The Duchess was inordinately fond of animals. Though her courtiers would never dare say so to her face, they imagined she ought to have been born a zookeeper, or at the very least a farmer. This idea was strengthened, especially, by the fact that it always fell to the housekeepers and servants to make the palace tidy enough for Her Ladyship’s dainty passage through life and to freshen the air when the royal menagerie had pranced, prowled or otherwise paraded through its rooms and left unseemly gifts along the way. The Duke, who was as allergic to all things animal as the Duchess was attracted, considered for some time whether he oughtn’t to have a team of expert taxidermists and artisans solve this problem once and for all, creating a large display of preserved zoological beauty that might be both lower maintenance and less powerfully scented than the living creatures populating his estate indoors and out, day and night.Unfortunately, the Duchess’s sisters who lived in the east wing of the palace did not support the Duke’s enthusiasm for the design, making noises of disapprobation at least as loud as the Duchess’s favorite dogs’ barking or donkeys’ braying. Perhaps, the Duke thought, he had been a little incautious in discussing this artistic concept with his secretary while within earshot of the sisterly ladies-in-waiting, for they both appeared quite ready to dash off squealing with rage to their unsuspecting sibling, or at the least, to imitate the household fauna in some other impolite fashion.As it fell out, the Duke, however incautious he may have been in heat of the moment, was not without the wit born of hard experience. Working swiftly with his retainers, was able to resolve the situation quickly and suitably merely by shifting the subject of the new art to a slightly different one featuring the Duchess and her sisters. As an added benison of this resolution, it was discovered that he wasn’t allergic to winged or four-legged pets after all. The palace staff found maintaining the menagerie surprisingly less onerous afterward as well, even with the added curatorial duties of dusting off the Duchess and polishing her sisters from time to time.
The dawn was chill and misty, palely blue,
Our hearts in morning shadow just as cold,
And bone and sinew feeling early old
As soul and body waiting day will do–
The sea was restless, slowing at the last
To push up foam as streaky as the clouds
And gather shells and pebbles in those shrouds
Around our feet, we statues standing fast–
All this, because our spirits captive are
Until revived by sun, our morning star.
So lifeless, silent, still and cold are we
When gold has yet to tinge the morning sky,
So empty is the world but for the cry
The seals and gulls raise up in minor key–
So heartless is the morning chill ashore
We stand like stone and cannot take a breath
Until the sun releases us from death
And brings the flame of sentience once more–
At last the light of day draws us to wake,
And we’ll bestir ourselves to act and thrive,
Rejoicing to discover we’re alive
Until the world’s foundations start to shake–
Of course I’m vain. I would love to be thought of as a great beauty. Not that many people on earth could probably say with full honesty that they wouldn’t like to be thought attractive and compelling and engaging in the slick social way, no matter how sincerely they live the principles of much deeper character. But, that confession aside, I can also say that I am not so exclusively vain that I mind having others be indifferent to, or even dislike, me. Let’s just be realistic enough to say that that would be beyond impossible.
So I really can’t have too many qualms about making fun of myself and exaggerating my own failings and shortcomings and even pasting on ones I don’t think I actually own, if it buys me any artistic pleasure. After all, there’s a bunch of fun to be had in clowning and playing characters and being someone or something new and weird and ridiculous. There are reasons we still have art and theatre and fiction all around us. It’s amusing to make the stuff and amusing to see what others have made.
I guess that makes me a cheap sort of witch or magician, maybe, when I’m making up my fictions in visual and verbal imagery. Kind of a fun vocation, when I get to play at it. Abracadabra, here I am for your amusement. Poof! Now it’s your turn.
My answer: Saturdays are for both horsing around and embracing my dogged pursuits. Laziness and productivity. Rambling and re-energizing. Drawing on my strengths and, well, just drawing.
So I’ll try to get a few useful things done (chores: Check! exercise: Check! planning for the week ahead: Checkmate!) and I’ll also relax and indulge in those forays into the fantastic that make all of the useful things possible. What is Saturday to you?
