The frothy Southern Belle doesn't get laid either. Not with Stanley. That brute. And while she's not suicidal, like Anna K, she does engage in a pas de deux with a couple of white coats. Never a good thing in mythical antebellum New Orleans. She doesn't live happily ever after. If I may be so bold, I would start by giving this character a brain. Because when Stanley starts pawing through her suitcase, looking for the paperwork for Belle Reve, the family estate--- if she had a brain, she would say instead;
Asshole. I'm going to put my cards on the table. You're hot as hell. You're like a slab of meat in a butcher's shop on a hot July afternoon. I'd like to cut you and dissect you and serve you on a platter.
I'm sorry who are you?
But I can't and I won't because you're married to my sister. So put on a t-shirt for christsakes, but make it tight. I'm older now, men don't fall at my feet except when they're drunk. I don't keep as many mirrors in the house. I know this, Stanley, I'm not stupid. I may be fatuous, but it's required by the canon. Anyway. You needn't worry your pretty little head about my family estate, because I got it covered. I will never lose Belle Reve because I traveled 60 years into the future and invested in software. Don't ask me the details about time traveling because I'm sick of telling it, but it basically involves a “man” who visits from the future. We had our quiet moments together, our intimacies. I'm not the girl you marry, everyone knows that. Not even an alien. That makes me a bitch or a witch, take your pick, also covered in the canon. I would argue that both words belong there, except their iterations are fundamentally incorrect, anyway---
---let's get back to Stanley, that brute, that monster, that beast. He's sitting on the yellow linoleum chair in the kitchen listening to everything I have to say. The sun is going down, and he's covered in a thin film of sweat. My sister is pregnant with his baby, and I'm not jealous exactly, but I never have that experience. It's a bittersweet moment when I find out. But him? Stanley? He's not going to get a penny of that money. If I had a brain, if you, esteemed members of the academy, would allow me a brain, and perhaps some imagination, I could save Belle Reve.
You're not on our list of scheduled speakers.
If you let me subvert the canon, just a tiny bit, by the time I run up against Stanley in New Orleans, I'll have a stock portfolio worth millions. I'll be like,
Stanley, if I don't get some respect from you, you won't see a dime of this money. And don't even think of throwing me down on the kitchen table, or pressing up against me when the moon is full. Or any other of your sexual shenanigans. I freely acknowledge our attraction, but put it back in your pants honey, and treat me like a lady. Because if you do, you might enjoy a prosperous retirement.
And now he gets up from the kitchen chair, clearly seeing a new woman. He goes to the fridge because its hot, because he needs a beer. I pick up a paper fan and flirt with him. He sits down again but farther away. I laugh inside because now I know I got the little boy on the run. I say, Stanley, do we have an understanding. And he looks up at me with those dark brooding eyes, weak with desire, for me, Blanche, former Queen of the South, now reduced to such ruin, and he looks up at me, and asks, Can I kiss you?
But we still don't know who you are.
632 Elysian Fields
I'm standing at the corner of 632 Elysian Fields. Its hot, almost tropical, and a small breeze plays at the hem of my silk dress. A large white moth flutters against my face. A woman tells me, your sister is at the bowling alley, but all I need right now is drink. I got on the bus in Virginia ten days ago, but I feel like I've been traveling for months, years. I feel like New Orleans is a dream and I'm just a ghost.
The woman nudges me and says, like I said your sister's at the bowling alley, and I say, fine, she's at the bowling alley. She says, its just around the corner, and I say ok, its just around the corner, thank you, but I don't move. I'm thinking about a man I used to love. I'm thinking about how good I felt in his arms but also that his wife drove him crazy. One night, at my doorstep, he put a gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. It's impossible I could be standing here right now.
I didn't go to his funeral. Instead I bought a bus ticket the next morning. Packed only my best clothes. At 8:00 a.m., the bus pulled up, and I got on. I didn't say good bye to anyone. The sky was overcast, the morning air was cool. I didn't sleep the night before because I kept reading his letters. Searching for clues. But there weren't any. Girl loves boy, but boy is married. It wasn't complicated, but I suppose I was wrong about that.
And it wasn't my first scandal, but it was definitely the last.
I see Stella walking up the street arm in arm with Stanley. She rushes up to me, screams my name. I wrap my arms around her, my little sister, my love, but I see him out of the corner of my eye. He's smiling and I can already taste his mouth on mine. If I could have a drink and a bath, I might be able to survive. He grabs my suitcase and we walk up five flights to a tiny apartment at the back of the building. The hallways are close, and I'm sweating by the time we reach their door.
