“Come on, Geoff,” Youki urged, tugging at my arm. I allowed her to lead me to the car. “Come see the studio.”
I climbed in the back seat of her yellow Ballot with Foujita and Bernice, and the chauffeur nodded to Youki while she sat in the front passenger seat arranging her hair. “Home, José, please,” she told him. Gears ground into life and caught. This was a very nice car with a metal roof, an expensive auto that didn’t cough as much as Catherine’s, quite like the one Desnos had found for our trip to the Loire. I noticed the hood ornament: a tiny bust by Rodin.
Louis and Desnos shouted and jumped up and down we approached. “The Prophète—you dope!” Desnos yelled. “I’m leaving for Cuba tomorrow! We’re not good enough for you now, eh? Mr. High Society! Hey, you’re not even dressed and I’m wearing a tuxedo—” and like a flasher he whipped open his coat to reveal that he was indeed, inexplicably, wearing a tuxedo. The Ballot passed him and his shouts faded.
“Who the hell was that?” Youki gasped.
Foujita smiled at her when she twisted around. “That, my love, was the so-called ‘Prophet of Surrealism.’”
“Oh, one of them. What a bunch of punks. I went to a meeting—have you been?” she asked Bernice, who shook her head. “Some of it was terrific! André Breton whipped me into such a frenzy I was ready to go out and vandalize storefronts, break windows, shoot the Prime Minister, everything. But then they started in on this discussion of sex. Talk, talk, talk. Dull, dull, dull. Finally, I stood up and said, ‘Stop talking about it and do it! You boys need to learn a few things.’”
Bernice laughed. “Did you really? Good for you, Youki.”
“That Louis Aragon—Aragon?—he appreciated me. He jumped up too and said, ‘Let’s hear from more women!’ Péret too, he’s a maniac, but the rest can go hang.”
“They’d hang if they were hung,” snickered Foujita. The snow was melting, and our wheels made water fly up. “I insulted one of them—what’s his name—that severe little slip of a man—I’m sure you know who I’m talking about,” Foujita put in, “—when I made fun of Van Gogh’s paintings. You know who I’m talking about, the one who isn’t their president anymore, the strange one who never cracks a smile—”
“We know,” Bernice replied with a smirk.
“I want to hear what he says about sex!” Youki burst out. “I admit, he’s one dashing dewdropper. But scary. Which I like! Kiki knows him—maybe I’ll—”
“It’s Man Ray who knows him and no, you don’t want to hear Antonin Artaud’s opinions on sex,” Bernice sneered. “No one does. He should just join the priesthood already.”
Foujita put his hands together and bowed at the waist, smiling. “Well, I called Van Gogh’s paintings ugly so Artaud got pissed off at me, and I bowed and I said to him, ‘Ah-so, Ahsshole, and fuck you!’ and he looked ready to strangle me!”
Those three burst into derisive laughter. “Oh, my,” Youki groaned, rolling her eyes. “Some people should lighten up.”
On the square Montsouris near a very beautiful park lined with large, old trees we pulled up at a strange house, square, completely white as if made out of marble but severe and smooth, with no details for the eye to lose itself in. The naked facade brutally confronted the viewer and remained obscene. My eyes could not adjust to it—it was hard, austere, ultramodern and I thought it ugly. The blank walls of today’s architecture, blank and straight streets, blank white electric lights washing out blank and coolly disinterested faces in the cafés and nightclubs—I did not like my own generation’s tastes.
José opened the doors for us. I saw a man waiting beside the door of this house and as we approached he cast a menacing eye on me. “Who are you?” He stepped between Youki and me but Bernice laughed and caught my elbow. Youki took the strange man’s arm and hung back with him. Foujita smiled in derision as he unlocked the door for us. I heard the stranger whisper to Youki, “But I’m facing bankruptcy! All right, it’s my own fault, but how else could I afford the things you like? I did it for you!”
“You’re so quiet, Geoff,” Bernice remarked as she and I followed Foujita inside, leaving Youki to walk down the sidewalk with that angry young man. Foujita led us up to his studio on the fourth floor. In contrast to the building’s exterior this room was almost cozy. The floors were polished wood and on the walls hung paper puppets, all resembling Foujita, and there was an easel, a low one, so he could paint sitting on the floor. There were paintings on the walls and a bed sat near the door.
