An abridged version of the original text, US: Paris in the 2000s
By Suzanne E. Schuckel
[Suzanne was a member of Zoo Crew, a large group of friends at IU’s Collins Living-Learning Center in the mid-’80s. She was obsessed with the Roaring ’20s art scene, particularly American expats in Paris, so she decided to write a story about us, set in the future, invoking some of the themes of Fitzgerald and the likes. She said it was written in the style of Hemingway. (Having only gotten through the first nine pages of For Whom the Bell Tolls, I can’t opine on that.) I won’t give anything away here, but the best part was that we each got to pick our own fates. Book Two is when it all starts to unravel.]
“I’d rather stay here
with all the mad men
than perish with the
sad men roaming free”
– David Bowie
* * *
Nothing was wrong with the house, really. Too many of us were living there, that’s all. For regular people it would be all right, but there were just too many of us literary types for comfort or serenity. Literary types? Not really. Not really all of us were literary types. Most. Not all. It wasn’t hard to get published, but in a city of noticeables it was hard to get noticed.
That’s where the parties came in. It seems like we had them every weekend, and many claim we did—but it’s impossible. I remember too many damn long, boring weekends, where everyone drank too much without the excuse of a party and forgot to write or ended up losing manuscripts.
This weekend there was no party. None of us had money. I was curled up on the sofa. It was 9 a.m. or so. I had eaten breakfast and was going to read, but I had forgotten to bring my book from upstairs and didn’t feel like going to get it. Fields was up in his room, still asleep. He was coughing. He had been coughing. I didn’t want to go upstairs and hear him still coughing. He had a cold.
“Damned instrument,” Bill suddenly said. He had been playing the piano. “Out of tune. That bastard.”
“What bastard?” I wondered.
“That bastard piano tuner. Damn French.”
“You like the French.”
“I hate the French.”
“I never had the tuner in, anyway,” I said. “We can’t afford it.”
“Bullshit, we can afford booze.”
“The tuning money was probably spent on booze. The booze is almost gone.”
“Yes,” I said.
“I don’t buy the booze.”
“You could have said it was almost gone.”
“Well, I didn’t. I forgot. The others know.”
He didn’t say anything for a minute. I kept looking straight ahead. It was too bright. I was glad the curtains were drawn. He spoke, “I’m sorry I called you a bitch.”
“Yes,” I said.
“I wanted to play the piano.”
“Do some writing.”
“I don’t feel like writing.”
“The paper will be late.”
“The paper is always late.”
“So write it.”
He left the room abruptly. I got up and drew the curtains open blinking against the sun. Bill had it tough. He had been here the longest. Since the beginning—15 years. He had bought the house and one by one we came to live here in Paris at the house. It wasn’t a bad house. Too much happened, though. Bill proposed to a girl when he was very young—20. When she refused he quit the university permanently and moved to the house.
Just as I drew the curtains shut again Hollicky stumbled through the front door.
“Hi Thom,” I said.
“Hi Suzanne.” Damn, it’s bright out there.” He crashed on the sofa. “I want a drink.”
“It’s nine in the morning.”
“Have you been awake all night?”
“Go to sleep.”
“I don’t want to go to sleep,” he whined.
“You have to. Go upstairs.”
“Is Amy here?”
He ran a hand across his face. “How’s Fields”
“Coughing.” As if in illustration we heard a fresh outburst from him. Shannon’s typing in the next room didn’t drown out the sound. Holicky looked concerned.
“Maybe Jim is really sick,” Thom said, concerned, staring at the ceiling. He meant Fields. Jim Fields.
“No, he’s not,” I said quickly. “It’s just a cough.”
“He’s had it for months. He should see a doctor.”
“Shut up,” I said. “Go to sleep.” I walked out of the room, leaving him on the sofa, falling asleep.
Holicky was out nearly every night, all night. He slept all day. None of us knew what he did. We rarely saw him. Fields might know, but Fields was sick. He had a cough.
Shannon was in the next room. He was typing. “Holicky is back,” I said.
“I heard him come in,” Shannon answered. He kept typing. “Damn. Where’s the correcto-type?”
“What are you writing?”
“The article on discrimination in France against American teachers.”
“You’re writing that? Bill said he wouldn’t publish it.”
“To hell with Bill. His paper isn’t the only paper.”
“It’s our paper,” I corrected.
“When is the last time you wrote for it?” he countered.
“Write something else. Bill will publish something else.”
“Bill is too drunk to publish the paper. Bill is too drunk to publish a flyer on dental hygiene.”
“He’s been drinking less.”
“Let’s see you quit drinking,” I challenged.
“I can still write.” He kept typing. “Where’s Betty?” Betty was his wife.
“In Hell, I hope.” I didn’t like Betty. I had further reason later on to hate her, but even now I didn’t like her. “Have you had breakfast?”
“I’ll eat breakfast when Betty wakes up.”
He knew I hated hearing Betty mentioned. I was tired of being baited. I left the room.
In the living room Holicky was asleep on the sofa. I left him alone. When Amy woke up she’d help him upstairs. I walked into the kitchen.
Bryan had the mail. “Bonjour, Suzanne,” he said. “Look at this. Une lettre.”
“From Jeske?” I took it. Bryan nodded.
Jeske was one of teh few of us from the university who was still in the U.S. Most of us were here, in the house. The letter was short and typical. He promised to be in Paris soon for one of our weekend parties. We never planned the weekend parties, but he had never yet shown up on one of the weekends when we didn’t have one. Like this weekend, we weren’t having one. It would be a dull weekend.
Bryan was reading something he got in the mail. “I got a cheque for a poem,” he said.
“Really? That’s great! How much?” Maybe we could have a party.
“Oh.” I was disappointed. “I’ll get groceries, I suppose.”
“Uh-uh. We all need booze.”
“Like hell you do,” I said.
“Listen,” he said, “you publish something, you can buy groceries. Fields or Bill or Shannon or Andrew or I publish something, we buy booze. Deal with it.”
“Save it, then, at least,” I advised.
“This isn’t enough to visit Berlin.” Bryan always was wanting to go to Berlin. His ex-wife lived there. We hated his ex-wife.
“You could win a fencing tourney.”
“They hate Americans.”
“That doesn’t matter. You’re one of the best.”
“That doesn’t matter. They wouldn’t pay me. I’m an American.”
“You’re not living there.”
He shrugged. “I’m still an American.”
I offered another suggestion. “Bill could pay you something for a poem. For Now.”
The name of the paper Bill published was Now: A Journal of Our Times. It had a circulation of 1,520. It was left-wing. When some of us were very bored we used to read the hate mail from right-wing groups. It was funny, really. We couldn’t always read them because Bill was the only one who was fluent in French. Bill wouldn’t read them.
“Bill’s paper sucks.”
“It’s our paper. It does not suck.”
“It sucks. Bill drinks too much.”
“So do you.”
“I don’t publish a paper.”
“You should write for it, Bryan. Bill likes you. He’d publish it and pay you.”
“If he publishes it. It’s not a very good paper. It’s disorganized.” Bryan sat down.
“It’s all Bill has.”
“He’d have you if you weren’t a neurotic bitch.”
“It’s none of your business. None of it is,” I said heatedly. “Go to hell.”
“I’m here already. I’m going out.” He got up.
“To buy booze.”
“Well, good for you. Let’s all drink ourselves into our graves.”
“Not you,” he said sarcastically, going out the door. “God forbid your purity should be stained by alcohol.”
I stormed out of the kitchen. “Get the fuck off the sofa, Thom,” I ordered. He didn’t hear me. I drew the curtains open. He blinked and rolled over, but that was all. I stared out the window. The postman was down the street now. It was sunny and bright. That was unusual. I sighed.
“You okay, Suzanne?” That was from Thom. He wasn’t asleep.
“Yeah, Thom. I thought you were asleep.”
I sat in a chair for a while. They were all okay. Bryan couldn’t help it. He was still in love with his ex-wife. That made him feel pretty down most of the time. His drinking hurt his fencing talent. That was bad. It depressed him.
Shannon came in, typed pages in his hand. “Have you seen Bill?”
“I don’t know where he is. He won’t publish that.”
“Shannon?” Betty called from the top of the stairs. I groaned.
“I’m down here, Betty,” Shannon called up. “Good morning, darling.”
She yawned prettily, coming down the stairs. “Jim has been coughing all night. It kept me awake.”
“Jim is sick,” Shannon said.
