Read Moise and the World of Reason Online
Authors: Tennessee Williams
The white blackbird exists, but it is so white that it cannot be seen, and the black blackbird is only its shadow
of Charlie's and mine wasn't really a room, it was a small section of an abandoned warehouse near the South Hudson docks. It was graced with a minimal sort of lavatory and a precipitous flight of stairs to West Eleventh Street and it was scantily partitioned off from the vastness in which it crouched by three walls of plywood which ascended about halfway to the ceiling. Sometimes I called it “the rectangle with hooks,” for an earlier lover of mine, the only earlier lover, had placed hooks in the plywood to hang things on, and at the risk of committing a pathetic fallacy, I will add that there was not much to hang on them anymore.
But I am not a materialistic person as most sensualists are. I am a very sensual person. I suppose I would have to confess that I am, it is so apparent in my writing, both in the truths and the fantasies of my existence, and I think it is visible in my eyes, as visible as a thing printed in primary colors in public view. Of course as one grows older, and I am now more than twice the age at which I met my first love, there is a tendency to put on some materialism, probably through exposure to it in others. At the age of fifteen, when I met my first love, Lance, and committed my life to his, I was already a sensualist but material things were of little consequence to me, and I don't believe that I expressed any surprise when he introduced me to his living quarters, astonishing as they were. Well, I'm a Southerner from a small town and it's traditional among those of such origin to be politely silent about whatever oddities they observe in the life styles and mannerisms of those who entertain them. I suppose if we're offered a slice of cake or cup of coffee and discover a bug in it, well, we may not pretend to eat or drink it but we don't like to say, “There's a bug in this,” we just sort of shove it slightly aside as if more interested in the individual than in the “refreshments” offered. I may have looked at Lance with a hint of something that was like a question, the first night that he introduced me to the hooked rectangle, for he sat right down on the clean, well-made bed, somewhere between single and double, accommodating two bodies with ease provided that they loved without reserve, and he grinned at me and said, “Baby, this is better than the streets but not much better, I know that.”
My response was a delighted comment on the clothes, professional and social, that were suspended from the hooks about the rectangle. They were “elegant funk,” I guess that's their definition, and inclined to glitter, designed for a glamorous night life, either far uptown or downtown.
He looked at me seriously then, and said, “Baby, let's not delude yourself about it. All this paraphernalia, these glittery costumes on the hooks, can't possibly blind you to the fact that this ain't a suite at the Waldorf, and I better explain to you right now that the circumstances I live in are not so much adapted to the way I live now as the way that I may have to live in the future.”
I smiled and said, “I see,” although what he meant was far beyond my conjecture that first night.
So much, and maybe too much, about how I came to live here. As a writer I don't concentrate on craftsmanship: still I know, intuitively, when a piece of explication should be extended no further than the point at which it can be dropped.
Now I have informed you that I am a writer and a reasonably young writer, at least in the number of my years on earth, but you've probably also surmised that I am a failed one, which is the indisputable truth. My writing desk was a wooden box with the fading words
printed on it. The light bulb was long extinct and no one had cared to replace it. There were windows on this floor of the warehouse but not in our section of it and two of them nearby had been shattered by a storm so that there was no way to keep the elements out, but when the human element of love is present, even in such a drab and restricted space, the elements outside are of relatively small consequence most of the time, and if you don't know that to be God's truth, then you've never lived with a fellow being like Charlie in your lifetime, nor with the other love to whom I've alluded.
Oh, I've neglected to mention that that previous love of my life, a light-skinned black, skater by profession, who referred to himself as “the living nigger on ice,” had honored my twenty-first birthday with a record player with records by Ida Cox, Bessie Smith and by Billie Holiday, the third an idol whose habits he emulated too closely. To this original collection of records there had been no addition till a month ago when the proprietor of the bar nearby changed the records on his music box and presented me with my favorite, a haunting pop number called “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” This record player is right by the bed and that new record is always on it. I always turn it on just before getting into bed and Charlie makes fun of me for being moved to tears by it as I once was moved to tears by Lady Day singing “Violets for Your Furs.”
Charlie says that my undoing as a writer is an excess of sentiment and that's a point I've never argued with him, not even so much as to say, “Baby, you're twenty and I'm thirty and you'll abandon me some day or night more thoroughly than this old warehouse has been abandoned.” Perhaps I ought to say something like that to Charlie, but I suspect he would laugh, not to dismiss the idea but at the Bavarian burgher that still runs in my blood as a heritage from my father's forebears.
