The great Desnos, scrawler of surreal graffiti. One thing for sure, that man was drinking too much lately. It worried me. When he drank his mood-swings became even worse. He would stay drunk for days. Yvonne George, herself drowning in the laudanum bottle, was now ignoring him completely while Breton yelled in the man’s ear to forget her and focus on the Party, and I could see the depression growing in him, slowly consuming him. Even his poetry suffered.
So now, as Desnos tilted the whiskey again over his glass while burbling despondently over Yvonne’s photograph about love and love rebuffed, I reached out to take the bottle from him. He yanked it back. “Le’go, you.”
“No more,” I pleaded. “I’m serious. You’ve had enough.” He snarled in protest, tugging at the bottle, and I held on. Justine’s eyes widened and she pulled herself up to sit straight and so did Génica, and Roger looked up again from his music, and Louis and Artaud looked up from the astrology book, all watching as our struggle became more violent. “Come on, Rob!” I said.
“Let go, you bastard, you’re not my fucking father.” Desnos wrapped his arms around the bottle while I hooked my ankle around the table-leg to anchor myself. He was stronger than I expected. “Who do you think you are?”
“Robert, let go and calm down,” Justine pleaded in that same soft voice she had used on him at the Loire when he wouldn’t wake up. “Geoff is only trying to help. We don’t want you to drink any more tonight.”
Desnos made a face at her, but his grip weakened. Then he heaved a deep sigh and asked, “Do you love me?” in a clear voice, very sad and serious. The bottle slid from his fingers and I set it on the floor beside my chair.
“Of course I love you,” I told him. “You’re my friend.”
At this he leaned back, stretching insolently. I noticed how much thicker he was around the middle. “And how much,” he sneered, “do you love me, Corsair Say-a-lot?”
Roger smiled at Justine and they relaxed, but I looked away. “Come off it, Desnos.”
“What would blabbery you do?” he went on, “to show your love? If I was dying—”
“You’re not dying. Stop it.”
“You don’t love me,” he grunted. “Friendships only go so far with you. You don’t love anyone.” His voice was slurred and he stood up clumsily, knocking over his chair. Instantly everyone’s attention was on him. “Not anyone! Not anything—” He stomped around the table and Roger and Louis grabbed the all knives and pulled them out of reach. Desnos shoved me with his hand but I kept my seat, deliberately passive beneath the onslaught from this familiar and unfamiliar face, black hair disheveled, eyes blazing blue, jaw working furiously as he accused me.
“All you care about—all you’ve ever cared about your whole fucking life—is dead people! Jesus Christ was your number one love, and he’s the world’s number one corpse of choice. You loved Jesus because He saved you from humanity. You cared about a bunch of dead Hebrews more than your wife, until she died—then you finally thought about her. Oh sure, you think you’re different now because you gawk at paintings by dead painters and read the scribblings of dead poets…” I saw Artaud stretch his lips into a smile around his cigarette at this. “You don’t know how to live, Geoff Weidmann!”
“That’s enough, Desnos!” Roger shouted, grabbing the man’s elbow. “Leave him alone.”
Desnos shook him off. “Oh, fuck you.”
“Fuck you, too. Get away from him!”
In earlier days, a million years ago when I was that Other Geoff—that cold, cynical bastard who sucked fanaticism like blood and hated everyone until he committed suicide in his farmhouse, died of a broken heart, shriveled up with fever, willing himself gone—an insult like that would have resulted in me throwing someone, and not necessarily the guilty party, across the room. All I could think was, I’m so calm. What’s wrong with me? Roger tried to drag Desnos away and I just sat there watching them wrestle and I felt nothing, nothing at all. No, I felt numb—no, that wasn’t it. I felt cold. Cold, yes, like that last morning in the cottage in the Loire Valley, cold like that. Cold like death. Did I love anyone? Even an unfeeling cynic like Jacques Vaché had died in bed with a lover.
“Stop it, both of you, please!” cried Justine.
I put a hand to my forehead and closed my eyes, summoning myself into the present. My shirt was clammy with sweat. Desnos was bellowing, “What the fuck do you assholes think you’re doing, sitting on those knives? Just what the fuck do you take me for?” Louis said something garbled and I opened an eye to see Justine slumped in her seat, her elbows on the table, her face buried in her hands. Louis was talking in a calm voice, and Desnos replied, “But it’s my goddamned house—” Louis’s voice continued soothingly as he led the man around the room in a walk, his arm around Desnos’s shoulders as Roger, wavering between a fearful Génica and a weeping Justine, watched them. And Artaud was reading Louis’s astrology book, completely indifferent to the outburst.
Suddenly I was overcome with self-loathing. I bolted out of my chair and went for Desnos with my arms wide open, blubbering as I practically smashed my face into his. I only heard the sound of my voice, thick-tongued and incoherent and pleading. Louis’s jaw dropped but Roger began to laugh. I held onto to Desnos.
“Get away from me, you dumb drunk,” Desnos giggled, pulling himself from my grip. “Sit down before you hurt yourself. You’re so morbid! I love you, too.” Pinching my lips so they puckered, he made a kissing noise against them. “Mwah!”
I staggered and the room spun and I found myself back in my chair. Roger and Louis were laughing but Justine walked away and Génica curled herself up in the overstuffed chair, her arms folded and her eyes wide.