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Authors: Bev Jafek

Tags: #Fiction - Literature

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BOOK: The Sacred Beasts
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“You
should
be here,” I say with certainty. “You have no
idea how much your company means to me. Yes, you may paint me. Whatever you
want.”

“I should leave now,” she says very softly, fearful of hurting me.
“I will come back when you are feeling better.”


Please
come back.” How lovely that I can just smile and
say no more.

“Tomorrow,” she says slowly, as though calculating, and then
leaves smiling.

I am left to my odd enlightenment. How does she know that I will
be better tomorrow, unless through her visit? What is the difference, I ponder,
between art and love? Perhaps I should decide before I see this beautiful child
again. I pour another glass of wine and feel sorry I gave away all that whisky.
I would definitely have packed away another three glasses or five. What
dangers, exaltations and dim blind alleys lie in wait for us. I had better be
strong—though, in mid-sentence, I simply fall asleep on my couch.

I awoke in a curious quiet, a hush, as though I had been
replenished by something unknown, perhaps deeper than art. I looked out at my
real and imaginary beasts while eating breakfast. There was my lively new
pursuit, yet I was creating it from discardings, from death. Perhaps that was
my unuttered miracle, bringing the dead back to life, one of the many mysteries
of my new life that also, paradoxically, was drawing so much life to me.

This symmetry continued to tantalize me as I drove to see the
Aussie. At the dump, I encountered a scene even more unpredictable and
astonishing: enormous shapeless heaps blown wildly about by the wind and held
to the ground with stakes. The Aussie now had the reddest eyes I’d ever seen
outside of Fra Angelico’s painting and a stentorian rasp of a voice, as though
he had been shouting all night. He probably has been shouting all night, I
thought; I’ve been doing some of that myself lately. I hoped he had not
dispatched all that whisky in one night. With neon eyes and gravel-voice, he
told me that these Things were polyethylene bags filled with sterile plastic
cups and bottles as well as soda cans and that the only way to keep them from
blowing away in the Patagonian wind was to drive vampirish stakes through them
into the ground.

Amazed, I stared beyond him to those gigantic balloons changing
shape in the wind, rearing against their stakes, foaming into a continually
more startling and ridiculous whole. I began to laugh and then utterly lost
control of myself until tears were rolling down my cheeks. “Well
done!”
I congratulated the Aussie. Perhaps I should leave these Things unaltered on my
lawn as a stupendous image of reality in flux, I thought. How I would love to
have shown them to Bear. She would have claimed they were exemplars of literary
Modernism.

It was difficult to pack those shapeless wonders into the back of
my truck; they were nearly uncontrollable, but somehow we did it and I was off.
I felt the Things continually undulating all over the top of my truck and,
still laughing, wondered if I would not be even more notorious in town now. I
stopped at the liquor store for more wine in high spirits. As I received my
sidelong evil eye from the Arab, I couldn’t resist saying, “It will provide
ambience for extended, mild conversations with a beautiful young virgin. It
happens in this world, too.” I smiled sweetly and left but soon excoriated
myself. For all I knew, this man could be violent, collecting facile fatwas to
have my throat cut. How on earth did he justify owning a liquor store, I
wondered, unless he was part and parcel of the end of the world like the rest
of us?

When I reached home, the wind was still high, and one of the
Things nearly galloped away from me before I could stake it into the ground.
When I finished my demanding task, I continued to watch the Things ballooning
in one direction, then another, from my porch steps and laughed myself silly.
But, there was still much to do in the next few hours, I reminded myself. I
must buy paint in many colors, brushes, tools for cutting and pasting as well
as adhesive tape and glue. That meant a trip to both a hardware store and an
art store and I was quickly off in my truck again.

When I returned, I had many heavy parcels to carry inside and,
after depositing them on the living room floor, I dropped gratefully into a
chair and nearly fell asleep. Something roused me, however, and as I opened my
eyes, I once again found Mariska and Nadia on the sofa opposite me, their
kindly blue eyes intently focused upon me, their mouths set firmly in virtuous
intent.