Time now to begin with yesterday afternoon.
Charlie and I were reluctant to get out of bed as it was the bitterest day of the winter. Charlie had the flu in its early feverish stage which made his body deliciously warm to touch. The thought of racing naked to the bathroom was a shivering thought that nevertheless had to be entertained since it was now half past four and we had promised Moise to help her prepare for her mysterious party which was supposed to start at five-thirty. I know that Moise is a strange name to introduce so abruptly but that's her name. It is her first, last and only name as far as anyone I know or have known seems to know. It does not rhyme with noise. It rhymes with nothing I know and since, as this Blue Jay continues, you will encounter the name again and again, let me pronounce it for you. Say
. And then say
, with the accent placed (ironically) on the ease. And as for the rest of the name that I'll give to this work, you will soon come to see not only the relevance but the final necessity of it, there being, among the universal dualities, among the pluralities, always the world of reason and that which is outside it: enough about that for now.
It's time to return to yesterday afternoon.
Charlie tried to tell me that the one-legged nickel-plated clock on the box by the bed had stopped during the night but I held it to his ear so he could hear it was ticking. Then he tried to detain me by further love play but I said, “Baby, save it,” and rushed into the improvised bathroom and before I'd finished peeing he joined me over the cracked seatless bowl and it was good to be in contact again with his little heating apparatus of a body. I'd got it down and it started up again now, if you know what I mean, which I know is a stupid question, and I thought it was a little far out even for a kid from the cattle-land of Texas when he did this thing which is probably too far out for me to report but seems to demand inclusion in the scene. He caught the stream of my pee in his cupped hands and then rubbed it over his face as if he were applying after-shave lotion to it, and, yes, it was a touch of intimacy that I, who was his senior by ten years and not from the cattle-land of Texas, felt obliged to put down.
“Let's not get into that sort of thing,” I said to him sharply. But he smiled up at me, so bright and innocent with his teeth chattering that I laughed and slapped his ass lovingly and turned on the washbowl that only ran water so cold that it was a wonder that it was able to run.
And it was so cold in the room that we didn't stop to consider what to put on for Moise's party. We just jerked into the clothes we'd dropped by the bed the night before.
“Moise will be unhappy that we didn't dress up,” said Charlie.
“I doubt that she'll notice. Put your sweater on and my muffler and army jacket.”
“Yes, Mother.” For once he was eager to comply with a suggestion of mine as nothing he put on would be enough to be comfortable inside or outside of.
“Uninhabitable quarters!” I said with a glance around me. And now already I am indulging in the fractured sentence which is the stylistic practice in my writing which has been most irritating to the editors of the few publications to which I've submitted my work.
“Yes, now let's get cracking!”
But I had to wait a minute at the stair-top while he fooled with his shoulder-length red-gold hair, saying from behind the plywood, “I think it's getting too long for anything but a ponytail, don't you?”
“Fuck your hair.”
“Why not?” he laughed. “I guess it's all that you haven't.”
And now we were running downstairs and our breath whistling between our teeth steamed like horses' breath before we got out the door.
“Why is Moise giving this party?”
“Charlie, you heard her last night. She said it was to make an announcement and she said it probably didn't concern anybody but herself but she wanted to make it publicly.”
Well, you can't talk and run the way we were running from a dockside warehouse to Moise's place on Bleecker Street and discuss a mystery of this nature in more detail: anyhow, Charlie was half a block ahead of me, a terrific little quarter horse he was with a golden mane. I could hear his boots clattering and once or twice he whooped which I suppose is a Texas cattle-land practice, sometimes he jumps up whooping in his sleep and sometimes with a reason I won't go into.
Moise's front door was slightly open but there was no sign of the lady in the single big room which was her habitation and was at the end of a singularly long narrow corridor (which we called her uterine passage to the world).
We went on in there and observed that she had purchased two half-gallons of Gallo, one white and one red, a loaf of square-sliced bread, a (tiny) bottle of clam dip, a tin of smoked oysters and a tin of sardines.
“I guess it's going to be the destitute lady's shore dinner.”
“Let's see what we can do, Charlie.”
“Why bother, there aren't even glasses.”
I pointed at a fifth of cheap white port which was nearly empty.
“Yeh, I noticed and it was almost full last night so she's already drunk, I reckon.”
I pointed at a fresh canvas on the easel and it was one of the loveliest things that La Moise had ever done in her life but it was all in gray and black with hardly perceptible little stains of blue here and there.