With rolling guts and erect nipples, Wilde stands naked. ‘Four thousand dollars!” he says. “Four thousand fucking dollars and I’m naked!’
‘Who says money can’t buy you freedom?’ Woolf says. She is tapping her laudanum (the bottle nail-polished the colour of sick dried blood; the blood of a cancerman) – and she looks grey, pulled thin, almost torn like a stressed plastic bag.
Wilde shakes and laughs – a popping, leathery sound from deep within his hard, round belly – and sits back down, grabbing a glass of wine which spills over his fingers.
‘It’s insanity. Four thousand just to rent out this place.’ Mishima is swimming, drowning, struggling to remain composed. He isn’t like Wilde (who has no floodgate) so the buzzing is unbearable. His laudanum is sitting beside his bourbon (a big neat ‘M’ – so decisive, though bordering on desperate) and his eyes bounce back to the tiny bottle every few minutes, as if it is a friendly buoy, bobbing in the sea of vibrations which pulls him away, far away, into a depth which he can only understand as hell.
Plath is in the restroom, rubbing herself on the dented lid of the toilet seat, the smell of piss sluicing down her nose as she makes slight, frantic noises. She feels the smooth hard shell of the laudanum, pressing into her, and she disappears into the back of her mind. Later, when she is pulling on her stockings, she feels the men and the heat of their sex in the other room (Woolf is there, but faint and blue like a stirring wish) and she almost lists to one side.
Back at the table: ‘Four thousand is worth it, Em. The food here is fantastically shit, the wine aplenty, and they have the most delicious carpet.’ Wilde demonstrates (though unseen by his fellow diners) under the table, pushing his toes into the plush black material.
‘Yes, but that’s exactly my point,’ Mishima says, lowering his head. ‘Why spend all that money on sub-par food?’
‘For the sentiment, darling,’ Wilde says. He slurps long and loud on his wine and lets out a gunfire laugh. ‘I mean, how long have we been coming here?’
‘One year exactly! Yes! Is this not a palatable meal, Woolfy?’
Woolf jerks her shoulder and taps her little red bottle. ‘I wish you didn’t choose this meal to let yourself go – I was hoping to get it over and done with but then you had to go and pay for the restaurant and lavish us with sickening rich food. I feel like a whorish king before his wedding day.’
‘You know,’ Mishima says, ‘I think we should still do that thing we talked about-’
‘NO!’ Wilde leaps to his feet and sweeps his arms out to the side, knocking over the glass of wine. ‘Are you fucking crazy?’ There’s a bubbling pause. ‘Look, no offence, darling, but I would much rather stay Wilde.’
‘I’m afraid I agree with him, Mishima’ Woolf says.
‘Four fucking thousand,’ Wilde says again, slapping his hands against the skin of his belly. ‘Not like we need the cash where we’re going, eh Em?’ He’s going nowhere now, but already he’s flying. He’s bouncing off the balls of his feet and his knees are rolling from one side to the other, fluid and strained like oars.
Mishima adjusts his glasses and rubs his hands. He is a mouse or a mole and he feels dim as he squints up at those he has come to think of as friends. If they share his sentiment, it is a silent one, passing between their bodies with shifting glances and wry smiles. Tonight however, there is only thickness and incessant tapping (Woolf’s fingers are a seizing spider by now) and Mishima (who picked that name for him again?) is finding it hard to grasp his own thoughts.
There is a new smell and Plath walks in like water; her dress dripping down her legs and trailing behind her, bringing in a current of air. Woolf recognises the smell and she looks at Plath, small and blonde, settling in beside her. She can see the white arm hairs and her mouth becomes full and wet.
‘Is everything alright?’ Mishima says.
‘Yes, thank you,’ Plath says. There is a ripple in her skin and a red flush chases it away.
‘You were in there for quite a while.’
Wilde lights a cigarette and chews on a chicken bone between puffs. ‘She was probably taking a shit. Were you taking a shit, darling?’
If I am a mole, Mishima thinks, then he is a boar.
‘Oh, no,’ Plath says to her lap. The red flush is gone and all that’s left is a shock of blue veins and sick white skin. The words fall from her lips like spittle as Woolf places a damp hand on the inside of her thigh. A minute more, and Plath feels a finger curling inside her.
