Oct 3, 2014

A virginal handkerchief --- This is heaven (teaser)

If this sounds like a soap opera, it's because it is one: Richard  Roper, Romeo's sugar daddy, was found dead in his trailer parked on the festival field---a victim of gasper sex, apparently. John is dealing with the police while Alex is talking to Juliette. Spoiler alert: at the end of this teaser, we're accompanying Juliette's body to the morgue.

(The artwork is mostly from Pre-Raphaelite British artists. We have two Ophelias but no Juliet; apologies)

“I know you,” the cop who knows me says again. “I’m John Lee.” I say. It doesn’t ring a bell. The ambulance arrives. Pictures are taken. There is some back and forth on the cell phone but this corpse won’t survive the heat and needs to be shipped immediately. It’s gasper sex anyhow. We watch silently as the two paramedics abandon the idea to roll a gurney into the caravan, then haul the body onto a stretcher and carry it to the meat wagon. “Couple of hours,” the paramedic flicks back over his shoulder, “couple of hours he’s dead.”
“This is him, okay?” the cop asks again, pointing at Roper's body.

"Ophelia," Arthur Hughes

When writing this up I went on the internet and read about police behavior. All the sites say the first thing cops do in a situation like this is go to Stanford and take classes with Daniel Kahneman about thinking-fast-and-slow and then make up their mind (just kidding). But I’m not guilty apparently, the first cop invites me back into the cruiser while snipping his fingers to the beat of California Girls. He and his partner and the air conditioning will take my statement. They will then take more pictures and seal the trailer with police tape and send me back to the stand where Alex and Juliette are poised in conversation. Alex holds something small in the palm of his hand. He sees me coming. “They are done with you?” he asks.


He tips a pill into Juliette's hand. "This will calm you down," he says.

“Nothing about Juliette?”
“No questions?”
He tips a pill into Juliette’s hand. “This will calm you down,” he says. "Take it now."

Juliette swallows the pill with a zero-gulp of Coke. “You take Juliette to the hotel,” he says to me and rolls his head. “Now. And, Juliette, no more pills. No more pills.” More head-rolling.
“I can walk,” she says.
“John will take you. The pill will make you sleepy. Call me if anything is wrong.”


We arrive at the Atlantic Sands and park the truck.

“What do we do now?” I ask.
“We go to my room.”
“What is this all about?”
“Alex figured Romeo will be there. Plus, it’s a good place to hide, I’m not connected to Roper. People won’t suspect him there.”
"Unless they know."
"We didn't tell anybody."
“How would he get inside?”
“Alex figured Romeo would somehow know how to get inside.”

“See,” she says (we’ve arrived at Room 312) and points at the do-not-disturb sign.
“It was there yesterday, the sign.”
“I removed it in the meantime.” She knocks on the door. “Ben,” she whispers. The door opens a crack, closes, the hotel latch clacks, the door gives way. The couple embrace. They embrace some more, Romeo’s full lips descend to Juliette's neck and the region of his first kinky. (Ben (the other one) will much later, when we've reached happy-ending territory, comment on this from an African-American point of view.)

"The head of a nymph," Sophie Anderson

“You need money,” she says to Romeo when he’s finally done. She fingers in the pocket of her jeans and produces a credit card. “Go, get a new SIM,” she says, handing him the card. “we need to stay connected. And get a smart phone anyhow." She looks at me. "And ice cream.”


...and as they enter the hall of Michelangelo’s David, the eyes of the crowd are drawn away from the statue and to the magnetic beauty of this very young boyfriend... 

“Your signature, just in case,” he says. Juliette dawdles her signature on a piece of hotel stationary (“My signature is changing, see?”). She hands him the pen, he tries the counterfeit a few times. Go,” she says, “and come back.” Romeo dons one of Juliette’s T-shirts; it is too small and fits perfectly. There’s a passage in David Leavitt’s “The lost language of Cranes” that comes back to me once a year or so, one of the characters relating a story of him and a very young boyfriend visiting Florence, and as they enter the hall of Michelangelo’s David, the eyes of the crowd are drawn away from the statue and to the magnetic beauty of this very young boyfriend. It doesn't read as if Leavitt made this up, this somehow really happened to him. Anyhow, the boyfriend must have looked like Romeo---by analogy, I mean.

“Go now,” she says to him with a hit on his butt; he’s off.
“You don’t need me any longer,” I say.
“You’ve heard what Alex said. Don’t leave me alone.”
“I’ll have to wait till Romeo is back?”
“What do we do now.”
“Why don’t you read me a bedtime story, I feel sleepy.” She reclines on the bed, hands her iPhone to me, takes it back, scrolls, hands it back.
“What shall I read?”
“The pill, Juliet taking this four-day pill.”
“I’m the friar, right.”
“Not exactly,” she says.
“Analogies always break down somewhere,” I say.
“I heard you saying that before.”

