One Night, part VI

Breakfast of Champignons

by James Fleming

Wow, it's about time I finished up with this story. For all you froshlings out there, here's the scoop. There's our narrator, this anti-hero David, living in Boston, finding odd jobs in and about the Boston area for the last 15 years since his bout with electroshock therapy in 1978. He's spent these years in a stupefying haze of alcohol, cocaine, mescaline, heroin, you name it. He recently heard that his ex-girlfriend Jeanine is now ex-alive as well, and has followed clues on some negatives and a box of chocolates to Disney World, to the secret hideout of a man claiming to be his long lost brother, who appears to head some sort of secret organization. Just refreshed from a bath, shave, haircut, (and just a sniff of cocaine) he goes to confront this man at breakfast.

The topless French maid escorted me down the main corridor, through a few turns and into the main wing of the building. Here the questionable industrial appeal of black brick and drop ceilings faded into marble floors, white stucco, plaster moldings and chandeliers. Billowing curtains covered bright bay windows that on further inspection proved to be nothing more than ventilator grills ringed with fluorescent lights.

We proceeded from this room to a similarly furnished breakfast room, where the man claiming to be my brother relaxed at a table lushly adorned with fruits, juices, yogurts, and nuts, all on fancy china service. My escort showed me to my seat, pushed me in and remained standing at my side. My ``brother'' looked up at us, all golden tan, sandy blond hair, hawkish nose, and comforting hazel eyes. Dressed in simple white silk pajamas, he looked young, very young, perhaps 19, though his eyes gleamed with an arrogance and command that belied this estimate.

He looked me over and laughed, ``Well Clarice! You've outdone yourself. Brother, you look years younger! Your sleep and grooming have done you well. I trust Clarice's ministrations were not too harsh?'' He raised an eyebrow.

I dabbed at my nose a bit and sniffled. ``Yes! I mean no! She was fine, really very nice, and attentative too. Godamn, she's a fine filly alright!'' I pinched her bottom, eliciting a polite smile from her and a frozen stare from my brother.

``Well, good. Clarice, that will be all, my brother and I will be breakfasting alone.'' My maid departed silently, closing the doors behind her.

I grinned, riding that train, high on cocaine. ``So, let's make a deal here, brother. You know, all this stuff about Jeanine aside, I want some answers. Mostly, about our past. I've told you I have no memories before my uh, therapy at McClean. However, I will also concede that in 1978 I was registered at McClean as a patient, male, in his mid twenties, and that now, after a good bath and shave and haircut, I appear to be still, indeed, a man in his mid-twenties. I've worn bell bottoms twice in my adult life. That alone could mark me as immortal. So tell me, bro, if I may call you that, what is the deal? That is to say, what are you doing here, what am I doing here, what is all this?'' I waved my hands around.

My brother smiled at me from across the table, and gestured to the food. ``First, we must eat. In the morning one should eat only fruits, juices and yogurt, so as not to shock the digestion. Do have some. I shall.'' He helped himself to orange juice in a silver pitcher, some yogurt, oatmeal, and sliced fruit. I stared around anxiously for coffee and pancakes or sausage and bacon.

I smiled graciously, completely confident in my abilities to handle this situation. ``How about some coffee and eggs, or donuts or something? That is what I truly crave this morning, my brother.''

``Brother brother brother, such things are not at all good for you. Caffeine, in the morning! Only to be used as a mild simulant in the afternoon. One musn't rush one's own body you know. Not healthy.''

I smiled rabidly at him, and sniffed again. ``Well then, breakfast it is!'' and I grabbed some grapenuts and fruit and yogurt and orange juice, and began devouring them with an unholy fervor.

I finished in ten minutes flat, my jaw aching from the grapenuts. Damn things. I tried conversing with my brother some more, but he only held up a finger and continued eating. Finally, he finished the last pulpy remnants of his orange juice and cleared his throat. ``You would like some answers, but I must tell you that I've been intentionally holding back this information from you since learning that your memory has been impaired. At one time you had a very keen eidetic memory, truly photographic, or perhaps better put, videographic, and I would like to see if we can elicit these memories of pre-1978 from you.''

I laughed, a short bark, and began tapping my knee uncontrollably. ``You haven't kept up with me that well, have you? Do you know what I do every day? I can hardly remember what I did an hour ago. McClean itself is more a memory of a memory at this point, and that was only fifteen years ago. I don't have an eidetic memory. Sorry. Hey, why are you on such a health kick, if you're immortal?''

My brother merely smiled and leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. ``I believe the man I once knew and loved as my brother is still there within that delirious wreck I see before me.'' His smile turned suddenly bitter. ``I will tell you this. You are my younger brother, make no mistake. You look at least six years older than I am. Your intempered life style and irreverance towards your body has done this to you.''

I raised my eyebrows, then lowered them again, the crystalline mirth of my cocaine high suddenly abating. I felt irritable and cranky, and didn't exactly like his tone. ``That `delirious wreck' you see before you is pretty fucking pissed off about his ex-girlfriend getting axed by a prancing new-age adolescent. Cut the crap, why am I here?''