“He’s just a drunk,” Betty said.
“Shut up,” I said.
She saw me. “Oh, good morning, Suzanne. Don’t you think Fields overdoes his coughing a bit much?”
“No,” I said. “Fields is sick.”
Bill entered the living room now. “He’s hardly been out of bed in three days. Good morning, Betty. Shannon.”
Shannon wordlessly handed him his article.
Bill glanced at it. “I’m not publishing this shit in my paper.”
Shannon was angry. “Bill, you haven’t even read it.”
“I know it’ll be shit. You can’t write worth a damn.” Bill tore the article in two and dropped it to the floor. Betty started crying loudly.
“You could have read it!” Shannon shouted.
“No. I didn’t want to,” Bill said calmly. He glanced at me. I just stood there. He wanted me to say something so I didn’t.
“Damn it, I need to make money somehow!” Shannon was more agitated now. I thought maybe they might start hitting each other. Betty dried louder.
“Then go back to America and teach school like a good little obedient husband,” Bill answered, still calm.
“You’re all horrible! I hate it here! I wish we’d never come!” Betty burst out. She turned to me. “Don’t just stand there! You’re all driving me crazy! I hope—”
She was interrupted by a beer bottle shattering at the foot of the stairs where we all stood. She gave a little gasp and we all looked to the head of the stairs. Jim had thrown the bottle.
“ALL OF YOU SHUT UP AND LET ME GET SOME GODDAMNED SLEEP!” he bellowed, and broke into a coughing fit.
Holicky stirred on the sofa. “Good morning, Jim!”
“Good morning, Thom,” Jim said in a normal voice. He turned and went back into his room. After a moment Thom got up and, avoiding the shattered bottle, dragged himself upstairs wordlessly.
There was a silence. Bill finally spoke. “Write something else, Shannon.”
“Yeah,” Shannon said. “Let’s eat breakfast, Betty.”
Bill and I stood by ourselves.
“Bryan got a cheque,” I said. “He’s buying booze.”
“Good,” Bill said.
“I had wanted to buy Jim some vitamin C or something.”
“Jim will be fine.”
“What time is it?”
“I don’t know.” There was a pause. “I’m going to read.”
“Will you eat lunch?”
“Yes, I’ll be down for lunch.”
“I’ll see you.”
“Yes.” I went upstairs. Jim had re-locked himself in his room. I hesitated outside his door.
“How are you feeling, Jim?” I called in.
“Go away,” he said.
I walked on down the hallway.
Andrew was still in his room, too. Andrew annoyed all of us to a certain extent. He was a freeloader because he refused to write—he just drank. He didn’t bother us as much as Betty, who was a freeloader. Andrew we didn’t mind as much because he had been at the university with us. Betty was just Shannon’s wife.
Andrew had been a doctor in the States. A malpractice suit had ruined him so he was here. He had been here only three years. We annoyed him more than he bothered us. He stayed in his room a lot. He never read Bill’s paper.
“Andrew,” I called through his door.
“Go away,” he said. I walked into his room.
“Damn it, Suzanne…” He was in bed, but awake, staring at the ceiling. “I said…”
“Sorry.” I didn’t say it like I meant it. “You should go eat breakfast. We’re running out of food. Bryan is buying booze.”
“Good for Bryan. I don’t want to go downstairs.”
“You should eat.”
He sighed and looked at me with bloodshot eyes. “Are Shannon and Betty down there?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“I’d rather starve, then.”
“I’ll get you up for lunch.” I left the room.
“Don’t bother yourself,” he called as I shut the door.
Brad walked out of his room as I was heading toward mine. “Hi, sweetie,” he said. Brad was cheerful even though he’d been through horrors back in the States.
“Good morning, Brad. Bryan got a cheque.”
“Good for him. Is he buying booze?”
“Good. What else was in the mail?”
“Letter from Jeske.”
“Fine. He’ll be here for one of the parties.”
“If we threw a party tonight, then, he’d be here.”
“That would be fun.”
“We don’t have any money.”
“Yes,” Brad said, “but it’s Saturday already, I guess.”
“A bit late.”
“Yes.” There was a pause.
“Well, I’ll see you at lunch.” I headed again for my room.
“Any news, Suz?” Brad stopped me with a question.
I knew what he meant, but I faked it. “From who?”
He laughed a little. “Don’t think we don’t know you think about it. The theaters. In London.”
I acted. I had used to go to London quite a bit, for weeks or months at a time for plays. Then about two years ago when I was gone for two months I had come back to the house to find that Bill had destroyed his printing equipment and attempted suicide and Shannon and Andrew had almost killed each other in a fight. I was worried about leaving after that. I didn’t go back to London, in spite of the offers I would get in the mail. The offers didn’t come anymore. London theaters had probably forgotten now. I tried not to care. It was funny, really. I wasn’t a failure, but I might as well have been. The people at the house mattered, though. I couldn’t leave them even though they treated me badly sometimes. I seemed to belong there. Really, it was funny.
Now I answered Brad with a shrug. “No offers. If I got one I wouldn’t go. You know.”
“You should be acting. We can take care of ourselves.”
“Like hell you can.” I smiled. Brad could put up with us really well. “I’ll stay here and write.”
“Writers are a dime a dozen in this house,” he said. “Take it from one of them.”
“I like to write,” I said truthfully.
He changed the subject. “When does Now go out?”
I shrugged. “See Bill.”
“Is he in a horrid mood?”
“I’ll just eat breakfast.” He headed down the stairs. “Talk to Holicky. Let’s have a party.”
I looked after him a moment and went into my room. I sat down on the bed. The shade was drawn, but I could see my theater posters. They were curling at the edges. I sighed and picked up my book.
Brad had been pretty successful in the States. He was one of the few of us who had stayed loving his spouse. They had owned a comic store in Chicago, but since Brad had refused to pay protection money to the mob she had been murdered as the store burned down. She had been 23. It nearly killed Brad. He gave up and moved here. It was a bad business—when he wasn’t being sweet and pleasant he locked himself in his room and screamed and pounded things. It upset everyone. We didn’t know how to react, really. He had been here five years. We didn’t know if he was getting better or not.
There was a knock at the door. “Come in,” I said wearily.
It was Amy. I liked Amy. She didn’t like Betty, either.
“Hi Amy,” I said.
“Hi Suzanne. We were thinking about having a party.” I nodded. “Do you want to have a party tonight?”
“Where’s the money?”
“Thom has some.”
I didn’t know where he had got it, but she probably didn’t either—so I didn’t ask. “I thought we were saving to go to Spain for a week,” I said. I wanted to get away.
“Don’t you want to have a party?”
I gave in. We would still probably get to Spain somehow. “Yeah.”
“Good,” she said. “It’ll be fun.”
“Yeah,” I said. I got up. “I’ll buy groceries.”
“People will get here around 10,” she predicted.
“Yes.” I left the room as she did and she went bounding down the stairs to spread the news. I knocked on Jim’s door.
“Who is it?”
“Fields, it’s Suzanne.”
I went in. The room was dark. He was sitting in his chair smoking.
“There’s going to be a party, isn’t there?” he said.
“Jeske might show up.”
“That would be good.”
“He probably will. Did you read the letter?”
“It’s in the kitchen.”
“Did you get any theater shit in the mail?”
“Oh,” he paused. “Christ, I want to get out of here. Fields had been here nine years—one less than me.
“Me, too,” I said.
“Not really,” I sighed. “I’m going to buy groceries. Do you want anything?”
“No,” he said. “Thanks. Just get shit for the party.”
“Right,” I said. “Are you coming down?”
I left the room. I got ready to leave the house after I went downstairs. I would shop before the shops closed for lunch. It had started to rain suddenly—I had known the sunshine wouldn’t last. I took an umbrella.
I stepped over puddles on my way home, my arms filled with my bundles. I shifted them around so I could get flowers from the vendor on the corner.
He greeted me. He saw me often on this street so I suppose he was curious about me. “Ou habitezvous, madame?” he asked.
I smiled. “J’habite La Maison de Disillusionment.”
“Ah.” Everybody had heard of our house. He made a funny, kind comment about the parties we had and I laughed and bought some flowers. That pleased him.
Inside the house nearly everyone was awake now and setting up for the party. Fields was setting up the bar, coughing now and then but looking better. He had a purpose now. The bar would be very well equipped. Bryan had done his job well. Bill was setting at the piano, trying it out and cursing. I went into the kitchen and put the groceries away.
