As the train bore him
closer to Paris, James Kelly's thoughts became less concerned with his recent
amorous misadventures at the hands of Sharon and more concerned, by contrast,
with the prospect of what lay in store for him in that vast city. He had not been to Paris in several years
but, despite the passage of time, many of his previous experiences still
remained fairly vividly etched in his memory and seemed to be growing
progressively more so, the nearer the train drew to it. He hoped, anyway, that a month or two in a
different environment would prove efficacious in easing the burden of his
current melancholy state-of-mind, and perhaps even cheer him up a bit. For he couldn't bear to stay any longer in
London and face-up to Paloma Searle under pressure of Sharon's absence. Neither could he tolerate the sight of
Stephen Jacobs, whom he had begun to regard with hostile suspicion. But
On arriving at the Gare St. Lazare he straightaway headed for
his hotel, conveniently situated nearby, where he had reserved a small
attic-room for a modest sum. He didn't
know whether he would spend all his time in
As soon as he was safely ensconced in his modest room Kelly began to unpack his zipper bag, in which he had secreted, in addition to the bare necessities and a change of clothes, three novels - these being Sartre's Nausea and Roussel's Locus Solus, as well as Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. Of the three, he particularly admired the Roussel, a work of outstanding originality for its time, which he considered to be one of the great masterpieces of modern French literature. Taking the slender volume in his hands, Kelly raised it to his lips and planted a reverential kiss on its cover. He was genuinely grateful that such works existed, that true creative ingenuity and individuality had not ceased to be possible in the twentieth century, despite the barbarous march of commercial history which had dragged the bulk of literary productions along in its cinematic wake, transforming an essentially conceptual genre into a quasi-perceptual one which wreaked of literary decadence when, in more representatively contemporary fashion, it didn't wreak of something worse!
He felt in his pocket for the letter
After he had written and posted the letter, he went in search of
a place to eat. The Wimpy Bar on the Rue de Clichy corner
of the Boulevard de Clichy, not too far from his hotel, caught his eye
and he decided to eat there in preference to any of the more indigenous
establishments, where the food would be French and therefore less than
appealing to him on his first day in
The next few days he mostly preoccupied himself by wandering
round the sun-bleached streets, drinking bocks at fairly regular though
discreet intervals to quench his rapacious thirst, dragging out his meals as
long as possible, respectfully and almost penitentially visiting museums or art
galleries, milling around book shops, making fresh philosophical notes in his
latest notebook, and sitting in either the Bois de Boulogne or the
adjacent Jardin d'Acclimatation, where a variety of animals could be
seen in the small zoo, along with the many attractive flowerbeds and the
playground facilities for children which, when coupled to the
better-than-average lavatory facilities, made it one of the more attractive
places in Paris. In the evenings he
gravitated, like a moth to flame, towards the Boulevard de Clichy, where
he had discovered a relatively inexpensive Self-Service decorated with
paintings of the Moulin Rouge variety.
Here he allowed himself to be seduced into sampling some French food,
which he painstakingly selected from among the many colourful dishes on display
beneath their protective transparent covers.
But out on the boulevard itself he didn't allow himself to be seduced
into sampling the favours of the various prostitutes who patrolled their
respective beats with a view to soliciting the many single tourists whose slow
and often bemused procession up-and-down the busy boulevard gave them ample
time to assess the potential clientele and to casually proposition the more
promising ones. Au contraire, he
ignored them on three accounts: firstly, because he had no desire to have sex
with a stranger at present; secondly, because he had a rather irrational fear,
bordering on paranoia, of being fleeced behind the scenes by latter-day coquillards,
or robbers; and thirdly, and most significantly, because his love for Sharon,
still gnawing remorselessly at his heart, acted as a kind of deterrent which
precluded him from taking all that much interest in other women. Under normal circumstances he might have been
capable of having sex with a prostitute, though he had never done any such
thing before and privately felt a kind of moral and even physical repugnance
towards the idea, bearing in mind the possibility of one's succumbing to a
variety of sexually transmitted diseases.
