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Good Bones and Simple Murders


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This will not happen tomorrow, but it will happen. As you know, my sisters, we have long been a patient race.

LIKING

MEN

It's time to like men again. Where shall we begin?

I have a personal preference for the backs of necks, because of the word nape, so lightly furred; which is different from the word scruff. But for most of us, especially the beginners, it's best to start with the feet and work up. To begin with the head and all it contains would be too suddenly painful. Then there's the navel, birth dimple, where we fell from the stem, something we have in common; you could look at it and say, He also is mortal. But it may be too close for comfort to those belts and zippers which cause you such distress, and comfort is what you want. He's a carnivore, you're a vegetarian. That's what you have to get over.

The feet then. I give you the feet, pinkly toed and innocuous. Unfortunately you think of socks, lying on the floor, waiting to be picked up and washed. Quickly add shoes. Better? The socks are now contained, and presumably clean.

You contemplate the shoes, shined but not too much--you don't want this man to be either a messy slob or prissy--and you begin to relax. Shoes, kind and civilized, not black but a decent shade of brown. No raucous two-tones, no elevator heels. The shoes dance, with the feet in them, neatly, adroitly, you enjoy this, you think of Fred Astaire, you're beginning to like men. You think of kissing those feet, slowly, after a good scrubbing of course; the feet expand their toes, squirm with pleasure. You like to give pleasure. You run your tongue along the sole and the feet moan.

Cheered up, you start fooling around. Footgear, you think. Golf shoes, grassy and fatherly, white sneakers for playing tennis in, agile and sweet, quick as rabbits. Workboots, solid and trustworthy. A good man is hard to find but they do exist, you know it now. Someone who can run a chainsaw without cutting off his leg. What a relief. Checks and plaids, laconic, a little Scottish. Rubber boots, for wading out to the barn in the rain in order to save the baby calf. Power, quiet and sane. Knowing what to do, doing it well. Sexy.

But rubber boots aren't the only kind. You don't want to go on but you can't stop yourself. Riding boots, you think, with the sinister crop; but that's not too bad, they're foreign and historical. Cowboy boots, two of them, planted apart, stomp, stomp, on Main Street just before the shot rings out. A spur, in the groin. A man's gotta do, but why this? Jackboots, so highly shined you can see your own face in the right one, as the left one raises itself and the heel comes down on your nose. Now you see rows of them, marching, marching; yours is the street-level view, because you are lying down. Power is the power to smash, two hold your legs, two your arms, the fifth shoves a pointed instrument into you; a bayonet, the neck of a broken bottle, and it's not even wartime, this is a park, with a children's playground, tiny red and yellow horses, it's daytime, men and women stare at you out of their closed car windows. Later the policeman will ask you what you did to provoke this. Boots were not such a bright idea after all.

But just because all rapists are men it doesn't follow that all men are rapists, you tell yourself. You try desperately to retain the image of the man you love and also like, but now it's a sand-colored plain, no houses left standing anywhere, columns of smoke ascending, trenches filled with no quarter, heads with the faces rotting away, mothers, babies, young boys and girls, men as well, turning to skulls, who did this? Who defines enemy? How can you like men?

Still, you continue to believe it can be done. If not all men, at least some, at least two, at least one. It takes an act of faith. There is his foot, sticking out from under the sheet, asleep, naked as the day he was born. The day he was born. Maybe that's what you have to go back to, in order to trace him here, the journey he took, step by step. In order to begin. Again and again.

IN LOVE

WITH

RAYMOND

CHANDLER

An affair with Raymond Chandler, what a joy! Not because of the mangled bodies and the marinated cops and hints of eccentric sex, but because of his interest in furniture. He knew that furniture could breathe, could feel, not as we do but in a way more muffled, like the word upholstery, with its overtones of mustiness and dust, its bouquet of sunlight on aging cloth or of scuffed leather on the backs and seats of sleazy office chairs. I think of his sofas, stuffed to roundness, satin-covered, pale blue like the eyes of his cold blond unbodied murderous women, beating very slowly, like the hearts of hibernating crocodiles; of his chaises longues, with their malicious pillows. He knew about front lawns too, and greenhouses, and the interiors of cars.

