Ferry to Corsica

I got on the Calvi, the new ferry that runs between Nice and Bastia. It is state of the art technology and it looks more like a spaceship than a boat.  People are sardine packed. There is a television for at every eye angle with a continuous website that shows the exact location of the boat as it hurtles through the water. It traveled twice the speed of the old Napoleon that I had first come to the island with Leila and Tara twenty years before. I thought about the difference of the way I had come back nine months before – the jet liner into Ajaccio, to Martina on the mountain top and into the chaos of my own life.

My own life? Me, Santiago McBoil, what am I? Probably a lot of people who have jobs, marriage, mortgages and children or as Zorba the Greek said, “The full catastrophe,” would be envious of my circumstance. Maybe they would change lives, like the guy in Nice looked at me, wanting what looked like a carefree existence, the aura of a man without worry…yes, on the inside it is a different story even if it seems I have the liberty of an escaped convict. But what the hell is this persistent reek of isolation, the smell of an abandoned jail and the images seen from its dusty barred windows?

Yet I know whatever few months or days that are left of it, the hours the minutes, this is my existence evolving. Everything I have known will not remain the same. Everything in front of me will not be what I plan it to be.

There was a point where I felt like turning around and going back to New Mexico – feeling insane about Martina, confused with the ridiculous affair with Dark Eyes – which was not an affair but only orgiastic gratification. Corsica, once a beautiful woman to me, begun to age—not  the place I knew from twenty years before—just  a place, although a beautiful place, like a porcelain vase that holds the dried flowers that once were fresh .

Corsica was my past and maybe it would be my future, the beginning of the end. I  got onto the big fast ship that slipped over the blue water to the island—to  Bastia and the train ride over the mountain, past the Restonica Valley and down into the Gulf of Ajaccio—to the point of complete madness where my fate waited,.

 

The Journey to the Farm

The Train Arrived in Ajaccio at 6:30 PM. I walked from the depot to the Plaza and telephoned Oscar from a café on Rue Bonaparte. I set at a table and when the garcon came I ordered a pastis and watched the customers watching the other customers. Oscar came in twenty minutes and I could see in his eyes he was as tired as I felt. He is the kind of farmer that gets up before the sunrise and is usually in bed not too much after sunset. We talked a little on the way back to the farm.

When we got to the farm Oscar said I could stay in the guest house, turned abruptly and walked toward his bed a few paces and stopped. He just stood there as though he was trying to decide something. I looked at his hulking shoulders and his curly mop of graying hair that hung down his neck. He turned around and looked at me with a worried look. I couldn’t help but think he still looked like a portrait of a Roman general, one that just had seen ten thousand men slaughtered.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a market in the morning so I shall leave the house at six – you are welcome to come should you like.”

“Yeah, that might be nice. Go ahead and go to bed Oscar. You look beat.”

“Goodnight then,” he said and stomped off to his quarters.

I watched Oscar as he walked out past the small swimming pool that was between the big pink farm house and the guest bungalow. His father had built the farm house in the fifties when the family had emigrated from England.

I sat under the avocado tree that had been my private sanctuary in all the years I had come to the farm. There was a big round wooden table and four chairs and the thick leaved branches shaded the area. I smoked two cigarettes and wondered where Martina was sleeping in Corsica, and in whose arms. I wondered about Neil. It had been ten years since we walked up the Restonica and a thousand years since he placed me on the runners of the medovac in Nam.

 

SEPTEMBER 18, 2004

In the morning I woke at first light and went to Oscar’s house. He growled and went out the door carrying a large box of strawberries. He was in no talking mood so I followed him out to the Volkswagen van and opened the tail gate. He put the box in with a huge stack of fruits and vegetables, loaded before sunrise.

We drove into town but there was little to say being Oscar was in such a broody mood. It was a familiar pattern I had known since we first became friends. I was still beat from traveling so it suited me fine just to look across the bay at the scattered boxes of humanity chunked on the rising hills of Ajaccio. I could see the serpent-like road that wiggled above the city center and thought about the fast night of an old seduction somewhere in the trees I was seeing. Oscar coughed awkwardly then grumbled quietly.

“I’m sorry what? I was thinking about a lovely evening,” I said

Oscar flashed a clouded look. “Damn it all man. You haven’t come back because of that witch have you?”

“You wound me Oscar. I came back because I love your big round arse, and I was hoping we might finally consummate our timeless love.”

“Bugger off. You know damn well  she will do nothing but use you for a carpet.”

“Well if she does I sincerely hope she gets a matching set of rug burn—I always loved her most on her elbows and knees—you should have seen Martina in that Paris hotel, before I ran out of money, her panting and that fantastic bulbous ass as I pumped her like a jackhammer from behind.”

“I don’t want to hear about it.”

Oscar went back to his grump and I slid into an old ache that belonged to another body, another time.  Paris, Neil, Martina and Mylai swirled a sour broth in my mouth. I rolled down the window and spat into the Corsican maqui.

When we got back to the farm in the early afternoon, a yellow sports car was pulling out onto the main road. The woman driver had large black sunglasses and a bright red head scarf. She waved her hand as she roared away spraying gravel along the van. There was something familiar about her but I couldn’t place it. I  was so tired, deja vous was becoming common.

“Who was that?”

“That is the bitch up the hill buying veggies, but if she has chipped my paint  she  will be charged double the next visit.”

I laughed. Oscar’s 25 year old van had little paint left undamaged. Eloise was shutting the cooling shed door when we pulled into barn driveway.

“You chaps just missed our lovely neighbor Yokomi. She is absolutely darling. I think it is already rather too late for either of you as she appears to be sharing the mattress with that eccentric bloke up the road.

“If she keeps driving like that the FLNC will enlist as a hit woman. What was she doing here mother?” Oscar got out of the van and seriously looked along the side.

“Oh you know, just the usual, a few boxes of strawberries and such. But I say, she was positively delightful. I can’t for the life of me imagine what interest her  about that odd bloke.

Santiago was tired.  “Eloise he must have money. What else could interest a woman?”

“It would take more than money for me to suffer such an odd duck. Do you know that he is one of those mad Scots men who actually wear no knickers under his kilt?”

“And how exactly would you know that mother?” Oscar smiled at Santiago and winked.

“It’s the talk of the village. I should hope I am well past looking up a daft mans skirt.” Eloise tried her best to act indignant.”

“You are exactly right my beautiful woman, and if that man happens to come by I’ll put my hands over your eyes just in case the wind exposes those forbidden fruits,” Santiago said.

“Oh bosh! I assure you young man I would not be the least interested,” Eloise said and then could not stop from giggling.

Santiago excused himself and returned to the guest house. He could not stop thinking about the odd man with the exposing kilt.

Santiago looked up from what he was reading to see Oscar jump off the edge of the pool into the deep end. He went back to reading what he had written in the last two weeks.

THE COMPLEXITY

Woman. My addiction. I never cease to amaze myself  by what next I might do. This is nothing new. I have had this revelation a dozen times in a dozen years. I see it again, and yet I gave into the urge. I need to have my craving satisfied, like a junkie, like the gravity of heroin, I am pulled back into the orbit of the next fix.

I called Vicki Manstalk and said it would be nice to see her. She agreed. Within twenty four hours she called back. She had  a ticket to ride. A three day junket for her, a fix for me. My oldest female buddy who fucks me for her own amusement.

I know my habit. I wonder down into the streets of earthly pleasure and call out my dealer’s name. I don’t even have to raise my voice because the ears of lust can hear silence. Even so, I wondered about the rendezvous and how I could forget the costs. It is always the same. Some kind of love is better than none, and sometimes one night of romance is worth the price. The thing is, it is not romance with Vicki, it is mechanical lubrication. We come together like beasts in rut then bow with remarkable civility and run off to our next folly.

Vicki is a good fix. I get cured of my habit for a long moment, usually for a few weeks, but then it begins again. I begin to fantasize nightly visitations of Vicki’s skill or with the stag’s eye begin to search the hills for my next halleluiah.

That is the cycle. The incredible ridiculousness of a testosterone plagued adolescent.  It is me constructing a spider web theater, watching delicate little sex bugs pass around the perimeter while my carnivorous prick wiggles in desperation to snatch the snatch. Enough mixed metaphors of my pathetic pattern. But still, I get a hard-on thinking about Vick’s arrival. She is good.

 

September 20, 2004

I drove to Bastia today in Eloise’s car to meet Tara.  God, she would come the same week that Vicki is coming. Tara has been touring Italy with a friend for several weeks—her moments of freedom, to be herself, away from the restriction of a fathers eye—not that I have ever tried to enforce rules on her. It is the situation of youth which is still so close to childhood and the condition of behaving in front of ones father is there.

The drive through the mountains brought back all the times I had passed the same route when Leila loved me and Tara was still a little girl. I kept seeing images of days we had gone snow-sledding down the slopes of Col de Vizavone, laughing and freezing in the Mediterranean winter. I could see their faces and smell the chill of pine scent winter. I could feel Tara’s little hands and Leila’s arms around me as we shot down the hill on a dangerous sled I had made out of a ten foot long wooden ladder—past lives in a timeless picture house of the mind. I stopped at the mountain village of Vavario and had coffee at the same café when we were a family. I sat at the same table and watched the trucks and cars pass, then suddenly the spell of nostalgia was suffocated by the fumes of a big tour bus that parked in front of me.

Those memories brought concern as whether Tara had made it on the ferry that was coming from Liverno—part of it was me just being a parent being over protective mixed with wondering how my daughter would react to her father having an affair with an old family friend. Vicki held Tara in her arms when she was a baby.

Tara is a grown woman, nearly twenty-five. She has traveled around the world without the wisdom of my mistakes, but even so there was anxiety in me. We had not talked much since I saw her in New York. The worst of it was I had not told her about the death verdict the doctors had given me. The fact I had not blown my brains out was because of her. How could I do such a thing that would damage her more than I could imagine? There were so many things I did not want her to know, but the truth was, my daughter was the only one who disserved the truth—the only one that would love me regardless. It wasn’t until I passed the train station in Corte, I could no longer ignore what was gnawing at my spirit.

The train station had changed, or maybe it was the time of day. I passed at noon, the sun coming straight down. It made the setting look so different. The time that stuck of my mind was when the sun had set behind the mountains—the picture drifted up from the ghost file. It was another autumn in the time of Martina. For a split second there were two snap shots, now and then. Even though I was driving I kept leaving the present and slipped into the past that was so totally and completely miserable—my drunken suicidal desperation.

I could hear my feet crunching the gravel and Neil’s laughter as we walked up the Restonica Gorge. I could feel the chilly alpine air and see the crescent moon as we walked into the night. I could taste the bitter black coffee the goat herder gave us at the top of the mountain. I could smell the stench of the goats and see them bleating in the pens, raising their heads looking at the tiny dots of another goat herd coming in from high meadows. I heard the tiny clinking and dinging of bells tied to their necks as the came down the mountain side. I saw the black silhouette of a shepherd and hear a female voice urging the goats onward---it was a knife in my chest.

I saw Martina’s face in the early morning light. The sun was just breaking the ridgeline. Her long dark hair tumbled from under her hat as she took it off. The gold sheen of the sun touched her cheekbones. Light glimmered on the long thin scar that ran down her neck.

The real world---a car horn blared as I swerved out of the wrong lane. The image of Martina disappeared and I was back in the driver’s seat heading for Bastia. “God damn you Martina.”

The hurt lay deep---me, smug, thinking I had at last dropped her memory and put aside the coincidence of existence.

There she was again, the woman who had come in and out of my life three times in the last twenty years. There she lingered, with Neil and me in the streets of Bastia before we caught the plane for Paris. There she was, sitting with the two of us, tantalizing and teasing our male lunacy, the seducer of egos’.

It was the proverbial mad rampage into the valley of death. Neil and I both wanted to die in her arms. We chose to be her victims. It was only natural that each of us thought she would choose the time to select one of us, even though I had known her pleasures before. It was just as natural even though Neil and I had been friends  for many years we would do our best to undo the other—to be the hero of her theater.

Little did either of us care her life was far more tortured than she revealed. She had been an actress after all, the first and second time she was in my life. She could play any role perfectly, even being a goat herder for her grandfather.

Neil and I were living actors of machismo---much older than Martina, but babes next to the bitterness of her few years. She was a woman who had grown old and mean on the inside. Yet she played her beauty and youth in cameo light.

It was the Theater of Absurd---our ego propelled pricks in charge of what little sense either of us had. We were played like chumps.

Neil was as shocked as me when he realized she wanted us both. She wanted our lusty needs in her at once—we were turned on with the erotic heat of it—our cocks sliding together inside of her deep sex and all of us screaming abandoned ecstasy as we came together.

Neil who was confused and hurt when Martina said it was me she wanted. I was the winner. Neil wounded, left us alone, and walked alone into a Parisian night. I stayed. I was the loser.

All of that, more like a century, than ten years ago---even longer than March 16, 1968, when I lay screaming in hysteria as the chopper  lifted me out of the hell of the Mekong. It was a million years ago when I emptied full-automatic an M-16 clip into the bodies of six innocents.

I drove into Bastia and walked around the center for a couple hours before Tara’s ferry came in. I was going to return to the farm with Tara to celebrate Oscar’s birthday, so I wanted to get him an unusual gift. What do you buy for a gay farmer?  Another problem was Oscar’s size. It was like trying to find clothes that fit a boxcar.

I saw a flash of orange and yellow in a shop window. I looked around the shop and a rack of Hawaiian shirts caught my eye. One was a big kahuna short sleeved beer drinking joint smoking surfer’s tent.  Oscar would love it. I bought it.

With the shopping done I walked to shake off the phantom that was following me. I went up to the old fortress with a small garden that overlooks the harbor. Mountains stretch to the north and rise sharply out of the city. From the ramparts I looked east towards the isle of Elba where Napoleon was imprisoned. I could see the white dot of a ship on the horizon

I set and listened to the starlings that were circling the trees. Their song mixed with the vehicles and the clacking of small steel balls---Corsicans playing boole on a small patch of ground near me. I was in the middle of everything ordinary, just another day in the Mediterranean when I heard, “Don’t be such a fool. I can have any man I want.” Then she was gone.

I looked out into the sea. The small white dot had grown to a long slash. I got up and walked quickly to the port.

 

Santiago wrote every night after dinner. He tried to retrace the patterns of his youth, stories he knew intimately. He had lived them. It was like writing a play in reverse. He wondered if he could write anything unless he lived it first. It didn’t really matter to him. He had given up being a success of anything except failure---a skill all too apparent in the last years of his life.

He hung on and remembered stories simply because some of them had not been so ugly, so tragic. Yet, he could not bring himself to write the one story that had started him on the long journey of self realization. He was not ready. He picked up the pen.

Portland, Oregon, 1967

note: continuation of The Bottle of Whisky

The Stripper

I got hooked up with the strippers by being an artist, drawing them in the nude on stage in 1967. It was great money, two-hundred bucks a day—more money than I made in a week at normal jobs. I paid off the debts caused by the party and replaced the bottle of Lagauvulin. I found another place to stay because I knew the old lady would find out about the house nearly burning down.

The shows at the strip joint finished at two in the morning. One night I tagged along with six strippers downtown to a sleazy skid row bar to meet a famous merchant marine with an eleven inch dick. Zeus the Greek showed up and all six girls competed to go home with him. At dawn we were standing out at the curb waiting for a cab and the gals were eyeing each other. The 300 lb. lesbian bartender joined the group after she locked the doors. When the cab pulled up the Greek and the lesbian jumped in and waved goodbye to us all. The girl’s mouths dropped to the pavement.

We watched the taxi go down the street. There was a long moment of silence then Wild Thing shrieked, “That dirty son-of-a-bitch. He did that on purpose.”  When she heard us laughing she screamed, “Fuck you!”

“Oh come on,” said Little Bit, “I’m surprised Zeus didn’t run off with Honey Buns—you know Greeks.” She flicked her eyes at the drag queen standing near the curb, whose morning whiskers were beginning to shade the powdered cheeks. “I’m starving—let’s have some breakfast and we can all cry together.”

In a couple of minutes another taxi arrived. Little Bit took Wild Thing by one arm and me by the other and directed us into the back seat. One of the girls left on the curb yelled, “Hey, Little Bit and Wild Thing, leave a piece of Cowboy—one of us might want to sample the goods later. The other strippers laughed as we drove away.

We went to Jumbo’s Diner. It was the meeting place for every stripper, whore, drug dealer and bent cop in town. A few men looked like professional perverts in greasy clothes and filthy looks---like they had no other shelter from the pissing northwest sky.

A waitress with a cigarette dangling on her lip blew ashes as she said, “Whadayawan?” She should have retired ten years earlier but still was as bouncy as ping pong. She looked at me with little rat-like eyes.  “So am I standing here for my health—come on suger—whadayawan?”

“I’ll have the same as the girls,” I said.

The old gal already knew. In an instant she whacked three coffee cups in front of with one hand and with a coffee pot in the other poured. In less time than to say thank you mam, she was at four other tables blowing ashes on customers. The old gal stacked empty dishes in the crooks of her arms on the way to the kitchen with the cigarette flopping up and down like a conductor’s baton.

In a few minutes’ steak and eggs and filled coffee cups slopped onto the table while ash flakes floated in mid air where the waitress had been. Little Bit and I were sitting on one side of the booth and Wild Thing the other. They talked about Johns and money.

“How much did you pull from the minister?” Little Bit asked.

“I only got a hundred out of the cheap little fucker—Christ, the nerve of that bastard—he wanted me to lick his asshole before I sucked him off—no way I’m cleaning his bunghole and washing his dick for measly 100 bucks. I’m sure he just wanted ass licking because I barely put my tongue on his dick and he shot off like Buck Rogers.”

I set in the booth not believing what I was hearing. I was young. I had read stories about people doing weird things to each other, but I had never known anyone who had actually done such things. Yet now I was listening to nice looking young women talking about perversion like ranchers talk about stock prices and tractor parts. I was embarrassed but fascinated. There was a world of sex out there and I was at the beginning of my education.

“Jesus Christ,” Wild Thing blurted out. “Don’t turn around Little Bit—fucking Nicko just come in.”

I sensed my education might involve more than I was planning on.

“Oh God, I hope it is not going to be another fucking fight—maybe he won’t see me.” Little Bit gasped.

“I don’t think so,” said Wild Thing, “here he comes.  Cowboy, you just keep your mouth shut.”

I wondered what I had got myself into. Two hundred bucks wasn’t as much as I thought it was. It looked like there was a bigger price to pay.

I was sitting on the outside of the booth and I could feel a force coming up behind me. I tensed up, expecting a blow to the back of my head. A soft voice from my left, sad and deep said, “How can’ya do dis to me?”

