The Future of Madelein
Madeleine lodged us in a tiny cubicle at the end of a corridor. Her establishment is all tidy and neat, but miniature. Madeleine's doll house, this hotel. At dawn, she rises and fixes a basic breakfast in the ground floor kitchenette. Scents of bacon and fried eggs waft through the building and shifts change at the reception desk, the weary loudly welcoming their alert replacements.
Madeleine takes note with gravity of the report submitted by the outgoing crew and updates the incomers with its details. Her make-up always fresh, her hair fluffy, her attire impeccable and stainless. Her sexuality harnessed by a prim-looking business suit, her lipstick an insinuated crimson.
Eli blinks at the sun and shields his eyes under a sinewy arm, flanked by two thick and raven eyebrows.
"They should pass a law." - he argues to no one in particular - "People ought to work by night and sleep throughout the day. Let the nocturnal be diurnal and vice versa."
The same sentence every tortured awakening. His ostentatious misery provokes contagious mirth in both of us. We go hysterical among the crumpled sheets, beating the shrunken pillows with our fists (his outsizing mine). At long last, Eli gets up and goes to shave and shower in the nude.
I am not embarrassed. Straddling the minuscule bath tub, I mutter:
"We are penniless."
"Yes, I am aware of it" - sighs Eli and whips the sink with lathered razor. He uses his fleshy backhand to wipe the frothy mirror. Pressing his nostrils upwards, ham-handed, he shaves the cobalt patches of his nascent beard and whiskers.
"I got myself a sucker for a backgammon match. He is from Iran. Was a Minister of labor or agriculture or something like that ..." - he hisses a curse and cleanses a pearl of blood from prominent chin.
"What else?" - I enquire offhandedly. I know Eli well. He is too calm.
"Listen," - he enthuses as though the idea just budded in his mind - "there is this Jewish cardiologist, filthy rich, Marc. He lives all by himself in a six-room apartment in the sixteenth arrondissement. I introduced him to this chick and now they are getting hitched."
I keep my peace, awaiting the dénouement. Eli eyes me slyly:
"I told him you are a genius and that we are planning a convention of Sephardim in Israel, sponsored by Itzhak Navon, the former president. It set him on fire."
I cross my legs and inspect closely a bloodied mole embedded in my thigh.
"What have you got there?" - enquires Eli - "Anyhow, this guy is loaded, I am telling you. We can easily fleece him for five grand or more for the consultancy we are planning on opening here, in Paris. Add to this my cousin's money and the dough from the dentist and that computer guy - and we are in business."
"If it survives your gambling" - I interject tranquilly.
"You are such a doomsayer!" - Eli fumes, banging the bathroom door behind him.
A minute later, smirking - "Remember the wife of the Sorbonne professor at yesterday's dinner?" - I nod - "She called me this morning. She wants to interview me for a WIZO newsletter, or some such. I told her the only way to quiz me is on my bed, in my hotel room. She laughed and said that this is how she conducts all her assignments anyhow." - marvels Eli - "So, take a walk, knock back some coffee, munch on a croissant or something."
There is a cramped restaurant on the intersection, up the street, opposite the Military Academy. Every afternoon, for months now, I eat my duck in garlic there. Sometimes, Eli and I adopt this mock Swedish accent and demand the most improbable of dishes, barely able to contain our hilarity. The tortured waiters shun us.
Now, waiting for a table to clear, I bury my head in giant mug of greasy coffee replete with floating isles of pastry. Then back to the hotel in a deliberate slow motion.
Eli is sitting on a chair, bare feet on window ledge. The bed a muddle of ejaculated sheets. He casts a sluggish glance in my direction, upheaves, and dresses perfunctorily.
"I fixed with Marc. He is waiting for us. Don't start with petulant expressions and your usual brattiness. Be nice, we can no longer afford even our morning coffee."
A scarface Vietnamese with a tintinnabulary dialect minds the reception desk in the deserted lobby. Eli looks disappointed but mumbles "morning". We stroll towards the nearest metro station down the street.
Marc's spacious abode is in a newly renovated building. Bareness reverberates through six high-ceilinged rooms. The hulking cardiologist lives in the kitchen. He butchers meditatively a silver herring wrapped in a slab of putrid cheese laid on an ageing slice of bread. He licks lubricious swollen fingers, extending them for handshake, and smacks his fleshy lips.
