Galilee, p.1
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Galilee


  To Emilian David Armstrong

  CONTENTS

  Acknowledgments

  PART ONE The Time Remaining

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  Chapter VIII

  Chapter IX

  PART TWO The Holy Family

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  PART THREE An Expensive Life

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  Chapter VIII

  Chapter IX

  Chapter X

  Chapter XI

  Chapter XII

  Chapter XIII

  Chapter XVI

  Chapter XV

  Chapter XVI

  Chapter XVII

  PART FOUR The Prodigal’s Tide

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  Chapter VIII

  Chapter IX

  Chapter X

  Chapter XI

  Chapter XII

  Chapter XIII

  PART FIVE The Act of Love

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  Chapter VIII

  Chapter IX

  PART SIX Ink and Water

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  Chapter VIII

  Chapter IX

  Chapter X

  Chapter XI

  Chapter XII

  Chapter XIII

  Chapter XIV

  Chapter XV

  PART SEVEN The Wheel of the Stars

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  Chapter VIII

  Chapter IX

  PART EIGHT A House of Women

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  Chapter VIII

  Chapter IX

  Chapter X

  Chapter XI

  Chapter XII

  Chapter XIII

  Chapter XIV

  Chapter XV

  Chapter XVI

  Chapter XVII

  Chapter XVIII

  Chapter XIX

  Chapter XX

  Chapter XXI

  PART NINE The Human Road

  Chapter I

  Chapter II

  Chapter III

  Chapter IV

  Chapter V

  Chapter VI

  Chapter VII

  About the Author

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Thankfully, I did not take this voyage alone. I’d like to offer here a few words of appreciation to those who have accompanied me.

  To Vann Sauls, of McGee’s Crossroads, North Carolina, for his friendship, his wit, and for the insights he imparted as we explored the Carolinas together. Without our conversations wandering the midnight streets of Charleston and the woods at Bentonville, where the armies of North and South clashed so calamitously, this book would be much impoverished.

  To Robb Humphreys and Joe Daley, who assisted me in my more obscure researches, never failing to find on the library shelves books that contained some vital nugget of information.

  To my dear Anna Miller, who along with Robb and Joe runs our film production company here in LA. While I’ve been at sea with Galilee, she’s kept the seductions and the insanities of this town at bay with chair and whip.

  To Don Mackay, who did me the great honor of making the typing of this manuscript his only distraction from his true vocation, which is that of actor.

  And finally, to David John Dodds, who makes the world in which I live and work run like clockwork, a far from easy task. He has been my friend and guardian spirit for thirteen years. None of this would be possible without his love and faith in me.

  C.B.

  PART ONE

  The Time

  Remaining

  I

  i

  At the insistence of my stepmother Cesaria Barbarossa the house in which I presently sit was built so that it faces southeast. The architect—who was no lesser man than the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson—protested her desire repeatedly and eloquently. I have the letters in which he did so here on my desk. But she would not be moved on the subject. The house was to look back toward her homeland, toward Africa, and he, as her employee, was to do as he was instructed.

  It’s very plain, however, reading between the lines of her missives (I have those too; or at least copies of them) that he is far more than an architect for hire; and she to him more than a headstrong woman with a perverse desire to build a house in a swamp, in North Carolina, facing southeast. They write to one another like people who know a secret.

  I know a few myself; and luckily for the thoroughness of what follows I have no intention of keeping them.

  The time has come to tell everything I know. Failing that, everything I can detect or surmise. Failing that, everything I can invent. If I do my job properly it won’t even matter to you which is which. What will appear on these pages will be, I hope, a seamless history, describing deeds and destinies that will range across the world. Some of them will be, to say the least, strange events, enacted by troubled and unpalatable souls. But as a general rule, you should assume that the more unlikely the action lay upon this stage for you, the more likely it is that I have evidence of its having happened. The things I will invent will be, I suspect, mundane by comparison with the truth. And as I said, it’s my intention that you should not know the difference. I plan to interweave the elements of my story so cunningly that you’ll cease to even care whether an event happened out there in the same world where you walk, or in here, in the head of a crippled man who will never again move from his stepmother’s house.

  • • •

  This house, this glorious house!

  When Jefferson labored on its designs he was still some distance from Pennsylvania Avenue, but he was by no means an unknown. The year was 1790. He had already penned the Declaration of Independence, and served in France as the US Minister to the French government. Great words had flowed from his pen. Yet here he is taking time from his duties in Washington, and from work on his own house, to write long letters to my father’s wife, in which the business of constructing this house and the nuances of his heart are exquisitely interlaced.

