Tea at the Dollhouse by the Marquis Déjà Dû

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St. Charles Avenue slices the Lower Garden District of New Orleans into stark dychotomic halves. On the river side, ornate, time-weathered mansions and Victorian shops line the crescenting avenue and ensconce behind them the proper Garden District homes of the last century. On the north side however, shabby stucco shopfronts, many closed and boarded, architecturally dating from the 1960's and looking every boxy minute of it, backed by street after street of tenements, projects and ghettoes, stare blank-faced at their opposite neighbours. The former edifices glower with the venerable battle scars of their age. The latter crumble in shame and oppression as if their very youth were some dilapidating disease.

And on one particular corner along St. Charles (river side, of course) is the Victorian Dollhouse -- a musée des poupées with prim lace curtains sheathing the curved and beveled bay windows of four storeys against the infernal August heat. Milky silhouettes of chandeliers and walnut and cherry furniture, all surely massive, can be glimpsed through the veneer of the drapery. A peculiar and antiquated mural of a crèche sprawls childishly along a wall in its parking lot, while directly across the avenue are the bright, buzzing fluorescents of the Walgreen's and Shoney's parking lot, and the noise and hum of new cars, new people, new New Orleans.

Sprane emerged from the Walgreen's into the baking, damp late afternoon, peeling the plastic like melted rice paper off a pack of Dunhill's and waiting for the clanking streetcar to pass, rambling on down the grassy median and ringing its bell. Sprane recalled more care-free days when he and his cohorts, his "Teenage Gang Debs" as he referred to them then, would hold court in the back of the street car, powdered and perruqued in the height of fashion of spooky underworld blackness on their way to the French Quarter, staring German tourists down with all the bitterness and acidity of their comparitive youth, being joined one by one by friends at different stops along the Uptown line. That had been over six years ago, before his musical career had been recognized by any labels, before any such career had impinged upon his lifestyle at all and uprooted his habits -- and certainly before any of them had had cars.

Sprane crossed the median, stepping out of the shade and cursing his tight black clothes. A black stretchy velour shirt (with hardly-existent sleeves, he was grateful for that at least) and tight black jeans clung to his thin and lanky frame. Black hair, dyed obviously, for not even black was that dark without assistance, hung down his neck, his shoulders and back, and framed his gaunt and severly angular face. He was 33, but in make-up managed to make a passable 26 year old. Looking the part was 90% of his success, he understood, and he was glad he had upheld such aesthetics when trying to break into The Business. Who knows if he ever would have had his Big Break (quel mot! he thought) if he gadded about town in acid wash and tie-dye and space alien shoes that lit up and flashed at the back instead of the dark capes and cowls and chains that he and his constituents more habitually wore. Now, however, he was quite Over It, though to admit it would be fatal to his professional image, and so he kept a good, believable façade in full working order -- "for the kiddies," he thought wearily. The pretty trappings and chosen antics of his earlier days had metamorphosed into constricting fetters necessary to keep 'Ailment' (the band he had founded and now fronted) at the top of the charts.

Today, as he crossed St. Charles on the way to his appointment at the Dollhouse, he found himself once again pining for those days before the Band had taken over his life -- those simple, black, angsty nights buried under drinks, friends and women in the various darkened nether regions of a number of bars on Decatur Street -- nights that never dawned into day as if the sun had quite forgotten to shine on him. "Back in the Day..." he mumbled-sang to himself as he trotted across the final lanes of the Avenue and onto the sidewalk, broken and angulated by the roots of the impervious oaks.

He smiled at the safety-orange For Sale sign picketed into the small plot of lawn as he ascended the creaking stairs to the front porch and rang the bell. The door was opened (with some difficulty) by a smallish woman, nearing 60, in a bright floral skirt and matching tropical blouse who looked up at Sprane with frank horror, one hand still on the door in case the need should arise to slam it shut again and fumble ineffectually with the locks as quickly as her pink manicured nails would allow.

"Mrs. Pibbsley? I am Sprane. I have come for our 4 o'clock appointment," he said eying the frightened woman. When he was met with silence, he added, "I hope that lovely dress is considered 'tea-length', though I confess ignorance to what that euphemism might actually mean as far as the length of a piece of fabric goes."

