Another excerpt from The Miranda Complex Volume 2: Poppies
“Sing me a song,” Lorelei said, “lying naked in the dark on your parents’ bed.”
“How did you know I was in the dark?”
“Why wouldn’t you be?”
“Zackly,” I said. I was stalling ’cause I thought it’d be perfect to sing the opening of the Styx song “Lorelei” but I was having trouble remembering the words. Finally I grabbed a few.
“When I think of Lorelei my head turns all around,” I sang all high and strained, what I remembered of the song from hearing it on the radio, “As gentle as a butterfly she moves without a sound. That’s all I know from it, or, wait, no, the chorus, Lorelei let’s live together brighter than the stars forever.”
“Impressive choice, Lance Atlas,” Lorelei said, “Sing me the whole song one day.”
I wasn’t sure how I was going to accomplish that because I didn’t know anybody who owned it and I wasn’t about to spend money on a Styx album.
“Now tell me a story,” Lorelei says.
“I don’t know any stories.”
“Oh, you are full of stories, Lance Atlas. Let one out for me. Tell me a story you’re never going to tell to anyone else ever again. It’ll be mine and mine alone.”
“Get me started,” I said, “Spark the fire, Cap’n Flint.”
“Aye, matey, tell me a story about . . .” I could never hear her breathing over the phone so there was just this silence as dark as the room, “ . . . Tell me a story about the boy who had stars in his heart.”
“OK, uh, there was this boy named, uh–”
“Yes. Continue. I’m already getting bored. That’s good. Boredom can get you through everything. Have you ever noticed that? Once you get good at being bored you never have to worry about being stuck somewhere with nothing to read. You always know what to do. Continue.”
“All right, so this boy named Lance Atlas once knew this freak named Emperor Constantine. Emperor Constantine was his barber.”
“Excellent. You know what I like, Lance Atlas.”
“Emperor Constantine held court in a Melrose Avenue storefront called Byzantium between Martel and Fuller, overseeing a decayed empire of faded hippie impotence.”
“Hippie impotence. Nice assonance.”
“He resembled Uncle Norman Tinker from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”
“The Emperor had a heaping swoop of brown hair held in place by The Dry Look because the wet-head was dead. Did you just snicker?”
“OK, so, there was also a bevy of beautiful women in tight bellbottom jeans hanging around the shop. Multiple love partners of Constantine without a doubt.”
“A vintage phone booth stood in one corner, beanbag chairs against the back wall, a jukebox that played Chicago and Three Dog Night incessantly. The room just reeked of incense and sex and hair products.”
“As Lance Atlas–by now a teenager–sat in the Emperor’s chair and gazed at the painting of a shackled Samson bringing down the columns of a building, he thought about the first time he’d come in for a haircut. When he was 4 years old. It was the first haircut he’d ever gotten from someone other than his mother. Emperor Constantine sat him in the chair with a booster seat and wrapped a bib around him that covered his whole body and he felt good and warm under that bib like he was safe there.”
“I like that. Keep going.”
“The snipping sound of the scissors was like music and he closed his eyes to listen but was stung within seconds by the slicing off of his upper ear by Emperor Constantine.”
“The top of Lance’s ear flew from Emperor Constantine’s scissors as he waved them in a panic. ‘Oh my god,’ he kept saying. Little Lance’s mother was understandably freaking out. She held a towel to the boy’s ear to try to stop the bleeding as he wailed from the seething pain. He couldn’t remember if his mom paid for the haircut or not that day. She took the boy and the severed piece of his ear to the emergency room where they were unable to reattach the cartilage and he was told he would have to live with only a partial ear.”
I had to pause for a moment to catch my brain.
“Don’t stop,” she said.
“I’ve already reached the climax, but here’s the sweet denouement: The doctor said to him, ‘You had to lose a piece of your ear, but we poured a whole bunch of stars into the wound so that the ear might not look perfect but it will feel perfect and work perfect and once those stars have done their job on the ear they’ll find their way to your heart and that’s where they’ll stay forever because you can’t ever lose stars once they’re in your heart.’ And always remembering what the doctor said, the boy grew up to be a musician with ears that, while not perfect, were certainly very very good. And the stars in his heart bring him light and warmth to this day no matter where he is and he loves knowing that he can’t ever lose them.”
Not a sound to be heard from Lorelei’s end of the line.
Had I put her to sleep?
“The End,” I said.
“You win that round, Lance Atlas. Bravo. Bravissimo. Just swell.”
“Just for you, shweetheart,” I bogarted.
“No, it’s not. You’re going to tell it to a whole bunch of other people too. Was that a true story?”
“You don’t get to know that,” I said with a vengeance.
“But the protagonist’s name is Lance Atlas, Lance Atlas.”
“Because you told me to name him that.”
“You could have refused. It’s your story.”
“I’d never refuse you anything, baby.”
“Ew, don’t call me baby. I told you. You sound like my father.”
“What can I call you?”
“No pet names?”
“I’m not your pet, Lance Atlas.”
“But you are my girlfriend.”
“That I am.”
“I’d never refuse you anything, girlfriend.”