I looked out of the corner of my eye. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t what appeared. In front of me was a huge black man in his mid forties in a janitor’s uniform. His wet eyes glistened and his mouth was turned down. It was a face of  tragic Mississippi blues. Big powerful shoulders rolled up sleeves, thick muscled forearms and hands, all of him revealing a life of hard labor. I clicked my eyes with him for a millisecond. That was a mistake.

“Whucha look’n at mofo?” he yelled in a raspy tone.

He casually reached in front of me and picked up a burning cigarette out of an ashtray and jammed it into my cheek. It stunned more than hurt. I blinked my eyes and slowly brushed the ashy burn off my face. There I was with two beautiful women, a huge black man who stuck a burning ember in my face. Twenty fours earlier I was a simple student with only one problem---to replace a bottle of Chevis Regal. My whole world had gone to hell.

I waited for the knife or the gun or just big killer hands. I was no match for this guy, but a kind of trance fell over me and I looked into the void.

“Nicko you crazy son-of-a-bitch!” screamed Little Bit, “Leave the kid alone. He has nothing to do with anything you asshole. This is what you do, go around sticking cigarettes in total stranger’s faces?”

“I’m sorry babe—I jus’ thought…I jus’ wan’ya to come home honey—I been wait’n all night shuga…I can’t stand it…ya can’t do dis to me babe…ah needs ya.”

Nicko, the huge black man suddenly wilted down to a small boy who lost his mommy. Little Bit continued to berate him. Wild Thing reached under the table and rubbed high up my thigh, not quite touching my sex as it raised its head in hopeful anticipation, even though Little Bit was sitting right next to me, Nicko was breathing on my neck and there was no chance in hell of me popping my pants. So this was what it was like to work with strippers. I was with two women who were sharpening their teeth for their next meal. Nicko looked like the saddest man I ever saw.

I was stupefied.  Christ! Now what was I going to do? I looked at the huge black man. I didn’t know whether to run away or to put my arms around him and say, there, there, don’t cry, everything will be all right. One thing I knew I wasn’t going to do. I wasn’t going to look into his wet eyes again.

“Oh for God damn sake Nicko, pull yourself together,” Little Bit spat. “I can’t stand it when you are a jealous little brat—who in the hell is watching the kids anyway?”

The huge black man sobbed, then stuttered, “Ma…ma is at da house babe. She sho is worried too suga. It wuz her babe dat wan me come look’n fo’ya babe.”

“Nicko get your black ass home. The kids are going to be worried sick  wondering where you are—and you know your mom can’t handle them. Now you just turn around and take that sorry black ass of your home!”

He blinked his eyes like a dog when you look them in the eye. I could see an invisible tail fall between his legs. He dropped his head and walked away.

The two women and I sat silent for a moment watching the huge black man through plate glass windows go out the restaurant door to a white Ford Falcon and drive away.

“Whew!” Wild Thing sighed. “My God, I thought Nicko was going to do the gun thing again. Jesus, I swear my asshole is so tight I won’t be able to shit for a week.”

“That stupid bastard. I’ve had it with him this time.” Little Bit said.

She picked up her cigarette pack and shook out three, stuck one in her mouth and passed one to me and Wild Thing. I didn’t smoke but I was about to start.

“That motherfucking moron. I can’t stand it any longer. I can’t even have a night to myself without him showing up somewhere and causing a scene. I can’t stand his blubbering,” Little Bit said. She blew a cloud of smoke across the table and lit my cigarette.

“Is a…is Nicko your husband?” I asked. Talk about morons.

“Fuck no,” Little Bit blurted out. “

Santiago looked at his hand and scribbled, "THE STRIPPER will be CONTINUED."  He went back to the daily journal.

 

September 20, 2004

The Birthday Party

Tara and I drove back from Bastia on the route down the east coast, the veers off and up the winding climb to Corte, the center of the island. From there it was back tracking over the pass at Col de Vizavone and the long drop down to Ajaccio and the palm lined bay. It was just getting dark as we pulled into the farm. Cars were parked all around the driveway and storage sheds.

Oscar’s  family and friends had set out tables of food with long rows of bottled red wine and glasses. Jamahl was putting charcoal into a large grill. Lamb chops, chicken legs and a variety of sausages lay on plates at the side. The swimming pool was only a few feet away and it was completely covered in red and black balloons floating on the surface. A large banner was strung over the center of the garden trestle. “BON ANNIVERSAIRE” in bold red letters. Oscar was sitting with Eloise, their heads close together and talking in a conspiratol manner as Tara and I approached. 

“Oh jolly good. We were hoping you would return in time for the party,” Eloise said, “and just precisely who is this beautiful young woman you have kidnapped this time Santiago?”

Tara laughed and said, “Hello Eloise. Golly you look just the same as I remember…”

“Don’t look too close my dear. I am afraid the veneer is cracking—but my heavens how lovely a young woman you are—of course that is perfectly natural because you always were the beautiful young girl.”  

“She obviously took her looks from Leila,” Santiago said.

“Dad, everyone says I look like you, you know that perfectly well.”

“Let’s  hope you don’t grow a beard.”

Oscar got up and hugged Tara. “You indeed have become a beautiful woman—your dad better watch me carefully or I might just decide to take you away—you are much too gorgeous for some wasted young man,” he said then looked at Santiago. “I see you did not crash the Renault. My god man, you must have flown it over the mountains. Mother was a bit worried you would get detoured in Bastia.”

“Why would Eloise worry?” Santiago said.

“You know mother. I believe she has made some special arrangements for you tonight.”

“Is Dad chasing young women around again?”

Eloise smiled. “Tara, I do believe it is the other way around. I am told a young woman simply can’t resist such manly charms—he emits that thing—what is called? You know same as male dogs I believe.”

“Mother really. I am sorry Tara should know this but her father is much more like a buck goat in full rut,” Oscar said then hugged Tara again. “I am so sorry dear, but I am afraid your father is too sexy for his pants.”

Tara laughed then began telling Oscar and his mother about her adventures she told me on the drive from Bastia. Her enthusiasm flowed but I could see Oscar’s eyes were already glazed with wine and his mind was off in a world of his private indulgence.

Eloise was appreciative but distracted by the logistics of the party. Tara saw neither was connected. She summed up and said she was going to take a shower and get into some party clothes.

“Your little Princess seems to have seduced half of Italy,” Oscar said.

“Oh for God sakes Oscar, beautiful young women have the perfect right to take advantage,” Eloise said.

“She has obviously learned the art of a woman,” I said.

Oscar pulled himself up in his chair and looked at the balloons in the swimming pool with squinted eyes. “Mother has invited some very special people tonight, but so far none of them have arrived. Perhaps I put them off at the last party. You know bloody Corsicans. They get so touchy.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Perhaps I drank too much wine. I suggested Madam Paulo go off with her mustachioed lady friend and I would have a roll with her husband.”

“Oscar, really! I don’t like it when you get this way.” Eloise threw Oliver an irritated eye. “Santiago, can’t you do something with him until the other guests arrive?”

I took Oscar by the arm and he introduced me to guests as we went around the party. In a few minutes Tara came out in a long dress and joined a circle of young people. Oscar wandered back to the drinks table while I went to the grill and helped Jamahl braise the meat.

In an hour the party was in full swing. People were chatting around the swimming pool and torch lit garden. Pop music was coming out the windows of the house making the river barely audible. Only the frogs and locusts serenade drifted up in waves from the river channel.

The octogenarian Eloise was making sure everyone had food and drinks. She always kept in sight of Oscar as though he was a small child. She whispered something to Jamahl and he went to the house. In a few moments the music stopped and Eloise raised an empty wine bottle over her head and tapped it sharply with a large serving spoon.

“I want to make a toast to my son Oscar.” She waited until she had everyone’s attention, and then went on with a dignified presence. “I wish Oscar the happiest of birthdays on his sixtieth year, and hopefully in the next twenty he might actually learn to dance and have a jolly good time like the rest of us.” She paused while there was general chuckling and applause among the guests. “And now Jamahl, if you will do the honor and continue the party with some lovely music.”

Sting and the Police boomed out of the speakers.

People began dancing while some came over to Oscar wishing him well, popping bottles of champagne. Oscar was drunk enough to drop his usual demeanor of sadness. A broad smile came over his face. The guests kept his champagne glass full. I looked past him to where a familiar looking woman dressed in a bright red evening dress was approaching the garden. This was more than weird.

I had seen her several times already, the last time being when she shot out of the driveway in the sports car. Before that it had been on my journey to Corsica. It was the Oriental Beauty from New York to Paris. At the time I thought she might be Japanese, and now in the torchlight and her red dress I was sure.

I watched her as she came up to Eloise, gave her the customary French cheek kisses and said something quietly. They were obviously friendly but I could not hear what was being said. Eloise flicked her head in my direction and the woman briefly looked towards me and smiled. I was dumbfounded. What in the hell was going on? This woman sure had one long string of coincidental arrivals. She had been gorgeous at the airport and on the plane but now I realized she was more than that. She was a goddess.

I looked at her for the moments she was with Eloise, but she had only thrown the smile at me, then did not notice me again. It figured. I dismissed any idea she was accessible even though I had plenty reason to speak to her about the serendipity paths I had crossed with her—more  than likely she did not even recognize me from the journey. It was a joke. I was an old man. She was out of my league—a femme fatal, a fashion statement, an elegant lady and untouchable —all that shit. Whatever, I would be a fool three times over to let my dick get control of my brain.

What could I say to someone like her even if I could speak Japanese or French or what ever language was most comfortable? I looked at her beautiful face and amazing golden cleavage and just groaned. 

Too bad. I didn’t need to torture myself. As I turned away I heard her laugh then say, “Eloise you can’t stop your self from organizing romance.” I looked and saw her and Eloise both looking in my direction. That’s all it took for this three time fool to jump across the Grand Canyon. Maybe, just maybe I could make it to the other side.

 

Santiago slept for an hour then continued the story of The Stripper.

 

I was stupefied.  Now what was I going to do---shit or go blind…

“Is Nicko your husband?” I asked again.

“Fuck no—I wouldn’t be married to that prick even if his cock was twelve inches long—which it ain’t honey. Fuck no. We have just shacked up for awhile,” Little Bit said.

 But you have kids,” I said.

“Christ no. That’s the only thing I feel bad about—they’re kids from his marriage—in fact that’s the only reason I wound up with the idiot—I fell in love with his two little kids.” Little Bit looked down into her coffee cup. Sadness came over her eyes for a moment, then she looked up and smiled. “But they’re kids. They get used to life and life is full of shit. They’ll learn to live with it.  Besides they’re black and there ain’t ever going to be anything that works for them so they might as well get used to being shit on.”

The bitterness in her voice betrayed the porcelain white teeth in her stretched smile. “I have had it. I’m out. Hey, Wild thing you got room at your place?”

Wild Thing looked at her for a moment and a dark grin spread on her face. “Yeah sure, but I’ve got only one bed.”

I a few minutes we were zipping across the morning wet streets of Portland in a taxi. Northwest mist fell in fine curtains. The sun struggled like a 40 watt bulb behind the slate grey sky. The wipers of the cab beat a slow rhythm. I sit between Little Bit and Wild Thing. Both of them ran their hands up my thigh and hover over my raising head. Little Bit ran her teeth along my neck and whispered in my ear, “We’re going to eat you when we get home.” I just sat there and let it happen and felt like my head was going to explode. I wanted them to eat me. The thought of being cannibalized was easier to comprehend than what I would do with one little cock and two women, but at that moment I felt like I had a freight train between my legs.

The taxi went into southwest Portland passing the freak shops along Corbett Street. Psychedelic murals advertised drug paraphernalia in day-glow colors. To the east the silver Willamette River flowed in the leaden morning. It shimmered in contrast against the black branch outlines of trees along the slope of the banks.

Little Bit slipped her hands inside the top of my pants, magically ringing her fingers around my leaking dick. “Cowboy, you’ve got a loaded gun,” she giggled. She pulled out her hand and leaned her face next to mine sucking her fingers. “Yummie, you taste so good.

“Don’t you hog all of him,” Wild Thing said.

In a few minutes the taxi arrived at a long row of bungalows built along the side of a low hill covered with leafless trees. The houses were painted dark red and the roofs were mint green asphalt tiled. Rhododendron bushes separated one bungalow from the next. All the windows had industrial beige curtains. Little Bit paid the driver as we got out.

“You girls sure pick’em young. Just remember, when you want a man, call for Luey and I’ll give you some real service,” the driver said and winked at me.

In the bungalow the furniture was woven rattan. The floors were covered in grass rush tiles and African art was hanging on the walls. The place stunk, a cross between an import-export store and patchoulized-pot-smoking-hippies.

Wild thing set down on a couch and opened a wooden box off the coffee table. It was carved with intertwining tantric figures doing what I hoped I would be doing soon. She pulled out a smaller black lacquered box with a painted nude woman laying in red flowers. Inside it was a small gold cylinder with engravings on the side. She unscrewed the lid and shook greenish fodder onto a cigarette paper.

“Wait until you’ve had a hit of this shit Cowboy—it’ll make you feel like superman.”

Little Bit went into the other room. I could see through a crack in the door a big round bed. It was covered in an orange satin spread with pink satin pillows.

Wild thing put the rolled joint in her lips and sucked in slowly with a lighter not letting the flame touch. She closed her eyes like she was going to sleep.

“Oh wow,” she said and let smoke roll out her mouth and nose.

She handed the little stick to me and I pulled in a lung full. The smoke made me choke and cough.

“Easy, Cowboy. This shit is real dynamite—Acapulco Gold---don’t  waste it blowing it out your ears,” she said. “Hey Little Bit, get your tight cunt in here before we burn it all.”

Wild Thing took the joint from me, taking a small puff, and holding it down before gently letting fog come out. “See? That’s the way you do it.” She handed it back to me.

I wasn’t sure if the pot was doing anything other than tickling my throat, but I tried again, taking in a small puff.

“Don’t cough or you are fucked—keep it down Cowboy.”

The urge to cough was immense but the promise of some kind of magic encouraged me. I held it for a few seconds then let it out slowly. I began to feel zapped.

Wild Thing put some vinyl albums on the record player. “Have you heard ‘Revolution’ yet?” she asked.

Her voice sounded far away and she looked much taller than I had noticed before, like she was a giant—or maybe it was me, and I was shrinking. “Revolution,” I repeated. My voice sounded like it was coming out a radio.

“Yeah, the Beatles—you know?”

“Oh yeah, sure—the Beatles, great yeah—I love the Beatles. They’ve got a new album?” My words came out sounding like a stranger in the room. Where in the hell was I?

“Save some of that shit for me,’” said Little Bit. She came back into the room wearing long a see-through kind of thing..

The three of us listened to the music, smoking the tiny joint. Wild Thing got up and went into the bedroom. Little Bit looked at me and licked her lips very slowly. Suddenly Wild thing called out in a kind of moaning voice. “Oh, oh, where is everybody?”  Little Bit came over to me and pulled me up out of the chair. She took my jacket and let it fall to the floor then began unbuttoning my shirt as she led me to the bedroom.

“You do your shoes, Cowboy,” she said as she unzipped my trousers.

I put my toes in the back of my shoes and kicked them off. Little Bit pulled down my trousers, catching my underpants in her thumbs and let them fall to my knees. My cock was sticking straight up. I could see the head of it throb and the little penus eye pulse with the words, “I hear you want a revo-lution, oh yeah,” playing on the stereo.  Little Bit pushed me back down on the chair and finished pulling off my clothes. She went down on her knees and tugged my socks off. She  slowly raised her head until her mouth was just over my little monster. She let her tongue swirl along the sides.

“Where the fuck is everybody?” Wild Thing moaned  from the bedroom. “Do I have to do this by myself?”

Little Bit dropped her mouth onto my cock. I had the sensation I was being pulled from the earth. Her mouth slid off as she danced her tongue across the pulsing eye.

“Coming,” Little Bit called out.  “We’re coming—come on Cowboy—let’s go help the poor girl out.”

We floated off the ground. I was seeing my body from the ceiling. It was down there with Little Bit’s beautiful shape. Her nipples were brown and protruding above the perfect V of black hair that pulled my body towards the bedroom. Wild Thing was lying in the center of the bed. Her legs were spread wide open. One hand was caressing the purple lips of sex and the other hand fluttered like a butterfly over her breast.

My cock was in Wild Thing. I was fucking. My God this is how it works in the city. Little Bit was straddling over the tongue of Wild Thing. Yeah, this is how big city girls work it. It was a circle of sex. I was male, they female, then in an instant we reversed the order. They were sticking things in me---my tongue was in them, or something. It was like I was blind with lust and all I could sense was the warmth and rush of bodies around me. I was wrapped in flesh.

My cock was a magic wand, a spaceship that was in one warm cellar then another. My tongue tasted salt and wine—smells  of female covered my mind. All of it pulled the blood of my heart, it racing in my chest. It was pumping a bursting pressure, a great wave of blood rushing down a sex valley—all of it wheeled into a moist mind, a mouth of gourmet hunger, like sucking oyster juice delicacy, tender pearl hiding lips, rocky sweet sweat covered balls, humping, hovering, hanging on the top of a tormented tongue like the fragile fingers of a clockmaker—assembling the parts and order of count and the counting rolling upward, thick and dense into the tongue teaching me to talk without words—all of it a wheel of passion overwhelmed by an incredulous experience, lust sheer lust, initiated into the garden of come and come all ye, come, my god come ye all, we comed and we comed and the wheel rolled.

But I was a kid. What did I know about sex except that it was good and I couldn’t get enough. I was just beginning to open the doors of my libido’s perception. The world was getting so wacky and weird I had no idea what was right or wrong. Being in bed with two women with no morality rules seemed perfectly natural. After the teen years and only thinking about sex I had finally arrived. I was flying. I was free. It was sex heaven.

Little Bit and Wild Thing tried out several more combinations on me in the next hours. The finale was Little Bit wanking herself  off as she watched me dog style it with Wild Thing’s ass in air, her clawing the carpet and yowling the next come. What a wonderful pit of flesh I had fallen into and we howled and moaned and rolled across the wet bed of lust. No reality could have been more addictive. My eyes couldn’t focus and my lungs were gasping. Sweat covered me and the back of Wild Thing.

I was only twenty and my cock was still hard, but there was not another drop of liquid in me. I lost count of coming…maybe  seven…who cares? My brains had been pumped out. I was the little boy who found rock-candy-mountain and ate until I could taste nothing. So I lay there, panting, whirling, looking at the opened vulva lips of the women—them caressing the smooth ruptures with their finger tips, whispering, whimpering. Their funnels of joy like little animals, little weeping eyes. We watched each other in amazement.

