Obviously, I'd found my sliver. It took quite a while for me to glimpse the implications I had by the tail. Little glittering details began sifting out of my memory like unbelievable snowflakes, fitting unwillingly against one another like mismatched shapes in Tetris, until I began shaking the kaleidoscope to see what pretty pictures I could make.
My behavior at Eliot's parties never changed, though I turned up more frequently, and I opened a mental notebook every time I stepped through the door. I thought at first I had a magnificent metaphor, and merely went about looking for detail to make it more plausable. But his walls had no photo of him with "Tom" when he might have been buying those trial experiences that helped shorten the playwright's life. Novels, of course, can manufacture whatever smoking guns they need. I made gross experiments with garlic, mirrors, and crosses, but rejected them all as gaudy surface trappings no one could take seriously any more. I was after bigger fish than Alucard.
As I listened more and talked less with Eliot's wide circle of friends, though, it occurred to me that none of them, no matter who I asked, no matter how long they had known one another, had ever met Eliot when they were both young. They all gave differing guesses at his real age because, no matter how far back they met, he had appeared to them quite mature from the beginning. So on impulse I trotted over to the BPL and spent four fruitless days rooting through every possible biography of Oscar Wilde, getting nowhere. That boat waiting patiently but bootlessly in the Thames was nowhere to be found. I turned the graphics department upside- down studying photographs and portraits from the period, and put several librarians through hell looking for memoirs and autobiographies of Wilde's contemporaries --- and finally the unused boat surfaced. The story was told by Frank Harris, a congenital liar, but there it was.
And Eliot's circle, as I listened to them more closely, began to fall into patterns. I found out, for instance, how incredibly long, before I'd met him, Stephen had been holding his Sunday afternoon seances, without ever feeling his fine one-man show was ready. The readiness apparently escaped them all. One of Eliot's aging lady-friends was still hoping for her break from semi- professional opera choruses to the big roles she studied --- with a series of unsatisfactory voice coaches. I found on his shelves a scattering of slim volumes of verse, all effusively dedicated in flamboyant script, all with Vanity Press imprints. Many of the poems showed promise, but the later volumes somehow never fulfilled that promise. And then there was the night I listened at some length to a bitter lesbian actress, fresh from having done Cassius and Shylock for a sex-blind little theater company, who was refusing female roles and furious that she couldn't find a director she trusted to stage her HAMLET or her LEAR. I began to see everyone in the room as a mirror-image of myself. And every single one of them confided that it was only Eliot's friendly encouragement that kept them trying in the face of failure.
I didn't understand it. I was weaving what could be an interesting story, and I took notes and begged an extension from Nightshade on a promise of something big and new --- even something they'd assuredly sell screen-rights on --- but the whole thing wouldn't jell! I knew who, but I had no clue as to why, or how. No Goddamned motive and no Godamned method! Try as I might I couldn't figure how, or why, my smiling protagonist did any dastardly deeds. My metaphor was shaping up, but juggle it as I might the pieces stayed an unconvincing jumble. I recalled Eliot shoving me, more nights than one, out into the booze-bespattered dawn, and that, along with the silver and garlic and mirrors and crosses that all turned up negative, left me baffled. It was even true that Eliot called everyone by first name --- and I had always had an annoying devil of a time keeping all his Bobbies straight! --- so couldn't that extend to Oscars and Toms he'd only read about? He was everyone's friend; hell he was MY friend! Why, except for the purposes of fiction, think him so monstrous?
I was just about to tell Eliot my literary predicament and ask his advice when I happened to see a television program about bats feeding, photographed in eerie infra-red light. There were no bitten throats, no pallidly un-dead corpses. No, instead the sleeping cattle felt only a little nick, at the base of an ear or the back of the neck, a nick so small, so slight they dozed again --- only to awaken a bit dizzy and light-headed in the morning eager to get back their strength with increased intake of grass and water and determinedly processed cud. Of course! They'd be of no use to him dead, would they!
It still seemed fantastic. I started looking back at the myths themselves. They grew up out of days when the Sea of Faith was taken at the flood, when destroying a person's faith would make them dead, yet not dead --- and burningly aware that inside them faith itself had been, somehow, forever maimed. And say a creature, a person, could somehow feed from that continual awareness of frustrated faith. Would not such a creature, like the bats, prefer his victims to live out their torments unfulfilled rather than kill? And what, today, would destroy any artist's faith in himself more totally than taking away his talent!
"THE READINESS IS ALL"
II The Literary Circle
III The Man Himself
IV Habitat Group
V Reach Versus Grasp
VII More of The Same
IX The thing Itself
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