The alley had a curve, which was uncommon for Chicago. The City’s grid of right angles and diagonals had no tolerance for curves between the blocks. On the left side, at the west end, someone had painted part of the brick alley wall black. Even during the day this anti-artistry exaggerated the shadow in the alley. At night, the blue light bulb above the tavern service entrance produced a two color ghastliness to the goings in in the narrow darkness. The sounds of slurring menace and breaking bottles devolved into echoes against the curving bricks. The fire escapes above, brushed blue by the tavern bulb, hung silently, intermittently hiding a spectator, or a cop, reviewing the parade of undesirables below.
Continuing the expeditions of Jeff MacNelly, James Kilpatrick, and Eugene McCarthy, with apologies.
The Special Envoy
Steeped in protocol and realpolitik, the Special Envoy occupies a very specialized niche in the Bestiary. Rumpled and travel weary, the SE is a uniquely nomadic professional pol, barely staying in one place long enough to complete the task of saber-rattling, or peacemaking, or whatever its charge happens to be. Pockets stuffed with language instruction books and odd currencies, the creature can declare “We are nearing a breakthrough!” in almost any language before hailing a cab to the airport. En route to meet its master, the SE is likely to dash off killer communiques to interested parties, including its publicist, while chatting over secure lines with underworld contacts interested in propping up some nascent regime. Its eagerness to fly has made its position secure in the age of Skype, for the SE has always relayed that its results were reliant on face time, not FaceTime. Even when merely in residence at a think tank (in between assignments) or on holiday (summers in Gstaad or on the Baltic Sea), the Special Envoy is always on the grid, racking up contacts and frequent flyer miles in spades. The creature is truly international, though rarely seen in the U.S., save for brief roosts at Camp David, or, in intemperate times, CIA headquarters in Langley.
She was a cat, and an electric eel, a shapeshifter with magnetic, iridescent skin. She walked on high heels as if she wore sneakers, and was as elegant in jackboots as glass slippers. She moved into a room and moved the room. She could sing, boy, could she sing, like the bells of St. Mary’s on Christmas Eve and she synced with the music of her mind all day and all night so that every step, bend, lean, was heart-rhythmic. She had money, it seemed, some or just enough, she was beholden to no one, her own singular self, a prophet let loose from a god that had died and left her to minister on her own terms. She didn’t have a halo but she sometimes glittered.
And all the while, she was hiding behind her made up face, afraid, or unwilling, or just not bothering to show anyone the underneath. The girding of her persona was both organic and manufactured, a hybrid of desire and experience. An architecture and facade that she built and tended to everyday. A functional space that worked beautifully. Craft and curb appeal. Now as I see her working her way through a crowded bar, she turns and meets my stare and I feel a vital heat. Her being radiates along the tendrils of face paint that spread from her eyes like solar flares. She is all fire and music now, the syncopated conflagration threatening to tear us both down, but she will survive, because she built herself to survive this. The silly interludes of this and all other vignettes do not diminish her. She will disappear one day into the stardust, unchanged and unchanging into eternity.