The cold wood of the table felt good against my cheek, and I let my arms dangle as the walls bent themselves around me in crazy angles. Suddenly Artaud’s face was level with mine, and his face showed so much concern that I immediately forgave him for being such a cold fish sometimes. “What are you talking about?” he asked me. “I thought you lived alone after your wife died. Who was this other? You’ve mentioned him before, you know.”
“He doesn’t mean anything,” Roger insisted. “He’s drunk. Leave him be!” Artaud waved Roger away and pressed his ear closer to my mouth, but I closed my eyes. I was rudely nudged, and when I remained silent I felt Artaud’s presence lift itself away from my cheek. In the blackness I could feel the movements of the others, fluttering as palpable as birds’ wings even as their voices knocked toward me down a long, empty hallway. There came again hammering at the door before it banged open. I swayed in my own precarious hammock suspended between two words, one which had just been yelled out and one which was taking a long time to die away:
In my half-dream a scylla banged at the door, then entered and filled the room with its male and female mouths, scraped its many shoes on the ragged doormat, and stabbed me with tongues like bright swords until the film broke and candlelight raped the cinema-house. Desnos shushed them impatiently until his voice undulated like an obnoxious red flag. Then all was quiet and the darkness curled around me, soft and comforting and smelling like wool. I clutched Artaud’s hand and he listened as patiently as a priest. “I have no mother,” I sobbed to him, “no father!” Brother, forgive me for I have sinned…
“Malkine, kick everyone out,” I heard Desnos say. “I have two urchins who need to sleep it off.” I slid my eyes open and saw him blow out the candles that were lit all over the room. I was wrapped in a blanket on a mattress on the floor. Then I was aware time had passed… It was not like time, but like a black shape, spreading.
Louis snarled something in his sleep right by my ear and his breath was rank so I rolled onto my other side and reached again for that second body next to mine, a warm body that was sweating beside mine. I clutched again and held on while we both tumbled through endless sunsets with our arms and legs entwined, a single comet and unafraid. There was a pause, a chuckle, and mysterious hands stroked me in response, drumming my pulse into tidal waves to wash out the most fearsome nightmares, and all the while Louis lay snoring beside us. A mouth against mine opened for my tongue and I nuzzled those lips greedily. I was feeling it again, that bliss, frustrating and maddening and soaring. My heartbeat slowed as I drifted into dreams, then pumped so hard in my chest I felt the blood down to my toes. Limbs heavy in sleep against mine shifted, slid against mine again, and that pair of hands touched me gently, curiously. I sucked on their salty fingers, but I could not think. I was fully aroused, but I could not shake off my stupor to push myself into that flesh and finish it…and then a dark plate of glass broke behind my eyes and I realized I was waking up again.
“I can’t,” I laughed sheepishly, “I can’t seem to—I want to,” and a murmur in my ear lulled me: I’ll make you come. Shhhh. I lay and breathed, instructed by that sweet, benevolent voice as it urged me into the sunny field where flowers opened, from the depths of the dark water to the surface where I broke with a gasp and a cry. And then there was the sliding, eroding sensation of after-pleasure, but my arms were empty. To open my eyes in pitch-darkness and see nothing at all was more alarming than keeping them closed, so I finally rolled onto my stomach and sank into sleep.
I opened my eyes again in the grey dawn. Light from the window fell onto my face. “The Machine” as Desnos called it was grinding away again next door, some unnamed behemoth gnashing away at the ground, in preparation for the apartments that were to be built in the neighboring lot. My body lay pliant beneath the memory of my bedmate but my mind reeled, trying to figure out who it had been. Justine? Too large for her… Not Génica, surely. I had an impression of a warm, wide body but no specific features except for the strong and inquisitive hands. I sat up and looked around. This ballroom-like room was empty, and stretched out on either side of me on the mattress were only Louis and Rob, Louis grinding his teeth and snatching at the blanket, Rob sprawled on his stomach in motionless oblivion. Everyone else was gone.
