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Authors: Thomas McGuane

Panama (8 page)

BOOK: Panama
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“This is no longer the stop.”

“It is now. Catherine, if you are positioning me for discourse, quit it. We're tired.”

“Your father said to me that he should have never left you with the nuns. He should have handled things himself. He said that he let too many others do the things he should have done himself. He said he injured you and he wants a chance to make up for it.”

“I was just another snack to him and now he's gone.”

“He's not gone. Chet, you have to go back and repair these holes. You're not getting anywhere.”

“He got me below the waterline. It's a tribute to my durability that I've lasted this long. Jim didn't. And it's a family legend that my mother died terminally pissed off.”

A city bus pulled up and stopped. The driver said it was no longer a stop. I thought that was thoughtful and said so. I told Catherine that I was not keen to pursue this conversation, and that the wolf was at the door.

“Stop talking like that.”

“I have my version of events.”

“Which is what?”

“Tiny funerals.”

“Is that to say that if people don't suit you, you simply decide that they've died?”

“No, Catherine—”

“What about me?”

“You're still with us.”

“How much longer have I got?”

“You've still got some time left.”

Catherine got up and stalked into the blinding daylight. It seems I'm always saying the wrong thing. But when the birds of morning induce terror, no one is at his best.

*   *   *

Sometimes I wonder about box office. What makes good box office, you think. What if a depraved pervert throttled the weather girl, is that good box office? I don't know.

I have experienced disagreeable side effects in all my endeavors. Sometimes I look at a situation and know they're going to get me and I say to myself, I think I'll just go ahead on out of here. I don't want disagreeable side effects. It's the additives. There has been a commotion among the impostors and they have introduced additives.

Jorge Cruz arrived late in the morning to discuss the orchestra. He was distressed at my choice of location. How was I to have an occasion at the Casa Marina, which had not been operating for a quarter century, when the grass grew to one's waist, how was one to dance under such conditions, to his orchestra. How was he to explain this to his orchestra. Explain that they will get paid, I said. But how would they recognize that this was an occasion to which they were to give of their utmost. I would speak to them beforehand, I suggested, to see if they were of a mind to give of their utmost. No, no, there was no need of this. In this sense, an orchestra was a herd of animals who understood only the one vaquero; he would speak to them. Jorge, I said, do we have a deal? And Jorge promised me an orchestra which would give of its utmost in the deepest neglect and tick-filled grass of the Casa Marina. I said, thank you, Jorge; it sounds very much as if we shall have an occasion.

*   *   *

Around twoish the CBS news team appeared. I took out my teeth and with some forethought conducted myself as a screaming misfit, a little on the laid-back side. I explained that I considered that I represented not so much the middle of the republic that produced mass murderers but the part of the mass murderer who explained that he didn't mean anything, that he just wanted to get out of town. I pointed out that poison dripping from a fang reflected the world around it as well as a virgin's tear. It was basically a walk-through. The commentator said he thought that I was “sick” and that my “corruption” was surpassed only by the “corruption” which had produced me. At this point, I fell completely silent, which is hell on commentators. I got a bit of goading and then boy did he have to talk fast.

*   *   *

Catherine turned up with her bathing suit, a towel, a lunch pail, and
Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

“Could I sunbathe here? The Pier House is full of kids pissing in the pool. —Here.”

She handed me a document in the Spanish language.

“What's this?”

“A marriage certificate. It's Panamanian.”

“I don't get it.”

“You asked me to check if we had gotten married.”

“This is ours?”

“Yes.”

“Panama?”

“I don't remember either.” She walked into the water leaving her belongings behind, pulling her elbows into her sides at the chill. “I'm going to swim out,” she said. “There's a sergeant-major fish always at the bottom of the piling. Saw you on TV this morning, champ. You were cuter than a speckled pup.”

I walked inside to call Roxy. I was a married man. I walked back out and called to Catherine. “What year is that?” She couldn't hear me; so I looked myself: 1970. I had been married for years but I couldn't for the life of me remember Panama, though I knew it to be very warm and green, with a certain number of coconuts and a sleepy way of life. Panama. Many hats have been manufactured there. And there's that canal!

I walked in once again to call Roxy and got her. She sounded like a bad day at Black Rock, gargling into the phone incomprehensibly. The housekeeper took the phone from her.

“What's the matter with Roxy?” I asked.

“Her medication isn't suitin her so good.”

“Is she okay?”

“Mister Peavey say he keep an eye on things.”

“Where's Mister Peavey?”

“He livin in the front room by the radio. His secretary livin in the Flawda room.”

“There's no bed in there, Mary.”

“She say she plenty comftable on the terrazzo. And thass the room we can't get rid them palmetto bugs. Mister Peavey had his own phones installed and got a heap biness frins be's here all hour the night. So Roxy not up to scratch way she do most the time.”

I hung up and turned around to Catherine dripping across the patio. “Flirt,” she said. “Who're you flirting with?”

“Person named Mary.”

“Spread it thin, do you.”

“Spread it however I can.”

“Do you.”

“Yes.”

“Got anything to read around here?”

“Not much.”

“You flirting asshole.”

“Oh, stop this.”

“What's to read? Anything on Jenny Churchill?”

“Science.”

“What?”

“Got some science books. Quasars, mound culture, stress in plastics, black holes in space.”

“Have you got anything human around here, flirt face?”

“Dog books close enough?”

“I'm going to hit you in the mouth, you fucking flirt pervert.”

“Oh come on, Catherine. Rinse your hair. It looks like linguini.”

“I'm sick and broke.”

“No more tears, we're off that now, off tears, so stop. What do you mean, you're sick?”

“I don't know, everything, gee, I—”

“Oh come on sweetie my God what is this?”

