Charlie

charlie 2 (1)

Image © Tom Moore 2015

 

by La JohnJoseph December 11, 2015
****A chapter from Everything Must Go published by ITNA Press****

It was night, inevitably, and Thackeray was asleep at the wheel. The car continued on steadily, down the bullet-straight autobahn, in almost total silence, with just a hint of a purr – good kitty. Baby was asleep inside me, she was as big as a football now, had congealed, hardened into a small human. She was fully baked, and I was nineteen. She snored softly, tooting like a toy trumpet every minute or so, her tiny body floating around in years of recycled shit. For once she wasn’t talking in her sleep. 

In the back of the car, the missionaries (wearing matching pajamas, of course) slept wrapped around each other like a pair of pythons intent on murder, and no noise came from them. The radio, barely even audible, played Noel Coward (that’s what they play on radio stations in Berlin), and the world turned black and white. It was post-war Europe, dark outside the car, the sky little troubled by stars, nothing stirred. We cruised on indefinitely, ate the road like licorice, pulled ourselves along by our teeth, and it hurt. Quite clearly I heard the voice of the murder bush hanging on the silent, desolate breeze, rasping and heaving, lusty as ever, as though the sounds had been cut out of the night air with great precision using an X-acto knife. I heard the murder bush wrap her tendrils around my father, snap him like a twig, and swallow him whole. “Diana,” gasped the murder bush, “Di-a-na,” long and low.

Then there was silence.

From out of nowhere came a monstrously large snail, a hulking, mammoth thing, creeping slowly across the highway, bisecting the road with its slow and oozy trails. The snail turned its gigantic head to look at me, the tentacles standing erect in alarm. Then, perhaps relieved that we were not a pack of poachers, raised its sluggish body a little and displayed a great goofy smile on its sopping mouth, dragging its preposterous weight out of the convertible’s trajectory. The snail pulled itself parallel with the car and slithered alongside us for a few kilometers, looking at me and giggling to itself occasionally. Each chuckle grew louder and louder, until I was simply forced (by politeness if nothing else) to ask, “What’s so funny?”

“Well,” said the snail with a laugh, “I know something you don’t know.”

“And?” I retorted, “So do most people. My formal education was rather rudimentary.”

“Did you ever study…” and here the snail broke off with a snigger. “Did you ever study human biology?”

“Not in any depth,” I replied. “Sisterhood, my dog, was doing an online course in applied physiognomy, and occasionally I would read over her shoulder, but I don’t think that counts.”

“Ha! It’s too funny!” guffawed the snail.

I rolled my eyes.

Snails!” it continued, by now almost beside itself with mirth. “Snails! Have a penis and a vagina!” It roared with such convulsed hysteria that the road actually started to shake and I feared for our safety, and yet everyone else slept on.

“Is that supposed to be a joke?” I asked in earnestness.

It’s the truth,” chuckled the snail, “But nature’s jokes are always the worst!”

The snail exploded with snickers, bellowing great big chuckles, almost aggressively, almost beginning to hyperventilate. In this state of distended hilarity the snail heaved itself around in a ludicrously inelegant about-face and squelched off in the opposite direction, snorting, “Is it a joke?” to itself.

The car and I paid the snail no mind, and we sailed on inevitably as though the road were a conveyor belt, the world a Model T factory, and the future a windshield wiper to be added before we rolled out into the big, bright, white world. Great, hulking skeletons lined the way, the bones of long dead dinosaurs, yearning for love, sculptural under moonbeams. (Moonbeams? What the hell is a moonbeam? Light is light.) Enormous thigh bones, femurs, ribcages, skulls, erections, all so massive, dwarfing me and my banana-yellow convertible, a handful of hours from Paris.  As we rattled by, I brushed my outstretched hands against these calcified outcroppings, my fingertips kissed them gently, and I think I fell in love.

A flickering speck on the horizon caught my eye, but in the darkness, I could not comprehend it. My eyes could not reveal to my mind exactly what it was waiting for me there up ahead. I groaned, more from exhaustion, than from anxiety; in spite of the insanity and the depravity of the sociopathic junkyard to which the world had been reduced, I was not afraid. I did not fear that this emerging expression of motion would actually show itself to be my executioner. Even as we neared the mysteriously moving thing, I felt no need to steel myself for another nightmare, no need to brace myself; no, I could hear the murder bush whisper my name in an orgasmic build up, so I did not feel scared. Instead I felt a bottomless curiosity.

What is it,” I whispered, careful not to wake Baby, “That flickers like that, out here at the end of the earth?”