I start to read (“Oh Juliet, I already know thy grief...”). So Juliette reclines and falls asleep.

What next? I sit there and think. Something is wrong with her. It feels more like she’s unconscious. I let a few minutes slip, then get on the phone and dial for Alex. I hear a knock on the door and the muffled noise an analogue-style ring tone (“rring, rring...”). This sounds like Alex’s cell phone. It is Alex's cell-phone.

"The Lady of Shalott," John William Waterhouse

“Act two,” Alex says, and enters.
“The pill,” I say, “that’s Act Four.”
“Or four, doesn’t matter.” He walks up to the bed, checks Juliette’s eyelids with the professional touch of a paramedic. “I need a handkerchief,” he says. I hand him a Kleenex from the night stand—no-no, he needs a real handkerchief. Nobody owns handkerchiefs these days, except people like Juliette who use them as an excuse for showing off embroidered monograms. She did use a kerchief to wipe her tears, it’s possibly in her pocket. I don’t feel at ease fondling the loins of unconscious teenagers through A&F jeans pockets, but hand the result to Alex anyhow.
He shakes his head. “This one is crumpled, I need a clean one. A virginal one.”
(Why can’t he try find one himself?) I hand him another Kleenex. No-no, he needs a real handkerchief.
“What if we can’t find one?” I ask.
“Young ladies of Juliette’s station travel with more than one handkerchief, Dr. Watson.”

Okay, so I find a fresh handkerchief in a closet drawer, folded, embroidered, monogrammed, which I hand to Alex. He unfolds it ceremonially, then decks it out over Juliette’s delicate face. I look at this for a minute. There’s something wrong. You would expect her breathing to billow the cloth a bit, but the thing remains still, perfectly still.

“Call Barbette,” Alex says, “Tell her we found Juliette. Found Juliette.”

"Ophelia," John Everett Millais

I call Barbette. We found Juliette. You found Juliette? Whether Juliette has taken her pill.
“Whether Juliette has taken her pill?” I ask Alex (how would we know?).
“Yes,” Alex says, “tell her.”
“Juliette has taken her pill,” I say. You found Juliette? How? Where? In her hotel room.
“Oh my God,” she says. Alex has withdrawn from from Juliette and studies the Atlantic ocean out there beyond the balcony window, a thunderstorm is building on the horizon. There are knocks on the door with Barbette clad in a bathrobe. I lead her into the room. Alex moves his gaze from the ocean via Barbette to Juliette’s cloth-covered face. “Oh my God,” Barbette gasps. Alex remains immobile for a little while, then gets on the cell-phone. “Amy-Lou,” he says, “this is you?” (Yes.) “We need your help. Atlantic Sands Hotel, Room 312.” He terminates the call. Barbette stares at Alex. Alex stares back at her, then turns his eyes to the storm in the distance.


"Young ladies of Juliette's station travel with more than one handkerchief, Dr. Watson."

Dr. Watson, in the meantime, is trying to get a feel for Juliette’s pulse, while Barbette hunches over her sister's body. “I saw it coming,” she cries, “it was inevitable.” Alex, yes he does it, he puts his arm around Barbette's shoulder, dipping down his knees because Barbette is still hunched over her sister's body. Doing this he resembles Channing Tatum. He resembles Channing Tatum quite a lot, in fact, except that his hair is black and his eyes are green.
“Eight minutes,” he says.

Eight minutes is a long time. Sirens finally wail, the overflow outside reverberates, I open the door. Amy-Lou and another medic enter the room, the same guy that came for Roper an hour ago. “Hi,” the guy says as if he's happy to see me again. Alex shakes his head, pensively, points at his watch. Protocol is somehow not followed; Amy-Lou can’t help it but smiles back at Alex. Juliette ends up on the stretcher, the handkerchief flutters away. Alex picks it up from the ground, recasts it on Juliette’s face. There’s not enough space in the elevator, Alex and I take the stairs. All of us cram into the meat wagon, Barbette still in her bath robe. Alex shakes his head again, Amy-Lou shakes her head again.

We arrive at the South-East corner of the Memorial, the emergency entrance. We and Juliette’s gurney roll through the hallway and past the trauma room and end up in a wide elevator which takes us down two floors. The elevator doors unfold to the freezing air of a semi lit basement corridor of raw concrete, arrows pointing left (radiology), and right (morgue). We turn right and reach a set of sliding doors. There’s an electronic lock, blinking. Amy-Lou wields her identity card, the doors slide. “You’re not allowed inside,” Alex says to Barbette, “sorry.”
“She,” Barbette stutters, “she.” The sliding doors slide shut. Barbette and I are left behind. It feels a bit like Tom and Becky in their cave, in the last part of Twain's Tom Sawyer.

Go here for the previous teaser of This is heaven, there for the next one, and here for a selection of chapters of the Green Eyes.

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