The Soul Recovers Radical Innocence
The city sparkles beyond as the crowds roar at us down the beach. We go on the red carpet towards the cold sea as we are celebrated by a million strobe lights. Luca, by my side, is still the chisel-faced legend in his fine tux, ponytail. My eggshell blue gown, with the plunging back and train, is gorgeous. The sun is too strong, blinding me as I turn towards my escort, Luca. The sound of explosions come from down the beach, drawing closer and closer. Luca strives to smile. The crowd coming at us tenses and breaks. His earring glitters in the sun. Murmuring, he turns to me.The loud drone of helicopters drown him out. I see only the lines of his white bib shirt, the elegance of his suit. How strangely dull are his eyes. Has he died?. Why think that? And what happened to the other girls? How is it we have left them behind? The line of people falls back. The dense trees become a wall of fire, hisses loudly. Sound of gunfire, as if we were being shot at. I need to run. But then I see I am cuffed to him.
His call to her vollies across the massive parking lot below the I-96 that cuts raw and clear through the heavily wooded hills. Steely glance, radius of wrinkles, graying black hair at the temples. ’Black Irish,’ he’s called. The man sticks his head out of the open door of the SUV as if handling a small sailboat, now reaching land. Semis lumber in off the highway, curve here onto the elbow of concrete. The white Trailways bus by the far shoulder slams its doors shut with a heavy whine while the small gaggle of people make their way rapidly across the parking lot to the rest stop here, miles out of New York and barely into the state of Pennsylvania.
The man, Hoult, jumps down onto the pavement and slams the door shut as he sees her. Flicker of his eyes. Tired girl, now a woman, a heavy mess of hair barely covered by a wool scarf, jeans, and sneakers, the taut and powerful body, white earphones hanging down like tendrils of a plant, forever moving to the music of Drake. Hoult isn’t even quite sure she’s seen him, her eyes are so dark, looking through him. How extensive the damage, he wonders? How many years had he caused her to be so hideously fugitive?
But she smiles now. He’s not sure if it’s him or the music.
What she was thinking was that it was no secret he and Offices could find her easily, no matter where she got to. What was amazing was that they hadn’t bothered for months now. Not even since Luca and Sela had been found on the Shelf. And then, was Hoult going to speak of his ‘love’ again when all that he was proposing was simple ownership? Or how he had cleaned his act up for her, gone off drugs, was on the straight and narrow? After she left him for the few days he was able to keep her hostage, she’d read he’d gone on to run Homeland Security. His stint at Guantanamo wasn’t long but certainly long enough to cause a probe into his time there. He’d gone on to launch his own small security company, no more than another mini-Blackwater. The last she had heard was that the new outrageously corrupt administration was possibly naming him to the White House.
But he was here, dogging her steps.
“Tired?” he called at her.
A spasm tore at her face as she held onto the cardboard cup in her hand. The tea had already gone cold. For weeks now she had decided to dig in here, going inside the rest stop café to buy something, catching her sleep occasionally at a table, going inside the bathroom to clean up? Why had she paused there for so long, instead of going on to some small city to rent a room, take work as a cook or maid? Genet was tired, insanely tired. She could only hold out, as if hope would overcome everything. But here he is, to give her rest. How tired she really was she could admit to no one, least of all herself.
“D.C.? You’re going to D.C?” he asked.
“Nowhere,” she shrugged.
He went to hug her. She was immobile, horrified. She barely breathed. Hoult reached past her, picking up the backpack that sat there by her feet. He slung it over his shoulder. The snow, meanwhile, was coming down hard, blanketing the ground. The wind drew it into a vortex, wiping out the sky itself with snow. He opened the door for her. She paused for a second, looking at the dog bounding in the backseat.
“Lady’s okay,” he insisted. Genet stepped up into the SUV and sat. He went around to the drivers seat, shut the door, insisted they put on their seatbelts. He sat there, staring at her. Genet pursed her lips. Hoult turned on the windshield wipers. They listened to the rub and clack of them, then he began to pull out.
“You’re ‘wanted,’” he said. “Do you know that?”
From high up over the highway malls revolve by, same but in different configurations, Ruby Tuesdays, Red Lobster, Office Smart. The same glint of cement, a line of glittering shop windows in the dusk light set back on a circular drive. A sharp wind drives the snow at the windshield while the wipers whine.