"I ... uhh ... I ..." stammered the woman, shaking her head about birdlike in response to no question.

"Are you feeling okay?" asked Sprane, his smile, irrepressible, broadening.

Mrs. Pibbsley, no doubt further scandalized by the intentions of this man to enter and spend some time in her establishment when she must have originally thought he was merely selling something or trolling for change, recovered her powers of speech somewhat. "I'm sorry, uhh, sir[?], but the Dollhouse has been reserved this afternoon for an affair."

"Yes, I know. I reserved it," explained Sprane mirthfully. "...for an affair."

"I hardly think..." Mrs. Pibbsley hardly thought.

"Tea for seven at four?" Sprane offered, "reserved by one Mr. Legato -- me. May I come in please?" He made a move to walk past the woman who timidly barred the door still.

"You are Mr. Legato?" she asked incredulously. "You are hosting this family reunion?"

"Certainly!" said Sprane, whose 'disarming' smile was anything but, to Mrs. Pibbsley. "Though I stretch the word 'family' rather far, I'm afraid. I'm in town for a couple of days and wanted to have a gathering of some of my old comrades in your lovely château. This is not distressing news, I hope," asked Sprane as Mrs. Pibbsley shook her head vehemently from side to side perhaps in seach of an escape route or a weapon, as the incident seemed to be requiring one of the two.

"You sounded amicable enough on the phone yesterday when I confirmed the reservation. I hope nothing has happened since then that has put you out. You seem rather unnerved." Sprane leaned down and pinched her cheek gently, smiling an odd, course smile. Mrs. Pibbsley fairly jumped. "There hasn't been some dreadful death in the family or some unfortunate event like that, I pray?"

Mrs. Pibbsley, it seemed, was in fact very put out. If a moment ago she was consoling herself that at least there would be family members with this man soon (if you could call him a man) -- perhaps a doddy old Aunt who tittered as she sipped her tea -- the amendment to these plans (amendment bah! ) -- the steamrolling, and the threat of having a houseful of this man's 'comrades' (and she shuddered to think what sort of people would be his friends!) sent the nervous woman into a near panic.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Uhh Legato Uhh. This is not the sort of uhh-stablishment-uhh ... that-uhh ... you and-uhh ..." Mrs. Pibbsley's voice trailed off as her attention was diverted by another person approaching the door.

"Sprane!"

The animated voice cut through Mrs. Pibbsley's muddle. A moment of silence followed as Sprane turned and recognized with an unbidden swelling of emotion the woman on the porch stairs, medium height, equally lanky, garbed in loose fitting black accordian pleated items and a great black trenchcoat despite the heat. Long midnight blue hair in spontaneous and random braids cascaded from under a black beret and black cat-eye sunglasses studded with rhinestones framed the woman's round face. An oversized black canvas bag was thrown to the flaking floorboards of the porch with a reverberating thud.

"Sprane!" she said again, softer, longer, through lips the colour of freshly stomped blackberries.

"Tundra," Sprane sighed and embraced her. The emotion in his voice surprised them both.

"Do you plan on weeping?" asked Tundra pulling away and eyeing him skeptically. "Should I don my plastic Bourbon Street poncho?"

"No, leave your garbage bag in your garbage bag," said Sprane motioning towards the discarded article on the planks. "You should know better than to mix prints with solids anyway."

"Mrs. Pibbsley. How are you doing?" asked Tundra turning her attentions to the confused woman.

"You know each other?" asked a bemused Sprane.

"Uhh..." explained Mrs. Pibbsley.

"Sure," said Tundra translating and shaking Mrs. Pibbsley's hand, "I wrote and designed her little pamphlet-pooh for the Dollhouse. Come see it."

Tundra grabbing her bag, broke through the barricade of Mrs. Pibbsley who was warmed a bit by the familiar face, if not still disoriented by the turn of events. Tundra went to a side table at the foot of the stairs where a number of brochures were fanned out with tedious precision. She took one from the middle of the fan and the others fluttered to the ground. Either she didn't notice, or didn't care, as she handed the brochure to Sprane with a silent grin. Sprane examined it absently.

