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Shoot It Again
This page formatted 2007 Blackmask Online.
Ragged red streak crawling up the sand to where she was spread-legged on her belly... as if staring over the top of the sand dune. Dull-dark and bright red blood on the strong legs, the bathing suit. I was quite sorry Lu was dead.
For a very long time I looked up at her solid thighs—the only direction in which I could look. So many men had known those legs, although not a one of us had really known her body or.... I heard these little dry coughs, like animal barks
Oh God, dogs attacking us? Turning my head was a great effort, so I pushed it back into the sand far as possible, tried rolling my head from side to side, looking for the dogs.
I saw blood splashes all over the sandy hollow... hell of a large stain under me. The red blotches... like one of my non-objective paintings. DEATH SCENE—obvious and corny title. But dying certainly is damn objective, the most objective thing....
The animal grunts came from above me... at the top of the dune. Pressing my head deep into the sand, rolling my eyes upward, I watched her lips move—it didn't seem possible she wasn't dead. Calling to her, I didn't hear my voice. Lu just kept staring intently ahead, making these weird barking sounds. Digging with my elbows, I started moving up the dune toward her....
then the fire broke out in my guts again.
A very long time later—the sky was now a much truer blue—I found myself next to Lu. I tried not seeing the bloody breast covered with sticky sand...
looking for all the world like a giant hamburger with bread crumbs, ready for frying. Her face had the falling-apart-look, as when she needed a shot. Full of taut lines... aged... harsh. But her eyes were bright, alive. With sand sticking to her thick red lips, Lu was making these muted grunts.
Talking made me shoot into space again. When I came to, I touched her shoulder with my bloody finger. God, her skin was cold! She didn't look at me: her eyes fixed... ahead.
Digging in the sand with my right elbow...
then... jacking myself up with the left elbow—I flopped over on my side... only soaring a little. My can... legs... didn't move, no longer seemed a part of me.
My face now so near hers.
I felt the motion of air with each mumbled squeal Lu made. Stink of death already on her breath, the stale odor of dying. Were the barks that so-called...
“Honey... Lu.... hon...” I had to rest and float around, each banal word a ton of effort.
Coming to, following her burning eyes staring hard toward the ocean—I saw it. Below us, below the dune... on the beach... this beautiful...
I awoke feeling “wrong.”
For a brace of weeks I'd been full of a restless depression. I'd had these bottom-of-the-barrel feelings before, God knows, but only when things were going badly. Now, I should have been in high: I was painting well, had a few bucks—the result of seducing a dizzy school teacher into buying one of my water colors. I also had Sydney, even if I didn't quite understand my feelings about Syd.
But I was so jumpy I could hardly hold a brush.
At the moment it wasn't merely any blue mood —I was badly hungover. I couldn't recall having ever been so stupid-drunk as last night. Plus—the foggy idea I'd also smoked a few sticks of tea. I wasn't sure what I'd done.
I wasn't positive of a damn thing except I was half-alive on a sunny Tuesday morning. I saw the ultramarine blue Mediterranean through the window, and by the height of the sun it had to be around nine a.m. On a cockeyed chair before the open window, shorts, socks, and a pink sport shirt were drying. My sloppy clothes. I've always been a slob, now I dressed that way deliberately—figured it gave me an air of manliness.
I'd made a dozen attempts to paint the view from my window—they all came out like these $9.98 “original oils” in department store bargain basements. Of course, for me that wasn't bad—compared to the abstract crap I used to pass off as painting. The drying laundry, my “sneaky blanchis-sere” as Sydney called it, in front of the window... perhaps this was the earthy touch to add character to the standard scene? A gimmick to... It suddenly hit me that somewhere along the line I'd lost Sydney last night. I wasn't certain I was ready to give Syd the brush.