So this was the world I was beginning to discover. I was God. I was a mountain of pleasure. I was the Beach Boys and the Captain of the football team—not one guy in high school got laid like I just got laid—even their biggest lies didn’t get close. I even topped D.H. Lawrence and his Lady Chatterley. I won the contest anyone ever told about getting their brains fucked out—yeah, I was a champion.

Suddenly there was a loud rapping on the front door. I had a bad feeling. Then I heard a voice, at first soft, begging, pathetic. “Little Bit babe…hey babe it’s yo man…come on babe…ah gots to see ya…babe lemme in…”

“Jesus fucking H Christ,” Little Bit hissed through her teeth, “God oh shit, it’s Nicko.”

Wild Thing went pale and whispered like an old woman, “Oh, oh, oh, no, no, no what, what will we do?” Her eyes flickered left to right looking for an escape hatch.

Little Bit skid across the bedroom to the large closet, slid the door open and grabbed two kimono type bathrobes. She tossed one to Wild Thing and pulled the other one over her shoulders. She looked at me, eyes wide and white.

“Cowboy, quick quick, grab your things and get in the closet.” She said, her eyes crazed.

I looked at Little Bit, understanding the words, but not understanding a thing. What the fuck was she talking about? Closet? Not the fucking closet.

I heard her voice again, so soft, no words only her lips moving, big juicy lips that had been all over my body only moments before—and before this day I did not know they were sex organs—lips that had nursed the juice out of me. But now the lips were turning almost purple, stretched tight and telling me to get into the closet, and me thinking the whole time this could not actually be happening.

It was all too familiar with the story Big Fat Thaana had told me about an old lover down in New Orleans. It was last year that he was shot to death when a jealous husband found him in his wife’s closet—like me he was stark naked. I remember I asked Big Fat Thaana why the guy didn’t put on his clothes and jump out the window—so here I was naked, being pushed into a closet thinking who is the idiot now…

Little Bit was blue in the face, red in the eyes. I look around and counted the windows. Zero. Fucking zero windows. Maybe that is why the other guy didn’t jump out…

Wild Thing mumbled to Little Bit, “I hope he doesn’t do the gun scene again.”

That was all it took for me to visualize my end. In the next second I was standing in the back of the closet, butt-naked, stooping between suede jackets and g-string costumes. My nose was filled with the smell of pussy, perfume and mothballs.  My clothes were in my hand but the slightest movement made loud creaking noises boom out of the closet. The space was a vertical coffin reeking in the odor of come.

Shoe boxes covered the floor and the clothes rails hung with slivers of slut stank. The more I smelled of her the more it seemed like I had my head in a bus station toilet. I began to feel nauseated and think I might throw up, but every time I moved, something made a loud clunk or creak and when I tried to push the rags out of the way the clothes rack screeched like bad brakes.

I heard Little Bit tell Wild Thing, “Just shut up and let me do the talking—you understand?”

Wild Thing whimpered, “He’s gonna kill us this time…”

“Keep your fucking mouth shut—it will be cool.”

I heard the bedroom door squeak and feet padding. There was a vent over my head and it opened into the living room so I could hear clearly as Little Bit and Wild Thing entered.

“Fuck sakes Wild Thing, get your hair straight and wipe the come crust off your neck.”

The kitchen was open to the living room and there was sound of water running  and a whisper of a stiff brush going through hair. A voice was coming from the front door, “Babe, I knows ya is in there—lemme in babe—Ah can’t take it no mo honey. Ah says lemme in!”

The voice sounded like a foghorn it was so low and raspy. I thought about Big Fat Thaana’s dead lover in New Orleans. I began to imitate a shirt or a coat, so when Nicko opened the door and saw me I would be natural---yeah right.  I knew he would scream, “What the fuck you doing here boy,” and all I could say would be, “Every one’s got to be some where.” He might not get the joke. He would empty his pistol into the closet and watch the red liquid spread across the floor.

Yeah right. I could imagine Little Bit screaming that she didn’t know anyone was in there—he must be some kind of pervert that sneaked into the house. Nicko would look at her as he calmly put a new clip into the pistol and emptied it on her. Perhaps Little Bit and I would see each other for a nanosecond as our souls sifted towards eternity on our trail of lies. 

What the fuck was I doing there with no clothes on?  How many times a year did this happen to young Romeos? Was it my turn?  The beating on the front door was getting louder and I heard the foghorn voice, “Lemme in babe, or ah’ll shoot da door off its hinges.” It didn’t look good.

“Jesus Christ,” Wild Thing shrieked, “he’ll kill us all!”

“Shut up you bitch and get your self together,” Little Bit hissed in a stage whisper. I heard her walk to the door and unlock the double bolts and swing it open. “Nicko you stupid black bastard—get your nigger ass in here before the cops come and drag you off to jail.”

Nicko blubbered, “Ah was gonna kill myself, but ah decides ah gonna kill that little honky mofo fust—ah can’t stands it any mo babe, ya's runnin around on me.”

“For fucks sake Nicko—your goddam jealousy is going to drive me crazy. When are you going to grow up and get some brains in that thick black head of yours?”

I couldn’t believe what she was saying to this man who must have looked like a smoking volcanic mountain. Wild Thing choked, then sucked a loud gasp. I wished Nicko would have shot the hinges off then the cops would have come.

“Nicko, quit waving that fucking gun around before it goes off and you hurt yourself,” Little Bit said sternly, “and knowing you, it would be your balls that got it, then you’d really be fucked. Did you hear me? Put that fucking gun down.”

“Ah swears it babe—ya can’t do dis to me any mo. Ah knows ya got dat little white mofo here an ahm gonna kill his fuck’n ass.”

I felt something wet and hot run down my leg. In a moment shit stench mixed with the whorehouse smells of Wild Thing swirled and I nearly passed out.

“Den ah'm gonna kill ya, din ah’ll finish off ole Nicko,” he said sobbing.

Wild Thing began to wail in terror.

“Oh shut the fuck up, both of you,” Little Bit yelled. “I swear, I am surrounded by stark raving lunatics.”

“Baba, ah'm gonna kill…”Nicko began.

“You dumb fuck. You think I’d sleep with a stupid little kid? Nicko, you’re a moron. Wild Thing and I have been here talking about how moronic men are, then you come right in here and prove it.

“Ahm gonna kill em. Ah knows he’s here!” Nicko boomed.

“That’s right you fucking black genius,” Little Bit scorned. “We drugged that little boy and brought him back here and Wild Thing and I fucked his brains out. That’s right, he's in the closet with no clothes on. Why don’t you go look in the closet because that is where he is. Go in there with that big genius gun of yours and blow the little motherfucker away.”

I began to pray. They were all crazy, and maybe God was the craziest.

All I wanted was to get laid. This was not supposed to happen, but Little Bit was nuts and Wild Thing was nuts and maybe the only one that had reason to be nuts had a gun and the witch he loved just told him to blow my brains out. I could hear Nicko wave the gun around on the other side of the wall like a bird of death. 

God was an evil God.  He who made Abraham, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad, the Devil and Smith and Wesson. God was the Fat Boy who dispensed justice to all the people in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and Auschwitz—to cute baby ducks and puppies and bugs that splat on windshields in the desert and snow that melted in the mountains and Tsunamis that roared in the Pacific. God, a mechanical tinkling indifferent unfolding universe—gazing at me.

Me. A stupid-barely-fucked-once-decently-ranch boy hiding nude in a closet—me, who had never hurt anybody on purpose, except a small lizard I stabbed with my mothers hat pin just to see if it would die—and it did. I felt so guilty and bad about the lizard that now 15 years later, a very large and sad black man with a lifetime of injustice was about to make up for it—a black life in white America was about to get a little of last minute revenge before he  was snuffed into the indigo night of nowhere.

A black man betrayed by a white slut, for the first time in his whole life was told the absolute startling pure truth. He was going to ride on wings of fire into the burning light of being born again. Maybe the next life he would be the white whore and Little Bit would be the never ending black suffering misery and me—one lost lizard killing cowboy would be randomly reshuffled into the cards, and reborn as a Buick dealer in Milwaukee.

God the Joker reached down into the nether with one burning finger touch and said, “You dumb fuck, why did you hide in closet ?”

It might be a billion years before I got my brains fucked out again, and I knew it.

“Babe…babe…babe, ah loves ya.” Nicko’s voice was broken and he began to sob like a little boy.

“Nicko, put that fucking gun away and go home to the kids.” Little Bit’s voice now was calm and soothing. “I’ll be home later. Anyway you better get your ass ready for your shift or you’re really going to have problems—wait Nicko, you better leave your gun here—if the cops stop you and being on probation and all…”

“Yeah, ya right babe, but ya promise to come home?” Nicko begged.

“I’ll come later. I have to get my check and buy some new dance stuff.” Little Bit sounded like she was talking to a dog again.

The voices grew soft and then the front door opened and the voices went outside. In a minute  car started and drove away. The front door of the apartment opened and feet quietly walked through the house to the bedroom door. There was a long moment of silence then two female voices began to howl insanely with laughter. My feet were wet and the pong of vomit, shit, cunt juice, sperm and mothballs were as close to heaven as one ever gets...

 

Santiago knew someday he would finish the story about the woman that would become his lover, because of her; he joined the army and learned things about life he never wanted to know.

 

SEPTEMBER 22, 2004

The Birthday Party

How can one woman be more beautiful than another? It is a game of the mind playing with the details of illusion. I remembered the guy in my story, Zeus the Greek. A few days after nearly getting my head blown off, I bumped into him at the strip club. I had a chance to ask him why he had gone off with the lesbian whale. He just looked at me clearly and said, “Kid, all women are beautiful, just some women are more beautiful than others.”

Maybe that was true. Here I was nearly forty years later still wondering about what and who appealed to me.

I looked at the woman in red. My god she was gorgeous, just plain fucking gorgeous. Everything about her spoke to me the first time I saw her at the airport—but then she was just a fantasy that happened to bump into me on the road. Now she was here, the same space, the arrival, her oriental black eyes. She looked in my direction for a moment longer then turned back to Eloise and carried on a conversation in English.

I couldn’t tell whether it was me it was me that took her notice or just her surveying the social context. I looked her over again. She was more petite than she seemed hanging over my seat in the plane, her carrying those big black bags. She was lean and it made her look tall. Lean and balanced. A perfect assembly—a sexy racing machine in her red dress.

Then damn it, I caught the glimmer of the gold and diamond band on the third finger of the left hand. Shit, that figured. Begrudgingly, I turned away for the second time and mumbled a backward mantra, too bad, too bad, too bad.

Everyone had gone to the food table at least twice. Oscar had gone three times and kept telling me I should eat something or I would get too drunk. I was on my fifth glass of apple juice, but seeing the woman had killed any notion to eat. Yeah, I felt like switching to wine and get good and drunk. If Tara had not been there I probably would have, but she had seen me destroyed too many times. I couldn’t do it to her again.

“Oscar you are drunk,” I said. He was in his repetitive pattern. The joke about me about me drinking had gone on all summer. He was trying his best to get me back in the lounge.

“That’s right. You are one of those anti-alcohol blokes—I keep forgetting.”

“No, I’m not against booze—it’s just that I’ve already drank my million gallon quota. Oscar, you obviously haven’t got to the high water mark yet. Just keep on drinking and some day you will have drank your share too—then you will have a liberated mind like me.” It was an old drill, seeing who could bump the other. I was off the tequila for good, but women was another story.

The red dress had moved over to the other side of a bonfire that was had been built. Once again she was in line of sight. I almost turned away again but then thought what the hell—it was still easier to see beauty than to ignore it—even if I couldn’t touch it. Weirdly it seemed I could smell the same fragrance I first experienced when she leaned near me on the plane. One thing for certain it wasn’t patchouli oil. It fit this woman like a wet T shirt. It made me drunk. I was inflamed with the combination of sound, sight and smell. Fuck the ring. I went over to her like an ignorant farm boy.

“What is that wonderful smell?” I asked.

She looked at me and laughed. “I smell? Oh my goodness. I better do something about that.”

“No, no, I mean that delightful odor—no, oh merde—I mean bouquet—oh what the hell, you smell wonderful.”

She laughed then walked up to me. She tipped her head to the side, indicating an up close whiff. I dropped my face down along her neck and breathed. The scent made my mind whirl.

“Beautiful woman, you have the fragrance of an angel.”

“Don’t let your nose confuse you. I am really a devil. Do you see that I am dressed in red?” She smiled wickedly.

I didn’t care what kind of devil she was—after Martina and Dark eyes, I would survive. I acted like I was just being friendly. Every fool can fool himself and I was brilliant at it. I kept looking down at her third finger.

“Is that ring for real or is it just to deflect men like me?”

She flicked her eyes down to her hand. “I got rid of the man and kept the ring. I think I got the better bargain, don’t you?” She held up the expensive encrusted circle for me to acknowledge.

The ring was more money than I had made in the last two years. What the fuck was I doing taking bait from a woman who would wear such Hollywood dew drops?  On her diamonds looked natural.

Oscar stumbled up to us. He was getting to the saturated point. “I see you have found the lady of the night.” He bent down and looked her in the eyes. “Has he asked you to fuck yet?”

I scowled at Oscar. “Subtle as usual, old geezer. May I introduce you to…oh sorry, do you know each other?”

She laughed again. “Oh we have known each other for several years. Hello Oscar.”

“Good evening Yokomi. So really, neither of you brought up the beast? How unlikely.”

“No, we have not talked about sex yet, but I am sure it was approaching.” She turned to me, “Actually, what were you saying...something about my hand?”

“We were talking about perfume and diamonds—a very sophisticated topic.”

“No fuck talk,” Oscar said. “My god how boring. Have I told you about my conquests in Africa? I  met a rather slim young chap who could do the most extraordinary positions.”

Oscar began telling an exploit too loud even for a locker room full of gays. I wanted to strangle him. The woman in the red dress gently drifted away.

“You asshole Oscar. I was almost getting somewhere with…what’s her name…”

“Yokomi, the woman of a thousand broken hearts. Now it looks like she may well be working on one-thousand-and one. I shan’t add to the damage by supplying you useless information.”

“So who is she?”

“Can’t you see? She’s the devil with the red dress on—that old rock’n’roll song.”

“Yeah, well you are probably right about that,” I said and then to add to his sarcasm, “but you know what? I’m feeling a little chilly tonight. I wouldn’t mind at all if she lit my fire.

Oscar laughed. “Then be prepared my good fellow. She might burn the house down.”

We went back and forth with our puns for a few lines until Oscar discovered his wine glass was empty and went to refill it. I shifted back around the bonfire to where Yokomi was standing. She was speaking French to several people around her. I stood there for several minutes wishing I could join the conversation, just to be able to engage with her again. The talk went on, very French and me very out of it.

I went back to the drinks table and poured myself a glass of wine, the first alcohol on my lips since Dark Eyes. I needed it. I rolled a cigarette, concentrating on getting the tobacco well rounded so it would curl in the paper properly. It was a form of meditation and good way to drop thoughts of the woman in the red dress. As I completed the roll I held it to my face to tuck in a few shreds of tobacco with a matchstick. As I put the cigarette to my mouth, I raised my eyes and there she was just on the other side of the table, right in the gun-sight of my prick-gun.

I didn’t have to think about it. “Okay Miss, I am not sure what that answer was.” I stopped and pointed at her ring finger.

“Please call me Yokomi. The Answer? There always is a man and I am not really sure he is gone. He must be somewhere, but where?” She smiled mischievously, encouraging rather than mocking.

We talked films, about Peter Seller's pronunciation of room in The Pink Panther. The talk went like search parties, looking for the missing people we were hiding from each other. I would have talked about the fuzz content of monkey navels if she had gone there. Something in her bag every few minutes took her attention, and I stood with my mouth open while she looked at it. I never heard a thing, but she would lift up a cell phone, say she would be right back, excuse herself and walk off a few feet and speak quietly.

The evening was coming to an end. Tara made friends with a group of young people and went off to a disco. I had several more glasses of wine and was getting fairly buzzed. I knew I had to get Yokomi to some point of return. She had put the phone away and was putting on a jacket and walking away. Now or never.

“I have to tell you, I am more than stupid.” She stopped and looked at me. “You have to give me a simple answer. Are you with a man or are you free?”

“I am completely at liberty. What difference does a ring make?” Yokomi said and laughed.

“Fantastic, then that means you will have dinner with me soon.”

“But of course we can…”

“How do I get in touch with you?”

She laughed again and said, “Oscar has my number.” She kissed me on the cheek and walked away without looking back.

Maybe I wasn’t as broken and burnt as I thought. This bearded old goat still had a glimmer of Pan in him. How wonderful fool’s illusions can be. I should have listened to the voice that kept telling me to walk away, but that is not what the piper Pan does. No, he runs to the middle of a disaster with his brain hanging onto his balls. There I was.

I called the next day. “Hi, this is the old man of last night. I want you to know I was serious about having dinner with me.”

“Oh, I thought you would have forgotten all about it.”

“No, not at all. When would be a good evening to get together?”

“Oh…oh my, I haven’t got my appointment book with me…can you call me back in 45 minutes? I will be home then.”

I should have got the message, but why spoil a fools joke. In an hour I called and got an answering service. It was her cell phone I was calling. Where was she? Thirty minutes I called again---the answering service again. I left a message I would call another time. Shit, piss and crap. I felt the crush of my silly vanity hitting the ground. I knew it was too good to believe.

I walked around the rest of the day trying to convince myself I wasn’t depressed or deflated. Why would I want to be with such a woman anyway? Hell, the kind of restaurant she would choose would break the bank. Who did I think I was?  Could I not see my long scruffy beard, my scruffy clothes, and my unsophisticated American brashness? The truth was I was a loser and had been one for so long I could not break the mold. This woman was unavailable. That was the story.

The worst of it was I felt like a fool—chasing after a broad like high school days—when I was in love with the cheerleader who was in love with the four-year letterman captain of the football team. I had as much chance as the proverbial snowball in hell—and there I was falling all over myself thinking it must be my original presence this fantastic femme fatal was intrigued with—I was different from her normal run of Mercedes driving, yacht cruising, corporate meatheads who fed her champagne and lobster.

I was a mountain man movie—my Davy Crockett beard and Daniel Boone armpit odor acting like I had never been around a woman who wore perfume—my God what an imbecile.

Why beat myself? I could look at it from the other direction. Why should I want to be with a new version of the same old Barbie Doll? But there I was—the damned addiction—searching for the gypsy, the angel---me the lost babe in the woods. Suffer baby, suffer.