A single light bulb dangles from the ceiling. Stanley drops my suitcase and gets a beer, leans against the sink like a wrestler. I see the same craziness in his eyes. Stella makes up a cot next to the kitchen table, apparently this is where I will be sleeping. A white moth brushes up against my face. I wonder if it is the same one from the street, if it has possibly followed me up the stairs, into this kitchen. As Stella runs my bath, Stanley offers me a drink. I say, yes, thank you.
I don't know how this woman could be my sister. I tell her, I'm to going to run your bath, but it's an excuse to get away from her. Dear God in heaven it's like she's still a debutante. She's fanning a big white moth from her face, and drinking Stanley's whiskey. She's wearing a white silk dress, matching gloves and hat, still holding tight to mama's embroidered satchel. When I close the door, and turn on the faucet, it occurs to me to just drown myself before this goes any further. I run the water a little hot out of spite. I see the look she gave him. But I'm having a baby so I have to be careful. She's not the woman she used to be, but even so, still dangerous. I splash cold water on my face.
She walks unsteadily into the bathroom, and the moth follows her. Baby, she whimpers, why do you have bugs in your house? I reach out my hand, crush it in my palm, now we don't, I say. She's close to me now and she smells like a whorehouse; beyond cheap perfume and sweat, beyond desperation. It's sour and clings to her like dust. Help unzip me, she says. I take hold of the zipper but the dress tears at the shoulder, the lace practically dissolving. Careful, she says, unfazed, it's my last good dress. Steam rises up from the water, and I turn off the tap. I leave without saying another word.
Stanley is gone, the whiskey bottle is empty. I'm alone in the kitchen. I'm so glad I got away. I'm so glad I escaped the ghosts of that house, and the nightmare of those summer nights underneath the magnolias. Mama was always up in her room, sequestered and protected by the servants, doing God knows what. And on Saturdays, young men in linen trousers lined up to drink papa's bourbon, and get close to Blanche; flowers in her hair, eyes unfocused, why yes I'd like another drink you silly goose.
Later, I'd watch her slink off towards the barn with Philip or James or the captain's son. She'd return just as the sun was coming up. I'd ask, do you know what you're doing. It's not as if she was stupid. When I got older, I just wanted to get as far away as possible. I knew it was a dying world. By then Blanche was married to a man who would soon die of mysterious complications. Mama couldn't see me off because she had a sick headache. After all, I was just Stella, not brilliant, not beautiful, not even interesting enough to be missed. I got a a job as a waitress in the French Quarter, met Stanley one night in July. I don't need the past or the future.
She is shocked by New Orleans because it is dirty, chaotic, but it is also alive. Belle Reve is dead. I don't know if she'll be able to tell the difference. I can't bring myself to care anymore. The bathroom door opens and she makes her entrance wearing only a thin ivory chemise. Her breasts seem weighted. Careful Blanche, I say, Stanley will be back at any minute. She ignores this. Sits down at the kitchen table, says, there's no point in having servants in a two room apartment. I put my hand over hers, I know Blanche.
I still would like to kill her. When you are so thoroughly engaged in destruction, you shouldn't fall apart when your work is done. I could respect her if she brought her own whiskey and said, I'm a dumb stupid whore, and I've lost everything that ever belonged to us, and now I have nothing. Instead, she walks around as if she is hallucinating. As if she is still the mythical beauty of Belle Reve, instead of a moth trapped in the bright light of a single light bulb. She puts her head down on the table. I run my fingers through her hair. I can't help it, I still love her. Just then, Stanley opens the door, puts the bottle down on the table, asks, do we have any ice?
The Good dream
In that small two room apartment we could smell every inch of each other's bodies; Stella's unborn child, Stanley's breathing, the things they whispered to each other at night. I thought they were both gone for the day. I thought I had the apartment to myself. I poured a whiskey and opened the windows, musicians played on the street below. I ran myself a bath. I lit a cigarette. I took off my clothes.
It was a Saturday afternoon. I might've been dancing. I might've been touching myself. I am a woman after all, and it was hard to get him out of my head. Even though he hated me. Once when we were alone, he said, “You'd be attractive if you washed your face.” So I was naked when he walked through the door.