Lorelei surprised me with a giggle.
“I made you laugh,” I said.
“I love you, Lance Atlas.”
“And I love you, Lorelei Lux.”
“Hang on, I’m writing that down in my notebook.”
“I do kind of have stars in my heart though,” I said.
“Interesting . . . do tell, boyfriend.”
“I have a heart murmur, you know, arrhythmia, and sometimes it feels as if there are billions of stars shaking around in my chest and sometimes even crashing into each other. I get these hot bursts and flutters.”
“Wow. See? You are the boy with stars in his heart. And did you really have the top of your ear cut off?”
“Well, the barber did actually cut my ear when I was 4, but no pieces were severed off. I just bled a lot. And my barber’s name really was Emperor Constantine, or at least that’s what he called himself, and his barber shop was called Byzantium for real.”
“Your mother kept taking you back to him even though he cut your ear?”
“My mom said she didn’t want to make him feel bad. ‘Everybody makes mistakes,’ she said.”
“Interesting . . . Your story almost made me fall asleep. A high compliment.”
“And all-the-way putting you to sleep would be the highest compliment.”
“Exactly. Without boredom there is no creativity. And there is no creativity without boredom.”
“You are correct,” Lorelei said. “Now here’s an unrelated question for you: When we were spinning together at the sock hop did you know we’d end up together like this?”
“Nyeah, I knew something was up, but it didn’t seem like you reciprocated.”
“That was by design.”
“I understand how that works.”
“I know you do.”
“OK, now it’s your turn to tell me a story,” I said in order to shift away from the sock hop destiny plotline because I knew eventually I’d mythologize it into something it really wasn’t just to jive with her internal narrative.
“Launch me, Lance Atlas.”
“OK . . . Tell me a story about Lorelei Lux, the little princess who is the guardian of secrets.”
“You’re just trying to get into my notebook, good sir. I see right through your little ploy.”
“It’s not your notebook I’m trying to get into.”
“Harumph. Very well then, you libertine,” she said and I heard her breathe into the phone for the first time, “Back in the darkest days of the kingdom, when the King’s enemies were many and his resources were few, there dwelt an enchanting girl, the daughter of the King himself, Princess Lorelei.”
“Princess Lorelei Lux, or just simply Princess Lorelei as most people called her, was a precocious child who loved everything she came into contact with, toys, dirt, food, bugs, even her fellow human beings. ‘The Laughing Princess’ as the courtiers and the townspeople alike referred to her because of her constant state of good humor, was, in those darkest days, assigned to be the Guardian of Secrets in a room for precious treasure hidden in the bowels of the palace. She was equipped with a bell and a ram’s horn as signals for help should any invaders approach the room and attempt to plunder her booty.”
“Don’t heckle my story. Booty as in treasure.”
“Dang. I was thinking of your nice assonance.”
“Don’t be inappropriate. Shall I proceed?”
“Yeah yeah. This is great. Sorry. You are a genius. Go ahead.”
“One night Princess Lorelei heard her parents having a tremendous fight with voices loud and much slamming of doors. There had only been a short silence after the fighting subsided when Princess Lorelei saw her father storming down the corridor right toward her. ‘What happened, Daddy?’ little Lorelei asked the King. ‘Nothing, baby,’ he said, ‘Daddy needs you to open up and let him in, darling.’ ‘But you told me not to let anybody in,’ the Princess said. ‘Except me,’ said the King pushing his way in and locking the door. Once inside he began tearing the chamber apart, touching the treasure, grabbing it, putting his mouth on it. He was like a character in a cartoon saying, ‘Mine, mine, all mine,’ while he rolled around and pressed himself against the treasure and Princess Lorelei couldn’t do anything about it. She pretended she was watching it from far away on a passing asteroid. ‘Don’t tell your mother I did this,’ he warned the Princess, ‘or I’ll take your treasure away forever.’ ‘You already have,’ she cried and sat in her own shame and anger at herself for letting him in. For a while he came back every night to mess with the treasure until one night he just stopped coming and told her that everything was ruined. Ever since then the Princess only talks to the King when other people are around. The End.”
Neither of us spoke for a phone eternity. At least a minute.
“I–um,” I hesitated.
“Sorry,” she said.
“No no,” I said, “You got into it. You were telling it. It’s a sad story.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you have that story written down in your notebook?”
“This notebook contains everything, Lance Atlas.”
“I love you,” I said and felt the bottomless depth of her darkness.
“You too,” she said.
“I can keep your secrets for you if you want,” I said.
“No no. They’re mine mine all mine. I need them to stay hidden. Like wishes.”
“I get it.”
“I know. You have secrets too.”
“I suppose even God has a secret.”
“Dude, we are God’s secret.”
“You make me smile, Lance Atlas.”
“Like a Cheshire moon on the beach?”
“Should I know that reference?”
“Nah. It’s a secret,” I teased.
“Oh, bother,” she poohed.
“Tell me another story.”
“No, I’ve told you too much already.”
“Maybe tomorrow then.”
“See you tomorrow, boyfriend,” she said and hung up.
Sometimes talking to Lorelei Lux could be the coolest thing in the world.