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Authors: Tennessee Williams

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“What is it?”

“It's her immortal piece of chiffon,” said Charlie lightly.

Being a painter himself, and painters rarely giving each other a quarter of an inch in appreciation, he didn't value the work of Moise as I did. (
A distinguished failed writer at thirty!
)

Then we suddenly noticed that two well-dressed young-middle-aged men had come into the room in silence and were taking photos with primitive box cameras of great simplicity and beauty. The lenses of the cameras were square crystals and the black boxes were so old that they had acquired a purplish patina and glistened in the cold light.

And then the door halfway down the corridor opened and Moise appeared, still clad in the see-through thing she had worn the evening before, hardly definable as a garment, merely a transparency with a narrow opening at one end through which her head protruded and a wider one at the other for her bare feet and slits on either side through which her arms extended at the elbows. Nor did it have, of itself, a definable color other than faint wine stains and fainter dust, with through it the opalescent shimmer of her flesh as she moved into light.

“Moise, shouldn't you be dressed?”

“Yes, completely,” she murmured.

“She's in her Halston hostess gown,” Charlie snickered. “It's a trend-setter, photographed by Avedon on the lovely Miss Hutton for the cover of next month's
Bazaar
.”

She made no response to this except a quick disparaging glance at Charlie, then turned away from us to whisper something to one of the cameramen.

I decided, however, to be insistent.

“Moise, please slip on something underneath.”

“Such as what? Go through my wardrobe, and I'll oblige you gladly if you discover something not contributed to the Army of Salvation.”

Charlie turned to me with a grin that suddenly made his face scarcely recognizable to me.

“Hush, let it be,” I whispered.

“Please, no whispers around here,” said Moise. “Will one of you please shut and bolt the entrance to the tunnel of the unloved and will the others please unfold the chairs and tables for the guests I'm expecting.”

Charlie retired to a corner from which he gave me a glance and closed his eyelids on tears. I stood reflecting. Loves come between each other. Although I'd continued to see Moise, since the advent of Charlie, as often as she'd open the door onto Bleecker at her visiting hours, something less definable and revealing than what she wore had descended between us. I think that after Lance's crash through ice, she'd assumed that I would elect no second love but her. But isn't that presuming more than assuming? And my little time of reflection ended where it began, with the one certain fact that loves come between each other: that much was plain and mystifying to me as any rule of nature.

The two cameramen were now photographing Moise as if for some important event in her life, hopping about like slender, elegant frogs, taking their photographs from crouched positions. Her attitude was at once submissive and one that seemed accustomed to provocation. With unexpected ease and freedom, she posed herself for them. It didn't seem at all like her, it seemed like Isadora Duncan posing for Arnold Genthe at the Parthenon somehow.

I swear she seemed like a dancer, and I remembered Lance saying, “Moise is unable to be other than graceful, and I am, too.”

(Was this what drew them together?)

I had never seen Moise so beautiful as that evening. Without being conscious of it I moved close to her and closer and then I had an arm about her waist but her face did not alter except that she raised her chin a little higher.

“Moise? Will you please listen to me?”

“No. Will you please shut up?”

“I've got to say something to you before things get out of hand.”

“What things do you mean and out of whose hand do you mean? Do you mean out of mine or out of that blubbering fag's?”

“Moise, you know what we mean.”

“Yes,” she said icily. “Nothing. That's what you mean to everyone but each other, and thank you so much for being so much help with my goddam announcement party.”

“Moise, will you clue me in just a little to the nature of this announcement?”

“Eighty-seven years old at Bellevue.”

I tried to figure what could be made out of that as a clue-in. It occurred to me that maybe she meant a great-uncle of hers for whom she had considerable attachment since he was her only relative in the world and I thought she probably meant he had passed away at Bellevue, which was plausible enough since he was a charity case in all senses except that he received no charity except a lot of Moise's affection, but somehow this didn't stick as a clue to the nature of her impending announcement. I felt there was danger in pursuing the inquisition but I still was impelled to continue it a bit further.

“Do you mean your great-uncle, Moise?”

“Christ, no.
Patron
, was he a
patron?
How could that old derelict be a patron? A patron is not a parasite, exactly!”

“Oh,
patron
, no, you mean a patron, you've lost a
patron
to Bellevue.”

“Christ and his mother, yes, yes, yes, I had a patron till Wednesday night at Bellevue where he expired while handing me nine dollars and sixty-two cents at eighty-seven. Now do you understand or do you expect me to accompany this advance notice of the announcement with finger painting on the ass of that catamite you live with?”

Now these are about as close to her words as I can get now, since I wasn't equipped with a tape recorder that night nor any other.

She was shaking intensely and I was thinking intensely.

Moise had a patron. Well, that figures since she had no means of subsistence that I ever noticed but it doesn't figure that she'd never have mentioned him to me till this moment. But then Moise. How plausible is Moise? I guess about as plausible as her name, as her spectral beauty and as my own definition of myself as a
distinguished
failed writer.

