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Authors: Gloria Vanderbilt

Obsession (9780061887079)

BOOK: Obsession (9780061887079)
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Gloria Vanderbilt

Obsession

An Erotic Tale

DEDICATION

DEDICATED
TO Q.

 

 

I
F EVER TWO WERE ONE
, it could be said of Priscilla and Talbot Bingham. How charmed Priscilla would be to hear the couple described in this Victorian manner, conjuring up old-fashioned valentines with quaint phrases entwined by ribbons and hearts, bordered by paper lace. For to her, image was all: childless by choice, proud to devote her life “constructing,” as her architect husband might say, “brick by brick,” the castle—high topped by a banner proclaiming to the world the success of their partnership.

Guests would agree—if ever two were one, it was the Binghams—as they toasted the couple at the country club on the eastern shore of Maryland—and watched Priscilla disintegrate after Talbot died of a heart attack in the middle of their tenth wedding anniversary celebration. It was terrible to see—the stretcher carrying Talbot's body away—Priscilla on a stretcher in the ambulance as though she too had died.

But she hadn't. All she did was live with her grief and after a time found herself walking and talking once again like a normal person. Nobody would have suspected that when she looked in a mirror, the eyes of a dead person stared back. Gone, lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry Clementine, she would sing to herself and cry as if tears came from a well high in the mountains. The cold, cold
mountains where nothing grew, no creature lived, nothing except intermittent snow falling and winds releasing avalanches that fell upon her heart, suffocating.

 

I
HAD MET
T
ALBOT
at a dance over Christmas vacation when I was a senior at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut. He had already graduated from Harvard and was on his way to being America's most controversial architect. Although not handsome, he had the grace and movement of an athlete. There was something indefinable about him, brilliant and complex bursting with supercharged yet strangely childlike energy combined with an inherent dilemma which belongs to the coexistence of two
trends, often a defect of artists of all kinds—the urgent need to communicate and the still more urgent need not to be found. All part of the fascination and mystery about him, a puzzle; women flirted with the notion that only they might find the missing piece. But not a chance. His devotion to me was beyond question and those who attempted soon gave up, stepping back into mutual friendship with “the Talbots.” I adored everything about him, from his half-curling rough black hair, accentuating black olive eyes capable of expressing every emotion of his animated mind, inherited from his Roman mother, to his contradictory withdrawn silences and eccentricities, a maze of paradoxes I decided early on to leave unresolved. Obsessively secretive in his relationships, even with me, he remained an enigma to the world and to
his closest friends. Of course, he was a genius. But that particular magic I loved most about him was that from our first meeting he had been passionate in his possession of my skinny body, which in my mind lacked a femininity I thought essential and admired in other women. After ten years, he still, when he returned home after a trip, greeted me at the door and always demanded to make love, instantly, before even taking off his coat. This intensity never failed to be a jolt of lightning that transformed my insecurities into an image of myself I was proud of, pushing away the knowledge that I was an impostor who in truth found sex of little interest. But no matter—it triggered passion in the man I admired and loved, and without being aware of it I slipped into a lie of pretense, acting, performing as if I too felt
passion as he did. But that was all right. It could be managed. Put in its place. Eventually I even forgot the consultation, early in my marriage, with a doctor. I asked the doctor if I was frigid. He asked me what my relationship was to my father, and I told him that my father had died before I was born and that my mother never remarried. When I asked why he had wanted to know, he told me that sometimes frigidity is traceable to a persistent fear of the male, who continues to be regarded as a powerful and punitive father who is therefore potentially hurtful and damaging. As he spoke I realized that I had indeed grown up with a lot of suppressed anger that my father had died, leaving me without ever knowing a father. I asked the doctor if that could have something to do with it. He told me it was possible, but advised me not to
push the situation as though it were a problem.

“You love each other,” the doctor said. “Talk to Talbot about it.”

But to do so would be inconceivable. It was too late. The lie was mid-sea, in full sail. And it worked. I was proud knowing I made order out of the chaos swirling around in that genius brain of his. His nervous system was such that to survive he was constantly on the alert, so that he wouldn't miss a new opportunity, and although his emotions were exceptionally strong he also had capacity for self-control, so that his passions were hardly ever displayed to outsiders. I sensed that early on he built up an adaptation of a “false self” compliant to the wishes of others, actually a mask concealing his true identity (except, of course, to me) and unlike most admired art
ists, who are disappointing to meet because their true identity is in their work and what they present to the world is either a false persona or else less than half of themselves, Talbot's chameleonlike charisma enabled him to adapt himself to any situation—like a great actor playing a part. No wonder people were drawn to him, and how I enjoyed the subtleties of his performances knowing it was only I whom he trusted, only I who had complete control, only I who had the aptitude to organize his life so that the irrelevant, the disorderly, the distasteful were eliminated as together we strived for perfection in meeting our inner standard of excellence. Together we were bright and beautiful, rich, envied, successful, structuring our lives as partners in all things, including our Talcilla. Why wish for more, I asked myself?