The only time that he imagined he would be most likely to succumb to one
would be during a lengthy period of celibacy, when his resistance was possibly
somewhat weaker and the temptation to have illicit sex presented itself to him
with greater insistence. But, otherwise,
he couldn't see himself as another Henry Miller, hell bent on having his
desires fulfilled as often as possible irrespective of the quality of woman
involved! To him, quality was
everything, or very nearly so, and one's choice of woman depended not on a
momentary impulse, but on the nature of the feelings she engendered in one over
a period of time. Where there was no
genuine love, there could be little but sexual aridity, if not sterility, and a
purely physical relationship, here today and gone tomorrow, wasn't something
that particularly appealed to James Kelly, however divorced from Catholicism he
might otherwise consider himself to be!
Indeed, it wasn't something that had particularly appealed to Henry
Miller either, if his thoughts in Tropic of Cancer while watching his
associate, Van Norden, tackling a whore from the foot of the bed were anything
by which to judge! However that may be,
Kelly had not come to
One evening, however, he encountered an American while sitting in a small public garden not far from the Place Pigalle. The guy, a young man with evenly cropped hair, beard and sideburns, who wore a pair of round-lensed metallic spectacles on a slightly aquiline nose, was seated on a nearby bench, spreading cottage cheese on a large french roll with the aid of a jack-knife. When he had finished spreading the cheese in a slow methodical fashion he returned the jack-knife, duly folded, to his rucksack and began munching on the roll. In the meantime Kelly had taken out a map of Paris from his zipper-jacket and was busily scanning some of the streets in the vicinity of the Boulevard St. Germain, when the American suddenly asked him, point-blank, whether he had been in Paris long.
"No, just a week," he replied, momentarily startled by this verbal intrusion into his mental processes.
"Ah, so you're English!" the American exclaimed. "I figured you might be ... something
about you that's decidedly not French. Nor American, for that matter." He took a lusty bite on his roll and, while
munching, continued: "I've just been here a couple of days myself. Came up from
"Really?" Kelly weakly responded, half-turning towards him with a view to correcting the American's assumption of English nationality from an English accent, but then thinking better of it and, swallowing his long-undermined Irish pride, simply asking: "Were you on vacation in Rome, then?"
"No, I live there actually. Been there a couple of years in fact, working for a newspaper. But I'm thinkin' of checking out soon, before I get stuck in a rut."
"What made you decide to live there in the first place?"
"Looking for a change, I guess. Had a friend who lived there and he got me
Hardest thing was learning the language, takin' a crash-course in
Italian. But I like to keep moving, sort
of working round different countries.
I've worked in
"What part of the, er, States do you come from?" asked Kelly, becoming more interested.
"It sounds strange to hear that coming from an
American," remarked Kelly, who had put away his street map so as to give
the guy his undivided attention.
"Most Europeans seem to think that, earthquakes aside,
The American chuckled through his roll. "It depends where you live, I guess, and how. Anyhow, I'd had enough of it."
"Did you get to see many rock bands while studying at
"I reckon I must have spent as much time listening to rock music as studying literature," the American smilingly averred. "But that's all past. I don't listen to all that much rock these days. Je préfére le jazz moderne actuellement."
"Really?" Kelly responded, as a couple of heavy-looking Frenchmen in black leather jackets and matching shades passed closely in front of them.
The American glanced down at his watch and confessed that he had a rendezvous with an Italian friend in a minute, but that his new acquaintance was welcome to come along if he thought he could use some company for the evening - an invitation which Kelly gratefully accepted, in view of the fact that he hadn't had much company since arriving in Paris and didn't particularly relish the prospect of returning to his small room on the cinquième étage too early, from which the noise of tinny motorbikes and explosive cars was all too audible through the slanting attic-window above.
Thus, before long, he found himself sitting at a small circular table outside a café on the Boulevard de Clichy in the company of the American, who had meanwhile introduced himself as Paul Steiner, and his Italian friend - an attractive young woman with short brown hair and matching eyes whom he called Maria.
