Our name is Gabriel Temporal-Lux-Blason, son of Hermine Temporal-Lux and Gerard Blason: Phallic Instrument of French Imperialism, for fifty years actively dangerous, gaga for ten and now defunct. As We tackle this memoir, Hermine weeps and Gerard seeps into mud.
Simple names are never good enough and this is why Hermine-Temporal-Lux is also called "the Angel of Patience" and Gerard Blason "the Butcher of Madagascar." These designations serve to preface the following: if We are Gabriel Temporal-Lux-Blason, We are also known as "Soft-in-the Head" (although our head is as hard as yours; We know this having tested it again and again against the Bughouse walls, walls of mortared brick).
We, also known as the "the Lunatic," are the author of unique scholarly works including: "Domesticity as Universal Error," "Cosmic Disorder and the Ordered Domicile," "Delirium as System," "The Inspired Integument," "Birth: a Questionable Event," "The Ideal Uses of the Trochus: an Architectural Manifest," "Reflections on the Fall of Man, the Flood, God's Wrath and an Inventive Solution"; author of an ongoing inquiry into the similarities between the Turritella, the mazurka, the tongue of the anteater, the corkscrew, the soup mill; author of an infinite set of pamphlets including "Architectural Indications of the Inner Ear," "The Anti-Gravity Domicile," "The Submersible Domicile," "The Quasi-Perpetual Environment," and "An Inquiry into the Structural Limits of Time." (All these fascicles are printed on dove-gray Arches and may be had from us for the price of postage.)
If the brain, as We believe, is shaped by thoughts and not the other way around, then our own is composed of one nacreous coil, our thoughts sweeping upward under the influence of a lucent tide, the whole protected by a layering of scales. It is evident that as long as We are living, this supposition cannot be demonstrated. The Memoir, in this instance, must be read as our testament: We wish our skull's contents to be scrutinized by Dr. Aromal with delicacy and exemplary gravity. After, the brain is to be placed in a canopic jar and given to our mother. It is our hope that, should the brain be of ideal conformation, Dr. Aromal will oversee a lithographic series, printed on Arches and prefaced by Aromal's inquiry and our brief paper: "The Brain as the Blueprint of a Transcendent Architecture."
There is no doubt in our mind that it was Père's description of the assassination of the sea tortoise that so addled us initially. The tortoise, its legs caught in a noose, wheels about the boat as gulls circle overhead shrilly piping. When the tortoise is exhausted, a boy (or several, depending on the turtle's size) dives into the water and seizing it, rolls it into the boat where it is stunned with a hammer and kept helpless on its back.
Already a fire is smoking up the beach. Hauled to shore, the tortoise is thrust into a pit where, thrashing, he is roasted alive under a heap of burning embers. Père insisted on the quality of the meat-especially the flesh beneath the breast-plate. He made this joke: "the tortoise carries his stewpot and coffin on his back. He is called tortoise," Père continued, "because he twists about as he bakes."
We were perhaps five at the time and found the tale odious; that a creature could be cooked alive in its own shell seemed especially wicked. We were devastated by the realization that living things were killed to be cooked and eaten, that the ribs of the lamb served as a rack for the meat. "It is the leg bone," Père joked as he carved the Sunday roast, "that gives the dish its shape." Pitiless Père! As he described the turtle feast on the beach, We squirmed on his lap and looked helplessly on as Death entered the room and the parlor was metamorphosed into a furnished tomb. The turtle's anguish, the disgrace of its end, gyred in our little head. Seeing how frightened We were, how agitated, how pale, Père held us fast and insisted on describing a market on the Madagascar coast where one may see, set out on their backs on large tables, living turtles cut from their shells and lying in pools of blood. This blood is scooped up by female butchers (also intimately described. Père had never forgotten the ladies of Madagascar) and sold to clients who, having brought their own bowls, drink the fresh blood then and there. Hearing this We began to squeal but still Père was not done; to tell the truth he had only just begun. (Where was Mère? In the kitchen over-seeing the jam-making. This story takes place in berry season.)
