Excerpt: 'The Traymore Rooms' by Norm Sibum


From Early Sunday Morning, Edward Hopper, 1930

From Book IV – A Proper Narrative:


Sometimes when the maples are green with leaf, the wind gentle and not bringing too much heat; and the sky is clear or its cumulus dissolves in the evening air, and the day’s last sparrows go to roost; and the girls are meditative in both body and mind, the boys not too puerile, people of all ages out for a stroll; then well-being is palpable, owing to something other than one’s net worth in any mercenary sense. And sometimes Moonface, her shoulders hunched, walks the crucible of the street, returning from a night spent with some young man or another. I note how lonely her aspect is, how unmet. How useless I am to her in her search for meaning.

Four glasses of wine, and Eggy was lit:

‘Moonface is my first reserve. I’ve asked a girl at the bank to marry me.’ Moonface tossed her head.

Eggy: ‘Well, will you want to improve? Who can marry a woman who doesn’t want to better herself? The rain in Spain—’

Eleanor R suppressed a giggle; now she had heard it all, Dubois grinning. I leaned back in my chair. At the moment, Andrew Jackson, President the seventh of the United States of America, or some such entity, interested me more than Eggy on his fool’s errand. (That AJ had happily set about annihilating those pesky Red Stick insurgents there where the Tallapoosa bends sharply.) Still, Eggy seemed to know he was indulging himself and yet, he did not much care.

We were gathered in Eleanor’s kitchen on the occasion of her first salon.

She, not the most fastidious of women (though she enjoyed mastery of her kitchen, it sometimes mastered her), had vacuumed and swept and wiped and dusted. A grumbling Dubois helped. Sweet Haven lovebirds they were not, if only because they maintained separate apartments. Eleanor, fingering the spit valve of her trombone, said:

‘Well, Eggy, I suppose congratulations are in order.’

‘Hear hear,’ said Dubois.

Eggy beamed, Moonface disgusted.

Eleanor put the spit valve which she was always fingering – as if it were a mood rock – aside. She reached for a fancy cracker with its slice of cheese. She shovelled it into her mouth. She reached next for a pickle and crunched it in half between solid molars. She was pleased with herself, the kitchen warm, homey and roomy. It was perhaps the finest room of all the Traymore rooms, excepting those, perhaps, of Mrs Petrova’s ground-floor suite.

She assured Dubois she would not bring up the Lamonts as a conversational gambit, Dubois having drawn a line in the sand. Even now he did not believe anything untoward had happened in respect to Marcel’s demise. Too much gin, that’s all. The man paid for it with his life. Eggy would have no opinion, Moonface’s jury quiescent. It would seem Eleanor and I alone were thinking otherwise; certain dark arts had been employed to repatriate Marcel Lamont to the realm of the dead. Eggy, sparrow of a man, was saying:

‘Oh, I don’t believe the girl will marry me for my looks. Nor will she necessarily marry me for my money. I haven’t that much.’

‘Then for what?’ Moonface, on the edge of some irritation, interjected. ‘Why, for my charm and considerable intellect.’

Moonface could not have been in a good mood or she would have laughed down Eggy’s love of self. The rest of us were, so to speak, rolling in the aisles.

‘Anyone for coffee?’ Eleanor inquired, rising from her chair with a majestic lift to her shoulders, tra-la-lah-ing to the stove to put the kettle on, she sporting a flattering blouse and new pompadours. Perhaps later, Dubois would get lucky.

I had written about Moonface. Worse, I committed the mistake of informing her I had done as much. She was suspicious.

‘I suppose you describe me as immature.’

‘A point of view,’ I countered, somewhat testily, ‘to be arrived at through the arcana of physics, suggests we all had a hand to play in the death of Marcel Lamont. We’re each of us fickle and inconstant creatures, mouth- ing our pieties one moment and silently stewing in darkness the next. Or like so many Andrew Jacksons drunk on frontier liberties, we breed horses between campaigns. In any case, I dolled you up as a sex object of lethal dimensions. Those tiny ears of yours. Chew on that.’

