Friday, March 31, 2017

GHOUL OF PARIS by Peter Nolan Smith

The 1980s were thirty years in the past from the 2010s and when I told stories, my listeners suspected that I was lying about jumping off the Quincy Quarries cliffs or nearly making love with Darryl Hannah in Jamaica or watching bears eat garbage at a dump in Maine.

Sometimes I wondered if they are right, but my memory was spot on about many things like how a Paris friend and his girlfriend would leave the Bains-Douches nightclub high on heroin to sleep in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise.

Guilhomme was a cold-wave musician. His lead singer Eric was squeamish at the sight of blood and tolerated Guilhomme for his talent at the keyboards. Their crow-black band never possessed a name. A model/friend from LA suggested Les Mortes D'Aube.

"I love The Dead of Dawn," Guilhomme trilled, since he resembled an unburied cadaver. His chubby copine was a Pigalle dancer with orange hair and skin as white as chalk. She dressed like an overfed cadaver, her dress in tatters. Sex had nothing to do with their relationship. He was gay and Claudine was asexual. Their love was drugs.

Neither junkie had money for a room, so every night they scaled the high stone walls of the Pere LaChaise Cemetery to squat in a tomb not far from Jim Morrison's grave.

"It's even closer to the plinth of Jean-François Champollion," Guilhomme told me one night, as if the name meant something.

"Who?"

“Champollion was the man who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphics.” Guilhomme was enthralled by anything dead. His favorite band was Black Sabbath. “The Khedive of Egypt gave him the obelisks standing in Place de Concorde. It came from the Luxor Temple.”

“A smaller version is on his grave.” Claudine had dropped out of school at age 14. She admired Guilhomme for his brains. He was her tutor in all things good and bad.

“It's a nice tomb, but Mssr. Les Doors attracts too much of the wrong crowd." Guilhomme's snobbery was based on LA WOMAN than French pride.

"They wake us in the morning with their crying. Boohoo, Jim.

"And he isn't even dead. The cemetery workers tell me that the grave is empty."

"Ouais, Jim Le Grosse is eating cheeseburgers in Marbella." Claudine didn't like American pop stars either. She was in love with Jacques Dutronc.

"So who's the famous Frog buried in your crypt?" I asked with anger, since I loved the Doors' CRYSTAL SHIP.

"Frog?" Guilhomme looked blankly to Claudine. The French haven't a clue that we call them 'Frogs'.

"The dead person."

"There are a lot of bodies buried there. It's a family crypt, but none since 1919," answered Claudine.

"They must have been wiped out with the Spanish Flu." Guilhomme was making up a story and I was listening since it was almost the end of the night. "Their remains are cared for by neglect and that obscurity allows us to live in splendor."

"It's quiet in our crypt at night." Claudine was ready to leave.

"But not the cemetery." Guilhomme was waiting for his man. "We have to keep an eye open for grave robbers. They hunt for the bodies of the newly dead. Normally they only take the head, since it’s easier to hide in a bag than a corpse."

"Plus heads are 3000 new francs, while bodies are 5000 francs," Claudine said, then stop seeing Guilhomme's glare.

"We only go there to sleep."

"Like Dracula."

"No, more like the dead.” Guilhomme obviously loved the macabre atmosphere of the ancient graveyard and painted his fingernails black to hint at a frantic clawing from the depths of the dirt. "I love my sleep."

“The grave robbers are quieter than the devil worshippers on the full moons.”

"Ssssh."

"Sssssh what? It's true."

“They hold rites in the clear of the moon. They gather at special graves and dance to a music from another time. They ask us to join them. Naked. Sweating. Pagan. A knife slipping into a dog. I don't like them.” Guilhomme painted a tapestry of horror, tainted by the French people's love for their dogs.

“They scare me.” Claudine's breasts slipped in and out of her ragged attire. She sometimes worked the streets of Pigalle. Guilhomme liked to think of himself as her pimp.

“Do not worry.” He brandished a long stiletto. A cutlery shop sold them near Notre-Dame. “I will cut them first.”