Turtle meat is-as you have ascertained-prized in Madagascar, and now that the turtle is free of its shell and bellowing, a steak is cut from its breast and then another; the entrails sliced away, the feet sold next and the liver. Soon all that remains are its lungs, heart and head. O horror! The turtle's eyes are still blinking, its beak opening and closing. And as if this were not enough to keep a child from sleeping for the rest of his days, Père now recalled the head of a decapitated prisoner he had seen when he was himself a little boy, rolling onto a cobbled courtyard before being picked up and dropped into a basket. "Its eyes were open wide," Père said, "and its lips were flecked with foam. Had it been able to speak, it would have cursed the day of its birth."
Despite his firm grasp, We leapt from Père's knees as though they were red hot and We hit the ceiling, screaming. This was the first time We blew our stack, and Mère came running with her spoon, her lips sticky with jam. We were on the carpet now, spinning like a top. Père gave us a terrific kick to shut us up and We-reduced to a quivering jelly-were hauled off to our room by Père-thundering like Jehova, Mère behind weeping, her spoon in the air like a wand, the cook after and last of all our nurse sniveling into her skirts. As soon as We reached the nursery, We threw ourself under the bed and refused to budge; anyone who attempted to pull us out was bitten. Père insisted We be "let to rot."
It was there, under the bed in the nursery, that little by little We recovered from nervous exhaustion and began to dream of impervious integuments; it was there that our thoughts began to spin like the revolutions of an axel box, preparing the way for our ultimate discovery: the Domicile as Time-Absorbing Cuticle.
Because We proved incapable of formal schooling, We were tutored in the nursery by Monsieur Tardy-Cul who, whenever We proved testy, warned us that Père had threatened to boil us like a soup bone and who made us wear a heavy wool bonnet with ears even in August, causing our brain to quicken vertiginously and deepening the condition Dr. Aromal diagnosed as delirious, brought on by our terror of being devoured by the man the natives of Madagascar called the Meat Grinder. [At this stage, fearing that Père might poison our porridge We insisted on a food-taster having learned about them in our expurgated Arabian Nights which Tardy-Cul read with an ill-tempered lisp. We also asked for a bodyguard, for We feared if he could not manage to poison us, Père would come upon us as We slept to crush our kidneys with a hammer, or-should he be unable to break the door, send a cobra down the nursery chimney.] We lived in constant fear that at any moment Père would seize us, tear us apart, shove us into his monstrous mouth, grind us to a pulp, swallow us, digest us and shit us into our very own chamber pot. (We now know that in his accelerating decrepitude Père had forgotten us entirely, consumed by the memories of his exploits in Madagascar: sexual, military and gastronomic.) The more We were degraded by our tutor and his threats, the greater did Père grow in our mind. Soon there was not an inch in which Père did not crouch fully armed with kitchen knife, cooking pot and Appetite.
After an epileptic crisis caused by Tardy-Cul's tale of Bruce in Ethiopia who, when looking for the source of the Nile, stood by aghast as sirloins were cut from living cows and eaten raw and fuming, We were rid of Tardy-Cul forever, and all manner of Tardy-Culs thereafter; and, following a minor upset over a governess's tortoiseshell comb, allowed to school ourselves in the tranquil cove of Mère's chamber as she knitted mufflers for the poor and prayed for our health, and where We learned the niceties of class systems, domestic gardens, the names of the colonies, their imports and exports and, by drawing up lists, to write in a gorgeous hand:
C o c h i n c h i n e :
The exploitation of forests and mines
The education of silk worms
The fabrication of salt
The exportation of swallow's nests
The importation of opium
One afternoon Mère told us a charming little anecdote that was to be the key to our vision which has ceaselessly inspired us and which prepared us for what was to follow: the visit of Madame Roseveine de la Roulette. Mère told Madame de la Roulette's own story about a hermit crab who, having outgrown his own shell, found an ivory pipe washed to shore and trying it on for size, took it for domicile. From then on the crab could be seen making its way along the beach, a scrap of seaweed clinging to the stem like a flag. The story made us laugh until We wept; Mère and We made merry deep into the afternoon.
