With Love from The Ministry of Ambiance
The surface of his love begins to look like the skin of a deflated balloon. He writes: My love looks like the skin of a deflated balloon and my skin begins to look like love deflated inside a dead balloon and the balloon begins to look like me; deflated and letting go of the string he drifts down the street weakly bouncing and colliding from pole to car to door, and everyone sees that he’s inside out, and they ignore him or run as if he’s contagious.
He writes all of this and what he writes is recorded by the Ministry of Ambiance and within the within of the within of the Ministry, Special Agent Automatic Turpentine reads the transcript and he counts the letters, the vowels and the consonants, searching for the secret to the code that will reveal the truth about the Super Atomic Piston Ring, but he finds only the words and he begins to weep.
He shakes and spasms vibrate through him and his tears fly from his face as elongated glimmering blue salmon. Special Agent Automatic Turpentine holds on to the corners of his office desk as if he were in the cockpit of a rocket.
A Moment in Summer
Samantha sits on the porch with her best gal-pal Darla, drinking wine. It is a lazy summer evening and the fireflies are blinking on and off in the deepening dark like advertisements for nature. The red neon sign that says: BANK, casts a shallow puddle on the sidewalk.
Darla says, what were you thinking and Samantha stares at her phone and says, I’m not going to call him, and the gathering evening heat mixed within the dark mixed within itself rolls in and out over the city and Darla’s big orange cats watches the lights blinking in the air with steady hungry cat eyes.
Lorca’s Ghost at The Fountain of Tears
He, who is I and not, sits on the roof staring at the lights and shadows of Alexandria. The river fades in gathering twilight tremble, Lorca’s ghost sings a song and flows slowly like a vast exposed vein of the earth. He remembers:: He says to Samantha – I am being watched. There is a tap on my phone. My mail is being read. I am being followed.
A Moment of Creation
Samantha sits on the porch drinking wine. Darla is in the kitchen getting a bottle of white from the refrigerator. The light within the fridge is morgue-white. It makes the bottle of wine look like a yellow cannon shell. Darla remembers trying to open and close the door of a fridge when she was very young, just fast enough to catch the light going on and off as if catching the moment of creation.
Lunch with Ulysses
He sends an email to Samantha. He says: I wrote this: He writes about coffee hands and flapping wings and jagged light. He says, I lived on a Greek island and worked on a fishing boat; taught English. I met a man who came from far away. He was covered with exotic stamps and visas of memory and torture as if his body were a passport and language a border across which no one could trespass. He told me stories. He said ill fares the land. He said the earth is sick.
The Object is Simple
A machine of great complexity records every stroke of every key on the keyboard. Special Agent Automatic Turpentine reads the transcript. He sends a secure memo. He is within the within of the vast machine. It hums and whirs and buzzes and it has many rooms. It listens to everything including itself. It listens to everything but understands nothing.
Coffee hands flapping their wings. This is a code. This is a code. The code is a code reflecting the code that states the code of flapping coffee and hands going through the air as wings. Many men sit in a room and read the words. Special Agent Automatic Turpentine sits in another room and waits to be told what to do next.
Stalin’s Sense of Aesthetics
I who am he sits on a bench looking up at the building in which he who is I, lives in an apartment that looks over the city and across the city to the river. The building is gray. The building is a vast cement carbuncle squatting on a low hill. The building looks like something Stalin would have ordered from a catalogue. He sees himself flying off the roof. The building is gray and death can be multicolored. He has a pair of wings but they seem to only work in one direction.
A car glides passed him. The car turns in the parking lot. It stops. Two men get out of the car. They lean on the hood of the car. They are wearing mirrored sunglasses. They stare at him. He sees himself reflected in their glasses. He is elongated; thin. They stare at him. He stares at them. They stare at him staring at them. The coal train chuffs in the near distance working down the track as a muscle of history.
At The National Gallery
Samantha stands in front of a Degas at the National Gallery. A table before a window and on the table bottles and a bowl of fruit. This is the moment of their beginning as it first appears and later he writes with joy did tumble I, the day unfolding out of darkness, as any acrobat of love, and he writes until the Ministry wraps tightly a block upon the border of ideas but still the earth is a sentry everything passes.