And she seemed to be chewing it as I spoke the words, her eyes rolling up and sideways. We had been talking over and around the conversationalists in the room, Eleanor registering the fact, storing away this intelligence in her commodious mind. No doubt, the good woman thought us lovers, Moonface and I, and we were not. We were, however, competitive partners in a game whose rules and whose object were most unclear. But had not Constantine the emperor translated Virgil’s fourth eclogue into Greek hexameters, and peace would come to the trembling cosmos? iam redit et uirgo, redeunt Saturnia regna. Latin words that speak to new beginnings. If it is nature, and nature only that works the great sea-changes in the life of humankind, Moonface was just a girl, and probably no great shakes in bed, at that. At least, she was not hanging around Mexico City, privy to the Second Coming of Diego and Frida, parasitically living off the reputations of those two artists. No, she was steeping herself in the malignant light of Virgil’s moon, he who, so as to defend Rome’s reasoned rule of the known world, would snatch from Homer’s defeated and dead their lawful property: to wit, the poetry they had earned.

Later, in my own digs, supine on my couch, I reviewed the salon. I had not, in truth, enjoyed it as much as I would have liked. For all that, I was conscious of the fact that, over the months, I had served as a catalyst to Traymoreans for a certain kind of conversation. A claque of sorts, if one comprised of stubborn individualists, we would turn this way and that in our quarrels like a single flock of birds. Dubois, shifting from a position of indifference in regards to the war, now fired off letters to the editor castigating the President for his callow utterances and feckless helmsmanship. Even Eggy could be heard to say from time to time, as if it explained something, ‘Apostles of evil. Well, it’s true.’ Moonface had no opinion. Eleanor’s last political loves were Kennedy and Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and Kennedy was long since departed, his brains splattered still against the interior of the presidential limousine, and that was the end of it. Even so, politics as such, or so I figured, had little to do with our seeming comity. More so it had to do with each our standing-apart from the effluvium of war and profit-taking, from every theatrical display of moral gamesmanship. A wary outlook seemed to brand our foreheads with an identifying mark, one that said:

‘I’m here for you if you wish. I don’t expect to win. I don’t suppose you expect to win. Please don’t expect me to even try. I like my pleasures.’

If the materialism to which Dubois subscribed as a philosophy of life was entirely conventional, he, at least, recognized the power of certain intangibles to riddle life with mysteries. He tisk-tisked mention of God, but poetry was something, at any rate. Eleanor, more the logician than any of us, amateur trombonist, consummate in her kitchen and comfortable in her bed, nonetheless enjoyed her spells of solitude and respected her intuitions. She knew she could not prove Lucille Lamont a murderess, but no matter, she just knew. Moonface? Erotic fancies, no doubt, compromised my view of her; and yet, from what I could see, she was as likely to settle down, marry, have children as do anything only a mystic might comprehend. Eggy was, perhaps, the jewel of the Traymore crown; translucent, acerbic, kind, selfish, thoughtful, as silly as a goose; in short, he was all human possibility enjoying a last burst of brilliance. Dying star. Or rather, he was just effing decrepit but that he had lived a little.

The Lamonts never fit in. Marcel was welcomed, was considered ‘sympatico’, but he had kept his distance, Lucille always tugging on his strings. It was clear she could not entertain herself unless she were in the driver’s seat and scheming this and scheming that. She was not well-liked, if at all. Mrs Petrova was necessary. She was a woman admired throughout the neighbourhood for her vitality and fearlessness and the tight ship she ran without hectoring her lodgers in the process. I lay on my couch, dyspeptic chrysalis. Virgil was a thief in the night. Old Hickory, or Andrew Jackson, split open the backs of his slaves with God’s grand purposes. A new symphony shattered the universe with lyrical and dissonant passages. The music seemed to skirt the perimeters of full-blown madness, Bacchic frenzies, Dionysus hooting in a mountain wood; and I with my superstitious awe of grotto and grove, was an urban creature. I could not comprehend the American mind.

A knock at the door, and it was Moonface somewhat distraught.

‘I love you, too,’ she said, heatedly.

It was as if she resented saying as much; as if the saying it was costing her more energy than she wished to expend.

‘But,’ she advised, ‘I won’t sleep with you.’

‘Of course not,’ I replied, astonished.