“Oh goddess of blasphemy, you’re not here to check on my sanity
again!” Their eyes veered off to the side like cats, as though aware of
invisible shadows, perturbations, phenomena beyond the range of human senses.
They were obviously weighing what to tell me. “Oh, not again!” I protested.
They looked at me in surprise, as though requesting an explanation. “Your
witchcraft or whatever it is,” I said half-heartedly. “You always look as
though you can see or hear something beyond my sensory range, like animals.”

Oh that, their faces said, wordless, but that is nothing. Then
both somehow flexed their psychic energy and continued to look at me steadily
and kindly, seducing an explanation from me as to why those amorphous Things,
that now looked like absurdly inflated gloves waving at one another, were
rolling all over my lawn. “How on earth can you look at them and not laugh?” I
brusquely demanded, almost angry. “Here, let me get you some wine. You need a
change of perspective.” When I returned, they were looking out the window and
laughing.

“We can’t divine the purpose of those things. Are you amusing
yourself?” Nadia asked.

“Those huge bags have hundreds and hundreds of sterile plastic
cups and bottles, soda cans and the like. It’s the material for my next
sculpture. I intend to cut them up and paste them into aberrant new shapes and
then paint them. Some may ultimately be quite beautiful, but all will be very,
very strange; that you can count on.” They looked at one another again in
surprise and finally burst out laughing. They now seemed more sensible to me.
It must be the wine, I thought.

Mariska, ever the more ceremonious, now said, “We must toast these
new creations.”

“The answer, they sing, is blowing in the wind,” I added to the
ritual.

After an hour or two, I was alone again, free to play with my
imaginary beasts. I went out on the lawn and opened one of the bags, which was
full of plastic yogurt and fruit containers. I took out several and began
cutting and pasting. An Argentinean frog was one of my visions; it would become
my first creature. For the entire afternoon, I was completely engrossed in the
unique project of creating a giant frog from plastic garbage. It deeply pleased
me, and I began to imagine painting the eyes and skin. I wanted him with a
puffed gullet and tongue fully extended. What others? As many as possible. Just
for Sylvie, I would have to work in some tuco-tucos with big orange teeth, and
there must be some means of connecting them all into my very own psychic spider
web.

In mid-afternoon, a hand gently touched my shoulder. Somehow not
startled, I looked up and saw Sylvie, who now belonged to my ruckus. She had a
delighted smile on her face. I rose immediately and we looked at the great,
amorphous Things expanding and contracting, jumping up and down, pure
foolishness rolling all over my lawn. We both broke into helpless laughter. She
seemed to understand everything at once, and our arms were suddenly around one
another’s shoulders, like old friends.

“Amazing!” she finally said. “Is this the next thing?”

“The material, yes, though I’ve been wondering whether I should
change them at all. The Things themselves are so expressive of the human
condition.” Again, we looked at the wildly careening balloons heaving into the
Patagonian wind and continued laughing. “Would you like to go in and have a
glass of wine?” I asked.

“Very much,” she said, “but I want to begin drawing you first. I
have brought paper and charcoal.” I saw it resting on my porch steps.

“Fine with me. I will be sitting here in the grass, creating a
giant Argentinean frog with pasted plastic containers. If you can bear such
circumstances and are not too distracted by those balloons that nearly seem
alive, then you can draw me in the middle of my madness. I intend to reassemble
and paint the plastic material in the bags for my next sculpture.”

Her eyes were intensely bright. “It will be
perfect
for me
to draw you in the middle of this. I want to see your eyes and face while you
are completely immersed in it.”

“I won’t move away. This frog seems to have eaten my soul.”

“I know the feeling.” She immediately sat on the porch and began
to draw on paper with charcoal.