All things of importance have a tendency to inscribe themselves on the sensile pages of our vivid histories. One glorious morning Père was trundled off to Angers to be treated for phlebitis, colitis, laryngitis and gouty arthritis. As he was not expected to return before evening, Madame de la Roulette was invited for a morning's visit. Because Père hated her for some reason, We were sworn to silence, delighting in a secret with both Mère and the maid who was very gay and winked whenever she caught our eye, quivering with laughter like a greased eel. All this created an atmosphere of expectation so that the morning of the Great Adventure, and even before it began, We invented what We came to call our Dreamful Architecture. With colored pencils We sketched three worldly domiciles in which We could imagine dwelling in safety and peace.
That morning We imagined a summer domicile of sweet grasses, sprinkled with good earth and watered daily. This domicile is cooled by the natural process of evaporation, a process demonstrated to us by Tardy-Cul and which until that moment We had deemed of no interest whatsoever. By summer's end this domicile could be harvested. It came to us to suggest to Heads of State that such dwellings be manufactured en masse for the rustics of tropical climes.
We next imagined a spherical domicile of padded India rubber so buoyant it could travel the rivers of the world sans dommage aucune; for example, its front portal snugly shut, this domicile could navigate waterfalls and rapids without taking in water.
And We invented an airborne domicile with an inflatable roof made of a balloon in the shape of a gently convex mattress that would both keep the domicile pleasantly shaded and protected from the rain, as well as provide nesting places for birds. This domicile looks like a low-flying cloud and its inhabitants dwell far from inquisitious and nefarious eyes. It may be anchored above rainforests and so serve as a platform from which to discover the leafy theater below-animated by birds and butterflies and men: agile tribes who leap from tree to tree with their babes and their pantries strapped to their backs.
At eleven o'clock, Roseveine de la Roulette came to visit, bringing with her a charming collection of shells kept in a large box fitted with drawers. This was carried from her carriage to the summer porch by our man Lagrange. Throughout refreshments We eyed the cabinet with curiosity until, having delicately licked the sugar from her lips, her bodice quivering under the impulse of satisfied gourmandise, Roseveine took my hand in hers and led me to the mysterious object of my desire. With soft fingers she pulled the first drawer open and revealed a collection of Turbo shells, "stalwart bodies," said she, "that cannot be torn form the rocks, not even by the strongest hands, nor in the roughest weather." Lifting out a full-bellied, canary-yellow specimen, she dropped it in our lap, where it appeared to melt like a knob of butter. She next took up a silver-mouthed Turbo and a gold-mouthed Turbo; its interior was the color of egg yolk. That morning We were allowed to hold in both our trembling hands a Turbo marbled green, its nacre shining like the white of a young and healthy eye; a green Imperial parrot Turbo from the China seas; and a violently violet Turbo from New Zealand. Already flushed with excitement, We nearly wept when, the shells returned to their cabinet, Roseveine, her little nails glistening like an intimate nacre, opened a second drawer and initiated us into another world of wonders: spurred Imperators studded with spines, a Delphinula sphaerula as tusked as a tribe of elephants, a tiny trellised sun-dial from the coastal seas of Tranquebar.
The morning was spelled by Turritella-so like the horns of unicorns-a fantastical harvest of spotted cowries brooding in their cotton wool like the eggs of dragons. The day proved mild, the sun filtered by the lime trees, the air palpable with the sound of bees and Roseveine's silvery laughter. When she was not handing us a shell, she was proffering bonbons in silver paper and although We were but six, we shuddered with rapture, thinking how wonderful it was to share the world with women!