 

Santiago put down the events of the day then resisted picking up the pistol that he had not touched for weeks while he reread the journal.

 

September 24, 2004

Tara and I went into town and on over to Capo De Feno. I wanted to celebrate a letter from my agent. He said one of the biggest publishers in London took the bait. I don't really know what that means, but it sounds good. I drank beer at the beach cabana thinking about the book deal and checking out the talent while Tara lay on her towel priming a tan. I staid in the shade of the cabana hiding my white skin.

I tried to keep my mind tied to the beach instead of running around in circles about the mystery of women. I failed. I had too many phantoms. The beach didn’t help—I could see Leila and Zack, me, Tara and Vicki years before—a heartbreak waves would not wash away.

Two women put their towels down only a few feet away. They stood like advertisements as they dropped their bikini tops.

After sunset we went back to Ajaccio and stopped at an ATM. On the way back to car we bumped into an old friend, Jean-Simon. I had seen him only once since I had been back on the island and he had not seen Tara since we left the island twenty years before. We went to a café, talked over old times, the divorce, but stayed away from mentioning Martina who had done him as well. Talk went around theater and art, who was doing what to who. Jean-Simon invited us to see his new show that was going through its final rehearsal in the evening.

“That’s great. Dad and I were wondering what we could do special tonight. It is wonderful to be in Corsica again,” Tara said.

“Yes, Corsica is a very special place, and your father has known it very well,” Jean-Simon said and flashed me a curious wink.

I knew he was referring to the musical beds he and I went through with Martina. I wasn’t sure if it was bitterness or irony in his voice. Either way I didn’t care. I had enough of pondering the time with Martina, but what surprised me, was I was still pissed off with Jean-Simon for running out on me the day I had the showdown with the Mafia hit man nearly twenty years before.

“Come see the rehearsal tonight. I think you will enjoy it—or if you can’t do that, come up to my house in the mountains sometime,” Jean-Simon said.

Tara and I went back to the farm after promising again we would return for the rehearsal.

When we got home. Tara went to the house for a siesta and I returned to the guest house and looked at the clutter of several weeks writing scattered across the desk. There was a hump in the middle of the papers--the gun under it taunting my last shreds of dignity.

Fuck you and fuck Martina and fuck Jean-Simon. In fact, fuck the rotten world, but you my old friend are not going to get me. Not now.

It was a mistake to return to Corsica, but I had to stick my head in the mouth of the tiger. Murder and suicide. What bull shit. My daughter awakened me from that madness. 

It is more than a month before my return ticket to America and what waits for me there. I had not made up my mind yet which direction to go, or maybe stay put in Corsica. I wait for the second letter from my agent so enthusiastic in London.

Oscar hasn’t said anything directly, but his body language and cheerless demeanor is hard to ignore. Silence at lunch, even at dinner with two bottles of wine consumed portrays the situation. I have overstayed my welcome.

Previous years it was just a man’s world at the farm aside form Eloise, and that suited Oscar. This time women have been a constant, and in a few days another women.

I miss my special relationship with Oscar. I had known him for many years before he revealed his secret life. He went to Northern Africa every year for the winter months. Homosexuality is not considered abnormal. Many Moroccan youth hang out with older men as normal sexual training—taboo for a woman to have sex before marriage, but okay for old men to fuck little boys.

Oscar told me he is not gay, because he never plays the female role. Everyone sees truth from their angle. I am one of the few in Corsica who know. Eloise chooses to think he is only eccentric. Jamahl was one of his early protégés who graduated to seducing tourist women.

Truth is my bond with Oscar. I do not judge him for his affinity, although I would have when I was young. The women I have had sexual flings with in the last twenty years have convinced me all sex is weird. If it works for you, go for it. Magic is magic.

Corsica is the magic horn of cornucopia. All five senses are filled to bursting—and yet there is no satisfaction for me—like I am in a large banquet room with a beautiful table prepared, candles lit, but no one is sitting at the dozen chairs pulled out. The magic is here, but the spell is over.

I returned to Corsica hoping to find the end of a riddle. I had murder and suicide in my soul. It seemed so right; to stop everything here, stop living before life killed me, to stop my madness, to stop a disease that was not mine. Once again I was tricked by a hall of mirrors. Time melts everything. Martina was just a puppet pulled by the same strings as me. The blood of Mylai was a tragedy I walked into and made me believe I could murder myself. But all is illusion. Who can stop this cosmic joke? Where is there to hide? What is sacred?

Corsica has become just a place—a place where romance and adventure are lost in the woods and I am on a vegetable farm with a gay farmer. One can never return to what has been, but at this point I am too broke to change my ticket and return to America early. I wait the wait. I dream that dreams sometimes work.

It is the law of constant change that makes going back to old places impossible, for if they have not changed then I have. The beauty of a former moment is only found in memory.

In two days Vicki Manstalk will be here looking for her beautiful fucking crazy moment---not knowing what will happen when we get together. For over twenty-five years we have searched, each on our own journey yet always communicating through the electronic age, mass transportation and the papered affections of airmailed notes.

This is hilarious. We are now two old people---me sixty and her three years older---scheduling fuck sessions away from our grown children---sneaking off to the romance and adventure woods, acting like we are nature lovers, when we both know we are just going to buy bottles of wine and stay in bed like we always do.

But of all illusions, growing old is the biggest one. When I talk to Vicki on the phone, it is as though we are still the same people we were a quarter century ago. When we occasionally go to bed, we love the humping, sweating fucking rock’n’roll of flesh.

The last time, the first day was the same, but the next day I had changed.  I could not pretend affection. Several weeks passed before Vicki got over my rejection. I betrayed her fantasy.

I sent several emails rationalizing my escape. Finally she phoned and we picked up the conversation of where we could meet next, but it was two or three calls later before the laughter returned and we plotted our convergent lines. That intersection is only 48 hours away. Last night I got horny thinking about our mad fucking rematch.

What keeps me from a more permanent phase with Vicki, and phase being the key word of being together, is we are both fickle. If I did not find another woman, Vicki most certainly would find another fantasy either with a man or woman. What makes us attracted to each other has been the temptation of forbidden fruit, but we would be failures as a couple---contempt the product of our familiarity.

What happened when I lost it? For the first time Vicki was growing tired of the tangled legs and minds and was shifting to a permanent story. She even said, “We can live together.” For a moment I was in a mood of giving it a try, but in the morning, no longer horny, all the wine gone, I got sober---there was an impossible handicap. For some men it would have been a bonus, because Vicki was born rich, will always live a rich perception of reality. I have always had a diseased view of reality. Poverty.

Continuous poverty permeates the mind, creating a sickness of inferior status—it becomes a burning fire that denies you entrance into the tinder houses of the country club. All is ironic. The smoldering rage of an ancient beggar sits at the side of the road watching the fine feathered gentry riding in gilded carriages, their faces in dismay at his sad burning state---the beggar’s lips inscrutable, mocking, as though he is the King in finery watching a parade of fools.

That beggar has something the rich do not have. It is what I have and what I know Vicki does not have. Freedom.

Rich people worry about how much money they have in the bank---terrified of no numbers to the left of the decimal, worried life is not possible without those numbers, while the beggar and me know that life is not only possible but indeed it goes on, sucking and limping as it may be, it will go on.

In the evening a young Corsican who met Tara at the beach came and took her off to see Jean-Simon’s rehearsal. That was good for me. I knew we would have talked about Martina, but there was something else. I was afraid she would appear and taunt both of us with her superior sense of justice. She is over. If I keep telling myself that I may believe it some day.

Days in Corsica disappeared quietly.  Santiago became morose over the weeks at the farm, and knew a rift was developing with Oscar. He wondered why one thing always goes bad just when things start to go right. He was excited about the news from the literary agent, but worried about where he was.

 

September 25, 2004

Paradise is breaking down. Oscar’s tantrums have come out into the open---throwing tools around, stomping his feet and grumbling obscenities as he walks out to the field have got louder. Even worse, if I don’t keep to his time table of eating or doing some minor chore he has requested, he leaves nasty little notes on my door. Now he is beginning to act gay.

I wish he would come out and say, “GO AWAY AND DO YOUR WORTHLESS ARTISTIC LIFESTYLE SOME WHERE ELSE.”  Life on the farm has become tense and if it wasn’t for my daughter being here, I’d shoot myself just to piss off Oscar—but not everything is falling apart.

I got a second letter today from Maxfield, my literary agent in London. He says it’s only a matter of time now before the publisher will offer a substantial advance. The problem is, he needs the finished manuscript of the second book. I told him it’s in the mail. I have a month before my return ticket expires. But unless the publisher flushes some dough I’m stuck with Oscar and no idea of a bridge to the third book.

September 26, 2004

So with just a few weeks left in my beautiful Corsica, life has become an old experience. When I was a kid, I used to hide from the school bully. Later on it was the land lord trying to collect rent. Then I hid from the First Sergeant who decided to give me every bad duty he could invent. After I returned from Nam, I hid from the California State patrol over speeding tickets. My whole life I looked around corners before I stepped into the street. You never know what’s coming. A thousand people have resented I did not oblige myself to the fancy of their ways. Now it is Oscar 

I have been on his turf too long and he wants his private space back. He found out Vicki Manstalk was coming and he went ballistic before I told him we were going off into the mountains for week or two. That cooled him some, but still makes it awkward, so there is no solution but to hide again.

September 28, 2004

Yesterday I took Tara to Capo De Feno. A mistral was howling in from the north, leaden with rain cooled air. It reminded me of the dismal grey skies of Scotland and times walking with Dark Eyes in Edinburgh. I wondered why she told me she had AIDS, a lie that slipped into the mix-up of my medical report. Maybe she did have it. Maybe she is dead. I was on a beach, a million memories away.

The skies began to clear. Occasional thunderheads lay blue shadows over the yellow sand. Life guards put the red flag up because the funnel bay was roaring with giant rollers. It would have just been a normal day on the California coast but in the Mediterranean, the waves were regarded as tourist swallowers.  A few sun tanned surfers with tattoos and rings in their left nipples ignored the beach patrol, while everybody else including me cringed around the beach bar. I kept my eyes on a two Scandinavians women who thought it was still warm enough to expose their titties—a nice way to let my brain surf. A good sky fuck never hurt anyone.

After a couple hours Tara wanted to go back to Ajaccio so she could call Leila, her mother. I used a phone card, hoping there would be an answering machine. I stalled the call long enough that Leila would be at her studio, or at breakfast or fucking a fisherman—just so I didn’t have to talk to her—I don’t know why. It was an attitude built as time and distance grew.

No luck. She picked up and I stuttered an awkward, how-ya-do’n. We talked on in a friendly tone, then Leila asked if I was down, meaning depressed again. I immediately denied it, which I realized later, I probably was—I was always too transparent to her. I kept trying to pass the phone over to Tara, but Leila was in a sentimental mood about us being in Corsica, and kept asking me questions about our old friends. It made me more depressed, knowing divorce could not disconnect a marriage of twenty years.

In a few minutes I handed the phone to Tara. The way she spoke to Leila I knew she was in a mood and I knew why. Vicki Manstalk. Tara believed Vicki was the reason Leila and I separated. Tara liked Vicki even so, but it made her somehow implicated in the betrayal of her mother. That was years ago.

My daughter is loyal to her mother. I have made it as clear as I can that the divorce was final and I no longer owe allegiance or fidelity. But that does not work for Tara. I am still the father that was with her mother all of her childhood and adolescence. She can not accept the idea that parents lose each other.

To change her mood, when she finished talking I insisted we visit Petra and Sophie who she loved when she was a child. Oscar gave me the news that Petra was in jail for selling dope. In Corsica that is serious. Only the Mafia masters are allowed that privilege, and they don’t peddle on the island. Sophie was as cheerful as always and as usual in complete love with Petra, believing he was as innocent as Snow White. There was no need to call her as that was not their lifestyle. Courtesy of social standards were not their concern. You just arrived.

It was four in the afternoon when we got to their house in the Gravone Valley. On the patio at the side of the two-store traditional Corsican stone house a celebration was underway. Several young people where playing drums while two were on an accordion and guitar. Sophie and her five children were sitting at a large picnic table and musicians were scattered around the patio---gorgeous people and one I recognized. Yokomi. There was no point in saying anything to her about being stood-up. I was over it…I thought.

Everyone was smiling and laughing. Sophie and her two oldest kids greeted us with kisses and hugs as though they had been expecting us all day.

I had last seen Sophie and her tribe, when I rendezvoused with Neil in the Restonica and found Martina on the mountain, ten years before. Nothing had changed in Sophie’s world, even though mine had gone 180 degrees. The music was still a mixture of eastern raga and western blues. The young women still wore tie-dye hippie skirts, bracelets around their ankles and wrists and reeked of patchouli oil. The young men wore the French costume of European freaks—ragged Levis, cowboy boots and fish-net tank tops.

Yokomi was wearing hip hugging jeans and a casual low cut red silk blouse. Her hair had lost all of the blond streaks and now was jet black. Even with the hair change she still looked more Eurasian than Japanese. She clicked eyes with me only for a second then turned to the young man next to her. He was looking at Tara. Yokomi smiled and tossed her hair back as she laughed. 

Ceramic jugs of red wine were set on the table filled with hard cheese and smoked meats. Glasses were spread around the patio ledges and several mongrel dogs slept under the table. Two or three people were smoking hashish and tobacco joints and a large white table napkin had marijuana spread across it. One of the young women was picking sticks and seeds out of it.

Tara sat down with Sophie’s oldest son Francis. They grew up together when we lived on the island in the eighties. They hugged and smiled and both acted shy. Tara had forgotten most of her French and Francis never learned English, but the biggest obstacle was his girlfriend sitting next to him. She glared wickedly at Tara.

While I talked to Sophie, one eye was appraising the story between Yokomi and a young guy attached to her.  He was Nordic looking, in his twenties and rooster proud of his muscles and good looks. His attention was directed more in Tara’s direction than Yokomi. It was obvious Yokomi knew that and it amused her. Tara saw it too and I could see her body language say yes. Like father, like daughter.

I got a glass of wine and took a puff off a joint someone passed me. It was the same old used to be. The kids playing drums were jamming with the accordionist doing a gypsy kind of piece. It was a clear clean day in the world even though everyone there was doing their best to bend it with booze and dope. It was peaceful and the music was getting better.

I talked on with Sophie about Petra. He had been in jail for almost a year, but the Corsican penal system allowed him once a month conjugal visits with Sophie.

“Oui, you know we fuck the whole night and I am fixed for a month, but you know Petra, I think he gets some blowjobs from his roommates. He is like that.”

I laughed, knowing even if it was true; it would not matter to Sophie. “Hey but you are the only one he loves Sophie.”

“Are you crazy? Petra loves anything he can stick his sausage to.”

Sophie was a pissed off with Petra. Four of the five kids were his. What ever she felt, it looked and sounded familiar. A wife’s scorn is hard to lose.

After a while someone passed me a guitar and asked me to play the blues. It was my third or fourth glass of wine and as many tokes on a joint so I was in the mood. I played an old song that had been my party piece since Nam. The best part about the blues is the worse your voice is, the better you can sing. I finished and passed the guitar on. That was my entire repertoire.

Across the table was Yokomi. She smiled sweetly and said, “I didn’t know you were such a talented musician. You have a great voice. 

“You must be stoned to like such howling,” I said.

“No, I love your voice. You sound authentic. Have you played long?

“Yeah, I’ve played that one song for about forty years. I just about got it rehearsed by now.” I noticed the young man she had been with earlier was sitting with Tara having a very intense conversation.  “I’d play that song again for you, but I think I strained my voice. So, do you just like music, or do you play something yourself?”

“I play the stereo and I play around. But a musician, no. I am an architect even though once in a while I play at being a real artist. But you surprise me. You are so talented.”

“By hearing one croaky song, you think I am so talented.” I was beginning to think she was making fun.

“But you are talented.”

“And what makes you say that?” I said suspiciously.

“I know your work very well. You are a great artist, a muralist, a painter and you are soon to publish a book. And now you play the blues so pure. You are a renaissance man. I envy you,” she said seriously.

“How do you know all that?”

“Don’t be so coy. Everyone in Corsica knows the beautiful murals you did for Count Pascal. The murals you did in his mansion I saw for the first time when I was a student of architecture.”

“And my book…”

“Who else could have told me?”

“Oscar?” I did not know what to think, but at that point Tara and the young man appeared at my side. I could see by Tara’s eyes she was annoyed with me drinking wine again.

“Dad, I am tired and I want to go home,” she said and walked off to the car.

“I guess I am going. Maybe we will see each other again,” I said to Yokomi, not mentioning the earlier dinner date snub. I turned around and followed my demanding daughter.

I kept thinking about what went on at Sophie's party--about Yokomi. The whole thing was the classic plot of the trap door spider. I was the juicy little bug that just happened by.

September 29, 2004

I called Jean-Simon and told him I would take up his offer to visit him at his mountain house. It was there where Leila, Tara and I had arrived when we first came to Corsica in the big truck I converted to a mobile home. I called it the "Land Ship". I was going to take us to a better world.

Returning to Jean-Simon's sanctuary in the mountains was a point in time where a memory lived in the velvet cut of a pastoral valley. I felt the stones of his house would ask me why I was back without my family. I wanted to see Jean-Simon because he was a witness of a time that once existed. I wanted to talk about Martina.

Jean-Simon was my age, still perplexed by the mystery of woman. We had much to talk about--not only of the past but what was to happen next--what delightful torture awaited. Martina would be in our thoughts. I could use comparisons from a fellow sucker.

After lunch I took the old Renault and drove slowly up over the mountain from Ajaccio and into the Gulf of Sagan. There were three routes from the bay. I took the middle road up the valley to his village. His house was tucked inside an olive grove. Prickly-pear cactus and memosa trees circled the stone house that was bermed into the steep slope of the mountain.

The terraces below the house were overgrown leaving only a hint of the garden staircase on the steep hillside. The wooden railed patio at the south side of the house had a full panorama that dropped gently down into biblical pastures and the shimmering gulf.

Crows were cawing in the vineyards above the house. Somewhere down in the yellowed grass fields, hidden by the groves of olive trees came a clunking sound from the crude metal bells hanging on goats and sheep.

It was almost the same as twenty years before but there was a difference that took me a few minutes to identify. There was the tell-tale sign of a particular Corsican pest. The whole place was in a state of decay something that Jean-Simon's father would have never allowed if his strength had not failed him.

The father was too frail to climb up and down the stone stair case that descended from the parking space on the road above the house. He was afraid he would fall and break a hip. He abandoned the mountain house he built with his hands and moved to an apartment in Ajaccio, leaving the fate of the house to his only off-spring, Jean-Simon.