My brother's head dropped a fraction of an inch and his voice lowered. ``I've told you why you're here. I've brought you here to rejoin me and my operation. As soon as you realize where your loyalties lie you won't care about your little Jeanine plaything anymore. Now answer me, what particular drug did you have on the first of this month.''

I laughed, the fool. ``No particular drug, I assure you. The first of this month? Which month is that? I really don't know.''

``It's October. Now answer me, what was the first drug you had that day, a few weeks ago, the first of October.''

I shrugged and then remembered a newspaper header ``THE BOSTON GLOBE, WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1'' read on a shaky morning wakeup involving whiskey and scrambled eggs at a nearby diner, cut with some crystal meth for that little wake up kick. ``Meth. Crystal meth, five in the morning.''

``And so, mister I-have-no-memory, where were you at the time?''

``A diner. Dolly's actually, they were trying to close just as I got there, and they strongly objected to my whiskey. But I've always tipped well, so Eileen, the waitress, let me stay and cooked for me.''

``What was she wearing?''

There it was in front of me clear as day. ``Her usual little goth outfit, black turtleneck, black jeans, black sneakers. She never really got out of the eighties.''

``How did she look?'' He leaned forward.

I saw where this was going, and didn't like it one bit. I knew exactly how she looked. She looked bedraggled after a long night of serving loser townies and fending off passes made by overweight middle aged men. One strand of her black hair was loose and hung over her right eye. She had batted at it occasionally. When she brushed it back you could see the broken fingernail and scuffed red polish on her right hand. There was a spot of mayonaise high on her left shoulder that no one had pointed out to her. Her lipstick was all but worn off, replaced with simple lip gloss. There was a small pimple on her chin, the little chin that I often stared at and lusted to hold and pull against me so that we might kiss. Her sparkling dark brown eyes, almost black, were tired and slightly bloodshot yet happy to see her best tipping and most unfailingly polite customer. The daily special on the menu was -- ``No! Hey!''

I shook myself and remembered where I was. I tried to close my mind but memories of that morning came rushing in, in an uncontrollable flood. Memories of the whole day, meetings with people, friends, clients, associates. Memories of that day melding into night and ending with drinks at a bar with a minor mob figure. Memories of the next day and the next and the next... I stood up straight, knocking over my chair and holding my head. I fumbled around in my non-existent coat for a non-existent bottle of whiskey. I looked at him get up, which seemed very slow, but by the time I hit the ground he was there holding me. I remember only the clash of tableware and voices until there was darkness and nothing.

Bottle. Smooth bottle opening. Smooth bottle opening on lips. Whiskey! I grabbed the bottle and sucked it down eagerly, it helped the weird feeling in my head, the pressure of memories threatening to overwhelm me. I opened my eyes to see that the bottle was held by none other than my good maid Clarice, no longer topless, and wearing a nurses uniform. I was in my satin canopy bed in the room I'd been given here. She smoothed my hair back with one cool hand. ``He is awake now, Melesh.'' She withdrew, taking the bottle with her.

My brother stood over me, looking down at me. I tried to hold my head and simultaneously shield my eyes from the horrible light. Compromised by just sort of squinting and ducking under the covers. My brother cleared his throat. ``That was your first lesson, dear brother. A little more harsh than anticipated, but just what you need. More will follow, you can be sure, if we're ever going to wean you off of your dependencies and get you back in the organization.'' He smiled. ``I don't think you've been permanently injured by your electroshock therapy. You and I, we're very resilient.''

I tried to nod and croaked ``Chromosome 47.'' { [Ed. note: see last episode for more info]

He looked surprised and nodded. ``Yes, yes indeed. How do you know of this?''

``Reports at McClean. Mutated copy of 15. We should have been non-viable fetuses... Melesh.''

He looked visibly disturbed. ``That was sloppy, Clarice. I didn't want to tell him our names. I wanted him to come upon them himself. Get out before I hit you.'' Clarice left quickly.

``That's right David, I've done research on this myself. I suppose you know we're sterile...''

I was starting to feel a bit better, and pulled the covers down to my neck. ``Actually I didn't know. All that money on contraceptives, ha.'' I took a long swig, then leapt out of bed. I felt silly then, standing uncertainly, bottle in hand. We stood silently, facing each other, him a little taller than I. Younger. Clearly younger. ``Melesh? Is that your name?''

``Yes, what is your name?''

``I can't remember. furthermore, I don't want to. That was a dirty trick, what you did there earlier. If I wasn't your guest, I'd kill you for that.''

``But David!'' and his arms went out wide, his smile wide and handsome, ``I merely showed you what you could be, if only you so desired! Once you again, you could be a god among men, walking among them like one of them, but knowing so much more, capable of so much more!''

I felt weak, and struggled against it, yet fell back into bed, holding onto my whiskey. ``I'm tired, Melesh, please leave me, we'll talk later, really. I just need to rest a bit.'' I looked up at him, plaintive.

His smooth brow briefly furrowed in concern. ``Very well, I've planned a dinner for you, a small dinner, you and me alone. If you need anything, Clarice will be outside your door. She's been assigned to you. Get some sleep perhaps.'' Melesh, my brother, turned and left without a sound.