Mère had lunch brought to the porch and because We were so well-behaved and Père hours away, his thoughts far from us and ours from him, We were allowed to stay, to continue to hold the shells Roseveine proffered one by one. Enraptured We listened as she, caressing our curls, described the eyes of the cuttlefish "like brown silk shot with threads of gold;" told how she wrote all her correspondence in an ink found in the ink bags of fossil cuttlefish and sent to her from Oxford, England by a natural historian who wrote books under the pseudonym Aster O'Phyton. This ink needed only to be reduced to a powder and mixed with water to produce a sepia of the best quality. What had precipitated such instantaneous death and fossilization that the ink sacks had not ruptured or rotted? We wished such a calamity upon Père. How We should have loved to see him reduced to stone, his bile a handful of gravel! And when Roseveine described the Kraken, its arms the size of mizzenmasts, its suckers the size of pot lids, raking sailors from ships and shell collectors from the coastal rocks, again We imagined Père's instantaneous ruin. However such revengeful thoughts caused us pain. It was impossible for the Butcher of Madagascar to fall in pieces at our feet: those pieces would reanimate and flourish! Instead of one, a thousand-thousand would surge forth and more: a Butcher for each second of the day! For a moment the sky darkened; I heard a beak snapping in the air, a beak studded with an infinite set of teeth. But then Roseveine took up a pearl. It sparkled in her palm like a tiny, pristine world and caused us to smile once again.
Before she left, Roseveine gave us a Voluta Imperialis so monumental, so sturdy We declared We should very much like to live in it. For at once We intuited: within such a chamber We might forget that moments are extinguished as they happen, that Time is a famished mouth crushing everything that falls into it (and sooner or later everything falls into it!) Already We dreamed of drifting within the smooth coils of a boy-sized shell, of distilling nacre from the blood-soaked air of the paternal Domicile, of living and sleeping in a shallow, navigable room, and of marrying the transmarine Roseveine. We proposed right away and she, bubbly with laughter, drew us to her bosom and kissing our ear murmured: "Sweetheart, I am old enough to be your mother!" (I believe she was but twenty-five at the time.) Her smell of ambergris was new to me and our infant birdling rose for one thrilling instant and briefly piped-for what exactly? We could not have told you.
That night, and once We were adrift in our little bed, a bed in the shape of a scallop, and, thanks to a tantrum, suspended from the ceiling so that it could be reached only by a rope ladder, Roseveine's green turban, her horned Murex and naculated Tritons, her true labyrinths and false cornucopias, swiftly, silently orbiting in our mind's eye, We began to dream our Dreamful Architecture of Unfulfilled Desire, which, in time, evolved into the Ideal Architecture of Fulfilled Desire: the prodigious marriage of aesthetics, chemistry and psychiatry. As snug as a Cephalopod in its retreat, our ladder coiled at our feet, We began to seriously investigate the Domicile as a Sanctuary in which to float far from the blustering winds of patriarchy, the sounds of bells, of kitchen chatter, the horrible ring of the telephone recently installed.
The Voluta pressed to our lips, the words We had heard for the first time tumbled about in our brain like bits of green glass at the bottom of the sea: coral zone, coralline, littoral; annelids, ammonites and zoophytes. . .Yes, these lovely words and also certain phrases she had whispered into our eager ear such as obscure crevices and lonely places; deep waters, the sand under stones; muddy bottoms, the Sea of Aral, stalk-eyed crustacea, gardens in penumbra, rafts of tropical débris; the herring fleet at Wick Bay, tiger cowrie . . .