“Pay my respects,” giggled Foujita, and pointed out a large wooden box. Bernice let me over to it. It had a carving of a woman with her legs open, and between her legs was a slot. Impulsively I fished out a centime from my pocket and slid the coin into the slot. It dropped with a small ring, and Bernice turned to me and laughed.
“Youki saw Foujita for the first time in a café, but she was too timid to approach him, if you can believe that,” Bernice told me.
“Ah, there are no shy people,” Foujita stated confidently as he opened a bottle of wine. “It’s all pretense.”
“So after he left, she stood up in the middle of the café and called out—”
“Timidly, of course!” Foujita added. I couldn’t decipher the look he was giving me.
“‘Does anyone here know the Oriental man with the moustache and the glasses?’ When someone told her where to find him, Youki sought him out. They ended up in bed for three days, while Foujita’s lover at the time—what’s her name—” She glanced at Foujita.
“What’s-Her-Name,” Foujita answered with a smirk.
Bernice giggled and finished, “While What’s-Her-Name searched the morgues, thinking he had killed himself over her.” The two of them laughed over this, but I yanked Bernice aside.
“Let’s get out of here. I want to be alone with you,” I said in her ear.
She gave me that tawdry smile. “Later.”
She took the glass of wine Foujita offered and walked away to look at his paintings. I followed her and she allowed me to caress the skin beneath her blond, wavy bob. I didn’t care for Foujita’s work—it was heavily outlined, like William Blake’s illustrations. “Too much of a picture-of-something,” I whispered to Bernice. “It starts out as a specific idea and illustrates that—no surprises.”
“Foujita is the most popular artist in Paris,” she goaded me. I dropped my hand and stepped back. To hell with her. What was I doing here? “I suppose you prefer those ‘exquisite’ scrawls Breton and his comedy troupe spit out,” Bernice went on, swirling the golden liquid in her glass, “feet protruding from eyeballs and such.” From somewhere downstairs Youki’s laughter answered the laughter of her young admirer. Well, he obviously was a fool but I was not. I turned away from Bernice, I opened my mouth to tell Foujita I was leaving and Bernice was all his, but only the open bottle of wine sat on the threshold like a lone bowling pin. So it was Youki’s husband who was giggling downstairs with Youki at the expense of, and not with, that young stranger.
“It’s for us. Foujita doesn’t drink. Oh—Geoff’s angry again!” Bernice went over and picked up the bottle. She shut the door and turned around, bottle in hand. “You get angry so quickly, but then you swallow it down. You shouldn’t.” She filled a glass for me and pressed it in my hand, then refreshed her own. Then she sat down on the bed. As I stood looking at her, she crossed her legs and patted the bedspread beside her.
“You like games, don’t you,” I muttered, holding my glass away from me as if it was hemlock.
She smiled sweetly—finally a real smile from her, warm and feminine, one that didn’t call to arms a thousand voices to shout strategies into my ear. “Is there something wrong with games?” Bernice reached out. I walked up to her. I sat down on the bed and ran my thumb along her cheekbone. “Those pals of yours play games, and not just on paper. They play games with Gala. Their love lives are a mess.”
“They’re not my pals.” I leaned close and we kissed. Her lips were painted and I wasn’t used to that, and she was wearing a floral perfume, but that wasn’t so unpleasant. Touching her was very pleasant. I think I surprised her when I pushed my tongue between her lips and I enjoyed that.
“Don’t be so stiff!” She slid her leg around mine and clung to my neck while I tried not to slop my wine. I set the glass on the floor and tilted her over backwards, my lips finding the soft skin just beneath her ear. “They won’t burst in on us.”
Her thighs circled my hips. “I don’t care who sees!” I gasped, yanking at my buttons while braced above her on my other hand. She smiled up at me as I wrenched at my clothes. So stupid, all these clothes; I never wore a tie on the farm. Because Bernice was laughing at me, I playfully whipped my undershorts at her face. I grasped her ankle and she rolled onto her stomach so I could unbutton a pale stream of flesh down the blue velvety fabric.