The kitchen door sings and in comes the silent waiter who had disappeared an hour ago with the empty wine bottles. Wilde gave him five hundred to forget tonight and to make sure the chef stayed in the kitchen. Later, when the police and the CSU tape up the place, he will do what he does best and bury himself in the belly of the city. The diners watch this intruder, who moves like a vampire with his eyes drawn down and his lips pressed white, and there is a sense of unity between them, arranged against this person from the outside. The waiter doesn’t understand – no, he will never understand – and the diners feel the squeezing fist of pre-eminence.
This feels good, Plath thinks. And it’s not just because Woolf is inside me. This, for the young woman, is a drunken ride on a mad, broken horse. Her parents are back at home, tangled in the sheets, dreaming of the sex and the wants they once had a lifetime ago, and here she is, on the brink of something dark and good. Woolf is also something dark and good, but Plath can’t fully embrace the woman’s hand. It is like drowning and dancing at the same time and she has to work for air.
Wilde leans against the chafing back of his chair and his eyes follow the waiter as he picks up the empty bottles and sets down unopened ones. He sees himself push the waiter against the table and force his fine white face into the chicken grease, barking profanities and trembling like a ruddy sergeant with a strain in his battle dress. But the smell of foetid incense flips him around and he is back to the old wound, an ugly knotted scar leering up at him, and Plath’s stifled breath to his left. It is God’s scent, they say, the smell of the blessed – as if consuming it will purify them. His mother brought him into that place – with the high halls and wailing bells – and he was torn from the thing that made him real by the mad (with froth bubbling from their nostrils and white veins in spasm) and all the while the smell of God was consumed and did consume. The scar is all that is left and when the chance arises, he reveals it to the world.
‘Isn’t it dreadful?’ he says to the waiter, standing and pointing. The pale man stares, blinks, and continue working around the table.
Wilde is already with the ants on the crumbs and the shit in the ground. The past hour has been like drawing on poisoned water with nothing in view and now he is almost finished, shaking the flask for the last lethal drops.
When the waiter slips from the table one last time, he has already forgotten.
‘It is time for the notes.’ The last word rips the curtain from the window – there is a violent change, an exhaustive, electric rape. Wilde sits down, still and dewy.
Woolf pulls away from Plath and Mishima pulls off his glasses. This is the penultimate; the time of the hare. The bad greasy food sits heavy and the table throbs – whether by the diners or the sudden shift in energy, nobody knows – but that’s no matter now. The notes – the notes – it is the last thing before they leave – the most important thing; the thing that gives each of them a meaning.
For Wilde, who is making odd whooping noises under his breath (no floodgate), the letter is showmanship – a part of the set. It is the bottle to the drunk; the needle to the junkie; the sour smell to the nympho. How funny! To cast himself into a gaudy painting, to splay himself before the nation as a mutant, castrated queen! To expose himself and shit on his mother’s crusade! If there is a god, he thinks, he’d better send me to hell. He is beyond the clouds now, shooting past the sun and into the unknown.
It is simple for Mishima. Not a note but a cheque with a neat number (with each perfect circle he was descending further into his contract) made out to his daughter. She is above and below him now, like a dying flare or a ripple of sound escaping the friction of his touch. He tells himself that it is the only thing he will focus on, but the laudanum with the ‘M’ brings him back again and again. Numbers are honest, he thinks. At least she’s safe from me.
He could have left her a better legacy, gone like his namesake, but he didn’t have anything to offer other than money. It will probably come out, he thinks. She will probably find out anyway. Because it was his daughter he had fucked in the afternoon light (not dissimilar to those cast in the restaurant) – though the body was another with the same curling black hair and the dimples in the chin. There is no name left for the body, but she used that afternoon as a weapon, leaving his wallet thin and self-worth less so. An impertinent child who took his sickness and his seed, cured him, condemned him, and pulled the rope tight. Now, she has a stomach full of soil and rancid roots and Mishima finds himself eager to see her once more.
The letter left empty but for what’s left of his savings sits with two others. Mishima turns to look at the slumber-eyed Woolf.
‘I didn’t write a note,’ Woolf says, and the others don’t know how to respond. ‘Fuck the note. It’s a tired ritual anyway.’ The tapping returns.