I hit the headlights. They were startlingly bright, like spotlights, turning the desert into the moon, and they threw out magnificent columns of light. Quite casually, Charlie Chaplin, sparkling with cinematic luminosity, was revealed leaning on a lamppost at the corner of the street. As he stood there in his funny little hat, the car passed him, and he barely noticed, until I turned off the engine and we rolled to a slow stop. At this point, Charlie Chaplin (holding a sign that read, “Anywhere but here!”) snapped into action and tramped toward the convertible—I nearly wept like Mary Magdalene over Christ’s feet.

Stepping out of the car barefoot into the still warm sand, I was careful to look for snakes.  I recognized then that the sand was snakes, a thick, blistered carpet of androgynous snakes fucking and killing beneath my footsteps. I made my way to Charlie Chaplin, who had stopped just an arm’s length behind the car and stood there mournfully with his sign and his suitcase, looking like a wax replica of Charlie Chaplin put outside a roadside souvenir stand to attract children.

I asked him, “Do you sell souvenirs?”

“No, I never want to come here again.” He spoke only in dialogue cards, which he held up in front of him, then dropped to the ground to be swallowed by snakes when he reached the end of his sentence. “I’ve seen all of your movies!” he continued.

I blushed, fancy Charlie Chaplin being a fan of mine! I gestured that he should come closer but he looked at the convertible and asked, “Why are you driving around with a car full of corpses?”

“They’re not dead,” I assured him, “Just sleeping.”

In the future, Charlie Chaplin and I would stop late at night deep into the road trip, and fuck. Whilst everyone else was asleep, we’d sneak out of the car and go roll about in the dirt, with the snakes pouring over us and into us, at every opportunity. Short men tend to have outrageously big dicks. Charlie Chaplin would look at me with those incredible eyes of his; he’d somersault backward, trip over his suitcase, and rip open his pants until I couldn’t control my desire for him a moment longer. In the future Charlie Chaplin and I would watch countless dawns in the desert and feed each other wild berries, painting each other’s lips with them, slipping them slowly into each other’s assholes somewhere deep into Bavaria, just outside Munich.  In the future Charlie Chaplin would put his moustache between my legs and knicker lace and make me loose control, and in the future Charlie Chaplin would give me an emerald necklace, and in the future Charlie Chaplin would write our names in the sand as the sea washed in, and in the future I would be the future Mrs. Charles Chaplin and Baby would officiate the wedding. But for now, I offered Charlie Chaplin a ride and he accepted, sliding in alongside the Catholic missionaries, silently.

I turned the keys in the engine and the car started up again, manifest destiny gliding onward into the inky night of new situations. I killed the headlights. I turned off the radio; the stars on their dimmer switch went out, and the sun, oversleeping, did not rise. In absolute darkness and absolute quiet we went—I think I fell asleep too—but in those circumstances it would be hard to tell.

For a little while we traveled on as ice skaters are wont to do across endless glassy lakes, cold cold cold as only the desert can be at night; and I felt Charlie Chaplin’s hand reach for my shoulder and his emotions bleed all over me, pour down my chest, saturate my gown, pool at my feet.

“You know Charlie,” I said, “We’re a lot alike.”

Charlie Chaplin was the biggest star in the world, the only man more famous than him was Hitler; and girl, face it, that bitch mopped the look. The moustache, the parting in the hair, the touch of kohl, that maniacal glint in the eye, please. Guilty as charged. Charlie Chaplin invented celebrities. Charlie Chaplin invented fame. Charlie Chaplin invented money and success and critical reception. Before him there was nothing but poets starving to death in their garrets and actresses rotting from need of material and artists choking on their paintbrushes, so badly repressed was their lust. Before him culture was a sandstorm, a drought, and he was a raindrop moistening the cracked skin of the world, a teardrop from Christ’s own eye.

“We’re both exiles, Charlie,” I whispered.

I had already fallen in love with him. He was a homeless punk like me, a wandering Jew—discontinuations, excommunications, the end of a line that has no end; purgatory, even, had closed its doors to us. All we had was the nothingness around us, the giant lizard of a pitch-black night flicking its gruesome tongue somewhere ahead, nox infinita. Maybe we were a car full of corpses, I don’t know.

Then!

