from Swerve

The faucet flows: the shower runs. If only the super of this dump would fix the drain.

Here is my longstanding ritual: begin with a shave, followed by pushups on the bathroom honeycomb tile—today, a long- shot from my personal best—then undress for a cold rinse.

Prescribed by Jillian Carbess, the ritual is to manage my “thereins”— the nipping at my ankles from black dog bummers—drowning despondency—my tidal waves of personal blah.

She will be waiting beyond the shower curtain when I am finished— Headlight, my Maine Coon—an adept rodent darter on four white mittens, whose marbled tail flourishes between the legs of my trousers as we descend the stairs.

The off-kitchen balcony Headlight and I share overlooks Beachwood Canyon, not far from the Hollywood sign. Our treehouse is canopied by the boughs of untrimmed oaks and prosperous fruit trees, and the innumerable red berries of California Holly. The balcony, on which I fix gin and tonics, held the summer suicides of two previous tenants, and thusly Headlight consents to talk, long and often, as I mange my “thereins” with the well-stropped razor, vigorous and private exertion, and scourgings on my shins and underarms with inky grips of pumice. But the final step per Jillian Carbess’s instructions—the clincher to bail out my sinking ship—that’s the preparation of a familiar dish.

Entertaining tonite, the menu will be limited—Fauve is vegan, gluten-free, agonistic to the cruciferous, deathly allergic to onion, evasive of the deep burnt-umber of paprika and sweet potatoes, and gassy vis-à-vis beets.

Fauve delivers requests to me on the balcony. Her word, requests. The plates have been cleaned of the sautéed aubergine, wilted spinach and radicchio, and our empty tumblers set aside. We smoke, Fauve nuzzled into my lap, sharing the lone wicker chair. Headlight paces the balcony railing, indicating that the pillager of Beachwood—a brawny possum we’ve named Ultimo—has returned to terrorize the neighborhood.

Of Headlight’s discomfiting ease with edges, and on this balcony of all places, she and I will talk later.

I have a request, Fauve says.

It’s taken her a while for the usual orders of business. She has risen, raking Headlight’s neck, back, and haunch. Her hair today is platinum. Costume bangles clink across her forearms. Her dress, a stiff 1960s shift, is printed with a single oversized monochrome daisy, split in the middle, black and white.

From her handbag, Fauve produces a collection of vellum and hands it over all-consequence, like she’s relinquishing the deed to Monticello. On the first page is an embossed seal—an open hand, palm facing outward. The second page contains instructions in fine script. Slipping from my fingers before the gin-haze clears, the parchment glides beneath my chair. I stoop to retrieve it.

Backlit, body leaning against the wooden railing, Fauve’s bouffant collars her shoulders. I drop the pages again. She is a visage of queendom, simmering and archaic. She extends her hand, coiled in rings, tracing first the bridge of my nose. A pause on the scarred cleft of my upper lip. Then a finger dips into my mouth. Gracious suzerainty, I grip her hand and pledge. To her shoes. Her patellas. Her subscapularis, clavicles, and to her left elbow on which my hand now rests—a weapon of war—a medieval mace, knobby and bulged.

Whereas her typical requests supplied a driver and vehicle, Fauve of the Mouth’s instructions were unspecific save my destination— Ojai—but contained such an excessive honorarium that I booked passage from Long Beach Harbor to nearby Port Hueneme in style via a small yacht, chartered out of Orange County, named License to Chill. For the remaining leg to Ojai, I would rent a car, or take a cab, or if this state of unusual magnanimity persists, try my thumb at hitch.

Headlight, I left behind, confined to our treehouse, rationed sufficiently, and counseled to aggravation. You may glide your hand across the back of your cat, and after that, you can only pray you’ve raised them right.

Although the captain was generous with his beer, and though his well-scrubbed vessel featured a small built-in waterslide curling from a raised platform, I took to my cabin as the sun set for a moment of reflection. Not long after I descended, however, a disruption provoked me to return above board. License to Chill’s captain, a futures trader, and his man, an intern who had previously spent our voyage trolling for halibut, stood armed now with a badminton racquet and a foldable beach chair, respectively. A second vessel drew along our starboard side.

The exchange between the two crafts was quite short. Beset as we were by a merciless volley of Roman candles and apocalyptic discharges from a flare gun, the captain retreated below deck, locking the trapdoor behind him. His man, cowering beneath an overturned bait chest, incapacitated from severe burns to the thigh, blubbered the superiorities of our captain’s alma mater. As for me, I made the poor choice of ascending the ladder to the platform equipped with the waterslide, which exposed me to a barrage of direct fire from our adversaries.