She doesn’t see the other diners as people. What do they look like? Plath has blonde hair, Mishima wears glasses, and Wilde has a belly, but is that what they look like? Woolf tries now, but there’s a tapping noise increasing in speed and when she realises it’s her making the sound, she comes back to the clock on the wall. The next hour is small and hard like a cold rock on the shores of a lost lake – it’s not real but it exists somewhere. Her bones stretch down to the ground, hooked by the nails of the dead (or is it just gravity warping?) and each time she blinks, it becomes harder to open them.
It was an onyx reel that brought her here, to these people and the orange lights. It was him as well, with the sweet cherry chin and the slippery eyes.
Woolf brings a blotched apple to her lips.
She could have killed his mother – the old bitch with the neurosis and grating words that drew a serrated knife through her throat. But he was still latched to those swinging milk bags like a whimpering pup, and it drained the fat from the air and left behind a skeletal cadaver. Though he sometimes had those golden looks when he watched that old bitch potter around his kitchen, lecturing him on this or that (asymptomatic of her mental problems, he told Woolf, but she knew he wasn’t convinced) and it affected her in a way that she had to excuse herself and rub it out in the bathroom, stifling that brazen cum-laugh. And it made her mad that it came to this – like some kind of oedipal claw-war between the wife and the mother.
I could have killed them both, Woolf thinks. It makes her so mad the ground stops shaking and she feels the molten flesh in her throat melt into something like ice.
Back then, she was left with the cadaver and he was left with the fat still dripping down his sweet cherry chin.
The clock groans on the wall and the skinny hand passes the apex.
The hare is going round the bend and the tortoise is in full view.
Each of them, save Woolf, places a tired envelope on the table (sticky with wine and sweat and chicken fat) and, in the stupor of the devout, they grasp their laudanum with unfeeling fingers.
‘I said I’m sorry,’ Plath says. The hour is coming too soon, too fast, feels like the shock of a cold shower when the heat hasn’t adjusted. She doesn’t remember herself saying the words even when she says them. ‘It’s a requirement isn’t it? A convention of the note? Millions of notes with the same two words – I’m sorry. Am I right? Or wrong?’
But even as she asks, she’s already cast back into the sick, plastic colours of a childhood fair – there’s murky spittle and concrete gum and it’s the same cheap thrill, sitting in this broken seat, and talking though she can only feel her lips move. The table is gone and she keens because she’s in the soiled office in the twisted milieu of the fair. The clown is her father, a shadow on her shoulder, and she is nothing more than a child on the ground – the tacked wood gnawing into her right cheek. There’s a loping waxed body with a broken leg, hugging the wainscot flecked with red and at that moment, it’s her eating the filth and dragging herself over the ground. Perhaps the fair is capsized – silently mindless like the rest of the shit – since she is sharing the bottom (the very bottom where a human can exist) with a wounded roach and the clown. She is a hard soul without any flesh; she is around her head and against the ceiling; the bristle in her chest is that acid hole that only appears when she’s not there (or as there as she once would have been, say, perhaps, a decade ago) and it’s too warm and at times not warm enough.
‘Is it customary to apologise when you have nothing to apologise for?’ It’s her speaking again, she thinks, but she can’t be too sure. ‘Do I have something to apologise for?’
‘I’ve seen some in my day,’ Mishima says. ‘It’s the same in Japan as it is here I guess.’
‘You Japs are always keen to leave,’ Wilde says. There’s the mania hiding under the words. ‘There must be a gene.’
‘That’s not justifiable-’
‘To hell it is!’
‘Do you think we are free from guilt?’ Mishima asks the question in earnest but Wilde looks away, smiling.
‘What is guilt but self-flagellation?’ Woolf says.
‘I said I’m sorry,’ Plath says again, but she’s not convinced – not anymore.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Woolf says. The end of the hour pushes into her stomach, the cold stone burning a hole. Wait too long and it will tear through the soles of her feet.
‘Is it time?’ Plath says. Her words come too slow, out of sync with her lips. ‘It’s so fast. It’s too quick. Is this happening?’
‘Better it be quick than slow, Plath. Take a breath.’
‘Take a drink you mean,’ Wilde says.
Is it time? The hour is the finish line. The tortoise is upon them.
‘Any last words?’ Mishima says.
But there is only silence as they each uncap their laudanum (200mg – they aren’t fucking around, not this time) and the vibrations drop from the air – a violence and a relief – and the four bottles wink in the orange light of the restaurant.
©Yuki Iwama, 2015