It grows dark.
“Hungry?” he asks her.
Inside the bright diner, he ordered them cheeseburgers with fries, cokes for the both of them.
Genet drank hers right down, so he ordered another. She drank the Coke and ate the cheeseburger, but picked at the fries.
“You’re not used to eating,” he said. She found herself sick, standing up suddenly to go to the bathroom and throw up what little she had eaten.
He took her hand when she returned.
“I need you to love me,” he said, but she avoided his eyes.
He had her lie down in the back, covering her with his jacket while he kept Lady in the front seat with him. Genet watched the traffic, trucks lumbering by while cars hurtled past them, the shoulder shining, soft sky unfurled above. He turned the music up loud then, ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ A glittering jewel mounted up in the heavens. It was a million gas refineries.
She slept for a bit.
The glare off the Twin Towers blinds me. The shell of the Courts reverberates with our steps as we descend the stone staircase. Ellis and I. So young. Has to be our first years. Faultless in his suit, beaming towards the future. Yet why can’t he speak?
Now, thrown onto the bank of a dark river. I try to see my own hands. Cannot. The only light here the gleam of dark sand. Here, under the Trump Tower in construction, so much unearthed stone. Up above, the hideous wound rents the ground at the mouth of Central Park. The Five were taken in to bind you. Down here we are kept. The corpses, Baez, Diallo, so many unnamed Whites float by, pile up at the other corpses, dislodge themselves, float on.
She hears the radio announcing the snowstorm across the Eastern coastal areas once he switches off the music. She sits up to see the snow is driving hard. Hoult pulls off the highway suddenly. He slows down to pull into a drive, shooting around into the parking lot of a motel, pulls into a spot. He runs in. Lady whines and stands on his drivers seat until he returns with keys in his hand.
Hoult runs her a hot bath. She hears him go out the door and return while she bathes. He has hot chocolate and sandwiches, chips, for them.
“Nasty cough,” he said as she stretched out on the bed trying to eat.
“I’ll take the recliner,” he said, turning off the overhead light, putting on the lamp. He turned on the tv, found an old movie. Lady circled his feet several times, then came to rest with a loud whine.
“You should really tell me about Luca,” he said. “They found him and Sela. Luckily Sela survived. Genet inhales sharply, turning over in the bed. For hours, her eyes are wide open.
In the white light of morning, she sees the Gideon Bible on Hoult’s knees. She finally sleeps.
“Look,” Luca laughed. “They’re all asleep, the whole world!”
Luca pulled the old Jaguar through the twists and turns of Central Park. They rode on a softly winding road through foliage lit by a huge moon, heavily limbed trees, sparkling sidewalks, all underneath a magnificent skyline. A single horse buggy clomped by as they came past a brightly lit Plaza Hotel.
“What are we doing here?” cried Genet. “Are you planning to murder me?”
Luca laughed. He had knocked softly at her bedroom door after the girls had all headed off to bed. He had asked if she wanted to go on a moonlight drive.
“I hope you’ve been preparing for your case,” he said, slowing the car down.
“I’ll be speaking to your lawyer five days before your hearing. Please listen to what he has to say before you testify."
“I’ve got it all written out," she nodded. In minutes, they pulled into an underground parking lot. Luca let them inside the building with a door code. “This is what?” she asked.
“Private hospital. Payne Whitney."
“Someone in recovery?” she laughed.
Images of Sela still stared down at the world from the bus stations and subway stops all over the city. Sela in black and silver shades, her mad blonde hair peeking out of a Dior scarf. Few people, in fact, knew who it was. Genet had loved her laugh above all. It always floated up above the world. That night, though, it became manic. Sela was always partway in the world, yet still totally in her own. Genet never thought her a great actress, but she was a beauty. One fell easily into that ‘otherwordly’ aspect of hers. Genet was shocked to see how she and Luca had come past many locked doors to finally find Sela in a well-guarded section.
Genet hadn’t seen her, but months back in the subway, Sela wore her fabulous raincoat over a dazzling white blouse, black miniskirt, the tallest of leather boots, the long tangle of blond hair. The Australian actress, as was too well-known a fact, played Genet in Luca’s film ‘Skin.’
