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Good Bones and Simple Murders


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Somehow they are insupportable: they have no narrative vices:

their wise smiles are too knowing, too knowing about us and our stupidities.

We suspect them of having mean hearts.

They are far too clever, not for their own good but for ours.

The Foolish Virgins, on the other hand, let their lamps go out: and when the bridegroom turns up and rings the doorbell,

they are asleep in bed, and he has to climb in through the window: and people scream and fall over things, and identities get mistaken, and there's a chase scene, and breakage, and much satisfactory uproar: none of which would have happened if these girls hadn't been several bricks short of a load.

*

Ah the Eternal Stupid Woman! How we enjoy hearing about her: as she listens to the con-artist yarns of the plausible snake, and ends up eating the free sample of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge: thus giving birth to Theology;

or as she opens the tricky gift box containing all human evils, but is stupid enough to believe that Hope will be some kind of a solace.

She talks with wolves, without knowing what sort of beasts they are: Where have you been all my life? they ask. Where have I been all my life? she replies.

We know! We know! And we know wolfishness when we see it!

Look out, we shout at her silently, thinking of all the smart things we would do in her place.

But trapped inside the white pages, she can't hear us,

and goes prancing and warbling and lolloping innocently towards her doom.

(Innocence! Perhaps that's the key to stupidity, we tell ourselves, who think we gave it up long ago.) If she escapes from anything, it's by sheer luck, or else the hero: this girl couldn't tear her way out of a paper bag.

*

Sometimes she's stupidly fearless; on the other hand, she can be just as equally fearful, though stupidly so. Incest-minded stepfathers chase her through ruined cloisters, where she's been lured by ruses too transparent to fool a gerbil.

Mice make her scream: she whimpers, teeth chattering, through the menacing world, running--but running involves legs, and is graceless--fleeing, rather.

Leglessly she flees, taking the wrong turn at every turn,

a white chiffon scarf in the darkness, and we flee with her.

Orphaned and minus kind aunts, she makes inappropriate marital choices, and has to dodge ropes, knives, crazed dogs, stone flower urns toppled off balconies, aimed at her jittery head by suave, evil husbands out for her cash and blood.

Don't feel sorry for her, as she stands there helplessly wringing her hands: fear is her armor.

Let's face it, she's our inspiration! The Muse as fluffball!

And the inspiration of men, as well! Why else were the sagas of heroes, of their godlike strength and superhuman exploits, ever composed, if not for the admiration of women thought stupid enough to believe them?

Where did five hundred years of love lyrics come from,

not to mention those plaintive imploring songs, all musical whines and groans?

Aimed straight at women stupid enough to find them seductive!

When lovely woman stoops or bungles her way into folly,

pleading her good intentions, her wish to please,

and is taken advantage of, especially by somebody famous,

if stupid or smart enough, she gets caught, just as in classic novels, and makes her way into the tabloids, confused and tearful,

and from there straight into our hearts.

We forgive you! we cry. We understand! Now do it some more!

Hypocrite lecteuse! Ma semblable! Ma soeur!

Let us now praise stupid women,

who have given us Literature.

THE

VICTORY

BURLESK

I went to the Victory Burlesk twice, or maybe it was only once and one of my friends went the other time and told me about it. I enjoyed it both times. It was considered quite daring for young women to go to such a place, and we thought it was funny; it was almost as funny as church.

You got a stand-up comic, a movie, and a man who sang or juggled plates, as well as the striptease act. They used a lot of colored lighting, red and blue and purple. Each girl had a fake name: Miss Take, Miss Behave, Flame LeRew. I liked the names and the costumes, for their ingenuity, and I liked the more skillful girls, the ones who could twirl tassles or make their bellies or buttocks rotate in a circle. That was before they had to take it all off, there was an art to it, it was almost like the plate juggling. I liked the way they floated in the pools of colored light, moving as if they were swimming, mermaids behind glass.

One woman began with her back to the audience, the spotlight on her. She was wearing long white gloves and a black evening gown with gauzy black sleeves that looked like membranous wings as she stretched out her arms. She did a lot with her arms and back; but when she finally turned around, she was old. Her face was powdered dead white, her mouth was a bright reddish purple, but she was old. I could feel shame washing through me, it was no longer funny, I didn't want this woman to take off her clothes, I didn't want to look. I felt that I, not the woman on the stage, was being exposed and humiliated. Surely they would jeer and yell things at her, surely they would feel they had been tricked.

The woman unzipped her black evening gown, slipping it down, and began to move her hips. She smiled with her white mask of a face and her purple mouth, inside her lips her teeth glinted, dull white pebbles, it was a mockery, she didn't intend it, she knew it, it was a trick of another kind but we didn't know who was playing it. The trick was that suddenly there was no trick: the body up there was actual, it was aging, it was not floating in the spotlight somewhere apart from us, like us it was caught in time.

The Victory Burlesk went dead. Nobody made a sound.

