heavy galleon began to lean terribly. Just at that moment a blast of wind walloped them from the inside. The Land Ship rocked onto the outside wheels. Santiago sucked breath through white lips as the over-loaded three ton truck bicycled through space for an eternal moment. Then finally in slow motion it heaved back onto its four cornered base rocking and twisting like a big vessel in heavy seas.

Santiago was silent, clutching the steering wheel with wet hands.  Leila held Tara on her lap and smiled into the dark of the approaching night.

***

Santiago believed they were on a voyage. The rolling sway of the heavy truck seemed natural. He was the captain of the Land Ship. It squeaked, growled and wallowed down through Scotland and England. The weather was atrocious. The rain covered the windows of the truck as if it were a submarine rather than any kind of ship. Much to Santiago's annoyance the truck leaked in several places and was taking on the added weight of rainwater increasing the burden already stacked on the trucks back. Another gallon of water could scuttle his craft.

  Leila resigned herself bitterly to the unknown. The weather complimented her mood perfectly – just another note to her concert of misery.

  Santiago was functioning at this point through the adrenalin that pumped steadily into his blood which boosted the nervous anxiety in his already abused body. For the last few weeks he had lived on a steady diet of strong black coffee accompanied with the summer crop of two marijuana plants. He would work on the truck late into the night and then sleep would only come after he had obliterated himself with alcohol. Physically, he had never been so close to being a complete wreck. Mentally he was dancing on a tight rope. Something had to give, sometime, somewhere.

  Tara only 5 years old didn't understand what was happening.  Time and space were an uncalculated proportion of something going on, where a minute is a life-time and a mile is an endless passage. She was unhappy leaving her school friends but excited about going somewhere.

Every hour she asked, “When are we going to be in Corsica?”

 “It will be a long time sweetheart,” her father said.

She would crawl through to the back of the truck, play with the puppy that had appeared out of nowhere and begged her father to keep.  She would forget the question for another hour.

  The Land Ship pushed on through cascading skies. Three people and a puppy were more like shipwreck survivors on a raft than a family on a golden galleon sailing into the sunset. It was all Santiago could do to keep the meandering machine on the dim gray lines of the motorways.

By the end of the second day they came to Birmingham, only three hundred miles from where they had started, arriving at the house of Vicki Manstalk. She was an Australian expatriate who Santiago had known since his early days in Britain. Vicki was on friendly terms with Leila and at times a sisterly intimacy existed, yet there was a barrier between them. Santiago never worried about it. To him, Vicki was someone constant, who he occasionally slipped outrageous flirtation and she responded in kind. She had already done that to extraordinary proportions. Santiago would occasionally detect a tiny wave of feminine propriety transmitted from Leila towards Vicki and interpreted it as basic jealousy.

Vicki was a mature woman, blonde,  elegant, though muscled toned from visiting the gym three times a week. She was not particularly pretty, but she had that arresting sexual magnetism that made men stop and follow her movements. She was well adjusted to being over forty and blessed in several ways. She not only had abundant intelligence and sexy proportions but an endless supply of money.  Finance had never been a problem unless one understands having money is just another  kind of problem. Vicki was born rich but she was no fool, except a fool for men -- especially men who equaled her sexual talents.

It was this weakness that put her through mad circles with men and usually resentment from other women. Vicki loved men and was proud of her felatio reputation. She understood herself well and recognized along with her good fortune she could afford to play Pan’s pipe. She worshipped men and the twisted game it all could be -- a game having no particular rules or time. Men came in, men went out. She was a romantic for the moment it was.  Her mantra: Nothing breeds contempt more than too much of the same.

Leila didn't share this point of view but found a comfortable plateau with Vicki through their mutual interest in art, music and most of all, jewelry and clothes. Vicki gave these to Leila. In her generous abundance she was forever discarding objects or clothing. She would say to Leila, I don't wear these anymore. The colors suit you perfectly! Sweetie, you will be so cute in them! Tones of soft cooing would seduce Leila. Being perpetually bankrupt with Santiago made it easy to accept.

                                                                       ***

It continued to rain through the night and Leila was glad to be out of the leaking vessel. Vicki talked with them over cups of tea and sandwiches and then they made sleepy goodnights. Vicki was off to an encounter session with one of her latest friends early in the morning. She promised a meeting again soon as they got settled in Corsica,.

  When Santiago and Leila went into the large breakfast room in the morning Vicki had already gone. There was a note attached to a bundle of clothes on the kitchen table. It read: These will look lovely on you - just your colors. Leila touched the cashmere softness of the garments, but this time she did not pick them up.

   They passed through the pelting hazard of falling rain and Birmingham traffic and slid along on into the day. The evening brought the port town of Plymouth. The lights of the docks were murky in the drizzle. They slept in the Land Ship listening to the beating of the hard rain on the metal roof. Leila moved away from the puddles pooling in their bed. Santiago groaned.

Ten hours later the Channel ferry was carrying them to France.  They were sitting in the smoked stained empty lounge bar looking out foggy smeared windows. The sea was dirty gray except for the yellowed frothy caps of wind torn waves. Santiago wondered why anyone in their right mind would want to swim across such a filthy stretch of water. It didn't occur to him, they were practically doing the same thing.

Two hours and eight minutes later there were looks of disbelief as Santiago's golden Land Ship squeaked off the ferry and onto the docks of La Havre. Santiago looked fearfully at the customs officers standing at the gates.  He was worried they would be stopped because of China the dog and they would all be turned back.

The officers watched the truck sleepy-eyed and said, “Passé.” To stop this camion meant a lot of work. It was too early in the morning.

  The family gravitated south, falling like the last broken gold leaf of autumn -- down through the back roads of France complete with breakdowns,  electrical short-outs, hissing hoses and banging wheels. Little moments of glory began to grow with the length of the suns rays. Road signs read, DEGUSTATION VIN ICI. The bouquet of orange orchards drifted into the truck. The days of rain were behind them.  Their faces looked to the Mediterranean as they came to the south coast of France.

  Leila began to rise out of her defeat. Santiago had been right, this was wonderful.  She and Tara soaked in the warm air and sunshine through the windows of their portable refuge. The Land Ship was at last co-operating, the broken parts repaired, the great rains of Britain evaporated, the engine ticked like a precision clock -- but not Santiago. Now that he was so close to his Corsican dream he felt physically destroyed. His accumulated poisons were beginning to pop out.  “Life is a pain in the ass,” he grumbled.  When the mind is sick, the body follows.

The Techno Sadhu RADIO THEATRE PRESENTS

 

A COSMIC PSYCHO DRAMA

Chapter7 ROAD TO CORSICA

\\

Life is a pain in the butt. The hemorrhoids had come with the coffee, the marijuana, and way too much booze. But what was worse was the DAMN dream. Dammit. Martina, Martina, Martina…OH…. WAS IT ANGEL OR EVE …ELIANE…SO MANY NAMES SHE HAD…. What kind of crazy serendipity coincidence? An 18-year-old BANDIT in the streets of Saigon who took him into her refuge. And in all those years later and MARTINA… the mistress of his old ROCK’N ROLL buddy as he was convalescing the shrapnel lines in the Frankfurt army hospital. It was then he found a she was Corsican and Vietnamese. It was then Corsica first came to his mind. It was the reason behind all of the reasons for the vacation to Corsica. It was even the reason on his return from the vacation in Corsica THE FIRST TIME …or was it? Yes the ISLAND was beautiful. Yes it was like a paradise. But also he was very thin that somehow ELIANE/Martina/ OR FRANKIE…WHO EVER THE HELL SHE WAS NOW… would MARTINA appear again? Was that the whole crazy reason for building this stupid thing he called the land ship …dragging his family across France. Damn the freaking hemorrhoids… They are killing me. But was that woke me up? No not that ,because it was your face…. dammit Martina get out of my brain…. You are nothing but a whore…A DAMN BANDIT OT THE HEART… who gave me a good time just by accident… twice in my life and that is all….DAMN TWICE…WILL THERE BE ANOTHER TIME…

 

MUSIC ROAD TO CORSICA

Chapter 7

The sun filled the morning as they rolled off the Corsican ferry for the second time in their life. The passage from Marseilles to Ajaccio had been calm.  The night before had sparkled with a crescent moon… OH YES THAT OLD HARLEQUIN MOON…. and stars. Santiago knew it was a significant omen for their arrival. The Land Ship seemed to roll proudly as the terrain of Corsica slipped under its wheels. The burden of the rainwater had been left far behind. The luxurious October air of Corsica was lifting the damp in more ways than one, at least for Leila.

She was blooming into a cheerful mood in the idyllic caress of the Mediterranean. The weather left behind in Britain had been a miserable christening of departure. Her belief in the sun's warmth made it easier to be in Corsica, knowing what she had given up in Scotland. Perhaps it would not be so bad after all. There was another possibility. She was looking forward to meeting Jean Simon again. The last few weeks he was in Scotland they had became friends. Jean Simon offered many times to help in any way he could, once they arrived on the island. Leila was beginning to accept the situation. She was in Corsica, with Tara in Santiago’s lunatic mobile crazy-house with a dog they now called China. Oh God! How much longer with Santiago? Maybe it would work out. Maybe... She did not want think about it and pushed the thoughts out of her mind. Let the sun come in.

  Jean Simon had given them directions on how to find his village which lay in the mountains thirty kilometers from Ajaccio. Santiago was anxious to pass through the Corsican version of Customs. He was still worried that China the dog would be caught in the web of bureaucratic officialdom but once again they were waved through.

The officer in charge let his eyes fall lazily to the ground, but Santiago was still worried -- they would be stopped for dogs or dope -- he was worried simply of stopping when something else was pushing him. Pain.

He drove straight out of the city while Leila and protested and wanted to see at least the center of Ajaccio. He told Leila there would be a time to stop but not yet. Santiago wanted to get his Land Ship and family to Jean Simon's village. He wanted to take his vessel into a safe harbor, out of the tempest storms, out of the squall of pain blowing over him.

  The pain had been coming and going. 

Now it was screwing a steady torment into him with fluctuating intensities from bad to worse. In the last days it had taken all his will-power to concentrate on driving the truck. He constantly shifted his weight in the driver’s seat from one buttock to the other, twisting and turning trying to escape from the burning pressure in his posterior. Santiago grumbled a repeated curse, “damned hemorrhoids.”

  Hemorrhoids.

They had been a recurrent problem since he was twenty-three.

They had come about after he was given a very thorough anal examination while nearly unconscious in the army hospital in the Germany. Later on it dawned on him; he had been raped by some hospital pervert.

The anal sex had left its mark.

Over the years the little ruptures had come and gone like obnoxious relatives. Usually they occurred when he was under stress or pushing life too fast. The dream of being in Corsica was rapidly fading. The test of fire had come and Santiago damned the ironic situation of his arrival. In between the drift of pain and movement Santiago guided the Land Ship as it crawled up the incredibly steep narrow mountain roads, bending into curves slow as smoke, they ascended the thirty kilometers to Jean Simon's village. 

                                                                 ***

Jean Simon lived near the small mountain village of Alata. In front of his house was the panorama overlooking Golfe d’Ajaccio to Capa di Muru in the southwest.

The house was old family property built in traditional Corsican fashion, stone solid and practical. Built with the imagination of poverty, it had remained the same for two centuries and then the sophisticated taste of a cultured traveler settled onto the inherited stones.

The house was different from other buildings in the village -- not expensive or bourgeois but closer to what one would conclude to be the balanced creation of a playboy gardener.

The trucking family arrived at the first oasis of their pilgrimage.

Leila's eyes drank in the sight. The hand hewn rocks of the house were wedged into the mountain side. Large windows with small panes faced the south sun and the broad bowl valley dropped gently into biblical pastures and rolled down to the opalescent plate of the Mediterranean.

It was midmorning. The sun was transparent gold filtering through the mimosa trees surrounding the house. An ancient olive tree thrust twisted limbs around the dark wooden banister of an extended sun-deck. The grounds were manicured. There were flowers, fruit orchards, grape vines and moss covered rocks around a wishing well.

Leila knew it was Jean Simon's house as easily as one recognizes the dark silhouette of a friend.

 The shape had his refined charming character. Santiago parked the truck on the bank of the road that passed above the house on the slope of the mountain. He was getting out from under the steering wheel when Jean Simon appeared on the patio.

   He waved and happily shouted, “Welcome to Corsica! Come on down. I have breakfast of fresh grape juice and croissant.”

  It was a warm welcome but there was fire at the edge.

Santiago's burning anal condition was pulling him steadily into a black funnel of gloom. He wondered why his condition had waited until he was fifteen hundred miles away from the British Welfare State to perform its nasty trick. It would cost a fortune to have a new sphincter sewn on.

  Leila was happy and relaxed the first few days at Jean Simon's home. She was talkative, keen to go on walking jaunts, swimming at the beach, looking around the small village and filling herself with the radiance of good weather. She ignored Santiago and his regressive attitude by concentrating on the charms of the moment which was Jean Simon's flattering attention to her.

She felt his warmth with gratitude.

He was not presumptuous or smarmy, one of her favorite terms for jerks and geeks who put on slimy smiles and talked slick  trying to get her to bed, telling her about the talented lines in the palm of her hands and the exotic shape of her lips.

No, Jean Simon was authentic.

He was genuinely concerned with her.

He made her feel she was a beautiful and intelligent woman.

What more could a feminine personality demand from a dark handsome stranger?

But…There were times when she wondered if Jean Simon was gay.

He had sort of an effeminate manner, really too gentle to be a man's man.

It was more the movement of his hands, the cultivated accent, the understanding and sympathy of a women's predicament. God, for a man, that in itself was unbelievable. He even understood how a women's mind worked. No, not homosexual, not him, he was definitely a man. He had that carnivorous look about the eyes, and of course he did have rather a lot of attractive female friends who were obviously more than just platonic.

Whatever he was, she liked him as a friend.

Santiago liked him.

The thought of romance was a very distant path.

Leila’s thoughts began to spin.

Jean Simon was a friend, something difficult for a woman to find in a man. Anyway, he had good habits and lovely manners. Maybe they would rub off onto Santiago. Hah! That would be the day! Santiago could not see past the end of his ass -- always moaning about his hemorrhoids. His little world, his anus and his truck. Hypocrite!  Him always going on about the depth and sensitivity of the artistic soul. God, he is such a bloody American. Life outside his ego is just some kind of television spectacle. God, he even left me to celebrate my thirtieth birthday with Jean Simon. I could have been in bed all evening for all he knew. He is so arrogant! Oh well, as long as we are in Corsica, damn Corsica, we might as well make the best of it. I had better start organizing our life. Santiago would certainly foul that up. Things have to be done, we have to find a house! We are not going to live in that truck no matter how nice Santiago said it is. Tara has to go to school. The poor little thing, it was going to be hard for her, five years old and not speaking a word of French. And work! We must find work. Oh Christ. Corsica. What chance for artists like us on this tiny island? Oh sure, Santiago said he had big ideas, there would be work everywhere. It will be easy he says. But what does he do when he gets here? He goes into one of his silent depressions and lies in that hole of a bed in his truck hiding from the world! Just typical. Just bloody typical!

***

The fourth day on the island Jean Simon in his Peugeot took the family to Ajaccio. He arranged meetings with local artists and some of his city acquaintances. Leila and Tara were excited. It would be their first chance to tour Corsica's big city. The morning they arrived on the island, Santiago was in such a hurry they had seen only the port. Now they were going into the center. There would be the chance to sit in outdoor cafes, look in shops and act like tourists. Leila smiled thinking about this little holiday in the Mediterranean.

 Their rendezvous was at the Cafe Ajaccio. The cafe was typically French having tables inside and out near large plate glass windows to accommodate people watching on the busiest corner of Ajaccio. The wayward contingent chose to set around one of the small Formica tables outside, under one of the large palm trees. The air was warm and smelled of the sea. A gray-haired waiter dressed in the traditional short white jacket with white shirt, black bow tie and tight black trousers took their order.

   Jean Simon suggested Pastis 51. Santiago said no thanks and asked for tea. Leila looked at him curiously thinking it was odd for him not to jump at chance for a drink. It was a balmy day and a soft breeze sifted across them, but Santiago was unable to relax. He could sit still for only a few seconds before twisting to another position. He constantly excused himself to the toilet feeling just slight relief for a few minutes.  