"Trois bières ici, mon ami," Steiner requested of the waiter, who seemed familiar with him. "So what d'ya do for a living?" he asked, turning back to the table.
"I'm a writer actually," revealed Kelly, who then went on, in response to further curiosity, to inform Steiner that he kind of alternated between literature and philosophy in the manner of what Roland Barthes would have described as an artist/writer, and that he was currently working on a sort of dualistic philosophy which had evolved from a variety of sources, including Nietzsche, Hesse, and D.H. Lawrence.
"Sounds kinda interesting," was Steiner's response to a rough outline of the philosophy in question. "I like the idea that things are interrelated, so that goodness sorta depends on the existence of evil and vice versa. What you're effectively sayin' is that if we make life too painless we reduce our capacity to experience pleasure; that too great a dependence on all the modern conveniences and time-saving devices of the late twentieth century may only serve, in the long-run, to turn one into a sort of fancy vegetable, contrary to what Socrates was when he felt the keen pleasure that resulted from the removal of his frigging manacles. But, even so, without the 'mod cons' we'd have less time to spare on the good things in life and would simply be back where our ancestors were, struggling to survive. I mean, that's the chief flaw, the way I see it, of Henry Miller's The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, which endeavours to cast doubt over the need for such 'mod cons' and time-saving devices. But if you don't have them, you're simply a naturalistic bum who lags behind the times, since acquiescence in the artificial achievements or appliances of modern technology is what makes you truly modern. You can't be hip without 'em."
"No, I guess not," conceded Kelly, glad to hear what sounded like sense from someone at last. "However, the alleged interdependence of pleasure and pain is only one aspect of my philosophy, and not the most important aspect, either. For it seems that as one ascends, as it were, from the body to the psyche, the interdependence of antitheses becomes harder to sustain, since we're then dealing rather more with absolutes than relativities, in accordance with the more extreme nature of the psyche in its relation to the planes of time and space and, for all we know, both anterior and posterior universal phenomena, such as would accord with the theory of multiple universes."
"Phew! That’s getting pretty deep," exclaimed Steiner, as the waiter returned with their beers and humbly diverted attention away from the universal psyche towards more mundane matters. "By the way, Maria doesn't speak any English, so she won't have a fucking clue what we're talkin' about. In fact, she's a stupid bitch who both bores and depresses me! Anyone would think she was dumb!"
James Kelly felt distinctly uncomfortable as Steiner proceeded to passionately disparage his girlfriend, telling him how frigid and critically minded she was. He didn't like the idea of the guy putting her down like that in front of a complete stranger, and was afraid of compromising himself by appearing to agree or sympathize with him at her expense, even though he was of the understanding that she couldn't speak a word of English. He avoided looking at her while the American continued to pour out his grievances, which had presumably been bottled-up for several months, in increasingly bitter torrents. Taking a sip of his bière d'Alsace, he attempted to distract Steiner from his diatribe by commenting on what he elected to regard as its pleasant taste.
"A bit watery in comparison with English and German beers," opined Steiner, evidently in no position to be seduced from his critical frame-of-mind. However, there now ensued a merciful lull in his conversation while he downed most of the 'watery' beer in one lusty draught and appeared to sink into the surrounding ambience with less than cynical intent. For her part, Maria just sat in front of her beer with a vacant look on her pretty face, as though completely unaware of what had been going on in her companion's devious mind. After Kelly had reflected that Steiner's demeanour connoted, in some respects, with Henry Miller, whom he obviously had more than a passing knowledge of, he heard the American ask: "What d'ya say about visitin' a brothel with me in a minute? I'll ditch this bitch and take you to a safe little place near the Rue Lepic."
Frankly, Kelly didn't know what to say, since he hadn't considered any such eventuality before, and Steiner's invitation, coming straight out-of-the-blue, drove a mixture of fear and excitement into his soul. On the one hand, he was possessed by a vague desire to visit such an establishment for the opportunity of experiencing something which, although new to him, was in reality as old as the hills and thus a dying-breed, and, on the other hand, he had a marked fear of, coupled to a certain physical revulsion for, what he would probably encounter there. "I really d-don't know w-what to say," he bashfully stammered, after a few seconds' anxious deliberation. He felt doubly humiliated in front of the Italian woman, who seemed to be showing signs of impatience with his perplexity.
