Flowers of Evil

Nederlands: Public domain: Portrait de Jeanne ...

Nederlands: Public domain: Portrait de Jeanne Duval par Charles Baudelaire, 1850 Jeanne Duval licence : Publiek domein author: Charles Baudelaire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Always be a poet, even in prose.” – Charles Baudelaire

He was young and wealthy. Only 21 and the inheritor of large fortune, the young man lived in opulence on the Isle St. Louis in France. He was ready to find his place in the world and become a proud member of the elite. And then he met a women.

Her name was Jeanne. He was also young, but not nearly so naive. She’d just arrived from Haiti and had started work as a cabaret girl. In a smoke filled club at the seedy end of the Champs Elysees, she sang a song, risque in nature. In the audience sat young Charles. He was smitten with her.

She was nothing like the kind of woman he was supposed to fall in love with. She was not of a landed family, she did not care for equestrian sports. She possibly did not know the proper order of eating utensils on a table setting. But no matter, she was ravishing. The next day, Charles sat in his carriage and watched the delivery boy give her a bouquet of red roses. This was their beginning.

His friends were horrified. Many pleaded with him for reason, no doubt, but he could find nothing better to invest his fortune in than her happiness. He was prepared to give her anything she could ever want, as any love-struck man would do. And so he began to frequent that dark part of the city where brothels and opium dens lined streets filled with scoundrels and harlots.

He stood out like the proverbial sore thumb – a well-dressed and well-heeled man cavorting with patrons of back-street bars. Instead of trying to elevate his dear love’s state, he preferred to meet her down at her own.

His poetry, already sentimentally dark, began to turn like a decaying flower into something much more striking. And like a flower withers and dies, his poetry remained in its decay, its beauty magnified. His were hymns sang to sorrow and death. He once said, “I can barely conceive of a beauty in which there is no melancholy.” That melancholy, that realization that beauty has a darker nature, helped him to pen Les Fleurs du Mal, widely known as one of the greatest works of poetry ever written.

And of Jeanne? She was his constant companion, his ravenous, biting muse. Illiterate though she was, she would sit and listen as he read his poetry for her, then yawn and raise a foot for him to kiss. He would often position her in the sunlight and draw every curve of her body, his pencil practicing in place of his hands. Below one of his most intricate sketchings of her, he wrote the following inscription, “Quaerens quem devouret.” It translates as: “Seeking whom to devour.”

Jeanne introduced him to opium. They tore their lives down together. They fought. She spent his money with abandon. And yet, he needed her. When his money was gone, she sold every last thing he owned. She began having affairs with his friends, and even sold herself on the street. But Charles couldn’t get out of her spell.

At last she left him, a broken, drug afflicted man. He lived out his life in the shadow of her absence. He even paid her expenses as she lay sick and dying. He never got that first taste of bitter, anguishing, delusional love out of his heart.

Some say she introduced Baudelaire to the animistic and pagan religions of her native Haiti. There are rumors that she was some kind of enchantress, casting a spell on the good looking man in the back row, damning him to a life in her hold. But in the end, whether enchanted by spells or by beauty, the addiction is the same, is it not?

”The man who, from the beginning of his life, has been bathed at length in the soft atmosphere of a woman, in the smell of her hands, of her bosom, of her knees, of her hair, of her supple and floating clothes, … has contracted from this contact a tender skin and a distinct accent, a kind of androgyny without which the harshest and most masculine genius remains, as far as perfection in art is concerned, an incomplete being.”

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), French poet, critic. Artificial Paradise, An Opium-eater, VII. Childhood Sorrows (1860). On men who have been raised by women.

The Flavor of Life

meat and knifeThe man was born into the palm of luxury – literally.  It’s said he once could fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Born prematurely, he suffered through acute illness and complications just to live. But no one could ever say he didn’t appreciate the flavor of life.

Youth brought him the status that rich parents always bring. He was smart and sociable, but a little odd.  Perhaps his early birth had caused obstacles that would haunt him for life, his parents wondered. But to their amazement, he was a studious young man, compensating for any setbacks he might have suffered with an uncanny intellect and social affability, even if he had few friends. Their proudest moment was when their son was accepted to a PhD program in France. That year, Issei traveled from his home in Japan, to study literature at the Sorbonne.