The waiters looked at him suspiciously as he stumbled through the cafe with madness across his face. They assumed he was another one of those bazaar Englishmen, in search of prey in the urinals. They curled their lips and hissed, Pede... what kind of man makes love in the toilets? They shouted loudly to each other and for the benefit of the other customers. More eyes in the cafe looked towards Santiago in disgust.

He could hear nothing but the blood in his butt.

Santiago returned to the exterior table each time feeling more distressed, more embarrassed.

 Jean Simon and his entourage flowed on in their interminable talk, sometimes in English for his benefit, but mostly in French, a language he could not understand.

Twice, Santiago had begun French lessons, but only to abandon the idea after a few enigmatic hours. Language had never been a strong point for him. In one ear out the other, he let the blur of sound slip around him.

There was enough cacophony already in his body. He only could hear hooligan's in the basement of his temple, tearing it down brick by brick. Monsters were in his foundations and the tower of his being was beginning to tilt. All he was aware of was the gnawing pain that caused each moment quadruple in time. Would the hello's and good bye's of French cheek-kissing never come to an end. No sympathy for the Devil or clap traps...

  Holy Crap…Jean Simon and his friends! Talk, talk, talk.

 From one cafe to another, the day plowed on.

The pressure inside Santiago was spiked with bamboo shafts. His dark tunnel of consciousness went from table to toilet only seeing vague mannequin faces. Santiago had stopped drinking alcohol or coffee since they had arrived in Corsica, thinking Perrier or weak tea would resolve his problem.

But there was no refuge. 

Everything touched his bubbled rectum -- even sound.

The picture of people in front of him went into a haze and Santiago fell into a scatological daydream. He imagined a vision of Mormons walking into a dry land -- a journey into the great hard pan of the Salt Lake. He saw the harvest of their first year and the sky turning black with the descent of a billion snapping jawed locusts. The wheat fields looked like a colossal ass-hole. He saw small man with a long white beard charge at the swarming insects, shaking his fist screaming, “Where are the damn Sea Gulls?”

   Leila touched Santiago's arm and asked, “What sea gulls?”

  Santiago looked at her blankly then crossed his arms and said, “Nothing. Just frig’n nothing.”

  Santiago fell deeper into his sour mood and he began to think, Oh yeah, I've had them before, but never like this. I have to put on a face for these people…Why don't I just come out with it and say, Excuse me, but I simply can’t hear a word you are saying! You see, there is a whole herd of hyena's holding a festival in my fart-trap!

Santiago shifted his weight on the hard plastic chair. The hours of the day are infinite when one is in a torture chamber, but suddenly towards the late afternoon the pain peeked.

For a moment Santiago felt he was going to pass out, then suddenly the pain stopped.

Without reason it slipped away.  He was released -- a free citizen of the free world. He could walk, he could talk. How lovely and how easy it is to be in the sun, to rest at a table of a Mediterranean cafe when you are liberated. After a day of seeing plastic masks of pretend people buzzing noise at him, Santiago bubbled back into life.  For the first time in days he talked while Leila thought, it is so unbearable, him being like this. He's so selfish. The attention of the group began to pivot around him in English. The silent stranger did have something to say after all. The change of language was the cue for a new player to step into the scene.

 Charlotte was introduced.

Leila raised her eyebrows quickly recognizing an obvious rival while Santiago eyes fell to the sensuous curves of Charlotte. The thought of Martina flashed across his mind for a milasecond, instantly thinking the best way to get over an old girlfriend was to find a new one…

 

She was an artist, more so in temperament than of actual production.

One painting needed much thought.

She was small, naturally blonde. Charlotte was an experienced woman of thirty-five, yet she retained something teenage, fresh and dangerous. Her looks were a crisscross of genetic lines from Italy to the top of Africa, but she was French, very French. She spoke bumpy English edged with a soft French accent. She had the presence as if she was always starring in her own movie.

When she talked she would continually throw her head back tossing the hair out of her eyes.

She had a stance, a certain eager feminism, standing on the balls of her feet, balancing her allure, creating a small ceremonial dance to draw the male bird near.

There was openness, being at once deeply metaphysical and profoundly humble, yet a talent to embrace the absurd. She felt herself to be a contradiction in life's on-going comedy. She was the bitter joke of being someone and no one at the same time.

Charlotte played another theme over this; the game of obvious sexuality.

This flowed over everything and everyone. She ate her food lustfully, she drove her car passionately and she always talked in shades of anger. Her eyes loved beauty, as much in the appreciation of the fine lines of an exquisite women as classic  proportions of male muscled bodies. She was French, a gourmet in creative existence. Santiago saw this portrait within the first minutes of their meeting.

Something was born at the cafe table that pulled him and Leila into an unknown circle.

The conversation with Jean Simon's friends went from art to food, politics to death. It was flowing naturally. There was a sense of union that gradually developed between the inner group of Charlotte, Leila and Santiago.

Jean Simon and the others set back and listened and watched in the fashion the French have when they know a soap opera is being written.

Leila slowly abandoned her protective attitude. It was not a jealousy towards Charlotte, but just good female sense that other females are dangerous and in a moment like this even Santiago became valuable. But as she relaxed her defense a confidence came and she allowed Charlotte to approach her sensitivities. Leila liked this kind of woman -- a woman of force.

The talk rambled on across places, things and ideas they had all known before.

And so they traveled on together leaving their audience behind. Santiago with Tara on his back, the two women linked their arms into his leaving the café. They went down the street a short way and up a dark flight of stairs to a small painting studio where they entered the colored world of Charlotte’s imagination.         

The Techno Sadhu RADIO THEATRE PRESENTS

 

A COSMIC PSYCHO DRAMA

Chapter 8 

 Charlotte AND THE HOLE IN THE GROUND

 

 Chapter 8

***

And so they traveled on together leaving their audience behind. Santiago with Tara on his back, the two women linked their arms into his leaving the café. They went down the street a short way and up a dark flight of stairs to Charlotte's atelier, her studuo. They entered the colored world of her imagination.         

 Chapter 8 in the TECHNO SADHU RADIO OF THE ABSURD, KMRD FM 9C.9 www.kmrd.fm/listen and on www.mixcloud.com

***

Art is a peculiar idea, especially in the last quarter of the twentieth century. A time caught in the repetition of the past -- Music, fashion, war, politics, and painting all fall back into another age, kaleidoscopic and happening at once. Twenties fashion haircuts walk side by side on this late avenue with space-age plastic zipped boots. A reservoir of time where one dips in the bucket and pulls up all ages. If you are a painter and you paint pictures that look like brown mud, a critic proclaims them as influenced by pre-historic cavemen. If you paint disciplined reclining nudes, the critic says it is somewhere between Michelangelo and Modigliani. It has already been done. Painting has become only a common cliché. The only thing that makes it unique is how the artist repeats the quirks and mistakes of their own hand, thus an individual work of art is created.

In Charlotte's atelier, this analysis of art history passed through Santiago's thoughts.

An artist is seldom charitable to another artist unless one is willing to worship the other as an apprentice to the Master.

Santiago was not willing to take a subservient position.

Neither was Charlotte nor Leila.

Yet at once, all three recognized they were in the same elite club. All three were masters, or they believed to themselves. A mutual respect if not admiration moved over them. Santiago and Leila were recent and temporary arrivals to Corsica, therefore no threat of local competition to Charlotte. Indeed, if anything they had a tinge of glamour, the exotic and the mysterious, making them much more desirable. Charlotte thought they would be an ideal couple to toy with and she drew them into her web of patterns.

 

 She knew everybody who was somebody worth knowing and if by some strange chance she didn't know them she would never tell you. Information or withholding it was her power. Youthful arrogance radiated the message. She knew something about something. She could explain the unexplainable. Feeble insecurity was not part of her style. She had her act together. It was a charade.

 

 Like so many strong-minded people, she had developed her performance. It was a blanket to cover the confused child that cried in the night. Like Santiago, she had built a fortress around her heart with thick walls of pride. Never again would she let someone come inside to destroy her soul. Santiago would come to understand this of Charlotte, but for now he was amused and curious about her paintings, her intelligence, and the other thing -- her sexual magnetism.

  Santiago felt it from the beginning of their encounter.  At 18, he would have confused the sensation, thinking perhaps he was hungry or restless.  He was forty now and he knew the familiar low wave in his gut.  It moved in and around him like puffs of smoky air and tingled his eyes and nose. It came on like the rush of adrenaline.  It was there.  There, but hazed out in the background of talking about art. 

She told them where she had lived in America.  Places in the North and in the South, but now she was happy to be back in Corsica.  Her nomadic father had given her this special paradise as a child.  That had been twenty years before.  Now she had chosen the island for herself.

  The three of them talked, about their plans, what kind of work was possible in Corsica and all of the ordinary boring questions of life.  But when you're in a new place even those questions seem exotic.  Charlotte was generous with her time.  She had nothing else to do.  Her work had come to a standstill.  She was ready for something to move her.  The three of them unconsciously began to move together.

  They talked for several hours.  Conversation developed between the two women while Santiago silently dropped into the realm of his earlier world of pain.  The burning ring had returned.  Beating pulses of blood dominated his thoughts and twisted his face into tortured waiting. Leila realized Santiago was suffering.  She made polite excuses to Charlotte, saying that they had to return to the mountains with the Jean Simon.

  “Okay,” Charlotte said, “there will always be other times.  I will see if I can find a house for you... but you can even stay with me if you want...”

  Santiago heard the faint hint of innuendo, but his body was not up to responding.

  The family returned to the mountain with Jean Simon an hour later.  Santiago immediately went to the Land Ship and fell into bed. Leila stayed up talking with Jean Simon in his house.  She was excited with the turn of events. The charming Corsican made her feel glamorous.  It was very late when she finally came to bed.  Santiago groaned and rolled away from her. 

***

The next day, Santiago felt slightly better and with the suggestion of Jean Simon he decided to take the truck to a nearby farm where he could store his assemblage of nuts, bolts and precious junk.  The farmer had several acres Santiago could use and said he was happy to have company.

   The farm was a few kilometers up the mountain, further away from civilization.  When they arrived at the entrance to the farm, Leila gasped.  There below them was a bumpy rutted path, no more than a tilted goat track sliding down into wooded dark gully. Supposedly out of sight at the bottom lay the farm.  Santiago could not decide whether or not to go down the choppy chute. Leila became impatient.

  “Are we just going to sit here on the side of the hill all day,” she said.  She couldn't take much more. 

Santiago had gone into a daydream of dropping anchor of the Land Ship in the country and living organically.

  “Santiago, for once in your life would you try to think of someone else other than yourself. You know you have a child to consider.”  Leila wanted no part of his fantasy.

  “Ah  shit!” Santiago snapped and he slammed the truck in gear and began the plunge downhill.  The transmission whined, the brakes squeaked, glass crashed somewhere in the back of their living quarters.  The truck leaped down the mountain.  The angle of dissent was as close to falling as one can experience when encased in the shroud of tin and steel. Santiago felt insane trying to negotiate the calamity of a screaming wife, a crying child, a barking dog and a red hot poker that had suddenly was up his butt. 

  Leila screamed, “Let me out!”  But the rattling home was already falling into oblivion.

Santiago screamed too, “I got us this far!  We'll get to the end of it God damn it!”

 Bashing into path embracing trees and knocking boulders off the steep edges, the truck trashed its way to the bottom. They all sat for a silent moment looking at where they had landed.

“Some of farm,” said Leila. 

In the tattered grounds around them lay one long dilapidated stone building, a few sagging wire fences and several howling dogs. Skinny chickens appeared to exhibit an advance case of molt.

  Santiago looked at the vision of his dreams and moaned a long low note.  He didn't know if the truck would ever be able to climb out of the hole.  The way his body was feeling at this moment he hardly cared.  They arrived at the space -- a piece of open ground in the depths of Corsica. Santiago felt like death.  Leila felt like killing him.

  There was no shelter.  There was no place where his treasures could be stored.  Santiago looked around until he found a small area, the only level piece of ground in view.  Santiago began unloading his treasures, a man possessed.  His precious load, beams of wood, tool boxes, extra tires, tin containers full of nuts and bolts, cans of paint, 200 meters of nylon rope and a hundred other assorted objects. His possessions were a junkman's paradise that no one in their right mind would have taken around the corner far less 1500 miles on a worn out wagon.

  The truck made small creaking noises rising from its sagging springs as Santiago unloaded his assemblage.  It wasn't just getting the load off the truck. To him it was a sacred and symbolic act almost religious. It was demonstrating to divine existence he had completed the dream.  He had arrived on Corsica and he was staking his claim in the New World.

From his point of view it was like the American flag on the Moon.  

From an angle of less grandeur it was more like a male dog pissing on the boundary of his turf. 

It was an act of exhilaration that pulled him out of the experience of his own body. He was a moving spirit climbing to the pinnacle of godhood.  He was also a little bit crazy.

  When he finished he sat down and looked at his work and he was well pleased, at least for the moment before he realized not only his butt was on the fire, but his whole body was aching.  Somewhere in Ajaccio, someone had passed him what the French call, Les Gripe -- the Mediterranean flu.

  Santiago had fallen from the lofts of heavenly truck unloading into the depths of satanic physical illness. He sat on a rock staring at the vehicle, the Land Ship that had brought them to Corsica, to this hole in the Mediterranean.

  Leila was slamming pots and pans down onto their little gas stove. Her eyes threw scolding thoughts towards Santiago's misery. Him and his bloody truck and his bloody dream!  Why did she have to leave Scotland?  White anger came over her and without a thought her mind was made up.

 “I have had enough.  I'm taking Tara and we're going home!”  She mumbled the statement several more times as she laced her shoes tightly and buckled her shoulder back.  The little girl's favorite toys were stuffed into a woven sack.  She took Tara by the hand and walked quickly back up to goat trail they had fallen down.

  Santiago looked after them bleakly and whispered, “I thought this was the place,” as his family disappeared into the maquis and scrub oak. He could see dark clouds on the eastern horizon.

  An hour later Santiago lay in the upper bed of the truck groaning. 

He felt like hell.  His mind was spinning.  What a wonderful moment for Leila to leave. What a fantastic sense of timing.  Why in the frig didn't she leave when they were still in Scotland?  It can't get any worse.

  Sweat was breaking over Santiago's face. Waves of fever washed his throat and chest.  “Frid’n coffin,” Santiago screamed incoherently as a tremendous role of thunder hit the truck and lighting flashed with the passing rumble. The hard drill of a cloud burst drummed on the metal box home.  Within 30 seconds rainwater began to drip onto the pillow next to Santiago's head. “screw you too God,” Santiago moaned.

***

Leila had spent the earlier part of the day lying in the sun letting Santiago get on with unloading the vehicle.  It had nothing to do with her.  She saw no reason why he had brought so much junk.  Just because she had decided to stay with him did not mean she had to share his neurotic obsession with bailing wire, bolts, and cans full of unbelievable nonsense.  The questioning thought came back to her again. Why didn't she marry someone normal?

  The late morning had been pleasant enough, the sun touching her with golden fingers.  The chill was being chased away.  She lay on the roof of the truck basking in the warmth.  Around her was rolling a meadow dotted with olive trees.  In the distance a metal clunking came from neck-bells of a goat herd.  Occasionally a loud call of Hoo-Roo came from a Corsican shepherd as he moved his animals across the open pastures.

  Leila looked at her little girl.  How she envied her sometimes.  Tara had her dolls and toys scattered about truck and was unconcerned with adult problems.  As much as Leila was trying to relax she couldn't stop from fretting. Aside from the fact of the Santiago had brought them to the bottom of a hole, there was the feeling she had misplaced something precious.  But at least there was good weather and that had its benefits.  She daydreamed about a winter tan -- the best of Scottish fantasy.  She had two hours of luxury before the spell was broken.  A brisk cold wind came out of the mountains and ominous dark clouds began to shred the blue sky.  Leila threw the book aside she had been holding but not reading and said, “Damn.  I knew this wouldn't last.”