By then Samantha was gone and sitting on the stoop, much further along within the narrative, watching the trees sway as a chorus singing the wind, he remembered her saying: I don’t care about your story; this is a terrible time to live and you have to be clever and act as if they are not watching everyone and he listens to the train pulling into Camden Station and he knows the night is a passionate nomad full of codes unbreakable and from within the vault, deeply concealed, distilled, hyperdistilled and refracted endlessly, Special Agent Automatic Turpentine flaps his hands in the stale underground air and watches coffee drip slowly from a filter, down deep into a large coffee pot, filling slowly with every idea.
I go out of the house and a man walks slowly behind me stiffly moving his long legs. I stop at the corner and go to my left and he goes to his left. I turn and walk to my right and he turns and walks to his right and I stop and he stops and stares at the window of a car. Somewhere close at hand a video camera records everything. I walk down the street and he walks down the street. I go home and he walks to the other side of the street and stares at me as I close the door.
Audrey and I are in a museum. The museum is showing prints from the Meiji. Elegant yet stiff figures stand in the attitude of imperial domination and submission. A man follows us around the museum. He circles around us; always steps so he is behind us so we turn and circle behind him and he steps again so he is behind us and then we get to the last room and I whisper to Audrey and we run.
We run down the hall and then stop, turning suddenly into an alcove and wait and then, seconds behind us, he comes running down the hall and stops at the exit. We step out and stand behind him and he turns, slowly, stares at us with a blank face then, walking backwards, he goes out into the parking lot and we watch as a plain rental car pulls up and he gets into the passenger side, and the car leaves.
I closed the book, and sat on the bench and watched the birds coming and going across the water of the lake.
“Just the minute the FBI begins making recommendations on what should be done with its information, it becomes a Gestapo.”
— J. Edgar Hoover
A Queen of Cups
Yffat talks about Paris. She talks about The Palais du Sal. She is from Jerusalem. She combs exploding busses from her hair. She does an excellent imitation of Joan of Arc. She bursts into flames and then extinguishes herself with a ripe mango.
— That’s a hell of a trick, I say.
She laughs. When she laughs the day pulls a blanket over its face and hides because her laughter is heartbreaking and the day does not want to cry.
— Is the ocean a metaphor, she asks, or a fact?
— Perhaps, it is both, or neither.
— Is a novel an argument, or a seduction?
— It is a formula for the grand unified theory of everything.
— Perhaps, she says, it is both, or neither.
— It is as if your hands were small dark birds that do not know their way home .
— Ariel should not be trusted under any circumstances, she says.
— Have you read the book?
She smiles and shakes her head. She is sitting on the couch leafing through a fashion magazine.
— I’ll wait for the movie.
We laugh and watching her I see her look at a long curl of her long curling black hair.
— Oh, she says, look, it’s Golda Meir. I had wondered where she had got herself too.
It is a fog-heavy day and the big bay window is gray and moist. Yffat has no land line and no computer. She keeps her cell phone in her freezer so no one can listen to her conversations.
Yffat’s orange cat sits on the edge of the couch watching birds flit back and forth across the window.
— Read me that chapter, she says.
She puts the magazine down and closes her eyes. Her hair spills down over the red pillow under her head. Kind of Blue is on the stereo. The cat swishes its tail. A streetcar goes by and the floor vibrates. Blue and green sparks shoot off of the wires above the street.
In the country of the novel, where the rabbit-headed general presides over the junta, the ageless Foreign Minister Hans Metternich says: Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac and the men of the junta laugh, knowingly. They smoke cigars. They drink excellent brandy. The rabbit-headed general drinks mint tea. Alcohol does not agree with his delicate constitution.
Metternich says: Once the government has taken the decision, the people owe their obedience to the government. The men nod their heads. A Victrola plays Caruso. The record snaps and pops under the needle.
Then the shadow of history appears like a red wine stain on the white tablecloth sitting over the vast table in the dining room where the junta has been entertaining Herr Metternich. The stain spreads quickly. The stain continues to grow and soon it is dripping off the tablecloth to the floor.
Servants come and wipe the growing puddle with cloth but the puddle continues to grow. Herr Metternich looks at his shoes. They are quite red. His socks feel uncomfortably wet and sticky. He examines his pocket-watch.