  If that is not extraordinary enough, consider this: Cesaria is a black woman; Jefferson, for all his democratic protestations, was the owner of some two hundred slaves. So how much authority must she have had over him, to be able to persuade him to labor for her as he did? It’s a testament to her powers of enchantment—powers which in this case she exercised, as she was fond of saying, “without the juju.” In other words: in her dealings with Jefferson she was simply, sweetly, even innocently, human. Whatever capacities she possesses to supernaturally beguile a human soul—and she possesses many—she liked his clear-sightedness too well to blind him that way. If he was devoted to her, it was because she was worthy of his devotion.

  They called the house he built for her L’Enfant. Actually, I believe the full name was L’Enfant de les Carolinas. I can only speculate as to why they so named it.

  That the name of the house is in French is no big surprise: they met in the gilded salons of Paris. But the name itself? I have two theories. The first, and the most obvious, is that the house was in a sense the product of their romance, their child if you will, and they named it accordingly. The second, that it was the infant of an architectural parent, the progenitor being Jefferson’s own house at Monticello, into which he poured his genius for most of his life. It’s bigger than Monticello by a rough measure of three (Monticello is eleven thousand square feet; I estimate L’Enfant to be a little over thirty-four thousand) and has a number of smaller service buildings in its vicinity, whereas Jefferson’s house is a single structure, incorporating the slave and servant quarters, the kitchen and toilet facilities, under one roof. But in other regards the houses are very similar. They’re both Jeffersonian reworkings of Palladian models; both have double porticoes, both have octagonal domes, both have capacious high-ceilinged rooms and plenty of windows, both are practical rather than glamorous houses; both, I’d say, are structures that bespeak great confidence and great love.

  Of course their settings are radically different. Monticello, as its name suggests, is set on a mountain. L’Enfant sits on a plot of low-lying ground forty-seven acres in size, the southeastern end of which is unredeemable swamp, and the northern perimeter wooded, primarily with pine. The house itself is raised upon a modest ridge, which protects it a little from the creeping damps and rots of this region, but not enough to stop the cellar from flooding during heavy rain, and the rooms getting damnably cold in winter and humid as hell in summer. Not that I’m complaining. L’Enfant is an extraordinary house. Sometimes I think it has a soul all of its own. Certainly it seems to know the moods of its occupants, and accommodates them. There have been times, sitting in my study, when a black thought has crept into my psyche for some reason, and I swear I can feel the room darken in sympathy with me. Nothing changes physically—the drapes don’t close, the stains don’t spread—but I nevertheless sense a subtle transformation in the chamber; as if it wishes to fall in rhythm with my mood. The same is true on days when I’m blithe, or haunted by doubts, or merely feeling lazy. Maybe it’s Jefferson’s genius that creates the illusion of empathy. Or perhaps it’s Cesaria’s work: her own genius, wedded with his. Whatever the reason, L’Enfant knows us. Better, I sometimes think, than we know ourselves.

  ii

  I share this house with three women, two men, and a number of indeterminates.

  The women are of course Cesaria and her daughters, my two half-sisters, Marietta and Zabrina. The men? One is my half-brother Luman (who doesn’t actually live in the house, but outside, in a shack on the grounds) and Dwight Huddie, who serves as majordomo, as cook and as general handyman: I’ll tell you more about him later. Then, as I said, there’s the indeterminates, whose number is, not surprisingly, indeterminate.

  How shall I best describe these presences to you? Not as spirits; that evokes something altogether too fanciful. They are simply nameless laborers, in Cesaria’s exclusive control, who see to the general upkeep of the house. They do their job well. I wonder sometimes if Cesaria didn’t first conjure them when Jefferson was still at work here, so that he could give them all a practical education in the strengths and liabilities of his masterpiece. If so, it would have been a scene to cherish: Jefferson the great rationalist, the numbers man, obliged to believe the evidence of his own eyes, though his common sense revolted at the idea that creatures such as these—brought out of the ether at the command of the mistress of L’Enfant—could exist. As I said, I don’t know how many of them there are (six, perhaps; perhaps less); nor whether they’re in fact projections of Cesaria’s will or things once possessed of souls and volition. I only know that they tirelessly perform the task of keeping this vast house and its grounds in a reasonable condition, but—like stagehands in a theater—do so only when our gaze is averted. If this sounds a little eerie, maybe it is: I’ve simply become used to it. I no longer think about who it is who changes my bed every morning while I’m brushing my teeth, or who sews the buttons back on my shirt when they come loose, or fixes the cracks in the plaster or trims the magnolias. I take it for granted that the work will be done, and that whoever the laborers are, they have no more desire to exchange pleasantries with me than I do with them.

  There’s one other occupant of the place that I think I should mention, and that’s Cesaria’s personal servant. How she came to have him as her bosom companion will be the subject of a later passage, so I’ll leave the details until then. Let me say only this: he is, in my opinion, the saddest soul in the house. And when you consider the sum of sorrow under this roof, that’s no little claim.

  Anyway, I don’t want to get mired in melancholy. Let’s move on.