Disappointed, I lay back and stared at the ceiling. Louis began to snore, and Desnos reached across my chest to shove him. Louis elbowed me irritably and sat up, giving me an accusing glare. Desnos rolled onto his back and slept on. I saw a pack of cards lying on the floor near the mattress, so I began a game of solitaire while Louis rubbed his eyes. “Did we disturb you last night?” I asked.
“Huh?” Louis reached for his cigarettes lying beside his pillow and pulled one out, coughing. “Promise me you won’t ever take up smoking, Geoff. Disturb me? How?” He stuck the cigarette in his mouth, saw my smile, and took it out. “Did we disturb me? As in, you and femme-enfant? Good for you!” He dug me in the ribs. “Who was she?”
“Bernice wasn’t here, was she?” I asked, feeling suddenly anxious. “A whole crowd showed up and made all that noise.”
“Oh no, no, not her.” Louis held the cigarette in his lips again, struck a match, watched the flame for a moment, then waved it out. “I’m going to quit. I swear I’m going to quit. Wait—no, Bernice was here, but she came with some German dude. They didn’t stay. So you don’t know who it was?”
“Quit smoking? May as well die,” mumbled a faraway voice. It did not belong to Desnos.
“Louis, if it was not Bernice, then I’ve no clue who was in my bed.” I blinked, then shook my head. “What do you mean—German dude?”
“It was not him, either,” said the mysterious new voice, a man’s. “He didn’t last five minutes. I made a pass at him, and he stormed out.” From beside me came a giggle-snort from Desnos.
“So you can’t remember who she was?” Louis asked me. “Oh, too bad!” Louis struck another match as I turned back to my game. “Dammit!” He lit his cigarette, inhaled in relief and held the smoke in, the muscles in his face tensed. “I’ll quit tomorrow.”
“May as well die tomorrow,” repeated the voice. I looked around the room again.
A hand punched my thigh. I reached over and plucked out one of Desnos’s long hairs from his head. Louis and I snickered as the walrus next to me flapped its fins in protest. “Rrose Selavy wants to sleep!” it wailed.
“Rrose Selavy wants her man to wake up and make her guests breakfast,” I contradicted.
“Rrose Selavy never demands that I act as a proper host! The idea!” Desnos turned his face away and relaxed again. I stretched. My muscles were pretty sore; I wasn’t used to sleeping on the floor anymore. Getting soft—I was getting soft.
A laugh from across the room shook a curled-up figure who was lying in a pile of blankets close to the door. A shock of wavy black hair slid out from beneath the blanket and I squinted at the face beneath it. “I know him,” I said to Louis, nodding at the supine form, “but whenever I see him he’s with this woman and they’re both heavily made-up. I’ve never seen him without all the make-up before. Who is he? He looks better just having his real face.”
“That’s Georges Malkine. He lives in the neighboring building,” Louis replied. “His place used to be owned by Joan Miró, the painter, and Artaud’s friend André Masson used to live in this building.” He kept on talking, meandering the side streets of his answer as always. “Masson’s wife and daughter lived here too, and he had to plug the mouse holes with biscuit-tin covers. And Miró did a painting, ‘The Farm,’ which was so large it stretched from the floor to the ceiling. His friends told him he couldn’t sell such a huge painting unless he cut it up but he refused to, and Ernest Hemingway visited one day and ended up buying it for his wife. When Miró and Masson moved out, Malkine and Desnos moved in. Hey, Malkine!” he called out to the hunched-up figure on the floor. “Too much effort to stagger twenty paces to your own door?”
“I sent that gaggle last night to my place,” Malkine replied. “So you boys could sleep.” He opened an eye, smiled at us, and drew the blanket up again. “So thank me. Or blow me—I prefer the latter.”
Desnos punched me again. “I didn’t say anything,” I said, punching Desnos back.
He slapped insolently at my hands. “Shut up! Kraut. Boche!”
“I’m not talking at all!”
“Frog,” Louis called Desnos, and flicked his ash over the supine man’s head. Desnos grunted and yanked the blanket, which was too short, over his head and out slid the man’s bare toes. “Your feet stink,” Louis told him, and the toes wiggled defiantly.