Four years of study had made him a favorite of the faculty, and earned him respect among his student acquaintances. One student in particular made his heart flutter. What a beautiful name for such a beautiful face – Renee. Issei asked her if she’d like to have dinner with him. It was a huge risk, one he knew he had no right to take, for whatever benefits money and intelligence had brought him, it’s wasn’t enough to deserve her company. She was beautiful. He still considered himself a weak, ugly, inadequate little man.

But she’d said yes!

Renee arrived at his home that evening for some wine, a good meal, and an evening of poetry translation. The talk was mechanical if not pleasant, and soon Issei had convinced her to do what she most feared to do for him – recite her translations of German poetry. She was timid, blushed, but finally began to speak. Her voice was beautiful, built on many layers of femininity and grace, and her voice continued to echo in his house for a few seconds after he’d shot her in the neck with a rifle.

Issei’s dream for her wasn’t to bed her down, or make her his wife. He wanted to eat her.

Taking a few hours to first have sex with his dead victim, and perhaps build up an appetite, he decided he would begin with her buttocks and thighs. They proved terribly difficult to cut away from the bone, so he left to buy a sharper butcher knife. He was surprised at the way raw human fat looked, and more surprised at the taste. He feasted on Renee for two days until, satiated, he took what remained of her to a local river, to dump her in.  But he was weak, and not good at these things. Someone spotted him.

He was arrested by the French police and they quickly began their investigation. How could a man devour another human in just two days, they wondered? There was hardly anything left on the woman’s bones. They found their answer in his refrigerator. He’d packed her up nicely in the finest cuts, and stored her away.

His wealthy father was devastated, but determined neither he nor his son would lose face.  He hired the best defense attorneys to defend his son, but they never made it to trial. Issei was held for two years before the authorities finally declared him insane, and sent him to a mental institution.

It was in that institution that Issei really began to become the man he’d always dreamed of being. He was visited by an author from his home country who interviewed him about his account of what had happened. When the story was published, in an odd way that sick stories often do, he became an instant celebrity.

The French authorities didn’t care for the attention, or the scrutiny of their legal system. They ordered Issei be extradited back to Japan.  When he arrived, Japanese police immediately took him to Matsuzawa hospital, where the attending psychologists found him sane, determining that his cannibalism was the result of sexual perversion, not some underlying mental illness.

It seemed Issei would be finally tried for his crime. However, the requests by Japanese court official to obtain the original documents from the French were denied, the French citing that the case had already been dropped in France, and therefore, the documents were secret and could not be released. Having nothing with which to prosecute Issei, he was discharged from the hospital, a free man.

Issei became a guest lecturer and commentator, and for a time wrote the most poignant restaurant reviews for a well-known magazine. He even tried his hand as a movie actor. He now lives a quiet life, sometimes starring in documentaries, sometimes earning welfare benefits, and providing constant inspiration for copycat killers and horror writers across the globe.

Read more about Issei Sagawa here.

A Requiem of Dreams

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor...

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor with Alzheimer’s disease. Notable is the “shrink” that has occurred in Alzheimer’s disease; the brain was decreased in size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us dream while we sleep. For some, it’s reason to speculate on the possibility of spiritual communication, a type of assisted second sight. Others interpret dreams like tea leaves, hoping to divine the future. Some consider dreaming a process where our brains exercise, while others suppose it’s a cleaning of memories.

For not a few people, dreams can become haunting, troubling, and even terrifying. We’ve all probably witnessed friends, spouses and children twitch and turn, kick and jerk, and occasionally scream out in their sleep. We wonder what they could be seeing, and who – or what – might be visiting them in the night. Perhaps we’ve woken in panic ourselves, screaming as we open our eyes.

Dreams remain a mystery, nightmares the most mysterious. But some think nightmares are no mystery at all.

In research published in 2010 in the Journal of Neurology, nightmares were, in many cases, found to be warning signs. In many ways they are premonitions. The researchers asserted that violent dreams were often a precursor to dementia.

Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s don’t necessarily sneak up on a person, but can begin decades before the most obvious symptoms appear. The scientists are convinced that violent nightmares are sometimes the beginnings of brain disorders.

This may itself be an exercise in speculation, but many doctors and researchers have associated dreams with medical conditions.

If this research holds true, some of us are carrying a little future insanity around inside.

Part 9 – The End

English: Stephen Road - Beacon Road

English: Stephen Road – Beacon Road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Berta knew it was because of the letter.

She’d gotten the call at her office no more than an hour after Franklin had left for school. She recognized the panic, and allowed it to rush through her like a wildfire. She couldn’t stop it if she’d wanted to.

It wasn’t unexpected. Franklin had been breaking down for a year now. But the letter… they hadn’t expected the letter.

The steering wheel was hot when she got in the car. It wasn’t even noon and the heat was blistering. She sat there for a long moment and wondered what she would ever do with her life now.

She remembered the night when Stephen had attacked him. She’d rushed to the hospital knowing that this had been her fault. She didn’t know why she’d done it, why she’d lied to Stephen. Was she that petty, that insecure that she feared her husband helping a young, lost girl?

Yes, she knew she was. But she had never wanted this.

Stephen had been hiding in his car when Franklin and Crystal got in. They hadn’t even noticed him until they’d left the parking lot. Franklin had heard a voice from the back seat: “Drive.”

They’d driven down to the river where they’d parked. Stephen had a hold of Crystal’s hair as they drove, the knife pressed into her throat. Stephen told Franklin to get out of the car.

Stephen locked the doors. Franklin watched as he pulled Crystal by the hair over her seat and into the back, with him. She pushed away, cowering with her knees up to her chest.

Stephen looked at Franklin through the glass.

He said he was going to rape her, and Franklin would have to watch. He was going to reclaim what was his.

They say that the memories of war remain real in the mind of the soldier. Those distant dreams become present nightmares. Often Franklin would wake up in the night and hide behind the door, like he was waiting for someone to burst through from the other side. Once she had found him in the bathtub, naked and dry, crying and pulling at his eyes. But those were all just little steps on the way to madness.

Stephen tore at her clothes and pushed himself between his legs. Franklin was frozen, but just for a moment. And then the war came back to him. Not the bullets or the fear, only the rage. He smashed the window with his fists and grabbed Stephen. One hand in his hair, one hand clutching his jacket. And he pulled the boy from the car, through the window, across the shattered glass, tearing his face and neck until the blood covered him and ran down Franklin’s wrists.

Stephen lay dying. Crystal was silent, dreaming in her shock and unable to move. Franklin looked down at what he’d done, this life that was now in his hands. And he’d told her, told Berta, that’s when everything changed.

He held the artery shut. It felt like he was choking the boy, but he stopped the blood. He’d done it for a friend in Afghanistan, a friend he’d saved who died on the transport to the field medic when the truck he was in ran over an IED. Franklin didn’t see Stephen, he saw Manny. And there, in the park, just the two of them in the dark, Franklin saved Stephen’s life.

Berta met them at the hospital. It was chaos.

There were doctors, police, a whirlwind of commotion. She found him, standing in the corner of the room checking his pockets again and again. In the scuffle, Franklin had lost the ring he wore on his little finger. A boy lay dying, his student hysterical, parents of two children asking, no, demanding an explanation, threats of lawsuits, screams, all Franklin could do was look frantically around for his lost ring.

That was a year ago. Stephen had suffered mild brain damage from the concussion and extensive loss of blood. He would never play football again. He was also charged with attempted rape.

Crystal became withdrawn. She never went to visit Franklin again. She stopped attending rehearsal, and eventually dropped out of school.

Franklin was on the mend – both physically and psychologically – when Stephen committed suicide. Franklin quit going to his therapy group. He would brood about things he should have done, recite all the mistakes he had ever made. Berta had endured it, but she didn’t know why. Perhaps seeing him with another man’s blood on his hands made her realize that he was strong. A man who could protect her. Maybe she felt proud of it. She didn’t quite know.