"Sit down, please" - he utters cordially - "You're welcome!". His Hebrew, guttural and broken. Though somewhat stooping, Marc has the countenance of a Belmondo. Eli attacks the remnants of the kipper, stuffing his face with staling crumbs. "Where's Mazal?" - he enquires, between the mouthfuls, dodging digested scraps.
Masticating, Marc responds:
"She suddenly took off. She said she couldn't stand it here."
There follows a duet of smarmy nibbles, the unctuous morsels of a feigned alliance and selfish solidarity, the smutty autopsy of smoke-dried, gutted love.
Eli assures him: "I will get her back to you" and Marc embarks on careful planning, strategy and tactics of the reconquista - when Mazal steps indoors. A vague air of long lost familiarity, a memorable face - the curving forehead, dark ponds for eyes, a boxer's nose.
"Marc" - she exclaims.
Sheathed in a hail of breadcrumbs and disintegrating cheese, the ursine pilgrim approaches her: "Mazal!"
They do not touch each other, not even the customary kiss on cheek. Mazal says: "I am going to put my things in the bedroom" - and smiles at me.
Eli coughs politely:
"Marc, we will leave you, guys, alone. Be a man, won't you? Show your love, woo her, be romantic. A woman is not a cow, to mount, to screw, and then to turn your back on and go to sleep. A woman needs attention, flowers, a restaurant and orchestra on her birthday, buy her a fresh dress here and there. Plunge your hand in your pocket. Be stingy and die lonely!"
Marc assents despondently, his eyes riveted to Mazal's swaying buttocks.
"Marc" - implores Eli - "let's finish this business with the money. To establish the firm, I must deposit it in the bank this afternoon. "
Marc casts a haunted, ensnared glance at Eli's general direction.
But Eli strikes relentless:
"Marc, she'll be out of the room any minute now. If we keep arguing over these stinking five thousand dollars, you will lose her forever. Either you're in or you're out. The time to decide is here and now."
"I'm in, I'm in" - stammers Marc, defeated. He noisily dodders to the adjacent room. Eli winks at me expectantly. Marc returns with a bulky wad of cash and a stained, much folded, piece of rubricated paper.
"Sign this, both you" - he growls and, mournfully, to himself: "fifty thousand francs."
"A mere five thousand dollars" - Eli corrects him - "and the money doubles each half a year or so. Welcome, partner!"
Marc reciprocates with a feeble handshake and crumbles onto a kitchen stool. The flickering neon light weighs on his luxuriant eyelids, skirting the shady folds under his sockets. Eli bows and whispers hoarsely in our sponsor's hirsute ear: "Go to her, Marc. She is waiting for you. She is a woman."
Marc gestures half-heartedly but doesn't budge. Eli shrugs disparagingly and signals me to follow him.
Back in the street, he gleefully observes:
"She'll never stay with him."
We promenade in silence and then:
"It's five thousand US dollars we made today! We earned ourselves a normal lunch for a change. I haven't eaten properly since all those bets."
Eli used to wager meals in fine eateries on the outcomes of a quiz. The terms were thus: the dupe he lured could ask me ten questions which I correctly answered. I, in my turn, would then perplex the prey with a single, insoluble, challenge. I never lost. But when I won from Eli his platinum tie clip and pair of cufflinks, the betting stopped.
A tangled web of avenues and squares, the foliaged daubs of green and orange, the ash-clad buildings eerily aglow. Swirling bouquets of men in women, hormone-exuding teens, whores and their clients are negotiating seed. Paris perspires lust under the seething sun.
The corner drugstore is congested. Eli devours the headlines of a week-old Israeli paper. He doesn't even notice Mayer who occupies a seat beside him. His lips give shape to writhing syllables. Mayer regards his efforts with nauseated fascination.
"Eli" - I exclaim - "Look who is here! If it isn't Mayer!"
"Mayer!" - Eli wrinkles the daily - "What are you doing here? When did you arrive? Care for a little backgammon match?"
Mayer sneers, his bellows chest pulsating. With effeminate hand, he smears the effluence of the mall's tropic micro-climate on his balding head.
