Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Francois Bucher, pt 2

When my brother and I were kids, there was a brief time when our dad's band practiced in a warehouse on Gaines Street. This warehouse is now a bar, but at that time it was just an empty space rented out by various people for various reasons. Where the beer taps are now was used by a florist to store back-up stock, where the pool tables are now is where I would rollerskate while dad's band worked through their set list. The smaller room toward the back where they host open mike nights was used to store art, probably from FSU art school, but I don't know that for sure. The memories are hazy. What is not hazy is one particular piece of art in that back room that scared the heebie-jeebies out of me. It was a mannequin, laying face-up on a cot. Where it's head would have been someone had put a large black globe with moth-like antennae growing out of it and a hole in the face area. In the hole was a light bulb. I don't know why this thing scared me so much, but it did to the point that just knowing it was back there was enough to make me stop mid roll, look over my shoulder, and shiver.
I probably only saw it in person a couple of times, but it never really left me. It had gotten under my skin. Which is why, after living in the Nautilus Foundation for a few days and I looked under a sheet draped over an object in the theater and saw it lying there, I was both terrified and not really surprised. So you've finally found me. I thought, looking at it's mute, empty head.
I lived in the Nun's Room, behind the stage. Every time I got up in the middle of the night to pee, I had to climb up onto the stage, cross, climb down, walk through the aisles of chairs past the horrible thing beneath the sheet, go out into the room with the sleigh bed and the angel with the sword, and only when I got to the green marble bathroom would I find a light switch. I always carried a flashlight. God forbid I forgot to bring the flashlight with me in the morning and I'd have to walk all that long way back there at night in the dark when I went to bed.
My room was furnished with an antique iron bed that had originally come from a 13th century Chinese hospital, but more recently had been hauled out from a concrete dome in the front yard which held about 20 more of the same. I also had a vanity that I brought from home and a peach crate containing some of my clothes. The rest of my clothes were housed in the Italian armoir in the front room, as I had no closet in the Nun's Room. My sewing machine and table were on the stage and looked like props for some homey little play, but when I used it the sound would clatter around the auditorium, so I did very little sewing during my stay.
Francois Bucher was a retired professor of medieval art and architecture. Born in Switzerland, he had spent most of his life in the US, but he retained his beautiful upturned accent that made everything he said sound either like a question or a good idea. He had taught at Yale and at FSU and had been granted a Guggenheim back in the fifties, or in his fifties, I can't remember which. He spoke many different languages and had led an exciting life, but he never made me feel ignorant or lesser than. I think that by the time I met him a lot of his spark had gone out. He was lonely and depressed.
It was hot in the Nautilus Foundation (there was no air conditioning) and soon after I moved in Francois grew comfortable enough to walk around in only his underpants, as was his habit when he lived alone. After seeing him the first time without his clothes, it really was no big thing to live with an old man in underpants. I kept my clothes on, though he assured me there would be no threat on his part if I chose to walk around in the nude. It was simple modesty that kept me clothed, although I would occasionally go skinny dipping in the pond out back.
There was a pond out back, I've forgotten to mention that. In fact, there was a lot more to the Nautilus Foundation than just the main building. The grounds covered several acres of woods and fields. Along the driveway, back up toward the road was a gigantic round building under construction that was intended to be the dormitory for the scholars that would come. The round shape of the building was so that no one would would have a better room than anyone else, to create equality amongst the guests like King Arthur's round table. The driveway curved past the main building, over the creek, and into the woods. Past the stone carver's house, past the barn that held the construction equipment and materials, past the giant kiln, past a few more out buildings, up a hill and into a clearing was the duplex my ex boyfriend rented. It was no longer available to rent because Francois had built an observatory up there and he didn't want anyone polluting the perfect darkness with kitchen lights and reading lamps.
In the woods there was an art path that had grown over from neglect. The sculptures that lined the path seemed to pop up out of nowhere and were themselves being reclaimed by the North Florida flora and fauna. In one part there was the sad remains of a full sized Chinese junk ship made entirely of multicolored rice paper. It had been vandalized by drunken locals not long after it's construction, it's great sides torn and dripping from it's skeleton, the masts broken and leaning heavily on the trees around it. Spiders and snakes and squirrels lived in it, poison ivy grew up between it's toes. I still wish I had seen it when it was whole. It would've been a rainbow ship, it would've been infused with light when the sun was overhead.
Francois sounded bitter when he told me of the ship's destruction. He sounded like the whole human race was fucked if people would wantonly destroy something so beautiful. He was disappointed in humanity at large.
He was also disappointed in his life. I could tell that no matter how much he had lived, he could not believe he had ended up so old and so weak. It pissed him off that he had to follow dietary guidelines, pissed him off and frightened him. He would ask me over and over as we ate supper if I remembered he could not eat vitamin K, if I had perhaps accidentally put butter in the pasta. He told me to feel free to drink the vodka in the freezer because God knows he can't drink it, Goddammit. He would look longingly at my greens salad (I don't remember why he was not allowed a greens salad) and tell me long endless tales of his youth. The time he ran away as a boy with his best friend and ended up on a raft surrounded by sharks. The days he spent with Albert Einstein discussing recipes and time travel (He was a fairy of a man! He said of Einstein.) The women he slept with. The stupid children who took education for granted he taught. And on and on. I should have paid better attention, but I was one of those stupid children. I was tired by the time we sat down to dinner, and I was young and he was old and I didn't want to sit for hours and be talked to.
My days started early. When I dropped out of college I decided that I either wanted to be a midwife or an auto mechanic, so I enrolled in the auto mechanic program at Lively Vo-Tech and in an anatomy class at Tallahassee Community College. I had to be at Lively at 8:AM, so I was up at 4:00 to walk before I made us breakfast.
I fell in love with walking in Lloyd. At four in the morning the world was dark and quiet and cool. I walked past old houses and farmland, past fields filled with giant rolls of hay that looked like sleeping woolly creatures. I walked past long stretches of barbed wire, past tangles of kudzu, past creeks and goats and trailers. As I walked my muscles would loosen up and I would wake up from my sleeping dreams only to fall into daydreams. I told myself stories about the people who lived in the houses and trailers, and I told myself more darkly made-up stories of the people who lived in the woods, the ones who made homes in wood rot and gopher hole. The ones who could hide in the Spanish moss and who blended in with leaf mold. I walked and dreamed for an hour every morning and found myself back home.
I'd come in sweaty and get the coffee started and by the time I'd showered and dressed for class (in greasy jeans and a clean t-shirt) Francois would be up, sitting at the butcher block in the kitchen, waiting for me.