And then the letter arrived. It was there on the table when she’d gotten home last night. A dirty, thick envelop with a dozen stamps from faraway places. It was addressed to him, but only his first name was written.

She’d asked him about it, and he said he knew it was there. He didn’t want to open it for some reason. He was angry all night.

In the morning when she came down for coffee he was already dressed. He looked nice, like he’d really paid attention to his grooming and attire. He hadn’t look that nice in so long. He gave her a kiss on the cheek, grabbed his briefcase and headed out.

She saw the letter on the table. It had been opened.

She drove out of the parking lot and headed home. There was no need to go to the hospital. She knew he was dead, even if the officer on the phone had only said she needed to hurry. She would go home and see what was left of her life, see if there was anything there or in this world left for her.

The letter had said someone he used to know in Afghanistan, a girl, had been killed.

She knew Franklin was dead, and she knew why.

Because he couldn’t save anybody.

It Ends Tomorrow

I’ve decided. This story which is now eight parts will end tomorrow. I do not know what will happen, I do not know how long it will be. But it will end.

I wonder how many of you have similar writing experiences. I know the old argument between plotters and pansters, but I’m looking for something a little different. No matter how well you plot the story will always take twists and turns you’re not expecting. By the same token, no matter how much you “wing it” eventually the outline of the story, plot turns, and maybe even the ending will appear before you arrive there.

What I’d like to know is if you’ve ever experienced a story write itself. Have you ever written anything with no destination, no forethought, and no idea where it would go?

I’m going to see if this all works tomorrow sometime. It will either wrap itself up nicely, or be a glorious disaster.

Part 7

A Highschool American Football game

A Highschool American Football game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It had taken four months for her love to die. Four months of watching him avoid the girl, four months of his absence while he thought about her, four months of her name in their bed. It became his obsession, this girl who he had to avoid at risk of her safety. This girl who he trained to act out on the stage the confidence and determination she lacked in herself. This girl who began to take her place in his thoughts.

He said it was innocent, it was nothing, it wasn’t what they had. And it wasn’t, not in most ways. But it was something, and innocence was a matter of degree and perspective.

Franklin was staying late. Of course, there were the play rehearsals, and those took time. But what wasn’t explained away was his focus on the girl, how he talked about her as if she was a part of their life, how he expressed his concern for her.

She’d come to school once, to surprise him, but mostly to see if he was really working. She was almost to his office when she heard a girl’s voice. She stopped. Finding a place behind the bend in the hall, she peered to the other side and watched this girl in his arms, laughing, and then their lips met.

He’d said that night they were rehearsing lines, but the love was dead by then.

So Berta decided to make everything stop.

She thought it would be the quickest way to end this, even if the girl would have to suffer. It would be a share of the suffering she herself had been feeling. The neglect, and anger, the loneliness. So she found Stephen after football practice. He was wiping the sweat away from his face, looking at her with concentration, as if he could see her eyes behind the sunglasses she wore. Dark, so he wouldn’t see her lie.

“Can I help you?” he asked her.

“I don’t know. I didn’t come here for that.”

“What did you come for, then?”

Her lips tightened. “Now listen here, you tell your little slut of a girlfriend to stay the hell away from my husband.”

She could see his smile fade like the haze of an October morning.

“What are you talking about,” he said, his voice cracking.

“I’m Mrs. Ray, and you know damn well what I’m talking about. If I ever find her lipstick on his shirt, or smell her perfume on his crotch again, I’m going to do what you should have done a long time ago.”

The words dying as they hung in the air, she turned and walked away. She didn’t give him time to respond. She knew he’d have no response anyway.

And so she couldn’t see how Stephen ripped his jersey from his chest, then the pads, and then ran inside the school.

Part 6

Part 6Franklin stood outside of the church, far enough to not be seen but close enough to watch every face that passed through the leaves hanging on the burnt summer branches as they walked up the stairs to where the funeral would soon take place. His throat was dry. He wanted to go in, to watch, to see what kind of people felt sorry such a person was gone. Dead. Aching in a new place or silent in forever, or what ever happened to people when they died. He wanted to see him, his cold face in the box.