“Here.” Amy gave me a vase for the flowers. She was making cookies. That was a joke—people would eat the cookies but they weren’t interested in them. They wanted booze. She knew the cookies were a joke. “You’re all wet.”
“Puddles. It’s raining,” I said.
“Ah.” She turned the water on so I could put the water in the vase and then turned to get a cookie sheet. “Thom’s sleeping now. Doesn’t he seem awfully tired to you?”
“Rather.” I shook the water off the petals and deposited the flowers in the vase. Amy took it and put it on the table.
“It’s pretty,” she said. “I wonder who will be at the party.”
“It’s hard to say,” I said. “Usually we start on a Thursday night. Maybe people won’t know.”
“They’ll drop by.”
“I hope so.”
“Thom should be awake by the time it starts,” she said.
“He usually is,” I said. “It’s his money.”
The music was very loud. There was dancing going on but I wasn’t dancing—there was hardly any room. There were a lot of people dancing. More were just standing and drinking. Mostly they were happy but some were upset. There was a row now and then. I would try to soothe things over.
I emptied the ashtrays in the kitchen and came back into the living room. Bill was in the corner of the room, arguing passionately over some literary issue with an earnest-looking girl. I had never seen her before. She kept disagreeing with him as he went on. “No, you’re wrong,” I heard her say once. That was stupid. She just let him go on. She seemed content to keep her defense to short denials.
Fields was talking to Jeske. Jeske had shown up; we were all glad to see him. He had some news of the States but it was all the same, as usual. Jeske wrote in the States. He was good at it and successful, but he was very polite and read Bill’s paper when he was visiting the house. He didn’t visit very often though.
Also talking to them was Mike Dibble. He was from the University, too. His being there was a surprise; we hadn’t known he was in Paris. We found out he was on vacation from the States because the computer industry was getting him down—his eyes were getting worse and worse. That was bad. The computers were important to him. We were pleased to see him. He had to go back, but we wished he could stay at the house. He didn’t want to stay at the house.
I talked to the three of them. It was like old times. I was enjoying myself. The music was good. The guests screamed and were noisy, but none of us were really concerned with them—not the ones we didn’t know. We didn’t know a lot of the guests. They came and went. The parties were famous. I thought I saw the flower man once, but it wasn’t he. That would have been funny. Holicky came to the four of us talking and we all talked. It was good to talk about the times at the University.
Soon I had to go stop Andrew and Shannon. They had been arguing loudly. I worried they would start a fight. It had happened before. The argument had been about Betty’s never doing anything. She wasn’t there. I guessed she was in the kitchen or the powder room. I stopped the arguing and then shoves through the crowd to see if Brad was all right. He was sitting all alone.
He was fine. “Traj is here,” he said. “He has news from Cairril.”
Traj stood for Tragic Tom. There had been Thom Holickym so we had nicknamed the other Tom so we would know who he was. Tragic Tom was tragic, but we didn’t know why. After he had been at the University one extra year than Bill he had come to Paris. He travelled, though. He hardly ever lived at the house.
“Hullo, Suzanne,” Traj came up with his drink he had been getting. Bryan was with him. They sat down next to Brad.
“Hullo, Traj,” I said. “What is the news from Cairril?” She was another from the Unversity. She had never visited, though. She lived in Scotland with her 15-year-old son. The son was illegitimate. His father, from what I’d heard, was dreadful. He still showed at Cairril’s now and then and said terrible things. Cairril couldn’t take it.
“Bad,” Traj said. He looked grim. “It’s that bastard father of her son. He’s driving her nuts.”
“He has been. She should go to the police.”
“He hasn’t done anything illegal,” Bryan spoke. “He should be drawn and quartered but he hasn’t. And Traj means literally nuts. She’s undergoing care. They think she’ll have to go into a home.”
“What about her son?”
“The father gets him.”
“Like hell he will.” I liked Cairril. I hadn’t visited her, but Bryan and Bill and Traj and Brad all had. I was always planning to.
“I don’t know what’ll happen.” Bryan shook his head. “Poor Cairril.”
“Bill will be really upset,” I said.
“Rather. You’re right on that one,” Traj said. “I just told him. He nearly hit the ceiling. Wants to kill the father chap.”
“Bill and Cairril were always close,” I said. “It’s rough on him.”
“We’re none of us able to do anything,” Brad said. “Not this bloody far away.”
“No,” I agreed. It was depressing. Poor Cairril.
As we were speaking, a row started in the corner among some of the guests. They were throwing punches and shouting high-flown insults. Bill’s earnest-looking girl was among them. I couldn’t see Bill around. One man was hurt, it seemed. It wasn’t Bill. Bill wasn’t around.
I managed to break up the fight. It had been over some political or sexual issue. The hurt man had a concussion. Someone had hit him with my flower vase. The vase was broken and the flowers were strewn around. It was ridiculous. One of the men kept apologizing about the vase and flowers. I ignored him. It was too ridiculous.
Someone was called and the concussion man and the earnest girl left so he could have some help. Everyone else stayed. I heard one the guests say it was disgraceful, a fight at a party. I suppose it was if you thought about it.
The party was wild. Everyone was drinking quite a lot. There weren’t any more major fights, but a lot of people became angry and left. That was usually how our parties ended—we offended people and they ended up leaving.
This party was no different. The only people not living at the house who left reasonable content were Dibble and Jeske. That was Monday morning. Fields was in a horrible humor when they left. He locked himself in his room. Brad had a relapse and cried for his dead wife. Bill was late with the paper.
It was a dismal time. They days went by and I never got any offers in the mail from theaters. I had given up, of course.
We all just stayed at the house—together. Sometimes some of us escaped for vacations. Not often.
Two years had gone by. It was 2004—we were well into the twenty-first century and still none of us had managed to move permanently. We seemed to all belong together—quarreling and petty, but all married to disillusionment and the idea of each other. The house was as full as ever at the start of the year, but soon it would be changed. I was there for the changes. And God, they went too fast.
Right now, though, we were all here. I was flipping dejectedly through one of Bill’s French literary magazines—I could only understand half the articles and my head was beginning to ache. It was nearly noon. I had been sitting in the living room nearly an hour. Bill was typing in the typing room.
Bill hadn’t been well. For a few months those two years ago, after he had heard about Cairril—the paper hadn’t come out at all. He had devoted his time to writing and calling her—trying to talk her into sanity. She seemed all right now. At least her letters and phone calls seemed so. She didn’t want to visit. Bill was saving the receipts from the paper to bring her here. He drank less now.
I looked through the magazine and listened to him curse the typewriter. I sighed. The magazine was really hopeless.
Bryan came into the room. “Holicky isn’t home yet—from last night.”
Holicky had left as usual around eleven the night before. “He hasn’t come back yet at all?”
“No. Amy’s worried.” Bryan looked out the window. “Bill typing?”
“Yes.” I put the magazine down. “Can you see him coming?”
Bryan shook his head. “No. Does he walk?”
“I think he takes taxis,” I said. “What time is it?”
“Noon. He’s usually back at least by eight or nine.”
“We’ll have sandwiches for lunch,” Amy said, coming out of the kitchen. She looked at me. “Thom’s not back yet. I don’t even know where the hell he is.”
“I know,” I said calmly.
Andrew was walking down the staircase. He heard. “Well, well, well,” he said sarcastically. He was drunk. “The happy happy couple. The wonderful couple. The practically Betty and fucking Shannon couple. The couple has lost its male member, eh?”
“Shut up, Andrew,” I said shortly. Amy gave me a grateful look.
“Oh where, oh where has Thommy run off to without his doting mummy? Is he perhaps with another mummy?” Andrew laughed and tossed a couch pillow at her. “Camp out here, baby. Il faut attendre longtemps. He got smart and left this hellhole.”
“Why don’t you, Andrew?” Amy said angrily. “Why don’t you take your self-righteous malpracticing self and get out?”
“I love to,” he said to her back. She had left the room. “Christ, I’d love to. But those cheating, lying lawyers would get my ass and I’d be a goner.”
I left after Amy. She was upset. She was in the typing room with Bill. Bill had stopped typing.
“What’s up?” he asked me as I came in. I told him Thom wasn’t back yet and Andrew was being a beast.
“Shall I hit him?” Bill queried.
“No,” Amy said. Bill patted her on the head and resumed typing.
Amy and I went back into the living room. Everyone was there, ready for lunch. It was unusual for us all to be in one room.