  If one has been raised in Scotland it is easy to have a basic disbelief in fine sunny weather.  Scottish skies are perpetually usurped by monotonous tones of long gray days that parade dully into months.  It is the common paranoia of Scots to believe that endless sunny days are a myth, no less than a child's fantasy of Rock Candy Mountain.  Leila's dream of a winter tan instantly went to peel. She thought of her lost opportunities.  The sun would not be seen until spring and that was too far away. If anything could have filled her with a deeper darker gloom it was when the Santiago went into the truck groaning.

“Ah crap, I'm going to bed,” Santiago said. 

Suddenly the vision came to her of living in a submerged truck embedded at the bottom of hole churning with cold gray mud and her being a chained servant to a neurotic invalid who constantly demanded more service.  The image filled her with horror.  She had no choice but to take her little girl and run.

 

 

Santiago was vaguely aware of the truck door banging open and the creaking of springs as Leila and Tara climbed back into the silenced interior.  He could hear Leila make shivering sounds as she pulled off their soaking clothes.  Tara was whimpering.

Santiago thought to himself, so the runaways have returned home -- just like little kids only to escape so far before their hungry bellies bring them back home. He began to shake.  He was lying in saturated blankets from a combination of fevered sweating and the leaking roof.  The bed had the slimy embrace of old oatmeal.  He listened to the hushed noises of Leila putting a kettle on the stove, changing clothes, telling the little girl, shush, do what I say and get to these and dry clothes on. She closed the small slide windows and turned on the gas oven to warm their metal refuge.

The worst of the heat flashes had passed Santiago but remnant pulses of ice still shook him.  It was the kind of influenza that comes when the body's resources are weakest.  The virus, like black shirt fascists, sprayed graffiti on the red walls of blood cells leaving obscene rushes of scald and ache.  Only pocket spaces of emptiness were left where one spins in the sensation of float. Santiago was hearing rustling sounds filtering through the Land Ship. He groaned as he felt himself slipping into another frigid abyss. 

  Leila in the tone of voice as though nothing had happened asked, “Are you all right, love?”

  Santiago whispered sarcastically, “Yeah just great -- never felt better.”

  The air went to icy. Leila retreated to silence.

  “Mommy why is Daddy in bed?”  When Tara was told he did not feel well, the little girl climbed onto his bed and said, “I love you Daddy.”

  Santiago opened his eyes and weekly smiled at his beautiful little girl.  “I love you too sweetheart.”  Without warning, a spasm of cold knifed up his spine and he began to shake violently.

  Leila heard the chill strike Santiago. Concern for him came over her.  Oh dear, he really was sick.  She changed the damp blankets and for the next few hours nursed and coupled her man back to the shores of the living.  Sometime in the middle of the night it was over.  She was exhausted. Her hero slipped wearily into luxury of sleep. Tara purred a small child's snore in her bed as Leila lay awake staring at the ugly brown plywood walls of the truck's interior.

  In the morning Santiago was calm. The sickness had left him with the grace of acceptance.  He was glad it was over and he was glad he was alive.  The world existed the way it was.

“How far did you get?”  He asked. 

Leila laughed. “About a half a mile before that awful rain came and lucky for us the farmer just happened along in his lorry.  He took us to his cottage.”

“Why did you comeback?”  Santiago quietly asked.  He was glad she was there.

Leila frowned a little wrinkle between her eyes and said with resignation, “Where else was I to go?”

Santiago laughed sadly.  “Yeah, I guess we're along ways from nowhere.”

***

A person appreciates having a mirror not only to see how one looks but sometimes just to have physical proof of one's own existence. Friends and lovers give to each other a reflection of their own being.

They see through the layers of pretension and recognize the soul behind the glass. 

They trust, despite the eccentricities, and  love, because of them.

Trust equals love. In the beginning years, this idea had been the pact of truth between Leila and Santiago.  They were friends and lovers because they saw the potential of themselves in each other.  The lived their fantasies together and they walked in weedy crowds as hybrids. Separately they knew they were unique and together they knew they were special.  They gave their beautiful reflections willingly, their recognition enthusiastically and their trust courageously. Such was their treaty as spiritual allies. But they were young.

  How could they know that trust and love in such a contract of honor implied suspicion and hate? 

Their trust meant that they could give and take all measures

 and they did just that. 

Yet who can be more savage to pride than one's dearest friend? 

If friendship is a fragile bridge that can be swept away in the flood of human pathos,

then marriage,

 must surely be

a crystal tight rope,

as dangerous to walk on as it is to fall off.

  Santiago and Leila had started a pattern in their mutual course, taking each other for granted.  It was the classic problem. 

By the very nature of such confident conspiracy they lost the gentle sensitivity of lovers and the eyes of dreamers.

They no longer saw the potential that in being together they were a complete circle, a whole against the fractions of mediocrity. 

On their path together, small careless words had grown into cruel tangles of mockery. 

Their spirits silently separated. 

For long months, then years, they did not recognize each other because they had not bothered to look.

They lost the trust of their oneness, accepting the condition of their division as prisoners know the bars of the cell block.

They contained each other with toleration.

How difficult it is to laugh at one's own predicament, but some would say, marriage is about having an agreeable tormentor.

The Techno Sadhu RADIO THEATRE PRESENTS

 

A COSMIC PSYCHO DRAMA

Chapter 9

the crystal tight rope

 

  How could ONE know that trust and love in such a contract of honor implies suspicion and hate? 

One’s trust means that you can give and take all measures

 and one can do just that. 

Yet who can be more savage to pride than one's dearest friend? 

If friendship is a fragile bridge that can be swept away in the flood of human pathos,

then marriage,

 must surely be

a crystal tight rope,

as dangerous to walk on …………………………………as it is to fall off.

  Santiago and Leila had started a pattern in their mutual course, taking each other for granted.  It was the classic problem. 

By the very nature of such confident conspiracy they lost the gentle sensitivity of lovers and the eyes of dreamers.

They no longer saw the potential that in being together they were a complete circle, a whole against the fractions of mediocrity. 

On their path together, small careless words had grown into cruel tangles of mockery. 

Their spirits silently separated. 

For long months, then years, they did not recognize each other because they had not bothered to look.

They lost the trust of their oneness, accepting the condition of their division as prisoners know the bars of the cell block.

They contained each other with toleration.

 

In the back of his mind…she was still there…Martina…damn…damn…Martina…

 

***Chapter 9

Santiago agreed with Leila.  “Yeah, I guess it's kind of crazy to come all the way to Corsica and find this frig’n hole in the mountain. Here we are in the beautiful Mediterranean living in an old truck surrounded by stinking goats.  Ah, but on the good side of things there doesn't seem to be any overcrowding - lots of privacy unless you don't like goats.”  He no longer felt like arguing.  Maybe Leila was right, but his failure silently steamed.

  The decision was made to leave Santiago's accumulation of junk and return to Ajaccio.  Leila said they could take Charlotte's offer who WAS RFAPIDILY REPLAING MARTINA  … stay with her until they found a house.  Perhaps Tara could start school.  It would help to have a base and then they could begin to look for work. 

  Leila repeated, “You have to think of someone other than yourself Santiago.  You have to think of your daughter for once.”

  The easiest thing to do at this point was to agree. Santiago wanted peace.  He was giving up the idea of living in the Land Ship but felt it was also his last chance of living a Gypsy dream and leaving all of his nightmares behind.  He thought to himself, God damn it -- always the fucking crossroads. He clamped his hands on the steering wheel and pointed the truck back up to goat track.  As the Land Ship climbed out of the hole …THE sound of crashing glass was an accompanying miserable melody. 

“Jesus Christ. My dishes!” screamed Leila. 

Something else would replace the pain she suffered this moment.  She didn't have to wait long.  Within 4 hours Leila fell to Les Gripe.

  In Ajaccio they went directly to Charlotte's where Leila came down with the bug.  Santiago was the donor.  She was bound to bed with fever as desperately ill as Santiago had been.  For three days she drifted in and out of cold sweats in a darkened room on the second floor at the corner of Ajaccio's busiest intersection.  The noise of the traffic vibrated through the closed shutters and banged mercilessly at her mind. 

  Occasionally Santiago would look in and ask, “Have you died yet Sweetheart?”

  While Leila was in bed, Santiago and Charlotte were drawn together with only the space of circumstance between them. Lust was pulsing. Tara being there made it too awkward to take the sensations any further than conscious recognition.  They used the time to penetrate each other intellectually… in the best manner of Freudian sublimation. They talked about art and what an artist has to be; the struggle to make a living selling something that has no practical use except for the imagination.

 

 Charlotte said, “There is money to make in Ajaccio doing large murals!”

 Santiago raised his eyebrows.  He had been looking at a wall across the street from where they were sitting in the Cafe Ajaccio. 

The waiters looked at SantiagoWasn't he the Queer they had seen stalking the men’s toilets? And what now?  Here he was talking to the woman, who of course everybody knew was a notorious man eater.  Very interesting...

 Santiago looked at their wayward glances but his thoughts were filled with the wall he could see across the street.

It was a long wooden wall, a construction barrier made of eight foot upright planks running the full length of the town plaza.  It surrounded an excavation site which in the future would be in underground parking lot.

Santiago pointed towards the plaza and said, “There is a wall.”

“C'est bon,” Charlotte said smiling.  “I think we can do it. C'est magnific, but of course we need a plan.”

The idea was a good device to keep them together until the early hours of the next morning, long after the rest of the small Corsican world had gone to sleep.  Two People's words could be passed quietly through curious lips.

The bed Leila was in squeaked with the noise of her restlessly tossing in her solitary suffering.  Fevered thoughts kept asking, Where was that man?  The bed was wet from sweat.  There was nothing to do but wait and groan. Minutes were hours.

Santiago came in just before dawn light.  He tried to make her comfortable but there was little he could do. He had lived through it and so would she but telling her that brought no comfort.  She groaned and put her head under the pillow to block out further medical analysis.

 

IT WAS ONLY 3 WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS

During the daytime, Santiago would take Tara on walks through the town. 

 Santiago told Tara they could play being tourists by looking in shop windows. 

They stared at incredibly expensive trinkets and rags displayed like eye hooks for gulping consumption. Santiago refused to think about the purchase of any of these objects, but the little girl couldn't understand.  She wanted them. Her little life had been deprived of any such gaudy luxuries.  

“Daddy look at the coat, it's so beautiful.”

Santiago could see the desire in her eyes.

It hurt him to know there was no way possible to have any of the things she was looking at even if he did consider it all as capitalist consumer junk plot.

He deterred his own thoughts and her demands by inventing games of make believe, tricking her from window to window until in the process they came across a toy store. Tara begged to go inside just to look at them. Santiago gave in to her pleading. Once inside Tara instantly fell in love with a horrible plastic doll and insisted on having it. 

Santiago grabbed the toy from her hands.  “I said no and no means no.”

With tears in her eyes, he took her by the hand and pulled her down the street to a sweet shop.  He put two francs in her hand and told her she could buy something special.  Tara's eyes opened wide and her beautiful child smile swept away the sadness.  The doll was forgotten.

***

Charlotte was sitting at the Cafe Ajaccio when Santiago and Tara returned.  Sitting next or her was a mustachioed man with a pipe hanging from his face.

Charlotte introduced him.  “Santiago this is Felix Rodin, the Arts Officer for Corsica. He is part of the Ministry of Culture of France.”

Santiago saw a sly wink from Charlotte.  The man gave Santiago a broad strong hand and with a pipe still clinched in his yellowed teeth, smiled.

Charlotte began telling Felix the story of the two talented artists she had recently met. “You can help them get something together.  Your department has money.  Corsica needs this kind of stimulus.  There is no one here that does their kind of work.  There are places all over the city that need art.”

Felix rocked back in the metal chair and locked his fingers together around a raised knee as he launched his defense. “Bon alors,” he said beginning a bureaucratic monologue in French. 

 “It is difficult to put ideas forward. Problems, problems… the nationalists… the socialist… of course the communists. The city government is worse... naturally there are always the fanatics of the F.L.N.C. and they are trouble you can believe me.  Let me tell you, they can be dangerous too.  I do not think it is a safe notion to put foreign artists under such risk.  Yes always problems…  Charlotte you know Corsica is a very special place...”

Santiago did not have the slightest idea of what they were talking about other than to assume it was to do with him and art. The sound of the man even in a language he did not understand had the droning a tone of electrical tubing in the house of babble.

Charlotte pleaded, “But Felix you know very well that the F. L. N. C. only direct activities towards the French or capitalist pigs who want to drain the island of its blood. Certainly, sometimes they execute drug dealers or child molesters, but they have no interest in artists --especially artists like these people who want to give something to Corsica.”

Felix slapped his flat hand on the table making the coffee cups dance on their saucers. “Yes, yes, but there is very little I can personally do!  You must realize it is my duty to support Corsican artists first.  It would be a tremendous scandal and there is even more to it than that of course. Yes, let me tell you!  Just last week I had a bomb go off in my stairwell and where do you think but in front of my own door!  Naturally they are trying to scare me. It even happens at work.  Two of my own co-workers are nationalists and for sure you know they are F. L. N. C., and I tell you, they block everything I try to do.  Seventeen years I have been on this island and I am still French to them. I cannot move with any certainty in my job…c’est tous merde!”

Santiago understood the last exclamation and began to get interested in an argument which promised soon to be a fight.

Charlotte tapped both of her hands on to the table drumming in unison with bullet words. Her voice became agitated.  “But Felix you had 300,000 Francs last year, and you did nothing with it.  “Yes it is all MERDE for certain!”

“Whoa,” said Santiago.

“My hands were tied,” pleaded Felix. 

“Stick them up your ass,” shouted Charlotte grabbing the edge of the table.  “you did nothing with the money.  You gave it back to the government! ”

Santiago looked at Charlotte thinking any moment the table would be thrown over like a cowboy bar fight.  He began to smile thinking; this is the way to deal with bureaucrats. 

Felix suddenly leaned over the table, his forehead tipped aggressively. “There you are!  You think I did nothing.  I tell you I couldn't move.  The Corsicans are the ones to be blamed.  I was waiting for a favorable proposal and what do I get?  Nothing!  I get nothing.  No one presented me any idea that was worth presenting to the Ministry.  Not one!  Not one Corsican artist came up with one idea...”

“AbsoluteMONT MERDE!”  Charlotte's knuckles were turning white beating her hands on the table and Santiago grabbed the cups as they bounced towards the edge.  She continued, “But there were several proposals that we sent you from the Association.  And you big fat arts officer didn't even look at them!  We had many ideas!” 

 Charlotte's voice was drowned by the heavier base tone of Felix as he protested, “No, no, no!  I could not put forth any of those.  None were from a Corsican artists...everyone in your Association is from the mainland. You know very well the situation and I am in.  My hands are tied. I am blocked left and right.”

Santiago had never been in the middle of a Mediterranean confrontation. The hair on the back of his neck tingled.  He continued smiling even though it was becoming slightly embarrassing.  He looked around the cafe and saw that no one was paying the slightest attention to the spectacle.

 

Felix wrinkled his face, “Maybe the Communists mayor of Sartene can help.  They like to support, yes, what you call public art...”

“What!”  Charlotte screamed and then banged the coffee cups into the air again.  “You mean if very talented artists arrive in Ajaccio by the hand of fate we should send them to another town? That is incredible.”

Felix began to smile, “Okay, really what can I do?  You tell me just what.  Believe me; I know they are worth having, and I personally support the idea of having, what do you call it… these kinds of catalysts from the professional fields. Yes, for example just last year I brought the Italian sculptor Giovanni.”

“Ah yes, to the top of the mountain so he could crack one big rock that no one will ever see and no one has even heard about. You make art experiments so completely public and so completely safe!”

Felix arched his back while taking the pipe out of his mouth, “But you know he is a very important minimal sculptor and he is internationally known.  He has sculptures in New York City.”

“Yes and the pigeons CRAP on it. Fantastic Felix, you have such extraordinary vision and courage.”

  Felix looked foolishly towards Santiago. “Really, I am blocked. What can I do?  I would like to help some way if only you could tell me...”

Charlotte grabbed the sleeve of Felix's Chinese worker’s jacket and said smiling, “We can help them in another way you know. “

Felix tilted his head.  “How is that?”  He put his pipe back in its orifice and walked his fingers around his crossed right knee again. 

Santiago noticed he was going into a fetal position. Charlotte flashed the slightest smile to Santiago but he still did not have a clue what was happening. 