“They are no fools.” Claudine knew the limits of Guilhomme’s protection. "The devil worshippers are many and the ghouls are even more."

"Let's go." Guilhomme spotted his Moroccan dealer. Ali worked all hours. "Come visit us and we'll show you the sights."

"Thanks." I had no interest in joining them. The stone walls of Pere Lachaise were fifteen feet high.

Guilhomme's sojourn in Pere Lachaise lasted a summer. The crypt offered cool comfort during the hot season. Autumn brought the damp and junkies hate the wet. The two broke up and Guilhomme went back to live with his parents in Versailles. Claudine disappeared completely. No one wanted to say where.

They were haute-class. His eccentricities were a family trait. He quit drugs and became a businessman, although Guilhomme disappeared over the weekends. Eric, his singer, said, "He still frequents Pere Lachise with the ghouls.

“I hope he grows out of it. It is so perverse.”

My 90s and 00s were spent in Asia, but in 2011 I hadn’t been in Paris my benefactor invited me to come down from my writing residence in Luxembourg to act as a translator for his trip to City of Lights.

We stayed at a four-star hotel on the Rue de Rivoli. Our meals were epicurean adventures. Our days were spent in galleries and museums. I called on old friends. Most of them were busy with work. A few met us for dinner. My benefactor made them very welcome. He ordered vintage wines and picked up the check. I had very little time to myself, but one morning I escaped to wander through the Marais.

The old Jewish quarter had changed in my absence. Stores were boutiques and my old hotel particular had become a townhouse. By midday I wanted a drink and headed over to Rue Vielle du Temple, hoping that the Le Petit Fer à Cheval was in business.

I was in luck. The small bar was a monument to the unchanging character of Paris. The bartender was old enough to have been serving ‘pression‘ thirty years ago and he greeted me with a nod, saying I was not a stranger.

Neither was the man in the black suit across the bar.

It was Guilhomme.

He hadn’t aged a day in thirty years and I checked for a reflection in the mirror before calling out his name.

He lifted off his sunglasses to grin with green teeth.

“L’Américain.”

“Good to see you.”

We exchanged fingernail bio of the last decades. He worked for a bank. He laughed to hear that I was writer in residence in Luxembourg.

“A boring town.”

“Boring is good at my age.” I had stolen too many people's share of excitement over the years.

“Tu a raison.” Guilhomme wore his years with a studied heaviness.

He ordered an absinthe.

I asked for a demi.

The other patrons of the bar sniffed the air.

Guilhomme’s dirty black suit smelled of the grave.

“Did you go to work today?”

“Are you with the tax man?” Nothing frightened a Frenchman more that an audit.

“No, just that you seem a little dusty.”

“Ah.” He lifted his sleeve to his nose. “You know it wasn’t me that liked the tomb. It was Claudine. She liked sleeping with the dead. She would take off their clothes and lie with them. She liked nothing better than to fondle their cold flesh. I think she even made love to some of them, but I never watched. Sex was not my thing.”

“And what happened to her.” I feared the worst.

“Claudine” He touched a tooth like he was searching for a morsel of yesterday’s meal stuck in a gap.

“She turned out like all women. She married a lesbian transvestite farmer and moved to the Haute Savoy to be a peasant. They had three enfants. I send them Christmas cards.”

“And you?” I didn't question any of the oddities of his last statement. Everything was within the bounds of normal with Guilhomme.

“Moi, I don’t sleep in Pere Lachaise anymore, but I like to lay on the ground before closing to remind me that we will all sleep in the dirt one of these days.”

“But not today.” I toasted the truth of his prediction, but Guilhomme had too much of the fragrance of death on him to be healthy and I drank down my beer fast. I didn't bother to say 'plus tard' and walked out of the cafe, my heart beating with life.

Later that evening at dinner I entertained my benefactor with a tale of the walking dead. My friends were thrilled by my encounter, but I neglected to mention Claudine’s love of the dead.

Some secrets are better left to the grave.

Especially about those about the living, because those secrets never die.

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