In Lieu Of Lovability - three chapters by Lee Bob Black

Between 2001 and 2003, I wrote a novel called In Lieu Of Lovability. Here are the first three chapters, slightly updated in 2008.

Chapter 1: Daughters, mothers, grandmothers, granddaughters

Mother took pains to remind me that I was Camille Claudel’s granddaughter, barring the odd occasion when, inexplicably, she told me that I was Camille Claudel.

She gave me my first and middle names, Lulu and Lilith, because she said they rolled off the tongue like ill-fated icons, like Jesse James, Marilyn Monroe, Camille Claudel. Name alliteration was vital, Mother would say; also always double-underline your signature.

At eighteen years old, I forever dumped my old surname--because it was inherited from Father, and I was orphaning myself. I had considered taking Mother’s maiden name, but even it was inherited from a father out there, somewhere. So now I go by just my first two names: Lulu Lilith.

I was never allowed to take for granted that I was Camille Claudel’s granddaughter. Mother continually impressed upon me that my granddaughterlyness was special. It meant that I could achieve anything I set my heart to, and that the creativity of France’s greatest sculptress flowed as such: from Claudel into Mother into me.

But there were also the stories of the lunatic asylums my grandmother lived in. The Ville-Evrard, near Paris, where she spent her first night. The asylum of Montdevergues in southern France, where three decades later she spent her last.

While Mother probably didn’t know she was doing it, she was pivotal in instilling in me a sense of the clichéd relationship between creativity and madness. A patient’s incapability to accept that they’re ill, their loss of reality--Mother talked knowledgably about these topics.

I formed the view that you don't have to be intimate with madness to be an artist, but it helps. I also noted that, in mental institutions, there were more artists than members of other professions, except perhaps chess players.

Once I even compared our birth and death days to check if Mother’s bizarre references to me being Camille Claudel could be cosmically accurate, if I could indeed be my grandmother brought back to life. But no: Claudel died in 1943 and I was born in 1951; that means her soul would have been floating around for eight years, sans body, before being reincarnated as me. No, I don’t think so. Still, I’d look at photos of my grandmother and see an undeniable resemblance. Maybe I wasn’t her reawakened, maybe I wasn’t the next wave, but there was something in Claudel’s eyes that gave me away, something in her face suggesting complicity.

Besides photographic likeness, no other documents confirm my lineage. Only memories.

Somewhere though there has to be truth.

And I’m going to find it. Seeking, seeking, seeking. I am my mother’s daughter. She is her mother’s daughter. Yet these realities are as palpable as they are improvable when all you have is word-of-mouth and, let’s be perfectly honest, motherly embellishment. That’s perhaps why I’m setting out to prove them. Because I don’t know how I’m going to. Because I want to throw my hat over the wall, metaphorically, and then figure out how I’m going to get over the wall.

Just because you don’t know what you’re doing doesn’t mean you’re not doing it.

And when you don’t know yourself, you tend to look to other people to provide definition. And you see yourself in them. That’s me. That’s me! They reflect you: I’m you, sad but true. As you become them, you become you.

But you don’t just do mirrors. You stare at photos of your dead grandma and other dead family members. You move continents, you move hemispheres. Get married. Have your own daughter. Create your own row of mismatched family photo albums; a tall thick green one, a thin pink one. You walk around aimlessly, and become hardened. You do it all, and then some. You try to find your mother, your grandmother, yourself, life, intimacy, significance. It’s less a search for purpose, more a search for what brought me here? why me? why this century? who do I connect with? Then there’s the next city block or the next city, the next clue, the next excuse. Again there’s another symbolic wall in front of you, again you throw your hat over it. And keep moving. If whatever you’re searching for isn’t here, then it’s there. If it’s not there, then it’s nowhere. Except you can’t just surrender. Truth, that old thing. Seek and possibly you might potentially find. Perhaps; maybe one day, some fucking day.

When you’re born into a family of lies treading water in a sea of lies, you can risk swimming towards the horizon where the sea meets the sky of, well . . . truth . . . . Even if you can’t prove anything yet--just so long as you look. Because if you find anything, it’s got to be better.

Chapter 2: This is not Califor-nigh-ah

A phone call, a French accent.