But he knew he wasn’t welcome.

He was not a murderer, not in this country. And if war wasn’t murder then he had no guilt to carry, even though he did, every day. And yet, this man, this boy, had died because of him. Because of what he’d said.

He’d often considered suicide himself. Not in the way Stephen had gone about it. There were better ways. A suicide, he thought, was not a demonstration. Those times when the death came in grand fashion were crimes committed by people who didn’t really want to die. Their suicides were accidents. Stephen hadn’t really wanted to die, either.

August seared itself into his skin, and he scratched it away. Couldn’t go inside. People would whisper. They’d look at him and think that he’d made love to one of his students, say he’d driven a young man to a death inspired by heartbreak. Some of it might be true.

He wondered if Stephen’s face looked like it had that day he’d seen him standing outside his door. It seemed like a long time ago. In many ways it was. A lot had happened, some of it good, most of it bad. The bad started that day on the porch, he behind the screen and Stephen on the other side of it, the day Stephen had told him he’d just wanted to make sure which house they lived in. The day the son of a bitch said that he was entrusting Crystal’s safety with him. He had a sick way of keeping someone safe.

“So this is how I see it, Franklin,” he’d said, not even having respect enough to call him Mr. Ray, like the other students. “Her safety depends on what you do. So think about it. Your actions can help her, or hurt her. But things are probably the opposite of what you’re imagining.”

“Are you threatening me?” he’d asked Stephen.

“No. I’m not threatening you.”

“Then what are you saying?”

“I’m saying that if I see you with her, ‘helping her’ in the way you feel like you should, I’ll know you want her to feel pain.”

Franklin had told him to get the hell off of his property. He’d threatened to call the police. Stephen said that was also a good way for Crystal to get hurt. He’d said that anything Franklin did that he didn’t like, Crystal would be punished for.

It had terrified him.

The doors shut and the people stopped coming. There was no music inside the church, no sound but the passing traffic and the wind.

He wanted to see, to make sure he was dead.

Franklin stepped from behind the tree where he’d been standing, trying to look like he belonged there, and walked up the steps. The air was cool inside.

There were people near the front, and empty rows of chairs in the back. He sat down in one. He didn’t want to stay long.

They might say it was his fault, if they knew what had really happened. But they would have done it themselves if they’d seen what Franklin had seen.

Stephen’s casket was in the front, closed. Maybe the bullet had disfigured him too badly to fix.

Franklin had once thought he could save her. That was before he’d lost his way.

Part 5

DoorBerta was home by five, and had just started dinner when Franklin came through the door looking tired. He was never this late, not on Wednesdays when there were no extracurricular activities to oversee. She had no reason to question him, though. He was a good man, scarred but healing, and they were making a new life for themselves far from the constant insecurity of military deployments and reassignments. It had worked out better than she had hoped.

He came to the table, pulled out a chair and sat down heavy.

“I didn’t plan for this,” he said.

She looked over her shoulder, trying not to look too concerned. Looking concerned was a trigger, she’d learned. Just like putting away dishes, the pop of a light bulb’s death, the dog rushing down the stairs.

“What didn’t you plan for?” she asked.

“I just wanted to teach. But I can see that probably isn’t possible.”

Now she looked concerned. “Why? Did something happen at school?” Her tone gave away the worry that had blossomed in her mind.

“One of the students came to my office today. She’s in a lot of trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?” She brought two plates and set them on the table.

“She’s so talented. But you know how kids are. Always concerned with perceptions and hormones. They lack perspective. Anyway, apparently she’s involved with the biggest loser in the senior class.”

“Loser?”

“Well, not loser really. Not on paper anyway. Stephen Murphy. He’s the all-American kid, football, handsome, kind of a bully.”

“Okay? Doesn’t sound different than most other high school stories.”

“Yeah. But it’s just on paper with this guy. Rob said he threatened him.”

“Rob, the social studies teacher?”

“Yeah. He said that he made what he thought was an innocent joke about some of the silly answers he saw on one of the tests, and that afternoon he saw the guy hanging out in the parking lot by his car. He went up to open the door, said hi and all, and the kid wouldn’t move. He was leaning against the driver’s side door, smoking and smiling. He said “Those were some funny jokes,” and then he put his cigarette out on his hood.”