We were roused in the middle of the night by Père who in his pain and fever imagined himself in the thick of the wars in which he was such a devastating player; the years in Madagascar when from Majunga to Tananarive, the roots of trees were gorged with blood and all the earth blackened by the dead. His pain was great; he could not move his bloated legs but only thrash his arms and hack at the air with his sword and shout: "I am the Kingdom and the Glory!" We could not help but hear him, and plunging beneath the covers, weep. It came to us that the world is far too corrupt to have given occasion to the gentle mollusk, and imagined it an asteroid fallen from some other universe.
Because of Père's incapacity-he kept to his bed as though fixed there with glue-Mère invited Roseveine to luncheon the following week. Père, propped up with pillows, was polishing the pistols that had served him in the wars, all the while shouting at phantom whores and soldiers. From time to time his voice floated out to the porch where We sat in the shade of the lindens served by the maid nearly doubled over with suppressed laughter. Indeed it seemed a daring thing to be making merry on the porch with a woman whose company Père had forbidden, whilst Père, confined to his chamber, engaged in phantasmagorical fornication and war.
We were served an ethereal lunch: a salad of nasturtiums, squash blossoms made into beignets, an orange-flavored flan-the whole washed down with rare Chinese tea. Whenever Père's ranting would reach us, Roseveine bubbled over with laughter. On one of these occasions We took the liberty to slip from our chair and, concealed by the tablecloth, to take one of Roseveine's slippered feet in our hands.
"And what are you up to, little husband?" said she, gently teasing. "Playing at cobbler?"
"Yes!" We replied, although it was a lie, "that is what We are doing. We are playing at cobbler!"
"A royal cobbler, apparently," she said laughing to our mother, "who refers to himself with a royal We! But I would have it no other way," said she. "In other words, if I am to be cobbled, well then: cobble me royally!"
Reassured by this, We unlaced the slipper to find a little stockinged foot, deliciously damp, smelling of live oysters and raw silk. With trembling lips We caressed her toes. We heard Roseveine sigh. With a tinkle her custard spoon fell to its dish.
"The flan is delicious," Roseveine said to our mother, "and so is your little son." Bending over and peering down under the table she smiled at me meltingly and with her hand caressed my cheek. For one dizzying instant she probed my ear with her little finger. "your ear is exactly like a Bulla ampulla," said she.
So touched were We our eyes welled with tears. "Little husband!" cried Roseveine as We nibbled her instep, "I have fallen in love and decided to divorce Monsieur de la Roulette and-with your mother's permission-marry you!"
We grabbed her calves, and our face pressed to her knees, clung there like a modest echinoderm sans the instinct to travel. For a long moment We stayed there, our thumbs pressed to the rotator bones of her ankles.
But this charmed moment was interrupted by a roar from Père, the shrill voice of Père's nurse, a seismic thudding that seemed endless and held us frozen in terror and surprise, and then the sudden appearance of Père himself seething with rage and nearly busting from his bathrobe and Moroccan slippers. Anchored to the doorframe and with all the strength he could muster, Père, visibly approaching exhaustion, bellowed:
"What is that Jewess doing here?"
Again Roseveine's laughter percolated through the air. Standing to face him, she gathered her skirts to her bosom and spreading her legs pissed profusely, her amber water a stunning spectacle recalling the engravings We had seen of the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi and Tisisat on the Blue Nile. Not surprisingly, her piss had the smoky fragrance of Lapsang souchong. This sublimely anarchic act hurtled Père into the vortex of apoplexy; he did not survive the afternoon.
But this she could not know. For as Père, brittle as mummy, crumbled to his knees, his hands splashing in the steaming puddle she had made, Roseveine sailed off and away, down the balcony steps, into the garden, past the stone fountain, the banks of trees, into the pergola and out the garden gate. She created a void that has never been filled, not even by the persistent memory of her laughter.
Several months after Père's demise, Roseveine came to visit one last time. She and her husband were about to leave France for French Canada where they intended to form a publishing company devoted to the Natural Sciences. Their first publication would be Aster O'Phyton's Ocean illustrated with lithographs, some of which she had brought along to show me: A Fleet of Medusae, Tubipora Musica and one which caused us to cry out in terror but also in secret delight: A French Officer Seized by a Gigantic Cuttlefish.