Nothing of much action was yet happening at Moise's, that is, nothing except Moise herself and the slender men in black mohair who were taking pictures of Moise's few finished and many unfinished canvases with their box cameras while the cold light through the windows lasted. Each time a canvas was exposed by Moise to the cameras she would try to shield it from our eyes, particularly Charlie's, but his tears, true or false, were now gone and he merely winked and shrugged at her maneuvers. It was unavoidable that my thoughts should drift back to the lover who had preceded Charlie in my life and the vast difference between Moise's attitude toward him and his toward her from the vibes that existed between her and Charlie. I recalled the night after the loss of Lance, the skater, I had slept with Moise, not sexually but for companionship that night, how neither of us had slept, just lain side by side with locked fingers, and how, at daybreak, she'd turned her head toward me slightly and touched the hair at my temple and whispered, “It is not good but it's God.” And I was reminded of a time earlier than that when Lance had spoken of Moise and related matters. He'd said, “Moise will go on for a while just like she is, but, baby, you know and I know that just going on for a while don't make the gig for Moise or no one else. And, baby, you know there's just a few of us and we got to look out for each other.”

For emphasis of this wise and important remark, or so it seemed to me then, he clasped my body tight with his long, hard, beautiful legs, then went on to tell me, “My mama in Chicago said to me, ‘Lance, God is going to take care of you just like he does of me.' And it was just a month later that I got word from Chicago when I was skating in Seattle that Mama had a big growth in her that couldn't be cut out and that was the way that God took care of Mama and I reckon that's the way he'll look out for us if we don't look out for each other.”

I was then young enough to cry very easily without records, and Lance comforted me by thrusting his hot tongue into the ear into which he had whispered huskily those words of dreadful wisdom.

Oh, I know that you know by this time why I am a failed writer and are shocked at my presumption in calling myself a distinguished one, but here an incomplete sentence is coming at you.

They say that O'Neill the playwright referred to it all as Pipe Dreams and sometimes they put him down for it, but if it obsessed him, as apparently it did, I think it was brave of him to repeat it that much: I thought of that because thinking of myself as both failed and distinguished in my vocation is one of those illogical premises to which we must cling for a sufferable lifetime.

Now Moise had turned to me. She was saying, “Someday you are going to wake up, little man, and remember that someone with angelic wisdom once said that ripeness is all.”

“Now, Moise, honey, why do you say that to me?”

“Because you are here and you understand English and just don't bug me no more, as Lance would say, about things that concern only me and the possible exception of my last resource in this world, which is Tony Smith in South Orange, New Jersey, and his wife Janie.”

Then there was a long stretch of tense silence and to break it I said to her, “Charlie has the flu and the fever makes him silly.”

“It must be a constant fever. Let him have it at your place on his own time, and to expose my guests to his flu is a little too much even for the latitude of my tolerance which is wide as the Nebraska plains which I hail from!”

“Now you're beginning to sound more like yourself.

“I don't know what you mean by that remark and I am entirely capable of standing on my feet without your arm about me.”

But she didn't move away and I didn't remove my arm.

Her body, thin as a whippet's, was now trembling violently and I did believe that if I released her she would drop to the floor.

No one having closed and bolted the door as Moise had directed, the curious event of the “party” was now under way. Charlie had gone out and returned with paper cups for the Gallo. The first half hour was unnaturally subdued for any kind of social occasion that I had ever attended. It was now dark through the windows and the room lighted only by a thick yellow aromatic candle which had burned down to half an inch from extinction.

I said to Moise, “Honey, that candle is not going to last much longer. Have you got another?”

“No.”

“Then let me run over to the Italian Kitchen on the corner and ask them to lend us one.”

“No.”

“But, Moise, dear, it will be totally dark in here when that candle goes out!”

She trembled even more in the crook of my supporting arm.

“The announcement,” she said, “is pertinent to darkness, and anyhow—”

(That is a sentence which Moise did not complete, not an incomplete sentence of my own doing.)

It seemed to me that her voice was as close to expiration as the guttering tallow which filled the large room with a faint, pleasantly sorrowful musk. I think of the word “patchouli” and I throw it in simply because it sounds right.

“Now, Moise, if you are really intending to make an announcement to this strange collection of guests, I think you should do it at once, for when the room is totally dark nobody will know for sure who is speaking even if they can hear you.”

“No. Will you please be still. I'm now going to make the announcement.”

She did not seem able to lift her voice enough to be heard by anyone much further from her than me in the crowded room, and nevertheless she was making the announcement, and it was obviously intended for everyone present.

“Things have become untenable in my world.”

She repeated this statement twice like a judge calling for order in a courtroom. Probably no one heard the statement but me. Her voice was a whisper, and so I took the liberty of repeating it for her at the top of my lungs.

“Moise says that things have become untenable in her world!”

And that was the way the announcement had to proceed. Moise would whisper a sentence and I would shout it. As for the reaction of the guests, or audience, most of them paid no attention but continued their own talk in pairs and groups.

Now Moise was explaining.

“You see, my world is not your world at all. It would be an observation of insufferable banality for me to observe that each of us is the sole occupant of his own world. And so I don't know your world and you don't know my world. Of course it appears to me, it appears quite evident to me, that your world is relatively a world that contains some reason.”

At this point she paused for breath and I became aware that Charlie was standing before me with a furious scowl on his face.

“Listen, prick,” he shouted, “there isn't a mother in here that's interested in this shit!”

Moise heard him and delivered a slap to the face and a kick to the shin and he moved away, shouting, “Fuck off!”

BOOK: Moise and the World of Reason
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