“Oh my God! Did Rob call the police?”

“No. I think he was afraid.”

Berta returned with two bowls. “He should have done something.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one thing, the kid knows that he’s important to the school, and to the teachers who will probably protect him. He’s really brutal on the field. It just wasn’t worth it for him. But I know he doesn’t make jokes about the student’s answers anymore. I’m sure the kid’s probably pulling A’s now.”

“And what about the girl?”

Franklin rubbed his brow, and she could see the blood tightening in his veins.

“I think he hurts her. Physically.”

Berta put her spoon down, paused, and swallowed.

“Did she tell you this?”

Franklin shook his head. “Of course not. Otherwise I’d be talking to the police instead of you. But she was pretty shaken up. She said that he’d made her do things she was uncomfortable with.”

“What brought this conversation on?” As much as she didn’t want to admit it, she felt the sting of being jealous at this girl expressing intimacy with him.

“She said she couldn’t be in the musical because he told her she couldn’t.”

“Is that all?”

“And she has a bruise. On her wrists, like the shape of a hand.”

“Franklin…”

“I’ve got to help her, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”

“Well, if anything happens you’ve got to stand up to him.”

“I know.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

They both jumped a little as the doorbell buzzed though the stale, fall air.

They exchanged a look, as if checking to see if the other was expecting anyone, until Franklin placed his napkin on the table and went to see who it was.

He opened the door and saw Stephen Murphy standing on the other side of the screen, smiling.

Part 3

fist 1High school was a place of forgetting and of unbecoming. Stephen had attended five schools in eight years, and had managed not to make a single lasting friend. He blamed his parents, his life, his circumstance, but never himself. He was a young man comprised of parts; the places he lived, the men who’d hurt him, the women who hadn’t given him the ability to see their value, and the hopelessness that comes from being slow. He wasn’t slow, he told himself. It hadn’t been his fault that he’d repeated first grade. It was a matter of starting late. He’d started everything late.

He was the third child of a loveless home. His older brother Reggie had joined the Army before he’d finished high school, and became a hero in his absence. His sister Nikki had a way with men, barely a woman herself, and gave little appreciation to the image she was instilling in her younger brother. She’d had no regard for the restrictions of society and good grace, and instead had embarked upon nightly journeys through the taverns and truck stops of their small town, bringing home strays to make them beg for her. The noises through the wall from her room to his often sounded like a confrontation of dogs. When the parents were away, she’d lock in him his room, his only entertainment being the sounds of laughter, grunting, screaming, and then the drunken requests for him to do something funny, or painful for the sake of entertaining the unknown guests. Stephen observed all of this, and saw what a woman would do for a man’s attention. He learned the lessons she taught very well.

His father had broken him. His face had become numb to the fingers that after years had become fists, and he learned to retaliate by hating him. The more the man would strike him, the more he would wish the most horrific death upon him. Stephen didn’t know that a son was supposed to love his father, but he did know that a son should follow in a father’s footsteps. What hurt him more than his own abuse was watching his mother, as he peeked from behind a chair or a cracked door, while the old man would lay into her, pulling her hair so hard sometimes it made a tearing sound like a ripping burlap, and her cries sounded like they were coming from the lowest, deepest part of her. This, too, he observed, and learned that despite harsh treatment, a good woman took it and stayed.

In high school he had unbecome. He didn’t want to be the poor kid a grade behind. He had anger. He had retribution to bestow. He joined the football team and no one could hit harder than he could, run faster than he could, or play with such brutality. His violence made him a star.

But a girl had made him question once. She was pretty, and had smiled at him. He’d asked her name and that night had said it a thousand times to himself, wondering if she’d say yes if he asked her for a date. He felt vulnerable, weak, and he began to loath her. Loathing felt a lot like love, and somewhere the two got mixed up inside him until he couldn’t tell them apart.

There were things she did that made him feel like he was flying, and things she did that made him feel like he wanted to kill her.

And then there was Franklin.