She continued, “Santiago and his wife need a place to work and a place to live -- probably only for a couple of months.  They can work in my studio -- as for a house, you have a house you don't use.”

Felix let his hands fall to his side like heavy plucked chickens. “But naturally, it is no problem.  They can have my house, it is theirs today.”

Charlotte smiled the sweetest of smiles. “Fantastic.”

***

The next day Santiago was in a mood.  He didn't like the idea of the free house.  Leila pulled herself out of the sick bed. He told her of the episode in the cafe.

Santiago said, “I don't know. I don't want to get into that kind of compromise.”

Leila was in a bad mood.  Santiago's words irritated her more.  She countered, “At least it would be worth time to look at.  It sounds nice in the country.  Ajaccio is so noisy.”  She actually didn't care where the house was or what it was like.  She did not want to live in a rolling tin can.  The Land Ship could sink to hell.

Santiago protested, “It would be different if we could pay rent.  Then we could at least imagine it was ours from month-to-month.”

“Oh do what you want,” said Leila. She went back to bed more depressed than sick with the flu.

In the process of several house changes, Santiago and Leila had made arrangements with people sharing expenses or working for rent such as care taking or other progressions of communal living.  The deals had never worked out.  The last house they shared with a friend had concluded in a fistfight. Leila said it was Santiago's fault because of his bullheaded attitude and noisy machinery.  In another large mansion they rented a room from an eccentric English scientist. After only a week, a note was pushed under their door. It read: Vacate immediately. You are not compatible. Leila was very angry because it was a lovely house.  She held a grudge towards Santiago, not the scientist.

The grudge was carried from one eviction to another. Santiago had no need to go through the process again.  Their life was too crazy and something was bound to happen.  It always did.  This kind of free house was a premeditated disaster.  On the other hand Leila was hell to live with and especially in the eight by sixteen foot box on the back of the truck.  Santiago didn't know what to do.

                                            *** 

 “Santiago,” Leila yelled from Charlotte’s temporary bedroom.  “Come here I want to talk.” 

Santiago came in immediately, guilty, feeling caught by the tone of her voice.  Had she heard the whispering of the night before?

“I'm not going to live in the truck!  You can if you want, but I want a house.  I want a normal house with a kitchen and bedrooms. I do not want to live in the shoe box. Do you understand?”

Santiago almost felt relieved.  He sat for a moment saying nothing wondering if the house was all there was to it.

 “Well?”  Demanded Leila.

She was impossible, he thought. “Okay, we might as well look at it...I guess it won't hurt.”

“Fine,” Leila said sinking back into the sweaty pillow.

***

Charlotte made arrangements to visit the house a few days later.  They piled into the Land Ship and drove over the foothills of Ajaccio and into the next valley.  Charlotte directed the way to The Gulf of Lava.  They soon had to leave the main road, going down a trenched rut, nearly as bad as the goat trail they had found earlier in the mountains.  Santiago was morose. The view he saw was a deserted and burned land from fires that had raged the year before.  Leila was rapidly losing confidence.

“I think it's up this road,” Charlotte said pointing at the two tire tracks wandering off into the maquis.

Santiago aimed the Land Ship up the hill, following the vague impressions in the earth.  “Oh CRAP,” he cursed as they went over crest and down a deep embankment surrounded by blackened chestnut trees.  As they bumped over a ridge he uttered the hippie ultimate, “Wow!  Far out.”

There under the shade of an ancient chestnut tree was a beautiful stone house with large glass windows.  It was a dream house.

“Far Frig’n out,” Santiago said.  He was impressed.

“Lovely,” Leila said smiling. 

“It is more fantastic inside,” purred Charlotte. “We have had some incredible celebrations here.”

“Frig’n great!  Let's party!"  Santiago yelled.

 “Oh no!  What next?” said Leila.

 In an instant both Santiago and Leila accepted the idea of the house, ingested it and saw the ultimate fate.

***

Santiago couldn't believe it was possible.  There had to be a catch.  That evening he went with Charlotte to have supper at Felix's town apartment.  Leila was feeling rough again and she preferred to stay in bed.  She would keep Tara with her.  Santiago was happy to be out for the night, a chance to be alone for awhile with Charlotte.  There was only the meeting to get through.

 Charlotte was hyper as she drove her beat-up Renault on a crash course through Ajaccio, zipping up into the hills overlooking the city.  “Don't worry about the house,” she said to Santiago.  “Felix is really a nice guy, and you know there is no problem anyway, because he never uses his country house -- you'll probably never see him.”

“How come he doesn't use the house?”  Santiago asked.

“I think it is some...what you call some kind of psychological thing.  He worked on the house for 15 years, for him and his family to move into and what you think happened?”  Charlotte laughed.

“What?”  Santiago asked as paranoia surfaced

 “So completely mad. The day he put the last work on the house his wife ran off with a Corsican fishermen. Complete French madness.”  Charlotte laughed again as she gunned the car up and through the tree-lined curves. “Don't worry! I think you'll never see Felix there because he hates the place.”

 “I bet,” said Santiago looking at Charlotte's face and wishing they could go somewhere else.  He kept looking at lonely side roads as Charlotte laughed and teased him with a smile. The fifteen minute journey was side-tracked for an hour.

***

Felix welcomed them at the door of his apartment and in a half an hour and Santiago was already on his fourth glass of hard Corsican peasant wine.

  Charlotte and Felix did all the talking while Santiago set like a dried insect caught in the hot tubes of an ancient radio.  Felix had a teenage son and daughter and occasionally one of them would try out their school English on Santiago, then blush with the attempt. Santiago smiled and chatted back to them feeling slightly more comfortable.

Felix's voice was in a bureaucratic tone while Charlotte flicked glances at Santiago, her eyes telling him, don't worry.  After several hours of talk, plates of pasta and chicken and several bottles of wine, Santiago wasn't worried. He was feeling like a laughing Buddha.

Suddenly the sound of Felix came to stop.  Santiago thought he could hear buzzing in the room.  Felix put his hands on his knees and with his after dinner pipe clinched in his teeth, he jutted his chin towards Santiago and said, “Quesque tu ponce?”

“Huh? Ah, what did you say?”  Santiago looked helplessly towards Charlotte.

“He said he wants you to take the house and what do you think?”  Charlotte translated shaking her head positively.

“Oh,” Santiago said, drunk enough to have forgotten why they were there. “Oh yeah, but as well, tell him that me and Leila need some time to think it over... we always like to have lots of our friends come and stay with us... and what's more... that big old truck of mine will tear the hell out of his little road... and anyway I got all this noisy machinery and stuff which usually drives people fucking crazy.”  Santiago smiled.

Charlotte spoke rapidly for a moment. She then smiled at Santiago and fired her 20th cigarette.

 Felix made expansive gestures with his fat hands and kept repeating the first French phrase Santiago came to understand in its full irony, “Pas de probleme.” Finally he stopped, stood up and held out of his hand smiling.

“Superb,” said Charlotte as she went and got their jackets.

In a minute they were hugging on their way back to the Renault. Charlotte was laughing while Santiago was kissing her fondly on the neck and face.  They stumbled across the street to the car where Santiago's suddenly spun Charlotte around into his arms and kissed her wetly on the mouth.

Charlotte pushed Santiago away, but smiled coquettishly. “Santiago you are going to be in big trouble.” 

They got into the car and started back to Charlotte's apartment.

Santiago's head was fuzzy from all of the wine.  The kiss to Charlotte made him want to continue in another direction, but soberness began to come over him.  He wondered what the evening had been about other than the small detour.

“What was it,” he said, “I mean what's going on... does he really want us to move into the house?”  Santiago wondered if the idea of Corsica made any sense.  Now that they had a house, he wasn't really sure he wanted it.

“It is your house to do what you want to do until March,” said Charlotte

“Really?”  Santiago distrusted charity more than ever. 

“Pas de probleme!”  Charlotte said as the car shot into space.

The problem for Santiago was how they could spend the rest of the evening together.

 

***

In a week the family was set up in the country home and Leila was actually smiling.  Day by day their life was taking focus, due to the manipulations of Charlotte.  She had been busy. 

On an arranged day they were altogether sitting in the office of Madame Franccioni, the Chairwoman of the City Council and the Ajaccio's cultural coordinator.  She was a charming Corsican version of Zza Zza Gabor, complete with clinking jewelry and the waft of expensive perfume. Hidden lines of distinguished wrinkles were under layers of pink powder.  Her cheeks only hinted old-age-droop. Madame Franccioni in her youth had been a natural beauty but now she was fortified in cosmetic maintenance. The rumor was she was at least seventy years old.  She was famous for her affairs with distinguished men.  Santiago noticed her bedroom eyes above hands dotted with liver spots.  For an old broad she wasn't bad, he thought. Hmmmm…Maybe martina looks like her now…

Tara set on her father's knee being innocently beauty. Santiago disappeared inside his own head thinking how sex would be with an older woman.  He remembered Charlotte had told him to smile as often as possible for Madame Franccioni.  Male adulation was part of her bribery.  He flashed a smile.

Madame Franccioni although appearing to be listening to Charlotte gently turned and batted her long attached eyelashes for Santiago.  He grinned Cheshire cats and fumbled with the photo journal of their art work which was lying on her desk.  An embarrassment rapidly covered his face half due to his ignorance of French -- not knowing what to say while the other half was the awkward revelation of the ridiculous comedy in front of him. Santiago was not accustomed to a glamorous elderly official and the subtlety of French public sexuality.

Within 30 minutes the quartet of beggars had found the bone at the great ladies door. As they walked to the Cafe Ajaccio to celebrate Charlotte said, “I think it is for certain you have work now! The Madame was very charmed with your smile.”

“At least he kept his tongue quiet for a while,” Leila said.

“Mais oui, the strong silent stranger,” laughed Charlotte.  “But you know all the good luck comes from Tara's lovely red hair and freckles. C'est vrai, the Madame was very charmed.”

***

Madame Franccioni had political punch in her diamond-ringed fingers. The next afternoon permission was obtained from the mayor's office to paint the boards and surrounding the Central Square, Place de Gaulle.  That was the good news.  The bad news was the city would give only enough money to buy the paint.  No wages and no fee.

  "Merde! Maybe something else will come."  Charlotte equivocated.

"Yeah, like they'll let us paint all the lines on the highways for free too, but they will supply the paint."  Santiago said.

"Oo la la. You are so... how do you say...skeptical?"

"Yeah, it means a sucker is born everyday." 

Santiago and Leila looked at each other and both of them thinking, what else was there to do?

18 days until Christmas…

The next day the three artists began planning the mural. The work came together in the oddest three-way balance -- two up-tight liberated feminists  and one old-fashioned macho chauvinist  trying to hang on to his balls.  It was an artistic combination one could not ignore.  The women were attractive and intelligent and the man was a crazy dreamer.  All three had the magic ingredient - a mysterious thing some people call talent.

 

Talent.  The word talent means nothing at all.  Having talent does not create or define an artist. It is the same to say if one has a sword; one must be a warrior -- to imply there is no importance of the razor edge of decision, the balance of a thrust, or the movement in dance that guides the sword to its mark.  But the talent that held the strange trio together was there.  Perhaps it was coincidence that had brought them together, and only by accident they collaborated.  One thing is certain -- not one of them could accept a dull reality.  They would rather leap off a precipice and die than to stand at its edge and worry if they might fall. Talent is the magic thing that is the difference between genius and mediocrity.

Over the next few weeks the three of them organized designed and began the actual work on to the wall.  It was an uncomplicated plan, one that Santiago and Leila had done in variations many times before.  To Charlotte it was an adventure, but it would turn into hard work.  Words had to be backed up with physical labor and that was excruciating for her.

 

The wall was a wooden partition made of Corsican pine.  It surrounded a pit that had been excavated in the heart of the Ajaccio. Originally the city square was called the Place Diamond, but with the victory in the political career of the famous general it had been renamed Place de Gaulle.  In true Corsican obstinacy most Ajaccions continued to call it by the former name.  Now the square was sunk 20 meters into the ground and filled with the activities of ant-like men and concrete mixing machines.  The authorities said it was to be an underground parking space. It was the French thing to do -- retaining the beauty of an open town square.  Santiago believed it was paranoia in the nuclear age and the city masters were constructing themselves a convenient bomb shelter.

 The wooden fence kept innocent onlookers from tumbling into the pit although its presence was served best in the early hours of the morning.  Midnight literary artists found this large wall the most ideal space to spray their poetry and party aspirations.  LIBERTY -- F.L.N.C. -- EQUALITY -- merde les FRANCE.  The slogans were usually painted on top of posters advertising rock concerts or washing machine sales.  The City cleansing department facilitated this exercise in generous corporation by continually pulling off shreds of paper and repainting the surface a natural wood tone and thereby providing a new blank surface. This allowed the next onslaught of words and symbols to be radiantly obvious until a few days later when once again the blank surface would be buried by an avalanche of new posters and obscenities.

The carpenters who had made this civil defense unconsciously benefited public curiosity by their economy of wood.  Large gaps big enough to allow huge rats and small cats to pass through also gave a fair space for the questioning eye.  The wall was a monster picket fence -- not a wall any artist would consider a perfect paint surface.

Santiago looked at the 100 meters of splintered wood and wondered what in the hell he had got himself into.  He hardly felt like Rembrandt with this ragged canvas that was mutilated by public vulgarity and sliced by fingers of space.  But it was a wall and that meant to there was work to do, and he had no better answer than the cliché of the mountain climber -- because it is there.

   "Stop being so pompous," Leila said.

 

   The three artists talked at length about how the project should be handled.  Charlotte had ideas of getting other artists involved, each having an individual space and painting in their own fashion.  There was no argument against it from Santiago even though the suggestion revolted him. California-hippie-buses came to Santiago’s mind.  But why worry?  What other artists would be crazy enough to volunteer over the split planks?

  "Look all I want to do is transform the whole thing -- that ugly hag of a wall will become a beautiful lady," he said.

***

Santiago buried himself in the sunny lastdays of November and December in the dusty coffin shaped kitchen of Charlotte’s studio.  He was grinding wood with his screaming-devil-machine again. The two women visited schools and organized parties of little children to help paint the mural.

   The design on the long thin wall would stretch across the entire Plaza.  It would portray Corsican people from the past to the future.  Background landscapes would be painted directly onto the wooden planks while the images of people were painted on separate shaped panels and superimposed across the scenery. The ragged canvass would be sewed together.

 There was one large problem to the solution.  It meant finding huge amount of milled lumber, cutting and painting all of the separate shapes on the budget of nothing.

   "Everything is possible," Charlotte said.  She had the conviction of a child dreaming.  "We have weeks.  It will be finished by the 23rd  December. Pas de problem."

***

The days were like torture for all three -- awful days of machine dust filling the studio -- Santiago cursing what he put himself into -- Leila cursing having to work with another woman -- Charlotte cursing having to work at all.

   Santiago felt like he was back in combat -- the electric monster held in his hand was a machine gun, and his trigger-finger chewed away the wood. Dust seeped everywhere, under doors, down halls, any into the adjacent apartments of people who could care less about art -- pieces of wood were piled in every corner of the studio – painted sections were scattered over work tables -- stacks of completed boards would soon be attached to the fence. 

The final days came and they overshot the December deadline they had imposed on themselves -- just a few days until Christmas and the release of schoolchildren – children that had to be organized at the fence – the fence that would become a mural – a masterpiece that Santiago knew was his calling card.

Suddenly one-hundred children were at the site -- all of them wanted to paint at the same time.  In front of the children’s eyes, Santiago ran with a can of black spray paint hurriedly adding outlines to a larger-than-life coloring book. 

Leila rolled up her sleeves and pulled the small hands out of the paint pots.  Charlotte abandoned the chaos, crossed the street to Café Ajaccio, smoked cigarettes and talked about the meaning of art. 

The creative holocaust continued for several hours until finally the school teachers marched the children away like army-ants.  The wall was now a mural.

***

The three artists came together on the last day, Christmas Eve. They were silent, intent, brooding and ignoring each other while smashing paintbrushes and hammers against a wooden wall as if to inflict pain on images overlapped in naiveté and sophistication. 

