Fantastic Metropolis

Maldoror Abroad

K. J. Bishop

A woman, a man and their daughter sit at a table on the terrace. The blue Mediterranean sparkles in front of them, and Maldoror stands silhouetted in front of the dawn. He has ridden further than even he realises. He has ridden into the mind of the girl.

The mother looks up from her paperback crime novel. ‘My daughter, have your schoolmasters taught you the correct method of fashioning a golem?’

‘Yes, mother, and next term I shall begin studying the forbidden books.’

The mother addresses the father: ‘If a tulpa is endowed with too much vitality, it may well escape its maker’s control, is that not so?’

‘It is so, wife. Only pure and disciplined minds should attempt the higher magicks. Before the forecourt of the Golden City there is the rose garden where terrible lies glitter like rhinestones amid fountains of shadow and errant perfumes. Daughter, the colour has left your cheeks. Do you feel ill?’

‘I feel a dark presence pass between my face and the sun. How cold it suddenly is… Fiend, I banish you, be gone! No one summoned you.’

Your fear is as dark and sweet as molasses, O pale girl, smooth and thin. You did not have to speak my name, or even know it. I can appear without being called. When I hear within a human being that which soughs like the phantom sea inside a shell, I outrace light. You have dreamed of me, and of the powers and pleasures I could steal for you.

‘Your cloak hides your face. Your voice is sombre and slow. I do not trust you.’

Smart lass. But still, you shall have a garden where green light filters through trailing ivies and moss grows like a mineral; and you shall have a room, an octagonal salon with a floor of majolica tiles, walls lined in silk of your favourite colour, a domed ceiling girdled with a frieze of happy dolphins leaping in the waves of a circular sea. Rest assured that there are Chinese screens, carpets bought in Samarkand, and divans upholstered with Flemish tapestries. Jardinières hold arrangements of rare lilies; alabaster lamps distribute moonish light and a scent of sugarcane; there is a bowl of fruits whose flesh is as molten glass, and others almost human. The room looks inwards on itself, a long oval mirror on each wall reprising eight views towards eight infinities. You shall lie in this room with a jaguar for your constant companion, your eyes heavy, laden with the weight of all they have observed, yet bright and unassailable as diamonds.

‘Spirit of the evening’s copper gloom, you are premature. The moon does not know me yet, so why should you? Children should be safe from you. Do not violate that precept, or some punishment will surely be visited upon you. Next term I shall study French, geometry and sewing. I desire a decent and pleasant life, and I can find it without your help.’

We shall see. I feel the geometry may change your mind. The study of mathematics causes sensitive minds to begin seeking truth. From the square on the hypotenuse to the curvature of space and time, and from there to the black arts, is not such a long journey as it seems to you now. I shall be patient. Meanwhile, your mother is putting her book down. You might not be ready for Maldoror yet, but your dear mother has been waiting a long time. How could you or that complacent man there understand her thousand pains, regrets and longings? Long ago I offered her a volcanic island and promised to make her into a black queen of birds and fire. Her dreams were more daring than yours.

Listen to the two of you:

‘Wife, what are you doing? Why are you climbing over the railing? If you wish to take the air on the shore, the stairs are that way… Woman, the shame! People can see your knickers!’

‘Mother, will I understand when I am older?’

But the woman did not respond to these cries from her two loved ones, whom she loved no longer, who were now like a centipede running circles around her eyeball and a dead rat lying in her stomach, irritating and nauseating. Without a final word or backwards glance she stepped off the terrace, and Maldoror obligingly flung her body out into the distant sea. In her flight she was like a spiral galaxy, her four limbs rotating in obedience to the laws of physics, her descent a telling demonstration of gravity. Her silence was more difficult to explain. Who truly knew her? Perhaps not even he who met her in the deep, lighting the water with his weed-draped phosphorescent eyes.

I will not forget you, and I hope you will not forget me. I killed your mother; your father will not be as vigilant as she. He won’t mind if you wander off alone. And in memory of your mama, here’s a packet of Caribbean playing cards with gaily dressed skeletons for the court figures and prettily coloured skulls, snakes, rum bottles and bell-flowers for the pips. One joker is a priapic Gabriel, the other a lewd Mary with her skirts pulled down around her knees. The cards will bring you luck!

As for the rest of you — men and women with severe features, gleaming hair, jaws correctly aligned and teeth like knives — I salute you. You love the misty autumn moon, summer melons, the profile of an elegant lover, the evening flight of cranes, the rain falling in the sea, and even some of your fellow human beings. The world holds enough joy and splendour for you, and you love mystery without demanding a solution: indeed a solution would break your spirits.

Copyright © 2003 by K. J. Bishop.