Afforded only two options—immolation or drowning—I dove headfirst into the waterslide for a speedy denouement from our ship. Dismayed, for I avoid a public soak at all costs, I treaded water in the cold of the Pacific and there witnessed the captain of the enemy’s vessel raise the spent cardboard shells of his Roman candles as dual scepters, sovereign of this smoldering world. He began a victory chant, soon joined by his compatriots: Cornell, Cornell, Cornell, Big Red!

I share an emotional affinity with the advance and retreat of tides. I gave in to their lull and appreciated the moon a—whitish-color— her stony imperfections and surrounding stars like unremovable stains, until the ships became distant specs and I washed ashore. I had booked passage with License to Chill to a port near Ventura. However, upon inquiring at a late-night beachside snack cabana, I found myself returned to familiar terra firma and only a short cab ride home to Beachwood Canyon, to Headlight.

Fauve of the Mouth had requested a measure of tact, discreteness, and professional affectation. I shaved before renewing her summons to Ojai, this time in my car, with my reliable leather portmanteau, The Old Man, and the freshly cuddled Headlight, curled in the front seat.

We beat the dawn, breaching Ventura County while the sun was still a bashful yolk cracking east of the Topatopas.

Fauve of the Mouth’s request concerned the resurfacing of an elusive counterpart in my profession—a man named de Guy—on the rooftops of Thomas Aquinas College. An emergence of interest to Fauve’s handlers, who contracted me periodically. In addition to the formal instructions in the vellum, Fauve of the Mouth issued an individuated and strictly verbal command for me, her confidant— that Professor Donald Klineman, an endowed chair of classics at Thomas Aquinas, must be humbled.

Klineman’s work I know from personal interest. Scholarship on his most recent text, Magnets & Madrigals, suggests the professor’s thought has taken an obsessive turn towards which elements in consciousness may serve as the “Ground” to reorient rogue- dispositions of the Profane, Murderous, Taboo, and Sinister into harmonious Counterpoint. A curious evolution as legacy concerns of Klineman’s project emphasize an inherent and radical indeterminacy, discussed under the heading “The Deviant Shadow,” a subterfugic fixture of cognizance undoing the higher efforts of our most magnanimous madrigal selves.

In consulting The Old Man, I found my copy of Magnets & Madrigals. Pending the success of the Fauve Confrontation, I hope to secure Professor Klineman’s autograph. On a personal note, I also intend to pressure Professor Klineman’s call-to-arms—found in the pages of De Rerum Canetis, 6:8 (2001): 81-96. Print. —for the translation and recording of late-16th to early-17th century Italian madrigals into English. Klineman’s efforts to stave off the extinction

of the historical madrigal by increasing its contemporary exposure may produce a bloom of laymen bustle, but in their making will introduce to the world only sonic abominations.

But before any auditorium lectures from Professor Klineman, before any autographs, I must first see to the elusive agent, de Guy.

Nothing. Nothing on the rooftops of Thomas Aquinas. Nothing here but bear shit, spider shit, lowse shit, bird shit, fox shit, ape shit, satyr shit, horse shit, fish shit, worm shit, immaterial shit, fly shit, ant shit, gyant shit.

I sought out the esteemed lecturer instead. I found Professor Klineman in his office gathering materials amongst a group of flunkies whose own madrigal selves were diminished beyond repair.

In one hand, I carried my handsome portmanteau, The Old Man, from whose unclasped primary pocket Headlight’s grey ears peeked. In the other, I held Klineman’s book. Unable to privately dress down the Professor for those offenses heaped upon Fauve of the Mouth, I simply introduced myself by extending the text. The office-hours sycophants parted for this breach, at first passing the book amongst themselves towards Klineman, until a portly undergraduate with uncomfortably bushy sideburns cracked the text, paused upon my abundant marginalia for an intrusive moment, and thereafter tossed the book to his comrade, who alley-ooped it in a fluttering arc towards his man by the filing cabinet, who then lobbed the volume with deliberate intent toward the wastebasket in the corner.

This trajectory crossed the reach of Klineman, who rescued the book midflight, thumbed familiarly to the table of contents, and with a novelty pen from White Sands National Monument and an expression I can only describe as hope, dispensed a brief inscription.

Locating Klineman’s RV took me the better part of the professor’s afternoon lecture. I had tried to attend this, truth be known, but the office hours sycophants barred my entrance at the door in a pose not unlike a line of scrimmage.

Parked in the student lot, the dusty Tioga bore the recognizable vanity plates from the Polaroid Fauve had given me—an embossed desert landscape and the letters NM PRDS. Querying the Old Man, I selected the Slim Jim and made quick work of the passenger door. The effects of the previous night at sea having diminished my stamina, I stowed away in the back bedroom atop a coarse rose- printed bedspread and soon fell asleep. And thusly deposed, I failed to notice my rumbling departure from Ojai.   

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