There were moments in these last few hours when it would seem that each found in the work something unique and beautiful, but suddenly it would turn and became monstrous -- grotesque images created by nasty little children.  The mural became a Frankenstein.  The three each separately wished to runaway and forget it had ever happened.  Then out of the streets of Ajaccio strangers and friends arrived and told them it was a magnificent work of art. They said it was a wonderful mural and in the spirit of Christmas.  The three artists had mutual skepticism of such praise. It was the twilight of  Christmas Eve when the three put their final touches to the wall.  It was finished. 

Santiago, Leila and Charlotte stood in front of the colorful mural and laughed at a Polaroid photo an admirer had given them.  It showed them in the midst of one of their worst arguments.  Problems, blood and angry words spilled across their mixed up lives and more than once the making of the mural was the creation of fury.  It was all too evident in the photograph, but now they could laugh.  It was done and better, it was adopted in the last days of its birth by the people of Ajaccio.  The people's identity was fixed to it.  250 children had splattered paint on this public work of art.  The newspapers, the television, even the radio had proclaimed positive sentiments.  Who would dare say their children's art was ugly?  The three artists had a very different thoughts about what they had just created, but Santiago’s calling card was presented to Corsica.

***

Christmas is the time of year when life bubbles over the plot of one's own particular circumstances but it is more subtle on a Catholic island in the Mediterranean.  The small towns of the island are far away from the crushed velvet darkness of British snob stores like Harrods, or the glass and plastic Mall-America of manic consumerism. 20th century shopping speedways had not yet arrived in Corsica

In Corsica the merchants of mass-materialism are as ubiquitous as the flowers in the maquis. Yet in some way the birth of Jesus and the joy of giving are still a human story in Corsica.  On this island people walk around and smile at Christmas time.  They are sharing an ancient ritual. The Catholic Church has something to do with this fact but not in a religious sense.  Simply, people gather as though it is a party for friends.  The church is a family salon. 

Christmas is gentle in Corsica. Maybe it is because the food is good, the wine is drinkable and a warm sun allows people to walk slowly in the street.  There is no reason to hurry from the cold winds that pull people's faces tight in the far northern lands. On a December day one may linger at sidewalk cafes and sip bitter black coffee while feeling that the eye of God beam on their cheek.  It is comfortable.  In the daylight hours the people find many friends on the street.  They talk of pleasant diversions.  It is too difficult to think of the great purchase marathon.  No, it is better to spend your time to talk, to be alive.

***

Santiago and Leila gathered in the scattered paintbrushes, the half-empty paint tins and took a long last look at the mural stretching 300 hundred feet into the darkness of the evening.  Charlotte had gone off to take a shower and they were to meet her again in a few minutes at Cafe Ajaccio. 

It was Christmas Eve, four days past the schedule Charlotte said they would make.  But now the mural was completed and before them stood long painted picture with dozens of sculpted figures dancing in the light of the street lamps.

"It doesn't look so bad," Santiago said.  He knew he was not entirely responsible for the mural, yet inwardly he knew it was his doing and he was proud of it.  There were a few loose ends and some parts unbalanced.  "But Charlotte and her frig’n blue sky in the middle of the orange landscape."  He knew it was the best they could do in a few weeks with no money.  His eyes swept down the band of color looking for rough or lost rhythms, ticks of broken brushstrokes or other amateurish mistakes.  When he saw them he would wince.  The work was not perfect but they were at the end of time -- they all had agreed to stop on Christmas Eve no matter how it looked.

"I don't know why Charlotte put that blue there," Leila said.

"Yeah, very French -- kind of Van Gogh in cornfields."  Once again he found himself switching positions and defending Charlotte even though he agreed with Leila. 

Several times over the last six weeks he had been caught between the little wars of Charlotte and Leila.  Unconsciously he would slip to the side of Charlotte usually feeling what she said made sense.  Leila greeted such wavering allegiance as treason. By consequence Santiago would be given cold Scottish shoulders at bed time and silence in the morning.  Then a day later the balance would swing in their three-way confederacy.  Leila would discover Charlotte backing her up in an argument with Santiago about some detail of color or composition.  Santiago didn't stand a chance under their combined assaults. He had no choice but to raise a flag of truce and agree to their demand of tribute.  He would become sullen which would make the two women tug at his ears and remark how handsome he was while dragging him across the street for a drink at the cafe Ajaccio.

They were like children full of bravado and excited hearts that bled too easily.  They wounded each other by the small darts they shot.  It was a love-hate game and tolerated each other with alternate spasms of jealousy and liberty.  The little girl was at the center of their rolling lives. Tara was the innocent observer who kept the trio in their respectful roles. Santiago and Leila, stayed the parents while Charlotte was like an angelic Auntie.  But if Tara had not been there, the intrigue of coupling and lust would have been predictable. The only question was who would couple with whom. Leila was warmed by Charlotte's heat as much as Santiago.

***

The clock did its work. It took them through a French Christmas Eve dinner party.  They slurped down delicious slippery oysters while breathing in the succulent aroma of Corsican wild boar.  Empty bottles of hearty Corsican red wine and delicate French champagne stood on the table.  They had young hearts and laughed at the stories of Corsican bandit tales.  Charlotte came in and out of the room directing her current lover how to coordinate the meal while improvising seduction on a man standing in line, waiting to be chosen.  A new game plan was being designed in front of everybody's eyes.  Charlotte had no embarrassment in switching lovers.

"It is better to end a love-affair while it is alive than breathing the foul air of decay," Charlotte said.  She looked across the table at her next conquest standing in the doorway. In front of one lover she was running to the arms of his replacement.  It was very French.  But like all simple stories there are always the underlying complications. 

The Techno Sadhu RADIO THEATRE PRESENTS

 

A COSMIC PSYCHO DRAMA

Chapter 10 

the new year of fame

 

  How could ONE know that trust and love in such a contract of honor implies suspicion and hate? 

One’s trust means that you can give and take all measures

 and one can do just that. 

Yet who can be more savage to pride than one's dearest friend? 

If friendship is a fragile bridge that can be swept away in the flood of human pathos,

then marriage,

 must surely be

a crystal tight rope,

as dangerous to walk on …………………………………as it is to fall off.

They were like children full of bravado and excited hearts that bled too easily.  They wounded each other by the small darts they shot.  It was a love-hate game…tolerated by each other with alternate spasms of jealousy and liberty.  The little girl was at the center of their rolling waves. Tara was the innocent observer who kept the trio in their respectful roles. Santiago and Leila…the parents… while Charlotte was an ANGEL Auntie, perhaps an ASSASSINS ANGEL AS WELL...  But if Tara had not been there, the intrigue of coupling and lust would have been predictable. The only question was who would couple with whom. Leila was warmed by Charlotte's heat as much as Santiago.

***

The clock did its work. It took them through a French Christmas Eve dinner party.  They slurped down delicious slippery oysters while breathing in the succulent aroma of Corsican wild boar.  Empty bottles of hearty Corsican red wine and delicate French champagne stood on the table.  They had young hearts and laughed at the stories of Corsican bandit tales.  Charlotte came in and out of the room directing her current lover how to coordinate the meal while improvising seduction on a man standing in line…he the one… waiting to be chosen.  A new game plan was being designed in front of everybody's eyes.  Charlotte had no embarrassment in switching lovers.

 

\

"It is better to end a love-affair while it is alive… than… breathing the foul air of decay," Charlotte said.  She looked across the table at her next conquest standing in the doorway. In front of one lover she was running to the arms of his replacement.  It was very French.  But like all simple stories there are always the underlying complications. 

Nothing is free, especially freedom.  Charlotte was on the downhill slope to forty and the lover she was ditching was nearly twenty years her junior.  She understood his fickle youth and knew it was better to end the romance than suffering his ultimate boredom.  Besides, it was far more dramatic to make the first move, to not lose dignity.  She knew that an older woman holds a young man's roving eye best in the dim candlelight and satin sheets of midnight.  The light of dawn was coming and the spell would soon be over.  Charlotte would not be caught in that moment.  The act of the beheading her lover was as quick as the guillotine. 

By New Year’s Eve, Charlotte had made the transition and her love bed was being made for the stand-in.  He was a quiet man – his friends called him the Silence.  He did nothing to bend the patterns of the trio.  Charlotte was unaware of his presence unless she needed a light… for her cigarette.

The trio accompanied with the Silence were invited to a New Year party in the villa of a wealthy art patron. It was on the Bay of Ajaccio, an Italian style mansion on a rich hump of land half circled with palm lined shore shores.  Below the south veranda was the large walled estate of an American rock star that died at the height of his career.  Jim Morrison was dead but they were all alive, drunk, and dancing. 

 

Charlotte was dangerous and distracted.  The young lover she had rejected was sitting in the library having a very cozy chat with a very young and very beautiful creature.  Her young erect nipples were pointed up on her fine silk blouse.  Charlotte fired missile-eyed hostility into the corner where they sat…

 

 

Santiago found the whiskey and was losing himself in its warm wash.  The host of the party was content to pour the burning liquid and joined Santiago on the journey down stream…

 

Leila had found Jean Simon and they were doing dance acrobatics to a bumping disco beats while other French couples around the room danced stiff slow motion to avoid sweating in their expensive clothes. 

 

Tara and other small children had been sent off with a professional nanny to the games-room and they were happily watching the antics of a heavy metal band making obscene movements on a television special.  The children laughed. The painted black and white masks of KISS …looked like clowns to them.

 

The night swirled and suddenly it was New Year.  Everybody kissed.  Leila went to the children's room and found Tara wrapped in the power of sleep.  She bent over her little angel and kissed her gently on the forehead. 

 

Santiago was in the kitchen holding Charlotte drunkenly in his arms. "What you need is a crazy man -- give me a little chaos with your lips baby."

 

Charlotte poured liquid laugh over Santiago but her eye's caught the last glimpse of her rejected love slipping out the back door with the young erect nipples. The Silence looked on with total devotion to the woman who hardly knew he was there. Across the bay fireworks exploded reflections on to black midnight Mediterranean waters.

Chapter 10

Charlotte continued visiting Santiago and Leila at their new home, the House of Felix. She brought small presents for the little girl.  She had at last conquered the spirit of her former boyfriend and found a superior position, cold and aloof.  She could gaze into the blue skies where he did not exist.  The Silence hung at her side with puppy love eyes, speaking soft words that she chose not to hear.

 

The House of Felix became familiar… personal, but after two months the pleasure was compromised by an encroaching force; Felix. 

 

He usually appeared on weekends smiling and talking pleasantries, then puttered off about the house filling cracks with plaster, inserting electric lines and letting a nervous eye follow the actions of the family.  But now he was coming every two or three days, acting gruff yet smiling with the pipe clinched in his teeth. He repeated the phrase, “Pas de probleme,” when Santiago or Leila would ask with a sense of puzzlement if everything was all right.

 

The House of Felix was slowly becoming the headquarters for bohemian festivals. 

 

 Charlotte made sure of that.  The house was the perfect setting for her accumulated intellectual cadre.  Santiago and Leila were introduced as celebrities from Scotland. People rolled in from all points of Corsica carrying bottles of wine, songs and laughter but leaving hangover-heads for the morning. 

 

 Like a curse, Felix would arrive with the early sun to discover the bottle strewn aftermath, cigarette burns on ancient furniture, tire ruts through tender grass and crushed flower beds.  He would put on the face of a child who had discovered someone who had broken his toy, but then patronize, holding tight lips and squint hidden eyes.

 

Felix was barely out of sight one evening when Charlotte arrived with the caravan of party makers.  Seven cars carried a complete brass band from Marseille.  There were trombones, saxophones, tubas and snare drums. This was her way of announcing to the assembled friends her switch of lovers.  She was saddled up with The Silence who waited at Charlotte's feet for months.  He was hoping the great hope that one day she would notice him.  It was a melancholy trance for The Silence.  All he desired was her to want him.  He was faithful like a dog.  He would lie in her lap and lick her slightest offerings. 

 

Charlotte knew what he was. 

 

The Silence was a man she could embezzle with indifference, yet feel the wonderful glow of knowing she was loved, even worshiped.  After all, she was a Goddess.  Devotion no matter where were it came from sustained the illusion of youth.  She could feel the old magic. The irony was the dog was giving the bone to the mistress.

***

The month of January passed and blew down the doors of February.  The winds howled up the Golfe d’Ajaccio.  The bay was a funnel that narrowed the force of the gale. Merciless hammers of wind smashed against stone walls of the House of Felix.  The doors were not finished and they would bang open letting the storm tear through the rooms, ripping plastic sheeting away from glassless window frames.  The wind whirled through the house blowing the little pockets of warmth up the chimney.

 

Leila began to understand why Felix's wife had left.  After 15 years the house still had no proper windows and doors.  Leila cursed Felix and shivered with the cold. She swore at the stupidity of living in a house that held no heat.

 

  Santiago would become sodden on harsh peasant wine every night.  He dammed the evils of the Mediterranean winter and the deceiving warm weather friendship of Corsica that had turned to a cold companion.

 

The days and nights were not ice covered but when one is cold and when there is no refuge from the cold, one stays cold.  The house became a place of punishment -- a station of mixed blessings. Leila more than ever wondered why she had followed Santiago into a new misery.  She worried about Tara who was shy and now was encapsulated in the antiquated system of a Corsican elementary school.

 

Tara was tossed into a ring of outcast foreign children.  There were Africans, Arabs, Algerians, Moroccans, Portuguese and Spanish. They were all outcasts together. Tara began to learn French through the children’s songs and games.  But Leila worried. Tara was the only small girl with red hair, white skin, freckles and blue eyes.  She was a freak among the outcasts.  Leila could feel the loneliness of her little girl. Leila began to tutor her in French. She remembered her own school French. Every day she and Tara would add words to their vocabulary.

Santiago sulked.  He had no ability with language or at least that's what he told himself and he refused to learn. He could not distinguish one sound from another and so he continued speaking English as if he was a one-man institute for the Anglo-Saxon tongue.

Despite the language barrier both Santiago and Leila found a circle of Corsican friends -- friends that multiplied friends and every day a new face would come to the door of their cold house.  It was always the same.  They explained they were friends of Charlotte.  The conversation went on about whom they were and the slow questions and answers of small talk. The family would see these people for the next three years. 

As always Charlotte always kept tabs on the coming and going off her entourage. She would let Santiago and Leila know who was true and who was to be not trusted.  She told them of the individuals who were in the social world of Corsica, the ones that they should treat nicely -- it was a matter of butter on the bread -- she told them how to go around the corners of a small island bureaucracy.  Charlotte told them not to worry about Felix, because after all he was just another bureaucrat and he was jealous of anyone who did anything with a sense of freedom.

 

 Felix was becoming an everyday nuisance.  He was like any other nervous landlord in the process of evictions.  Felix was hinting at each visit he would like the house empty and very soon.

“You must understand there are so many repairs to keep up with, and to be sure there is no problem, but of course my 81-year-old mother is coming, and you see of course, I must have a place for her, but naturally there is no problem and you can stay  a little longer -- two or three more weeks, perhaps the longest, one month -- but you must understand my mother is a very old and I need time to make the house comfortable for her...” Felix driveled.

“What, like putting the doors and windows in for the good weather?” Leila said while her eyes burned sarcasm into the air.

“C’est quo?”  Felix would look at her innocently.

“Nothing, just nothing. But of course there is no problem,” she said.

***

March was only a few days away.  Santiago was beginning to think Corsica was a foolish choice.  It was time to leave the beautiful island where the winters were freezing and they hadn't made a dime.  The work had not come after their little moment in the limelight.  Their 15 minutes of fame evaporated leaving only wine saturated episodes and expensive hangovers. Santiago found only one small commission, painting a mural for boutique owned by Corsican gangster.  Leila realized if they were to keep food in the house she had better look for work or sell some of her sketches of bright colored mountains and blowing skies. She did not want to return to a gray world. These were days of unflattering and impoverished mediocrity. 

 

One afternoon Charlotte arrived.  She was breathless and excited. “I just found something for you.  Your future is all in front of you.  But of course you remember Madame Franccioni -- she is best friends with the Duchess De Pascal -- it is rumored she is better friends with the Duke.  Don't worry it is all arranged.  You have a rendezvous with the Duke and Duchess tomorrow.  Everything will happen for you now.”

