Prelude: Jerome muses

May 5, 2007 Danae Klimt

I am trying to translate a diary from a language that does not exist.

I get up from the desk, walk to the window, and look out. It’s a clear night, and the stars are burning just on the other side of the pane, daring me to touch them. Daring me to break the glass and reach for them. I go back to the desk, fumble around in a cubby, and pull out a pack of cigarettes. I haven’t smoked in two months, but sometimes, it’s the only way to break through a block. I light one, after three tries with the lighter, take a drag, stand there for a moment with the cigarette hanging out of my mouth, and then stub it out. I go take a piss, come back to my desk, pick up the pen.

The language has a completely phonetic alphabet, yet each word must be accompanied by an ideogram which shades its meaning. The ideograms are written, or drawn, in a calligraphy even more eccentric than the phonemic letters. Each page of the diary is an anagram of a state of mind, an exhalation of smoke trapped in fiber, a print made with the body as the stamp and the soul as the ink. Nothing I’ve ever done before has prepared me to work on this.

I stop to re-read what I’ve just written. Pretentious crap, of course. I should scratch out the words, but I don’t. I leave them there and slam the notebook shut. Maybe it’ll smear the words, wipe them out accidentally. Wipe everything out that I’ve written down and remembered, everything that’s happened in the past month.

There’s still a hairbrush on my bureau with her hair in it. Her fingerprints are on my cracked hand mirror, which I never use. I’ll probably find her underwear with mine when I get up the energy to do laundry. She’s gone, but she’s not gone. She slammed the door behind her and I can still hear the walls rattling. “You care more about that fucking dead woman than you do about me!”

My fingers itch for that stubbed-out cigarette, but my mouth hates the taste of it now. The trouble is, you know, that Angeline was right. I do care more about a dead woman than about her. I’m obsessed with the courtesan who wrote–or will write–this diary.

You have to understand, this is one of the most astonishing literary finds ever, a combination of the Rosetta Stone and the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon or the diaries of Virginia Woolfe, Sylvia Plath, Anais Nin. Even more than those works, it’s an erotic document, a testament to the force of sexuality in a creative woman’s life. It’s almost impossible to translate but riveting to read if you can catch the least glimpse of what it’s about. It’s a far cry from Angeline and her tired makeup, her stale perfume, her obsessions with the office drama at work and reality shows in prime time.

It’s sitting in a stack beside my desk right now–nearly a thousand pages of neatly photocopied manuscript. The original is in a vault in the British Museum and more closely guarded than the Nag Hammadi Library and the Dead Sea Scrolls put together. Is it a document from the distant past, a relic of a civilization which existed earlier than any other, when the rest of humankind was still building mud huts and hunting mammoth? Or is it somehow a document from the future, the life story of a woman who isn’t alive yet?

I can still remember the faint smell of perfume that clung to it, the scent of a woman–a woman who might be a thousand years dead or a thousand years unborn in the future. It was like the ashes of some rare incense scattered over the surface of the finest leather. When I smelled that fragrance coming off the codex, I wanted to unroll the book and lay it on my bed, to roll around in it like in silk sheets, to get the fragrance on my skin. It was the closest I could come to having her, the woman who wrote it.

I’ve got to stop thinking like this, obsessing over this manuscript. I’ve got to go out. I say it out loud in the empty apartment: “I’ve got to go out.” Go somewhere and have a drink. Maybe get laid.

So I go out. I take the cigarettes with me, but dammit, I take the notebook, too. I get into my car and drive around till I find a place I’ve never been, alone or with Angeline. I go inside, and there’s quiet jazz, Miles Davis, people drinking, talking, and flirting at a reasonable volume, not dancing, grinding their crotches together, yelling over the noise. I can handle this. I can think in here. But then, is thinking what I really want to be doing?

I order Glenfiddich and light up another cigarette. This time I just let it dangle from my fingers for a few minutes before I take a drag. It still tastes like shit–has tobacco always tasted this bad?–but I hold it between my fingers, letting the smoke make a haze around me, and taking a puff every few minutes, for appearance’s sake.