Sydney is a rather scrawny Australian gal, the sort who's good fun for a few nights—although we'd been banging it for... God, it was almost two months now. Her folks had given her a “holiday” on the Riviera as a college graduation present. I could recall playing boule with Syd at the Casino —growing bored with her and all the other characters making like bit roles from a horrid movie as they worked out “systems” of beating the wheel, on paper. Some even nervously sucking long cigarette holders or cold cigars... all taking it so damn big with 20-franc chips—a fat 5c! Syd had won a tiny pile of chips betting on red and black, and was rather pleased with herself.
Because it had been my thirty-ninth birthday the day before—an historic event utterly known only to myself: I hadn't even received a card from any of my ex-wives, it would have frightened me if I had—I took one of Syd's chips and played 3. The old rubber ball dropped into the 3 slot. We now had 160 francs. To her horror I let the chips ride. 3 won again. I still let the pile remain on 3. Syd said nervously, “I say Clay, so much ruddy money... Are you going mad, old chap?”
“Stop it, all we can lose is our original 20 francs.
When 3 turned up again—all the characters looking at me as if I had a pipe line to heaven—following my hunch, I shifted the chips to 9, something over 10,000 francs, or a 100 new francs. 9 came up on time and we walked out with about $165.
Rolling over on my hot bed, I stared put at the sea and sky, remembering many rhums and sickening Pernods, followed by a wild ride on Syd's scooter. She drove and I sat behind, my hands aware of the gentle muscles of her long stomach under the thin dress as I held on to her. Once she had called back, “Clay, you ass, stop playing with me before I explode, drive off the blooming road!”
I'd howled with delight. Yet, it wasn't anything —I could move Syd anytime I wanted to. I'd been doing that to women over since I was fourteen. The big deal was that Syd turned my passion on— of late that had been so hard to do it was worrying the hell out of me... a little.
Deciding it would be bad luck not to blow every franc I'd won, we stopped at many bars. We'd eaten lobsters at one of the swank tourist joints near the port. Then were racing down a number of narrow, steep streets—probably Villefranche—I dimly recalled handsome U.S. sailors on the sidewalk wisecracking as we scooted by. Syd was thrilled... so was I and...
But now, closing my eyes, Syd vanished from the picture... there was this big blonde—truly tremendous and naked... kind of nudes the old masters painted. The blonde had shoulders and thighs large as those of a tackle I once roomed with— the guy later became a TV wrestling clown. In my mind, the blonde had a tough, craggy face like his, too.
Fear gripped me: was I really dreaming of men now? I'd known so many musclemen who were queer... No, this was a fantastic woman: blonde, large, ugly, with nipples the size of roses and a bosom beyond measurement. The bosom part reassured me... somewhat. She had to be a woman.
I sat up and yawned—the picture vanished. My head was okay; I wasn't hanging too much. The wrist watch on the dirty table said it was 9:17 a.m. The watch was a wedding gift, even if I couldn't recall from which of my many in-laws. Seemed odd I could feel this rested after less than four hours of shut-eye. Squirming to another cool part of the sagging bed, I debated going to the W.C., then stretched out again... seeing my easel standing next to the window, the mess of paints on the busted chair doubling as a table, the cracked, dusty-white walls.
I'd slept in cheap hotels all over Europe. Coarse linen, dim bulbs, bad plumbing, harsh toilet paper —when there was any. God, that a simple thing like toilet tissue should become a big deal in my lousy life! You could shove the Cote D'Azur, Paris was a phony sales pitch—what a moth-eaten country France was! Italy, the Greek isles, Spain, the whole goddamn broken-down Europe was mangy, preoccupied with their stinking past because they couldn't afford anything new or modern or... Still, no one had dragged or invited me over, I'd come under my own steam.