At first, I was acutely aware of her presence and unable to
concentrate on my frog, then mysteriously the beast again swallowed my soul and
I followed its directives wherever they took me. It was sundown before I
returned to myself again. I looked around for Sylvie and found, to my
astonishment, that she was sitting directly in front of me, inches away, with
her paper and charcoal. That restless hunger was all over her face, that amazing
likeness to Katia, animal, artist. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and
refused to cry. Then I saw four charcoal drawings lying in the grass. The
balloons were still; the wind seemed to have vanished. I was alone with this
beautiful creature and her images of me. “May I see?” I asked softly, feeling
quite vulnerable.

“Oh, yes!” she said. “They are just preparations for the
painting.” I studied four images of a face I was seeing as for the first time.
I looked ferocious, wintry, hungry, a falcon, an eagle. My brows and the crease
between them were heavier than my memory of them.

“I look as though I will either devour my frog or tear it to
pieces,” I said and realized that I probably did look like this: Sylvie’s
impressive talent was portraiture, something of the Renaissance in the
powerful, sinuous lines of Van Gogh. It was astonishing: she seemed to have
captured all that was transforming me, my spirit, even my movement toward
healing. “Extraordinary!” I whispered. Her face lost its tension and melted into
a smile of pure joy. She obviously wanted me to love her art. This was,
perhaps, the love we would share. “Thank the goddess we only look like this
when we are creating. We would terrify our babies, pets and grandparents.”

“I think you look like that anytime you are really interested in
something. We only see our faces when they are static in a mirror. Reality is
fluid and passionate,” she said and smiled again, now with the confidence of a
hostess. “Let’s have that glass of wine.”

Inside, something deliciously dangerous was in the atmosphere. I
poured her Cabernet carefully as though before a lioness. I decided to protect
myself by plying her with very concrete questions. “How long have you been
involved in these heady artistic pursuits?”

“Since I was a child. I like to look very directly into the face.
I even tried to draw the faces of your animals on the wall, but it was too hard
to do it standing on a ladder.” It is fortunate, I thought, that I have no
tendency toward possessiveness or territoriality, considering the frequency
with which people take secret possession of my house. What else do they want to
possess? I always wonder. Momentarily, I was lost in thought.

“What was she like?” Sylvie asked, as though attempting to follow
my thoughts.

Whoa, I thought, straight to the heart. “Katia? She was very
extreme in everything—her loves and hates, brilliance and naiveté, exaltations
and despairs. I loved her very much, though our life together was always either
difficult or impossible. Sometimes, I wanted to put her on a chain in the
backyard and just let her bay at the moon.”

“That is fascinating. I would love to have painted her! There is
perhaps a French word for a person like this—
un
monstre
sacré
—though
it often has other connotations, such as fame. But she was a famous writer,
wasn’t she? The French more often use it to describe a man than a woman, but
that is just gender bias. Have all the women you loved been like this?”

How
on
earth
have
we
gotten
so
far
so
fast!
I must begin conniving around this beautiful
girl, I thought; she is tearing a path straight to my heart. “A sacred beast,”
I said, bemused. “I like that and the fact that the French always seem to have
words for things other nationalities have never noticed the existence of. It is
a good word for her and yes, all the women I loved have been like this, though
I have no interest in fame. Sacred bestiality is apparently one of my
requirements for love.”

“This is so very wonderful! How can one paint it?”

“I don’t know. I only know that I have lived it and not even as a
choice; rather as a compulsion.” I stared at my beasts on the walls and she
followed my eyes. “I have given my life to them.” We were pensive and quiet,
and somehow or other the bottle of wine disappeared; though I had no sense of
time passing. We listened to the wind and that exquisitely painful, resonant
chord; soundless music of longing, awe, and fierce love that is my truest self,
perhaps spirit. We were very thirsty for our whirling mystery of a world, this
young beauty and I. How can Allah bear such intensity in paradise?

BOOK: The Sacred Beasts
10.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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