The Paralyzing Perfume of Beauty (a novel)
Lynda, aka the Powdered Cat, all bones and gulping eyes, descends from her spiral tower to join the party. She's got baby teeth sewn into her slippers, like sequins!
Lady Dew, afloat in a cloud of gentleman suitors, peers across her turkey feather fan: Lynda, those baby blues of yours, they seem not to focus. They look through us or past us, as though seeing something the rest of us can't. (Ripples of laughter from the conservatory.)
Lynda: Last night a killer roamed outside this house.
The monitors all go dead.
Lester, a lecturer at University, working a cool white Italian suit and pale gray fedora. English Leather and tobacco breath. His trouser fly catches on the coffin handle.
Whatever has clung to his soul is busy probing between his toes, tentacles lovingly injecting their poisons.
—So whether or not you like her poetry matters not one jot to me. I think it's swell.
Mariabelle whispers from behind a gloved hand: Tell it to the judge.
The nocturnal mind of the house awakens. On the mantelpiece our absent Hostess has set out Mason jars packed with Valentines and hair-knots. Ancient tongues burble from the loudspeakers.
Lord Flamboreaux addresses the group. Would someone please tell me what good is it to survive with your cherry picker intact if you are a freak to the fairer sex? (That cruelest of riddles.)
The twelve discover envelopes under their dinner plates, each with confidential instructions.
What a fine mummery and mockery is this! scoffs Lady Vibrissa. This old planet no longer titillates.
Kit had been the good girl, the one they dragged before the aunts in Pittsburgh. Who never got her dresses mussed or her hair full of burrs or an F in conduct.
The gong is struck, the incense piped through the vents. A blotchy monk sails past the bay window, arms flapping like a stork.
Hotcha hotcha hotcha! blurts the Duke. Boy what a party!
Out in the topiary Corporal Meekins bids his charges sit on the mossy carpet. Stands with arms on hips.
Before starting the scavenger hunt, know that you are welcome here in Our Warm Braid of Happiness. He raises his hands above his head and transforms into a breadfruit tree. By morning they will all be dead.
Nancy shakes away the cobwebs, becomes herself once more, calm and sweet and pink—and curious.
She's a marine biologist, Llewelyn confides to his assigned partner, from a family of surgeons. If anyone's got the skinny it's her. They move single file to the calving barn, the longest walk they will ever take.
Mr. Hodges in the stables, his little finger circling Melinda's navel. That is, until Nurse Talbot swoops down from the rafters like an owl from hell, mouth pinched in a sphincter of disgust.
Outside, the guests assault the buffet like feral cats. Mama Deveaux's lasagna gets smeared on the lampshades. The piñatas crack open in unison....
Lying splayed out, helpless, receiving a saline-and-sugar solution intravenously, would be enough to depress most people, but not Charles.
My wife's all gristle and bone. But the meat on you darlin, it's bona fide. He says this not with words but by moving his eyes in complex patterns.
Lady Dew: Why sir I do believe you are pressing my two interior buttons. One, Deliverance; the other: Dig Here.
His is a mug that could curdle Christmas. As it is he will enjoy a lazy afterlife. (His closing thought: one of mother's rhubarb pies, crashing to the floor...)
The heart of the house is beginning to burp.
In the breakfast nook a rabbity woman in an electric blue hat summons the butler. Points indignantly at her crabmeat salad, then her bandaged throat.
If I don't get me a hand-picked husband on the auction block, I think I shall go mad...
Sharlene admires Lester's backside as he waddles down the hall engrossed in Volume II. That there's prime whistle bait, she whistles. Don't slobber on the pages.
Meanwhile in the conservatory Nurse Talbot tweezes the horrid magazine daintily between thumb and forefinger, disposing of it upon the hearth. Mother Goose time is hereby over, she spits.
Can you imagine what God will say when all those corpses come bobbing up out of the lake? Doc giggles. This is around the time the au pairs can be heard in the attic, sharpening their knives.
Flinging back the curtain, Mary Elizabeth and her unmentionables confront the assembly: Pucker up boys and girls cause God's gift to the South has crashed the party.
Hiram Kingsly wrestles with his suspenders, searing agony jangling through his entire nervous system. Not that he cares.
If you get thirsty, says Piper, suck on a button. It'll help you salivate.
By now they are without clothes unless you can call by the name of clothes the strings of feathers, fishes' skins and leaves, and daubs of black and red paint such as they have upon their glistening bodies. Their hair is black and shiny with fish oil and cut with a straight fringe across the forehead.
From behind the davenport Theodosia purrs: Yummy. I like it when you play doctor, doctor. What she fails to see is that as Harlan's right hand strokes her haunches, his left is producing a hypodermic syringe...
The servants, in their private languages, cheer the guests on. Snow falls in the foyer.
Annie awakens to blood-smeared faces. In the hall the glow-worms are set out and attended to. A hush settles over the fortress.
Nanette coos, Come on boys, I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree. Lozenges for everybody. Jackson covers his eyes with his paws and whimpers, for man is not the only creature to fear the unknown.
Tim—your glove! Suzette shrieks.
That's one way to sell a slice of ham, slurps the priest.
After cocktails those left alive assemble in the den. Madame Gardenia readies herself for her address.
With his last earthly breath, Benedict peers up at the coils of his murderess, his orbs nearly popping out of their sockets from the pressure. His alchemical talents are of course powerless to save him.
She licks off a shiny praline mustache with a kittenish swipe of her tongue. Me-ow.
Inside a dumb waiter, where she has been hiding, a maidservant produces a small pearl from her tear duct.
The survivors push their mattresses onto the porch and fan themselves to sleep, their hands moving even as they dream.
And all these lives lived simultaneously across the board.
Just then Flamboreaux charges out of the incinerator room dragging his kilts. Calling all dabblers in Natural Philosophy! Nothing perishes! There are only changes....
Lester so loved his verses.