"Mrs. Pibbsley," said Tundra looking into the tearoom, "I see no settings on the table in the front room."

Mrs. Pibbsley replied, "Yes, Tundra, you see, when my four o'clock reservation did not show till," (she checked her watch), "6:30, I naturally assumed something had happened and the arrangements were canceled."

"Ah, but as you can see, the plans are Go. So be a doll -- so to speak -- and set up tea again, would you sweetie? This is a very special occasion," she said and put an arm around Sprane's small waist.

"Special in that you're not paying for it?" asked Sprane.

"God no! That's common enough. I never pay for anything. You must remember that of all things. Tonight you will pay, or your godamned record company will. Tonight is going to be just like old times."

"Let's sincerely hope not. And what do you mean 'godamned record company'?" said Sprane and ambled into the front room as Mrs. Pibbsley walked cautiously to the kitchen area.

Tundra followed him. "Godamned record company. You heard me. They took you away from us, and I don't care how many hundreds of thousands you make a year, it cannot possibly fill the void you must feel not being around us ... or me at any rate. I pity you. I really do."

"Millions," Sprane corrected and changed the subject. "How very fortuitous that you know that awful woman. I think she was about this far from tossing me out on my ear. Imagine!"

"You have always benefited from my influence," said Tundra dryly, walking towards a glass showcase filled with dolls of every fashion from every age. "Father contact," she explained.

"I suppose I have," admitted Sprane as he recalled a meeting with a prominent scout of his current label, a pivotal meeting, arranged by Tundra's politically clouted father. The man had always been whole-heartedly devoted to his daughter and Sprane had always secretly given him an 'A' for effort and wondered how he did it.

"Where are the others, anyway? It's 6:30. My invitations clearly said 4:00 prompt!" he joked. "Is there a new F.L.?"

"Yes, actually," said Tundra as she opened the showcase and took out a large-headed baby doll from the turn of the century with one closed glass eye and put it on the table. "You've been out of things for a while, haven't you. Fashion Lag is up to nearly 3 hours now, though I suppose since you did say prompt they'll be along any minute." She handed Sprane a Skipper doll, Barbie's little friend, designed in the 70's. "Here's a little groupie for you," she said gravely as he took the doll.

"God, how atrocious!" said Sprane in general reference to the room, ignoring her gift. "It's like a marshmallow ducky threw up in here. Look at all these fucking pastels!"

"Why did you choose the Dollhouse, I wanted to ask you?" said Tundra opening her bag and pulling out a large black funeral wreath with which she replaced the silk flowered pink one that hung over the mantel.

"I've always wondered what this place looked like inside, I guess. Since I was a kid. Now it's being sold. I might buy it."

"God!" laughed Tundra dumping the silver centerpiece bowl of gardenias and tufts of baby's breath behind the couch and filling it with dead rose petals from a Ziploc in her bag. "Property. Such ambitious talk coming from such dulcet lips with such marked nonchalance. I guess you really have 'made it', you asshole." She shook the bag clean of the crumbs of petals and the table was littered with the fragrant decay of roses. She tossed the baggie behind the couch as well.

"Tundra how is New Orleans? How is everybody?"

Tundra was standing on a delicately embroidered chair with her large combat boots and was draping black party streamers over the arced arms of the chandelier, dimmed a moment ago. "You know. The same."

"What the hell does that mean? They never were 'the same' to begin with," said Sprane as he looked up Tundra's skirt.

"Really, nothing's changed, if you can believe it. Well, that's not true. I've changed. I've sort of ... broken off from the Scene, kinda. I mean, I still go out and everything, but ... Jesus, Sprane, is my slip showing?"

"No, your age is," said Sprane as he plopped onto the couch and lit a Dunhill.

"Oh, fuck you!" said Tundra, jumping lithely off the chair and tossing an Olympic gymnast's dismount into the manoeuvre. "I'm just as young as I ever was. Like I said, I'm not a complete hermit yet."