downtown guy said...

Oh, god, the Thing!

Mary said...

I am reading your story with bated breath!

Lovely, evocative writing, you have me HOOKED...

May said...

DTG- I KNOW!!!! Francois's daughter made it. Or... it came from hell, I'm not sure.

Mary- Thank you again! This is the last bit today, but there should be more soon. Hopefully.

Danielle said...

just one word..:more

Ms. Moon said...

You got me. This is amazing writing. And what a story. Oh, my darling!

Mel said...

Oh, don't stop! I am fascinated by your story, and can't wait to hear what's next!

Allegra Smith said...

Seldom if ever I got to a blog twice in a day, you my darling are addictive, and you should keep a good record of these writings because as a former editor I can tell you that there is more than just words here. Now, where were we?

Petit fleur said...

I can't even begin to comment here. I just ditto what everyone else is saying. (Taps arm to expose vein!)

It was rumored that Francois was friends with Burrows... and that Einstein's couch took up residence at his place. This is all stuff I remember from the Finale's days, when I could never remember his last name and would refer to him as Francois Dubois! (Because it was French sounding and rhymed.)

Please May, please say there will be part 3!!!!
Love and love,

Mwa said...

Yes, more!

Bethany said...

Holy COW.
This is wild.

I love your description of your walks.
I love every bit of this.
What a life you've lived already.
My God, I feel so BORING!

An auto mechanic or a mid wife?! Perfect.