This is how our love affair would go. We would meet at a hotel, or a motel, whether expensive or cheap it wouldn't matter. We would enter the room, lock the door, and begin to explore the furniture, fingering the curtains, running our hands along the spurious gilt frames of the pictures, over the real marble or the chipped enamel of the luxurious or tacky washroom sink, inhaling the odor of the carpets, old cigarette smoke and spilled gin and fast meaningless sex or else the rich abstract scent of the oval transparent soaps imported from England, it wouldn't matter to us; what would matter would be our response to the furniture, and the furniture's response to us. Only after we had sniffed, fingered, rubbed, rolled on, and absorbed the furniture of the room would we fall into each other's arms, and onto the bed (king-size? peach-colored? creaky? narrow? four-posted? pioneer-quilted? lime-green chenille-covered?), ready at last to do the same things to each other.

SIMPLE

MURDERS

He had a thin rapacious mustache and very pointed shoes. She had green eyes and hair the color of flame. He had a silver cigarette case and large, brutal thumbs. She had a scar across her cheekbone and a bitter laugh. He had the guileless blue eyes of a cherub but the soulless smile of a fiend. She had a black hat. He had a black cat. Every single one of them was in disguise.

*

He was lying face down on the priceless oriental carpet, with the bejeweled handle of the dagger protruding from between his expensively suited shoulder blades. She was draped over the disheveled bed in her red nylon negligee, with the livid marks of ten huge fingers standing out on her throat.

No. Let's start again.

He was sheathed in green plastic garbage bags, tied neatly all the way down with a row of his own festive neckties, and buried at the bottom of the garden. They never would have found him if the neighbor hadn't wanted to replace the fence. It was the wife who did it, with a frying pan. He'd been beating her up for years.

As for the other one, she was run through a meat grinder and frozen in little freezer baggies labeled "Stew." Her daughter wanted the old-age checks. I learned about all of this in a British Rail station, en route to Norwich, because my train was late. You can't make such things up.

*

It was because of the chocolate bars. It was because of the stars. It was because of a life behind bars. It was her hormones. It was the radiation from the wires and phones. It was his mother saying, You'll never amount to a hill of beans. It was because he was so all-fired mean. It was the sleeping pills. It was the frills, on the blouse, under the jacket, over the breasts. It was the blood tests. It was the sigh, the cry, the hand on the thigh. It was the hunger, it was the rage, it was the spirit of the age.

It was a coincidence. It was the wrong bottle. My hand slipped. How was I to know it was loaded?

It was the fear. It was the cold, cold voice of the frozen angel, the voice from the outer darkness, whispering in my ear.

*

Mr. Plum, in the conservatory, with the wrench. She saw the wrench and she said, What's that wrench for? And I thought she wanted sex. So I strangled her.

*

It was the dog hair on the back seat of the car. It was the bloodstain on the chandelier. It was the fingernail in the pail. It was the chalice with the palace. It was the chicken that did nothing in the nighttime. It was the one detail you always forget, and for that they will come to get you. Aha, they will say. You thought you we

re so smart. This is the worst part, just before you wake.

*

It was the heart, the too-small heart, the too-small devious heart, the lopsided heart, the impoverished heart, the heart someone dropped, the heart with a crack in it. It was the heart that thought it needed to kill. To show them all. To feel. To heal. To become whole.

ICONOGRAPHY

He wants her arranged just so. He wants her, arranged. He arranges to want her.

This is the arrangement they have made. With strings attached, or ropes, stockings, leather straps. What else is arranged? Furniture, flowers. For contemplation and a graceful disposition of parts to compose a unified and aesthetic whole.