"You are still the same, you piece of shit" - he roars and they embrace affectionately.
Eli and Mayer are always in the throes of some conspiracy and I stay in the room, deterred by the metropolitan expanse, leafing through an illustrated French encyclopedia. Madeleine intrudes infrequently, ostensibly to enquire of my needs, but really to find out if Eli had returned.
I pity her. I say:
"Eli met a friend of his from Israel. His name is Mayer."
She snorts bitterly and hangs up on my compassion.
Eli and Mayer stagger into the hotel at night, with fur-packed beauties hanging on their arms. Up, in the room, Eli points a stubby finger and enquires: "How much to do this guy?" - They gauge me unappreciatively and mumble something. Eli and Mayer burst into convulsive merriment.
Eli continues, exhaling heavily: "And that includes his dog?"
The girls recoil, torrentially blaspheming, and fling their imitation leather purses at the now much-bolted door.
Their voices fade along the corridor and up the creaking stairs.
I am left alone, in thought, pierced by their assaying gaze, when Eli breaks into the room, stark-naked, and drags me to the floor above.
"Come, come!" - he hastens me - "You mustn't miss this! Two stunners making it. This is something you have never seen before, I bet!"
"I don't want to!" - I whisper, prying my shoulder loose from his clammy vise - "Leave me alone!" - and I retreat, scuttling, to the safety of the landing.
"You are a nutcase, that's what you are!" - Eli now pelts me from his elevated perch - "Even a homosexual would be excited! Such knockouts, a ton of breasts, exquisite asses, that's what you are missing, you hear me?"
By morning his wrath subsides. Casting a waxy arm over his fluttering eyes, he blocks the fervid light and croaks:
"They should pass a law."
"Where's Mayer?" - I enquire.
"Up in the room." - he giggles - "Stuck with the whores. They claim to have been nurses in a hospital. When he revives, he will have to pay them." - he finds it sidesplitting.
"Madeleine was looking for you." - I informed him and added - "Many times." I evaded his scolding stare, turning the pages in my book in the wrong direction.
"What did you tell her?" - he rasps.
"We will visit her this evening" - Eli decrees and drops the subject altogether.
A few minutes later:
"Stay here" - he exits and locks the door behind him.
I contemplate the wooden planks that stand between me and the hallway and ruffle the pages of my book. When I rise to fill my cup with water from the corner sink, the walls reverberate with Mayer's blows.
"Where is the son of a bitch?" - he bawls - "Wait till I lay my hands on him!"
"He is not here. He descended earlier." Mayer digest the information and then attacks the doorknob viciously. "Is he inside? He locked you in?" - suspicion-impregnated pause - "Open the door! You won't?"
"He locked me in, he's gone, I have no key, I cannot open up" - and Mayer curses audibly. He is suddenly besieged by agitated female voices and tries to weave his tattered French into a sentence. The sounds recede as, having yielded, he climbs to the cubicle, apparently to recompense them.
By now the hotel is virtually deserted of its guests and of their echoes. Time is marked by the cheerful banter of the staff, some heated arguments, the weary vacuuming of carpets, the squeaky linen trolley. The equanimity of the eternal. Bathed in anemic light, I watch my legs and arm, propped on a thickset book, with growing alienation. When Eli unlocks the door, he, too, does not belong. Not an invader but an error, the wrong protagonist of an unfinished novel.
Failing to pierce the dusk, he blinks his way towards the light switch and beats it into brightness. He eyes me intensely, his rare but most inspiring insect. "Get dressed. We need to be at Madeleine's in half an hour." A feline leap into the bathroom and Eli, urinates, legs wide apart, the door ajar, letting out the hissing voice and pungent smell of fizzing pee.
Still steeped in unreality, I kneel. From battered suitcase, tucked under the bed, I extract a rumpled blazer, age-patinated pants. "Put on cravat!" - he snaps - "She is not a floozy, has a lot of style." - he sounds proud. I don a necktie.
"Now listen up" - Eli expounds - "I told her about you, she thinks you are a demigod. She is convinced that you can tell the future. A few things about her: she is widowed, rich, and lonely. She has a Turkish paramour, a yachtsman. He works the Paris line and ends here once a month."
