Wednesday, August 2, 2017

IN ABSENCE OF AMNESIA - Chapter 6 By Peter Nolan Smith

At the beginning of 1986 Candia left for a photo shoot in the Alps.

Several days later She phoned to say her boss had invited the fashion team for a ski trip to Isola 2000. Having heard her opinion that skiers were too poor to vacation in the tropics, I bit my tongue and drank heavier than normal that weekend. Candia called on Sunday to say they were stranded by a snowstorm. After she hung up, I convinced myself this was a fling and everything would be like it was before, otherwise she would have never bothered with the call.

On the day of her return I cleaned the apartment, bought flowers, chilled a bottle of champagne, and sprayed a perfume on the bed for an evening of coaxing her into my arms.

Candia arrived late. A new silver fur coat adorned cinnamon skin untouched by the alpine sun and my heart crumpled like a cheap beer can. The telephone rang and she snatched the receiver out of my hand. After several whispers Candia announced, “I have to meet a client at the Hotel Crillion for dinner.”

“Go ahead.”

She left without mentioning what time to expect her home. It wouldn’t be early.

I had dinner at La Coupole and took a taxi to the club. It was an off night and I ordered a whiskey-coke. By 3AM I drank myself partially deaf and dumb.

“What’s wrong?” Bernard stopped my dancing on a stool to Arthur Lee’s HEY JOE.

“Nothing another whiskey-coke wouldn’t cure.” I shouted for a refill and Bernard annulled my order. “Go home and sleep this off?”

“A house is not a home.” I staggered to the entrance and a runway model from Baltimore waylaid my departure. “Care to join me for a nightcap.”

“Where?” I had champagne waiting in a bucket of melted ice.

“Where is unimportant.” And she whispered an obscene proposal. Her idea of a nightcap differed from mine. “So?”

My girlfriend was probably making love to another man, however I held the high moral ground. “Another night.”

“Another night?” The beautiful redhead graced the cover of Elle. No male in their right mind had refused her favors. “You’re making a big mistake.”

“It won’t be the first or the biggest.” I weaved out of the club into a flurry of errant snowflakes. My feet trudged across Place de La Concorde to the Seine. The river lay between the two banks like octopus ink and I lifted my leg onto the parapet.

Rue St. Honore. I ran off the bridge, as the flic yelled, “ArrĂȘte, arrĂȘte.”

I outran the fat flic into a thick snow softening the night. Cars glided almost noiselessly on the streets, as I marched relentlessly to the 15th arrondisement, realizing while I might not forget this trespass, I could forgive Candia’s sin. I just needed the chance.

Reaching the Impasse Dantzig I lifted my eyes. The lights in the atelier were off. My key turned in the lock. The door opened with a creak. An empty champagne bottle was on the floor between shiny Gucci loafers. They were neither my size nor style. A man moaned behind the nearest closed door and I charged into the bedroom with a roar. A balding man lifted his arms too late to deflect my fist and he tumbled semi-conscious onto the floor. I threw Candia on the floor. The girl nursing my cold, the lover cuddling me after sex, and the dinner companion laughing at my jokes were gone

“Why?”

“You know why,” she spat with an unrecognizable hostility. “You never loved me. You loved a ghost. Your cousin told me about this ‘Lisa’ and she never loved you.”

I envisioned a deadly blow, police, and trial. No French court had convicted a man of a crime de passion, but my blow would have been revenge for her speaking the truth. I chucked the Mickey Mouse telephone through the window into the street, after which I scourged the couple from the apartment with the frayed wire. The man’s suit and shoes followed it out the broken window as a petty act of vengeance.

I packed my clothes, journals, tape deck, camera, and photos. Five minutes later I fled the apartment fearing the arrival of the gendarmes, and hailed a taxi on the nearest boulevard. The hour and my bag explained the story and the unshaven driver shrugged knowingly, “Un hotel?”

