Lyrics based on the short story "Q. Hortense" by DC.
Published in The Red Shoes Review (2010).
Q. Hortense by DC
Overhead, in a blue sky lined with sporadic cotton puff clouds seemingly placed by a renegade airbrush, the sun rained down on the lake and the adjacent esplanade, scattering glimpses of shimmery wonderment on a pleasant weekday morning. Sunshine was making its way onto the skin of multitudes of people wandering about the museum campus gently lying on the edge of the lake. There were streams of families heading towards the planetarium or as young ones were prone to saying, “the observatorium.” Wintertime couples either in love or in a comatose state of adoration were sitting on the tiered steps lining the road between museums, underneath layers of blankets while keeping close to their Other to steal warmth, surreptitiously or, better yet, overtly. It was this scene at the lake that caught the eye of Q, sparking in her mind’s eye, memories of an episode quite some time ago…
She kept a steady pace and walked towards the white concrete of the aquarium and went past the giant statue of a man who appeared to be hugging a swordfish. Or was it a marlin? This was the type of question that Q should have to know in order to keep up with the sharp and inquisitive minds of young visitors to the aquarium. Q’s long frizzled hair bounced up and down like a blonde basketball as she made her way through the sliding doors and past the snaking line of visitors waiting to buy passes, past the long monotonous hallway of storage lockers and down to a series of small offices. She fished out a set of keys from her purse and unlocked the door to her office with brand new letters stenciled in, reading, “Q. HORTENSE.” Today was Q’s first “official” day on the job at the Aquarium. Her job description was still a bit ambiguous, hence, the lack of a title under her name on the door.
Q was responsible for, what she called, “Coral Production and Piranha Management,” a job that she jokingly proposed in conjunction with Pierrot a few months back when they had just returned from an Aquarium outing and had taken notes about their visit which Pierrot had started writing on his left hand with bits and pieces on Q’s right hand, a kind of informal addendum to make up for the lack of adequate space on Pierrot’s hand. The first handwritten draft of the letter was written in Q’s white palatial bed, as warm as apple pie, and Q and Pierrot were lying under the comforter and decoding Pierrot’s nearly undecipherable chicken-scratch print off both of their hands. The notes were hard to tease apart from other notations and symbols that had been inscribed on their skin. Upon arriving at Q’s place, Pierrot asked for the grand tour which started out in the hallway where pages torn out from art books displaying paintings of pinup girls with pale complexions, sometimes laying in repose in a polka dot bikini and sometimes merely standing against a white backdrop with one knee up in the air and a smirk on bright red lips. The tour continued into a makeshift and unused cellar that was originally intended to be another garden apartment but was instead left unfinished, dark and dismal, with cobwebs adorning the ceiling, cracked Sheetrock crumbling to the ground in small anthill piles. The tour ended and Q and Pierrot thought of drinks to concoct while looking at Q’s former roommate’s liquor library which Q had inherited after roommate Madison moved out to pursue her NYC modeling career with her coke dealer and current boyfriend by her side. Ingredients were fused together, blended into cocktails that the pair placed on an ottoman, the poor man’s coffee table. Also inherited from Madison was a professional-grade record player. Pierrot asked to put something on only to be notified that Q only had one record, a test press from the early 90’s, needless to say, it would not be subjected to being scratched up this evening, but perhaps some other time…
As drinks were put back, inhibitions were, naturally, thrown to the wind. The skin of Q and Pierrot were transformed into organic canvases as Pierrot’s ballpoint pen was deployed and Pierrot turned Q into a smiling cavalcade of stanzas. The gentle blue lambency of her eyes rested on Pierrot and he returned the gaze and inscribed yet another hieroglyphic on Q, “tes yeux sont bleues comme le ciel,” and this lay adjacent to, “throw me all your cigarettes,” which was underneath and diagonal to, “let’s choke on something beautiful tonight.” In return, Q revealed her talent as an artist and drew fragmented floral patterns on Pierrot’s left bicep and right forearm, the end result being a pair of breathing art installations with inclinations to dance in tune to the brilliant undulations of the apartment’s lamps.
Q sat at her desk, her ivory laptop closed and sitting in the corner next to a crisp manila folder containing no more than a few sheets of paper. A spiral notebook sat in the middle of the desk. Q went to open it, hesitated, and instead reached for the folder and placed it on top of the notebook, opened the folder and picked up the first sheet of paper.