"Forty in a minute if my calculations are correct."

Tundra pulled the yellow cloth shades down over the bay windows and a dusky dimness pervaded the room. She lit the candles already affixed in a set of candelabras on the table. "Five years, bastard. Anyway, I wouldn't worry too much about my advancing age. You look pretty damn washed-out yourself. What have they been doing to you out in Los Angeles or New York or London or Antwerp or wherever the hell you've been these last years?"

"I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you," said Sprane elusively and noticing Tundra's décor for the first time added, "Nice touches!"

"Interior landscaping has always been my forte," she said. "And now for that horribly soothing pizzicato gently wafting from o'er yonder." She burrowed in her bag and popped out a CD jewel case and took it to the stereo nestled in a cabinet along one wall. The speakers had erstwhile been cooing soft, harmless, plinking tones of muted strings.

"But I like elevator music!" protested Sprane.

"Tough tempo, mister," said Tundra and punched play. In a moment the soft swell of Mozart's Requiem oozed from the corners of the room.

"Oh, all right," Sprane acquiesced.

"What, would you prefer some of your own music?"

Sprane laughed. "Why, you have my CD's with you?"

"Certainly not! I never listen to your music. To idolize someone one knows well is the height of bad taste."

"Oh."

"Heard your new album the other day, though. Or part of it anyway. It's in the juke at Molly's at the Market."

"Mmm?" said Sprane, disinterested.

"Not nearly as good as 'Bitch Ballet', if I may so boldy opine."

"Funny, that. Sales are higher than any previous album."

"Well, 'Ailment' is a 'name' now. And a 'name', by its very nature, sells out, I'm sorry to say. I mean, your new song, Deeply I Stab (Darkly You Weep)? What a fucking farce! What must be done to get that gritty and ... cathartic sound again, like in 'Bitch Ballet'?"

Sprane laughed loudly, startling Tundra, "Gritty and cathartic? Gawd. Um, I dunno. Give me back some lost years? And take away the fans and the money? Actually it's not the money I mind so much as the fucking publicity and total lack of privacy."

"Interesting. So being richer than any of your high school guidance counselors could have ever dreamed is not a terrible albatross around your pretty white vulnerable neck? I felt certain you were just suffocating under all those rubles."

"Forget it," said Sprane.

Tundra paused and looked at him, slumped on the couch, feet tucked up under legs Indian-style, gazing off into the blank muted yellow of the pulled blinds. "Well, you've certainly changed," she said with a careful cushion of compassion. "Wanna tell Auntie Tundra all about it?"

Mrs. Pibbsley appeared in the doorway with two figures behind her.

"Sure!" said Sprane with exaggerated alacrity. "Right now!"

"Aljernin..." began Mrs. Pibbsley glancing nervously behind her, "... and uhh Vendola ... or ... er ..."

'Aljernin' pushed past Mrs. Pibbsley rudely and corrected her boisterously, "It's Algernon you beastly woman. Algernon and Venndettää. Give me back my card!" Algernon ripped the cream-coloured calling card from Mrs. Pibbsley's shaking hand and tucked it into a pocket. Mrs. Pibbsley fled for her life.

"And so it is!" said Sprane standing and approaching the two.

"Sprane, my dear fellow, so very enchanted to see you again," said Algernon with unbridled reserve in an unconvincing English accent, and bowed stiffly. Sprane bowed back with a cynical grin which flustered Algernon somewhat who, with indecision, held out a hand to be kissed.

"Fag," said Sprane and kissed the hand.

Algernon was a short, dangerously slim man dressed impeccably in a rich chocolate brown Englishman's suit -- pre-war, thought Sprane, and no doubt authentic -- a darker waistcoat with a pocketwatch chain crisscrossing from pocket to pocket, brown wingtip shoes and a brown derby from under which jutted black hair cut in a short, fetching bob, à la Louise Brooks. His face was made up in large dark chiaroscuro shadows around the great round eyes and a lipstick that matched Tundra's own blackberry hue embellished his full, feminine lips. He held a walking stick, the handle of which was a gold duck head, and leaned on it slightly now. Only the faint pressing of breasts against the V of his Vest hinted at his true sex. For Algernon was, in fact, a woman.