SHE

knows exactly what she's doing. Well, why not? Along the street, around the corner, the piece of her that's just disappearing. If that's the way it works, that's what she'll do. Sometimes in shorts, with tanned thighs, or with sleeves like cabbages, or the whole body falling liquid from the shoulders: whatever's about to happen. Lace at the throat, the ankle, skimming the breasts, wherever they're putting it this year, and a laugh or not, at the pulsepoint. What will it get her? Something. You have to know when to run and where, how to close a door, gently. Just a little showing, something that looks like flesh, they follow, a few white stones dropped in the forest, under the trees, shining in the moonlight, clues, a trail. To get from one point to the next and then see another, and another beyond that. She deals in longing, the sickness of the heart, stuttering of the arteries, would you call it suffering, where does it lead? Deeper into the forest, deeper into the moonlight. They think they'll come out from among the trees and she will be there, finally waiting, for them, all cool white light.

THE

FEMALE

BODY

"... entirely devoted to the subject of 'The Female Body.' Knowing how well you have written on this topic ... this capacious topic ..."

--letter from the Michigan Quarterly Review

1.

I agree, it's a hot topic. But only one? Look around, there's a wide range. Take my own, for instance.

I get up in the morning. My topic feels like hell. I sprinkle it with water, brush parts of it, rub it with towels, powder it, add lubricant. I dump in the fuel and away goes my topic, my topical topic, my controversial topic, my capacious topic, my limping topic, my nearsighted topic, my topic with back problems, my badly behaved topic, my vulgar topic, my outrageous topic, my aging topic, my topic that is out of the question and anyway still can't spell, in its oversized coat and worn winter boots, scuttling along the sidewalk as if it were flesh and blood, hunting for what's out there, an avocado, an alderman, an adjective, hungry as ever.

2.

The basic Female Body comes with the following accessories: garter belt, panty girdle, crinoline, camisole, bustle, brassiere, stomacher, chemise,

virgin zone, spike heels, nose ring, veil, kid gloves, fishnet stockings, fichu, bandeau, Merry Widow, weepers, chokers, barrettes, bangles, beads, lorgnette, feather boa, basic black, compact, Lycra stretch one-piece with modesty panel, designer peignoir, flannel nightie, lace teddy, bed, head.

3.

The Female Body is made of transparent plastic and lights up when you plug it in. You press a button to illuminate the different systems. The Circulatory System is red, for the heart and arteries, purple for the veins; the Respiratory System is blue, the Lymphatic System is yellow, the Digestive System is green, with liver and kidneys in aqua. The nerves are done in orange and the brain is pink. The skeleton, as you might expect, is white.

The Reproductive System is optional, and can be removed. It comes with or without a miniature embryo. Parental judgment can thereby be exercised. We do not wish to frighten or offend.

4.

He said, I won't have one of those things in the house. It gives a young girl a false notion of beauty, not to mention anatomy. If a real woman was built like that she'd fall on her face.

She said, If we don't let her have one like all the other girls she'll feel singled out. It'll become an issue. She'll long for one and she'll long to turn into one. Repression breeds sublimation. You know that.

He said, It's not just the pointy plastic tits, it's the wardrobes. The wardrobes and that stupid male doll, what's his name, the one with the underwear glued on.

She said, Better to get it over with when she's young. He said, All right but don't let me see it.

She came whizzing down the stairs, thrown like a dart. She was stark naked. Her hair had been chopped off, her head was turned back to front, she was missing some toes and she'd been tattooed all over her body with purple ink, in a scrollwork design. She hit the potted azalea, trembled there for a moment like a botched angel, and fell.

He said, I guess we're safe.

5.

The Female Body has many uses. It's been used as a door knocker, a bottle-opener, as a clock with a ticking belly, as something to hold up lampshades, as a nutcracker, just squeeze the brass legs together and out comes your nut. It bears torches, lifts victorious wreaths, grows copper wings and raises aloft a ring of neon stars; whole buildings rest on its marble heads.

It sells cars, beer, shaving lotion, cigarettes, hard liquor; it sells diet plans and diamonds, and desire in tiny crystal bottles. Is this the face that launched a thousand products? You bet it is, but don't get any funny big ideas, honey, that smile is a dime a dozen.

It does not merely sell, it is sold. Money flows into this country or that country, flies in, practically crawls in, suitful after suitful, lured by all those hairless preteen legs. Listen, you want to reduce the national debt, don't you? Aren't you patriotic? That's the spirit. That's my girl.

She's a natural resource, a renewable one luckily, because those things wear out so quickly. They don't make 'em like they used to. Shoddy goods.

6.

One and one equals another one. Pleasure in the female is not a requirement. Pair-bonding is stronger in geese. We're not talking about love, we're talking about biology. That's how we all got here, daughter.

Snails do it differently. They're hermaphrodites, and work in threes.

7.

Each female body contains a female brain. Handy. Makes things work. Stick pins in it and you get amazing results. Old popular songs. Short circuits. Bad dreams.

Anyway: each of these brains has two halves. They're joined together by a thick cord; neural pathways flow from one to the other, sparkles of electric information washing to and fro. Like light on waves. Like a conversation. How does a woman know? She listens. She listens in.