Jean-Simon's heart was in other pastures. He had dreams of theater. As far as he was concerned the house would survive or at least not fall down before he did.

When I arrived, Jean-Simon was on the wooden patio, picking up one of the long banister railings that had fallen. He waved his hand and motioned for me to come down the crumbling stone steps below the parking spot.

I could see small holes in support beams and door frames. Moving a bite at a time through the walls were ravenous hoards eating the wooden bones that held the stone house together. Termites were a metaphor of Jean-Simon's life. The house was falling down around him, just as all of his affairs with women had been disasters. He and I shared a similar road.

“It is such a pity. I am afraid the house is not in such good shape as you last saw it,” Jean-Simon said.

“Yes, I noticed,” I said, “but if you left women alone, think of all the time you would have for house maintenance.”

“Ah oui, the women…they are most entertaining.”

“Yes, lovely and energetic. I’m surprised you let any of them slip away.”

“I think 24 hours is usually a pleasant enough interlude---of course these international types, always on the move. Just as well though really---I’m so busy with rehearsals for the play. Did you know I have been invited to an off-Broadway venue?”

“No, I hadn’t heard. Congrats old man, you have disserved a chance for the big pie in the sky for a long time,” I said.

“And you? How is the novel going? Eloise is spreading rumors of your multiple talents…”

“My multiple talents huh?  Little does she know,” I said and made a mimed measurement at crotch level.

Jean-Simon winked at me. “You are a gentleman, and with you around it is a wonder any woman is safe. But the book, does it move?”

I looked at Jean-Simon wondering what Eloise was saying and if he knew how much of his story was told, of him and Martina. “Well, one never knows about pouring lies out on endless pages, so for the most part it has just been therapy---but who knows. I got a letter from my agent in London saying there has been some interest, but I haven’t seen any real money yet---you know the old phrase, ‘money talks, bull shit walks’?”

“That’s good; I shall have to use that in one of my scenes…but in French not quite so succinct...perhaps the English version in New York.”

“It’s not so original there…” I could see we were playing around being polite with each other---both of us knowing why I came up the mountain. There was a long pause of us acting like we were appreciating the seascape horizon.

Jean-Simon made a small nervous cough, “I suppose Americans will be a tough crowd to win over…oh well, such is art.” He looked at his watch, “I think this calls for a celebration drink to acknowledge our nebulous futures and our glorious past…a pastis my old friend?”

“Sure, why not, it’s ten AM.”

“Good, good. Also, there is something I have to give you…I’ve had it for a while, but never knew your address…” Jean-Simon went into the kitchen off the patio and returned in a moment with a tray of Pastis 51, a water pitcher, two ice filled glasses and a small black box.

We sat at a rough oak table and Jean-Simon poured the pastis and water. He pushed the box across the table to me. “Bon courage, my old friend---we have had a long life to remember.”

We clicked glasses and sipped the sweet licorice drink. I left the box untouched as we remained silent and worked our way down the pastis. Somehow its sweetness was turning sour in the back of my throat.

“The box of course is from a mutual acquaintance. I promised I would give it to you should we ever meet again---and here you are.”

“Martina?”

“But of course.”

I stared at the little black square as if a bomb was in it but left it in place. “Where is she?”

“That is a good question. I don’t know, and as in the old Hollywood movie line, ‘I quite frankly don’t give a damn…’ ” Jean-Simon smiled.

“You have no idea,” I said looking at his eyes, hoping to see a road map inside his head.

“She was here a year or two ago. I never actually saw her---one of her nationalist comrades brought the box with a hand written message asking I promise I would deliver it to you…he told me what little I know---that she was taking care of her invalid half-brother and occasionally helping the FLNC to bomb some tourist house…”

“And the grandfather…and what of the half brother---do you know?”

“Very mysterious that---it seems the grandfather was found full of knife holes a while back. Most believe it was a vendetta from his youth, but no one knows…the police have done nothing of course. As for her brother, or rather half brother…well that has always been a very odd story. Martina would never say much of him except he was gay---in Corsica a terrible taboo. Apparently at some point he went off to Paris, but until Martina’s message I have heard nothing of him.”

“And you…?” I looked at Jean-Simon not knowing how to untangle the deceptions we had both been part of, the chaos of double-cross and lies of devious love.

“Martina was an exotic hot house plant, beautiful to behold and delicate to touch, but she was pure poison if one put lips to her petals…so to speak theatrically of course…yes, I had my time with her, and somehow I survived…but never no more old chappy. She was a wonderful tragic tale, and who knows, maybe one day I shall write my own play about her…”

Jean-Simon winked at me again. He obviously knew what I was writing but made no further reference to the novel or my story of Martina. We carried on talking for another hour, retelling stories we had known before, then we promised to have a meal together with Tara before I left.

I got up and hugged Jean-Simon and turned to leave.

“You are forgetting the box,” he said and held it out to me. “You’re not going to open it.”

I hesitated, looking at the box for a long moment, before carefully putting it in my jacket pocket. “Someday…someday maybe…but probably Pandora is best left where no one can see…”

October 7, 2004

More than a week dissolved since I was able to do any work on the book. I was about to write the bridge to the next chapter when Vicki Manstalk arrived. We left Tara with her friends the following day and Vicki and I took off for the Restonica.

She read the first book of my proposed trilogy. Vicki’s curiosity had been aroused with the Restonica Gorge and what I said about her. She thought we should go there and discuss the section that involved her, or more specifically how I could rewrite it. Vicki thought I made her sound like a whore. She preferred the idea of a courtesan. I couldn't see a big difference, but I thought a trip into the mountains would be good. We could fuck our brains crazy without Tara being around. Also Vicki wanted to see where I had found Martina for the third time in my life.

All of it was a big mistake. I should have never asked Vicki to come to Corsica. I should never thought we could be together physically again. I was horny and lonely and drinking again--the deadly HLD syndrome  and Vicki was the psychic  pouncer.

Vicki was a brilliant lover as usual but there were two things impossible to overcome. Vicki was far crazier than I ever suspected. The big problem was something much more simple. There was no way I could ever be in love with her.  All the Restonica did was remind me that Vicki could never repeat the passion I had for Martina. Vicki’s warmth for me was frozen by memory of a phantom.

Being with Vicki 24 hours a day was exhausting. We were on top of each other. Even the best of friends run out of things to say eventually, but it is worse when you are fucking your friend. That is what we were both doing. Vicki was as starved for sex as me but she stayed horny to the end. I went numb after my first gush of nuts, and it was only sex addiction for the next encounters. I kept going hoping some kind of youthful enthusiasm would return.  

The body is driven by the mind and Vicki craved sex. Irony.  She needed sex as much as me yet after the fury into fuck it was more and more mechanical.  I felt like a traitor to our friendship, our years as comrades of fuck fantasy. I no longer enjoyed the carnival.

After four days together I took her to the airport and she returned to England. The feeling of relief as she walked through the gate was like an airlift out of a firefight. She reflected the insanity I have tried my best to ignore. It too is easy to lie to yourself.

I stayed by her side to the last moment at the airport out of loyalty but I couldn't wait until she flew away. Vicki became strange and intense on the last day. On the way to the airport she began telling me stories of her previous sex romps--kinkiness that has always been her constant and at moments the tales of perversion excited me.

The departure stories were like eating way too much ice cream and vertigo came over me. I began to think I might run amok chopping the mad axe of insanity again, as I once had done in Paris, but this time it might be more than a Christmas tree that got the blade. Then Vicki got on the plane and I drove away knowing my addiction had come to the cross roads.

I went back to the farm anticipating Oscar's brooding mood as well the grilling I would get from Tara. She had been unpleasant about my affair with Vicki. She acted like I was being unfaithful to her mother, Leila. I had to remind Tara I was no longer a husband even though I was still her father.

It is a hard lesson to accept when you are young, that love can wither and die. Tara did not believe I could have lost what I once had for her mother. She had not yet experienced the flying fickle finger of fucking fate in her young life, and truthfully I hoped she never would. Maybe she was one of the lucky ones who would escape the common ugliness of life.

The farm was my constant. It never changed from being my private green leafed padded cell, a sanctuary away from the crap of life. Vicki was up 30,000 feet sailing back to grey Britain and I was looking at the sparkling diamonds that flowed down the river through my paradise. I was happy to be back in my shelter and repeated to myself, NEVER, NEVER AGAIN.

As I got out of the Renault Tara came out of the big house to greet me. She was smiling and radiant. She gave me a hug and kiss and said she missed me. We talked for a while at the table under the avocado tree. In a few minutes Oscar walked out of the field he was irrigating and came to the table. To my surprise he was smiling and welcomed me home. I wondered if the tilt of the moon had changed and the strange spirit that had been on Oscar had passed or maybe he was just happy Vicki was gone.

What I discovered was more surprising. A friend of Oscar had arrived to holiday on the farm. Oscar had known the German man, Paul since his university days in Heidelberg and Paul had brought along a beautiful Australian woman he met on the ferry from Marseilles. Her name was Becky and she coincidently was coming to see Jamahl who had once been her guide and live-in lover in Morocco. She was gorgeous in a big-titted-hourglass-ass way, with full red lips, blonde hair and clichés bedroom eyes. She was very Australian and relished the idea of being surrounded by mature men.

In short, the gathering was an encampment of internationals which seemed to relieve Oscar. I noticed he could not take his eyes off Becky's ass even if she was a woman. I wondered if being horny had been the problem with Oscar, so horny in fact that even a female would do.

We all sat around the table and talked about out various travels and drank several bottles of good Corsican mountain wine. Jamahl prepared the evening meal being the accustomed servant. Half way through the meal Sophie called and asked if Tara and I wanted to meet her and friends who were going to a techno rave at an abandoned jail in the mountains.

I was only vaguely interested and relayed the message to everyone at the table. Sophie still on the telephone, suddenly said, "But Santiago, you come. You have a big ball. Yokomi is with us. She wants to dance crazy techno fuck with you."

 

Santiago sat at the table under the avocado tree and laughed. He could not believe how much had occurred in one week as he edited the scrawl in the last pages of the second book. The best and the worst events always came together and after 60 years he no longer understood which experience was the one to follow. The agent in London said an advance of $15,000 was deposited in his bank account. The book would be published sooner than expected. Money could finally be something to touch. That was good.

What was bad was the nightmares nights and the dream he was finding in the days.

Mylai returned every morning at 3 AM, each time six faces taunting and calling him an assassin.

In the day hours a different oriental face tortured him. Santiago was falling into booby-trap romance even though he told himself, NEVER, NEVER AGAIN.

He was resigned to slipping off the edge. The only friend he could confess to was his journal that took what ever he gave with no return comment.

October 14, 2004

Irony was my song. Vicki went back to merry-old and I returned to the Restonica Gorge with the repeat purpose of refreshing my memory of this groove in the earth--this time it was a mad twist of the Cosmic Road Show. I was with my daughter and the Oriental Beauty, Yokomi. Once again I was under the spell of the Restonica, the tantric two-step valley. I remembered Martina wrote in her letter, “The mountains are High,” and a decade later I was beginning to know what she really meant.

I was a maniac, a slave to sex--call my condition what you want--the reality of energy. I wanted to be with a woman, beautiful, exotic in mind, compelling in nature, full intrigue of the female mystery and me the man, the simple plain-ass simple dip-shit balls-in-the-head-man.

Being that incarnation, I was not confused thinking anything else  (like money) could substitute the delightful torment a certain woman could design--the inflection of voice, the flutter of an eyelid, the gentle sashay of the hips, yet so absent from Vicki. She was almost as much a man as me. The turn around of one woman to the next can be dazzling.

There was Yokomi, sleeping like a child, next to me, next to my daughter in my tent.

She was there because of my rampant nuts--the mad penis search for the primal snatchola--me the demented shaman looking for the sacrificial pussy I could penetrate at sunrise. I was disgusted with my melodramatic NEVER NEVER nonsense and falling into fantasy. All it took was the subtle batting of Oriental eyelashes in the dark drum beat of one night.

It started like this. I drove Tara and Becky the Australian up into the mountains to find the techno-rave. For an hour we could not find the road Sophie said led to the abandoned stone building that was once a jail for Corsican bandits. I stopped the Renault at the edge of a precipice overlooking a long valley and listened. In a moment we heard a steady thump coming from the opposite hillside. There were dim lights, then the flash of car headlights. In another moment we bumped up a jeep trail to a two-store ruin. Cars were parked around the base and an eerie flickering light filled the holes that were once windows and doors.

Sophie came to the entrance and waved, then Yokomi stepped next her and smiled like a full moon. I heard Tara say to no one in particular, "Oh fuck, I should have known."

Yokomi and I talked for a few minutes with the buzz and lights of the portable Rave machine bouncing around us. There were only a dozen or so people--no one dancing.

Yokomi's attention drifted as I babbled something about the weirdness of having a dance in an abandoned prison. Her eyes flicked to the side occasionally. Tara was talking intensely with the young man that was at Sophie's party. Yokomi eyes held curiosity but nothing else.

"So tell me, are you two together?" I said and raised my chin toward the young stud.

Yokomi gave that inscrutable legend smile and said, "For the time being..."

In a minute the boyfriend arrived and they embraced.

“You remember Erik of course. He was very interested with your daughter at Sophie's party," she said.

"Yeah hi. Well, it's been nice talking," I said. As far as I was concerned two was company and three was blow it out your ass and cry. I began a search for booze or dope trying not to kick myself too much for being an idiot. Yokomi was a babe who looked more like 25 than her 35 years of fucking men’s heads. Why would she want an old goat? She had the Nordic God.

People started to arrive and gradually drift toward the center of the large room and dance.  The walls were bare buff colored stone. About 20 feet up there were pieces of broken and burnt wood beams which had once been the second floor. Only a portion of the roof covered the back section and stars blinked dimly into the neon and colored spot lights set up around the disc jockey's equipment. The noisy monotonous thump banged around my head. It was better to move to it than let a hammer go through my skull.

I was angry with myself and dancing helped release the frustration. I needed to turn my brain off. I let the pounding vibrations take charge. What the hell, I began to find the inner primitive rutting machine. I laughed out loud. Freedom came with the sweat and transformed me to a Techno-Zorba.

Yokomi came out to the dance area and flashed me the inscrutable stuff and once again I went for it. We went like pagans around each other while the air smoldered voodoo and the music blurred the night. We danced through three of the bumping tunes then her eye seemed to get stuck on a sharp corner of the room. I went in a circle so not to blow my cool and get a glimpse. It was the Nordic God leaning against the wall, being unconcerned, talking with Tara, playing cool. It worked.

Yokomi left the floor and I continued to dance. She was a momentary illusion. Yet I took the lesson of the Nordic God. Paying any attention to her killed her curiosity.  Hey, two guys can play that game. So I was cool. It worked again. In five minutes Yokomi was dancing seduction in my eyes. We talked about going camping together sometime.  We danced until the morning sky began to burn magenta through the hole in the roof. Then suddenly Yokomi said, “Don’t forget about camping. It will be fun," then she followed the Nordic God as he went out the door.

Tara and Becky appeared and said they wanted to go. The magic ball was apparently over and I didn't even get a glass shoe.

As I fell in the wake behind Tara, Sophie grabbed my sleeve.

"Santiago, we dance the fuck again oui? I make big fete this weekend and we fuck the world. I make sure Yokomi come, oui?"

"Sure Sophie, but make sure she brings her boyfriend--I know Tara would like that..."

"Yeah sure, maybe you make a trade. Erik is too young for her. She needs mature stuff."

When I got to the Renault, Yokomi and Erik, the Nordic God were driving down the jeep trail.

Tara and I left a few minutes later. My wad of sexual energy was wasted, but I was gratified—a beautiful woman had teased me. She said she wanted to see me again.  Maybe that is good as it gets when you are an old geezer. Sophie grabbed me by the arm as I was getting in the car.

“Remember—we do mad fuck next fete,” and then she laughed. “Yokomi fuck you good time, oui?”

“Sophie, I am fucked up enough. She is too young—I am too old. What do I want with more trouble?”

Sophie pulled her big hot lips next to my ear and said, “Mon cher, you fuck for trouble. You a man.”  Her English was bad but she knew what she was saying.

October 15, 2004

How little is captured with words. At best I am drawing a thin cartoon of an incredibly ornate tableau. The sun is rising above the jagged ridgeline piercing the pitch black poles of pine, skidding across the stone skull of the distant mountain. River banks melt like ice cream as frigid glacial waters carry away another billion years of the smallest grains of the observable universe down to Mother Mediterranean. Such words of purple prose make serious writers laugh. Fuck them; dry or juicy, words catch only the shadows.

When I was camped with Vicki in this valley and her sex encased my body I felt nothing. If she was the woman I had desired with passionate heart, that lustful tongue would have been sweet. But she was not the woman. Her song of love was whispered to a deaf man even as her lips slipped down onto a habitual stiffened cock. She was an aging magician playing the spontaneous skin flute. If only she had been the woman I wanted it would have been a miracle, but she was only a tease of an old dream. I feel so bad for Vicki who gave love, but was not loved.

Vicki knows I am an asshole. It was not the first time she had been fucked by me.  But now she has returned to her dreary England and telephones me trying to resurrect my disease by talking about our sexual moments not knowing her words make me nauseous with the memory. I tell her what I must as an old friend but as a lover, a man I remain a complete asshole. I nervously slither out of the conversation and promise her more lies intro the future. All the women who have known me, know I’m an asshole. Six people I killed in their very last moment of existence looked at me with that look—you are an asshole. It's good to know who you are.

I carry on with the game.  I jump out of one rumpled rut into the next---always the disease of men, that little pole of erection directing traffic. The Oriental Beauty is in the crossing.  But she appears to be as duplicitous as the average man with nuts. She loves to get stoned on hashish and wine. Maybe she is just plain crazy. She acts out her life with spontaneous moments that have no content, no underlying meaning. She accepted the veneer of my play because I spoke her inner language in a country where we were both foreigners.  I was interested in her art. That was my tricky little ploy---you know, I like I give a shit about art after all. At the techno dance she told me she didn't have anything to do for a couple days, and I thought of her going camping with Tara and me. But the situation to bring that about didn't come until later. Irony again, being in the Restonica in a tent with my daughter and her.

We spent two days together, Tara doing her best to remind me I was an old goat chasing young women. I ignored her of course. On walks up the mountain trails occasionally Tara would either be ahead or behind and Yokomi and I would have insular moments. I asked her directly which is rude to Japanese culture is if she was interested in me as a friend or if there was any romantic notion. She answered with another puzzle,  that she not only had a thing going with young Erik but also there was a Scottish man she had met in India and maybe she wasn't over him quite yet. But that was just the opening. She said she never had an affair with an older man, then gave me that inscrutable oriental face thing. Well, I may be a fool but I can take a hint as well as a boot in the mouth.