“You're supposed to be out,” I said, but I didn't make a move to cover myself. I might've been wearing mama's pearls, I might've been wearing white kid boots, lace gloves, diamond earrings. I might've been wearing stockings. I knew I looked good in that light, late afternoon, almost golden. I avoided the morning light, most unforgiving.
"You're supposed to be out," I repeated, the ice melting in my drink, a fly buzzing against the screen window.
I suddenly remembered the moth that followed me up the stairs my first night here, three months ago. It was a sign, an omen. I didn't see it then, but it became very clear to me as I stood naked in the kitchen, Stanley barely three feet from me. I saw the dark hair that covered his arms and his hands, a pelt.
“If you were a gentleman,” I finally said, “you'd walk back out the door and give me five minutes to get decent.”
“Blanche,” he replied, “you couldn't do that in five years, never mind five minutes.”
“You want a whiskey,” I asked.
“Come and sit down,” I said, pulling out a chair, “you're making me nervous, standing in the doorway like that.”
“No,” he replied, “I like it here.”
“Aren't you going to tell me to get dressed?”
“You are dressed, Blanche, you're dressed as I always pictured you.”
My heart twisted, ripped right in half. But I didn't stop. I don't remember trying. I brought him the whiskey, and he put his hand up inside of me, said,
“Is this what happens in the stories you teach, weren't you a teacher, Blanche? Didn't you instruct young minds, high school, was it? I was never much good in school myself, got into fights, pissed on the bathroom walls, chased girls, but you--- you taught literature, isn't that right,” his voice was gentle, teasing, “is this what happens in those stories, Blanche,” now he was whispering, tickling my ear, “a crazy woman dances naked around her sister's kitchen, drinking whiskey at three in the afternoon," he pulled me closer, I opened my legs wider, "looking for love," he continued, "but only finding heartbreak. Isn't that who you are Blanche, isn't that your character? Is that what you teach, or is that what you are? Tell the truth, Blanche, teach me something, do you like being fucked in your sister's kitchen?”
Then he brought his hand, the one that had been inside me, up to his mouth, and sucked on his fingers one by one. He took the whiskey from me, drank it down, walked into the bedroom, and closed the door. I stripped off my jewelry, unhooked my stockings, and went into the bathroom. I lowered myself into the cool water, closed my eyes, and dreamt I was back at Belle Reve.
601 Bourbon Street
Esteemed members of the academy, why would Blanche let Stanley finger fuck her in the kitchen in the middle of the day? I asked for brains. We know she's sexy. We know she's damaged. We know that story. We know how it ends. There is no surprise, no third act twist. Isn't there any way to maintain her integrity, and have her survive? At the rate she's going, in the narrative you're proposing, she'll still end up in handcuffs at the end of the day. The white coats will be triumphant. In the immortal words of someone, this isn't going to end well. And isn't that the point of all this?
I think instead she meets a tall dark stranger at 601 Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. She's out for the evening, wearing mama's pearls and kid boots that button at the ankle. Fall is sweeping into the Quarter, so she's wrapped in a white silk shawl which flutters about her face, reminds her of the moth she dreams about every night. And about how she's really only comfortable at night; candlelight or streetlight. Moonlight. But she's also thinking about Belle Reve, papa's laugh in particular, and now the rustle of leaves from the Garden District. They could be ghosts. The moon is almost full. She's amazed at her audacity. Stanley and Stella admonished her about wandering the French Quarter alone. But if she doesn't get out she will certainly go mad.
Last week they tried to set her up with Mitch, one of Stanley's poker buddies, but he was just as stupid. Stella whispered that he'd tried to kill himself last year by jumping off a bridge, but only broke his leg. Blanche laughed, and treated him kindly, even lets him win a few hands, but would not kiss him goodnight. She may not be the brightest, most stable creature in the starry firmament, but is she also not that desperate. She can wait and find someone who loves her. She needs a man of substance, educated and urbane. A man able to appreciate the finer things in life, like her--- like her mind. That's the kind of man she needs or she needs no man at all.
She is drawn into a club by the sound of a saxophone. At the bar, she says, “Whiskey with water, and a twist, if you please.” The bartender leans in, leers, “I like a lady who knows what she wants.” She replies, “How lovely for you. You must tell me all about it. But not now. Just the drink.” He sniffs, insulted. Blanche swivels around on the bar stool, and sees him. Adjacent to her. He's sipping sherry. Insouciant. A bit of a moustache. He sees her, and smiles.
Time seems to stop.
All rights reserved.
revisiting an earlier series, possible publication, all comments appreciated.