The Diaries of a Sozzled Scribbler #14
Transcribed by DMETRI KAKMI
1 August 2020
Guess who I stumbled on while prowling in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens? None other than Charles Baudelaire.
‘Charlie, my dear fellow,’ I cried. ‘I thought you were dead.’
‘I am,’ quoth he. ‘That’s why I’m here.’
‘Well said,’ was my jolly rejoinder. ‘Only those who’ve turned their backs on life reside in Melbourne.’
We laughed. Charles delivered a hearty slap to my back, and I almost plummeted into a hydrangea bush, from which four men emerged, pulling up their pants.
‘Regardez, Charlie,’ I said. ‘Ta fleurs du mal.’
‘They are anges de debauche in their natural habitat,’ pronounced my friend. ‘What are you doing here, old booze bus?’
‘I’m waiting for Olivia De Havilland,’ I admitted, ‘She died and I’m interviewing her about life on the Other Side.’
‘What fun. Mind if I keep you company?’
‘Not at all, dear chap. Let us take a seat and await the august lady.’
We sat on a bench and waited. It was a grey day. Hardly anyone was out. The chill winds that prowled the park’s avenues were an inhalation from Hades’ mouth. Charlie caused a bottle of white rum to materialise out of his pocket and we passed it between us—to keep warm, you understand.
Charlie spake thus.
‘Whom do you prefer, your mother, your father, your sister or your brother?’
He was in one of those moods. One could only play along.
‘I have no father, nor mother, nor sister, nor brother,’ said I, getting into the spirit. ‘A hatchling am I from Quetzalcoatl’s egg—the flying serpent from whom all nature’s rejects claim descent.’
‘Frauds, felons, fiends and faggots all! I abhor the very word.’
‘I know not under which lassitude it resides—the land of the Lotus-eaters!’
‘What is beauty but a crapulous inebriate looking for the moon in the gutter?’
‘So, what do you love, oh hammered stranger?’
‘I love Methylenedioxymethamphetamine…MDMA, ecstasy, molly, call it what you will…tis rapture, tis bliss… les merveilleux etoiles!’
We cackled and gazed fondly at each other. Perhaps I ought to state at this juncture that Charlie and I go back a long way. We were born round about the same time and even went to the same school. He in Paris, 1821, and I in Athens, the same year. We became fast friends at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, he studying law, of all things, and me idleness. He rather carelessly took up permanent residence at the Cimetiere du Montparnasse not fifty years later, while I persist.
‘How do you do it?’ Charles said, turning upon me a tearstained face of angelic beatitude. Always gets maudlin after a few drinks.
‘How do I do what?’
‘Sold my soul to Beelzebub.’
‘Ah, you went ahead with that deal.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘A soul just gets in the way of a good time.’
‘True,’ muttered my friend, chugging rum. ‘If only I had been as wise.’
We were interrupted by feminine dulcet tones. It was Olivia De Havilland, the last screen gem. The elegant lady sauntered across the great lawn, looking like Spring’s seraph incarnate.
‘Yoo-hoo, there you are, you naughty boy!’
‘Livvy, darling,’ I said, rising and taking the preferred dainty digit. ‘You look fabulous for someone who is a corpse.’
Her radiant smile lit up the world. I placed a kerchief on the bench and Livvy lowered her cultivated posterior on it; I will be sure to sell it on eBay. (The kerchief, not her bum.) The seraph who organised the interview told me the dead enjoy ten to fifteen minutes among the living. I had to make it quick. After introducing Livvy to Charlie, I got down to business.
‘Livvy,’ I said. ‘Your adoring fans are waiting to find out what it’s like on the other side.’
Livvy crossed one stockinged leg over the other, pulled her Balenciaga mink snugly around her, and lifted the veil on a question that has baffled philosophers and necromancers over the centuries.
‘Why, it’s like a great big hotel.’
‘A hotel?’ Charlie and I cried, horrified.
‘Yes. A combination of The Ritz Paris and the Chelsea in New York. The higher up you go the more grand it becomes. The lower down, the more scungy, to use an Australian idiom.’
She must have observed our expressions of disappointment for she added: ‘It’s really very pleasant and very well maintained. Surely you’ve seen it, Charles?’
Charlie shook his head, more despondent than ever.
‘The crimson dawn has blotted out the spiritual skies pour moi, ma chere madame. I must wander with wide-open eyes in Elysian Fields, phantom-like, closed out from the immortal sun, a lucid, pure, being whose only mission is to record the le voyage des damnes.’
Livvy and I looked piteously at him.
‘No God?’ I said to her.
‘Not that I’ve seen. Though I do think my maid is a goddess.’
‘No heaven or hell?’
Livvy contemplated the piercing question.
‘You know,’ she said in good time, ‘I believe there might be a demarcation of some sort. I, for instance, must dwell in a kind of heaven because my dear friend Bette Davis has a suite on the same floor, and Errol Flynn is across the hall.’
‘Ah!’ I cried, pointing a revelatory finger to the skies.
‘And…’ Livvy went on, ‘my goody-two-shoes sister Joan Fontaine is seven floors below with James Stewart and Ethel Merman. That must surely constitute hell.’
Our laughed rose to the heavens because, quite suddenly, Livvy proclaimed it was time to go.
‘One more question,’ I said.
‘Make it quick.’
‘Is it true about Errol Flynn?’
‘Is what true, darling?’
‘That he has…you know… a big…’
Livvy’s face lit up like a thousand radiant suns.
‘I’m not one to tell tales out of school,’ she said, sotto voce, ‘but let me say that today’s women lack one thing.’
‘An appreciation of a big hard cock.’
With that, Livvy shot to her feet. It was time to return to the great big Ritz Hotel in the sky. Coming along the avenue was a giant stork with a man’s shadow at his feet. It picked up Livvy with its beak and vanished in the clouds.
‘Come home,’ I said to Charlie. ‘I’ll make you an Old Fashioned.’
‘So long as you keep your hands to yourself,’ he mumbled, rising unsteadily to his feet.
‘As if I’d touch you, syphilitic old boot.’
Until next we meet. Cheerio!
The Sozzled Scribbler was born in the shadow of the Erechtheion in Athens, Greece, to an Egyptian street walker (his father) and a Greek bear wrestler (his mother). He has lived in Istanbul, Rome, London, New Orleans and is currently stateless. He partakes of four bottles of Bombay gin and nine packets of Gauloises cigarettes a day.
Dmetri Kakmi, is a writer and editor. His first book Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia, and his new book The Door will be released in September 2020.