It took Genet years to admit the character was her, in many ways. She was so happy that the film bombed miserably despite the intellectual reviews, talk of paradigms, tropes of exploitation. But Dre, who Genet hadn’t seen for at least a year, came running up from the next subway car, Sela's pleased laughter shattering the silence. Genet slipped out at the next stop.
“What is she doing here?” I asked Luca.
“She’s been a bad girl, hasn’t she?” he replied, but not to me. “Come to Daddy.” And she did.
So many people hunted down and killed, she said publicly once Genet was gone, once Offices went after her. On her return from making a sci-fi film in London, Sela was arrested for terrorism. She and Ellis were only weeks in front of their wedding. Another trick to get Ellis to behave, to be used politically.
What happened that night? Sela handled Luca so coolly. It didn’t seem to bother her that he was keeping Sela hostage. She began to respond to his caresses by frenziedly tearing off his clothes. Genet retired to the waiting room . The guards stood rapt, watching the surveillance screens with horror.
Hours later they came out in the whisper of dawn to find the car. It wasn’t but a few weeks later that Luca had finagled to have Sela come to live with them in Luca's house of girls.
Undoubtedly Sela was not so stuck on principles as was Genet. Sela might be able to survive this horror by playing them. Not Genet.
The luckiest fluke, Ellis laughed, telling his favorite story, was that Obama had been raised outside of New York City. It was policy for delusional Blacks who held tightly to their beliefs of equality and mobility to be singled out and officially hunted down on the streets of New York. This ‘surveillance’ was practiced by ‘Offices of Investigation,’ or ‘Offices of the Fuck,’ as they were known on the street. Untouched by the local horror, Obama, a Black man, was free to become President of the United States. ‘Eubonics,’ understood as the repression of poor Blacks’ expression, sideswiped the white agenda itself to become a renaissance of rap music, hip-hop, R and B. It grew from reflecting the violence of the ghetto to taking over the music scene altogether. Ellis insisted on pointing out miracles that had gone unnoticed.
Genet and Ellis had been appearing in the papers and magazines as a ‘happening couple,’ he the new young Black reformer, she the dancer\choreographer. At heart, Genet found politics empty. Genet misread him totally. Ellis seemed to keep repeating empty rhetoric as if reminding himself of what he was supposed to stand for. Meeting him occasionally, she was unaware of the long days, sometimes sixteen hours of commitment that made him stand out. His associates brought this to her attention.
Ellis was running for Congress when the gaggle of men started showing up everywhere Genet went. They dogged her very steps, then cars started appearing, coming close and circling back. Men would come at her on the streets, veer off. Strange things she had seen for months started to add up. Ellis was too busy with the campaign to bother to listen to her. He just insisted, laughing, that she was terribly attractive. Guys just couldn’t help themselves.
But then, the worst were missing whites, she noticed. A hideous proof everywhere, ‘MISSING’ notices affixed on poles, parking signs, blurry black and white mimeographed faces torn from newspapers taped to building exteriors. A haunting lack, a smell of blood, a sudden shift of everything revealing a trail leading to murder, more murders strangely unsolved. Serial murderers could be felt left on the loose to facilitate these official executions.
Genet hadn’t slept for months, could barely eat. She walked through the many ambushes, the sudden arrival of a number of official cars screeching to a stop beside her. She pretended not to notice, found herself blacking out. Others, many, broke, believing the lies, the official label they were somehow subversives, had done something wrong, criminals unwittingly. They knew they were to be killed for the public good. They KNEW, just as Genet came to know just by seeing themselves hunted down by twenty or so officers that certainly one was ‘fucked,’ that everyone in the city knew instantly that you were ‘toxic.’ Thus designated, you became that very bad person. No one could help you because they, too, would be murdered. This would eat at you, drive you down, the knowledge of the endless watching over and those very many who showed up day after day as witness to your death. Your body told you there were guns at you both day and night, even in your house with the windows shuttered. Blacks, freaking suddenly, finally overwhelmed by the horror of it, would start running. If the Fuck didn’t get them instantly, they would continue waiting, often with extreme glee, even sexual, slavering in their many sitting cars. The chase, the shots, the horror of the victim crumpling to death. All in Midtown. No New Yorker could afford to notice. It was not their business.
How many like Genet would hold out, isolated, removed so long from the human race, having succumbed to their own fear? Suffocate, strangle themselves? The Police rule these deaths as heart attacks, especially if they’ve been bludgeoned to death. So many made paraplegics in the city.