"You're looking perfectly delicious, Algie, as usual," said Sprane.

"Thank you," replied Algernon with little gratitude for a redundant compliment and stared about the room aloofly.

"Where's Monsieur Verdoux? I was informed you two had formed an amorous allegiance."

"FEH!" spat Algernon loudly and Sprane flinched.

"Poopsie!" said Venndettää who pushed Algernon out of the way (causing his/her dark lips to snarl and sneer silently as [s]he stumbled on his/her cane). Venndettää crushed Sprane in a mad embrace.

"Vee!" he said, kissing her lightly on the lips.

"Sweetie, sweetie, sweetie! I'm totally wet!" said Venndettää barking laughter. She (and there could be no doubt about her sex) was a voluptuous woman dressed in a black miniskirt, threadbare fishnets with visible garters and oversized combat boots. A sparkly blouse seemingly woven of tinsel glittered in the dim light of the chandelier. Deep set eyes (purple contacts) were obfuscated by straggling black hair angling down her face at impossible angles. She squished Sprane's face with long black nails. Sprane, amused, tolerated this insult.

"I'm quite rigid myself," he said and tweaked her nose.

"Well put it away for goodness sake and let's eat!" said Venndettää making her way to the table and crumpling dried rose petals between vicious fingertips.

"I hope we're not late," said Algernon not hoping anything of the sort.

"Terribly," said Tundra.

"Good," said Venndettää.

"We're waiting on Gypsum and Tzigane though," said Sprane.

"Are we!" huffed Algernon with distaste and sat pointedly in a chair at the end of the table.

"Calm yourself, my good man," said Venndettää to Algernon.

"Intrigue in Denmark?" asked Sprane sensing the friction (not at all a foreign substance in the presence of Algernon). Tundra answered with an eye-roll. Anticipatory silence ensued as all eyes hovered on Algernon, who in turn was enjoying visible fits of eustress from all the attention.

"I don't want to talk about it," [s]he said sullenly, savouring the moment.

"Good, I do," said Venndettää who sat down in a chair, jabbed her elbows cruelly into the lace table cloth and told the tale with gesticulating hands.

"So!" she began, "Our poor Algie has been brutally usurped by Gypsum in a recent coup that has tantalized the unwashed masses for weeks now. Naughty Mr. Gypsum has seduced Algie's own Monsieur Verdoux. Seduced to distraction! as they say. They've consummated their undying affections for each other on no less than three ... count 'em three separate occasions! Maybe more, though I'm sure I would have heard about it." (Algernon's scowls heightened and fluctuated with Venndettää's narrative appropriately.)

"Gypsum did Verdoux?" asked Sprane. "Hmm ... to my knowledge, that permutation hasn't occurred before."

"Oh, yes it has. But that was before Verdoux was an item with Algie, so it doesn't really count -- you were gone, Sprane."

"Ah," said Sprane. "What does Tzigane think about being equally jilted by Gypsum?"

"Oh, you know Tzigane," said Venndettää and catching sight of Algernon's urgent look, amended, "she doesn't realize the importance of The Relationship as ... er ... exhaustively as Algie does." Algernon seemed satisfied with the explanation. "Anyway," Venndettää continued, "shortly thereafter, Tzigane slept with Verdoux too. So she isn't on speaking terms with Algernon either."

"Who is?" mumbled Tundra rhetorically into Sprane's ear.

"Wait, okay," said Sprane, "So Gypsum did Verdoux. This upset Algie. And then Tzigane did Verdoux ... what, out of revenge for Gypsum screwing around on her?"

"No, no. Not at all. Gypsum told her that Monsieur Verdoux was a good lay, so she wanted to try him out too. She's ennnviously studious when reseach is at stake. Quite the little scholar!" explained Venndettää.

"So Tzigane had never slept with Verdoux before?" asked Sprane disbelievingly. This caused the whole room to ponder silently, while staring at the ceiling, mentally flipping through the endless files of who-did-who-and-for-what-subversive-reasons.