We hit a ditch, or a dip in the road, or a stone, or an animal, or the edge of a cliff, or the Eiffel Tower, or a Doris Day record, or five o’clock in the afternoon. We collided with something, and it sent us spinning. A Victorian tea set shattered, cupboard doors flew open, maids fell to their knees in prayer, and the grandfather clock split right down the middle. Our car overturned midair, we were bound for a bad end, we rode a rollercoaster loop-the-loop, we hadn’t bought a ticket, bolts on the wooden structure came lose, and we all screamed awake and hit the ground. Golden coins showered us, shattering our windscreen and waking up the dog, fracturing bones severely in some cases, spraining ankles, tearing ligaments, setting off the car alarm like suicide bombers in Baghdad during the last war—no the one before that, no the one before that, no the one before that. We were spilt like a deck of cards drunkenly dealt at a séance and scattered across the vinyl floor of a discount kitchen supply store. Dazed.  Cartoon budgerigars tweeting in circles above our heads. Next! Next! Next! Move along, there’s nothing to see here.

The sun rose and poured in through the empty eye sockets of the missionaries (their sunglasses misplaced in the commotion of a car wreck) illuminating the scene for us. Thackeray turned to look behind him, found himself behind everyone, searched his pocket for a light, remembered not to smoke near Baby so stuck his hands in his pants instead. Lying, sprawled awkwardly, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle rammed into the wrong picture, Baby and I and Charlie Chaplin and the Catholic missionaries were encircled by Thackeray’s dewy dawn footsteps.

“I have the worst hangover,” he said. “Really, the worst.”

He coughed, holding his balls. No one responded to him. Somewhere not too far away, or maybe so far away we were only hearing the echo of its death, an egg was frying sunny side up. (I’ve always been suspicious of eggs. What if someone were to decide to split me open like a roe and harvest me? It could happen).

“And what makes it worse,” Thackeray continued, “Is that I am seemingly pointless. Does anyone know? Can anyone tell me what my dramatic function in this narrative is? Something to do with my mother, I suppose.”

“Just be grateful you have an opposable name,” Mercy grumbled like Frankenstein’s monster.

“Dr. Frankenstein’s monster to you,” said Charity.

Charlie Chaplin produced a dialogue card that simply read, “EXACTLY!”

Baby is such a late sleeper. She practically missed the whole thing (she’d been up late reading Vile Bodies so I forgave her). Coming into consciousness, as one late to breakfast arrives in the kitchen just in time to catch the tail end of the conversation; Baby took in a casual scan of the scene just as she would have plucked a slice of toast from the toast rack, and felt the atmosphere. Choosing not to speak until she had a clearer idea of the situation (Baby’s so pragmatic!), she attended to her silk dressing gown, making sure her ample pin-up cleavage wasn’t too exposed, but obviously not too disguised either. A woman has to work her assets, don’t she? Los Angeles Los Angeles Los Angeles. Baby saw that she’d walked in on something nasty and chose, honorably, to do something about it. With a bow in her hair and her best doped-up Shirley Temple intonation she gasped, “Gee Mister! Say, aren’t you Charlie Chaplin?”

__________

 

La JohnJoseph is a writer and performer, Dazed calls one of the “literary rebels you need to know.” Educated by the Christian Brothers in Liverpool, he lived in post-Thatcher council estate splendor until her early teens. She earned a BA in American Studies & Art History between King’s College London and the University of California, Berkeley, then an MA in Scenography from Central St Martins. A protege of New York legend Penny Arcade, her performance work thus far has taken him has taken him across North and South America, Europe and into the Middle East; from The Royal Opera House to the San Francisco MoMA, from Dixon Place (New York) to The Southbank Centre, from The Schwules Museum to The Bristol Old Vic, from Bios (Athens) to La Java (Paris) and most recently the Museum of Contemporary Art (Rio de Janeiro).

The author of five ensemble pieces, three solo plays and a libretto, his memoir play “Boy in a Dress” was critically acclaimed at the Edinburgh Fringe and went on to enjoy a sold-out UK tour in 2013. In 2014 she played the Duchess of Malfi (one of the most iconic roles in English drama) to overwhelmingly positive reviews, and performed at the private view for “David Bowie Is….” at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, with his band Alexander Geist.  “Everything Must Go”, her debut novel was nominated for both a LAMBDA Literary award for best Trans Fiction and the Polari First Book Prize. A contributing blogger for The Independent, The Guardian and The Huffington Post, his writings have also appeared in Out There, Attitude, Next, Parterre de Rois, and the ‘zines Birdsong, Fat Zine, and P.S. I LOVE YOU, she keeps a blog at www.boyfriendrobotique.blogspot.com

Tom Moore works with Lost History & Found Flowers, Low Spectacle & High Fashion, New Monsters & Old Hollywood, True Crime & False Lashes, Fresh Guts & Worn Clichés, Breaking Hearts & Accelerating BPM. Drawing is séance. Film is spell casting.
They have exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery and the ICA. Their films have been screened at London Independent Film Festival and Donau Festival. And they sing with The Eyelashes.
www.tommoore.eu

 

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