It took Genet years, though, to remember that civil rights lawyer, Darrell, how he had passed her in the street, nodded, stopping for just a split second. His eyes sparkled at her. Then he barrelled on by, a midtown street. How the heavy guy, a follower of Malcolm X, was Ellis’s close friend. How she barely noticed the several men directly to his side, behind him, definitely not bodyguards. These were the known tactics of the Black Desk, quietly following you, disturbing your nervous system. This must have been going on for a time. In days, Darrell was shot to death by police for freaking out on the street, ‘acting suspicious.’ The funeral was massive, tearing up Ellis to no end. But how many years did it take Genet to remember passing Darrell in the street, how many years?
But everything was easy to forget once the Park murder came out. The hideous death of a girl resembling Genet came to light shortly after Darrell’s death. The papers were seized with news of her death. On the cover of the Times was a private photo of Ellis and Genet taken in his bedroom as he dressed himself in his tux. The photo had to be hacked from his personal computer. Ellis was taken in immediately, but not before sending Genet off into hiding. He was released in hours, yet the threat from ‘Offices of the Fuck’ had demonstrated itself as all too real.
“I thought you would die,” he said.
He sat in the armchair across from the bed, late night. The air was too heavy, and so was her skin. It hurt to turn in the pillow. A fever ate at her. Covers seemed to bruise her as did the light of the lamp by her bed. She sat up to turn it off. The wind raged, moaning and snaping against the outside wall. The snow piled up at the window. She recalled getting up, throwing up. But that was days past. Wasn’t that so?
And where were they, some place in Virginia? Long curving drives through endless soft rises, mansions with sparkling windows, perfect views. They drove and drove on highways cutting into the woods. She wondered how many towns, cities, there were here? Not so far before they arrived here, he pointed out ‘Hickory Hill,’ which used to be the Kennedy’s. How many fugitives, branded by horror, were there out here?
“God is so vicious, testing us like this,” he had stopped to say, before he left.
A shrine has grown from her tired backpack that yawns open on the chair by the bed. Black toe shoes with faded ribbons, stacks of old letters held by a hairband, thin portfolio of papers, thick worn plastic envelope bursting with photos of family, friends. The same battered red leather journal she often examined like now, knees high in banked up covers. Lined pages so worked up that the pages themselves are torn through with obsessive jottings. She tries to make sense of them.
Yet folded, refolded, unfolded. Humid and mottled, newsprint ink faded. Reexamines the clipping. Can’t see, can’t think. ‘Hideous Murder,’ says the Post, washed out photo of her and Ellis drifts down to the carpet. Hoult stops to pick it up. This is the first day after weeks she allows light in her room. He stands up, muttering. She looks through him onto a dark wreckage that once was her life.
Up above, the Senate loudly rages on the flatscreen, as it does in every room of the house.
“Our fairytale,” as Luca always referred to our life with him in his palace of a brownstone by the Frick Collection on the Upper Eastside. ‘His girls,’ a collection of dancers, models and actresses Luca would watch out for, all rowdy and gorgeous.
A svelte older guy with a greying ponytail, Luca, a major actor of Indie films, always dressed to perfection, loved his girls. He had flushed Genet out of hiding, offering her money to return to New York to testify against Offices. The months she spent in his home were happy ones. Most of the girls were younger than Genet. In their early twenties. armed with glasses and bottles of champagne, they would troll the entire city through the night until dawn. They would have massive, epic dinners, stretching into the next day.
Luca was the bastard son of a Gambino capo. He found his mother there on the family doorstep knifed to death at the age of twelve. He got his revenge in a brilliant acting and directing career, often rocking Hollywood. Agile, discursive, chatty. Genet could not follow his talks, full of recent gossip nor could she make any sense of his take on the latest films. Careers going up, careers going down. Often these same celebs would appear at their parties, yet Genet didn’t know and did not bother to catch their names. Luca was the badboy of the Indie scene.
Breathless, barechested boy in a tuxedo jacket at Warhol’s side. Blond hair askew, chiseled face. ‘Pimp, Cold,’ was the magnificent black and white photo of Luca hanging in the dining room. Here, in the browstone hewn of pure crystal and marble, the arcades featuring tiny Dali paintings, a wall of searing Helmut Newtons, lights were kept lowered.