“I know something terrible has happened to Thom,” Amy told me. “Something terrible has happened. I know it.”
“Nothing terrible has happened,” I said.
There was a ring at the doorbell. Fields answered it. It was the police and a nice middle-aged man who introduced himself as a doctor. Something terrible had happened.
Holicky hadn’t let any of us know what he was doing nights. We all had respected that and not asked many questions. We should have asked questions. Holicky, we found out, had been working nights as a gigolo. He had worked not very far from here. He had been working that way for two and a half years. None of us had suspected. Last night Holicky went to his usual spot to “solicit business”—that was how the middle-aged doctor put it. Eyewitnesses described a Frenchwoman with chestnut brown hair hanging around the area. That’s who the police thought shot Thom five times. They thought she was somehow involved in a drug ring that Thom had made angry. We never figured out if Thom had been in the drug ring or a rival drug ring or no drug ring at all. We didn’t know how he had gotten messed up in all that. All we knew was that he had been a gigolo and he was dead.
The police and doctor were very polite. They asked if someone would please come and identify his body that was being held somewhere. They spoke very good English. They were very surprised when we all went to identify Thom’s body.
That was a very bad day. We were all in horrible arguments with each other about whose fault it was and that sort of thing. I took care of Amy. She was taking it very hard. She wasn’t well. She barely managed to go to the funeral.
The funeral was very sad. It was four days later. We all wore black. All of us went. The funeral service was short and during it we could hear some street musicians playing very badly outside. They must not have known here was a funeral inside because they were playing rollicking French folk tunes. Thom would have thought that was very funny—the bad street musicians. He probably would have given them money, though.
The man giving the service offered politely to tell them to stop playing. We said it didn’t matter. He was avery anxious to please. People are always well-mannered when they are dealing with death.
After it was all over we returned to La Maison de Disillusionment. All of us were there except Thom. Fields came up to me while I was trying to type.
“Yes.” I stopped. I couldn’t type and talk at the same time.
“Suz, I’m leaving.”
“Do we need booze again?”
“We have plenty, though the way people feel it’ll be gone in an hour. No. I mean I’m leaving.”
“Yes. Here. For good.”
“Why would I stay?”
I tried not to sound upset. “Well, we need you…”
“Like hell you do. I’m just another writer. I should be in the States, where Jeske is.”
“We’re all here, though,” I said.
“Suzanne, this sticking together obsession of yours is what’s ruining your acting career. None of us belong to each other. Some of you might feel you need each other, but I’m not one of you. I can be on my own. I can leave.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Suzanne, I hate this place. I know we all do to a certain extent, but it gets to me the worst.”
“Then you understand?”
“Are you going to explain this to Bill?”
“Bill will be hurt.”
“I’m hurt,” I said. “Holicky was your reason for being here. He’s gone. So now you’re running out on us.”
“Shut up,” he said. There was a pause. “So Holicky has been one of my best friends for nearly twenty years. Don’t put me on a guilt trip about the rest of you. You’re all more or less my friends, but I need to get out.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Holicky got out. I’m getting out, my way.”
“When do you leave?” I asked.
“Next time Jeske is here. I’m leaving with him.” There was an awkward pause. “I have to get away from this house. This country. All of you. I need to. I’m…not leaving a number or address. It’s too painful. I have to leave it all behind me.”
“Yes, Jim,” I said. I waited until he left the room and resumed typing. Then I stopped typing. We really did all belong together. I knew it. But Jim didn’t. He didn’t know. I made sure no one was within hearing distance and broke down.
Amy moved out the next day. She was going to receive help somewhere. The next time Jeske showed up at a weekend party Fields just disappeared with him—leaving no trace and no explanation save what he told me the month before, when Holicky was killed.
A lot of the others were upset that Fields was gone without telling us. I think they suspected I knew, but no one bothered me. I was really down.
I wrote a short story for Now, called “Comrades,” that was really bad. Bill published it because he had been feeling sorry for me. I could tell he resented publishing it and feeling sorry for me, though. That was just the way Bill was in those days.
As the months after Thom’s death went on, Betty and Shannon began to have increasing arguments. At first we didn’t notice, but then we began to have increasing glee about how often the two would go at each other’s throats. It sounds terrible, but we knew that Shannon would be happier without her.
Shannon was doing badly, though. He stopped writing articles and began writing letters. We thought they were to divorce lawyers or something. That turned out not to be true.
Brad was better about missing his wife. It was as though death here had helped obliterate her death. He relied a lot on Bryan, though. That wasn’t a good idea. Bryan drank more than any of us, now, and he wasn’t a kind drunk. Brad took on his habits, but he was still kind most of the time. Brad knew I was missing Amy and Holicky and Fields a lot.
Andrew stayed in his room less, but he was drunk a lot. He and Bryan both were frightening to see when they were drunk. We avoided them. It was unpleasant when everyone fought.
Five months after Thom was killed I was standing in the kitchen, making stew. It was nearly dinnertime. I wasn’t making dinner because I was female. I was making dinner because I was sober.
As I stood there Bryan stumbled in. He was very drunk. I braced myself.
He wasn’t being cruel, though. “Suz,” he said.
“It’s Shannon, goddammit.”
“What?” I turned off the stove and turned to face him. He was leaning against the table, drunk. He looked tired.
“It’s the bitch, Betty.”
“What’s Betty done now? Are they breaking up?”
“No. Too bad, eh? No. Betty has gone and persuaded our little Shannon to become a missionary.”
“A WHAT?” I was sure my voice could be heard through the house.
“You heard me.”
“Shannon held out as long as he could. And now the noble youth is off to preach because his wifey said we were no good—the house was no good—shame on all of us…” Bryan knocked over a chair trying to sit down. I helped him. He continued, “All that arguing. Yeah. Well he’s soon to be off. And Betty’s not going. No. Tropical climate’d be bad for her complexion. No. He’s off.”
I couldn’t believe it. I would be glad if Betty were going, but Shannon was one of us—I couldn’t believe it.
“I can’t believe it,” I said.
“Believe it. Go talk to him. I’ll dish out la cuisine.”
“You should go to bed.”
He laughed. “Brad’s crashed on my bed. And I don’t care to sleep on the sofa. It has the memory of Mr. Holicky seeped into it. He crashed there oh so many times. Remember?”
He was getting cruel so I left. Shannon was in the living room.
“I’m going,” he said when he saw my face. “Everyone’s blowing this out of proportion. I’m going and that’s final.”
Betty was sitting on the sofa looking smug. “Give up, Suzanne. Finally he’s going to do something constructive.”
I was angry. “Well, you aren’t staying on your pretty little ass while he’s off risking his life. Not in my house. You can get the hell out.”
I heard Bryan laugh in the kitchen. He shouted something unintelligible. Betty ignored him. “It’s my house just as much as it is yours.”
“Au contraire,” I said. “You do nothing toward paying rent. You haven’t even been here as long as half of us. I’ll tell you—when everyone finds out what you persuaded Shannon to do, I wouldn’t want to be you living here when he’s gone. No ma’am. Because we’ll make your life so miserable—”
Shannon cut me off. He looked unhappy. “Betty,” he said. “They don’t like you.” A brilliant deduction, I thought.
“I know,” she said.
“We aren’t good people to people we don’t like. Right now I’m here so it’s tolerable for you. But Suzanne is right. You don’t want to be here when I’m gone.”
She looked at him. “I’ll move out, then,” she said finally, “but I’m staying in Paris.”
“It’s a large city, thank God,” I said. “Shannon, go tell Bill you’re moving out. And the rest. Tell the rest.”
“I will.” Shannon looked very tired. “Andrew will be upset.”
“Yes,” I said. He left the room. Betty stared at me defiantly from the sofa, but I didn’t rise to her bait. She would be gone soon—I didn’t need to insult her any more. I was worried about Andrew’s reaction to Shannon’s leaving. They had been the best of friends, once.
We were quiet at the dinner table. I was tired. Everyone knew about Shannon by then. Bill was being very casual and trying to act like he didn’t care. Bryan passed out and Brad helped him to the sofa. Betty’s eyes were red from crying. Andrew officially broke up the dinner by smashing his plate of stew on the opposite wall.
“Adieu, Shannon!” he shouted. His drink followed the plate of stew. Broken glass was everywhere. “You’re getting out, aren’t you? I’d be a nice little missionary with you, but I’m a wanted man, you know. Malpractice! Malpractice. Le garcon mauvaise, c’est moi! Ha!”
