There are hundreds of intricate and binding seaman's knots. The square, the lark's head, the clove hitch, the cat's paw. The bowline was my first knot as a boy, and is most like a noose. Make a small loop, and then pass the end of the rope through the loop. So simple. Daddy taught me that and other knots, one long, hot afternoon when I was eight. It was the day he explained the responsibility, the glory and brilliance of being a Snopes. It was the day he warned me about the filthy drabs.
I’m nude in my bed, a massive Victorian four poster hoisted four feet off the floor piled with throws of mink, chinchilla, fox and leopard nearly swallowing me. Only my hands and head are not submerged. I’ve always imagined my bed as a ship, floating high and powerful.
In my lap I hold a three-foot length of basic manila rope, a pale faded brown, worn and fringed at its edges. I'm fussing with the halyard bend knot, a coy and complex overlapper that tantalizes me in its complexity. I wear thin, very tight calf gloves to save my hands from chaffing.
Playing with the rope soothes my ragged nerves. The idiocy of the upcoming Brattridge affair has me completely untethered. Honoring Clement Cartwright, the Chicago traitor. Blasphemy. It sets my teeth on edge. I stroke the rope, constructing brick by brick a case to destroy Cartwright. I had a steaming bath, a cocaine ankle shot. That helped, but I will need to get out tonight, to soothe this disgust over having to mingle with mediocre men. I will go to the river front and find my dirty little Jenny Claire.
My bedroom, which takes up half of the third floor of our home on Deminil, is windowless (I had those bricked up). A long narrow hallway, which Daddy agreed to construct for my fifteenth birthday, cuts into the side of the room from the staircase landing. Visitors enter in blackness, fumbling, often calling out, and having to traverse the hall before they enter my bedroom proper. I am never caught off guard.
Once entering, they face a chaotic situation of furnishings. Soaring sculptures on the floor and on teetering tables of mahogany and granite. A byzantine pew, a rustic altar, five standing mirrors all from Rome. Every inch of wall is jammed with paintings. The crucifixion, peasants at work, the fox hunt, slaughtered things, nymphs, subtle love making in garish and bright oils covered with a sheathe of silk. “He who enters is changed.” Daddy understood and applauded my undertaking. He smiles now from his mausoleum.
Belinda, who I know has entered and is hovering and trembling in the hallway, detests this room. Since Daddy's death, she is forced to ask me for money or anything else she needs. She, like all the rest, has become a desperate servant.
“Come in, Belinda.” I’m still trying to solve the halyard bend knot on the rope nestled in the fur on my lap.
There is nervous laughter. She will try to make sense of her feelings, try to set a tone of sibling comfort and normalcy. She will not be able to hide her fear. She has always bored me.
“I'm sorry to bother you, it's late.” The pink froth of her assaulting my senses, the intricacy of that dress and her starched hair offensive.
I pull a hunk of mink up close to my neck. The rope sits limply.
“Sit down, sister,” I say.
Reprinted Courtesy of Lethe Press Books.
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