Once she wasn't supposed to like it. To have her in a position she didn't like, that was power. Even if she liked it she had to pretend she didn't. Then she was supposed to like it. To make her do something she didn't like and then make her like it, that was greater power. The greatest power of all is when she doesn't really like it but she's supposed to like it, so she has to pretend.

Whether he's making her like it or making her dislike it or making her pretend to like it is important, but it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is making her. Over, from nothing, new. From scratch, the way he wants.

It can never be known whether she likes it or not. By this time she doesn't know herself. All you see is the skin, that smile of hers, flat but indelible, like a tattoo. Hard to tell, and she never will, she can't. They don't get into it unless they like it, he says. He has the last word. He has the word.

Watch yourself. That's what the mirrors are for, this story is a mirror story which rhymes with horror story, almost but not quite. We fall back into these rhythms as if into safe hands.

ALIEN

TERRITORY

1.

He conceives himself in alien territory. Not his turf--alien! Listen! The rushing of the red rivers, the rustling of the fresh leaves in the dusk, always in the dusk, under the dark stars, and the wish-wash, wish-wash of the heavy soothing sea, which becomes--yes!--the drums of the natives, beating, beating, louder, faster, lower, slower. Are they hostile? Who knows, because they're invisible.

He sleeps and wakes, wakes and sleeps, and suddenly all is movement and suffering and terror and he is shot out gasping for breath into blinding light and a place that's even more dangerous, where food is scarce and two enormous giants stand guard over his wooden prison. Shout as he might, rattle the bars, nobody comes to let him out. One of the giants is boisterous and hair-covered, with a big stick; the other walks more softly but has two enormous bulgy comforts which she selfishly refuses to detach and give away, to him. Neither of them looks anything like him, and their language is incomprehensible.

Aliens! What can he do? And to make it worse, they surround him with animals--bears, rabbits, cats, giraffes--each one of them stuffed and, evidently, castrated, because although he looks and looks, all they have at best is a tail. Is this the fate the aliens have in store for him, as well?

Where did I come from? he asks, for what will not be the first time. Out of me, the bulgy one says fondly, as if he should be pleased. Out of where? Out of what? He covers his ears, shutting out the untruth, the shame, the pulpy horror. It is not to be thought, it is not to be borne!

No wonder that at the first opportunity he climbs out the window and joins a gang of other explorers, each one of them an exile, an immigrant, like himself. Together they set out on their solitary journeys.

What are they searching for? Their homeland. Their true country. The place they came from, which can't possibly be here.

2.

All men are created equal, as someone said who was either very hopeful or very mischievous. What a lot of anxiety could have been avoided if he'd only kept his mouth shut.

Sigmund was wrong about the primal scene: Mom and Dad, keyhole version. That might be up-setting, true, but there's another one:

Five guys standing outside, pissing into a snow-bank, a river, the underbrush, pretending not to look down. Or maybe not looking down: gazing upward, at the stars, which gives us the origin of astronomy. Anything to avoid comparisons, which aren't so much odious as intimidating.

And not only astronomy: quantum physics, engineering, laser technology, all numeration between zero and infinity. Something safely abstract, detached from you; a transfer of the obsession with size to anything at all. Lord, Lord, they measure everything: the height of the Great Pyramids, the rate of finger-nail growth, the multiplication of viruses, the sands of the sea, the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. And then it's only a short step to proving that God is a mathematical equation. Not a person. Not a body, Heaven forbid. Not one like yours. Not an earthbound one, not one with size and therefore pain.

When you're feeling blue, just keep on whistling. Just keep on measuring. Just don't look down.

3.

The history of war is a history of killed bodies. That's what war is: bodies killing other bodies, bodies being killed.

Some of the killed bodies are those of women and children, as a side effect, you might say. Fallout, shrapnel, napalm, rape and skewering, antipersonnel devices. But most of the killed bodies are men. So are most of those doing the killing.