“Who are they?” Santiago asked.

“I showed you their summer mansion on the Boulevard Bonaparte. Remember, you called it something -- oh yes, the Pink Palace.”

 

The Pink Palace was only a grand house, four floors high with a rooftop penthouse.  On the ground floor was an enclosed garden and a swimming pool.  It was not pink but the color of a bleached rose, perfectly matching the pastel blue summer skies of Corsica.  The Pink Palace was tasteful and classic.  It was money solidified, but more truthfully, Old Money.  It represented the ancient bank accounts of the aristocracy. The Duke and Duchess De Pascal were born with blood entwined with vintage wealth; land in Corsica, France and Argentina. There were partnerships in South African diamonds, Caribbean banana plantations; and astute decisions on the New York stock exchange.  The Duke had been told in the 50's, a little company was going to do well -- McDonald's -- he bought several thousand shares.  Ajaccion rumors were endless of the original money - who had married whom for their glittering financial history. Everyone knew for one certain fact, money marries money.

***

Madame Franccioni blinked her mascara laden eyelashes as she traced one of her fingers over the liver spots on the back of her left hand.  She looked up and winked at Santiago as she said, “You have to be very precise with Duke De Pascal. If he questions for example, how much time will it take or, how much money -- you must tell him directly and quickly.  He does not like to waste time.  But do not worry.  I am absolutely sure you have the commission. The Duchess loves the mural you did for our city.” Madame Franccioni smiled benevolently.  “Oh yes, I have recommended you highly.”

 

Leila had improved in understanding French and could follow the talk with little trouble. Charlotte translated for Santiago

Madame Franccioni rattled her sentences together like so many belts of ammunition. “The Duke and Duchess have wanted the entrance hallway of Palais De Pascal filled with murals, but there has not been the type of artists for their requirements.”  Madame Franccioni batted her extended eyelashes.  “Perhaps they have been waiting for Michelangelo, ha, ha, but he is very old now.”  She smiled sweetly and settled into her stuffed leather chair.

Charlotte laughed politely and then repeated it in English for Santiago.  He pushed out a flat laugh and gave the old beauty an idiot smile. 

Madame Franccioni continued, “It is a very big job.  If the Duke likes your propositions more than money will come your way.  I understand you need to find a house. The Duke would give you an apartment in the Palais De Pascal - I know there is one available -- but remember you must be very precise.  Of course I will try to help in any way I can.”  She gave Santiago a flash of her famous bedroom eyes.

“What do we call them?  I mean do we have to address them as royalty or what?”  He was surprised in feeling a throb between his legs. His eyes worked the centimeters of her wrinkled cosmetic skin. He could see the secret of beauty buried in years. 

Madam Franccioni understood English more than Santiago knew.  She flapped her long lashed eyes at him again as she said, “Ha ha, you know there was the revolution so long ago in France, so you may say Monsieur and Madam, but still in Corsica we prefer to think of them as our own Royalty.  In this case naturally he is still the Duke to us.” Madame Franccioni hesitated for a second and then continued after clearing her throat,  “The Duke is, eh, trés, trés, trés gentile.”

 

Santiago smiled spontaneously. It was the funny sound of the throat clearing and the syrupy clacking of three Latin r's in a row. He turned obliquely to Leila and whispered from the corner of his mouth, “So what do we call them?”

 

Within an hour they were standing in front of the big black double doors of Palais De Pascal. They were taken up the spiral staircase by a grumpy red faced old man who showed them into a large reception room.

 The floors were finely inlaid parquet with the worn antique smoothness of decades of hands and knees waxing. On all four walls were cracked varnished ancestral portraits of eight centuries.  The original Duke stared at them in a defiant cross-eyed glare, while a tiny Chinese dog nuzzled against his gleaming armor. A dead boar lay at his feet.

“Frig’n aristocracy,” Santiago whispered to Leila. 

The door opened and a distinguished looking man entered. He was white-haired with a high forehand, straight nose, small chin and a clipped military mustache.  He was a clone of Charles De Gaulle, but dressed as an English country squire. 

 

Santiago had a flash go across his mind when he looked at the Duke’s eyes, they looked so familiar. His wife came behind him.  The Duchess had her hair sprayed into the starched gray sculpture of Margaret Thatcher.  She wore the country tweeds of Princess Anne, accompanied by expensive sensible brown leather shoes.  The Duke and the Duchess both spoke English with an Oxford color but affected by a French accent. The Duke took Madame Franccioni warmly into his arms giving the accustomed two-sided French kiss, a decimal longer than required.

 

The Duchess asked most of the questions while the Duke was charming to the women and especially to the little girl.  Tara's smile made roads where Santiago's words couldn't even create paths.  The sales pitch was going their way.

 

 After a few minutes of talking, they descended to the grand entrance hall where Santiago inspected walls and made measurements while Leila continued discussing details - what style to be used, what was appropriate, constantly referring to the noble heritage of the De Pascal family.  She suggested perhaps there could be several views of their land holdings -- it would be a great idea to use the technique of trompe l'oeull -- no problem at all. 

 

Santiago listened to Leila as she switched to French, not understanding anything but the tone.  He gave a very confident nod to the Duke - absolutely, no problem at all –but in reality he had not the slightest idea of how to paint false marbling, fake wood paneling, imitation rococo plaster borders, the School of Italian Renaissance, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel -  but he threw in for free the one French phrase he knew,

“Pas de probleme,” he said again and again.

“Very well,” the Duke said in English.  His body language spoke plainly that the interview had come to a conclusion. “How much time do you think this project will take?”

 

Santiago’s mind crystallized as he remembered to be precise. “Three months, at the most four if we consider the possible problem of discovering wall areas that need to be plastered and drying times...”

The Duke immediately bored with details interrupted, “And the costs? What is the money you anticipate - the complete package?”

 

Santiago was surprised the Duke came so quickly to the point. He was disarmed. He hummed a few numbers to himself and went through the physical gestures of mental calculations as though he actually had a system. Continuing the pantomime he scribbled into his sketch book. He could feel sweat beading on his forehead as he gulped and leapt into the unknown. “Uh, it comes to an even twenty-five thousand dollars, which is, uh let’s see...” He jotted arithmetic as the sound of a ticking clock filled the room. “Yes, about one hundred and seventy-five thousand Francs...”

 

Madam Franccioni eyes bulged as she gasped, “Oo la la.”

Embarrassment exaggerated a long moment of silence. “C'est cher - it's expensive, very expensive,” The Duke put his hands into his trouser pockets and jiggled coins nervously. “Oui, that is very expensive. But of course one must pay for things of quality. Naturally, we must be shown a design before we can come to  a decision. How soon can you have that work prepared?”

 

Santiago coughed and threw a look of panic to Leila. He had come up with the money figure and his mind had frozen in the geometry of numbers.

 

“Two weeks should be enough time don't you think Santiago?”  Leila said confidently.

“Oh yeah, sure, yeah plenty of time,” Santiago said continuing the role but not really knowing what they were talking about.  The only thing that was going on in his head was the vision of very large numbers, Twenty-five thousand dollars.  He was already spending the money.  He smiled at Madame Franccioni.

***the techno sadhu theater of the absurd

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Over coffee at the Café Ajaccio Santiago said, “Jesus Christ, it doesn't sound like so much money after all.  The total comes to 360 square meters -- that's over thousand square feet.  It's not a hallway, it's a train station.”

“Yes it is big,” agreed Leila.

“What a financial wizard I am.”  Santiago folded his arms and frowned at the paper with the calculations in front of him.  “That works out to about ten bucks a square foot.  No wonder he is interested.  He couldn't even buy wallpaper that cheap.”

Santiago we are not making money anywhere else.  It is a reasonable amount.” Leila was beginning to worry Santiago would throw their opportunity away.

“I know sweetheart, it's just that I didn't start being an artist yesterday.  Shit, I might as well become a sign-painter; at least I would make more money.”

Leila looked at him as he leaned over the drawing table and continued layout designs for the portal hall.

***

 

They had several consultations with the Duke and Duchess. Research sketches of the family's history were laid out across the tables.  Graphite pencils and watercolor brushstrokes suggested views of three-dimensional worlds. It was the alchemy of their imagination exploding with flash ideas.  Their scattered thoughts were laced with raw edges, rough and ready on sheets of white paper projections.  They were magicians pulling creation out of blank spaces like rabbits from hats. Images manifested where there was only the intimidation of blank space. 

Santiago cursed the illusion of a picture convincing the eye to fall into the arena of infinite depth.  He had lost his innocent passion for this magic and now like a jaded sorcerer he knew he was not performing magic, but was only playing tricks.  The rabbit had been under the table the whole time. It was a matter of the slight hand producing the animal.  Santiago was bored.  He wanted the mythical rabbit to change into something dangerous. He wanted something colossal.  Frig the rabbit.  He wanted Godzilla. This was a problem. He had lost the expanse of his own imagination and so he reached into the stage hat and pulled out what the audience wanted to see, the cliché, the safe bet, the fuzzy white rabbit.

 

Leila was young.  She still believed in the old stories, in old magic.  She didn't see or feel the lines that were drawn before, but if she did sense a repetition of theme she regarded it has being classic and worthy of rebirth.  She accepted their assignment with enthusiasm, without the crippling shackles of self-consciousness.  She responded to the work.  It was a natural event in the organic progression of her desire to become an artist.  She had not yet arrived at this hallowed destination.  She was still trying to be one and not yet disappointed in the mythic title.  Her imagination was free from the injustice, the rewards that seldom come, free of being a failure, being a has-been, of having glory lasting only the length of a cocktail party.  She still believed.

 

Some artists can create without recognition and burn with a fanatical spirit that consumes the flesh of their temple instead of the fruit of the worshipers.  This was the difference between Santiago and Leila. She was pursuing the legend, still trying to be an artist while Santiago was waiting for recognition of what he was. “I am an artist,” he said one day… looking at a miracle on a wall…

 

Two weeks passed.  Six designs came out of their work but one final drawing had to be presented in a meeting with the Duke and Duchess.  The sheets of designs were shuffled like cards until a synthesis of one picture emerged – a piece of this, a portion of that. 

 

Santiago laughed at the collage of ideas and said, “It has the definite style of Neoclassical-Baroque-Naive.” 

 

Then it was the final meeting and yes or no.  Santiago was nervous.  The Duke and Duchess knew what they liked.  After five minutes of details there was only one problem.

“Forgive me,” Count De Pascal said, “but I don't understand. Why is the design of the mural broken up into so many framed pictures?  You know of course I would prefer for the mural to be only one large picture.”

 

Santiago responded, “That is a good question…uh, but what we are trying to do is utilize the geometric proportions of the hallway and well and there are some pipes that kind of stick out of the wall and...”

The Duke bored with Santiago’s explanation interrupted. “But can't you make it into one picture just here?”  The Duke poked a manicured finger on a section of the drawing.

 

Santiago began to chew his bottom lip and crossed his arms.  Non-visual people always pissed him off. “Well, shit,” he mumbled and was just about to erupt.

Leila saw the prize slipping away. She jumped into the ring.  “Yes it would be lovely if such a thing could work – but… imagine what DiVinci’s Last Supper would look like if a large sewer pipe went through the middle of it….oh yeah, she had heard Santiago say more than once of his design…

 

The Duke laughed and took Santiago’s hand…  “Good, good.  You are exactly right.” 

The Duke and Duchess bought the idea and one minute later a bottle of champagne was opened. Santiago and Leila were about to move into their 13th house.  The next day they met at the Pink Palace.


                                                                                           ***

 

The Duchess began hesitantly. “I am sure you will love it here and there will be no difficulty, except perhaps for one small thing. It is our crazy old man, Monsieur Christopher.  You see, he has been with us for nearly 30 years. He seems to believe the house is more his than ours.  You would not believe it but I have to ask him if I can change anything.  If I do move something without his blessing, he is impossible for weeks afterwards.”

 

Santiago knew it was too good to believe.  There had to be a catch somewhere.  It did not take long for a conflict to come about. If it had not been for the little girl’s red hair and freckles the family would have never put a foot in the door.

 

What a sweet old monster Monsieur Christopher was. His yellow saliva stained Gitanes perpetually hung on his drooping lower lip.  His scowling flushed face revealed the hour and character of alcoholic content. When it was bright pink it was early morning, when burning red, it was early afternoon. Monsieur Christopher was sweet when sober and evil when filled with Pastis. 

 

He was a sentimental old curmudgeon nearly 80 with the soul of a tyrant two-year-old. His only buffer to reality was Madame Grace, the women who had lived with him for 40 years. She apologized behind him saying, “He will be all right in the morning -- don’t worry about a thing.”

 

The first week brought the baptismal confrontation and Madam Grace had slipped back upstairs to her Jekle and Hyde husband.

“I'm not taking more shit from that old son-of-a-bitch,” Santiago yelled as he slammed the door.  “You know what he did now?” His face was nearly as red as Monsieur Christopher’s as he would begin to recount the latest outrage.

“Calm down Santiago. I will talk with Madame Grace and we'll straighten everything out,” Leila said.  “You know he doesn't really mean anything.”

 

 She and Tara would take a basket of pastry up the stairs to the layer of the old dragon.  He would greet them with a swollen red face and glinted evil-eyes while bellowing, “What do you want!” He would then notice the little girl and her tribute. He would immediately melt to a human being and gently whisper to her, “Bon soi mon petit chou.”  The war would be over.  The next morning the little girl would find a sack of candy by their apartment door.  Life went on and not a word would be said about the previous indiscretions.

 

 Their apartment had originally been built as stables for the carriage horses in 1831. The Italian builders used traditional skills and made symmetrical vaulted ceilings.  Their main concern however was to keep Corsican thieves on the street.  Windows facing the narrow Rue Bonaparte were barred with wrought iron.  To the back of the former stables where once had been large arched wooden doors, now was a small inset window looking out into the palm-treed garden surrounding a large oval turquoise pool.

 

When the Duchess had married her family's fortune into the Duke's impoverished fiefdom, Monsieur Christopher was imported from Paris.  In the course of the next 30 years, he restored the decaying remnants of the once polished Palace.  He converted the stables into the present condition of rooms following each other like train compartments.  He and Madam Grace had lived there for the first 20 years.  He assumed the position of the Concierge of the Aristocrats summer residence.

 

It did not make him happy to think of his rooms being filled with a cluttered noise of American holiday makers.  Paris was a long way behind him but not the attitude.  Monsieur Christopher was relieved when he discovered Leila was Scottish. They drink whiskey.  Perhaps it would not be so bad to have strangers in his house.  At least they were not Corsican or worse Germans.

 

The Corsican’s used the term Palace liberally.  It was pretensions of Paris but Palais De Pascal could sit quite respectfully among the estates of Beverly Hills or the columned architecture of London.  At one time the mansion was the center for the island’s upper crust. No other house in Corsica could compete in prestige, history or setting.  It was now the August retreat of the De Pascal’s.  The mansion represented the status of the old rich and it had the sovereignty of a foreign country.

 

The front of Palais De Pascal faced straight onto the Bay of Ajaccio.  The mansion had the symmetrical construction of Italian manners, imitating a Medici dream.  In the center of the garden rose six tall palm trees, three to each side of pool. The turquoise pool reflection held the picture of the arched vestibule and overhanging curled iron balconies.

 

The vestibule of the Pink Place originally had been the corridor where horse-drawn carriages dislodged mobile aristocrats into the cross of hallways.  Grand staircases arose to the parquet floors of upper chambers.  The interior architecture was divided into four separate sections of four floors with 16 main rooms and a roof top penthouse. One lost count of the closets, bathrooms and cubby-holes.

 

In the glorious days of Palais De Pascal, maids, man-servants and all the dog-body staff required a large portion of Ajaccio's population.  Now there was Monsieur Christopher, his companion Grace and once a week, a Corsican char-lady who rattled her buckets and whistled as she polished brass door-knobs. This was the normal year-round maintenance crew except for when the Duke and Duchess came from Paris on their annual August vacation with their entourage of family and friends,   three cleaning women and two cooks. Then the house echoed with the rumblings of a train station. 

 

There was the perpetual call of “Merde” from the octogenarian Monsieur Christopher. The old man spent most of his time scowling and grumbling at all the inconvenience while he moved sun chairs around the pool with his soggy Gitanes hanging off his face. 

