An Artists Goes to Hell – Excerpt 7

6 Dec

As he journeyed down the hall, there were pillars on either side of him, and on those pillars were statues more Greco-Roman in style—the faces smooth and jaws rounded, the eyes expressive even without any depiction of pupil and bodies impeccably charactered with every muscle, tendon, dimple, tissue, crease and curve.

The door at the end of the hallway was a standard modern door with a silver knob. He turned it and went in. He found himself in what looked like a small doctor’s waiting room with a round reception desk. The receptionist had impossibly tall, bunned-up brown hair stacked atop her head. To her left, other people waited quietly. Among them was an old man with one leg crossed over the other, a leather jacket and a black beret, the tip of his nose scabbed and infected-yellow, his bottom lip protruding and his eyes hooded. A woman of about thirty with light-brown hair, a brown coat and a little sleeping baby in her arms which she bobbed absently. A kid of about nineteen or so in gym-shorts and a red hoody. A chubby girl with a sharp prettiness to her face enhanced by her silky, dark hair into which she seemed to have put considerable effort. A man in a business suit, middle-aged, an aquiline nose, glasses and big timid eyes.

‘Are you Pensivemo?’ the receptionist with the impossibly tall hairdo called.

He turned. ‘Yeah. That’s me.’

‘It’ll just be about ten or fifteen minutes if you want to go ahead and have a seat.’

‘Thank you,’ he said and joined the others.

Pensivemo sat in a chair opposite the old man with the infected nose who was now asleep. Just as Pensivemo got comfortable, the old man’s eyes opened a little. He looked at Pensivemo and closed them again.

On the table in the middle were a series of books and magazines: The Book of Mormon, The King James Bible, a book called Never Assume the Blame, and a series of magazines with unflattering pictures of celebrities at their fattest, their least makeuped and photographs of their least photogenic faces.

Pensivemo was just about to pick up The Book of Mormon to have a curious glance when something peculiar caught him off guard. The smooth jazz of the radio station overhead ended its music and gave way to the DJ, talking softly, but it sounded like his voice was doubled, being both overhead and present behind the door next to the reception counter.

‘And here we are,’ he said, ‘live at lower-level A where I’m about to pay a visit, along with our star violinist, Penelope Ardwell, to the good people in the lobby waiting for their turn.’

The door opened and in came a middle-aged man wearing sunglasses. He had following him a girl of about twenty or so holding a violin, and behind them, a few men with tucked-in black shirts followed with big microphones.

‘Alright,’ the DJ said, ‘we’re here in the lobby, hopefully the sound is good enough, where Penelope is going to play an old piece written in 1784 by Johann Bon Swindendeisen called, “Valhalla’s Horizon.”’

Penelope began playing very slowly, a low, melancholy note. As she did, the old man sitting across from Pensivemo uncrossed his legs, opened his eyes, munched at the air and turned to face her. Everyone else in the lobby faced her as she played.

Penelope played music that was indicative of childhoods. Many a spring evening with the tall grass in the meadow turned bright with the sun sitting somewhere just behind it, as though stopping to rest in the cool places. Many figures passing in and out of remembrance: faces, grandfather clocks, charms and silver necklaces. Many smells: the pungency of salt-water foam lapping about dark, porous rocks, the gamey smell of adolescent bodies huddled around bowls of soup at the settling of warm days into cool evenings, and the redolence of big fern leaves hiding faces. You may have whatever world you want, Pensivemo often thought, but you could not have whatever kind of past you wanted. You can look at the past however you like. The past that Penelope’s gave him was the past of unbroken curfews, newspaper rustling funny-browed fathers, wavy-haired dogs resting morose about slippered feet by warm fires. It was a past of cigarettes, matches, boxes, brown socks and browning white socks. It was a past of simpering insults across bicycle bars. A past of big pictures and black and white shows on skipped school days. A past of fawning followers in armies of striped shirts, dirty shorts, snapped shoe-buckles, pink skirts and tousled hair. Yes, he was a little revolutionary even back then with his own little band of rebels. He didn’t have collegiate communism at his disposal to gather admirers until he was nineteen and twenty. It was then he smoked with Stephens, Noels, Adrians and Benedettos. It was then he chatted up and fluttered about with Brendas, Maeves, Dierdres and Bernadettes. He dropped his typewriter along with communism and opted for a pencil and delirious aestheticism. A childhood legend and rebel no more, a collegiate communist intellectual poet no more, a sedecuer of Maeves and Bernadettes, a smoker with Stephens and Noels, no more. He was the homeless artist. No cigarettes. No alcohol. Hardly a woman save the consummated, long suffering correspondence across time, written wit and many suggestions and offers of money, advice, and guidance—following a final, comfortable civil union with his Ludmilla. He could have whatever kind of world he wanted. This was the center of his poetry and this was the center of his life and his development as an artist. The world he wanted depended on the word. If he used the right words, he could have the right world. A thousand mountain tops peaked with light snow. A thousand notes of lullaby to send him off to sleep. A thousand bushes to hide in which a thousand kinds of games might be played. He was a vest. He was a floppy set of hair. He was homeliness in the midst of beauty. He was homelessness in the midst of the sheltered.

Yes, the world. It could be had, served up, dressed, prepared and conditioned any way one wanted it. Unfortunately, there was still this problem of the past, the past and Penelope’s violin, whose notes had now become so soporific that in time he was sure that any care he had for the past at all would be exorcised altogether. The very last thing he remembered before his time in that place was a girl at the Costco giving him a sample of pork and beans in a tiny paper cup with a tiny plastic spoon.

The man sitting across from him sniffed with his infected nose, the nubs of his nostrils flaring as he frowned.

Penelope developed a someone-farted-look as she played her notes slower. The receptionist, squinting, waved a hand of long, red-painted fingernails in front of her nose and her puckered lips.

To the right of the old man, the teenage boy was leaning to one side and the other, looking for someone with whom he could share a crass secret it seemed necessary to disclose.

‘What the hell is that smell?’ the woman bobbing the baby asked.

Pensivemo could smell it. That gassy skunk proximity, thicker, nearer, heavier …

The woman with the baby screamed and jumped from her chair. The old man with the infected nose scrambled about butt-wise, struggling at first with both feet lifted and both hands waving before he jumped up and hobbled out after the woman through the same door that Pensivemo had entered. The teenager and the business man with the aquiline nose were trying to squeeze through the door together.

Pensivemo tried to stand but felt his hand jerk against cold metal. His wrist was fastened to the chair’s arm with a chain. He tried to pull it. The chair was fastened to the ground.

Penelope’s playing was now so incredibly slow that it just sounded like noise. When the light began to dim, she stopped altogether.


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