Fifteen months? Eighteen months ago? It had been long enough to raise and shave two full beards. I'd come to Europe because I'd believed all “artists” came here during some point in their career. Paris had been an absolute drag, but here in the South of France I'd truly learned to appreciate color, actually became fascinated by technique. I'd been painting damn well and enjoying it. In the States I'd been a cocky bastard, loudly blowing my own horn... perhaps because I'd actually been unsure of my talent. But here, relearning the fundamentals and understanding them, after all these years, utterly amazed to find a kind of primitive beauty bidden in my brush, had been deeply satisfying and truly exciting... Until it wore off. It was strange, really painting for the first time in my life, plenty of women to support me... yet it hadn't lasted.
I stared at my laundry drying on the chair. The money stretched farther here, if you went in for franc pinching. And old buddy, when you start scrimping on one fifth of a penny, you're living real low on any hog.
Closing my eyes to try for more sleep, I wondered what had become of Syd (I wished she didn't have this damned man's name) last night? There's a steady stream of lonely American and English broads floating around Europe. Between twenty-five and thirty, they save like crazy for their “great adventure”—dreaming it will end with romance, marriage, a Prince Charming with a villa, at least sex, and whatever else babes of thirty dream about. The USA gals very soon learn it ain't so—the dollar no longer what it was in 1949 or '50. I don't know what the British gals hope to find. But after the first disillusioned and lonely weeks, they are all happy to settle for any pair of pants, pay his way in a pitiful, last ditch effort to save the whole trip from being a dud.
Skinny Sydney was younger—about twenty-three —and while not loaded, she had a scooter, plus a sense of humor. We would lay on the beach, watching the French dames parading around in brief bikinis as if the rump was their own private invention—certain they were breaking things up with each quiver. My trouble was, lately, bikinis bored me.
Some flies began a racing course above my bed. Scratching my can good, I jumped out of the sack, astonished to find my “wash” completely dry. Blinking out the window I saw a blind woman and a one-armed man selling lottery tickets on opposite corners. Leaning farther out—the legless man in his cart was peddling tickets down the street.
I suddenly realized it had to be Wednesday, the day of the weekly lottery drawing. On the mawkish assumption God compensates their deformity by giving them luck, people purchased chances from the mutilated, and on Wednesday—the last day, the maimed were out hawking tickets all day.
No wonder I felt rested—I'd slept around the damn clock!
I shaved and dressed quickly, found less than four hundred francs on me. But I had sixty dollars in travelers checks from the still-life the Chicago teacher had bought. Since the sight of it would be a reminder of the loss of her stale virginity, was it now on her apartment wall or hidden in a closet? Probably in a closet—she was a jerky lollipop. Sixty bucks, have to start hustling again, unless Hank had sold one of my things... hadn't been around to his Galeries D'Azure in ten days. My feelings about exquisite Hank worried me...
But I was far too starved for any self-analysis. Taking my passport from the pocket of my old suitcase, I rushed off. Madame—sitting behind the hotel desk, yellowed teeth a collection of miniature tombstones—mumbled something about using her hot water for laundry. I walked by—sorry she knew English and I understood French. Old bag had her nerve, sneaking into my room while I was sleeping —seeing my “wash” on the chair. I was damn well fed up with all flea-bag hotels, pensions, and their grubby owners.
The day was hot and dry, the sort of weather which used to excite me when I first came to Nice from the raw cold of Paris. Stopping for coffee, I laced it with a rhum. Buying an orange and a hunk of wonderful rough bread, I finished my breakfast walking to the nearest cambio. I'd changed checks here once before and the nervous creature behind the counter nodded as I signed a twenty-dollar American Express check, took my passport from its plastic bag. The cambio man counted out the francs, opened my passport.
We both reached for the money on the counter— his bony mitt won. Jerking the francs away, he pointed toward my passport, sharp, sallow face full of suspicion, told me in French, “This is not yours.”
“What?” I packed up the open passport. Okay, it was impossible but the passport photo was of a young guy with a sandy crewcut topping a silly, weak puss. A face I'd never seen before. The name was Robert Parks and Washington, D. C. stated he had been born twenty-three years ago in California, resided in New York City. Turning the page the rubber stamp read he had entered France exactly nine weeks before.