Either way of what that mysterious smile was about, I could have played the role. I may have snagged her like a trout on a finger touch line, but the truth was my ego got hurt. Yeah I was an old goat just like my daughter was saying. Playing the game meant wearing the mask of a cheap trickster, not so much to her as to myself. As it was, I did things from her view point of culture that were repulsive. I coughed up big gobs and spat into the forest. My sandals smelled like sour feet. I didn't cover my armpit stench with deodorant. Since Admiral Perry, the Japanese predilection for bodily cleanliness has been legendary, and I carried around the fumes of Armageddon. So much encouragement for elderly sex appeal.

If that was not bad enough I began to talk about me. Typical male bullshit. And I carried on telling her about my former life with Tara's mother, Martina and Dark Eyes and all the rest of my spent seed vessels. I could visibly see Yokomi's mind run off into the woods.

After the two days we returned to the Farm. Yokomi gave me an international "ciao" farewell kissing me French style on both cheeks. I felt like Grand Pa. The "Angel" I had been looking for flew away again. What a fucking idiot. Would I never learn?

All of the women, all of the lies, all of the years of jumping from one riddle to the next, all of it made me feel not just stupid but sick in the soul. I was an assassin that killed not only innocent strangers and random lovers but my own spirit. Okay, this time I was going to clear my head and become a saint. Okay, that is shit. Tara and I had only two weeks left in Corsica, so if I couldn't be a saint I could try being a father. I had money in the bank and for once could spend a few bucks on my little girl.

Oct. 16, 2004

In the late afternoon, Eloise came down to the pool bungalow and told me, "Oscar and I have decided to have another little barbeque before you return to America, and thought it would be good if all  your friends  could come. Would that be all right with you?" But before I could answer she gave me a curious wink and said,   “I say, how did that camping expedition go?"

I knew she was asking because she had seen me fall all over myself at the previous party. I kept her informed of my besotted on-going soap opera condition as it progressed towards the eminent romantic disaster. Her only comment had been "I have no idea how so much of nothing can happen over so little of anything."

"Oh, I had a great time," I said, "and Eloise, you will be the first to know if I get involved in further nonsense."

"Really, it isn't any of my business, but the way Tara was talking about your meeting with this young woman; I thought you perhaps had found another challenge."

I saw the slight lift in the straight line of her thin lips. "I promise Mother Confessor, if I get into any mischief you will hear it from me, but I think I am finally learning not to be such a fool."

Eloise chuckled. "Don't be daft. Men are perpetual fools and that is why we love you so."

Oct. 18. 2004

So how in the hell did Yokomi get in my tent?

At the previous party, the fire was burning down to coals in the barbeque pit. The sun dropped behind the western ridge of the valley. A gold blue light filtered over the green of the vegetable fields. The leaves of the avocado tree were black in the fading color of the evening. Smoke from charcoal drifted towards the river. Open bottles of Domaine Peraldi and salads were laid out on a long plank table. Jamahl monitored the chicken and sausages on the grill.

The last tinge of twilight hung like a lace curtain on the shoulders of night when the lights of two cars came down the entrance to the farm. The first was a Erik's large Mercedes van which meant Yokomi had arrived with her boy toy. The second was Sophie's battered Toyota. Both cars were full of people.

I stood at the grill watching Jamahl turn chicken and sausage, acting unconcerned about their arrival. I continued the lesson of being cool. The chicken was crispy golden brown and the sausage burnished red when Yokomi came around the darkened foliage of the avocado tree. She was in the arms of Erik and talking in a very intimate manner.

So that was the story.  My interest in any further ploy with her would be totally absurd. I comforted myself meditating with the hot meat on the grill.  The clear part of my brain said  to center and come back to being plain old me--a man who was on the path to Sadhu. I almost felt relieved. Women, no matter what, consume time, and time was the only precious thing I had.

Earlier in the week I called Jean-Simon and invited him to the party. I told him there was an Australian gal to tickle his fancy. That was just a tease. Jean-Simon would go through burning hoops for a new conquest. Besides that, I was doubtful he would come if he thought there was no element of the old rutting game. I needed his company. He was someone I could talk about the fiasco of the holy fuck as men do.

Oscar had all but stopped talking to me in the last few days. I felt isolated in my maleness, my age, my language and the madness of my own on-going Punch and Judy show.

Jamahl laid plates out on the long plank table that ran under the overhanging eves of Oscar's monk-like quarters.  Half of the seating was next to the house and the other side under the avocado tree.

As I brought barbeque pieces on a large platter to the table, Jean-Simon's car drove up. People were getting seated so I went to greet him and give him heads up on the Australian. She was not attached and a chair next to her was reserved for him. By the time we got back to the table only two seats were empty, Jean-Simon's next to the Australian and mine next to Yokomi.

Yokomi flashed me the inscrutable thing. At some point in the meal Yokomi said something casually, betraying no hidden agenda but there was intent in her eyes, like she was looking into me.

My response was to immediately forget everything and jump off my high dignity and into pools of Asian darkness. We began talking.

 "Where do you come from?" I asked, not even sure if Earth was her planet. In an instant we were channeled into words and thoughts--- trading stories of adventures, history and art. Yokomi told me she had brought some photos of her paintings if wanted to see them, then joked about that being the old pick-up line. As we left the table to go where there was better light in the kitchen, I said out loud, "She's going to show me her etchings."

Eloise almost smiled. Tara and Erik who were deep inside conversation ignored us. Jean-Simon was doing his whammy on the Australian. Sophie noticed our departure with a raised eyebrow. Oscar laughed and said to the table, "Lust is a beautiful four letter word." Jamahl answered with Moroccan philosophy, "American life, Japanese wife, French wine, everything fine."

"Oscar, you know I am a lover of art," I said.  Yet there was that old thing in me that was embarrassing if not just plain awkward when I had to weasel words after looking at mediocre work of wanabe artists. Most often my comment would be, "How interesting," when I really wanted to say, "I am amazed that such dullness does not drive you to slash your wrists and save the world from tedious boredom."  The only master piece I was hopeful about was between her forbidden legs. I prepared myself for the worse.

Yokomi spread half dozen photos across the kitchen table under the ceiling light. I gasped. To my utter surprise, her non-objective abstract paintings were incredibly beautiful---like details of thousand year old moss on rocks of millennium---rocks that had witnessed the rise and fall of a million organic civilizations across the skin of its crystalline face.

The artwork was surreal in subtle perfection of Zen Japanese culture and Buddhist mystic. I could go into art babble of what I saw but in truth her work was brilliant. She regarded my reaction with pleasure. Suddenly she was an incredible human being, and I momentarily forgot about her magic keyhole.

When we went back to the party Eloise gave me a mischievous look and announced, "Well, it is very good for you young people to carry on but I shall call it a night and you can let me know the results tomorrow." She tipped her head to the side indicating Tara and Erik as they walked out into the garden. They apparently were having a very serious conversation.

Yokomi and I sat down at the table and talked for another hour rarely taking our eyes off each other. Tara returned from her walk with the Nordic god with a guilty  expression, but managed to change it into accusation when she saw Yokomi and I huddled together.

The moon was full and stars burned on the ragged outline of the river trees. Slowly the guests began cleaning up and gathering their belongings. The conclusion wheel was turning to end the fete.

Jean-Simon was a slow hand at the game of love, slow like a fox watching the rabbit hole, so he apologized and made an excuse about theater rehearsals. Sly he was, and in a by the way fashion, he made a date with the Australian. She was more than keen to jump into the velvet trap.

Yokomi looked at me as she got up to leave with Sophie. Erik had disappeared with my daughter, and she was in no mood to hang around.  I looked at Yokomi and tried to think of some line I could use, but before I opened my mouth she put her hand on my sleeve and said, "I will be completely free for the next few days. Perhaps we can meet again."

I couldn't stop myself. "Great! Remember about going camping? Why don't you come with us?"

Her eyes gave instant confirmation, not so inscrutable for once. In the back of my mind I instantly understood revenge was in play but didn't care when she said, "Sure, why not?" It was arranged we would pick her up in the morning, one happy family into the Restonica.

As soon as she left with Sophie, Tara came to me and said, "How can you do this to me?" I recognized the same pissed off demeanor as her mother I had seen a thousand times when I  came home drunk, smelling of beer, marijuana and body fluids. "I just don't believe you can be so insensitive---you are the most selfish person. All you do is think of yourself!"

I wanted to remind her she had been flirting with Yokomi's boy toy all night but instead I tried to put my arm around her and say that I wasn't drunk, nor was I with her mother any longer and in fact that I had a life which would be occasionally nice to experience.

"Don't touch me," she screamed and then stomped off to her sleeping quarters in Eloise's house.

I was stunned by what had just happened, both elated and slapped in the face. Only a moment before the Oriental Beauty had been radiant with possibilities and now my only child treated me like a pig. I had killed her teddy bear. I went to bed with alternate flashes of Yokomi's allure or the betrayal my daughter---like being caught between two lovers. I felt miserable, not wanting to lose the trust of Tara, but even though I hardly knew Yokomi, I didn’t want to give up the chance of being next to her again---whatever it may come to...

I couldn't sleep all night and at dawn I was looking through the windows at the morning sky. There had to be some kind of compromise. I went to Tara's room and gently knocked on the door before opening it. She was sound asleep. I sat down on the bed next to her and eyes opened.

"Let's make a deal. Two days Yokomi comes with us then we'll bring her back...okay?

Tara stared at me for a long moment. "Only two days?" she said.

"Yeah, two days, I promise, okay?"

"Okay," she said, not sounding any happier.

*

I nearly changed my mind about taking Yokomi, seeing the difficulty with Tara. She wanted me without sharing unless it was her mother. Yokomi would understand. She was very astute.

Yet, I did not want to lose the chance to be with her again.  Where the hell could all of this go?  I mean hell, she would be sharing the tent with me and my daughter and no way I was going to be some kind of weirdo. But the other side of it was my grown-up little girl was being a selfish brat. If I gave in to her this time, when would she ever release me to be myself? Oh yeah, that was my prehistoric prick brain still in the driver's seat. It still had the agenda of conquest no matter what my rational brain was saying.

I hoped the situation would resolve itself and all would be forgotten by the time we loaded the car. So off we went to mountains. It started off okay with Tara actually talking in a positive way to Yokomi. I kept quiet. They seemed very amiable so everything was cool---that is until I stopped at a cafe in the mountain village of Vavario. Tara and I had been there many times before when we lived on the island and I was with Leila. It was not a good idea. I felt a bucket of ice water fall on the warm day. Tara went silent, so silent it was obvious to Yokomi.

When we got to the Restonica Gorge we looked for a place to go swimming. Tara said she was going for a walk along the river banks and left. It was the first chance for Yokomi and I to be alone together since the night before. I could feel her discomfort.

"I am sorry Yokomi," I began, "I almost said to you this morning it was a bad idea about you coming...I mean, look, this has nothing to do with you. Tara is just having a hard time accepting her mother and I..."

"Yes, I can see that. Maybe I should get a bus and return to Ajaccio."

"Oh no, you are not going anywhere with us but hiking into the mountains and nice restaurants in town and whatever else we can find together..." I stumbled along being a master of blundering. "I mean look, I can be honest with you."

Yokomi gave me the inscrutable gaze and said, "Sure. Tell me what you want."

"Well, first of all it is not about you. Tara would be acting the same no matter what woman was next to me. But she will just have to get over being this way." There was a question mark in Yokomi's eyes, so I continued. "You know I have done everything she has wanted---we have gone to the beaches and shopping, running her here and there, buying whatever she wanted. I have wanted to do that for her to make up for the times we were so poor,  But she has had me at her service for weeks and when I tell her I want to do something for myself for a few days she blows a gasket. Is that fair?"

Yokomi looked at me for a long moment. "No it is not fair, but she is your daughter.”

"She is a grown woman and she has her life. I would like to have a little bit of my life too.  I want you to be here. She will get over this. It is not good for her to hang onto the past that is gone." I did not know where to go with what I was saying. "I know too well about memories destroying your life. I would for once like to live in the present."

Yokomi looked at me for another long frozen moment. Something uncertain was in her mind.

"I'm not sure how to say this---I can only say it, but the friendship we got started won't change---whatever---ah shit---what I want to ask is just the fantasy of an old man, but is there anything remotely possible about romance with us or is this...ah crap---there it is, the straw that breaks the camels back."

Yokomi looked embarrassed, turning her face away from me she said, "I have had a relationship with an older man. It was special but something I do not want to do again."

I heard a celestial chorus chant out in almost a whisper, "No fool like an old fool."

She put her delicate hands down on the rock she was sitting on.  Her eyes searched up the valley towards Mount D'Oro. The rush of river water roared as I saw myself in stark clarity. My dignity fell down a long staircase and crashed on the concrete floor of my soul. What was I thinking? Yup, a dunce again with cock-brains in the driver's seat.

I had to swallow the bitter gag of my fucked up delusion. Let it go, let it go ran around in my head. How many times would I have to learn I was never in control of what life brought me, but only got through the insanity of happenstance by sheer luck. It is all a dream--- so the old ones say and now more than ever I was beginning to believe their wisdom. Let it go. Go crazy or hang on until a new day and I am reborn in the world. Let it go.

Let go of a mythology. My soul would not be saved by the pursuit of the sacred garden. To roll in the flesh of abandonment was just another fucking illusion, no different than me saving my country behind the trigger of a full automatic M-16. How many lies would I continue to follow?

I diverted my attention to the ripples of the river as it passed my little world on its way to the mother sea. I watched the waters of the Corsican mountains that had witnessed my heart tear itself to shreds more than once. Like God, the river brought love then took it away---the idea, love, indeed was only an idea. Let it go and be alive, just alive, like the moment the mortars came down and tore my buddies to shreds, tore holes in my mind and the Med-Evacs came in making their sing-song beat of life, and I screamed, "I want to be alive--get me out of this death!" And there was my guardian angel, Neil, the war correspondent accidentally caught up in the war machine---his arms holding my broken soul as he jammed our bodies into the last space of a blood soaked floor, and the chopper lifted us out of madness that had no end. I kept screaming, I want to be alive, I want to be alive.

I watched the river feeling shame and redemption. My mind chanted the only thing that made sense, let it go--be alive.

I sat silent, chagrined, stupidly embarrassed of my idiotic neurosis, of women, of sex, of suicide, of being a pathetic man who forgot how to be a man, be a father, be anything that believed in anything. And that was the problem. I had lost my way, somewhere way back in time, to be able to believe. Somehow, some way, some time on one day, I had chosen to accept to be alive was a lie. Now, I remembered even if it was a lie, on the day it was almost gone, I wanted the lie to continue. I wanted to be alive, not dead.

What in the hell was I doing? My worship of sex, my lust was insanity, as much as me worshipping God or the Devil.

Okay laugh if you want, or agree I was pathetic. The perpetual pursuit of pussy was the game I could not stop. Me, looking for the magic woman, one that had all of everything. Each time it was the same...maybe this one has the combination to the secret of truth...maybe this one is the answer...maybe this one will take my soul and save it. Some dudes went to hard drugs after Nam. I went for women. What ever you hold in your hand as the way to the truth, is a drug. The only truth is truth itself, and when you see it, most often it hurts. I was seeing truth for the first time since when? But all the same, it hurt.

I was temporarily insane, but I never believed it was a permanent condition. That was a lie I chose to believe. Finally, yes finally I saw myself and God-dammit, I am insane. When was I not?

I'm not saying Yokomi didn't look just as lovely in her well-chosen garments---they were the clothes of an international Gypsy---the vagabond from India---the beach bum from California to Thailand---not corporate executive---no, they spoke the soul of ethnic cultural corridors---all that.

She was someone who had gone on the fast ride that suddenly comes to a screeching stop.

Somehow I felt what I saw of her was just a mind trip through my head, a path through a thousand steps of bouncing  bBetties. All that and had not even mumbled one word of foreplay, tease, chat-up, smooth-talk, call it what you want.

I had definitely played cool except for the blunder of questioning romance. Was there romance there? Who knows?

Anyhow, how many times do I have to get my heart ripped out?

Even if my heart is in my hands?

There was The Wife, Martina, Dark Eyes, Gypsy Queen, the Stripper, Teen Baby, ---not counting flesh wounds of unreported near misses---do you even begin to know what this fucked up story is about?

So I let it go, there at the river. Yokomi was silent but peaceful while my daughter pouted on the shores and water ran to the Mediterranean.

*

We camped at a beautiful spot a quarter of the way up the valley. The tent was pitched down in a hollow away from the other campers. As twilight came I gathered a few large stones and placed them around an improvised dinner table.  Corsican hard goat cheese, local sausage, fresh vegetables from Oscar's farm and baguettes and a fine bottle of mountain wine sat on a checkered scarf.

I kept my mouth shut other than amiable comments. I was in a new land. Tara and Yokomi carried on with a conversation they started in the morning about a book they had read---MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA--Tara of which was enraptured and Yokomi, being Japanese was impressed even though it was written by a white Jewish-American man. The bottle of wine helped melt the ice from the morning.

All went well until the topic of enlightenment came up and my mouth began to rattle, "Now there's a subject I'd like to get a little more familiar with---hey Yokomi, what's the Zen notion of enlightenment?" It was an innocent question though a little tongue and cheek. Even so, I was curious of her Buddhist perspective.

Yokomi began explaining.  I went off into world of words with her. Tara once again went into a mood.  Soon she said good night and went into the tent  while we philosophized under the moon and stars with the singing waters of the Restonica flowing by. I was not concerned because I had let it go.  My fine feathers had been burnt pretty well and I was in no shape to do a peacock strut.

In the softness of the night Yokomi said, "So many people have such a funny idea about Nirvana, about Heaven---what they think is enlightenment---but most people in the West only know what they have been told by Western writers coming from a Christian background, where there is Heaven and Hell. These people want to believe there is a Heaven so when they hear of Buddha's enlightenment they want to make it into a Heaven, a Nirvana---where there is no suffering. That is the opposite of what Buddha came to. It is so simple. Everyone in Japan knows, and it is no big deal at all."

I was a little confused over it being so simple. "So, what did he come to?" I asked. I wanted to know what it was everyone in Japan knew, other than how to finally capture Hawaii by massive invasions of wealthy tourists and out-do Detroit in car sales.

"He came to nothing but himself. There is no place to go but here."

The river continued its song accompanied by the five count beat of the little Mediterranean night owl.