He introduces himself as a specialist in family law, says he has something most salient to impart, then he goes for my jugular: “Mrs. Lilith, your father has died.” He says this as if being factual were an apt substitute for sensitivity and being like a person.

I am like I always am when faced with new death--I’m sponge-like, just absorbing. People die.

It’s difficult to value life when death is whimsical and you’re not afraid of it. Besides, for decades I’ve acted as if Father were already dead--in fact ever since Mother died, I felt effectively orphaned.

I play with the excitable red-rust tulips on the table. As a kid I tore petals off flowers and took clocks and watches to pieces.

I say slowly to the lawyer, “Father’s dead. So. So, he’s dead, okay. What did he die of?”

“I thought you knew he--”

“Nar don’t tell me,” I butt in, hand tightly gripping the phone, “I don’t want to know.”

What. Ever. What. Else?

Inside I’m experiencing that gratuitous shade of self-righteous anger where feeling sorry for myself seems like the right thing. And killing too.

Feeling sorry for yourself is like taking a small dose of poison. It won’t kill you, it just feels like it will.

Like having sex against your will. It’s not killing you, it just feels like it is.

I’m not saying that they’re identical, but this possibly isn’t too far removed from when my husband wouldn't have sex with me. Usually my husband and I could and would have sex almost anywhere, almost anytime. Friends could be in the next room or one of us could have a fever, a full stomach, or just aerobicised--and we’d still sex it. We’d sex it like there was no yesterday, no today, no tomorrow. When menstruating however, my husband made me feel dirty and criminal for being woman. For something completely natural. As if I were soiled for having had sex at that time of the month with prior lovers, as if I should go quarantine myself--like how some men in some cultures send their menstruating women to the mountains.

The menstrual curse.

As if my husband wanted to sew me in a hammock and suspend me over a smoking fire until purified.

When I was on my period, I couldn’t buy a cuddle from my husband, so don’t even ask about putting sexual things in sexual places and forgetting about time.

I look at the tulips on my kitchen table. My husband often said that flowers in a vase were revolting because they’re just dead flora. At best they’re experiencing a prolonged death. He enjoyed saying that being on Death Row isn’t being alive.

Every time my period started, I felt drawn to the floor, the cold hard floor, like a satellite that can’t help falling to earth--because its natural position isn’t up there, it’s down here. Like a flower in a vase being killed gradually by gravity.

It was as if his rejection of me was a conspiracy to overload me with anxiety. Because overstressed women’s’ bodies partially shut down, and sometimes stop menstruating. Instead of men quarantining us, they get us to quarantine ourselves.

The physical consequences of oppression, they confirm the relationship between taboo and social control.

A few years into our marriage he abruptly changed his tune--he wanted to try sex during my menstrual cycle. For Chrissake. He wore a condom. I was flowing that afternoon--I usually am--and my blood got all over his bits and pieces. I’ve never had a man shower milliseconds after withdrawing from me before.

But the sex--he loved it. We were so together.

Like those rare moments when men get--in their heads and hearts?--the distinction between sex with meaning, and sex as if you’re two slot machines waiting for your spinning fruits to align, vying for simultaneous jackpots.

* * * * *

Later that day, I’m on my second phone call with the lawyer. I try not to cry to the guy who says he represents Father’s estate. Maybe I’ll cry later. Yes. No. Probably not. If I do, I’ll cry for no one but myself; not for Father. Because when my daughter died, my therapist said: Lulu, your beliefs dictate that you need to grieve for a certain period of time to recover from losing someone. She said: Lulu, it would cause more pain if you didn’t grieve.

So I’ll be feeling sorry for myself, fuck you very much, fuck you all very very much.

According to my therapist, funeral customs are just an expression of the values that prevail in a particular society. Even emotions exhibited during death rituals are determined by tradition.

So if I cry it’ll be for no one but me, damn it, not for some traditional rules.

The lawyer’s voice, down the phone, “There are other details we need to discuss, Mrs. Lilith. I’ll call you next week.”

“We can talk now.”

“I thought you would prefer--”

“Now’s fine.”

“As you wish,” he says obediently. “Your father’s estate is currently in dispute, Mrs. Lilith.” Pause. “In short, my firm has advised your father for decades. I have personally dealt with your father on all of his major financial and legal endeavors. Thus when we heard of his passing we promptly, as per his instructions, nominated ourselves as the executors of the estate. However, yesterday another law firm contacted us and claimed to be the executor. To our complete astonishment, they are currently lodging an appeal.”