"What does he look like?" - I probe and Eli, violently revolted, unfurls my tie knot and motions me to start anew.
"Tall, swarthy, beefy, moustache. She is addicted to me. She wants me to move over to her place."
"I realize that" - I retort, irritably - "I am not blind, you know."
The taxi crawls into a murky parking lot and Eli and I sneak towards the glass paned entrance and press the intercom. Madeleine buzzes us in immediately, no questions asked. Silhouetted against the backlit doorframe, extended arm on jamb, she is carved into her wavy gown. Eli pecks her turned cheek and brushes against her nipples. I do not.
She doesn't even wait for us to settle down, thrusting her palm forward, digits outspread, under my flushing face. Her robe unravels some, hinting at ample, creamy breasts.
"Give me a reading" - she commands me hoarsely. I notice now her layered makeup, the sweat ravines and mascara pools, shaven abrasions where chin meets neck.
I contemplate her tiny hand, curvaceous, and say:
"I see a man."
"Who is he?" - she prods with bated breath - "How does he look and what is our future?"
"A towering man of dark complexion ..." - a built-in hesitation, the vision blurring, Eli and I have practiced this on many women, a tiresome routine. I close my eyes, waggle my head, clasp knees in helplessness, writhe for a while, exhale:
"He wears a fine moustache. I see great waters ..."
She yelps in fear and joy.
"You are two lovers ... A boat, he is on it ... and the sea ..."
Eli suppresses yawns, but Madeleine vaults into her bedroom, barefooted thumps on tiled floor. These fleshy thuds arouse. She reappears and kneels beside me, scattering purplish Polaroids on a nearby coffee table.
"That's him" - she pinkie-indicates a snapshot - "In Turkey, Istanbul ..."
Her scent is primal, her neck too short but sculpted, she moistens lips with lithe, inviting tongue.
Eli boasts of me: "You see, what did I tell you? There's nothing he don't know, he see it all, a genius, he is the talk of every town in Israel ..."
"You must have told him in advance" - Madeleine pouts and lays a shapely arm on Eli's thigh. Hair sprouts shaggy in her cavernous armpit.
"I swear to you I haven't!" - Eli withdraws, offended.
"Your father took you when you were a child" - I startle both, reading the headlines of an inner bulletin unfolding - "You conceived his child and then aborted. I hear the baby whimpering."
For one delirious moment, they both appraise me, shocked, albeit for different reasons.
"What did you say?" - Eli recovers first but Madeleine shrieks, reduced to a blubbering heap of mouth and shoulders. The muted violence of buried words tears at her body. She rends the carpet and vainly reconstructs it. Still sobbing mutely, Eli consoles her impotently, casting condemning glances my way as though exclaiming "Look what you have done!".
Madeleine is quieter now but welled-up ripples traverse her crouching figure.
She whispers something and Eli puts an ear to quavering lips. Another hiss and Eli lays an incidental hand on Madeleine's heaving chest and counter-whispers. A lengthy verbal intercourse ensues. She nods assent and Eli jumps, enthused.
"Join me today to see something you haven't seen in your entire life!"
With Eli this could only mean sex but something in his voice forbids me to refuse, an ominous promise, a kind of incest. Madeleine strolls dreamily into her bedroom and emerges molded into a mustard toga and silver stiletto heels. Under the flowing robe, she is ensconced in nylon tights and a bikini top.
We drive through fluoresced, abandoned boulevards, awash with rustling leaves. A car or two speeds by, the metro stations gargle. Madeleine's numb face is ravaged by the intermittence of the lights. Her lifeless hands clutch at the steering wheel and hardly turn it left or right.
"It's here" - says Eli.
We descend few stairs to face a peeping hole embedded in a metal door which Eli raps. A mushroomed eye appears, withdraws, the gate is opened by a decaying woman, a brownish cigarette holder dangling from scarlet orifice. She motions us in with remnant grace.
We deposit overcoats and bags in a tucked-in wardrobe and negotiate a red-lit passageway into a bar. It's crowded. The patrons, slumped in upholstered armchairs and facing round glass-tops, are catered to by bow-tied waiters. These take their orders, serve them, replace the overspilling ashtrays, collect the checks, and smile profusely at the favored clients.