  Having listed the human, or almost human, occupants of L’Enfant, I should make mention perhaps of the animals. An estate of this size is of course home to innumerable wild species. There are foxes, skunks and possums, there are feral cats (escapees from domestic servitude somewhere in Rollins County), and a number of dogs who make their home in the thicket. The trees are busy with birds night and day, and every now and then an alligator wanders up from the swamp and suns itself on the lawn.

  All this is predictable enough. But there are two species whose presence here is rather less likely. The first was imported by Marietta, who took it into her head some years back to raise three hyena pups. How she came by them I don’t recall (if she ever told me); I only know she wearied of surrogate motherhood quickly enough, and turned them loose. They bred, incestuously of course, and now there’s quite a pack of them out there. The other oddities here are my stepmother’s pride and joy: the porcupines. She’s kept them as pets since first occupying the house, and they’ve prospered. They live inside, where they roam unfettered and unchallenged, though they prefer on the whole to stay upstairs, close to their mistress.

  We had horses, of course, in my father’s day—the stables were palatially appointed—but none of them survived an hour beyond his passing. Even if they’d had choice in the matter (which they didn’t), they were too loyal to live once he’d gone; too noble. I doubt the same could be said of any of the other species. They grudgingly coexist with us while we’re here, but I doubt there would be much grieving among them if we all departed. Nor do I imagine they’d long respect the sanctity of the house. In a week or two they’d have taken up residence: hyenas in the library, alligators in the cellar, foxes running riot under the great dome. Sometimes I wonder if they’re not eyeing it already; planning for the day when it’s theirs to shit on from roof to foundations.

  II

  My suite of rooms is at the back of the house, four rooms in all, none of which were designed for their present purpose. What is now my bedroom—and the chamber I consider the most charming in the house—was originally a dining room used by my late father, Hursek Nicodemus Barbarossa, who did not once sit at the same table as Cesaria all the time I lived here. Such is marriage.

  Adjacent to the study where I am sitting now, Nicodemus put his collection of keepsakes, a goodly portion of which was—at his request—buried with him when he died. Here he kept the skull of the first horse he ever owned, along with a comprehensive and outlandish collection of sexual devices fashioned over the ages to increase the pleasure of connoisseurs. (He had a tale for every one of them: invariably hilarious.) This was not all he kept here. There was a gauntlet that had belonged to Saladin, the Moslem lover of Richard the Lionheart. There was a scroll, painted for him in China, which depicted, he once told me, the history of the world (though it seemed to my uneducated eyes simply a landscape with a serpentine river winding through it); there were dozens of representations of the male genitals—the lingam, the jade flute, Aaron’s rod (or my father’s favorite term: Il Santo Membro, the holy cock)—some of which were, I believe, carved or sculpted by his own priests, and therefore represent the sex that spurted me into being. Some of those objects are still here on the shelves. You may think that odd; even a little distasteful. I’m not certain I would even argue with that opinion. But he was a sexual man, and these statues, for all their crudity, embody him better than a book of his life, or a thousand photographs.

  And it’s not as if they’re the only things on the shelves. Over the decades I’ve assembled here a vast library. Though I speak only English, French and a halting Italian, I read Hebrew, Latin and Greek, so my books are often antiquated, their subjects arcane. When you’ve had as much time on your hands as I’ve had, your curiosity takes obscure turns. In learned circles I’d probably be counted a world expert in a variety of subjects that no person with a real life to live—children, taxes, love—would give a fig about.

  My father, were he here, would not approve of my books. He didn’t like me to read. It reminded him, he would tell me, of how he’d lost my mother. A remark, by the way, which I do not understand to this day. The only volume he encouraged me to study was the two-leaved book that opens between a woman’s legs. He kept ink, pen and paper from me when I was a child; though of course I wanted them all the more because they were forbidden me. He was determined that my real schooling be in the art and craft of horse breeding, which, after sex, was his great passion.

  As a young man I traveled the world on his behalf, buying and selling horses, organizing their transportation to the stables here at L’Enfant, learning how to understand their natures as he understood them. I was good at what I did; and I enjoyed my travels. Indeed I met my late wife, Chiyojo, on one of those trips; and brought her back here to the house, intending to start a family. Those sweet ambitions were unfortunately denied me, however, by a sequence of tragedies that ended with the death of both my wife and that of Nicodemus.

  But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was talking about this room, and what it housed during my father’s occupancy: the phalli, the scroll, the horse’s skull. What else? Let me think. There was a bell which Nicodemus claimed had been rung by a leper healed at the Crucifixion (he took the bell to his grave), and a device, no bigger than the humidor in which I keep my havanas, which plays a curious, whining music if touched, its sound so close to the human voice that it’s possible to believe, as my father insisted, that its sealed interior contains a living mechanism.

 
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