“Ouais, le Hotel Marais.” My accelerated breathing worried the driver, who asked, “Mssr., vous etes okay?”

“Ouais.” I lowered the window. The cold air failed to pluck the splintered razors from my lungs. A bottle of tranquilizers rested in my coat. Three or four were on the menu. It took the driver 20 minutes to reach Rue Des Ecouffes. I paid with a 100-franc note.

“Keep the change.” The sky was fettered by glowering gray clouds. The day would have no dawn.

“Merci.” He drove away to pick up a couple holding hands.

I entered the hotel lobby with my hand gripping the bottle of tranks. The old woman was asleep at the desk. Waking her seemed a sin, except I had nearly broken the 5th Commandment twenty minutes before. I rang the bell and she blinked several times before recognizing my face from the previous stay.

“Ah, Mssr., je imagine que vous voulez une chambre.”

“Une chambre pour un nuit.” A room with a bath fulfilled my physical needs.

“Chambre 312.” She passed over a brass key and indicated the stairs.

It was the room from before. Nothing had changed. I sat on the soft bed and weighed my options. The pill bottle was only one route. The window was another. Neither would save my soul and I dropped three pills. The rest would have to wait for a more desperate occasion.

I woke to the shouts of the little gangsters on Rue des Ecouffes. The bells from a nearby church toned out the noon hour. The throbbing of my hangover was replaced by the resurrection of Candia’s infidelity. She had brought her lover on purpose. Jack Lemmon must have felt the same way in THE APARTMENT when he realized Shirley MacLaine was having an affair with his boss, Fred MacMurray.

My hands mimicked the act of strangulation. I choked her dead. Thin air was no replacement for a seventeen year-old’s neck, except I was only a murderer in my most grievous thoughts.

I tore up the photos of Candia naked in the changing cabinets of the Piscine Deligny, singing in Clermont-Fernand, and visiting her grandmother in Vichy. The shreds built a pyre in the hotel ashtray and burned with a chemical speed. The flames wrinkled her face and an acrid fume corkscrewed into my nose. Fearing Candia might invade my body, I flushed the flaming photos down the toilet, then left the hotel for a drink.

The icy wind hurried me to the Tartine on Rue Du Rivoli and I sat on the terrace sheltered by a glass wall. The waitress wrote down my order of a cafe au lait, croissant, and two shots of Calvados before disappearing inside.

Waiting for my breakfast I viewed passing couples with hatred. Two more Calvados numbed my senses to the grisly weather and diminished the bite of Candia’s words, Vanessa’s coldness, and Lisa’s disappearance. After a fifth applejack I failed to register someone sitting beside me, until he lit a cigarette.

“I’ve been looking for you.” Judging from the stubble Bernard had not woken at his apartment.

“Why?” My face was numb from the alcohol.

“I called your house this morning and spoke with your girlfriend.” Bernard signaled to the waiter for another round.

“More like my girlfiend.” Dropping an ‘r’ from friend was lost on the Frenchman. “What the bitch say for herself?”

“She is worried about you.” Bernard’s eyes pursued two schoolgirls.

“If she cared about me, why she bring home that man?” I blew into my hands.

“You Americans treat women as men. They are women and we have to protect the double standard, otherwise the battle between man and woman will be lost.” Bernard waved to a model heading to a casting call. “You allowed her to have affairs and she concluded you did not care about her. She said you were still in love with another love. Some blonde.”

I had told Candia the story once. I hadn't thought about Lisa since then. At least I didn't think that I had thought about her.

“I almost killed her.”

"Who? The blonde?" The French like stories of hot blood.

"Not the blonde." I had to forget Lisa someday. Probably when I was dead. "Candia."

“Excellent, and now she appreciates you.”

“Appreciates me?”

“Yes, a woman is a horse. You hold the reins tight and the horse will throw you. Too loose and she will run away.” He slapped his hands together. “Yeehaw.”

