The Countess Bedelia As I Recall Her
She is coming to the reading of my play. Four years ago, I said this:
O Les Faux Jours
I sat with the Countess beneath the pink and violet striped canopy of her cabana overlooking the dancers. With tarnished silver struzzi cadenti, I jabbed at cubes of American cheese floating in the murky absinth of a Deruta ware bowl as she worried her jewels. I remarked about the heat.
“Ah yes” she said. “It is a white hot day, like that one in Cabeza de Lobo. Who can live?” She produced a silk fan painted with the sweet Infant of Prague but rather than open it, she swatted a small dog that had been sniffing her ankle. It belonged to someone who owed her a favor, she imparted sotto voce. Fan or dog? Pointless to ask her.
A young and hairless man in a starved yellow Speedo was introduced to us. “I’m from Lenox!” he proclaimed. The Countess had been about to ignore him until his proclamation caused her to fill her lungs and empty them slowly with a litany of landmarks from that region of her home state.
I said to both of them “I once had a cabin in Becket not far from there. Do you know it?”
They spoke over each other with praise for that tiny mill town deserted by industry. I therefore continued.
“We summered there. Every Sunday morning, my mother insisted that the family drive into Becket proper to attend Mass at a shabby Catholic Church named non-specifically for one of the Saints Thomas. Can you name some?” They could. The Apostle, à Kempis, More. “On Donner and Dancer , Aquinas and Vixen!” There was no holding their minds, so I continued to speak without regard for their attention.
“I didn’t want to go to Church. I wanted to swim and fish and find blueberries and murder snakes. And then one Sunday, I saw a boy in the pew behind me. He had crystal blue eyes and shiny true black hair that fell over his forehead. He was my age. We became lovers in our thirteenth year of age. In a metal row boat from Sears. Sometimes there is God, but not often in church.”
The Countess gathered herself up and stood. I walked with her to the balustrade where we looked down at the thousands of shirtless dancers making a wavy aura of flesh about the pool. They looked up at the Countess and cheered “Ave Imperatrix, we about to dance salute you.”
She spied a particularly muscular and deeply tanned Cuban who raised his powerful arms to her. She leaned over the balustrade, fingering her gas blue beads and crying out “My son! My son! He’s come back from the war!”
I handed her the last of the white roses. She tore it apart and flung its petals over the crowd. “Horrid children. Following Sebastian down every street.” She hissed.
“No where to run to, nowhere to hide” they chanted mercilessly.
“Flores para los muertos” muttered the Countess who seemed to wobble a bit. “Les fleurs de mal” I added. “Fleur de sel” she responded, returning to the bowl and splashing its liquid on her brow as she sat down and recited
“Oh fons Bandusiae,
Dulce digne mero
Non sine floribus
Cras donaberis haedo
Cui frons turgida cornibus.”
“That’s all very well today while the blossom still clings to the vine, Countess, but my daddy was a gambler down in Georgia. He wound up on the wrong end of a gun and I was born in the back seat of a….”
“Don’t speak!” she interrupted. She held my hand and said “S’ils sont des jours amers, il y ont de si doux. Helas, quel miel n’a jamais laisse de degouts?”
I pulled away from her grasp and said “Yeah, well nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.” But the Countess was lost in some happy thought and crowed “O les Beaux Jours”. She repeated this phrase louder and louder until I knew the moment had been reached, and I slapped her to make her stop. She closed her eyes and I suspect she slept briefly.
When she opened her eyes, she claimed to have lost her ability to see all colors except sepia.
Several feet away, the Lenocian salamander began to laugh even while nothing was said. He had been accepting drinks from suitors. The Countess and I became wary of his immediate future. I ventured “In the course of an afternoon, one should visit a bar exactly as many times as one would visit Cairo in one’s entire life.”
The Countess said “Hmph. Ved Napoli e mori.” And after a few seconds, she faux-spit at some spot a few feet away and added “They’ll steal the ring off your finger.”
“Imagine” she brightened, “If lightening should strike that pool, on a clear day, when you can see for miles, nel blu depinto di blu.” She summoned a tall Mexican in a white suit who fetched a pen and cocktail napkin, and when he stooped to hand her these things, he pulled open his shirt for my benefit and flashed me the wide smile of a dentist who has done time. The Countess scribbled a few words in Russian, which, when read by the DJ, Roland Belmares, stationed fifty feet away, elicited an obedient nod and a spontaneous remix of Lou Christie.
The Countess rocked back and forth, singing “Again and again and again”.
The boyfriend of the Mexican asked if I would be at Jackhammer later in the evening for WHIP: A Leather Fantasy. I said that it was indeed my fullest intention and that I had planned nothing else for my life beyond that point. He said that he had once dressed as Jackie in leather and that his boyfriend had loved it. I responded that the owner of a guest house in Provincetown once dressed me as Jackie and put me in the back seat of his limo, circling Commercial Street and stopping to proposition young men with me as bait. I had no idea what to do with the ones who got in. Stay in character? Remove the gloves? Show them the ketchup stains on the dress?
As we spoke of hats and men and places gone to seed, we did not notice that the Countess, reaching for the only cloud in the brilliant sky, a small confection shaped like Belize, had leaned too far over the balustrade. The roar of the men below reached us too late as we turned to see the red-lacquered undersides of her tiny sandals follow her over the ledge. We ran to it, and looking down twenty feet, saw that she had landed squarely on the Bacardi logo of the tent over the bar below. Claiming comfort, she waved away our clamoring, and rested there with her kaftan splayed like the webery of a flying squirrel. The sun went down. The boys ran into the night, and her dismount was not recorded.