"Come on, it ain't an expensive joint!" coaxed Steiner, already on his feet and rearing to go. "I've been there before and found it pretty reasonable."
"Well, provided ...” But his qualms weren't easy to express to a man who was obviously so uninhibited as Steiner, and so he tactfully abandoned the idea of elaborating on them and meekly got to his feet.
"Good for you!" responded the American, reaching down
for his rucksack. Then, turning to
Maria, he informed her in Italian that he was about to head towards the
By the time they reached the establishment, about twenty minutes later, James Kelly was so obsessed with the frantic condition of his pulse that he could barely hear, let alone understand, what was being said to him by the increasingly voluble American. He almost lost his nerve at the door, where a group of shady-looking Frenchmen were loitering ... presumably in consequence of having been refused entry into the building for reasons best known to themselves. As he followed Steiner through the half-open door, Kelly found himself thinking of Baudelaire, whose youthful brothel-visiting habits were almost as legendary as those of the author of Tropic of Cancer, and whose memory was now serving to throw a little bohemian dignity, it seemed, on his own visit.
"Nous voudrions regarder vos femmes, madame," Steiner was saying in simple French to a burly-looking middle-aged woman with garishly bright lipstick who was standing just inside the door at that moment, evidently from having repulsed an invasion of undesirables from without.
She cast a pair of sharply appraising eyes over the two foreigners and, satisfied that they were suitable prey, admitted them with a perfunctory jerk of her predatory head, the sharp nose of which protruded menacingly in Kelly's direction a moment. As he meekly trailed behind the American, some of the loiterers outside, evidently disappointed or envious, hooted sarcastically, and one of them bawled out "American jerks!" in their wake, which hardly bolstered Kelly's ego. At the end of a short corridor they turned left into a brightly lit room where several women of various colours and builds were milling around in various states of undress or scanty dress, depending on one's point of view, ostensibly there to serve drinks to the few men who sat at small tables scattered about the room and were either playing cards or just smoking and talking to those girls nearest to-hand. "Les voilà, messieures!" the madam declared in a cautiously ambivalent tone, once the two newcomers were safely across the threshold.
At the sight of them all, Kelly couldn't prevent himself blushing with shame. For he had never been confronted by such a spectacle before and felt painfully self-conscious now that they were all standing proudly in front of him, like an army regiment waiting to be reviewed by a passing officer. With his previous experience of the place Steiner quickly came to a passable decision and pointed out a medium-built brunette with dark eyes, whom the madam called Louise. For his part, Kelly was still struggling with shame and could barely look into their eyes, let alone come to a selective decision. However, not wishing to be left behind with them while Steiner headed for the stairs to the upstairs rooms, he managed to point out a brown-skinned young woman of slender build, whom he considered the best of a bad job.
'Oh, why in god's name did I ever allow myself to get dragged into this mess!' he mused as, having paid the madam his fee in advance, he followed the girl, by name of Mireille, up a dimly lit flight of creaking stairs and around the corner into a small scantily furnished room with a grubby-looking bed smack bang in the middle of it, like an oasis in a desert. 'How-on-earth am I going to enter into carnal relations with this sexual sewer through whom probably thousands of men have already flowed in a steady stream of spermatic effluence?' he mused on, becoming ever more petulant. Nervously he began to undress, while Mireille removed what little she had been wearing and thereupon spread herself across the bed like some transfixed martyr awaiting the stigmata. He couldn't think of anything much to say to her by way of relieving the psychic tensions which had accumulated inside him downstairs, and the few words she said hardly made any conceptual impression on him, so obsessed was he with keeping his nerve while he self-consciously removed the last items of clothing and bashfully surveyed his exposed member. He was almost praying, as he stoically mounted her, that she wouldn't give him the pox or the clap for his pains, but he didn't have the gumption to ask whether she was clean or to make a preliminary inspection of her vagina. His vanity or cowardice interposed itself between his public actions and his private misgivings and, endeavouring as best he could not to show any disgust, he abandoned himself, after preliminary fumblings, to the mechanics of copulation, edging himself into a trough of man-devouring flesh which seemed, in its cloying dampness, to betray the presence of several previous ejaculations. At first its cold stickiness revolted him, but it wasn't long before things began to warm up a bit and he was able to perform with something approaching pleasure, as he rode her backwards and forwards along the canal of carnal terrain and simultaneously nibbled at her taut teats, which became correspondingly harder the softer she became elsewhere.
