Wednesday, July 29, 2009

before beechwood

It was the summer that I had gone down to the coast to escape the heat of the city that I met Percival Frampton. I was staying at the Beechwood. An authentic dump, I know, but I was broke. My family had refused to see me through with another extension on my stipend and the translations that I'd been working on so strenuously over the winter had been sent back rejected one and all. One editor from New York City had taken the extraordinary step of calling me at home to tell me that my manuscript was shit. His words: shit. He had loudly claimed his willingness to incur the phone charges for the opportunity to tell me personally that my work was shit and that I was shit. I had not protested. He went on to say that he had been astounded at the fathomless depths of my ignorance and that he had marvelled over my complete idiotic misinterpretation of the text. He said it was as if I had never even studied the language. Then he slammed the phone down in my ear.

It was true though. I hadn't studied anymore than the few hours I'd spent lounging in an armchair with whisky and cigarettes; glancing over a few water damaged training manuals purchased from a church rummage sale; manuals apparently owned at some point by one Missy Alexander, an enigma who'd found it necessary to scrawl her name pell mell throughout the books along with stick figures possessing grotesque genitalia. I had found the study process laboriously distasteful, my thoughts impugned upon by masturbatory fantasies of Missy Alexander, a tramp no doubt. Most of the time I had actually worked on the translations I'd been drunk on Gin cadged from the liquor cabinet or high on Aunt Mamie's morphine pills. I didn't remember what I had written at the end of the day but it was important to the family that I keep up some semblance of relevant endeavor. It was explained to visitors, who by accident caught a glimpse of me discombobulated at my desk in the library where I was permitted to work a few hours a day, that I was a scholar of languages. People nodded respectfully when it was explained I had undertaken a serious and challenging translation project. Thankfully they never asked of what. So I was a scholar. I was compelled to hold fast to this line of defense in exchange for a small stipend from Uncle Cicero, the stormy old testament patriarch of the family estate.

Save for when the family was entertaining company I pretty much had the run of the old manse. It was a badly heated crooked affair and yet a noble oddity where it sat on a hill overlooking the hinterland's fledgling cottage sprawl. At one time there had been a church attached to it, but the rector had cast his congregation into the abyss and followed after them and the house had swallowed up the chapel and its offices to silence the existential belchings heard coming from the grounds. I was kept chambered in the bell tower in what had once been a monk's cell. Haunted, they said. I did not dispel the idea. Uncle Cicero slyly referred to it as my study lab. Sometimes when he said it like that I wondered if he knew I was brewing methamphetamine in the sink up there.

But the truth was I could bang about in the tower; cook meth; quaff swill; rant and rave;howl at the moon; and tinker with my manuscripts into the wee hours and no one down in the house proper was ever the wiser. There were times, I admit, when the nights leaned heavily upon me. The roost at the top of the tower could be a lonely place. The family was scattered all about below in which sundry rooms I knew not; Aunt Mamie with her periodic bouts of mortal combat against the fictitious cancers that plagued her laid up on a divan somewhere meditatively sucking on her morphine pills as if they were breath lozenges, listening to a hi-fi; Uncle Cicero stripped to the waist, hairy of teet, working up a lather over his chinchilla ranch in the sub basement; the nameless cousins who came and went and showed up for breakfast the one day and dinner the next farting and moaning in their sleep. And I, high above them, in so many more ways than one, toiling over my sink. So as the winter began to thaw, I found myself turning more and more to the soiled thoughts of Missy Alexander. Her name, the only thing I had learned from those infernal books. The curse of that name burned in my breast.

She was most likely a waitress, I decided. She probably worked in one of those all night neon illuminated coffee shops that polluted the downtown sections near the highway and had names like Fat Frank's All Stars and The Pie Shack . I imagined that her uniform was polyester, grease stained, and hugged her imaginary marvelous ass like a desperate lover's embrace. She was groped by men of low rank. Her dreams were punctuated with the possibilities of making something of herself. She was sassy; her lips pouty; her hips full; her bosom buxom. She had probably taken up the study of language on a flighty womanly whim and discarded it on impulse of the same. I admit that the probables multiplied in my mind and that perhaps the long winter also played some effect. My fancies ran unfettered. I began to lust after this proletariat heifer and I could not gain control of my wild unbridled ideas. I toyed with the notion of finding Missy Alexander and engaging her in a romantic adventure. I obsessed over it. I imagined myself rescuing her at the last minute from the clutches of some corpulent short order cook and spiriting her away to my cabin in the wilderness where I would make her my squaw. I would chop wood in the mornings and then work over my manuscripts while she cleaned the cabin around me. She would be naked of course. We would bathe together nude in a mountain stream surrounded by the majestic forest, under the innocent watchful eyes of the woodland creatures that I would sometimes kill for food.

But the reality of the matter restrained me. I was hampered by my stipend. Uncle Cicero had not been favorable to the expenditure of a car allowance when i had mentioned it to him that first day we worked out the financial needs of my scholarship. When I needed to get about town, he had instructed, I should walk. He brushed aside at the time my concerns that we were seventeen miles outside of the city. Fresh air, he'd muttered. If it took me five hours to get to town, how could I ever hope to locate my Missy Alexander?

I finally surrendered one night to my impulses and set out for town at about midnight to find Missy Alexander. I admit I had drank a good amount that day; first wine and port in the morning after a successful raid on Uncle's cellar and then later after lunch most of a bottle of whisky secreted away since the holidays. I also consumed a dram of Auntie's Laudanum and sampled some of a fresh batch of meth. They say that I made it about a hundred yards or so off of the property before I collapsed by the side of the road. I was rescued the next morning by the milkman. My clothing and shoes were found some good distance from where I had come to lay. It was noted that socks were never recovered. Uncle Cicero pronounced it a scandal and intoned grey faced before me as I lay recuperating in one of the downstairs bedrooms that as much as it pained him he was duty bound to log the episode for eternity in the annals of the family history of which he was the current guardian and scribe. And then, terrible of visage, he suspended my stipend thereby sending my scholarship into a tailspin, and forcing me to make the decision to leave the house in favor of the coast.

It was not only the heat of the city that I had sought to escape. Uncle Cicero had exiled me. But had I not taken my fall from grace I would never have come to rest at the Beechwood and I would have never made the acquaintance of Percival Frampton. And without Percival Frampton I would have never been able to finally track down Missy Alexander. Because that is exactly what we did.

(end part 1)

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