“That’s quite enough of that, Andrew,” I said. Shannon was staring down at the tablecloth. I couldn’t tell if he was ashamed or angry. I got up to pick up the glass. Everybody left the room except me and Bill.
There was a brief silence. Bill watched me as I cleaned up the mess. He spoke, finally. “Good stew, Suzanne.”
I looked at him and started laughing. I was glad to be able to laugh. “Are we all crazy, Bill? I can’t handle this by myself.”
“You always have. Handled it okay, I mean.”
“Our numbers are diminishing.” I laughed again, but I was rather scared. “Now there’ll be you and me and Brad, Bryan, and Andrew. Half of what there used to be.”
He shrugged. “Twice the room now. We’ll get to move about more. Your room’s small, Suzanne. Take over Shannon and Betty’s.”
The mess was gone. I sat down at the table with him. “I don’t know,” I said. “Somehow I think everyone will come back.”
“Not Thom,” Bill said. I didn’t say anything. He sighed. “Do you want to go to England with me?”
“Why? Do we have enough money?”
“We have some put by. Cairril’s there.”
“In England? Why?”
“Her son’s on a holiday from his school in London. She’s staying with him the summer months in a hotel by the sea.”
“Why not at her regular home in Scotland?”
“I don’t know. But she wired me to come.”
“You or all of us?”
“All of us.”
I thought for a moment. “I’d love to go to England. How about the rest of us?”
“Shannon and Betty’ll be gone by next week, which is when I’d like to leave. Brad and Bryan will want to go—great. Andrew will insist on staying here.”
“You’re right,” I said. “Maybe I should stay. He shouldn’t be alone.”
“Bullshit. You need to get out for a while.”
I did need a vacation from La Maison de Disillusionment. “Yeah. I’ll go. God, I haven’t seen Cairril in years. How old is the kid? What’s his name?”
“God, Suzanne. You have a bad memory. His name is William and he’s 17. You know that.”
I did, now that I thought about it. William. I wondered if they called him Bill.
“They don’t call him Bill,” Bill said, reading my mind. I smiled.
“Did you get enough to eat?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “So we’re going to England.”
“Yes,” I said.
The four of us, sans Andrew, left the following Monday. We were all very glad to leave. We could hardly wait to see Cairril and we vowed to spend a lot of time in the sea. We would have fun.
After we landed in England we took a train to the meeting place.
“God knows what the kid is like now,” said Brad. “You know English school systems.”
“Just hope he’s like Cairril and not like Philip what’s-his-name,” Bryan commented.
“Philip Lindley,” Bill said slowly, “was the father. That bastard.”
“Whyever was she attracted to him,” I wondered.
“He’s deceitful. That bastard,” Bill said. “I’d like to see him dead.”
“We all would,” said Brad.
“I’ve seen him twice,” Bryan said. “Once at Cairril’s at Christmastime and once at a fencing match.”
“He fences?” Bill queried.
“Yes. Well,” Bryan said. “Not as well as I do, though.”
“Naturally not,” I said. Bryan took a flask out of his pocket and drank. He passed it to Brad. I thought about making a disapproving comment, but decided against it. We were on a vacation. So far everyone was behaving quite well. Bill didn’t take a drink. I knew he wanted to be sober, seeing Cairril.
By the time we had ridden an hour Brad and Bryan were very drunk. They were standing on the seats, yelling out the windows.
“We’re in bleeding, sodding, bloody England!” Bryan shouted.
“Cor! Blimey! It’s the land of Wordsworth and Monty Python!” Brad exclaimed.
“Wordsworth sucks!” Bryan announced at the top of his lungs. “King Chuck needs a nose job!”
The conductor asked us to make them be quiet or please get off the train. All the passengers looked shocked.
“It’s all right,” Bryan explained to the plump matron who was sitting behind us as he sat down. We’re drunk because we’re disillusioned. You see, my ex-wife hates me, but I love her, and my fencing has suffered. So I’m drunk. And Brad here, his wife is dead.”
“My wife is dead. She died,” said Brad, “so I’m drunk.”
“We’re drunk as hell,” Bryan asserted.
“Be quiet,” I told them. “We’ll be kicked off the train.”
“No,” Brad said.
“Brad, Bryan—please,” Bill said.
“Fuck you, Bill and Suzanne,” Bryan said.
“Fuck you, Suzanne and Bill,” Brad said. “Fuck England. Fuck La Maison de Disillusionment and all of France.”
“I can’t stand this,” I said to Bill.
“We’re almost at the station where she’ll meet us,” Bill said.
Probably if we hadn’t gotten off at that station we would have been kicked off. Bill was being very good, though. I was glad he was sober.
At the station it was very perplexing. Cairril wasn’t there. We waited around, enduring insults from Brad and Bryan, and getting more nervous every second. Finally a man came up and asked us, were we the four people looking for a dark-haired woman with large, sad eyes? We said yes. He had a message for us.
Cairril said we were to take a cab to her address, which was on a slip of paper the man gave us. She said there was a change of plans. That was all.
“I knew it. Something’s gone wrong. This wasn’t supposed to be a friendly visit. Something’s gone wrong.” Bill was very upset.
“It’s all right. Let’s just get a cab,” I said.
“Shut up,” Bill said. I felt myself tense. Here it was again—the strife. He flagged down a cab and we all got in.
I gave the cabbie Cairril’s address, but Bill demanded to go to a liquor store first. Bryan and Brad cheered. I groaned.
“No, Bill. You’re being ridiculous. Cairril’s fine.”
“Cairril has seen me drunk. She won’t mind. And I’m going to be drunk, Suzanne. God help me—I can’t face this.”
“You were fine on the train!”
“That was a half hour ago. I want a drink now.”
Bill wasn’t quite drunk by the time we got to the seashore home Cairril had rented. He held tightly to my arm as he knocked on the door. Brad and Bryan were silent for a moment as we waited for an answer.
The boy answered the door. “Oh—you’re here, then,” he said. He was a tall, pale, but handsome youth, with dark eyes and unkempt brown hair. “I’m William.”
“Hey! I didn’t know Cairril’s son was the crown prince!” exclaimed Brad lamely.
He flushed. “I’ve heard that joke countless times. It isn’t funny anymore.”
“No,” Bill said. He look tired and drank from the flask before he asked, “Where is your mother?”
“Er…come in,” William said, looking awkward and unsure of himself. “I’ll explain it.”
“Is she dead?” Bill asked. “Is she dead, you little bastard?”
“No!” The boy looked hurt. “Who the hell are you to…”
“Let’s go in,” I said. We all sat down and listened, like characters in a bad play, as William explained the situation. Cairril had run away. She had found out that Philip wanted to have her put in an institution and she knew he could do so. William said her behavior was very erratic, but she had her wits about her when she decided to flee and leave her son with us. Philip, William said, didn’t know where we lived, so if he stayed with us he would be safe from his father. That was what Cairril had wished.
“So we’re supposed to be sweet little babysitters?” Bryan sneered. “How convenient for Cairril. She escapes and we’re left with the bundle of joy. I wanted to see her, not you.”
“Now see here…” started William heatedly.
“All right, all right,” I said. “William, what period of time are we talking about?”
He shrugged helplessly. “Until mother is all right. Whenever that will be.”
“How bad is she?” Brad asked.
“Bad.” William averted his eyes. “She’s been under therapy, but it doesn’t seem to help. Look, I’m not a child. I can get a flat here in England and work—if you help me get a job you won’t need to take me back to…to wherever you all live. Mother spoke about you, but I never listened.”
“You little ass,” Bill said. “Of course you’re coming back with us. Stay here and your dear old dad will snatch you up in a minute. I don’t suppose you’re nearly 18?”
He shook his head. “I just turned 17 last month.”
“Hence the worry over who gets you. All right,” Bill said, “you’re ours.”
“Oh, goody. Oh, I say. We’ve got ourselves an English lad,” Bryan said. “Have a drink, English lad.” William gamely took the flask, but it was empty. Bryan laughed.
“Don’t mind them, William,” I said.
“We’ll soon turn him into a Thom replacement,” Bryan promised. “You want to be like your dead uncle Thom Holicky, don’t you, William?”
William turned pale. “Thom is dead? My God. Mother will be horrified.”
“Christ. Didn’t you tell her, Bill?” I asked.
