Well, hurry inside, if you want to participate in the little side party I am hosting in the library. Of course, there are plenty of refreshments in the rest of the house; and my wife will be happy to give you a tour of our recent purchases in Mexico, if you are so inclined. You will probably see a lot of Jalisco pottery, Mayan art pieces, and even a Oaxacan death mask, if you follow the drinks over to the far side of our unpretentious abode.
Perhaps, you want to experience something a little more gut wrenching, before the kitchen staff rings the supper bell; or perhaps, just a bit of an upset stomach that would necessitate another martini to calm your nerves and to set your mind elsewhere. Either way, it would be well advised before you dive into the foie gras and the cassoulet, do you not agree? If you wait until after supper to participate in my little ‘side party,’ then your weak stomach and aggravated nerves may be pushed over the limit. Really, it would be a crying shame if I am forced to send you a cleaning bill for the mess you leave on our carpet.
Therefore, my friend, I urge you to come inside now, while a seat is still available. I have removed Manuel from the rest of the party staff, so there will be plenty of drinks and peanuts passed around the library while we hearty few indulge our little ‘side party.’ Also, if you are so inclined, then you will be free to light up in here. My wife will not allow tobacco in the rest of the house, but I insist that cigar and pipe smokers be allowed to enjoy libraries as such heavy, dark, and masculine rooms have been traditionally used.
Actually, truth be told, what I insist upon carries little weight, but I have posted a lookout just outside the library door. If my lovely wife should happen to come this way, then you will have plenty of notice to extinguish your flames and to open the window that faces our Japanese garden.
I know that I am speaking conspiratorially. I assure you nothing illegal or even immoral will be happening behind these closed doors. We shall participate in a bit of storytelling; that is all. I’ll be reciting the words; and, at first, you’ll be primarily a listener. As the minutes progress into hours, though, your vibrant imagination will start to fill in the gaps in my prose. Indeed, you may visualize whole scenes not included in my narrative. Characters come alive to the extent both the author and the listener breathe life into their nostrils, color their soft and dreamy eyes, add warmth to their cheeks, taste their candy lips, hear their sweet voices, and ultimately see in their own minds what the characters dream after midnight. Storytelling is not an escape. It is the act of creating a world in which we experience joy, heartbreak, or terror, not on our own terms actually, but as these emotions play themselves out in the lives of the characters we set loose. Together, we are the gods of this world; the consciences rooting for the good characters and condemning the bad; the judges laying down the laws, and if we should set aside the story before the last page then also the executioners.
No wonder there is so much ‘cloak and dagger.’ Really, if the partygoers outside of this library should learn that we are thinking ourselves ‘gods,’ then I imagine it will be only a matter of time before they call in the officious, white-suited men with the nets. So while there is nothing illegal or immoral intended, I must admit that we shall be playing with matches, looking for maudlin ghosts in our cigar and pipe smoke, entertaining in our liquor soaked minds what is too creepy, if not altogether mad, for polite company. We may burn down a wall or two; maybe see something we thought long dead; maybe be horrified, or at the very least disgusted; and when we leave here for supper, we may want to avoid one another’s eyes, as if looking down at our shoes somehow will ameliorate all that guilt we may feel for having indulged this dark tale. Conspirators whisper, because they know they are about to do something naughty. Well, let me make it clear right now. There will be times in this story when you will think that you must be naughty, if not altogether deranged, for not getting up off your plush, leather cushion, and leaving this smoke filled room for the happy gathering out there. You will think yourself mad, and you will be right. All you need is a brief reading of Greek mythology to know that the gods make Norman Bates look like a totally well adjusted, sane, conventional man. So if indeed we are the ‘gods’ in this story, then we each shall leave this fine library with a disconcerting tick in our ears and a soft whisper telling us that we can fly off the Brooklyn Bridge.
I am happy to see that I have not scared you off. Here is the leather seat that I have reserved for you. Admittedly, it is not as plush as I had suggested. It is actually a bit seedy. The cushion sags, and the arms look like they have been smeared with blood or vomit. Still, the drinks and the peanuts will be abundant enough; and if you give the story a chance to whisper dark mutterings into your ears, then you will be moved in a way that would not be possible frankly, if you had decided instead to party out there with everyone else. I may not know your face. So many people come and go at these parties I host, whenever I publish a story. Nevertheless, I know your secret heart, especially the valve or aorta that long ago had been darkened by a clammy touch from inside a shadow, or a sick cackle from behind a drawn curtain, or a whispered vulgarity that has remained with you all these years. I do not know the particulars, but I know that one way or another you lost your innocence about the time you came to realize that the FAA grounded Santa Claus and his reindeer for noncompliance with flight safety standards. You despair over the innocence that you have lost. So do all of us in this library. That is why we are here. We find a certain comfort in sharing most of our innermost fears with one another through stories like this one. Just now, I say ‘most,’ because you and I both know that there are some fears we hold so dear we never share. Those are the secrets we carry into our graves. Those old and sordid fears gnaw at our corpses along with the maggots and worms. When we have been returned to dust, they gnaw at our coffins and seep into the soil. Go to a graveyard some day. Look at the grey pall that descends over the earth like a burial shroud just before sunset. It is not there to cover up the bodies or the tombstones, but rather to hide those fears that are breeding like lice under the surface. Wander into that graveyard after dark, and those fears come alive.
Therefore, my friend, it really does not matter if the seat is poor, or the drinks are watery, because you are here to tap into fear. You know all too well you are not going to conquer it. You just want to caress it for a while, because deep down you know that what scares you, or horrifies you, or at least disgusts you for a moment in time, reminds you that in fact you are still alive. The dead do not experience horror. Only the kicking and the screaming folks do, and you may be counted among the latter, so long as you remain in this smoky library to the end of the story. How much you are still kicking and screaming afterwards, well, that is a whole other matter.
I mentioned before that you are about to embark upon a gut wrenching, sordid, perhaps even miserable experience. The reason is that this story will be truly horrifying, if you are horrified by how some people beat other people into the ground on the basis of their sex or race. Monsters, ghosts, and ghouls scare us sometimes. More often, they just amuse us. But crass sexism and racism will horrify us always, if that is we have a humane conscience. There are despicable scenes in this story. There are words that no human being should say to or even think about another human being. Should these scenes or words be censored, in order to facilitate a more polite and just society? No, because censorship in the end serves to perfect society by limiting a person’s capacity to be offended, or insulted, or horrified. What good is a ‘perfect society,’ if it is composed of men and women who have forgotten what evil is? What good is a museum about Jim Crow, if the people walking through the museum have no idea what words like ‘nigger’ and ‘coon’ actually meant to the African Americans who had to survive in Apartheid America? Therefore, this story can be brutal, because truly horror is brutal. It also can be hopeful, because there is goodness to the extent that a person has it in them to rise up against the injustices they view all about them.
One other point: I take some liberty with actual historical events within this story. The purpose is not to falsify history, but to develop the characters. I advise people to read history books, if they want to learn history. Here, we are focused on storytelling, which is really more akin to myth making. Stories often play fast and loose with the facts; but if they are insightful, then they can open our eyes to the deeper, mythical truth behind history. That is my purpose here. So please, friend, sit back. Strike a match, if you are so inclined. Nod for a martini. Then, when you have settled into your space, open your good soul to the women you are about to discover. They want you to get to know them over time, first as acquaintances, perhaps later on as friends. This is their story; and if you let them into your heart, then in time it can be yours as well.