“You’ve been watching too many cowboy movies.” My parents had reared me to not hit a woman. It was their one rule that I obeyed without question. I was sadly learning that there should have been more.

“The caveman drags a woman by the hair to the cave.” Bernard inhaled deeply on his cigarette. “They have a little corps-a-corps. She stays with him. Not the man who lets her ugh-ugh with another caveman.”

The only drawings of a Neanderthals dragging a woman by her hair existed as TV cartoons, however man’s dominance over woman needed no historical proof in France. “This is the almost the 21st Century.”

“Eh, alors, the collapse of classic family structures reinforces the need to establish a rapport de force,” Bernard stubbed out his cigarette. “Yell at her, hit her, and make love. She expects you to act like a man, not a Mickey Mouse.”

“Couldn’t I be another animal?”

“No, you are not a dog, you are not an ape. You are man.” My passivity ignited his machismo for my own good. “I have seen you throw Brigitte Bardot out of a nightclub. Your friend Danny talked about your fights with the Russian mafia. Are you going to let a teenager push you around?” “Sometimes you have to know when to do nothing.”

“If you let this wound bleed, you will be no good for the next woman you meet.”

”I’m done with women.”

“Ha, there is always another woman. A plus tard.”

To prove his thesis Bernard stalked a fashionably-attired woman in her thirties. Within a few paces she rewarded his boldness with a smile and they linked arms.

Bernard was right. I had sung I’M A MAN a hundred times.

Restrengthened by the Yardbirds song, I shambled to the boulevard, foreseeing my kicking in the door, except every taxi was occupied and the urge to reclaim Candia was humbled by the icy drizzle.

I called Brigitte. She came across the bridge for lunch. Angus was happy to see me.

“I knew this would happen.”

“I knew you would say that.”

“Philippe said she was too young to be faithful.” This was hard to take coming from an adulteress, but my problem with Candia had nothing to do with her infidelity.

“I was faithful.”

“Only in body. That blonde in New York has a lock on your heart. Fool.” Brigitte offered my old place on the sofa. Sleeping with Angus might accelerate the healing process, however I opted to remain at the hotel.

The owner brought me tea and a baguette every morning. Candia came to the club and asked for a second chance. It was more like the fifth. We slept together three nights and I got a venereal disease. She said it came from a toilet seat. Our final good-bye was at the VD clinic.

I bought a typewriter and wrote a novella about a nightclub owner being offered fame and fortune by Satan. A French production company invested money in a script of GO-GO GIRLS FROM HELL. Bernard hired three models to cut a record TAKE ME HIGHER. The three models got pregnant from their boyfriends and blamed me for the miracle of Immaculate Conception. The hundred sample records of TAKE ME HIGHER arrived warped as potato chips and the film company lost interest without the girls.

Worse Vadim and Lisa showed up at le Reve.

“Surprised to see me here.” I bought a bottle of champagne.

“No, everyone said you were here.” Her eyes were distant.

“They said it was fun here.” Vadim held her hand.

“Some nights it is.” Usually the ones Bernard and I drank too much.

“You get back to New York?” Vadim ordered a better bottle of champagne.

“Not at all.”

“That’s good.” Vadim’s eyes followed the waitress to the bar.

“Vadim can’t go back to the States.” Lisa ignored his surveillance. Her beauty was passing from youth to near thirty.

"But we are welcome in Russia.” Vadim toasted me with a nearly empty glass.

“Back in the USSR.”

“You should come out there. Moscow is wild like New York.” Vadim glowed with pride. “Another few years and communism is dead.”

“Yeah, you two were made for Russia.” Lisa’s disdain extended to both of us and I wondered how Vadim had survived the last four years with her.

“I like any place fun.”