Eli shoves me towards a giant curtain.
"Cent-six" - he sounds awed - "One hundred and six. This is the address and the name of this establishment. The bar is merely cover. You could call it a hundred and five." - he tsks and snickers gruffly, his hand engirdling Madeleine's waist. Her eyes are distant now, her hair atypically disheveled. Skimpy clothes askew, her chalky body flares into the haze.
Eli rams his tailor's dummy toward the draped partition. He lets her pass and follows. I join them in a musky, clouded room. The light is dim, the cubicle immersed in droning chatter. Eli directs attention to the furthest corner: "She comes here every day. She must consume a bucketful of sperm."
A woman's head is bobbing in a virile loin, with one hand she is kneading his erupting masculinity, the other rubs another's member. Right next to them, a female self-impales on hoary groin. Eli drives Madeleine to the center, disrobes and strips her of her vestments with rapid sleight of hand.
She stands there, nude voluptuousness, uneasy feet and fisted palms, her eyes occluded. She breathes tortuously. Eli fondles her breasts and passes a lustful hand between her legs. Others approach and taste her hesitatingly. Five minutes later, she vanishes under a pack of males, tree branch obscured by bee hives. Only her toes are visible, bouncing, contracting, flexed and still, fanned and convergent. Men rise, wiping off semen and others take their steamy place. Men on her breasts, men on her limbs, men in her orifices.
A tall, dark woman invites me to a party. I decline, she shrugs and proposes to another. I fall asleep.
Eli stirs me awake.
"Let's go home" - he croaks. He rubs a pair of bloodshot eyes between two fingers.
"Where is Madeleine?" - I cover my mouth to arrest the morning odors.
"She is gone" - says Eli, ireful - "She went home and so should we. Come on."
It is a lengthy, silent stride to our hotel. Eli stops by the reception desk, as though awaiting someone.
Back in the room, he asks:
"How did you know about her father? He really mounted her when she was young."
"I didn't know. It sometimes happens. I can't control it."
Eli regards me skeptically and plunges to the bed, fully-attired. He rests his head on interlocking hands and canvasses the slanted ceiling. Then he turns on his side and begs:
"Please read my palm."
"Stop it, Eli. I am exhausted. It's been a long day. Anyhow I am bluffing, it's a charade, a con, a trick. You of all people should know that."
"Please divine my future" - Eli pleads, alarmed - "I have a feeling something real bad is going to happen soon."
I hold his massive palm in mine and study the sooty definite creeks that cross and intersect.
"You are losing your wife these very days" - I pronounce, almost inaudibly - "You are in Paris and she is no longer yours back home."
"What did you say, speak up, I am telling you!" - Eli panics.
"You are losing Zehava, OK? Now will you let me be?" - I shrill and keep grumbling - "You have already lost her, she is no longer yours", until I drop off.
I wake into the cadaverous silence of an early afternoon. Madeleine is on the phone:
"Samuel" - her voice is as imperious and decisive as ever - "Eli departed in the morning. Went back to Israel. Some kind of family emergency, he said."
"I ask you to leave this hotel." - she carries on - "You owe me nothing, you don't have to pay. I will settle the accounts with Eli when he is back. I simply want you out of here this instant."
Sleep-drunk, exuding tar and alcohol, I petition her:
"Where will I go?"
"There's a small inn on the Left Bank. I reserved a room for you, it's cheap."
She hangs up on me.
I am in the midst of hurried packing when Eli calls:
"Shmuel" - his voice is crackling static, dim, and foreign - "Zehava has someone. She wants a divorce and to take the kids. I feel like a boatman who has lost his oars, the bitch. I go to Paris to make a living, to create a business for our future, and she whores around..."
I gently place the sizzling receiver on the bed and drag my book-laden suitcase to the corridor and then, thunderously, down the spiral staircase.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
This part is meant only to provoke thoughts. It is not a substitute to independent thinking, criticism, and analysis.
Is Eli's attitude towards women typical of narcissists?
What is the difference between narcissists and psychopaths? Some of the behaviors described in the story are more typical of the latter.
What is the role of sex in Eli's relationship with Madeleine?
Is narrator (Sam) more self-aware than Eli? If yes, does it make him guiltier?