Now alone, during the day, scenes of my life with Talbot would appear superimposed over realities of my daily life, making it bearable. But by night others, clips of our lovemaking, inserted by an unknown hand, played like a movie in my mind's eye, came back until, wearied, I would block them out only to find they played on rewind again and again—a vampire sucking blood from the heart of our love. How exhausting it had been—the effort to contrive a performance every time we made love. With bitter regret I agonized, longing to confide in him, but the fear of losing him was so intense I remained silent. He might have understood—helped me work through the void. Guilt took hold as, lying in darkness, panicked, I clapped the right hand over the left, to find it ringless, having impulsively removed my wed
ding band and placed it on Talbot's finger as the lid of the coffin closed. A symbol of my going in the grave with him.

 

T
ALBOT ENTWINED OUR NAMES
Talbot and Priscilla into the logos—Talcilla—and so our estate on the eastern shore of Maryland came to be known. It soon expanded into an architectural practice—the Talcilla Fellowship of Architects—farms, residences, drafting rooms for apprentices, and the annex to house Talbot's archives. It was at Talcilla that Talbot created his masterpieces and it represented in every detail the soul of our personal and working lives—our partnership. Of all our estates it was the one I loved most.

It was a heart-wrenching decision but
the right one, after Talbot's death, to designate Talcilla a museum where present and future generations could visit the source of his architectural genius. Supervising the project consumed me, but what weighed heavily on me was that I kept putting off the day of opening the annex that housed his archives to curators—for once I did, it represented a final letting go…. And so I delayed. Until one summer night, as if sleepwalking, I rose, covered my nightgown with a robe, and, barefoot, ran from the house across the lawn to find myself leaning against the metal door of the annex, trembling. I opened the lock and stepped into that room I knew so well but had not entered since Talbot's death. Dazed, I gazed around at the built-in units sized to fit architectural drawings, files on another wall detailing in his hand the contents just
as he had left them. I walked along the walls, touching labels, pausing at one marked “Private.” Inside—letters piled one on top of the other, each neatly tied with string. Letters from parents, a sister, letters written in a hand hardly recognizable—mine, going back to my school years. He had saved everything. Pristine, in a neat pile, one on top of the other. I started opening at random, running my finger over the crisp white initials of my maiden name cresting the candy-pink stationery.

 

Dear Talbot,

Here I am after the divine Christmas vacation back at school, but all I think about is our meeting at the Metropolitan dance. My fat roommate only thinks about food. All she wants to talk
about are hot fudge sundaes.

All I want to talk about is you. Please write soon.

Love,

Priscilla

P.S. How do you like my new stationery?

 

Dear Talbot,

Why haven't I heard from you? Well, I'm busy too. Lots going on here. The Randolphs had a big party, friends coming from everywhere to celebrate the wedding. Lots of bubbly and many admirers (are you jealous?). Then Monday Ginny arrived so it's been one party after another.

We were in the Adirondacks last weekend and so you'll know what a serious person I really am, I'm sending a present I spotted in a store at Tupper Lake. A burlap pillow with a spruce tree
hand-painted in oil, inscribed “Spruce up and come—I balsam” (bawl some). Stuffed with real pine needles no less. I was going to say I painted this example of kitsch myself, but I'll never lie to you. So put your sweet head on it and dream of Pris. But why not take the hint—spruce up and come spend next weekend at the Ads? It'll be fun.

Love,

Pris

 

Darling Talbot,

Have you read Emerson's essay “Circles”? In it he says, “our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a
lower deep opens.” Oh, sweetheart, when I read this I think of us. How it's going to be when you place the wedding band on my finger, because our marriage will be a circle of truth that never ends.

Your adoring,

Pris

 

Under the pile of my letters I came upon another, tied with magenta grosgrain ribbon—dove-gray envelopes with writing in magenta ink in an unknown hand—Mr. Talbot Bingham, Box 964, Easton, Maryland. I turned an envelope over and saw the return address—Akeru, Montecito, California. From inside the envelope, lined with magenta tissue, I took out a sheet and studied a crest engraved at the top in magenta—a small but
costly crown, and, under this, a bee.

I started reading…

 

Master,

One night, when you least expect it, when you are asleep and having only faintly uneasy dreams of an indefinite kind, I will appear in your room (because you once demanded as proof that you own me that I wear an invisible golden chain around my waist with the key to your apartment, I'll have no problem getting in the door). I will be carrying only a single match but that match will find its way to your body's middle, where, even as you sleep, you are thinking of me as I make my honey. It's as if that match is a bee that needs to suck your cock so much it could find it, hidden though it is, in the world's largest city.