To: Q. Hortense
From: M. Libby, Director
Welcome to your first day. I know that you are familiar with the Aquarium and that I do not need to introduce you to its layout. This is what needs to be taken care of.
• Enforcement of ‘No Flash Photography’ rule.
• Sea Otters and Painted Lobsters
• Coral Production
I would like a report by the end of the week.
Of course, all of the memo’s bullet points were lifted straight from Q and Pierrot’s letter to the Aquarium. Exactly why Libby decided to hold an interview with, let alone, hire Q based on a partially whimsical letter was beyond Q and she definitely thought about Libby’s motives in her hiring decision, but at the same time, Q just wanted to enjoy her new job and its many perks, to just revel in the dreamlike songs of the Aquarium’s visitors and teeming sea life. Deciding to tackle the list in order, Q decided to make the rounds and “politely” ask patrons to decline from using flash photography.
On their date, the first exhibit they saw was the sea dragon den, wedged in a corner, a Plexiglas cylinder no bigger than a London phone booth. Like fishes wearing layers of onion peels for clothes, there were four sea dragons floating in aqueous space, gently oscillating their spikes while patrons looked on. Q and Pierrot were sitting on the floor Indian style and simply admiring the parsimonious movements of the sea dragons, sitting there for what seemed to be an eternity with time just rolling on by. “I could just sit here all day,” said Q., and she meant it too. Pierrot said that would be fine with him so they continued to sit there and admire their new friends. A middle-aged woman approached the tank and pulled a camera out of her purse and of course, took a flash photo even though she saw, without a doubt, the sign asking otherwise. Q, inspired by a mild fit of rage, blurted out, “you can’t use flash here, lady!” She didn’t even have to think twice about berating the woman who tried to play it off by saying, “oh, I know.” The woman stood there for a beat before walking toward the next exhibit to commit more flash photography. Pierrot looked at Q, her face still furrowed with anger. The respect that Pierrot had for Q jumped up after her defense of the sea dragons and Pierrot told her so and she coquettishly smiled and looked away. Pierrot suggested that they find the next sea creatures on their mental checklist so they got up from the floor and Pierrot reached for Q’s hand and their fingers wove together and off they were.
There weren’t many patrons to bust today and even had there been more, Q wouldn’t have yelled at them for fear of being reprimanded by Libby for yelling at white-haired women. Q was not the type of person who had a strong desire to have children anytime soon, but even she couldn’t resist the charm of kids, their erratic precociousness and their unrestrained exclamations in reaction to marauding schools of fish, squiggly moray eels hiding in labyrinthine rock formations, and sharks tracing out elliptical patterns in their gargantuan tanks. She even observed a few kids watching the turtle tank and gasping at what appeared to be the turtle version of a Greek orgy.
The next task on the list was something involving sea otters and painted lobsters. When drafting up the now infamous letter, Q and Pierrot hadn’t actually put much thought into what goals would be involved in managing sea otters and painted lobsters. The letter had complained about the lack of the two animals at the time the letter was written due to renovations which were now over and both otters and lobsters were being re-installed. Q strolled over to the exhibit and overlooked the team hard at work. They seemed to be working diligently, Q thought, so there’s no point in poking my nose in their business and she decided that was that. Next up were the piranhas. Again, what to do here, thought Q? She had suggested to Libby that the piranhas and the Aquarium as a whole would have increased ticket sales if the piranhas were allowed to feast on the flesh of misbehaving children, but of course, this proposed spectacle would stand in stark contrast against the many statutes prohibiting feeding children to flesh-eating fish. Or maybe she could request a shipment of the dreaded candiru to assault patrons who decided to use flash photography or repeatedly tap on the Plexiglas…