'How revoltingly sticky she was!' he reflected, after the experience had petered-out in a futile orgasm and he was released from any further commitments on that score. 'If there's one thing I must do tonight, it'll be to scrub my cock free of all the cunt grease she has unwittingly inflicted upon it! She's probably been in steady demand all evening, the little slut!'
Once dressed again, he followed Mireille downstairs and headed straight for the front door. He had no desire to inquire after the American, who was probably still being served upstairs and in no hurry to come to a swift conclusion. He simply pushed his way past the remaining loiterers outside, who seemed to have lost interest in him in the meantime or not to recognize him, and set off back down the street with a view to returning to his hotel toute de suite. He felt he had been cheated in more senses than one, that it would have been better had he not encountered the goddamned Yank in the first place, and thus been spared the degrading ordeal of having to mechanically copulate with a complete stranger. But time could not be reversed, and what had happened had to happen, irrespective of his personal preferences.
Back at the hotel, however, his mood slowly began to change for the better, as he took a bath and washed the remaining impurities from his skin. He even felt vaguely proud of the way he had handled Mireille, the first coloured girl he had ever been to bed with, and retrospectively respectful of her for the way she had put him at ease and used such seductive skills as she possessed to bring him to a state of sexual readiness and confident penetration. All in all, the experience hadn't been as bad as he thought it would be, in the circumstances, and he was less pessimistic now about the long-term fate of his penis. Despite his private misgivings, the American had opened a door for him which he wouldn't have opened himself, and, now that Steiner was safely out-of-the-way, he would be able to carry on without that gnawing curiosity concerning prostitutes and houses of ill-repute about which Paris traditionally had a reputation second to none, even if, these days, that reputation was mercifully less justified than previously. Now his life would revert to its former mode, free of sexual entanglements!
During the next few days he avoided the Clichy area altogether, from fear of bumping into Steiner again, choosing for the site of his evening meal a little restaurant in the Rue d'Amsterdam, not far from his hotel. Since he was becoming more familiar with Paris, and growing tired, moreover, of the long walks he had initially set himself, he worked longer in his room, confining himself to his philosophical notes in the morning and sometimes staying-in during the afternoon to re-read one or another of the three novels he had brought with him - old favourites which he had never read in France before. In addition to these, he had acquired himself, largely in response to an essay by Cyril Connolly he had read some time before, a volume of Max Ernst's Une Semaine de Bonté, the mostly grotesque surreal collages of which both repelled and fascinated him. But his own work gave him more pleasure than anything else, especially his notes on Nietzsche, whose belief that man was something that had to be overcome ... in favour of the Superman, the 'meaning of the earth', etc., held a peculiarly challenging fascination for him which he was determined to interpret and develop in his own uniquely transcendental way, borrowing from a variety of more contemporary sources, including the French thinker Teilhard de Chardin, such theories as seemed to confirm the Nietzschean belief that man was a bridge to the 'great noontide' of perfect transcendence, and blending and eclipsing them through a synthesis which would place him in the forefront of contemporary thought - a luminous beacon of apocalyptic insight lighting the way towards a world which put the contemporary one decidedly in the moral shade. Democratic humanism may have been a good, depending on your point of view, but the sort of theocratic super- or, rather, supra-humanism which he had in mind, compliments in part of Nietzsche, would be infinitely better - of that there could be little doubt!
One morning, about a month after his arrival in
Sorry to disturb your stay in
As she was known to you, and
was believed to have been in touch with you during and after the anniversary
celebrations at Mark Benson's house, you have been invited to attend the
funeral. It is to take place at . on Friday, August 28th.
