CARTON 2 / FOLDER 6 [CONTAINS ROLL 27 (UNNUMBERED NEGS.)]
The back of her dress still gaping, The Baroness returns to her room in as stately a manner as she can uphold. (It requires a strong neck, a conflagration between the rhomboids major and minor, unrequited love.) Securing the door behind her, she draws the floor-length curtains, locates the handbag that accompanied her last night out, retrieves a cigarette with a slightly droopy end, and retires—as Frank might say—much as she might on any given weekday evening. Her own bed is unmade, the sheets wadded away from the severely indented pillows as if in a fit of kicking.
It is some time before The Baroness is cognizant of the fact that she has been watching how shadows and glare dissolve, one into the other, on her ceiling. She shields her face from these various unwelcome awarenesses, using the hand from which her cigarette’s interjections would typically smolder. The Baroness is an adherent of that philosophy which argues that it is cigarettes which make society not just palatable but possible. Cigarettes are a prosthetic aggression, according to The Baroness. She has been known (or rumored) to demarcate territory for herself within a crowded nightclub with little more than a pivotal ashing. The Baroness has this evening only smoked the one cigarette, but she has smoked it to the quick. She has since thrown the fag end to the foot of the bed. Smoking alone is hardly smoking at all.
Nica, prone, raises her knees and grimaces, her lips almost forming a rectangle. She shuts her eyes very tight. The contortions of her face are those of someone—a woman—plunged without warning but with plenty of reason into weeping. But The Baroness cannot manufacture any tears. She can only put herself at the mercy of her own torridity, and her knees convulse as though to double her over (and she would, if she were perched on heels of the requisite height), as though laboring to breathe through the density of those secretions that will not secrete.
The Baroness, what does she long for? Her posture is one of longing. A dinner party, but, no, not a dinner party so much as a rescue. She pictures the table like an acre, a seat pulled out for every man she’s ever allowed to live within the scope of her life. Her terribly exciting existence. Edward, John and Arthur, Bean, Earl, Al, Rodney, Jules, too. And Charles, Charles certainly, and T. S. second to no one. Not anymore. She would carve the roast for them, the chasteness of the fork and knife at work by her hands, her gentlemen’s gold teeth phosphorescent behind the green of white wine canted in toasts, all of them snug in cardigans and slippers, how absurd but how… moving. She would have invested nothing in trimmings or sides. She would have dismissed Frank, consented to an apron, cleaned out the pantry. A feast of pancakes and roast beef for my men only. I’m giving away every one of my provisions. I am taking up the slack in your bellies, my rank and file, regardless of either your talent or your merit. So you won’t be seduced into staying. It being more important to me that you some day return. Do something, achieve a difference that eludes my involvement and justifies my meddlings. This is your viaticum.
This Sunday, however, has been a dry salad. Raw and bitter and precursory.
Nica expects that she should probably draw a breath. She raises her face from the mattress, freeing her nose. She tries to shake her hair, stringy from the worrying of her fingers, the ends gnawed and splitting into her eyes, but is unsuccessful. Her stomach growls. She rolls with her elbows, inching farther up on her torso. She feels her buttocks tighten against her slip. She examines her fingernails, flicks here and there at a point that could stand some rounding, some extra resilience. She reaches a bottle of polish out of her nightstand. She removes the little brush, appraises the shade of red, finds it globby, lacking.
Nica vows to be better than this. She finds her robe in the slapdash knotting of her sheets, she finds her cigarette box underneath the white cowboy hat (One of T. S.’s? The Baroness quickly disregards her own wondering, for now she is fixated on her own freedom, not the inevitable wayfaring of others, enough of that for now) that must have fallen, it must have, from where it had been slung over the bureau mirror’s cresting (bunches of grapes and sheafs of wheat), she finds and pauses at the bell that, if she leans on its cord with just the right amount of impatience—self-directed, mind you—will deposit Frank at her doorstep. He will be carrying an afternoon tea’s tray before him, vaseless but laden with Horlicks, Branston Pickle, 2 slices of zwieback and 3 white handkerchiefs, cleaned and pressed, no matter the hour. (How well Frank can ape a docility; what an expert biloquist he has made of himself. In his curtness, the United Press is incessantly reporting on growing threats, assassinations, the frost in Paraná, the cynicism of Modern life.) Instead, The Baroness rises and seats herself at her desk, crosses her legs as though she did have company, and begins to paint her nails anyway. Already, she exhales to herself, she feels better.
The Baroness keeps her record collection in her room. It is not extensive, her collection, and she sold many of her most collectible items (78s, many of them played only once, objects of research) to some basement-dwelling completist several years ago. The Baroness, like a disk jockey, is interested primarily in rotation. She does not care for baubles, but she fails to understand how so many can confuse newfangledness with Modernity. She has bought every one of Monk’s records, even the ones that are just repackagings of older sessions, purchasing each one as soon as it becomes available in the Times Square shops. Some value is added with each new acquisition and each next culling.
With minor-keyed crepitation, The Baroness reaches from her desk to remove one of Monk’s records (a classic? some day, assuredly…) from its protective brown-bag and cellophane sleeve. Pinching the disc’s edge, she is careful not to smudge or chip her freshly coated nails. Ah, and the record itself—she has it balanced and scarcely spinning on her index fingertip, filling as it does the spindle-hole labeled for Side B’s punctuation—despite all its playings, all the accreted friction, all those molecules liberated by the stylus, the record itself is pristine. The record is cut the same way in which it is enjoyed, or by means that are similar enough to suggest a symmetry. That what you are hearing is exactly what would have been heard if you had been present, had you been present, had you been witness. And if only so, you need not depend upon a tablet of wax, however well-produced, to verify your history with those modulations. Still, not one iota of this record’s time is out of skew. It is my time.
Her fresh, unlit cigarette bows The Baroness’ mouth, but it neither improves nor drags her lips towards a frown. Until she spies it: an insensate thumbprint on the black. Yet it must be hers, not Frank’s, never— a print caught in the whorls of the phonograph plastic itself. Whorls the color of her skin’s stamped oils caught within those occasionally prismatic gramophone whorls. The Baroness looks closely, reaches towards her brassiere so she may retrieve a silk. Stumbled halfway to her doorway, intent on the dudgeon she will unleash down the hall as she advances on Frank’s refuge, and with her saliva-damped cloth bunched and poised to wipe, Nica looks more closely. And that is when The Baroness is disarmed.
Time wound with such exactitude. Time like a gossamer of caramel wound around itself so stickily, yet so discretely. So that, with the winding, it turns around more than itself. And in this, my little smut of time, you are so fortunate. Within these harmonies you’ve turned the scroll of all that I have touched with transformation. The long and would-be papyrus of that mass. Its ur-account. This is my seal. This is my executor. This smear is my legitimacy. This fossil is now at liberty to paraphrase itself forever, in no way is it doomed to repeat itself, herself, not so long as we, T. S., you and I, struggle together through all the things that are ageless.