There’s a precise mixture of artistry and science when one engages in the craft of coral production. It takes lots of patience, care and a high level of attention to detail, in addition to the correct blend of inorganic and organic substances. Naturally, Q had no idea how to produce coral but she did enjoy watching the coral scientists get down to business. The scientists had the coolness of bebop players, blaring their horns, hammering away at the piano, pounding out cascading rhythms on the drums and walking the bass lines up and down a smoky club jam-packed like a can of sardines, the sound of glasses and beer bottles clinking left and right, and hip cats and fast birds tapping their feet and nodding their heads in syncopated amusement, really digging the band. Q wasn’t actually paying attention to the production ritual, instead, her stream of consciousness was meandering to the post-Aquarium evening with Pierrot, at her apartment, on the couch, glasses of rum and coke with a dash of hot sauce for novelty, emptied out and the record player’s needle scratching away like a persistent cat going after a toy mouse. With booze and generic brand cola coursing through their veins, Q and Pierrot now directed their imaginary film to cut to a dance sequence where the partners waltz around the frame and the camera pans out into a long shot and then rhythmically cuts to a crane shot portraying the dancers from an oblique overhead angle, and on the soundtrack, the strings swell and crescendo while the camera encircles the pair dancing about in a path opposite the camera’s movement. Pierrot extends his left arm and Q drifts away from him like a yo-yo diving for the earth but then catches her and draws her in and Q rolls into Pierrot’s arms and their lips are so close, but cowardice wins this round and Pierrot grabs Q’s hips and they waltz one-two-three, two-two-three, to the left and then to the right in metronomic repetition. They now dance in a position that has their eyes both facing a wall with a seemingly out-of-place poster of a cat and Pierrot’s head slightly hanging above Q’s, allowing Pierrot to sniff her hair, the smells of apple shampoo and sweat enter Pierrot’s nose and of course, Q notices this attempted thievery and calls Pierrot out on it but she doesn’t utter a cease and desist so he keeps sniffing and she keeps letting herself be held until Q suddenly runs off to the couch, knocking over one of the empty glasses, to lie down. A spilled ice cube slowly crawls underneath the couch to melt away into a lonely baby puddle. Pierrot doesn’t know whether to read this as a sign to put the moves on or as a sign to just sit down and maybe shuffleboard the remaining ice cubes across the living room floor as a game. Pierrot decides to play it bold and he lies down on top of Q and she says, “I guess the time for talk is over…” and just as the “-ver” sound drips off her lips, Pierrot’s are already on their approach and we cut to a close up of their lips caressing and doing a waltz of their own while their tongues oscillate as if they were tasting communion wafers in an Old World cathedral being drowned with light filtered through a stained glass lampshade and...
Her phone vibrates in her cardigan pocket, drawing Q back into reality, eliciting a muttered, “Goddamnit,” from chapped lips. It was a missed call from the library, probably a reminder for her to return a few books she had taken out for a project she was working on. Lately, Q had found herself in the realm of daydreams, even more so than one normally would be, or at least that’s what she thought, anyway. Sometimes, she would just lie in bed, entombed under the covers next to a 12 x 17” painting she drew of a Caribbean hillside village. She would just keep hitting snooze on the alarm clock and eventually she would just brush it off the night stand and sink into reverie, and even after she would wake up, she would keep hiding under the covers and lay awake, painting out her ideal life on her mind’s canvas. Living in her paintings so she wouldn’t have to inhabit the world of The Real where people can reply with a sharp, “NO” or where one can desperately seek out human contact, just a slight beacon of warmth, only to sabotage your own opportunities because of an unidentifiable fear of…what? Failure? Rejection? A terrifying mélange of loathing and no confidence? Just another reason to be a relentless dreamer, to uselessly fight for the concept unobtainable. Q headed back to the confines of her office. She sat down at her desk and fidgeted with the manila folder, crumpling its corners for a good five minutes before dropping it back on the desk. She felt exposed to the world. She slid out of her chair and got under the desk in the way children do when they build forts out of the cushions of living room couches.
The couch at Q’s quickly transitions to the bedroom, up against the wall before actually getting to the bed and under celestial tapestries, breathing resistance upon each other’s lips while cross-stitched patterns wave across golden slumbers as Pierrot pulls Q onto his lips, slowly degrading at the thought of it having an ending. She sinks her teeth deep beneath Pierrot’s skin once more and leaves him a sullen red-lettered artifact to remember the weekend by. Her legs are pit vipers as they wrap around Pierrot’s torso to prevent the lovers from disentangling. Q, a golden bibliophile of a creation-goddess, whose ontogenesis is tasted by Pierrot until her vocal chords release banshee upon banshee, screaming eternal, and her undulating form caresses the waves like a rabid oceanliner, until finally, the couple finds themselves in each other’s gazes, arms, lips, embraces and voices. Two figures, in magnetic fields, concretized, their imprints melt away into the glaciers of Q’s bed.