"N...no," said Venndettää cautiously, "I don't believe she had."

"Well, there was that one time..." offered Tundra.

"That doesn't count either," said Venndettää flippantly with a dismissive wave.

"The next logical step of course," said Sprane, "would be for Algie to sleep with Gypsum. Or Tzigane. Or both at once. For whatever reasons she could contrive."

Algernon, mortally offended, stood abruptly from his/her chair and glowered at Sprane and thumped his/her cane on the ground in mute anger. Then, not really having anything else to do standing up, sat down again and sulked.

"Oh, come on Algie, they're both quite good. Especially at the same time, as I seem to recall," said Sprane. Murmured agreement buzzed wordlessly around the room for a moment.

"Unspeakble," Algernon hissed to him/herself under his/her breath.

"Gyp ... Gyp ... a Mr. Gypsy ..." said Mrs. Pibbsley who shivered in the doorway, "... and ... uhh ... someone else." She retreated hastily and the two entered the room.

"Ah! The last to arrive. We win!" said Gypsum, a more compact version of Sprane with a more aquiline nose, and dressed similarly in tight fitting black clothing. He stood in the doorway and threw a large handful of multi-coloured confetti into the air which by the breeze caused by the ceiling fan fluttered all over the room for the next twenty minutes.

"Sprane! Vee! Tun! Uh, Algie. I'd like to introduce y'all to someone that none of you have probably ever slept with! My friend, Babs," Gypsum said presenting a gaunt girl in a low cut, fruit-lifesaver striped top (from which peeked a generous serving of cleavage), a Catholic schoolgirl's pleated skirt and black 20-eye Doc Martens. Her hair was not. That is, she had shaved it off two days ago, Sprane estimated, and a short stubble was all that covered her head.

"Hi!" she said in a squeaky voice that prompted Sprane and Tundra to exchange a commiserating look of amusement. Somehow, the girl had shortened the already terse syllable into something even more staccato. "It's a real real honour to meet you, Mr. Legato," Babs said as she sidled up to Sprane and fondled his reluctant hand.

"Mmm, yes," said Sprane recoiling. "Gypsum, c'mere," he said after a bit more fondling from the exuberant Babs.

"Quiss quiss, dahling," said Gypsum as they exchanged two-cheeked air-kisses.

"Where's your looser half?" asked Sprane eying Babs with distaste who never moved very far from him.

"Tzigane had to go to New York. She was really bummed to miss you. Dying grandfather. She says hi. Won't last a week. Said she likes your new album. Family's a wreck. How are you?"

Venndettää had managed to extrude the fawning Babs from Sprane's side (thanks Vee) and had begun her discreet interrogations at the far end of the table.

"So, Babs ... what an unusual name, Babs," said Venndettää, "how did you and Gypsum meet?"

"Oh, y'know," she giggled. "Saw him at Monaghan's. Thought he was a total babe. Started talking." She giggled again at the shameful memory of just talking. "Then we boffed in the bathrooms," she said, regaining composure at the recollection of this more serious (and common?) episode.

"Hmmph!" said Algernon as [s]he unscrewed the duck-headed cane and took a small glass test tube out of the stalk. She pulled the cork and sipped the neon green liquid.

Babs' obsequious smile melted as she sensed Algernon's displeasure. She asked, nervous now, "Who's that? Did I say something wrong? Is he in Ailment?"

"No, no, honey," Venndettää patted Babs' arm like an old friend. "That's just Algernon. Algie, say hi to Babs!" The last she said with a slight mimic of Babs' own squeaky tones, though not so blatant that Babs could catch it.

"Chhhharmed," said Algernon icily and held out a hand in a manner that did not suggest either shaking nor kissing. Babs, confused, did likewise and for a few moments, both women [sic] stared at each other mutely with arms jutting like broken tree branches between them. Gypsum caught sight of them and began an erratic interpretive dance to a swelling moment in the Requiem.

"What are you doing, Gyp?" asked Tundra.

"I am a tweeee..." explained Gypsum twirling.