"I guess that is what I am coming to," I said, "but here is a lot better than it used to be."

"Yes, for me too," she said as she yawned. "I am getting tired. I think I will go to bed and read for a while."

She went into the tent and lay on the left side as Tara was sleeping in the middle. My daughter was playing chaperone. I sat in the darkness and smoked cigarettes until the dawn sky began to break.

*

The second day passed all too quickly. Yokomi walked next to me and we talked. Tara walked either behind or in front on our way up the hiking trail to Lac de Melo. Tara only spoke once when she asked me if I wanted a sausage or cheese sandwich for lunch. I lay back on a big flat granite rock feeling the sun and let Yokomi continue telling me the Eastern idea of enlightenment, while revealing parts of her history. I began to feel what she said was to illustrate the foolishness of what my life had become.

She told me she was sick of men who could not separate fantasy from what is reality. Of course I knew the words applied to me, but somehow she seemed to be talking about someone else---in particular, her boy toy Erik, who obviously had been playing games with Tara as well as giving Yokomi the notion she could do the same with me. Her words could mean anything, but I had no intention of letting my prick tease my brain again.

On the way back down the mountain we talked about the idea of what men are---what women are---we circled each other in words which had no more merit than birds chirping in trees. Let it go, was the only wisdom I found.

We came to the road where our car was parked three kilometers on down the valley. At a wide river crossing we waded to the middle and sat on white granite boulders and viewed the saw-tooth mountains around us. Mount D'Oro looked like the original pyramid. The sun was in the late afternoon arch of the sky.  Purple shadows fell across the valley.

I looked at the rugged Corsican mountains I had known for over twenty years. "If there is a face of God, it is up there in the rocks," I said. The river rippled by and it was almost as if I could hear a voice saying, "Bless you for being consciously here now." The crescent moon was dropping on the western horizon. Yokomi clicked her eyes on me and I wished romance could be as real as my fantasy, and the reality I had known had only been a bad dream.

*

In the evening we drove the car down to the bottom of the valley to the auberge I had met Neil ten years before. To go there again was a test to see if the place would resurrect the lost cause of Martina or any of the women I had gone through. They had redecorated the whole complex. It was like a black board had been wiped clean and nothing came to me but the knowledge that everything changes. My memory had no more solidity than a mirage. 

Our dinner conversation centered on food and Yokomi went into great detail about Japanese cuisine.  I had not seen the domestic side of her.  Being she was so tall and lean and model looking she seemed an unlikely gourmet chef.  Yokomi believed most of the world served bad food. Only Japan and Thailand understood how food not only nourishes but feeds the soul. With that comment, Tara and Yokomi bonded. I watched them like two exotic creatures.

It would be our last night together. We went back to the tent and the two women took up their previous spots to sleep. I remained outside sitting by a small fire smoking Gauloise thinking about Buddha and sushi. Somewhere inside me there was pain, but I was not sure of what or why it was there. Oh sure, my ego had got kicked and that was that, but the hurt seemed ancient, older than Mylai, older than dirt. I knew one thing, and it was to accept everything I had known or would know was right where I was. "Be here now baby," I whispered and stretched out on the ground, listening to the river and single note call of the Mediterranean night owl. It beeped and I counted five and the beep came again and again at five. Somewhere in the night I stopped counting and thinking.

In the morning we packed. There were very few words. It appeared all the talking was over. Yokomi was rather withdrawn but I didn't know why. I had said nothing as an old fart for over 24 hours.  I had been a gentleman with no agenda. It was the best I could do. I figured she just wasn't a "morning person" and let it go.

The car packed, we slowly meandered the sharp curves back down the mountain to Sophie's land and Ajaccio.

Out of the high mountains Yokomi suddenly came awake at Carbuccio and said,”I would like to do something to pay back your generosity---you have been so kind---I would like to make a traditional Japanese meal for you---would you please come?"

So it was planned. One more time together before I returned to America.

*

In a few days Tara got over my flirtation with Yokomi. Her change came because I spoiled her rotten, doing little things like buying ice cream and coffee in the side-walk cafes, taking her to our favorite place Capo de Feno and dining at the beach restaurant. At last we seemed to get back on keel of father and daughter love.

I wondered how long her need of me always being the father, the God, the one who was always supposed to be perfect, would last. How long would she remain my only daughter, my little Princess, my little brat? I knew her life eventually would become loaded with the disasters of life and I wanted to prolong the age of innocence, of hope, as long as possible---I wanted to retain some of her  childhood I had missed during the days of my drunken despair.

I knew she had reacted in such a jealous manner towards Yokomi because of her comparative young age---not so wrong that some one as old as me could be with a younger woman, but it was the potential that Yokomi could have a baby. My little Princess in other words, could be dethroned as the only heir.

It wasn't that big of a jump for me to make. One of the sad and destructive elements of Leila and my marriage was I wanted more than one child. I believed it was wrong for Tara not have a brother or sister. Leila was terrified that another child would tie her to motherhood forever---after all most of the time I barely made enough money to keep a mouse alive, let alone a family. Even so, somehow we survived and managed to do things richer people would never do.

Five years of sexual frustrations in marriage never works. Leila took every precaution possible. Spontaneous love making disappeared and the result was the old cliché, if a man doesn't get it at home... and I did go looking.

Irony again. After those five years, Leila changed her mind and decided another child would be good. But by then, there was something wrong, and she never got pregnant again. At the time I thought she was only making love more because she knew she was losing me. That is one way a wife can keep even a bad husband. Fate had already played its hand in us populating the planet. Tara was our only contribution.

Tara wasn't acting in defense of her mother, it was her dynasty, the Kingdom of her father she did not want to be taken away, especially usurped by a child from a strange woman. Her reaction was primordial survival.

Now that was over, or so it seemed--but for a few days we hung out being two buddies, vacationing on beaches and talking about the return to America and the amazing possibility of dreams coming true. It was wonderful to spend the money the agent sent. He promised more.

*

It was a Sunday evening we were to have dinner at Sophie's house, three days before Tara and would fly back to America.

I knew something had almost happened between Yokomi and I. Maybe that something was me misinterpreting---meaning that something wasn't romance or any road that would lead to it.  I accepted my miscalculation and came back to a central "let it go" thought that what ever it was I had seen about Yokomi would soon be forgotten. The lesson of romance equals a bad case of the flu, I would get over it. But still, damn, she was gorgeous.

We arrived at the house near sunset, Tara, the Australian gal and me. Once again there were a dozen people sitting around a table with several bottles of wine, and the guests passing around a hash pipe.

Sophie greeted me with the big pillow lips and tipped her head in the direction of the kitchen where Yokomi was. "She very happy about seeing you again," she said in her clipped English. She then introduced us to her friends and for a few moments everyone was exchanging cheek kisses, all very gentile, the thing young Corsicans do so well--very polite, formal yet with a child like friendliness. They look at you directly in the eyes and touch closely, none of the stand off fear of meeting strangers.

Yokomi was busy with two other women preparing food. She seemed much occupied so I just yelled out hello to her. She looked up, smiled and mouthed a "Bon Soirée."

I sat at the table and rolled a cigarette. It was good to sit, watch, not wanting or trying or thinking. If I was heart-broken, it was just a thing in my head--nothing real. To sit and be free with no strings attached was real and a relief.

I was getting the cosmic message. Stop playing games with life.  It was the same lesson for the thousandth time.

A couple of the young men took drums and beat out a slow mellow rhythm. I picked up a guitar and improvised a few notes weaving them into an organic harmony with the drums.

The light in the Gravone valley dimmed to a soft violet gold as a purple black night sky rose in the east. The glow of a full moon was just beginning to show on the mountain's ridge line.

I played on with the drummers for several minutes and then began sing out my version of the blues, making up lyrics---words saying love was riding down the train tracks of a disappearing line. The music came to a natural stop and everyone laughed or clapped their hands. Joints went around the circle and wine glasses were refilled. I reverted to being on the wagon and was on my fifth cup of lemonade. I had release some bladder pressure so I went out behind some trees. I stayed for a while looking at the valley I had known since 1984---twenty years of mixed life. Sadness was leaving my soul replaced by a small point of peace.

When I returned to the house I went into the kitchen to refill my glass of lemonade from the refrigerator.  Yokomi was browning meat on the stove. She looked at me and there was that thing again in her eyes. Without any hesitation we began talking in a beautiful sliding kind of way we had done in the beginning. The conversation drifted to a hesitant space and I went back to the patio table, still trying to believe I was a solo man who could act like a friend to a sensual sexy woman. A fool can presume to know.

Nothing ever went very fast at Sophie's house and especially meals. One by one more guests arrived until by 11 PM there were over twenty people drinking, laughing, playing music and forgetting a meal was why they were there. Near midnight there was a commotion in the kitchen when Sophie and two other women came out with plates of food. The tables were cleared of empty bottles, ash trays and musical instruments. An embroidered red clothe was laid over the rough wooden planks and large candelabra was sat in the center. 

Yokomi's boy toy Erik set dining ware while Sophie was yelling for everyone to find a chair so we could begin the meal. People scurried around grabbing whatever seat they could. I watched the whole episode amused by the joyful chaos, not paying attention to my own seating until Yokomi stood by me and said, "Sit next to me, please."

Toy Boy sat across the table next to Tara. It was a repeat arrangement of the previous supper. I chose to ignore the situation and enjoy the Japanese cuisine, but suddenly I wondered if there was a particular way one went about eating such a meal. I asked Yokomi, "Would you show me the proper way of dressing my plate?"

Yokomi laughed and everyone around the table made comments on what a line I had used. They all began to laugh and made suggestions of how they would next encounter a woman. So that was that, we turned to each other and began again.

I don't know where the talk went, but it started off by Yokomi saying how glad she was I had been honest with her. From that point we simply merged into each other, not even seeing the people around us.

The food and drink was as intoxicating with its pure flavor as the darkness of her Oriental eyes pulled me into a path of intrigue.  We became drunk on each other as the full tangerine moon glowed high over the mountains. I lost track of time until I heard the voice of the Australian calling my name. She was giving me an odd look, wiggling her eyebrows. I had promised to take her home by midnight because she was on an early flight in the morning.

"What time is it?" I asked.

"Three AM," She shot back.

"Really, I had no idea."

Everyone laughed around the table as she said, "Yeah, we could see you were involved, but do you mind---you know, my flight is only a few hours away.'

"Okay, a promise is a promise."  I couldn't believe three hours melted away sitting with Yokomi. "I guess we better get going."

"Yes we should, but you need to find Tara."

I looked around the table to see Tara was missing. The Australian and I went around the house looking for her. Gone. So we went back to the table and sat for a few more minutes. I realized the Toy Boy was absent too. Everyone seemed to be on an inside joke, giggling about run-away lovers.

Yokomi pinched my arm and said, "Has your daughter run off with my boy friend?"

I laughed along with everyone else, but somehow it didn't seem so funny even if ironic. "Freedom has no boundaries," I said.

After another fifteen minutes the Australian began pleading to get on the road. I didn't give a damn. I was happy to make a switch right there and let my daughter do what she wanted as long as long as I could carry on with Yokomi. I should have known I was doing the classic  insanity---doing again tomorrow what you swore to stop yesterday. 

"Your promise," the Australian said.

I walked out away from the patio and looked for Tara. Nowhere. I resorted to yelling, "Tara, let's go!" The sound of her name echoed across the valley and for the first time I began to be concerned about her, but annoyed I had to leave. I screamed out as loud as I could,”Tara, pull up your pants and let's go home!"

People at the table burst into laughter. I guess they assumed I thought it funny my daughter was banging a French stud in the woods. In about a minute, Tara and Erik walked out of the maqui looking a little mortified.  I was relieved she was okay and for the first time felt the humor about the turn of events. But I did not want to leave Yokomi and decided to keep the game going.  

Tara, the Australian shambled towards the car while Yokomi took my arm, laying her head on my shoulder said, "This is a very funny night and everything is upside down."

What was right or wrong, me old, her young or if all of this life was a big FUBAR and nothing made sense. I didn't care. I was happy. More happy since I don't know when. Not only let it go, I wanted to let it out.

"Baby, I feel like a caveman. I'm going to grab you and take you home with me," I said laughing.

"Okay, I like it," she said, then went behind me and jumped on my back.

I stumbled drunkenly on the path to the car. When we got there Tara and the Australian were sitting inside. Tara yelled at me to put Yokomi down so we could go home. I ran around the car with Yokomi laughing on my back.

The Australian started chanting,  "TAKE US HOME, TAKE US HOME, TAKE US HOME.

I let Yokomi slide around in front of me. What was there to say?

"Will I see you again," she asked, giving me that look.

It was one of those moments of mind-fuck---she looked at me, I looked at her and the variables of craziness passed in front of me like a long freight train going through the crossroads of a small town.

"We are having dinner tomorrow night in Ajaccio with an old friend," I began, knowing it was stupid, "do you and your...uh boy friend, want join us?"

"If you want,” she said.

"I want."

*

I got up early to take the Australian to the airport---part of the promise---I could not believe what happened the night before---me lost in the rituals of man and woman---romance covering me like a cloud. I saw her at the table, her oval face and black Japanese eyes, the whole ridiculous ironic comedy---Tara making such a fuss about me chasing a younger woman, then her embroiled in something just as seedy---a lustful quadrille written by a lunatic.

Tara insisted all the way home she had done nothing with Toy Boy but talk about travel and music. Yeah sure, out in the bushes is a good place to discuss what do you like...well, if she could be that way, so could I.  I told her I invited Yokomi to have dinner with us in Ajaccio. It was another thorn in the side. She tried to put leverage on me by saying I couldn't do that to the old friend, Jean-Simon, who we were going to meet. I did the same thing to him when he came to the farm for dinner. I totally ignored him and spent the whole night talking to that whore.

"Hey he was busy trying to get in the pants of your Australian buddy here. He didn't seem to mind a bit," I said. I turned to the Aussie, "By the way, did he manage to succeed?" She only smiled.

"Dad, you’re a jerk sometimes," Tara said.

"Maybe so, but I invited your bush partner Erik to dinner too," I said. "I also told Yokomi not to feel neglected if I talked to Jean-Simon more than her. She understands. Anyway, if you can run off with her boy friend I can invite her to dinner."

We went back and forth, a kind of bluffing poker game. Being I was the not only the father but was paying all the bills Tara had no choice in the outcome. Even though I saw in her eyes a mischievous light when I said Toy Boy was coming. She was more like me than she could guess.

The Australian and I talked about it while we waited for her flight at the airport. "So what did you think of your time in Corsica?" I said.

"My God mate, is it always so wonderfully crazy here?" she said. "I see why you love it so much, but bugger me; it was so funny that business with your daughter and the Jap's cuddly. You embarrassed them to death---them looking so guilty when they came back. You should be ashamed of your self, you trying your best to get laid right there in front of God and all."

"Yeah, well, she disserved that one. You saw it too."

"So, I presume you are very much taken with the slant eye."

I just looked at her and then the boarding announcement came. I walked her to the departure gate.

"So what are you going to do about it? I mean, it seems odd, her with the young stud and all..."

"You know, I haven't the faintest idea," I said.

"That's no answer."

"Okay my dear, I'll tell you the truth. I am going to take the lovely slant eye to dinner, to be with me for a short moment 48 hours before I leave Corsica forever. I'll see what unfolds. I have no agenda."

'You are in love with her. I can see it in your eyes."

"Sweet heart, love is just another fucking four lettered word."

The Aussie laughed. "Maybe so, Mr. American tough-guy, but love is like water and everyone needs it," she said. She kissed me on the cheeks French style and went through the gate.

I stood there watching her walk away, suddenly feeling very cold.  Water. That word  put a chill in me. Six faces flashed across my mind and I swore for a millisecond they were standing like vapors next to me. "Fuck love, fuck death and fuck trying to figure it out," I mumbled to nobody at all.

You know what is really fucked up?

I mean look, if you have been following this shit, I am a complete loser. So why the fuck am I still alive, let alone making plots about getting into the pants of gorgeous by-passers?

I mean, here I am now fucked up.  I pull a trigger back a million years ago because the God damned Captain said, "Waste'm."  I fucking did without a pause. Oh no, except for that tiny little pause just before full automatic, when that fucking old women cried, "Water, please water."

One day in life I find a good woman who loves me more than herself and gives me another little female who loves me yet like a God. What do I do but shit in my own nest?

And here I am pissed off at because I run off with a Jezebel, not once but three times who was true to her self. She should have been a saint and saved me, so I decide to murder her and suicide myself.

All for nothing because it was a lie from the get-go.

I thought I was dead so many times. I escaped bullets. I escaped fucking AIDS. It didn’t matter because I thought I had incurable cancer.

All of that was a God damn lie I didn't even imagine.

Some innocent bastard just conveying erroneous information thinking he was the truth. The only thing he said true was, "You're going to die." He just got the data mixed up about who and when. 

Yeah, we all get to die, eventually if not immediately.

I mean who in the fuck is fucked up here?

*

I got back from the airport, thinking of the previous night, pondering what exactly was going on between Yokomi and I.

So far all we had done was embrace with European etiquette, except for the caprice of her leaping on to my back and us carrying on like teenagers. We were both too old for that.

Yet each time I felt her touch I got the electric buzz. There was something definitely Tantric happening.  Her body was just too receptive.

Throughout the day, Tara sulked. She was trying to make me feel guilty about asking Yokomi and Boy Toy to dinner. But it was the tactic of saying I was ignoring Jean-Simon that was beginning to get to me. We had a hell of a long history with each other. He was the reason I met everybody I knew in Corsica. And yes, the irony, Martina being his mistress who I had known first in Germany, years before. We had too much Karma.

The whole day boiled through my head---all sorts of thoughts ---how foolish I was in letting my testicles lead me into another fantasy---just like Yokomi said; men projected their fantasy into reality.

And yes, there I was, right along with all the other gonad guys of this world--- repeating love affairs so many times I had perfected shear stupidity.

Whatever electric connection Yokomi and I had was beginning to look more like a short circuit.  Yet I had not come to an earnest conclusion, something that would be the honorable thing to do---and that of course would be to bow out of the obvious awkward situation about to happen. The one sane brain cell I had left kept whispering in my ear that I should take only my daughter to the dinner to meet an old friend who had been a big part of our life.

A few hours before we were to go into Ajaccio, I was sitting in Oscar's kitchen and was just about to pick up the telephone, call Yokomi, say what was right and let honesty be the last shred of dignity I could have---hasta la vista baby.

Just then Tara came into the kitchen and said she wanted to use the phone.

"Uh, well, I was just about to call..." I began.