Bill shook his head. “I didn’t think it would be good for her.”
William just stood there. I felt sorry for him. “Do you need to pack your things, William?” I asked.
“Yes. They’re upstairs.” He left the room, seeming glad to get away.
“Now we are six,” Bill mused. “I wonder how Andrew will feel about our new addition.”
“He’ll be outraged,” I said. Bryan threw the empty flask through the picture window. Glass flew.
“Oh, hell,” Bill said.
Bryan laughed. “I thought it was rather a dramatic gesture. Shows what I think about empty flasks and Cairril’s little arrangement. Takes it for granted we’ll keep her brat, eh?” Brad picked up a chair and would have sent it through the window but Bill tackled him. Bryan laughed as they wrestled a moment. Brad gave up the chair finally and flung himself on the sofa, face down.
“Poor Brad. Depressed again,” Bill said, out of breath. “It happens.”
“You bastard,” Bryan said.
Bill took a drink out of his own flask. He was drunk now. I thought for a minute he would take a swing at Bryan, but he didn’t. He glared at him, though.
“Are you chaps quite finished?” I said. I felt very tired.
“Yes. Thank you ever so much.” Bill walked over to the table and sat down at it, drinking steadily. It made me nearly sick to see him like that.
Bryan was calmer. “Well, it’s nice for you, Suzanne. You’ve a handsome little boy to take care of—surely you were getting sick of us?”
I was silent for a moment. Then I said slowly, “I never took care of any of you, really. I would have done better to keep on acting.”
“You’re at the house for some damn reason,” he said wisely. “Maybe you’re taking care of yourself.”
I didn’t say anything.
“I’m going to find a bed,” Bryan said. He ascended the stairs.
After a moment Bill spoke. “I can’t handle this, Suzanne. I…I expected Cairril to be here.”
“We can handle it,” I said, sitting down with him at the table. “So there’s no vacation for us. It’s happened before.”
“Yes,” Bill said. He added after a pause, “We’ll teach him to write. For the paper.”
He meant the boy. “Yes,” I said, and smiled. It seemed as though the house population was being built up again. People had moved out, but someone new was coming to live there. It was refreshing, in a way.
We moved abruptly back to La Maison, taking Cairril’s son with us. We heard nothing from Cairril or her ex-lover.
As the months went by we stayed in Paris, cranking out the paper once a month and now and then publishing something in a real paper or magazine. Everyone drank but me and the boy. Once when Bill was drunk he took a 350-page manuscript of a book he had been working on and dropped it deliberately into the Seine. He was getting very hard to handle. He was good to William, though.
We didn’t get a vacation that year. We worked a lot. Not much was accomplished.
William was bewildered by the atmosphere in the house—it wasn’t good for him. I knew he would start drinking soon. He was overly sensitive and missed his mother. He kept to himself most of the time although he did write. He wrote as well as any of us.
It was at the start of 2005 that we received the bad news and something horrible happened. In the middle of one of the parties we heard a knock at the door. That was unusual—during our parties people usually just walked in. Either that or stayed out on the lawn and drank.
Andrew thought it was a joke, and laughing, went to answer it. It was Betty. We hadn’t seen her for months—not since Shannon left. She was crying. Shannon, she said, had been killed by terrorists in the tropics. We were stunned.
“I feel so miserable,” she cried. She looked horrid—her face was red and puffed and sticky looking. I resisted the impulse to hit her.
“You little scum,” I said. Bill stood like a statue, staring at her. William looked confused. Brad and Bryan looked furious, but not as furious as Andrew.
“You bitch!” he shouted. She cried louder. “You did this to him! You wanted him to be a missionary! You kept him from us when we were all at the university, you kept him from us when we all lived here, and no he’s gone forever because of you!”
“He went! It was his choice!” she lamented. Without warning Andrew knocked her down. She screamed and Andrew started to pull her up so he could hit her again, but Bill dragged him away. I helped Betty up. Her nose was bleeding. She kept weeping. I took her into the kitchen to get ice and a towel.
“You deserve this,” I said. I felt devastated. Shannon had been important. He had been one of the few sane among us, once.
“Let me stay here now, again. I’m sorry,” she said.
I handed her the towel and ice. “No. Get out. I never want to see you again. You killed him.”
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. I was unmoved. She went back into the living room and left.
I sat down at the table and buried my face in my hands. No one was in the kitchen. After a few minutes one of the guests came in.
I wouldn’t have talked if it hadn’t been someone from the university. It was, though. It was Bartlett Meeks.
“I’m sorry, Suzanne,” he said. “I heard.”
Bartlett was kind. He had never lived here because most of the time he was traveling around Europe juggling. He was a juggler. He had been juggling just now in the living room.
“Hullo, Bart,” I said. “How are you?”
“Okay.” He gave me a hug. “It’s really nasty about Shannon.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Suzanne, I’m afraid I have some really bad news.”
“Oh Christ, Bart,” I sighed, “can’t it wait?”
“Do you want to know later?”
I paused a moment and said, “Okay, tell me.”
“It’s Tragic Tom,” he said. “…he’s dead, too.”
“Traj is dead? How?” I couldn’t believe all that was happening.
Bryan, Brad, and Bill walked in. They all looked grim. They greeted Bart, but it was obvious they had heard too.
“Traj is dead,” I told them for some reason.
“Yes,” Bill said. “We know. So is Shannon. God. Andrew’s in a bad way. He’s in his room.”
Bryan sat down. “How did Traj die, Bart?”
Bartlett looked uncomfortable. He wasn’t juggling at the moment and I could tell he felt awkward. Bart couldn’t not juggle. “Oh hell,” he said. “He did himself in.”
We didn’t say anything and Bart continued. “Oh hell. Well, from what I gather he just made up his mind to do it, and then swallowed some poison on a hillside in England. I don’t know. I’m sure…I’m sure he thought it was very poetic.”
“Was he all alone?” I asked.
“Very poetic,” I said, and sighed. We were all rather numb, I think.
The guests might have been curious about our behavior and come into the kitchen, if they had been real people. None of them seemed so, however.
After a pause in which Bart nervously started balancing the meterstick we kept by the stove, Bill said, “Well, I’m going to get more drunk….”
“Here, hear,” Brad said.
“Shut up, Brad. I’m going to get more drunk, and Suzanne, what with everyone dying and all, why don’t I get you a drink?” Bill made a sarcastic bow.
I did drink sometimes, but not as much as the rest. Right now I didn’t think I would ever stop drinking if I did, so I said no.
“Very well, empress,” Bill said. “I’m getting smashed.”
“You’re welcome to,” I said. We all heard a fresh outburst of laughter from the guests in the front room. “Jesus.”
“I’d better get out there.” Bart rose from his chair. “Sounds like someone’s entertaining them who isn’t me.”
“I need more booze,” Bryan commented, looking into his glass. At that moment we heard a shot. It came from upstairs. We knew it came from Andrew’s room. A few guests screamed. The five of us stayed frozen a split second and then we all comically darted through the door, trying to get in front of each other in our agitation. We met young William on the stair. He was pale.
“Andrew’s all bloody. He shot himself. He had a gun. I didn’t know he had a gun. Did anybody?” William stared at us all and then burst into tears. I started crying too. It was just too much. The boy turned to me helplessly and I held him. He shook. It was bad for him here.
Bill and Bart went into the room. Bryan started yelling at Andrew for killing himself. Brad sat down and held the banister for support.
One of the guests who was very drunk thought the shot had meant something funny and was laughing loudly. He looked up at us and was calling, “Send the juggler! Where’s the juggler chap?” Then he saw that we were crying and exclaimed, “Oh, frightfully sorry,” and passed out.
Eventually the ambulance came and took Andrew away. He was dead. Just like Shannon and Traj and Thom.
None of the guests left. It seemed to excite them, having a death at a party. It was terribly in vogue.
I drank all night long. I don’t remember the funeral. I was drunk. For an entire week we kept the party going. None of us wanted to be alone with just the five of us.
Finally the guests were gone. Probably they remembered that they had other lives besides booze and dancing and witty conversation—one by one they deserted the house like guilty children caught in a forbidden barn, and we were all alone.
Stupefied, we sat amongst the ruins of the front room, where broken wine glasses and spilt drinks completed the atmosphere of solitude and depression.
“Bart left,” Bryan said.
“Yes,” I said. “He had to go to work.”
“No; factory work, in the States.” I stirred a bit in my position on the couch. “He says if he does that maybe he’ll make enough money to come here and live, and do shows on the lawn.”