Babs took the opportunity of diverted attention to rise from her chair and glom onto Sprane again. She lifted her plaid skirt and protruded her g-stringed behind towards Sprane, to Tundra's alert, "Cat in heat! Cat in heat!"

"Sign my butt!?" demanded Babs of Sprane as she handed him a blackberry lipstick.

Sprane shot a look of distress toward Tundra who made to intervene, thought better about it, and sat down in a chair, folding her arms across her chest and watched the scenario.

Sighing, Sprane leaned over and squiggled on Babs' ass:

Sprane



"Ooooo! I'll never wash my butt again!" she cooed happily.

"That's a pleasant thought," said Tundra.

"Of course you won't, honey," said Venndettää, dripping with compassion.

"Mrs. Pibbsley!" called Tundra. The other woman showed up in the door with a look anticipating news of some precious artifact having been broken.

"What is it? What's wrong? Tundra?" asked the birdlike Mrs. Pibbsley. "You kids are being careful, aren't you?"

"You may lay tea out now," decreed Algernon haughtily, motioning vaguely toward the table in case Mrs. Pibbsley needed a destination for the trays. Speedily (to get it over with, all thought, and smirked), she laid the table and brought out a large sterling decanter of hot water, accoutrements of sugar cubes and a creamer, and a basket of muffins and scones. The moment her task was completed, she disappeared.

"Why does she even let us in here?" asked Gypsum.

"Tundra's sainted father's influence no doubt," conjectured Venndettää.

"S'right," said Tundra. "He used his inestimable clout to get the zoning permits for the Dollhouse. Mrs. Pibbsley is eternally his minion now. "

"The way he fawns over you," said Gypsum, "I assume the servile respect must carry down the generational line like a recessive gene ... like some congenital disease ... like madness."

Venndettää perked up and was drawn out of her aside with Babs. "Diseases? Which ones? Is the topic of flesh eating virii or muscular atrophy or, dare I hope, advanced and highly repulsive skin diseases?"

"The topic will be tea," proclaimed Algernon with careful anunciation who, in his/her infinitely confused sexual rôle, took it upon him/herself to pour. Those still standing took their places obediently.

"Sprane," said Tundra, "isn't this the part where you tell us we've all been set up with mammoth trust funds, or that one of us at this very table is the murderer?"

"Wishful thinking on both accounts," said Sprane. "No, this is the part where you read the minutes of the last meeting. You haven't forgotten or demolished that little tradition, have you?"

"Forgotten? no. Demolished, yes. We haven't taken minutes since that last night you were with us about six years ago."

"Do you have the book with you?"

"What do you think?" answered Tundra who rummaged in her bottomless bag and brought out a large battered black leather ledger. She flipped around in it a while as the others waited, ever curious to relive in vivid detail their sordid pasts.

"God, I haven't read this since that night. Okay -- June 19th, 1991," began Tundra, "Backyard, The Abbey, Rue Decatur, Nouvelle Orléans, Louisianne, aux États-Unis. (God, we were so specific, Tundra commented) In attendance: Tundra, Sprane, Venndettää, Algernon, Gypsum, Tzigane, Monsieur Verdoux. Hey! Same group ... almost. Taker of the minutes: Tundra, as usual. Someone else needs to buy a fucking pen!

"This meeting is called to well-wish, or roast, as the case may go either way, our darling, morbid and dubiously talented Sprane as he ventures off to the Left Coast in search of some sort of ephemeral, pipe-dream career in that elusive of all institutions, Show-Biz. You'll fail, fucker."
Tundra smirked at her own faulty phrophesy. Sprane outright laughed.

"Gypsum moves the party that drinks are in order. He nominates (and I second) Tzigane who, like the impish myrmidon she is, fetches Chartreuse and 7's obediently.

"Algernon is hereby admonished for not having in tow a fresh decanter of her absinthe.
Hey, speaking of," added Tundra in the present, "you have any now, Algie?"

Algernon looked at the duck head of his/her cane for a panicked moment and said affirmatively, "No. Not enough to go around," and shot a hot glance of pointed exclusion at Gypsum and his fluffy little friend.

"Too bad," said Gypsum in mock dismay.