Freedom’s a romantic notion we imbue with pretty joys,
Dreamed escape from life’s commotion and the race’s worldly noise,
Endless travel, music, dancing, and the heat of thrumming hearts,
But though sweet, the dream’s entrancing magic’s only where it starts–
Gypsy life is what we make it, rich as fantasy can be,
Only when we reach and take it: yes, it’s up to you and me
To create this liberation and its joys for which we long–
Remember the years when we were young
And captive among our babysitters?
Sheer terror would reign with its horrid thrill,
The unspeakable chill we would call the Jitters.
Under the bed or under the house,
A mouse isn’t safe when the Jitters gleam
Reptilian fangs and rhinoceros horns;
O! The scorns we would risk to release a scream!
Anything dark and anywhere doored
Could harbor a horde of Jittery creeps;
They hide under blankets and lurk behind stones:
The wrack in the bones that never sleeps.
Do I hear the wind? Did you hear an owl?
Or was it the howl of the restless dead?
The moan of a sailor just as he drowned?
All around are the sounds of the things we dread.
That flickering light! The curtains a-moving,
And both of them proving that something is near:
We’d writhe in our agonies, plagued by deceptions
And all the perceptions of what we fear.
This, you remember, was life with the Unknown,
And all of the fun known as children was moot
Whenever night fell or a stranger came calling;
Appalling how it never stopped its pursuit.
Now deep in adulthood, responsible, sane,
We scoff at the pain of those gibbers and twitters,
Yet get us alone, in a vulnerable state,
A whisper in the gloaming just pre-dawn
A shiver or a prickling on the neck
A flutter of the eyelid, quick, then gone
And hope of any sleep is now a wreck
Above me in the dark are broken dreams
Above my brow an icicle of fear
Above the awful emptiness, the screams
In silent agony are all I hear
And under all this brittle disarray
And under skin and in the bone and soul
And under some enchantment, night and day
I know this wickedness will eat me whole
Against the dangers present in this fright
Against the door of Death I’ll knock tonight
While I’m on the subject of mystery stories (see yesterday’s post), there’s a true one that I hadn’t ever heard of until recently that almost defies imagination, even generations later. But that’s what true mystery stories do, isn’t it.
The story of a female immigrant serial killer/mass murderer, born in Norway but made in America, was a hideous and irreconcilable tale of horror and crime in the 19th Century and remains one today. Belle Gunness, who is believed to have killed all of her own children, two husbands and a handful of suitors, not to mention an accomplice or two of her own along the way–possibly executing as many as forty people in her lengthy crime spree–is surprisingly little known nowadays. I fear that this may be because we have so many other hideous and oversized monstrosities and real-life mystery stories handy to horrify and mesmerize us that many likely get pushed out of memory by the current ugly news. Undoubtedly the advent of World War I‘s dreadful specter was a factor in overshadowing a single murderer’s story rather immediately on its discovery.
All the same, once I knew of it, I found the woman a compellingly repellant subject for another mystery story illustration, being a subject worthy of an Edgar Allan Poe style drama or, yes, a true-crime cinematic epic. Though it was one of those news stories that ‘rocked the nation’ when uncovered a hundred years ago, the tale of Belle Gunness is relatively obscure nowadays. There have been a few generally tepid and mostly heavily fictionalized stories, books and movies based on the horrors wrought by this one woman’s apparent sociopathy and the trail of blood left in its wake, but it’s remarkable to me that such a grim, terrible story is scarcely known on a wider scale anymore.
Frightening, dark, and perhaps an indictment of the worst of human nature in general, yes–but I think perhaps part of the reason I find mystery stories so gripping is because I think they remind us–again in that somewhat ‘safe’ and detached format of past-history or fiction–that brilliance and the abyss are constantly in conflict in the human heart and only by understanding this and being willing to examine it in ourselves can we have a chance of rising to beauty and shunning the grotesque urges that we might have–and, if we’re truly fortunate, catching up the would-be wrongdoer in humane and forgiving and healing arms before she can ever fall so far. That’s my hopeful fiction, and I’m sticking to it.
Today, I present Belle Gunness, a truly fallen woman and black widow whose mystery may never be fully unraveled, for your contemplation. May we never see her like again.