“That would be nice,” William ventured after a pause. Bill emitted a short “Ha!”
“I miss everybody,” Brad said.
“Oh Christ,” Bryan said. “Yes, when a passel of people die at once it does tend to bereave one.”
“Shut up. I don’t want to start crying again,” I said.
“We should clean up,” Bill said. He was very drunk. “Somebody’s sure to pierce his bare feet on this glass.”
“So we don’t go barefoot,” Brad said. “Say. Are we still going to have the paper, Bill?”
“Yes,” Bill said. “I’ll write a story, saying how it was actually the capitalist Christian work ethic that murdered Shannon. I’ll change Betty’s name in the story. God, I wish I were dead.”
“Don’t say that,” Brad said ironically. “The way things have been going it’ll come true.”
“Not a bad idea,” Bill said. “We’ve already got two merry suicides from our group.”
“Traj,” I said. “Traj never even stopped to say goodbye. Not a hint.”
“We knew Andrew was bonkers. We should have known. We should have watched him.” Brad shook his head. “Now it’s too late.”
“Will everyone not talk about it? We’ve talked about it all week, during the party,” said William. “Suzanne, you were going up to strangers and telling them everything in detail. Brightly, like you were discussing the weather.”
“I know. I remember,” I said. “Well, the hostess should amuse the guests.”
“None of you noticed I was never able to get to my room to sleep. Every time I went in I kept hearing Andrew’s shot, over and over again. Like I did that night.” He looked haggard. “Seven months I’ve put up with you all—I’m going just as mad as Mother!” He burst into tears. He had been doing that a lot lately.
“Be careful, old boy,” Bryan said. “I don’t like hearing your mother insulted. She’s my friend, you know.”
“I wish we’d hear from her,” said Bill.
I went over to the boy and tried to comfort him, but I was feeling pretty devastated myself.
“It’s horrid,” he sobbed. “I can’t stand living here—no school, no friends…”
“Just a lot of alcoholic adults who love your mother and not you,” I finished. “Rubbish! We care about you or we wouldn’t keep you.”
“Anything is better than my father,” the boy said.
“That is right. You could be worse off.”
“I hate it so, here,” he sniffled.
“I know,” I said. “You need some real sleep. Why don’t you try sleeping in your room?”
“I hear the shot.”
“Try again, going up. It’s been a week now.”
“Come sit with me. Sit there for a moment so I’m not frightened.”
“All right.” I rose with him and started following him up the stairs.
“Be nice to the boy, Suzanne,” Bill called after me nastily. “Chase all his fears away. Do be gentle with him.”
“Suzanne has a boy,” Bryan said.
“Suzanne has a boy,” Bill said to Bryan. “She had an acting career, but that’s all gone. But she has a little boy.”
Their insults hurt, but I kept quiet. They were drunk. They knew better, really. They knew William was like my son.
We found a couple from the party in William’s bed, asleep. I woke them up and sent them away. The woman made a remark about Goldilocks that she thought was very funny. I told her that all the wits had either left or were dead. That perturbed her.
William was embarrassed after what the others had said. I only had to stay in his room a second before he assured me he was no longer scared. I left for downstairs.
Brad was asleep on the sofa the way Holicky used to be. Bryan and Bill were in the kitchen talking about old times. I joined them and we talked until dawn.
Two more months crawled by. Bill published the paper—the circulation was going down. People were more interested in gossiping about our lifestyle than reading our work. That happens sometimes to literates in the public light. It’s a pity, but it’s true. Better writers than we got less attention because they led quiet lives. It happens. None of the public was interested enough to give us money, unfortunately. But they read the gossip stories about us.
All of us eagerly searched the mail for news from Cairril, and each time the phone rang we jumped in anticipation. There was no news, though. It came later.
Our parties were wilder, but there were fewer and fewer people we knew at them. Sometimes I just stayed in my room, the way Andrew or Fields used to. I let William act as host. He hated it.
Bryan grew less mean and more depressed. He never went to fencing contests and wrote poetry constantly. Brad stuck near him grimly, as though it were a duty. Brad wrote once in a while, but not often. Both Brad and Bryan were drinking a lot. They were worried about Cairril.
Bill was the most productive, but all his work wasn’t meaning much. He painted the front room. He wrote a play that he said I could star in, but it was never produced in its original form. I never was in the play. I hear they even renamed it from what Bill had it as.
One dreary afternoon I was bored and could no longer stay still and listen to the rain and sounds of typing. I called the States. I phoned Mike Dibble in the States. I had his number, so I called.
“Hullo?” came his familiar voice. There was static, but not a lot.
“Hullo, Mike,” I said. “It’s Suzanne.”
“Suzanne!” He was pleased. “It’s been a long time.”
“Two years,” I said. “How are you?”
There was a pause. “Oh, fine,” he said. “How is everyone? I heard about the deaths. They’re raving about it here in the States. Everyone’s interested in La Maison and its inhabitants.”
“Yes.” I cleared my throat. “How’s Jeske?”
“Haven’t seen him since the party at your place. Two years.”
“Christ. No idea where he is?”
“Not really. Fields neither. Got a card from Jeske, though. Fields isn’t with him. That much I know.”
“Oh.” There was a pause. “Seen anyone else?”
“Well,” he said. “Bart is here.”
“There? With you?” I was delighted. “Put him on.”
“Suzanne,” Mike said. “I suppose I should tell you this.”
“What?” I dreaded the answer. He sounded grim.
“I’ve got cancer. Serious. I got it from sitting in front of all those computers. Bad for me. It’s a terminal disease, get it?”
I couldn’t even smile at his joke, I was so horrified. “Christ, Mike.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Christ,” I said.
“Here’s Bart,” he said. Bart came on the phone.
“Hullo,” he said. “I’m just here, visiting Mike. Isn’t it awful?”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s horrid. How are you, Bart? Are you making enough money to come stay here? To juggle on the lawn and have shows?”
There was an ironic pause. Bart answered.
“Not going to juggle anymore.”
“Bart, that’s not funny.”
“It’s true. I shan’t be juggling any longer.”
“That’s ridiculous. Why not?”
There was another pause. “One arm gone,” he said.
I knew he wouldn’t joke about that. “Oh, Bart,” I said.
“Yeah. Only one arm. Can’t juggle. Sucks, doesn’t it?” He didn’t sound too crushed, but I knew it was an act on his part.
“Yes,” I said. “Bart, couldn’t you live here anyway?”
“I’m staying with Mike. He’s…he’s on the last lap. Can’t you visit him?”
“I haven’t any money,” I said shortly. I couldn’t explain about the boy and Cairril contacting us.
We talked a while longer and then hung up. I could barely believe all that I had heard. It fit, though. Funny how all of us were dying. I didn’t really think it was funny. It might have seemed so to others. I didn’t know.
That night there wasn’t a party, though it was Saturday. We were tired. It had been a long week. The others knew about Bart and Mike. We all agreed how dreadful it was.
We were all sitting in the front room. William was drawing and Brad and Bryan were listlessly playing cards. The radio was playing—Bill was turning the dial to find a good station. I watched William draw. His picture was of a house, much like La Maison de Disillusionment, in fact. Blood and fire were pouring out of the windows. Young artists of 17-and-a-half are rarely subtle. I didn’t criticize. Therapy was therapy.
“There,” Bill said. A station was playing old American tunes. This is the Time to Remember by Billy Joel was playing. “Let’s dance,” he said. I consented, smiling. The others ignored us.
“This is a good song,” said Bill. “This was popular in ’86.”
“The year I arrived at the University,” I reminded him. He didn’t say anything. We danced for a while and laughed when I tripped over the radio cord.
“It isn’t that bad, this place,” Bill said.
“It isn’t—you’re right,” I said. The others didn’t say anything.
Then the commotion came. The doorbell rang and a messenger was at the door. He had a message from someone unnamed for us, he said. We had better sit down, he said. We sat down and found out that Cairril had been dead for six months. They just now had traced us down to inform us and the next of kin.
Bryan screamed in anguish and wanted to tear the messenger apart. Brad, numb, held him back. Bill threw an ashtray through the window. William burst into wailing tears.
I walked to the couch, picked up my purse, and, shoving the dumbfounded messenger aside, walked into the Paris night, alone.