It was early fall and warm enough to take tea outside. Seeing our profound distress, Roseveine took us into her arms and whispered: "Little husband! You must know my heart is like a living shell, a domicile in which you shall be kept, always." She told us to put our ear to her heart. "Listen!" said she. "Do you not hear the sound of the ocean?"
The Ideal Domicile affords its occupant an exquisite state of submerged quietude and more: inside and out it reveals a known pattern which-because of the dramatic change in scale-is simultaneously reassuring and exciting! As in nature, each Domicile contains a secret and subtle variation known only to the inhabitant and dependent upon his own corporeal dimensions and aesthetic or spiritual sensitivities. Like a sacred text that has been copied out again and again by a fallible scribe, each domicile is subtly idiosyncratic.
After years of intensive reflection, one decided upon the Trochus: it is ubiquitous and extremely pleasing to the eye-bringing nothing so much to mind as the Babel towers of Ur. Its principal spine is often edged with a handsome series of protective spines, its walls so thick as to be nearly impenetrable, its inside sumptuously nacreous.
Within the confines of the Ideal Domicile, one may contemplate-with growing disinterest-the cyclical seasons of human emotion. One's thoughts circle with minor variations and, as reverie is reduced to a cumulative mirroring of spiraling space, worldly velocities still to a snail's pace. The universe, silenced, diminishes progressively until it vanishes altogether. The occupant is reduced to an embryo, a mollusk: to reverie itself. A confusion slowly sets in between inner and outer environments, and, one glorious morning, one awakens spiritually fused to the shell. The shell, no longer exterior to the self becomes the self. One's identification with the integument is complete. The spiral spells the soul's intimate architecture; time and space-those most cumbersome of cuticles-cease to impinge upon the dreamer.
ad one not learned of Her return, surely one would still be blissfully suspended in that state of disembodied delight. But Mère's message, knuckled in morse code upon the hull, roused us from our reverie. One was eighteen and had never known love, only the memory of love. Slowly one unwound one's blood painfully stirring after many sluggish months, and it came to one at once, without any deliberation, that one must create a bower in order to coax the beloved into the Domicile. Just as the bower bird of Madagascar sets out shells, and seeds and flowers to entice his mate into the nest, so would one construct an irresistible portal leading into the Domicile. (Indeed, as if this had always been kept at the back of one's mind, the Chamber was big enough for two.)
The fact is that the knowledge of Roseveine's return produced an upheaval in one's brain of stellar velocity. Yes, one admits to the obsessive indulgence of an impossible plan that in a trice had one's brain wound so tightly its unwinding was inevitable. Armed with the largest wheelbarrow one could find, one scoured the countryside for beautiful things with which to construct the Bower, the Bower to coax the Beloved into the Domicile, transformed to Bridal Chamber.
The Bower took the form of a sea grotto; one used pink mortar to arrange the baptismal fonts and basins. These things are all in the form of scallop shells and carved of Italian marble: pink, red, green and blue. We also uncovered an altar in a small church near Angers decorated with helixes and pectens, and even a chalice formed of a nautilus shell. Pearl buttons abounded in the closets and dressers of my nearest neighbors-as did pearl brooches and rings. It never occurred to one that these borrowings in the name of longing were, in fact, Thievery! One thought only of the bride, you see, and one's wish to stun her.
Before one's work was completed, one was seized, dunked into a camisole de force and brought to the Buggery, where one must navigate edges, eat slop and listen to the rantings of one who believes he is Bonaparte and the other Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abdullah. For three months now they have been fighting for Egypt. The room one shares is a perfect square, one's pallet rectangular. Each man keeps to a corner; the fourth corner belongs to the spider. She affords one's only silent entertainment. Her Domicile is a place of untold thuggery.