Authors: O.L. Casper
P A R A D I S E
by O. L. C A S P E R
Sophia Durant’s Diary (continued)
Anna’s eyes were directed behind me, all smiles. I turned to see Stafford regarding me coldly. I felt immediately embarrassed and looked away. But the shame I felt wasn’t lessened any, for now I was looking directly at Anna and she could read everything in my expression. I looked down at the MacBook and sipped my espresso. Suddenly there was laughter behind me. Still feeling apprehensive but a bit calmer, I heard Stafford say, “Sophia, what are you so shy for?”
“Me shy, Mark?”
“I saw that blush. What were you two talking about? Anna, I know you’ll tell me.”
He spoke very amiably, like he was the happiest man on earth.
“Oh, we were gossiping,” Anna remarked coyly.
“You know, the different nannies. And you.”
Anna smiled at him.
“Yeah, right,” he said, either not believing or pretending not to, I couldn’t be sure which.
Stafford helped himself to a cup of espresso and stood at the machine, turning around and leaning on the counter. I expected him to sit down with us, but he kept his distance instead.
“What have you told her about me, Anna? Come on.”
He smiled, but didn’t look at either of us.
“Just this and that. The usual.”
“All good, I hope.”
“Yes?” I said, reading
, and pretending not to pay too much attention to anything else in the room.
“I hope everything is okay.”
“Naturally. It’s nice of you to be concerned.”
“I’m leaving,” Anna said abruptly and stood up.
“I would, but I have work to do, sir. With all due respect.”
She bowed, smiled at me for a fleeting moment and left.
“I wonder what scared her off.”
I expected him to sit across from me, but he didn’t.
“I don’t know,” I said, without taking my eyes off the webpage.
“Nice to see you again, Sophia.”
There was something on the front page about former President Sarkozy’s house being raided by police.
He was getting frustrated, but it was barely showing.
“Indeed. A former President of France is under investigation for corruption.”
“You read about it?”
“No. But Jacques Chirac was already convicted on corruption charges so Sarkozy is the only one left.”
I was actually impressed with his knowledge of French politics, even as rudimentary as it might be.
“Did you think me a mere ignoramus with a penis?”
I was impressed even more at this open way of speaking. Was there a bug travelling around the villa that caused this sort of outburst? I am by no means the restrained type, but I was still careful of what I said when I didn’t know who might be listening. Of course Stafford could afford not to care—to an extent.
I looked at him.
“You’ve been gone a few days.”
I wanted to say I did, but I merely started to speak and cut myself off.
“I don’t mean to embarrass you. Are you embarrassed?”
“Not in the least. I only mentioned the fact that you’ve been gone to change the subject, find something that wouldn’t prompt such crude responses.”
“You must forgive me. Some business has gone rather well in the last few days and I’m afraid I’ve been feeling a bit pompous. Forgive me. I’ll be looking into acquiring new real estate on the island when Isabella returns.”
It sounded odd, hearing him refer to her with me. It didn’t grate on my nerves or anything like that. The name just sounded like a distant chime in the wind, muted by double-pane glass and walls, the way he said it.
. It sounded arid, hollow, and remote.
“What are you doing for lunch?” he asked.
“I can get you out of it,” he whispered.
“No. It would be wrong.”
I clicked onto the homepage of the French daily.
“Can we do anything—you know, as friends? Get to know each other…” he asked.
He tried to sound matter-of-fact, but came off anxious. Had I got the great man scared?
“Yes—tonight then. It’ll have to be after nine o’clock though. Is that alright?”
“Of course.” I looked at him, smiling obnoxiously.
,” he repeated.
“Where have you been these last few days?”
I looked at him again, trying to convey a penetrating glare but probably failing miserably.
“We’ll discuss it later. I’ve got to be going.”
He knocked back the last of his espresso, put the cup in the sink and left out of the great kitchen.
I smiled inwardly, took another sip of my espresso and tried to focus on
, but couldn’t.
The HTC lit up moments after I first stretched out on my bed, having returned to my room after an exhausting day looking after Savannah. The phone was on silent, didn’t vibrate; I saw the light projected off the LCD display light up the ceiling. I opened the message. It was from Stafford. Did he have someone alert him as soon as I’d gone back to my room? I thought there must be hidden cameras throughout the place—visualizing cameras that looked like flower vases or the frames of paintings like some Orwellian dream. Perhaps there was a sensor in the door to my room to tell him when it opened and closed. A camera in my room so he could see me pleasure myself.
MARK: Have to take a rain check on tonight. Something came up.
SOPHIA: It’s just as well…I’m exhausted.
He wrote back faster than I thought humanly possible. Perhaps a computer wrote his texts for him. The spelling and grammar were too good for him not to have had help.
MARK: Go on the TV in your room—it’s an internet TV—and go to the file marked “Villa.” You’ll find thousands of movies to watch. I love it. I watch all kinds of classics on there. Coppola, de Palma, John Milius
Now, I thought, he’s been observing what I like to watch somehow.
SOPHIA: Thanks. I knew they were there. I’d already found them.
MARK: Of course, you’re the techno-wiz. How could I forget?
SOPHIA: Right. Well, good night, I guess.
MARK: What do you mean? You’re going to bed this early?
His directness was refreshing, but I sensed he already felt he owned me in some way. He was subtly controlling and it made me instinctively want to shut him down. But I felt if I made him aware of this feeling he would try a new tactic that I might not be aware of.
SOPHIA: Definitely not, but I know you’re busy and I want to let you get on with it.
MARK: Yes. I have a meeting coming up. Maybe I’ll hit you up after.