The male brain, now, that's a different matter. Only a thin connection. Space over here, time over there, music and arithmetic in their own sealed compartments. The right brain doesn't know what the left brain is doing. Good for aiming though, for hitting the target when you pull the trigger. What's the target? Who's the target? Who cares? What matters is hitting it. That's the male brain for you. Objective.

This is why men are so sad, why they feel so cut off, why they think of themselves as orphans cast adrift, footloose and stringless in the deep void. What void? she says. What are you talking about? The void of the Universe, he says, and she says Oh and looks out the window and tries to get a handle on it, but it's no use, there's too much going on, too many rustlings in the leaves, too many voices, so she says, Would you like a cheese sandwich, a piece of cake, a cup of tea? And he grinds his teeth because she doesn't understand, and wanders off, not just alone but Alone, lost in the dark, lost in the skull, searching for the other half, the twin who could complete him.

Then it comes to him: he's lost the Female Body! Look, it shines in the gloom, far ahead, a vision of wholeness, ripeness, like a giant melon, like an apple, like a metaphor for breast in a bad sex novel; it shines like a balloon, like a foggy noon, a watery moon, shimmering in its egg of light.

Catch it. Put it in a pumpkin, in a high tower, in a compound, in a chamber, in a house, in a room. Quick, stick a leash on it, a lock, a chain, some pain, settle it down, so it can never get away from you again.

COLD-

BLOODED

To my sisters, the Iridescent Ones, the Egg-Bearers, the Many-Faceted, greetings from the Planet of Moths.

At last we have succeeded in establishing contact with the creatures here who, in their ability to communicate, to live in colonies, and to construct technologies, most resemble us, although in these particulars they have not advanced above a rudimentary level.

During our first observation of these "blood creatures," as we have termed them--after the colorful red liquid that is to be found inside their bodies, and that appears to be of great significance to them in their poems, wars, and religious rituals--we supposed them incapable of speech, as those specimens we were able to examine entirely lacked the organs for it. They had no wing casings with which to stribulate--indeed they had no wings; they had no mandibles to click; and the chemical method was unknown to them, since they were devoid of antennae. "Smell," for them, is a perfunctory affair, confined to a flattened and numbed appendage on the front of the head. But after a time, we discovered that the incoherent squeakings and gruntings that emerged from them, especially when pinched, were in fact a form of language, and after that we made rapid progress.

We soon ascertained that their planet, named by us the Planet of Moths after its most prolific and noteworthy genus, is called by these creatures Earth. They have some notion that their ancestors were created from this substance; or so it is claimed in many of their charming but irrational folktales.

In an attempt to establish common ground, we asked them at what season they mated with and then devoured their males. Imagine our embarrassment when we discovered that those individuals with whom we were conversing were males! (It is very hard to tell the difference, as their males are not diminutive, as ours are, but if anything bigger. Also, lacking natural beauty--brilliantly patterned carapaces, diaphanous wings, luminescent eyes, and the like--they attempt to imitate our kind by placing upon their bodies various multicolored draperies, which conceal their generative parts.)

We apologized for our faux pas, and inquired as to their own sexual practices. Picture our nausea and disgust when we discovered that it is the male, not the egg-bearer, which is the most prized among them! Abnormal as this will seem to you, my sisters, their leaders are for the most part male; which may account for their state of relative barbarism. Another peculiarity which must be noted is that, although they frequently kill them in many other ways, they rarely devour their females after procreation. This is a waste of protein; but then, they are a wasteful people.

We hastily abandoned this painful subject.

Next we asked them when they pupated. Here again, as in the case of "clothing"--the draperies we have mentioned--we uncovered a fumbling attempt at imitation of our kind. At some indeterminate point in t

heir life cycles, they cause themselves to be placed in artificial stone or wooden cocoons, or chrysalises. They have an idea that they will someday emerge from these in an altered state, which they symbolize with carvings of themselves with wings. However, we did not observe that any had actually done so.

It is as well to mention at this juncture that in addition to the many species of moths for which it is justly famous among us, the Planet of Moths abounds in thousands of varieties of creatures which resemble our own distant ancestors. It seems that one of our previous attempts at colonization--an attempt so distant that our record of it is lost--must have borne fruit. However, these beings, although numerous and ingenious, are small in size and primitive in their social organization, and attempts to communicate with them were not--or have not been, so far--very successful. The blood creatures are hostile towards them, and employ against them many poisonous sprays, traps, and so forth, in addition to a sinister manual device termed a "fly swatter." It is agonizing indeed to watch one of these instruments of torture and death being wielded by the large and frenzied against the small and helpless; but the rules of diplomacy forbid our intervention. (Luckily the blood creatures cannot understand what we say to one another about them in our own language.)

But despite all the machinery of destruction that is aimed at them, our distant relatives are more than holding their own. They feed on the crops and herd animals and even on the flesh of the blood creatures; they live in their homes, devour their clothes, hide and flourish in the very cracks of their floors. When the blood creatures have succeeded at last in over-breeding themselves, as it seems their intention to do, or in exterminating one another, rest assured that our kind, already superior in both numbers and adaptability, will be poised to achieve the ascendency that is ours by natural right.




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