— I really should be going, he says, but the room is awash in the stain and pieces of ornate furniture begin to bob back and forth on the rising tide, blocking his exit.
In the Country of the Novel
In the country of the novel there is a lawyer from Madrid. He is hunting war criminals. He is hunting the truth. He calls the author and the author picks up the phone to say – this telephone does not work.
In the country of the novel the author is a prisoner. Another man, an artist, spoke highly of him but the Ministry was listening and placed a tap on another phone and they found a means to blackmail him.
They said, we know that your mistress is spying on the Senator for the rebels. We know everything about her; about you about when you eat and what and when you sleep. We know what you sound like in the bathroom. Work for us or we will have ten thousand men rape her.
So, he agrees and they fed him lines from what the other artist said and he wrote a story and in the country of the novel, the author shoots himself, but kills the wrong person.
It is a magic bullet, says the Senator. He is leading the investigation into the suicide that was a murder. It is in all the papers. There is a beautiful woman named Utta Peppe who is the mistress of the author and the senator. There are many photographs of her in the press.
People sit in bars and at home and watch people on television discuss the suicide that was a murder and the murder that was a suicide. A magic bullet, they say, certainly that is proof of the existence of god.
People come from all over the world to stand before the grave of the murder-that-was-a-suicide. They ask for a cure to their blindness, their mangled legs and stunted arms. They pray for a cure to their halitosis for a cure to their mysterious moles that look like the faces of dead saints. Someone writes a song called, the ballad of the magic bullet, and it is made into a video which creates a dance craze which spreads across the planet. This is reflected in the country of the novel.
In the newspapers I read that the critics find this to be boring self-reflexive modernity run amok. On the next page after the review, there is another lengthy review of the war in Babylon and Audrey asks me what they say.
— They say they believe that Gilgamesh can be defeated. They only ask for more time.
— What do you say?
— I find that to be boring self-reflexive modernity, run amok.
— As you say, says Audrey, as you say.
The Lovers, Part III
Yffat says you can have old karma in a new form, or new karma in an old form. She is not optimistic. Her optimism sits in a coffee can she keeps in the freezer.
She is listening to Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. She is swaying her hips in the room with the couch and the big window. She says, it is almost certainly the end of the world. She says the plague is again returned to London and swiftly.
She says that when she was a student and lived in Xanadu she knew Ariel and he would come to the bookstore where she worked. He came every Tuesday at twelve. They talked about books, music, artists. He seduced her. He said angels and devils waged unending war in the curls of her long black hair. They did it in the bookstore, in the small back room. Books would fall to the floor and they would read them, believing they had opened randomly. On the other side of the door there was a narrow alleyway.
At one end a blind man sold coins. He said each coin was a story. Ariel made up stories for each coin and whispered them into the ears of the angels and devils that waged unending war in the curls of her long black hair. At the other end of the alleyway a man who had taught physics in Leningrad played the violin. There were more out-of-work physicists in Xanadu than anywhere in the world. He played Russian folk tunes and sold books that contained the formulas for describing the curvatures of quarks and the precise ratio of the sub-atomic weight of hummingbirds.
— Nothing, says Yffat, is as it seems.
— You appear to be exactly as you seem.
— Your intelligence, she says, her hands in her hair, is faulty. A man passes gas in the Tokyo subway, and butterflies die by the thousands in New Mexico. When the butterflies are reborn someone will say, they can explain it. Why some people live backwards. Why there are signs on doors that say – caution doors alarmed; as if anyone would want to frighten a door.
I may love you both, you and Audrey, but you will end up being pitched off a roof or slitting your wrists. Or it will all be revealed, everything they have done and then there will be a revolution. But that is not like a movie. It is as if everyone has gone mad at the same time. And then you’ll wish they had pitched you off a roof or you had slit your wrists when you had the chance.
— No one knows anything until it happens.
— It is the end of the world, she said, and no one is who they claim to be.
She stopped moving. She looked at me with her big brown eyes. Outside, the evening gathered in the corners of the city and gave marching orders to the day.
Note: This is a work of fiction. It is excerpted from, The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover, by Charles Talkoff. We are working on making the entire novel available as a pdf . If you purchased a copy of this book from 8th House of Montreal be advised that it is an unauthorized edition and that 8th House of Montreal is in violation of the contract signed by the author and the publisher.
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