Left alone I could only think and take drugs. Somehow my meeting with Melesh and his lesson of the true nature of my memory left me unwilling to get too high. I settled for some of the whiskey and half a joint pulled out of my bag. The usual pleasure and confusion of intoxication seemed barren. Like running away from something, perhaps. From possibility. From charm and grace and an easy manner that my brother so clearly had. I was left with myself: stark and unpleasant, unshaven, wild haired, wearing my trademark beat up black leather and jeans. Yet here I was; here was what I could be: sedate, washed, clean shaven, wearing silk boxers in a satin canopy bed in this immaculate white room with marble floors. I thought of my strange trip down here, the constant confusion of my existence, and the hope that maybe it could be different, disciplined.

I stopped drinking around noon and crawled over to the bookcase. I grabbed a scroll off the bottom shelf, unrolling it onto the floor, revealing Egyptian heiroglyphs. Tiny little symbols, like insane beetles sprawling in the sun. I wished I could be there, the sun beating down on the backs of farmers and the painted faces of royalty.

Cold trembling dread tugged at my heart as a startling view of ramps and pyramids filled my eyes, unbidden. Expensive grape wine from Greece in my hands as Pharoah talked about his plans, kohl eyes wild in his face, red with drink, hidden under talc. Soundless I felt my mouth forming words I'd long since forgotten, oracular prophecies pulled straight from Delphi, bullshit pulled straight from my ass, provoked with drink and rare herb. Always the rare herb, drugs, drogen, meaning dry. I swept the scroll from my presence, staggered back to bed. I slept until Clarice woke me, my tear stained face pressed against the tender scented skin of her shoulder, her arms holding me as I continued crying awake, sobbing against her. `` Monsieur, it's okay now, yes?''

She bathed and shaved me again as last night. This time I was unresponsive, unplayful. `` Monsieur is not feeling so well. Do not fret, your brother loves you very much. We are so happy to have you here, non?'' Discouraged by my silence, she quickly finished my bath, picked a fresh black wardrobe for me, laid it on my bed, and left.

I tried shaking off my feeling of gloom by drinking more. I was afraid of stimulants or hallucinogens for fear of triggering more memories. I tried remembering Jeanine, my dear ex-girlfriend, now dead, to stop the little bits of arid landscapes and dark featured countenences that crept into my mind when I wasn't looking. It was all too hideous. I went to my door. ``Clarice, would you come in here?''

Clarice rose from her desk, where she was doing some paperwork. A few inches shorter than I was, light olive toned skin, black hair, wearing a white blouse and smart black jacket. Her eyebrows rose, ``Does Monsieur desire anything?''

I tried smiling. `` Monsieur desires answers, Clarice. When is dinner?''

The French accent dropped. ``Twenty minutes, in his private study. I see you've dressed yourself.'' She paused to look at me. ``I thought you'd never stop crying. You were wailing, like a baby.''

``What does my brother do? What does Melesh do here, for god's sake?''

``Costumes, Monsieur, he's a costume designer for Disney. Does all the great period pieces. He's a master, very highly paid.''

I stared.

She continued. ``He's brilliant really, his costumes are without compare, authentic with regard to style, color, material, and cut. He's very respected in his field. This is just an annex to one of the parade costume warehouses.''

``What about all this conspiracy stuff, his `organization', that he wants me to help out in. Not exactly a 4-H project, I gather.''

Her eyes narrowed. ``You'd have to ask him. I can't really say.''

``Do you still have my coat and boots and stuff?''

She seemed impatient. ``I had them cleaned, everything's in your closet. you won't need such impractical clothing around here though.''

``What do you do here, Clarice?''

``I am... how you say... working my way up, you see?'' She laughed, surprisingly dark and throaty. ``I won't say he's a good man, but he's direct, and his instructions are clear. He's amazing, actually.'' Her eyes sparkled darkly. ``You're another one, aren't you? God, what you've seen, what you can do...'' She shook her head. ``Well, mon cher, let's go! We musn't be late!''

I laughed and shook my head. ``No. Tell him I'll see him for dinner tomorrow. Now get out, get the fuck out of my room.''

She hesitated. ``Now!'' I yelled. She left, I closed the door, propped it closed with a chair and rummaged through my bag. I took a few hits of acid, mellowing it with heroin, the last I had with me.

I sat on my bed, waiting and watching while glimpses of earlier years, decades, centuries and millenia began stalking furtively around my bed, circling inward. I sat very very still, cross-legged, peering around. Deserts and ships and wars, back alleys, asylums, opium dens and palm trees, women and prophecies, prophets and ghosts all took tantalizing form in ragged smears around me, emerging and vanishing, teasing me as they circled and came ever closer.

I watched them for half an hour. Half an hour it took and they finally reached me and the screaming started. It was my screaming. Through the evening and the night they tore me apart. By the morning, I was gone; they'd killed me. Left me disembowled upon my own bed, whispering my own name over and over again.

To be continued... one more time...