I feel like the perfect paragraph. There’s at once a truth and a music to me now. The cadence of song. It’s in my stride and my posture, in my subjects and my predicates. It all feels very real to me.
So I don’t want to be reminded that it’s fiction.
That this is fiction. This. That the sky isn’t right there above my head, that those birds in it aren’t trying to go somewhere, that its sapphire infinity is out of my grasp, is something that I couldn’t reach up to and touch if I wanted. I look around and there are all these buildings all over, those trees and their shadows, fire hydrants, trash cans, traffic lights, cables, the food carts, talking people walking, right and wrong ways of doing things that everyone’s keeping in mind whether they know it or not.
I do know, and damn well, that this is chapter 15. It doesn’t escape me. And I’ve still been meaning to have a word with the invisible hand that I also haven’t forgotten is pulling levers behind a curtain. But not now.
For the love of all things sacred, please. Not now. Just not now.
It helps that right over there on the sidewalk to my left are three tall men outfitted in boots, fatigues, gloves, berets, kneepads, Kevlar, Bluetooth, and SAWs guarding the west entrance on Electric Avenue. Not something you see every day.
Electra has flown up to the flat (Chimpy will open the window for her) so I’m focused on getting everything into the service elevator, which is a welcome reprieve from encountering fellow tenants. As of late they’ve taken to tossing food or drink in my face and I’d like to not get my bowtie ruined.
I’m also grateful that I’ve only been stung twice by the bees. It appears that they are way too engrossed in the business of growing babies to pay me much attention at all. I know for a fact that the Aptekars up in nos. 22 and 23 are all moved out so I figure I’ll set up the bees in one flat and put the moths in the other. Honeycomb won’t last an hour around Chimpy so I don’t have much choice. And that as well ought to take care of the last holdout on the top floor, which is prime real estate for an insect sanctuary.
I’ll have to put some thought into the roof, though. Clearly pigeons can roost on it but there’s room for a more robust habitat. Perhaps a condor, a few swallows, some palm trees. Or even a couple albatrosses. Or maybe even a mountain dragon if the Frenchman would stop being so pigheaded with me and so generally pessimistic and lazy. Electra and Chimpy now call him Jacques le Cock. Point being: I must increase my ambitions. I’m not getting any younger.
It takes me longer than I’d thought it would to get the doors to nos. 22 and 23 completely unhinged from their jambs but now that they’ve been unscrewed loose, what we have here is a proper foundation for an entomological ecosystem. The thermostats are set, water and foliage in suitable proportion and proximity, black light bulbs installed. The fire escape is crammed with flowerbeds, both windows to it half open, the rest with drapes drawn.
Wheeling the ecotanks and the octopus out of the service lift, I see Chimpy sitting on the stairwell sharing a cigarette with Mrs. Boerenpummel. He is wearing a hunting hat with one side pinned up; she dons a negligée exposing the cleavage and spider veins of her generous, ample, rotund form. Chimpy’s arm hangs over her shoulder, resting disinterestedly on her breast. She is nuzzled at his ribs, facing up to watch each pull he takes with a vicarious sensation of pleasure in her eyes and breathless smile.
She seems like she’s in another world.
Chimpy! I whisper as loudly as I can.
He passes the cigarette to Mrs. Boerenpummel. In her other hand is a counterfeit Chinoiserie bier stein full of mimosa.
He signs, How did it go?
It went splendidly, I reply hoarsely. But did you let Electra in?
In bunny slippers, Mrs. Boerenpummel crosses her legs. She puts the cigarette back to Chimpy’s lips for him.
He signs, No, I’ve just been taking a breather, kid.
I tell him sternly, Will you please quit it and get inside? I have all of this to set up and Electra’s probably been perched on the sill for an hour now.
Chimpy takes a double drag and plopfitzes his butt into Mrs. Boerenpummel’s mug. He claps her rump, whips her front with his hat, and knucklehops over and past me into the apartment.
The ecotanks are installed and filled. A drill, a mallet, and various screwdrivers and assorted other tools and bits lie strewn about the flat. I stand facing the aquatank, with Chimpy, Electra, Eve, the Billy goat (Rascal), the platypuses (Luchese & Gambino), the emu egg (any day now), and the geoduck clams (Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Jackie, and Michael) lined up like a choir behind me.
I open a copy of a book. By Frank Norris.
I hold it in front of my face and read: “in his imagination, the galloping monster, the terror of steel and steam, with its single eye, cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to horizon; but saw it now as the symbol of a vast power, huge, terrible, flinging the echo of its thunder over all the reaches of the valley, leaving blood and destruction in its path; the leviathan, with tentacles of steel clutching into the soil, the soulless force, the iron-hearted power, the monster, the colossus, the octopus.”
I lower the book and wait.
Inside the tank, a conch shell melts. Spreads along the floor as if it were lava. Erupts into a parachute. Fans out swirling limbs.
For the next 23 minutes, Electra performs the Appassionata, so we name it Beethoven.