 

During these Parisian Augusts, in the early morning Santiago and Leila would hear the singing voice of the visiting Duchess cooing out into the garden from her upper floor balcony,

 “Monsieur Christopher. Yoo-hoo Monsieur Christopher!” She would bleat in the direction of the old tyrants window, “If you please, I would like you to remove the chairs in the garden.”

 “Yes Madame, after I have my breakfast,” Monsieur Christopher would wheeze. 

Santiago smiled knowing the old goat had his fist behind the shutters raised in obscene French salute.

***

 

All of this human commotion came long after Santiago and Leila had moved into the household of their Corsican patron.  They had one clear objective and that was to have a place to live while they decorated a few ceilings and walls.  The job should have been uncomplicated in the grand house.  At least, that is what they were naive enough to think.  They were given an opportunity to demonstrate their talent as artists and a chance to stay in Corsican.

 

The Duke intrigued this challenge with a direct request. “I want you to make the Palace better than it actually is.”

 

Santiago and Leila took in these words and realized if they were to survive in this new world, their life and reputation would have to be saved by their work.

***

Santiago did his best to insert Charlotte into the project from the beginning. They were less than a week into the job when Leila began to question why Charlotte was there.

 

One artist is a complication.  Two artists seeing the same picture is a contradiction. Three artists trying to agree is impossible. 

 

Santiago and Leila felt obliged to Charlotte because she was responsible for their small success in Corsica, negotiating the mural for the City Plaza and now the prestige of the Palais De Pascal.  But they wanted no repetition of the arguments over design and application.  They decided to be quite clear this time and tell Charlotte they would be the directors and in the next commission, she would direct the work. 

 

Charlotte agreed. There was no problem. Then she immediately commenced outrageous insubordination. She was not born to obey but to command.  Furthermore her concept of being an artist did not necessarily involve the straightforward application of physical labor.  She had the well developed French technique of talking about action.

 

Santiago said deadpan to himself one day, “I am beginning to understand how France lost the last two wars.” 

 

Charlotte had gone off on another elongated coffee break.

 

“damn it!  That woman is driving me mad,” he said to Leila. He once again recited his favorite speech. “Work is work.  You start at the beginning, wade through the middle and struggle to the end.  Being a painter isn’t any different than being a bricklayer.  It's one damn brick at a the time and that's the way you get a wall built.  The only difference is we are using brushes and invent walls that don't even exist.  It's just friging hard work that's all.”

***

Aside from Santiago's frustration with Charlotte, there was another problem tearing at his soul.  The passion of being an artist was gone.  He had been making pictures since he was a small child and always brought praise and prophesy from his mother, “You are fine artist, and when you grow up, you are going to be famous.”  His head was filled with the idea. It would happen.  He would be rich and famous.  His name would be known by the art museums of the world. 

 

 But then he grew up and the child's dream faded. He became interested in motorcycles, then cars, then girls.  Art was like a small jewel in his pocket that he could pull out when he wanted.  He preferred the females who seduced him with their ring of fire.  He was becoming a man. 

 

 Reality plunged him into the whirlpool of war and the insanity of Vietnam. Santiago grew old in ten months -- saturated in the blood of murder and marijuana madness.  It was in Vietnam, in the battlefield of the blind where the vision of Santiago's childhood was reborn -- his destiny to be a great artist. 

 

 The insanity of mindless massacre and the terror of guilt made his dream of being an artist an actual destination, like a sacred refuge where he could be human again.  To be an artist was to create -- not to destroy -- to live, not to die.  He had to return to the world as an artist. 

 

Santiago quit playing army games after a disastrous search and destroy mission where something beyond his imagination took place. Two war correspondents, George and Neil saw it all happen and it was Neil that had saved Santiago’s life by carrying him to a chopper, covered in the blood and brains of six villagers of the 500 slaughtered mercilessly on that day in My Lai.  

 

 He was evacuated to a field hospital, then within days to a psychiatric ward in Germany where he was kept away from the press.

 

He spent three months acting the role of a mad artist, trying not to remember who he had killed. He learned quickly that army mentality regarded creative people as insane and that creative individuals are too unpredictable to the rule of command even in prison. He might talk, whereas if he was crazy he could say what ever he wanted and it would only be considered psychosis.  His freedom in that “normal world” of prison could have been dangerous but that same freedom in a nuthouse would be just delusion.

 

 The army knew the limited dimension of its controlled existence.  Santiago walked through the door of the nuthouse theater willingly. He wanted to play the part and get lost.  His mind cleaved through the illusion of that temporary confinement and walked towards the illumination of his childhood dreams. He was not prepared for the journey.

***

 

When Santiago finally was returned to America as a certified madman, he turned on, tuned in, and dropped out of everything. 

 

He dropped out of the army via  the psychiatric ward full of dead soul Vietnam vengeance and walked straight into the next armies of long-haired hippies, Jesus-freaks, and alienated political radicals. He hid in the mountains of New Mexico where his mentality confronted the Nixon mind in the powder snow conditions of cocaine escape.

 

Santiago dropped out one more time. 

 

He quit America and searched for his dream in another land -- Scotland, which was cold, wet and gray. For awhile he was saved from the heat of his fevered ambition.  In Scotland he discovered a comradeship of men and women who believed they could change the condition of the world through socialism. Santiago joined another army. He became a socialist artist. He worked hard. He bled with his art and he gave to the movement.  He discovered there are those who worked and those who talked. He lost faith in altruism.

 

 He dropped out again. He ran to an island in the sun -- running from fear, middle-age and the conviction that the human heart was less than noble.  At the bottom of his disillusionment he could still hear his mother say he was going to be a famous artist.  Corsica was the last chance to find his destiny. And…yes…MARTINA…was she just a phantom…or was she his Angel…an Assassins Angel…

 

In the first months of Corsica nothing was revealed but the banal complications of staying alive.  How drab destiny is when it begins to unfold. Then small tokens of recognition and pieces of work began to arrive.  Santiago wasn't surprised. These little rewards were long overdue.

 

  Four months after arriving in Corsica, he was living in a mansion, employed by an aristocrat, being paid a generous fee to paint a prestigious mural. He was doing the work that was his destiny. Should he be surprised?  The universe owed him this.  It was his karma.  He knew it had been waiting for him since he was a child.  But one should be careful what is prayed for because it may come. Santiago did not like the answer.  He was beginning to believe God was a trickster.

 

The work went on.  Santiago felt no different than his metaphorical bricklayer. Just put another brick in the wall -- he was a craftsman. It was true that on some days the act of creating a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface gave him power in making magic.  These were rare days.  Most of the time he simply counted cadence, one brick, two bricks, three bricks, four… but the work went on and Santiago began to feel that it was only something to do while he was waiting to forget or die.

 

The images multiplied and the flat walls became windows into other worlds. Leila felt the magic. She was consciously aware of the integrity of the architecture in relationship to the mural.  She was a worker.  She was Scottish to the bone with her work ethic and economic use of time.  Success was measured by how much work was done each day and how each small section she worked on matched her incredibly hard standards.  Teachers had trained her well in the discipline of the classics.  She and Santiago worked together automatically -- she with her sensibility of old world values and he, lawless, spontaneous, searching for the unfound.  They complimented each other.  It was a Yin-Yang twist of opposites. The pace was maddening, especially to Charlotte.

***

 

Charlotte was a competent and technically skilled artist.  She could paint an egg like an egg and she had enough imagination to put teeth and wings on it for spite.  The problem was her mental imagery was stronger than the reality in front of her. 

 

She said many times, I can always imagine making love better than it is -- it is always such a disappointment.  Painting carried the same difficulty.  She would conceive a picture, all proportions, colors and tiny details completely within her mind.  When she began painting, boredom would come. It had already existed and it was much better in her head.  So why paint it?

 

Charlotte was surrounded by men who were second-best lovers and canvases that were half completed -- paintings that were halted by the comparison of her own mind-movie.  Charlotte liked the idea being an artist more than the hard sacrifices the profession demanded.  The notion of being an imposter did not occur to Charlotte.  She liked talking about art -- who was doing what, when and where they had done it.  Her head was filled with famous past and the chic present. Being seen in a café with the aura of self-importance was her style.

 

It was only necessary that people knew she was separate, that she was an artist.  It was a glowing uniform she could wear and at times hide behind. She was a member of an immortal club but hated the dues. She preferred to work at a leisurely pace and only do what was absolutely necessary to keep the image. Time was better spent in a café talking about conceptual possibilities. 

 

Charlotte fit very well into the pretensions of Corsican high society. She was a big fish in a small pond. She liked being the Prima Donna who always arrived late.  In the slow tide of the Mediterranean, such tactical style was appreciated as the normal pattern.  Tomorrow could mean in three days or two weeks or whenever it suited to arrive on the scene with no explanation. Corsica and Charlotte were always temperamental and unpredictable. Both had the characteristic of all or nothing.

 

When Corsicans decide to hesitate, great plans can gather dust on forgotten shelves for years.  Entire villages are allowed to rot and fall to the ground.  Auto traffic can be blocked from four directions because an elongated discussion over a lost pig.  This is the heartbeat of the Mediterranean

 

Charlotte loved it.  All things come in good time.  When it comes time to move, one must move immediately.  It is no matter that no one has done anything for years. The building that has been left derelict and is a community eye-sore for ten years is knocked down, scooped up and hauled to the end of the jetty in 48 hours. The café that became a bakery yesterday is a boutique tomorrow. Charlotte like Corsica did nothing or did everything in passionate measures. Both were cursed by indifference or compulsion.

 

Santiago and Leila were infuriated by her perpetual late arrivals, self-obsession and refusal to be directed.  Charlotte did things her way or not all. They worked together over the next four months, but the reality was each did their own thing at the same place.  The mural grew like vines over the cool vaulted walls.

***

The mural’s theme was time, land and people.  Santiago and Leila had conceived a mural that moved through the Duke's illustrious ancestors. Santiago with proletariat relish slipped in a few token peasants, but they only made the chosen ones shine more brightly. The mural represented the actions of the Nobility and their course through Corsican wars and politics.  It was an unspoken agreement with the Duke that the aristocrats in the mural were to be portrayed handsome and saintly. No schmucks, no bums, no card-dealers, that is, unless they were portrayed as the opposition in the battle scenes.  The Duke's entire family tree was illustrated, going back 800 years.  Everyone was there, standing heroic, looking out into the 20th century.  They were the past, but they were the cream and hierarchy of Corsican politics. Now they were making a legendary passage into the contemporary world. 

Everybody who was somebody was there.  General Sampiero with his arms spread wide; King Theodore Von Neuhofff running for his life; James Boswell writing notes; The Liberator of Corsica, Pascal Pauli bestowing medals; Napoleon Bonaparte likened to an arch-angel; and General De Gaulle likened to God. Nearly one-hundred lesser names of world history beamed immortally from the wall.  All these people were positioned in palaces, mansions and feudal lands, spread across the vestibule.

 

The Duke was very proud of the mural. He joked half seriously, “I think we can compete with the Vatican.” 

 

It was a meager attempt of the Sistine Chapel but Santiago accepted such words as a professional complement.  Leila felt proud to be compared to Michelangelo.  Charlotte viewed any positive acknowledgment of the mural with contempt.  It would never be as good as it had been done by the old masters. But if she had been in charge, it would have been perfect.

 

Monsieur Christopher was in a constant rage. He cursed the paint buckets and fumes that disrupted his world.  “Up tous derrieres !”  He spat.

 

Santiago and Leila researched old paintings for faces, period clothing and architecture.  They looked through historical books and albums of the 19th century.  They went to the actual location of historical events and made sketches. All three talked over compositional ideas, but it was Santiago who made the final drawings and decided how to divide the work.

 

Santiago said, “Three artists working on the same painting have all the possibilities Dr. Frankenstein -- each one of us has our own style. Our painting is like our signature.  If we don't divide the work, it will be a monster.”

Initially this was his plan.  Divide and conquer.  Each artist was assigned to parts and to do what each was good at.  Santiago directed the general layout, worked out the relative scale and drew in the human figures and landscapes.  Leila was given all the fussy details, painting all the borders, the marbling, the still-life flower arrangements.  Charlotte was the surface and texture specialist. She was given skies and the clothing of the multitudes.  Santiago’s artistic direction held together for one week.

 

“Nobody ever friging pays attention to me around here,” Santiago cursed as he witnessed Leila and Charlotte slipping over the boundaries into his flowing pastures.

***

 

Two months slipped by and after they used all of the faces they could from the Duke's family library, friends were asked to pose.  Jean Simon became an obscure Corsican poet.  Felix became a bandit.  A stranger from the street stood in for King Theodore.  One by one, friends and acquaintances were transformed onto the panels of the Duke's history.  A full portrait of the present aristocracy along with their cats, dogs and a parrot were positioned in the central panel.  Looming in the background was the scowling face of Monsieur Christopher.  Santiago secretly painted the old man's hand in an obscene gesture just behind the Duchess who was to have a remarkable resemblances to …Martina…  and of course martina would be wispily repeated in the clouds...

 

“This whole painting is a frig-king parade of pompous aristocrats,” Santiago mumbled to himself. But it was work.  They were getting paid and the Duchess and Duke were happy. He could day dream in the clouds… 

 

Their prestige grew in Ajaccio. Leila cringed when passing sidewalk cafes and heard the usual comment, “Look, it is the American's.”

"Bloody hell!  I'm Scottish,” she screamed into a crowd of faces.

 

The painting went on.  Santiago was getting used to daily visitations by the grumbling Monsieur Christopher. He thought a truce had come, when he painted the old man as master of the garden.  The old renegade was overjoyed with the acknowledgment of his rightful status.  To sanctify their comradeship, Santiago was invited for the first time into Monsieur Christopher's quarters to drain several double whiskeys. Monsieur Christopher was almost pleasant.

***

The Techno Sadhu RADIO THEATRE PRESENTS

 

A COSMIC PSYCHO DRAMA

 

THE PHANTOM…was she

 

…An Assassin’s Angel…?

 

SANTIAGO has moments of slippage…he CAN’T REMEMBER IF MARTINA IS REAL OR IS SHE JUST THE PHANTOM… JUST AN ASSASSINS ANGEL…”YOU HAVE AN ASSASSINS FACE,” SHE HAD SAID THE FIRST TIME SHE LAID EYES ON HIM… WAS SHE BEFORE OR AFTER  MYLAI…WAS SHE OLD IN SAIGON IN 1968 AND YOUNG IN GERMANY IN 1982…DID SHE EVER EXIST…NO…DIDN’T HE KILL HER at My Lai…didn’t he see the blood spurt out her neck…that long thin red slice of the M-16…

 

DID HE ESCAPE THE MEDIC’S IN SAIGON FOR 24 HOURS BEFORE MP’S CAUGHT HIM…DID THE ARMY SEND HIM TO GERMANY FOR “DEBRIEFING”…DID HE GO TO THE WHOREHOUSES OF SAIGON WHERE THE MP’S HEARD HIM TALKING ABOUT… THE TIGER FORCE…ABOUT THE HUNDREDS OF HAMLETS “WASTED” in THE SCORCHED EARTH POLICY????DID HE SEE THE COMMANDING COLONELS HELICOPTER RIGHT OVER MYLAI…BUT IT WAS WESTMORELANDS PERSONAL CHOPPER…DID ANYTHING HAPPEN HE THOUGHT HE SAW? Where was he…where was his head, his heart, his soul…he knew where he was…He Was in No-Man’s Land…followed by phantoms…

 

oh well, Love Da One Yo Wid! Now his Angel was Charlotte

THE TECHNO SADHU THEATER OF TEHE ABSURD 

 chapter 12

 

 Santiago McBoil dropped out again. He ran to an island in the sun -- running from fear, middle-age and the conviction that the human heart was less than noble.  At the bottom of his disillusionment he could still hear his mother say he was going to be a famous artist.  Corsica was the last chance to find his destiny.

 

And…yes…MARTINA…was she just a phantom…or was she his Angel…an Assassins Angel…

 

In the first months of Corsica nothing was revealed but the banal complications of staying alive.  How drab destiny is when it begins to unfold. Then small tokens of recognition and pieces of work began to arrive.  Santiago wasn't surprised. These little rewards were long overdue. But one should be careful what is prayed for because it may come. Santiago did not like the answer.  He was beginning to believe God was a trickster.