Scotch, cigarette, look in the mirror at the back of the bar. It’s a new place, for me, and quieter than other places I’ve been recently, but the crowd is the same crowd, after all. The crowd Angeline and I used to hang out in, more or less, the crowd in which we met, the same crowd I’ve gotten so fucking bored with in the past year and a half. Everybody somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five, too young to be boomers and too old to be slackers, old enough to remember Schoolhouse Rock, young enough to still not be sure whether they were really grown up. Women who’re just a little too thin for their big breasts and pouty lips, all career and aggression and hard-edges until one day the hormones kick in and then they expect you to sympathize when they cry at the sight of an empty bassinet or a screaming snot-faced baby in a stroller. Men trying to figure out exactly how to be men, alternating between a cringe and a swagger, wanting to grope other guys and just hug their girlfriends and not being able to admit either one. Everybody wearing the same colors, the same scents, the same labels on the clothes, everybody paying off their charge cards, Christ, it’s so boring it’s a wonder any of us can stand it.

I get out my notebook again, my journal, if you will, and flip it open. It lands on a tentative translation from the diary: So often when a lover has left I turn to my journal to take away the loneliness. Writing is a lover who leaves no footsteps and who will never be caught in your bed when he should be somewhere else. My journal is always willing to listen, always available when I want to complain of a lover’s roughness or lament a friend’s absence. My journal does not object to playing the female, to being penetrated by the pen, unlike some men who wilt if I so much as suggest a dildo. A woman who caught me writing after we were finished but before she had left said to me, “You love your blank page more than you will ever love a human being.”

“Hey, Jerome?”

I look up into this amber light bouncing off glass, too bright somehow, from the glass of scotch to the wire-rimmed glasses on the other man’s face. “Max?” I hope I’ve got that right.

“Yeah, how’re you?”

“I’m fine.” I take a drag on my cigarette. Max pulls out his own pack, as I knew he would. We’re all trying to quit, of course.

“So what you been doing? I heard you broke up with Angeline.”

“Then you heard it wrong.” I take a puff of my cig, blowing the foul smoke back out. “She broke up with me.”

“Is that so?” Max turns to the bartender and orders a bourbon, raps the cigarette box against his hand and pulls one out. “You seeing anybody else?””

“No. Working.” I take a sip of my scotch. Much easier on the throat than the smoke. “I suppose that’s what put her off.”

Max is drawing on his cigarette, trying to get it to light. He gives me that half a shrug that means, “Women never understand.” He blows out a cloud of smoke, right into my face.

“Well,” he says, “there’s always more where that came from, right?” By “that” he means “pussy”.

I look Max in the eye, puffing on my fag in self-defense. Wonder what he’d say if he knew that cock will do just as well as pussy for me. Better, really, if it’s just a screw you’re talking about. I thought Angeline and I had something more than that. Which we didn’t, obviously. But that was what I wanted, and thought she wanted, until the diary project came along and changed all that.

“Well, I’ll tell everyone you said hi.” Max claps me on the shoulder and heads off. I must have stared him in the eye a little too long.

I finish my scotch and go home without getting laid. A new place, the old crowd, Max’s “everyone”. There is no everyone, actually. Well, there’s always my hand. My hand and its favorite lover, my imagination. I go home and strip down and shower off the smoke and the perfume, the memory of the bar. I strip down the bed, too, and put on fresh sheets, red and grey striped. I hadn’t changed them since Angeline left. I toss her hairbrush in the bin and throw myself down on the bed, a few sheets of photocopy in my hand. A bit of the Diary.

The sweetest lover I have had was a man whose body smelled like mine. It was as if we were brother and sister. The hair under his arms was the same color as my pubic hair. The curve of his ass was like the curve of my own as I saw it in the mirror. No one else ever seemed so intent on pleasing me, rather than being pleased. No one else could talk to me so eloquently while we coupled, or lay so comfortably beside me afterward.

I wrap my hand around my cock and let the pages fall to the floor, because after all, Angie was right: I’m in love with a woman who doesn’t exist.

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Entry Filed under: Jerome

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. QoS  |  May 5, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    I’m so glad that you’re writing and sharing again. You have such an amazing erotic imagination, and your details of place and atmosphere always come across so naturally.

    I’m looking forward to reading more!

  • 2. oakmouse  |  May 11, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    I didn’t comment on this originally because it was difficult to read pink on pink, but I’ve discovered my other browser does the contrast a whole lot better so I’m back for more. *g*

    I love this whole premise — fascinating! It’s going to be fun and interesting to see where you take the world you’re creating. More, please!


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