“I told that marine biologist I wouldn't see him any more. He was in Coconut Grove on sopers and not acting right. He said you have to. I said no. He said yes. Then he began to destroy a chair over the phone to prove he was serious. I said no dice and he started smashing and a piece of chair went through his eye. The one he looks into the microscope with. Is it my fault?”

“Absolutely.”

“What?”

“You produce these demonstrations as testimonials. It's a mainline cunt caper.”

“I want some god damn solace from you, Chet.”

“I'll give you solace. The marine biologist is blind in the eye he looks into the microscope with and it's your fault because you demand testimonials.”

She shrieked, “You're making me crazy! Can't you help?”

“Buggery.”

“What?”

“Buggery.”

“Oh my God.”

“I'll put tongs on your temples you screaming testimonial-seeking harridan.”

Catherine hit me in the side of the head with a lamp and yelled, “Couldn't you have left me alone you sonofabitch. Couldn't you have left it clean like I did instead of running me down until I was nuts!”

I was crawling in the glass. The blow in the head had done something and I was seeing double and my hands were bleeding. Catherine sobbed, her face into the concrete wall, and I was dazed and my teeth were lying on the bloody tile floor. I ran my thumb over the bridge of gum where they fitted to see if there was any broken glass there before I put them back. I couldn't see how you could hire an orchestra and have this on the same day.

I went to Catherine and touched her and my hand made a bloody print on her back. She turned to me, her eyes nearly closed and only white showing in the openings, making her seem quite thoroughly insane.

Catherine needed to lie down so I put her in the mildewed bedroom and tucked her in. I hunted for something to read to her but could only find Fenimore Cooper's
The Prairie;
and not in an ideal edition. It was a Classic Comic. When I got to the end of it, having removed my teeth to recite all the Indian parts, I read the peroration: “
Abiram
was led away to receive the cruel justice of the desert law. The others made their way back to the settlements under the protection of
Hard Heart
and his
Gallant Band.
The
Aged Trapper
was content to remain and pass the few remaining years allotted him in the great reaches of the open prairie.”

Catherine was asleep. I could see the ocean from the window and I let it blot into my vision. I felt all the emptiness I call home.

6

T
HIS YEAR
the visitors from New York are a bit more homogenous than I had recalled. They wear their hair short and have clipped, British-military mustaches. They look orderly and reliable. Of an evening, they bump their bottoms frenetically to the music of sleepy or angry colored people; one song I hear all the way from Duval Street goes
“Don't do me no damn favor, I don't know karate but I know the razor!”
promising a bloodbath to the bottom bumpers on the patio, with timed James Brown grunts and
“Hep me now”
and
“Good God!”
coming out of the quadraphonics to five hundred screaming clones in dripping batik, coiffed like leftenants out of
Goodbye to All That.

*   *   *

Thinking of moving again. Problems. Have to learn a new zip code. Still, I'm listless, too tired to work on my tan. And I'm wondering if I'm getting herpes simplex again. This morning I stared at my cock through a stamp collector's glass, looking for the little blisters on the pink distortion. I started to drift off as I stared through the glass. The little craters made me think I was on the moon. I reflected upon our country's space program. For some reason, scarcely anything seems to bespeak my era so much as herpes simplex. Oddly, it appears as—what?—a teensy blister. Then a sore, not much, goes away, a little irritant. It's infectious. When your girl gets it, from you, it is not at all the same thing. For instance, she screams when she pisses. She won't put out. She demands to know, “Where did you get this one?” The answer is:
From the age.

I don't want to move any more; and maybe failure will bring some humanity to this situation. They no longer have my house on the tour; though Tennessee Williams's still is. The garden club brochure said the furniture was Cuban Victorian and Miz Somebody Or Other said
See it!
It idn't gonna be on the tooah next yeah! Cousin Donald Singer at the Greyhound freight office said Cuban Victorian was anything the termites wouldn't eat.

Also, I like being in a place where many of the people speak a language I don't understand. Then you begin to enrich your life by imagining what people are saying. Years of touring has given me this predilection. For instance, I perceived in the Russian tongue the history of the manufacture of galoshes. In the Spanish language I perceived the history of a lack of rain. I perceived in the French tongue the history of no underpants and an excess of utensils, both shaving and cooking. Who knows what's in American; farting, whistling Dixie, I don't know.

I went out for what seemed like a last-minute meal, a restaurant on the boulevard. Last minute before what I don't know. A heavy wind, screaming in palms that were stretched out over the highway. Inside I was alone except for two yachting couples dining together. Since they ruined my appetite, I will record their conversation:

“Can I have the buffet?” One of the women. She saw me and winked.

“Honey—” The husband caught the wink.

“Can I go to the buffet?” She studiously did not look at me.

“Honey—”

“G'outa my way. I'm gna buffay.” She arises for me.

“Take it easy.” He snatches her into her chair.

“I'm gonna have a roll and butter.”

“Wait till they bring
the baron of beef for Christ's sake.

“Oh, you—”

“Okay, honey.” The husband glared at me in challenge. He looked like a very stupid elk in Yellowstone National Park.

“I'm gona the bar, you.”

“Stay where you are.”

“I'm gna the bar.”

“Like hell you are.”

“You…”

The waitress came. I tipped her but refused to order.

“I'm a woman.”

“Right, honey,” said the husband, rolling his eyes only very slightly.

“I'm a lady and you'll never get another one.”

“Sure—” He bounces his fork tines very precisely against the table.

“And we're having a great time.”

“This we know.” He rolls his eyes for me. Now we are in cahoots. We agree his wife is a drunken slob.

“And I'm a wom—
auhbrappp
—woman.”

BOOK: Panama
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