"Heh, heh," added Babs nervously. Gypsum tossed a sugar cube down her cleavage to cheer her up, or himself, or both, or neither.

"Let it be recorded: that at the next table a tourist is speaking of his date earlier to another tourist. Quoth he, 'She told me she didn't like the see-through chatter. I felt really bad and tried to apologize for being such a sappy date. She said What the Hell Are You Talking About, I said I don't like this seafood chowder.' Then, the speaking man laughed himself blue in the face while his friend remained silent. 'You are sappy,' he said. Hmm, I don't remember that one," Tundra added.

"Further sexual permutations for the record: Since the last minutes of the meeting, these unique couplings have occurred: Venndettää did seduce Sprane in the toilets of the Abbey. Later that night, she dallied with Tundra, ditto on the locale. (I had forgotten about that, too.) Verdoux banged some teeniebopper someplace -- not precisely sure who where when or how ... many times ..."

Algernon visibly bristled, despite the ancient date of the document.

"...Sprane was supposed to have seduced Tundra, but the bastard flaked on meeting me in order to screw Gypsum and Tzigane at their place and he can just kiss my gluteus ubiquitous... Oh, I remember that one at least!" said Tundra laughing.

"This is morbid," said Sprane. "Put the book away."

"What's wrong?" asked Tundra, concerned for the tone of his voice.

"Just stop," he said, lighting another Dunhill and staring into his lap.

"Are you crazy?" piped Gypsum as he tossed more objects from the table down Babs' cleavage who giggled nervously. "This is great! Read on, Tun. G'head."

"No, Tundra. Put the book away," said Algernon stonily. "I am in complete accordance with Monsieur Legato. Certain things should remain ..." her voice dropped to a melodramatic whisper, "...buried. This trivial, indulgent fun is for more shallow people than we. It is futile to live in the past."

"But if you didn't sweetie," said Venndettää kindly, "you'd be homeless."

Algernon again stood up abruptly and stomped his/her cane on the floor. "Just what are you implying, sir!" she bellowed. Venndettää's carefully applied vapid smile of 'friendship' did not flinch.

"Oh, don't think I don't feel your pain, sweetie. I saw you shudder when Tun read about Verdoux and whatever little tart he did that night. I empathize with you completely, my dear!" Algernon sat down somewhat mollified. "It must be horribly painful," continued Venndettää, "to be so in love with a man that not only current indiscretions cause pain, but ones occurring before the Relationship was consummated stab with equal depth! Oh, my darling!" She grabbed Algernon's hand and caressed it lovingly. Algernon gave a patented snarl of acquiescence.

"I'm sure it's very difficult indeed to be you," consoled Venndettää.

Sprane, who had been watching this exchange with a sad smile and twirling his cigarette between his fingers pensively, now stood up with abruptness. "I ... I'm sorry, but I've got to go," he said to the chandelier.

"What?"

"Why!"

"Monsieur!"

"Sit down!"

"No. No, I won't sit down," said Sprane and moved toward the exit.

"What the godamn hell..."

"Jesus, Sprane..."

"Oh, I get it, you're being dramatic!" said Gypsum shaking pepper down Babs' shirt. "You want attention! Maybe if Algie leaves instead there will be room for you?" he suggested. Algernon decided to shelve his/her own dramatics for the remainder of the scene.

"Not at all. Nothing would please me more than to remain here with you all ... forever, but ..."

And with that, he left the silent room to the blank stares of the party and the dolls. The front door was heard to softly click shut. A slow patter of feet descended the porch steps and faded away. Somewhere, a car started.

"I love you, Sprane!" screamed Babs leaping towards the window and clawing at the shades. On the delicate embroidery of her chair she left this dark, blackberry smudge:

enarpS





NOTE: To learn more about the author, the Marquis Déjà Dû,
please check his Bio on the Editors Page.

ANOTHER NOTE BY THE MARQUIS:
fiction \'fikshun\ n the act of creating something imaginary : a fabrication of the mind.
Jeezus, you guys, this is not about Trent Reznor, okay?
He may live down the street, but he's not very neighbourly
-- neither am I for that matter.