I would be grateful if you could attend, since
We don't as yet know the real
motive behind Paloma's suicide, though
Let me know by immediate reply if you can't make it. If, however, you intend to come, be at Douglas Searle's house not later than on Friday.
P.S. I received your hotel
address from Sean, who apologizes for not having acknowledged your letter of
July 25th. He was apparently under the
impression that you would be back from
'My God!' thought Kelly, as he read and re-read the phrase
"she committed suicide" over and over in unbelieving horror. For a second he felt like vomiting, so
cataclysmic was the shock to his nervous system. He slumped to the floor, as though struck by
a thunderbolt. His heart seemed to be on
the point of exploding. Her, Paloma,
dead ... and dead because...? The
thought that she may actually have killed herself over him seemed too
preposterous to entertain. In fact, it
was positively grotesque! But what else
could he assume? After all, she had made
it perfectly clear to him that her husband's club was of benefit to their
marriage, an organized form of extramarital infidelity which worked to their
mutual advantage, despite its intrinsic moral culpability - arguably more a
legacy of and response to the age than an arbitrary debauch imposed upon it by
morally irresponsible people. How,
therefore, could she have committed suicide over that? No, it wasn't the club, or the admittance of
a fresh couple in the wake of the 'wizard's' departure. It was he, James Kelly, the man to whom she
had confessed to having fallen madly in love, the man to whom she had written
tender and flattering letters, begging for a chance to see him again at the
first convenient opportunity! And it was
his prolonged absence from
'Oh God!' thought Kelly again, as he stared at the sloping
ceiling above him, which seemed, at this moment, to reflect the warped state of
his mind. 'Why didn't I write to
her?' But, of course, he knew perfectly
well why he hadn't written. And he knew,
too, that if he didn't return to
Stuffing Jenkinson's letter into a pocket of his jeans, he
hurried across to the Gare St. Lazare to find out the times of the next trains
With belongings packed and the hotel manager duly informed of
his imminent departure, he dashed off a brief letter of commiseration to
Douglas Searle. Then he rushed out to
post it and, realizing that he still had a few hours to kill before his train
was due out, spent an hour or two walking restlessly about the streets. Following a light meal in his usual
restaurant he returned to the hotel, settled-up with the manager, and collected
his zipper bag. By the time he got to
the station it was and the train was
already standing at its platform. Once
in his seat, he fished out the letter he had received from
I was very upset when I arrived at your flat on Wednesday afternoon and found you with another woman. I couldn't believe you were seeing someone else behind my back. You always gave me the impression that your love was genuine. Perhaps I was mistaken? Whatever the case, I have no wish to see you so long as you continue to amorously befriend this other woman. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but I really don't see how I can be expected to share you with anyone else after what we've been through together. I trust you'll understand.
Yes, Kelly understood all right! For it was only just beginning to dawn on him that, now Paloma was dead, Sharon would have no reason to assume he was still 'amorously befriending' her. If he could make the news of Paloma's death clear to her in a letter, there was a very real possibility that she would bury the hatchet and come back to him again.
A thrill of excitement surged through him as he re-read her letter in order to ascertain the exact reason for her not wishing to see him. It was simply because of Paloma! And now that the unfortunate creature was out-of-the-way, and in the most definitive terms ... he might just be forgiven. Yes, indeed he might!
Obsessed by the prospect of reconciliation with
As for Stephen Jacobs, he would make no mention of him since,
despite strong suspicions to the contrary, he had no concrete proof, as yet,
that Jacobs was seeing
Yes, he dashed off the letter with great enthusiasm and even
literary ingenuity as the train bore him farther from Paris and closer to
Rouen, closer to Dieppe, and, via the sea-crossing, Newhaven, and London. He had no time to stare at the lush green
countryside through the carriage window, so obsessed was he by the gravity of
the thoughts which flooded his mind, like some unholy visitation. Only when he had finished the letter did he
feel a degree of shame for his preoccupation with