And then, having lighted the way, the bee will
fly away, the match extinguished, and I will begin, softly at first so that you can sleep a few more minutes, the long, slow, delicious process of licking your cock, and since I must have your honey-milk even more than the bee, I will struggle to stay quiet though my pussy will be throbbing drumlike; I will eat you at first around the rim of your cock in undulating circular patterns, until, as your breathing increases and your eyes flutter, I take it in my mouth and give it a special kiss. Master, I whisper as you surrender to our ecstasy.

B

 

Stunned, I collapsed onto the chair in front of Talbot's desk. Surely this must be some horrendous mistake? I looked at the envelope—yes, it was addressed to Talbot but the letter inside—no! There was no name save
“Master.” Somehow by fluke it had slipped in—but how? And who was “B”? The evil words a scorpion scrawling across the page—unable to breathe—more envelopes in the same handwriting—the magenta ink threatening, as if the words were written in blood. Shaking, I opened another…

 

Master,

I have just been taught a delicious game—something new. It will involve another, one you haven't met. Her name is Nadine. A recent arrival with a natural aristocratic air who more than meets our dear Maja's, big chief of Janus Club's, highest standards. Though petite, she resembles me, which is perhaps why Maja engaged her. Intrigued? Nadine's breasts, smaller than mine, may not be as much to your taste, but it will take only your glance for them
to blossom into—peonies perhaps, palest blush, worthy of your special kiss. Yes, you are in for something quite extraordinary—a pageant of sorts. Maja suggests I be present at one rehearsal so I will be more adept, no longer shy as I sometimes am when I participate with you, but I told her I preferred not to, as although I may have appeared reticent in the past, lately encouraged by your sensitivity I find myself more confident and hope it is not too forward of me to say that I feel competent to present myself in a manner that will please you. “As you wish,” she answered, unconvinced, adding that Nadine's charms will be formidable to contend with as she is far more experienced than I, but no matter—at least I may learn from her. Of course I am curious as to what? Perhaps it will be a new delight I can interpret in my own way for your enchantment. Oh Master I long for this to be so, for my highest bliss is to give you pleasure. Now at last Maja's extend
ing you an invitation—a week from today at Janus Club—precisely at nine for the Yab-Yum pageant. Don't be late. Maja, the ever-solicitous duenna of our establishment, will be present at the ritual to supervise her Byzantine taste for luxurious display. It will be a magnificent presentation—a fairylike scene of absolutely shameless imagination. Flowers are being flown in from Africa to be entwined in the glittering myriad prisms of our ballroom's pink crystal chandeliers; there shall be gamelan music and dancing dervishes. The benches in the first-floor gallery of the ballroom Maja is reupholstering in magenta velvet. The festivities planned are for you and you alone. You are to be the only guest participating in the Yab-Yum until toward the end of the ceremony, when, to add sugar and spice, Maja's worthiest members have been invited to join us for the Great Rite of the Yab-Yum, which
promotes the belief that the sexes are equal in power, even that the female is perhaps the stronger, since no male entity could function without being united to her. At the ritual, all sacred coital postures in which a god or man is fully united with his goddess shall be explored. It will be a magnificent presentation—sumptuous kimonos from Japan, iridescent silks from Persia for cummerbunds to hold firmly in place the soft balsa wood of various shapes and sizes, not to mention sticks of gold tapered and beaten to silken smoothness—utilized only if the balsa is too malleable. There will be balls in a myriad of sizes, lacquered in coral, magenta, lemon yellow, purple, and acid green—filled with tiny bells. This morning Maja bade me pick papayas from her hothouse garden, scoop out the black seeds to dry in the sun. As I sliced the fruit in half I knew why she had asked me instead of Nadine to do
this small task. She knows how susceptible I am to beauty, and the aesthetic of this image as I scooped out the seeds reminded me of a vulva, and I took delight anticipating that when dried they would be sealed in lacquered balls to become luscious toys to give
you
pleasure. Other implements of dazzling beauty will be on hand…of course this is only the beginning—pain of an exquisite kind comes later. But already I've revealed too much—for god's sake don't tell Maja about this letter—she'd kill me! She expects the Yab-Yum to be a surprise. But you have honored my ass by poetically calling it your “tulip,” treating it with such respect and special favors that now it is time for me to be unselfish and let you do the same for another—Nadine. See I'm not jealous. I rejoice in the opportunity the Yab-Yum provides for the sharing of these pleasures. Maja teases us both, intimating it is to be a contest for you to decide which to select for your “undivided attention”—and
“recipient of dreams beyond imagination.” What is all this about?

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