"Dad, I need to call Erik. I told him I would call in the afternoon."

"What are you calling him for? I was just about...uh, he was supposed to come with Yokomi and..."

"He's not coming Dad. He told me that last night, just before we left."

I could see Tara was covering something up. "So why are you calling him?

"Dad, we are leaving in two days and I said maybe we could meet before then..."

"You what? Why you little sneak. You go on about me running around with his girl friend and here you are scheming on him. Wow, Tara, I can't believe this."

Tara and I were in the middle of the argument and the telephone rang. "Bon Jour," I answered.

"Bon Jour. C'est Erik, si vous plait...eh, excuse me, may I speak with Tara?"

I passed the phone to Tara, glaring my best dirty look, but I couldn't help from laughing about the comedy. I went out to the avocado tree and rolled a cigarette.

When Tara finished I asked, "What's going on? Did you ask him to dinner?"

"Dad, don't be ridiculous---it's just too...oh, anyway he doesn't want to come.'

"What are you two up to?"

"Nothing. He's just coming here for a little while before we go to dinner."

"You what? He's coming here!"

This was crazy. I didn't know what would happen or who was to move next. There was nothing but wait and see.  My head was scattered all over the place like a toy box spilled out in a child's play room.

In 30 minutes Erik arrived. I asked if he and Yokomi were coming to dinner.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "She is staying at Sophie's house. I don't know, but I am very busy right now, and I have big business for tomorrow---uh, merci, maybe some other time..."

We stared at each other for one click of the eyeballs before he dismissed me without a hitch and turned to Tara. "Shall we go for a walk?"

Stunned, I watched them put their hands together and amble off towards the river. It was obvious their bodies were sensually familiar. "Well I'll be God damned---that little shit," I sputtered.

I picked up the telephone and called Sophie. It rang twice. A familiar answered.

"Yokomi?"

"Hey, I just came in to see if I had a message from you---what good timing."

"Yeah, well the message is this---do you still want to go to dinner tonight?"

"Sure, but I don't know where Erik is...so I am not knowing exactly..."

"Uh, yeah, well that is because he is here."

"There?" she said laughing.

"Yes, that is, he was here but he and my sweet little daughter seemed to have gone off into the bushes again."

"Oh that is fine. I am sure they have so much to talk about in the jungle."

Her voice held nothing but humor so I was not sure what was going on. 

"So...dinner?"

"What do you want me to do?"

There it was---the green light, pass to goal and collect $100. "I want you to come tonight."

"That is wonderful. I am ready when you are."

"I'll be there in thirty minutes," I said, floating into another world.

*

On the way to Sophie's house I remembered an old bartender's favorite expression. Reality is your weirdest fantasy.  It fit me perfectly. I was an actor in a fantasy with reality surrounding me---like walking on soft sand at the beach leaving a trail of footprints that is your past, present and the next step into the future, and all of that erased with the next wash of tide.

By the time I returned to the farm with Yokomi, to pick up Tara, the Toy Boy had conveniently disappeared.

"So Erik did not want to come with us?" I said taunting Tara.

She gave me a mean look. "No, he had some things to do."

I kept my mouth shut as we drove into Ajaccio. Yokomi and Tara chatted away like best friends. Their relative youth converged with pop culture, music and movies. They had ways to ignore the obvious, but just as we came to the town center, Tara changed the flow of conversation.

"Yokomi, I am really sorry about...uh, Erik...I don't want to interfere with..."

"Do not worry. Really, if you want him, he is all yours," Yokomi said in a calm tone coated in a tinge of ice.

"Oh no, no, I'm not interested in us being together. We are just friends...uh…I don't want to get between you."

Where did my daughter learn to be such a sneaky little rat? She was a reflection I did not really want to see, but apparently she could wiggle out of a straight jacket like Houdini. If I said anything now I was in trouble no matter what. I remained silent and let them cover their tracks with tides of lies.

Yokomi continued to play unconcerned with the outcome in the story with Toy Boy, but I had heard that cold tune before, other faces, other lives, and the bull shit detector was buzzing. She had told me he was very romantic, a gift he had obviously used on Tara, so his devotion was not concrete. Yokomi also said he was "very French" in a way, that was not a compliment.

I was glad Yokomi was with us, but I drifted along only responding to her in a polite but warm manner. I was doing a yo-yo impersonation.  There was no point.  I would be gone in 48 hours and her world would be just another story.

We rendezvoused with Jean-Simon at a bar next to the fishing docks. Tara and Yokomi let him and I go through our stories of Corsica, going back to the time Tara was four and I was with Leila. I answered questions about Leila and what happened to her. It was the first time Yokomi heard anything of her and I could see something registering. He is really an old man.

I paid for our drinks and we walked to a nearby fashionable restaurant where Jean-Simon made reservations. When I looked at the menu I did a mental flip-flop. The cost of the meal was going to be a chunk out of the up-front money I got from the publisher. Jean-Simon was finally catching up on favors from twenty years before. One bottle of wine was more than I had made most months of my life, but what the hell, it was only money, and for the first time in years my bank account was fat.

We went through the lovely chatty meal, beginnings, middles and ends with four bottles of over-priced plunk, all of it delicious.  Two hours later we were still talking and feeling the glow of a late summer. I felt good for the first time in years, I mean just good because for once life seemed to be okay.  Tara stopped her two sided view of seeing me as saint or monster and was being my hang-out buddy. Yokomi was next to me, radiant as a moon on a beautiful night. Jean-Simon was a comrade and brother. I even loved the bad service of reticent waiters. Yeah, I was feeling no pain.

It was late. The chairs were being stacked on tables and the staff kept giving us eye. Time for la addition.

Jean-Simon was as snookered as me smiling with alcohol gratitude. Tara and Yokomi were going into an advanced discussion of food, beaches, music, clothes and the joy of being free.

Three or four times during the meal, Yokomi and I had little rivulets of previous times. We flowed together, our eyes meeting, open, unafraid with no hooks. I did not care what happened, up, down or sideways. Yes, the wonder of booze, ten feet tall and bullet proof.

The bill came and I used a small calculator to figure out the tip and convert the Euros to dollars. I looked at the number glowing and laughed. $666---not as much as I expected, but apparently there was still the Devil to pay.

"What's so funny?" Tara asked.

"The number---kind of an odd number..."

They all looked at each other---Jean-Simon grimaced as he offered to add money for the bill.

"No, it's not that, I've got the money---it's just the number." I showed them the amount on the calculator.

"It's  Satan's number," Yokomi said and made a strange  movement with her shoulders. "Let's order one more drink---I know, an l'eau d'vive---the perfect drink to confuse Satan..."

“Right, water of life, exactly ," I said.

Jean-Simon called the waiter over and ordered. When he came back I gave him the equivalent of $800. His face brightened and we all laughed. Without any further talk we poured the powerful liquor down our throats as we stood up. The night was over.

Jean-Simon put his arm around my shoulder and said, "You are not really superstitious of such a thing are you?'

"There is no Devil---people make their own Hell, I know that too well."

We walked slowly towards the car park, Tara next to Jean-Simon telling him what her life was in America, while Yokomi and I fell behind a few yards, our arms entwined.

She dropped her head on my shoulder.  "I can't thank you enough for doing all these nice things for me---the meal tonight---the camping time---our talks. I am glad you have been so open to me. You are a rare man..."

"No, I'm..." I stopped not wanting to dispel the myth she was creating.

"It is true. You have been very special." She hesitated then went on, "I suppose this is our last chance to see each other---I know you have only tomorrow...and Tara told me about the farewell dinner with Oscar and Eloise..."

"Yeah, Eloise is taking us to their favorite Corsican restaurant in the mountains. I wish you could come, but I would only want to talk with you."

"That would not do," she agreed and put her lips on my neck. "I will miss you."

"There is tonight---we can hang out for awhile longer. You can come back to the farm with us…”

She stopped walking and let her hand slip down to mine. "Are you sure? What about Tara, maybe she will be upset again."

"This is for me." We looked into each other, our eyes holding the moment like Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca. My mind seemed to be ten feet over our bodies and the whole little scene was so clichéd I wanted to laugh and yell, THIS IS COMPLETE BULLSHIT.  Something in me wanted truth even knowing it would hurt. Who was writing this fucking script?

"Okay, I want to be with you."

I heard another voice, one that was far back in my soul whisper, LET IT GO AND STOP BEING SO DAMNED SERIOUS.  That seemed like good advice. "Hey, why wait to have fun. Let's start the celebration now. Hop on this old man's back again and I'll give you another wild run through the streets."

Yokomi squealed like a school girl and leapt on to my back throwing her arms around my neck. Whooping cowboy style, I ran down the street passing Tara and Jean-Simon. I could see Tara eye's roll back as she put her hands to her face.

When we got to the car, Yokomi and I were laughing as Tara and Jean-Simon approached. Once again, Tara had that scorched expression, but I didn't care. I said goodbye to Jean-Simon, we hugged and he left.

Tara got into the back seat of the car, smoking with anger. Yokomi sat in the front and went quiet, but my bubbly mood was not dimmed. My mind was way ahead of where we were.

"There is an extra bed in the guest house...you don't have to go back to Sophie's..." I began knowing I was employing sneaky bastard games.

Yokomi brightened. "That would be good if it is okay with...I mean, Tara...."

"You are welcome to stay Yokomi. I have a room in the big house and I know Dad would love your company..." Her spite could cut granite blocks.

"Do you need to telephone?” I said thinking of Toy Boy.

"Who do I need to telephone?" Yokomi said and smiled at me.

I said nothing but smiled into the night as we made the turn up the valley to the farm.

After several kilometers we came to the sharp curves before the farm. Yokomi was telling a story about when she was Tara's age and she drank too much tequila. Tara was actually laughing. It seemed the storm was over. I thought about my drunk stories---none of them I wanted to tell.

"The funniest thing about tequila is the name--- it sounds like 'to kill'ya'," I said.

"Yes, one must be aware of dark spirits," Yokomi laughed.

Just then I went around a hard left curve. Only a few feet ahead in the middle of the road was a tiny hedge hog caught in the headlights. I swerved to miss it just as it scuttled under the car. There was a small thud, and a second thud.

"Ah shit,” I cursed. In the sky the orange glow of a waning moon was looking at me saying, "You are one stupid man.” The number 666 flashed across my mind. "Fuck me, I don't believe it..."

I backed up the car hoping it was something else the wheels hit. In a few seconds the little porcupine ball appeared in the headlights.  I stopped, got out, walking up to it, seeing no movement; I put my shoe softly on its side and rolled it over. Its black eyes looked at nothing, blood was coming out its nose and for a millisecond I saw the face of an old woman. I wiped my hand across my face and looked again. It was a dead hedge hog and I was a man that did not believe in superstitions.

I pushed the small body to the side of the road. Another life fuck-up. Hedge hogs were beneficial to farms, eating several times their body weight of agricultural pests every day. Oscar would see it as a crime.

I got back in the car feeling crazy. A moment of being happy turned to an old woman's face---like a tarot card of my condemned existence---ghost’s words echoed suicide, disease, lovers, victims, all victims and you are the murderer.

"God damned bad luck---I should have been watching the road better," I said as I got in.

“I want some fresh air,” Tara said and got out of the car.” I’ll walk home."

"Tara, it’s still a kilometer or two to the farm," I said.

"I want to walk home,” she said slamming the door and went on ahead of the car.

I drove around her slowly hoping she would change her mind. She folded her arms and ignored me. Yokomi and I stayed silent. The air around us held the strangeness of Satan's number and the little death that happened under us.

When we got to the farm a few minutes later I turned off the engine and lights and coasted down the lane. The farm houses were dark. The frogs and night owls were serenading the moon as we got out of the car.

"I need to get a flash light and I will show you where you can sleep..." I began.

"I will come with you," Yokomi said.

We walked to a large tent set up for extra guests during the summer. It was under a giant chestnut tree across the pool from the guest cottage. Eloise made sure the double bed was always prepared with clean sheets and blankets. It seemed to me after what had happened, it was better to forget being in the same room with Yokomi.

I unzipped the door flap and reached inside and found the flash light placed on a small stand. Yokomi took my arm and started to move into the tent.

"No, you are going to stay in the cottage and I will sleep out her," I said.

She stopped and in the light of the moon there was a puzzled expression on her face. "I thought you wanted me..."

"Look, I really...I want to pull you in here more than you know---but it is not the time, not now. It is better you sleep in the guest cottage and everything...it will be better..."

"Oh...you are right...I am very tired," she said almost in a whisper.

She was not just a woman, but a Japanese woman who did not give her body easily, and I had just rejected her. We did not speak again as she followed me around the swimming pool to the cottage. I opened the door and flipped on the night light.

"You can sleep in the single bed. It has clean sheets and is very comfortable.” She lay down in her clothes and closed her eyes. I covered her with a quilt; put my hand on her hair, stroking it lightly. "You are beautiful and you will be beautiful always. Good night Yokomi."

"Good night Santiago. You are beautiful too."

I went to the door, looked at her for a tiny moment before I flipped the switch. Nothing was in my thoughts but to go to sleep, the proverbial sleep of the dead. The problem was my daughter alone on a dark country road in the middle of the night.

I closed the door silently and went out to roadway. I needed a walk in the night air more than my daughter. In five minutes I could see the faint shape of Tara in the moonlight. I called out her name.

"Whew! Dad, I'm glad it's you. I didn't know who it was," she said.

We fell in side by side and went back to farm not saying anything. When we got to the big house, I gave her a hug and she went to her room. I went to the tent and stood with the moon shadows under the chestnut tree. Stars peeked through the leaves while the river rushed over the granite bed of stones. Slowly I felt something envelope me. I began to have the sensation I was being held by an ancient spirit.

Of all the big things that had happened in my life, the smallest moment had changed everything. In the blink of the eye, the passage of a very small creature gave me forgiveness. My spirit ascended and there I was about a hundred feet up in the night, seeing a little man down on the ground, who was struggling to do the best he could, to not hurt the world anymore. I called down to that guy, who was me, "Hey pal, you have made the sacrifice. You can go to bed now."

The little man down there seemed to understand. He laughed and went into the tent.

*

It was my last day in Corsica. In the morning I went to the bread shop and got a bag or croissants, then returned to the farm and woke Tara and Yokomi. After breakfast I returned Yokomi to Sophie’s house. On the way up the valley I could feel Yokomi’s confusion of the night before, a kind of embarrassment possibly that she had almost climbed into bed with this old man.

"Yokomi, the first time I saw you at the airport you took my breath away..." I began.

"Santiago, I am sorry I have...”

"No, let me finish what I want to say."

She looked at me, worried by what I might say. I almost laughed---for once in my life; I was not going to be a fool over a woman.

"Thank you for putting beauty back in my life. I forgot this mad ball of mud we live on is beautiful once in awhile---Yokomi, you gave me a key that unlocked a soul I put in a kind of purgatory a long time ago. You gave me what I have not known since 1968.”

Yokomi’s expression was puzzled but curious. “And what is it?”

“Freedom, Yokomi. Simple as that, just plain wonderful old merciful freedom.”

“I don’t understand…”

“Have you ever wanted something so bad you could taste it and yet nothing you could do would give it to you?”

“I think so, yes.”

“And did you ever forget that you wanted that special thing, and then one day it just came to you without you doing a thing?”

“Yes that has happened to me…”

“So think of it this way Yokomi. You have been a very special messenger that had more than a secret message, you also had a key that fit only my confinement, and just because of you, just for a moment you were the exactly the  right person even if you didn’t know it.

“I love you Santiago.”

“I love you too, Yokomi. Goodbye.”

 

 

She got out of the car and smiled at Santiago, raised her shoulders  just a touch as she turned and almost smiled, waved her left hand, turned and walked away. The same corny lousy scene in Casablanca. Santiago thought, then laughed and said to his eyes in the rearview mirror, “”Gotchu ya bastard!”

He returned to the farm to find his wonderful daughter had gone off on a motorbike ride with a mad young Corsican with hunger and adventure in his eyes. Santiago knew the poor jerk wouldn’t see it coming for a mile as his daughter shot him right exactly between the eyes. Another messenger.

With only 24 hours before they were to be at the airport, Santiago returned to Capo de Feno, the beach of so many memories.

It was a blustery coolish day, most of the tourists absent leaving only locals who owned the beach, if not by paper, by the years they had been guardians. It was a sacred place to most, whether they spoke it or not.

Santiago walked to the small refreshment cabana close to the beach. He asked for a pastis, slowly sipping, letting his gaze sweep down the beach.

A quarter of mile away, he saw the figures of three people, two very dark with bright colored towels and one like gold toast with turquoise shorts. He could faintly hear an occasional chirp of laugher as the wind came.

There was something hauntingly familiar with the particular deep joyful shudder of the mixed voices.

He began to look at the three, and even from the distance there was the movement of people he knew before. He reached down and put his hand on the pistol  that he pulled from under the seat of the Renault. He had meant to take it out to the waves and toss it as far as he could into the sea.

But now there was only one thing in his mind. Murder.

He got up from the stool, and walked  like a freight train with a thousand cars in a straight line towards the three on the beach.

Half way there, the three stopped what they were doing and stood silently watching Santiago approach.

As he was within 20 feet, Neil said, “We wondered when you would arrive.”

“You bastard, I should have killed you then, but you were not guilty.” He stopped in his railed tracks and turned his gaze to the beautiful long black haired woman standing next to Neil. “Martina….” He said as he raised the pistol.

When the barrel was directly between her eyes and just as he began to gently squeeze the trigger, he heard the voice of his angel.

“Oh get over it Santiago, someone had to do it to you. Where else would you have got the stories?”

Santiago’s steel wheels of death suddenly came to a screeching stop. He saw deep into Martina’s eyes, then he changed his view to the other figure on the opposite shoulder of Neil.

“Dark Eyes…”

“Hello Santiago. “

Before Santiago stood a young man, with an elegant neck and a sad dark eyed expression.

 

I could go on with story about what happened, but it may be just too obvious. To save you all of that excruciating writer crap, I will just say this; Santiago didn’t kill anybody ever again, including himself.

What he did was this: He laughed and laughed until his guts hurt, then remembered why he was there, turned and tossed the pistol far out into the thudding crests. He could hear voices in the waves singing like a celestial chorus, PEOPLE OF ONE, PEOPLE OF ONE, BORN IN THE CIRCLE, BORN IN THE GAME.

He turned back around and saw the three laughing and laughing and laughing.  You’d think they were all in a lunatic asylum.

Sure, I know you want to know more and believe me, its coming.

But life is kind of funny.

It’s as dangerous to be on, as it is to be off. Kind of like a crystal tight rope, but one thing for sure, all good things come in their time.