Charlotte or… Martina… or Martina… or Charlotte

The Murals in the Summer Palace continued…. 

 

Santiago felt no different than his metaphorical bricklayer. Just put another brick in the wall -- he was a craftsman. It was true that on some days the act of creating a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface gave him power in making magic.  These were rare days.  Most of the time he simply counted cadence, one brick, two bricks, three bricks, four… but the work went on and Santiago began to feel that it was only something to do while he was waiting to forget or die.

 

CHAPTER 12 The Assassin’s Angel…

 

The images multiplied and the flat walls became windows into other worlds. Leila felt the magic. She was consciously aware of the integrity of the architecture in relationship to the mural.  She was a worker.  She was Scottish to the bone with her work ethic and economic use of time.  Success was measured by how much work was done each day and how each small section she worked on matched her incredibly hard standards.  Teachers had trained her well in the discipline of the classics.  She and Santiago worked together automatically -- she with her sensibility of old world values and he, lawless, spontaneous, searching for the unfound.  They complimented each other.  It was a Yin-Yang twist of opposites. The pace was maddening, especially to Charlotte.

***

 

Charlotte was a competent and technically skilled artist.  She could paint an egg like an egg and she had enough imagination to put teeth and wings on it for spite.  The problem was her mental imagery was stronger than the reality in front of her. 

 

She had said so many times… I can always imagine making love better than it is -- it is always such a disappointment.  Painting carried the same difficulty.  She would conceive a picture, all proportions, colors and tiny details completely within her mind.  When she began painting, boredom would come. It had already existed and it was much better in her head.  So why paint it?

 

Charlotte was surrounded by men who were second-best lovers and canvases that were half completed -- paintings that were halted by the comparison of her own mind-movie.  Charlotte liked the idea being an artist more than the hard sacrifices the profession demanded.  The notion of being an imposter did not occur to Charlotte.  She liked talking about art -- who was doing what, when and where they had done it.  Her head was filled with famous past and the chic present. Being seen in a café with the aura of self-importance was her style.

 

It was only necessary that people knew she was separate, that she was an artist.  It was a glowing uniform she could wear and at times hide behind. She was a member of an immortal club but hated the dues. She preferred to work at a leisurely pace and only do what was absolutely necessary to keep the image. Time was better spent in a café talking about conceptual possibilities. 

 

Charlotte fit very well into the pretensions of Corsican high society. She was a big fish in a small pond. She liked being the Prima Donna who always arrived late.  In the slow tide of the Mediterranean, such tactical style was appreciated as the normal pattern.  Tomorrow could mean in three days or two weeks or whenever it suited to arrive on the scene with no explanation. Corsica and Charlotte were always temperamental and unpredictable. Both had the characteristic of all or nothing.

 

When Corsicans decide to hesitate, great plans can gather dust on forgotten shelves for years.  Entire villages are allowed to rot and fall to the ground.  Auto traffic can be blocked from four directions because an elongated discussion over a lost pig.  This is the heartbeat of the Mediterranean

 

Charlotte loved it.  All things come in good time.  When it comes time to move, one must move immediately.  It is no matter that no one has done anything for years. The building that has been left derelict and is a community eye-sore for ten years is knocked down, scooped up and hauled to the end of the jetty in 48 hours. The café that became a bakery yesterday is a boutique tomorrow. Charlotte like Corsica did nothing or did everything in passionate measures. Both were cursed by indifference or compulsion.

 

Santiago and Leila were infuriated by her perpetual late arrivals, self-obsession and refusal to be directed.  Charlotte did things her way or not all. They worked together over the next four months, but the reality was each did their own thing at the same place.  The mural grew like vines over the cool vaulted walls.

***

The mural’s theme was time, land and people.  Santiago and Leila had conceived a mural that moved through the Duke's illustrious ancestors. Santiago with proletariat relish slipped in a few token peasants, but they only made the chosen ones shine more brightly. The mural represented the actions of the Nobility and their course through Corsican wars and politics.  It was an unspoken agreement with the Duke that the aristocrats in the mural were to be portrayed handsome and saintly. No schmucks, no bums, no card-dealers, that is, unless they were portrayed as the opposition in the battle scenes.  The Duke's entire family tree was illustrated, going back 800 years.  Everyone was there, standing heroic, looking out into the 20th century.  They were the past, but they were the cream and hierarchy of Corsican politics. Now they were making a legendary passage into the contemporary world.

  

Everybody who was somebody was there.  General Sampiero with his arms spread wide; King Theodore Von Neuhofff running for his life; James Boswell writing notes; The Liberator of Corsica, Pascal Pauli bestowing medals; Napoleon Bonaparte likened to an arch-angel; and General De Gaulle likened to God. Nearly one-hundred lesser names of world history beamed immortally from the wall.  All these people were positioned in palaces, mansions and feudal lands, spread across the vestibule.

 

The Duke was very proud of the mural. He joked half seriously, “I think we can compete with the Vatican.” 

 

It was a meager attempt of the Sistine Chapel but Santiago accepted such words as a professional complement.  Leila felt proud to be compared to Michelangelo.  Charlotte viewed any positive acknowledgment of the mural with contempt.  It would never be as good as it had been done by the old masters. But if she had been in charge, it would have been perfect.

 

Monsieur Christopher was in a constant rage. He cursed the paint buckets and fumes that disrupted his world.  “Up tous derrieres !”  He spat.

 

Santiago and Leila researched old paintings for faces, period clothing and architecture.  They looked through historical books and albums of the 19th century.  They went to the actual location of historical events and made sketches. All three talked over compositional ideas, but it was Santiago who made the final drawings and decided how to divide the work.

 

Santiago said, “Three artists working on the same painting have all the possibilities Dr. Frankenstein -- each one of us has our own style. Our painting is like our signature.  If we don't divide the work, it will be a monster.”

Initially this was his plan.  Divide and conquer.  Each artist was assigned to parts and to do what each was good at.  Santiago directed the general layout, worked out the relative scale and drew in the human figures and landscapes.  Leila was given all the fussy details, painting all the borders, the marbling, the still-life flower arrangements.  Charlotte was the surface and texture specialist. She was given skies and the clothing of the multitudes.  Santiago’s artistic direction held together for one week.

 

“Nobody ever friging pays attention to me around here,” Santiago cursed as he witnessed Leila and Charlotte slipping over the boundaries into his land of peopled pastures.

***

 

Two months slipped by and after they used all of the faces they could from the Duke's family library, friends were asked to pose.  Jean Simon became an obscure Corsican poet.  Felix became a bandit.  Santiago did a self portrait as King Theodore.  One by one, friends and acquaintances were transformed onto the panels of the Duke's history.  A full portrait of the present aristocracy along with their cats, dogs and a parrot were positioned in the central panel.  Looming in the background was the scowling face of Monsieur Christopher.  Santiago secretly painted the old man's hand in an obscene gesture just behind the Duchess who was to have a remarkable resemblances to …Martina…  and of course martina would be wispily repeated in the clouds...

 

“This whole painting is a frig-king parade of pompous aristocrats,” Santiago mumbled to himself. But it was work.  They were getting paid and the Duchess and Duke were happy. He could day dream in the clouds… 

 

Their prestige grew in Ajaccio. Leila cringed when passing sidewalk cafes and heard the usual comment, “Look, it is the American's.”

"Bloody hell!  I'm Scottish,” she screamed into a crowd of faces.

 

The painting went on.  Santiago was getting used to daily visitations by the grumbling Monsieur Christopher. He thought a truce had come, when he painted the old man as master of the garden.  The old renegade was overjoyed with the acknowledgment of his rightful status.  To sanctify their comradeship, Santiago was invited for the first time into Monsieur Christopher's quarters to drain several double whiskeys. Monsieur Christopher was almost pleasant.

***

 

Three months of painting rolled onto four.  They could see the end in sight.  Only small details were needed to tie up loose ends and crystallize the whole mural.  The parts which had been fun or interesting had been completed and they were into the final details which separates the amateur from the professional.  It is the finishing, the clean whistling end -- full of exact definitions and sublime transitions that allows the eye to flow from one point to the next, to slide across the surface evenly and smoothly.  There could be no awkward moment in the flow. 

Santiago and Leila were the survivors of the painting campaign.  Charlotte abandoned the project weeks before the end.  The crunch came when Santiago painted out one of the figures she had worked on.  It was too clumsy and stiff for him.  Adding injury to insult, he painted clouds onto one of her skies.  He claimed the sky was hopelessly off balance.  Neither Santiago nor Charlotte said anything directly to each other.  She simply stopped being there and transmitted brain waves that he was bastard.  He received the message, but he had had enough of Charlotte.

“She's an art-talking-witch,” Santiago said when he realized Charlotte wasn't coming back.  Leila and he were now at the end and the conclusion of the mural was theirs to celebrate.

The Duke and Duchess decided to hold a vernisage, the traditional Opening of the mural.  It was to be the official unveiling.  Invitations were sent to the high society of Corsica.  They were the dignitaries of Ajaccio, the mayor, Madame Franccioni, the priests, the politicians, the rich and the intelligencia. It was the cultural crowd. Among this contingent were several prominent gangsters and a few honest human beings.

 

 

Two days before the occasion Santiago went to Charlotte.  He wanted to apologize diagonally.  Santiago had the money for Charlotte's final payment. 

Leila was outraged. “But Santiago, our agreement was for the whole project! Charlotte was only there half of the time. You are crazy to give her the full payment.”

“We owe her,” Santiago said.  He was adamant.  “It's the way we can repay the favors she has done for us.”  He was playing games.  His real attention to Charlotte was the musk of her sexuality. It was wrapped around him.

He went to Charlotte’s studio and opened the door quietly.  She was standing in front of a painting, smoking a cigarette. He went over to the window that overlooked the plaza and the mural they had done at Christmas.

“Look Charlotte, I know it was a pain in the ass working with us, but we just had to get on with it -- you know that's what we said in the beginning -- and well… ah frig it!  I think your work is great and a hope you don't think...”

Charlotte interrupted, “I’m not really a painter,” she said.

“That business about the clouds -- it wasn't the sky that was a problem --   it was that bunch of flowers down at the bottom. There had to be a counter movement at the top,” Santiago said.

He transferred the wrongdoing onto Leila's shoulders. She had painted the flowers after the sky was done. There was the clear implication Charlotte was the innocent victim. 

 Charlotte went into the small kitchen and brought back a cup of coffee for him.  He looked directly into her eyes. There was an electric click in his mind. He impulsively reached out and gently pulled her to him.  She did not resist.  The movement was a small dance, affectionate, uncomplicated.  She let her arm go around Santiago’s neck.

  Santiago said softly, “I think you are wonderful… I don't want to lose a friend.  We are going to work this out, okay?”

Charlotte laughed and threw her head back.  She smiled at Santiago's obvious embarrassment.  Frenchmen would never be so shy.  She looked at him thoughtfully and was about to respond when the door bell rang.  Who else could it be, but Leila?  Duplicity was in the air.  Santiago and Charlotte separated like a sad train station goodbye.

 

***

The heat of June came after a rainy spring. All through April and May, cloudbursts soaked the earth wet as Scotland, but a good deal warmer. Monsieur Christopher said it had been the most rain he had seen in thirty years. He grumbled about the grass in the garden being too wet. It was going to drown. He raised his red face to the sky and sputtered the French equivalent of …My God it’s a frig’n ho …. He had been trying to find places on the grass where the pool chairs would not sink into the ooze. The Duchess had to beg the services of Monsieur Christopher several days in advance for two hundred and fifty people who were invited to the unveiling of the mural.

 Santiago and Leila had taken longer to finish the mural than expected. The departure of Charlotte was part of the reason, but not a significant because  if she did come to work she usually arrived late and left early.  Leila thought Charlotte wasted time the way she fussed over small sections. But if Charlotte painted only one square foot a day, it was that much less to do.

 

 The reason for the extended time was another thing altogether. The mural had pulled Santiago into the illusion of his own making. He was an artist again, attempting the creation of a masterpiece. Santiago's lethargy faded under the spell of fame -- the mural was the hope -- commissioned by the aristocracy, in a palace, on a fashionable boulevard in the Mediterranean. There was money and the rain was gone, but being famous was an illusion. The little town of Ajaccio in Corsica was not Michelangelo’s Rome.

 

The magic of vision through the mural allowed Santiago and Leila began to see Corsica. The beauty of the island was the only thing that wasn't an illusion. For the first time in years they were both happy together.

 

In the pastel colors of spring, Santiago would gaze up towards the mountains and let his eyes rest in the white glaciers held in the folds of earth. Purple, violet and mauve ridges were layered in haze like Japanese prints. Leila pointed out the flowers on their sketching adventures. She had never seen a land in so many colors. First it was the brilliant yellow puffs that hung from the mimosa trees, then the aspedelia, later scores of hibiscus and a hundred varieties of bougainvillea she could not name. Every time they returned from these journeys, her arms were full of bouquets.  The land was in full bloom with orchards of nut and fruit trees, white, cream and pink. It was a celebration of perfumed color in the final decades in the Twentieth Century. The violence and noise of big cities belonged to another planet. Corsica was a creation of heaven.

 

Santiago and Leila’s creation was the mural. Their work trained them to look at a world under a microscopic eye. They made hundreds of detailed sketches, drawing thumb-nail notes across pages of vast panoramas. They made color charts, trying to simplify their palate from the infinite spectrum surrounding them. The task was to try to remember the real world as they transposed their research onto the hard plaster walls. At best, it was a poem they were creating. A poem of a world too immense, too perfect, too beautiful, and far too complicated to ever hope they could imitate. In comparison to reality, their painted world was crude with line and color, hanging in a cold dead space. Yet, it had a magic beyond reality.  The Duke's ancestors were lost cousins of Adam still strolling in the Holy Garden.

 

Santiago stopped being a technical brick-layer. He became a visionary, having moments of grace, traveling into the world his mind projected, his hand holding the brush and signing his only love with iridescent strokes.

 

Leila was having her own journey, leaving behind the half-world she lived in since the birth of their daughter. Tara was beginning to find her feet in the Corsican school. Language was hard for her, but the older children took her by the hand and without complication taught her French by singing songs and playing games. It was a relief to Leila. It hurt her to see her child suffer the loneliness of being a stranger. Now her daughter was happy and she could relax and loosen her mother-strings. It was hard to concentrate being an artist, being first a mother with a child in pain. She never thought her love of art would be secondary, but since she had become a mother, the thought of being an artist had not occurred at all. The child became her most important creation.

 

Since Tara was born Leila felt she had misplaced her life and worried it would be lost forever. The worry became fear, like a cold sword in her womb. She would turn on Santiago and accuse him of destroying her life. She was carrying all the responsibility. She hated Santiago for his arrogance and his stupid male inability to know what it was to be a mother. She blamed him for everything, especially when it occurred to her she was no longer an artist. All she had time to do was care for her child.

 

 One morning it was too much. Santiago wanted to make love, she screamed into his uncomprehending face, “You Bastard!” 

Santiago sat upright in bed, turning his back to her said, “Don't ever call me that again.”

She stifled her emotions but the resentment grew into something bitter, something unbearable. She was being buried alive by her husband and her child and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

 

The mural for the palace was her rebirth. Slowly she arose from the grave and found time for her own life, her own thoughts. She saw the mystery of the two worlds around them; the real one and the one of illusion. She fell inside the whispering brush mantra patterns of invented images. This is what it is being an artist, she thought. This was the experience to be an artist with Santiago. They were making visual love creating life in another world. She resurrected dead people back into time and space. It was like being God, to give life and take it.  The ancestors they resurrected were gently placed back in their eternal resting place. The last scene they painted was the De Pascal family mausoleum nestled in the green hills overlooking the bay of Ajaccio.

MARTINA

Oh yes…for the first time in so many years he couldn’t even remember…Santiago was happy…well…almost happy…the illusion that Charlotte could replace his private Angel…his buried SACRED Angel…she had just slipped away…and only when he had too many pastis…did the phantom… the Phantom with so many faces… the face..that face… the one that told him …”You Assassin’s face…but… I will be an Assassin’s Angel…”