Bernard joined our table. We drank more champagne. Lisa kept saying she wanted to leave. Vadim wasn’t in the mood to sit in a hotel. Bernard and he became friends that week. Lisa never came to the bar again.<

Bernard accepted Vadim’s invitation to vacation over the holidays in Ibiza. He wanted me to come too, but instead I bought a one-way ticket to America from a travel agency on the Boulevard St. Paul.

A taxi got me to Charles de Gaulle Aeroport with an hour to spare. I dumped my spare change into the charity bowl for children. There were no good-byes.

My parents didn’t question my return and I celebrated a family Christmas with all the trimmings. My brothers and sisters sensed my smiles were superficial and asked me to stay, except Boston was too small after Paris and New York.

The Amtrak train took 5 hours to reach Penn Station. A taxi drove me to East 10th street. My apartment was small after living in Candia’s atelier, but the pizza at Stromboli’s was good and TV was in English. My friends initially greeted me with suspicion, since any absence from the city was regarded an act of treason to New Yorkers.

No one mentioned the Continental, Viktor Malenski, or Lisa, for Manhattan moves too fast to allow scandals to take permanent root. My mail from the past year held nothing from the NYPD and the phone messages complied by the subleasee were from friends and not Internal Affairs.

At the end of January I instructed Bernard to sell my share of the club. He warned this was an imprudent business move. I needed the cash. The money arrived the end of January.

An albino producer hired me to write a screenplay. We spent the winter in the Berkshire Hills, fleshing out a tale about a young mistress inheriting an offshore island in the Keys. He had me sign over the rights to WHERE THE HIGHWAY ENDS for $10,000 and a 1964 Triumph Tiger. The movie was made it to film.

“You should come out to LA,” Sherri said XXX companies were paying good money for porno scripts.

“You said that before.”

“And you said ‘no’.”

“Give me a good reason to come out.”

“Maybe you can meet a nice girl.”

“Are there any?”

“Well, maybe not nice, but sexy.” She never lied to me.

“I’ll be there.”

I flew out to the valley and wrote several screenplays, however the industry was switching from film to video for the fast-forward action crowd and starlets would rather fuck a car valet than a writer. North Hollywood was hell for writers.

Without Che’s star quality my cousin’s films had degenerated to sloppy free-for-alls. Her name dropped from star to supporting roles and Sherri’s condition worsened with an arrest for indecent exposure. After I bailed her out, she drove her battered Skylark directly to the dealer in Sunland.

“Maybe you should cool out. We could go to the desert.”

“So you can fuck me like everyone else?” This was the drugs speaking.

“No, so you don’t die.” Her arms and legs were stitched with tracks. She was nodding behind the wheel and we narrowly missed a semi-trailer on the Ventura Freeway.

"Let me drive."

"No."

"You're going to kill us." I was desperate, but not that desperate.

“I survived being deserted by my mother. I survived adoption. I survived these films. I survived Che leaving me.” She cried for an hour by the side of the road. I held her in my arms. Worst was sure to come.

“You can’t die on me. You promised you would push me down the stairs when I need to die.”

“I’ll live that long.” Sherri sniffed away the tears. “Even if it kills me.”

Several days later Sherri dropped me at LAX and I wondered whether I would see her again. Our friends and enemies died from AIDS, ODs, suicides, and stupid accidents. Natural causes were for the rest of the world and so were normal relationships.

New York women were looking for millionaires. I didn’t stand a chance against bald-headed bankers or loud stockbrokers. On a visit to Boston my mother suggested visiting Ireland to find a woman like herself or my sisters.

“I’ll even pay the ticket. I know you want to marry and have kids."

"I do.” It was the first time I admitted this goal.

“You’ll never meet a girl like that in New York.”

“Other people do. Maybe I’ll be lucky.”

“Lucky is for horse races.” She believed more in prayers than casinos. “What about Ireland?”

“I’ll save it for a rainy day.” Every Irish woman left the Emerald Isle once she’s old enough to breed or else she’ll have a brood of five by 20. I would go when the time was right and that time was not now.

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