Why do men want to kill the bodies of other men? Women don't want to kill the bodies of other women. By and large. As far as we know.

Here are some traditional reasons: Loot. Territory. Lust for power. Hormones. Adrenaline high. Rage. God. Flag. Honor. Righteous anger. Revenge. Oppression. Slavery. Starvation. Defense of one's life. Love; or, a desire to protect the women and children. From what? From the bodies of other men.

What men are most afraid of is not lions, not snakes, not the dark, not women. Not any more. What men are most afraid of is the body of another man.

Men's bodies are the most dangerous things on earth.

4.

On the other hand, it could be argued that men don't have any bodies at all. Look at the magazines! Magazines for women have women's bodies on the covers, magazines for men have women's bodies on the covers. When men appear on the covers of magazines, it's magazines about money, or about world news. Invasions, rocket launches, political coups, interest rates, elections, medical breakthroughs. Reality. Not entertainment. Such magazines show only the heads, the unsmiling heads, the talking heads, the decision-making heads, and maybe a little glimpse, a coy flash of suit. How do we know there's a body, under all that discreet pinstriped tailoring? We don't, and maybe there isn't.

What does this lead us to suppose? That women are bodies with heads attached, and men are heads with bodies attached? Or not, depending.

You can have a body, though, if you're a rock star, an athlete, or a gay model. As I said, entertainment. Having a body is not altogether serious.

5.

Or else too serious for words.

The thing is: men's bodies aren't dependable. Now it does, now it doesn't, and so much for the triumph of the will. A man is the puppet of his body, or vice versa. He and it make tomfools of each other; it lets him down. Or up, at the wrong moment. Just stare hard out the schoolroom window and recite the multiplication tables, and pretend this isn't happening! Your face at least can be immobile. Easier to have a trained dog, which will do what you want it to, nine times out of ten.

The other thing is: men's bodies are detachable. Consider the history of statuary: the definitive bits get knocked off so easily, through revolution or prudery or simple transportation, with leaves stuck on for substitutes, fig or grape; or, in more northern climates, maple. A man and his body are soon parted.

In the old old days, you became a man through blood. Through incisions, tattoos, splinters of wood; through an intimate wound, and the refusal to flinch. Through being beaten by older boys, in the dormitory, with a wooden paddle you were forced to carve yourself. The torments varied, but they were all torments. It's a boy, they cry with joy. Let's cut some off!

Every morning I get dow

n on my knees and thank God for not creating me a man. A man so chained to unpredictability. A man so much at the mercy of himself. A man so prone to sadness. A man who has to take it like a man. A man, who can't fake it.

In the gap between desire and enactment, noun and verb, intention and infliction, want and have, compassion begins.

6.

Bluebeard ran off with the third sister, intelligent though beautiful, and shut her up in his palace. Everything here is yours, my dear, he said to her. Just don't open the small door. I will give you the key, however. I expect you not to use it.

Believe it or not, this sister was in love with him, even though she knew he was a serial killer. She roamed over the whole palace, ignoring the jewels and the silk dresses and the piles of gold. Instead she went through the medicine cabinet and the kitchen drawers, looking for clues to his uniqueness. Because she loved him, she wanted to understand him. She also wanted to cure him. She thought she had the healing touch.

But she didn't find out a lot. In his closet there were suits and ties and matching shoes and casual wear, some golf outfits and a tennis racquet, and some jeans for when he wanted to rake up the leaves. Nothing unusual, nothing kinky, nothing sinister. She had to admit to being a little disappointed.

She found his previous women quite easily. They were in the linen closet, neatly cut up and ironed flat and folded, stored in mothballs and lavender. Bachelors acquire such domestic skills. The women didn't make much of an impression on her, except the one who looked like his mother. That one she took out with rubber gloves on and slipped into the incinerator in the garden. Maybe it was his mother, she thought. If so, good riddance.




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