It was clear and cool, the perfect April evening. I suppose it was about 8 p.m. I listened to my footsteps as I walked down the street, headed for a hangout I knew of that was frequented by American tourists. I didn’t know why I wanted to go there. I disliked the place, but I was going.
I walked. As I walked I thought about Cairril and how she had been my friend. I wondered how she died. For a second I thought about the chaos back at the house but I pushed it from my mind—I didn’t want to remember how miserable I was. The night was so clear. I really loved the night, at that moment.
I walked into La France. That was the name of the hangout. It was a very bad restaurant. I sat down in a booth. I sat for a long time and amused myself watching the people around me. One loud American man was complaining loudly because he didn’t get ice in his cola. The waiter was polite but he didn’t bring any ice. I was glad.
The man was upset and on his way out, but he saw me and stopped. “Hey,” he said. “You an American?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“How come I didn’t get my ice?” he demanded.
“They don’t do that here,” I said.
He sat down. “You know a lot. How long are you staying in Paris?”
“I live here,” I said.
“But you’re an American.”
“I’m an expatriate,” I said. He looked at me blankly. “I’m an American, but I live here,” I explained.
“Yeah, well, we determined that tidbit of information already,” he said. “How come you aren’t living in America?”
I shrugged. “Maybe I like to smoke in public.”
“They don’t enforce that law,” he pointed out.
“I know,” I said. “If they can’t enforce it, why have it? It’s stupid.”
“You’re not smoking now,” he said.
“I don’t smoke,” I said.
“But you said…”
“I have friends who smoke,” I said shortly. He was taken aback. I really didn’t care about the smoking. I just felt like seeing what he would say if I talked to him. Now I knew.
“Say, wait a minute,” he said. “I’m a proud American and I say—”
“How long have you been here?” I interrupted.
He was surprised again. “You were here when I came in. Three hours, I guess. Want a drink?”
“I’ve had all I need.” I was bored. Just as the American was about to start preaching again, Brad came in. I was glad to see him.
“Hullo, Suz.” He sat down next to me and gestured across at the American. “What’s that thing?”
“Now see here…” the American began heatedly.
“Please go away now,” I said.
“But…” he said.
“Scram,” Brad said in his Chicago voice. The American retreated. He gave me a wounded look and left the restaurant.
I smiled at Brad. He smiled back. “Are you drunk?” he asked.
“Not especially,” I answered.
“Things have been going on for a couple hours, back there. I left to find you.”
“Here I am,” I said.
“Will you come back with me?” he asked.
“Why should I?”
“Well, believe it or not, it’s turning into a wacky kind of evening,” he said ironically. “The father chap showed up.”
I responded. “Phillip Lindley? The infamous son-of-a-bitch? In our house?”
“Has he snatched William?”
“Not yet. Bill challenged him to a duel.”
“That’s ridiculous.” I relaxed a little. “People don’t duel. Never anymore do people duel. They just don’t do it.”
Brad nodded grimly. “They’re all very drunk. Bryan is teaching Bill how to duel. Phillip thinks it’s all very funny. Phillip is a good swordsman.”
“Why doesn’t Bryan duel?”
“Bill challenged first. Bryan would have. Christ, so would I. I’m drunk enough. With Cairril dead and all. Christ.” Tears sprang to his eyes.
I got to my feet and paid for the drinks I’d had. “I’ll go back,” I said. “I have to stop Bill from doing it. Cairril wouldn’t have wanted him to.”
We walked back briskly. Brad told me how Cairril had died. She had, he said, drowned herself. She had drowned in the English Channel. She had left no message. It was agreed she had been mad at the time of her death. That was Phillip’s fault. We all despised Phillip with a passion.
Phillip was sitting in the front room when I came back. “Ah,” he said sardonically. “This is the house mother. The one I’ve never met. I’m taking my boy. He needs a dad more than he needs a mummy.”
“I hope you die horribly,” I said. He smiled.
“The Bill chap will, not I. I’m an excellent swordsman.” His black eyes snapped with a drunken fire. “I’ve always wanted to obliterate her youthful memories, which she spoke of so fondly. ‘The University.’ Ha! I obliterate Bill and, ta-da! One memory gone. Just like she is gone.”
“If she weren’t already dead it would kill her,” I said.
“Precisely why I am planning to extinguish the journalistic fool.”
“Go to hell forever,” I demanded with as much spirit as I could muster. Then as he laughed at me, I exited the room. Bryan and Bill were sitting in the typing room. Both were as drunk as Phillip.
“Where’s William?” I asked.
“Oh, so she’s gracing us with her presence,” said Bill to Bryan. To me he said, “Hullo, Suz. I’m going to avenge Cairril’s death. William’s in his room, crying, of course.”
“Forget the duel, Bill. It’s silly,” I implored. “We’ll have him arrested. Anything. But you can’t duel.”
“Bryan taught me. I can so. I’m going to avenge Cairril’s death.”
“Yes. Phillip will soon be in hell, where he belongs. I’ll write a story about it, if I live. I’ll probably die. Then you can write a story about me, eh?” He got up unsteadily and grabbed Bryan’s sword. “I’m ready.”
“No, Bill,” I said. “Don’t do this to me.”
“Yes, Suzanne,” he said. His voice was kinder to me than it usually was when it was drunk. “Yes. This is my chance to do something. I’ve never done anything. You’ll let me do this.” He exited the room, sword at the reading, but poked his head back in the room to quote, with a drunken laugh, the song we had danced to earlier. “This is the time you’ll turn back to and so will I—and those will be days you can never recall!” He gave a shout of glee. “That lyrical enough for you, Suzanne! Onward, to avenge.” He was gone.
I stared at Bryan for a moment. He spoke. “Suzanne, I’m drunk. I’m really drunk. Christ, I don’t know the last thing I taught him. I don’t know how to teach. I’m drunk.”
“I know,” I said. I felt a terrible resignation.
The next morning William was safe from his father. Phillip had killed Bill and was worried about the police so he ran away. He wouldn’t bother us again.
Bill was dead. He had been stabbed, the police said. We knew that. The police thought a maniac had done it. We didn’t tell them about the duel. Bill had died almost instantly. He was dead.
A few days later there were only three of us in the house because Bryan, feeling guilty about how he had incorrectly taught Bill, had fled to Berlin to see his ex-wife. She didn’t even love him.
William was quiet. He drew and wrote. Brad drank. I wrote a polite note to all subscribers of the paper saying it would no longer be published.
The city was abuzz with all that had happened to us. I got letters of sympathy from famous writers. I thought that was funny—the famous writers had known about us for years and had never written before. Most thought we would leave the Maison de Disillusionment. I wasn’t sure. I wondered how Bill would have felt.
For a month I clung to the house. I felt horrid about all that had happened and it seemed my only comfort. But, with the last blows to my emotional state, I finally decided to leave.
Brad and Bryan had once been roommates at the University, in the good times. That was why it was ironic that they died only a few days apart.
It was in the middle of May, 2006. I received the news in the morning that Bryan had been killed in the street outside his ex-wife’s house by a bus. He had rushed out while drunk and shouted a challenge to the vehicle. The driver had been taken by surprise. He felt horrible about it, I heard.
When I went to take the news to Brad in his room, I found him at the top of the stairs.
“Bryan—” I started to say. Before I could finish made an attempt to rush down the stairs, but he tripped. He fell the entire distance and broke his neck. He died.
William and I sat, still in our stiff black garments, in the front room of the house. We had just returned from the funeral. I took off my kid gloves and spoke. “Are you ready to go, then?”
“Yes,” William said. “Are you?”
We had been going to leave Paris straight from the funeral, but I had wanted to come back and look one last time at the house before I left it forever. The taxi was waiting with our luggage already loaded into it.
“I’m ready to do,” I said.
William, guessing that this must be a solemn moment for me, went outside first and waited quietly. I followed him. It was raining steadily—pools were forming on the walk.
I felt incredibly weary, not solemn. I felt that I had not slept in the last dozen years. I closed the door firmly and locked it for the last time.
We started down the walk, avoiding the puddles. I stopped once and stared back at the house that had at one time been able to contain, with its strong bricks, so many weak people. Then I turned and didn’t look back again.
When we were almost to the taxi William said, “It should be fun, in the States. I think I’ll like it.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Soon I can start college,” he reminded me. “We’ll have to think about that. Where shall I go?”
I paused with my fingers on the handle of the taxi door. “Oh,” I answered, as I mused to myself about the faraway past. “…Oh, that’s rather easy. I knew a University once….”