SOPHIA: I’ll be here.
For some reason I hoped he would respond to that, but he didn’t. And I felt sick with myself for thinking in this way. I felt sick and trapped by a growing infatuation that I could no longer deny, which I imagined was festering out of control like some hideously infected wound. A rotting hole in the side of a sick, homeless dog in China with maggots growing inside. I don’t know why, but that was the image that came to mind. I wanted some of Anna’s AK-47 to ease the tension, to make me think more clearly, and make the time glide past, but I decided against seeking out Anna and her psychotropic grass. I just didn’t want to make the effort. Then I changed my mind.
I vaguely knew where Anna stayed. I asked one of the maids in the hall and she pointed me to the room. It was two floors above the one I stayed on, with a magnificent view to the sea. Anna opened the door droopy eyed. She’d obviously been fast asleep.
“I’m so sorry to bother you,” I said through a barely cracked door.
As she came to recognize me, she opened it further.
“It’s okay. It’s nice to see you. Is everything alright?”
“Yes. Well—can I come in?”
“Of course. I’m sorry.”
Anna showed me in. She was wearing silk pajamas. For some reason she had never looked more attractive. I had to look away from her several times during our conversation to focus my thoughts.
“I was nearly asleep too, but then I couldn’t sleep. I’m becoming a nervous wreck. I wondered if you had any…”
“—Medicine.” She finished my sentence.
“Yes. Particularly of the AK-47 variety.”
“I do. But if you’re already excited, what you need is something more along the lines of the Hindu Kush variety. It’s more calming. AK-47 is more of a stimulant.”
Anna removed a wooden box from a drawer near her bed. I wanted to say, “So you used the AK-47 to get me excited?” But I didn’t have the heart. I was feeling shy and tired, and was just trying to feel somewhat at ease in her room. But it wasn’t working. I found her to be a somewhat stimulating presence. There was sexual tension, but there was also the tension of new friends who are smitten with one another and each trying in vain not to walk on the other’s toes. We sat side by side on her bed.
I noticed a design on the box and asked to look at it more closely. Anna took out a few crystal-covered buds, mostly green with purple specs, and handed me the box. I studied the design that was obviously hand-painted on the top. It was the wispy outline of a blue dragon that emerged like a puff of smoke from a small lamp at the bottom right corner. It resembled the Welsh dragon. The painting was striking, very well done.
“You like the picture?”
“Yes. It’d make great body art.”
“Thank you. I painted it,” she said, not looking up from what she was doing.
With meticulous care she broke up the buds and placed them in the rolling papers.
“Do you have tats?” she asked.
“I have a few,” I said, a bit shy.
I don’t tell many people about them. I knew Stafford had seen them and would eventually ask about them. I dreaded explaining.
“I have a British leopard here.” I pulled down my shirt to show her the blue outline of the British leopard on the back of my left shoulder.
“Wow, that’s beautiful. You have good taste.”
“Then I have this one on the other shoulder.”
I pulled down the back of my shirt on the other side to reveal the initials VR in cursive with spiraling ends on either side (the left arm of the V extends into a spiral, as does the right leg of the R). It’s also blue.
“What does it stand for?”
“The English queen.”
“Very nice. What else do you have?”
I bent over and rolled down my stockings on either side. I showed her the 33 on the outer side of the left ankle, followed by the outline of an owl on the outer right. It’s the same owl I used as an icon for my Minerva app.
“Did you draw that?”
“You’re an artist too.”
“Only a little.”
“What are you talking about? It’s very good.”
She pointed to the connecting bathroom.
“Get a towel and jam it under the door. It keeps the smell out of the corridor.”
She lights up the joint. After some healthy puffs she hands it to me. I blaze it and thoroughly enjoy, in what feels like slow motion, the smoke entering like an intelligent beast, crawling across the tongue, extending her fingers under the tongue and between the teeth. Like a snake she moves down the throat, drying everything in her path and causing a slight tingle. Her head bifurcates into two faces that enter the alveoli and dissolve into the blood, like ghosts. The mellow high goes straight to my head and I’m floating. The only way I can tell the difference between the effect of this and that of opium (which I tried once) is that even though both produce a light, floating sensation, with this I definitely am aware that my feet are still on the ground. There’s a slight heaviness to the high that there’s not with opium. Otherwise the effects are identical. I wonder if it’s not laced.
What had happened was Julie procured some opium out of a large shipment imported from Cuba and transmitted to Tampa by a friend of hers, which she bought wholesale, before it was cut with anything as far as she knew. Julie and I had just started college in Gainesville, and it was our first weekend off. We smoked it out of a long stem, chestnut pipe I’d acquired at the flea market. I chose it because it resembled the ones I’d seen the addicts using in the great opium dens of nineteenth century China. The first time use of such a reputable drug had to be done in the right way. As I inhaled the opium smoke for the first time, a great calm descended over me, like the blanket of the evening sky before nightfall. Soon, my thoughts became crystal clear. My intellect seemed to glow and produce ideas with the harmony of a Mozart symphony. That was the primary effect, that supreme clarity of thought. My mind became golden and transmitted ideas through a perfectly ordered parabola of concentric diamonds. Thoughts so clear, I transcended the world and became a goddess. The world before me was carved out of solid gold. Everything I saw had the divinity and effortless harmony of our most cherished childhood
memories. The present was now seen with the same devotion to things seen through the fervent lens of nostalgia. I saw the deathless objects from which all objects held in my mortal gaze were derived. In essence, the grandest hallucination I had ever witnessed. Julie had fallen asleep.