There were five other girls besides Genet, content to share the high-ceilinged apartments with French windows, fireplaces, luxurious bathrooms. The finest of kitchens was supervised by a Sicilian, Angela who could speak at most five words in English.
His favorite was Piera who he had discovered once she reached twenty-two. She had been touted as a singer, then an actress, but was hopelessly mediocre. Millions had been poured into her career with no result. She had been featured in Luca's film ‘Skin’ along with Sela, a so-called avant-garde examination of exploitation. The film was laughable, barely getting distribution. Yet the one night Luca streamed it, Genet realized she’d seen it years earlier. It seemed Sela played her part in the film of the story of Offices.
Yet she’d been too long in hiding. Putting up shows, teaching in various studios across the country. Often sleeping in those studios. Using a fake ID to work in convenience stores, motels, cooking in diners. Getting by on almost nothing after being officially ‘murdered’, it was a relief to be able to return to New York as a normal person, yet it was evident once she let her guard down again, she could be grabbed up again easily. Thrown into prison, executed.
* * *
He took Genet out to the big dining room, seating her at the table. He goes into the city. Sylvie, the wife, the heavyset blond with the trying smile, keeps laughing. Maria, the Mexican lady who did the cooking, joined them at the table. Genet ate slowly, picking at the sandwich and the dip while Sylvie talked of her life, then sitting back with a dreamy smile while they spoke. Genet still wore the same pajamas, the robe, the slippers. Clothes, dresses and blouses, skirts and underwear, all bought for her, remained untouched for days.
Sylvie going on about her job at AP the time Hoult ran Homeland Security. Hoult just kept turning her down the biggest for an interview. But Sylvie got mad, got in, as she told her story, got her man.
Afternoon this Sylvie started drinking her scotch, telling more stories. He bought her that massive diamond, did you know?
By midafternoon, the dishes are cleaned and taken away. Sylvie is pacing up and down the room by now. She’s gotten soused running around with her third glass of scotch, is going on about what mistakes she’s made in her life. But then, Genet can keep smiling hard as the flatscreens shriek the stories of pipelines breaking, the ruin of drinking water and earth, mass shootings. Funny, they think of it as leaving no evidence, the mass grave they’ve created, thought Genet. Yet the evidence is massive. The planet and population all wiped out. None of it, not a trace will survive, Sylvie shrieks ecstatically. Why can’t they just be civil? Democrats are poisoning everything.
* * *
Pimp, actor, producer, serial murderer. Luca himself. How she was to help him shoot up his heroin.
This paid her keep while Luca had her in town to testify. Not a bad deal, but he wasn’t too happy how she ran out of the courtroom, ending up saying nothing.
So Jenny came down and took the needle out of his arm, and put another one in. Told Genet to get her stuff, go. But then she had given Sela only a half dose there in the next room.
Remembered as she got her clothes and things and was running out of her room. That Sela would come out of her stupor.
The other girls, all of them, were hurriedly packing, leaving. She would never see this house again.
So, what did she see weeks later at a Chinese laundry, but the long grasses of a Long Island beach in the dark on the television. Various inserts appeared, mostly women. There, she recognized Piera from the house, but then it was a photo of Luca himself. That would be ‘the Shelf,’ the strip of beach where the victims of Offices, many bodies of the serial killer were found. The strange thing was that Sela was pictured, still alive, being led off barefoot, undoubtedly naked, in a blanket.
That Sela lay naked on that grass, alive, is all, wondered Genet. The strange miracle.
* * *
It is almost two a.m.
He sits in the dark, watching an old movie on the television when he sees her appear. Her door opens with some hesitancy. He sits staring as she goes for the fridge, looking to neither side. The heavy glare of the light suffuses her as she slides the plate into her arms, stops to open a drawer, grab up a fork.
“Come. Sit by me,” he says.
She pours herself a glass of water, then comes to sit.
He puts his arm around her shoulder for a minute, then lets her eat.
He follows her into her room. He takes her into the bed, feverishly undressing her. Removing the sheet. Rubbing her hard with his erection, and then mounting her. The room is filled with the whitest light of morning.
Slamming hard, hitting at her against the headboard.
“DEAD,” he shrieks. “Can’t I make you feel?” He sobs and sobs, holding her hard.