I say, “So you might not get Father’s cash. And you’re telling me this because why?”

“Ur,” he stumbles, “Mrs. Lilith, you are the beneficiary.”

“I thought you said you were the beneficiary, and I thought you said another firm says that it’s the beneficiary.”

“Rest assured, my firm is merely the executor. Mrs. Lilith, our business is compassionately managing estates on behalf of beneficiaries. The other firm is representing another person claiming to be the beneficiary of your father’s empire. According to his will, which I have in my hands as we speak, you are the first beneficiary in line.”

In this time of my life, any inheritance falling out of the sky into my lap would stink of convenience. I’m remembering how, during the Gulf War, “UN” food-drops were booby-trapped with nails and explosions and broken glass. Booby-trapped courtesy of the Iraqi Army. To maim or burn or decapitate Iraqi civilians. To fuel anti-Americanism. I mean, I haven’t seen nor heard boo of Father since my teens. So why in damnation would he choose me to give his legacy to? Me, his only real daughter. And why the hell am I so casual about believing this lawyer guy?

Father’s “empire” bequeathed to yours truly. Allegedly. Better than cancer. I suppose.

Booby-traps aren’t just about winning, they’re about humiliation. About one-upping someone you hate. The best booby-traps retain their destructive power for indefinite periods of time. They validate your inherent mistrust of people you know.

I’ll provide some necessary context. During my childhood, Father specialized in nervous disorders and was very interested in diagnosis through attention to physical movement. He was no man on top of no empire. No way, no how.

A couple commentators on my career have spuriously contended that Father’s belief in the body's ability to express its inner senses was pivotal in my desire to dance. I’ve always said that their link was too simplistic, and that they don’t know the half of it.

The lawyer says, “We have taken care of the funeral arrangements and--”

“Don’t worry about it,” I snap. “I’m not going to Paris for a funeral of someone I stopped loving the moment I figured out what love was.

“He’s going to be cremated here, Mrs. Lilith, here in New York. My firm has represented him for decades, here and in Europe. He was an inspiring man.”

I quip, “Did you love him like a father?”

Frightened by what he might reveal, I quickly add, “Don’t answer that. Sooo. So, I guess we’ll speak later then right?”

He starts talking and I come over the top with a “Thanks a lot, thank you very much.”

And don’t go changing.

Then I hang up all self-important like they do in movies without saying--

* * * * *

A few years into our marriage, my husband and I continued having bountiful sex at that special time of the month, and the world wasn’t big enough to hold me.

After one such session, we were just lying in our respective glories. We were afterglowing like you do when the sex is so good you wish more people were invited. And I couldn’t see a condom on my husband and I was thinking goddammit, could the condom be stuck up in me? I wouldn’t be a happy camper if I had to visit an Emergency Room for that again.

Then my husband devil-grins and confesses that he never put a condom on. And there he was, just lying there, coyly basking, not trying to break the land-speed-record from bed to shower.

With me all over him. My blood all over him. His bits and pieces.

That was huge for me. We’re talking watershed.

Can you guess what I was feeling? He loves me. So much so that he’s okay with not wearing a condom, that instead of labeling what I “endure” every damn month as disgusting, and that by extension I am too, he now loves that facet of me. Loves me completely.

Like how a love circle is only ever complete if . . . you join the dots. Like how crop circles and snowflakes and helixes make sense when . . . you join the dots.

One view is that women often don’t fall in love because we’re happy. We do to change our man. It's obvious and inevitable, “they” assert. Why? Because we want to mould him into a communicative, supportive, trustworthy woman with a dick. Or revenge. So the story goes, if you believe the hype that we’re from different planets--men Martians, women Venusians; if you believe that women’s passion for evening the score and our desire for justice fundamentally entails a desire for revenge.

Anything and everything can be a credible revenge motive, if you just believe it.

And while it’s easier to be loved than to love, in that moment it felt like we could stay in love because we were happy. In that moment there was forgiveness. There were love songs. In that afterglow I decided to no longer try to change him--because I resigned to the fact that men can't change. So my story goes.

Maybe I felt too much. Maybe I thought too soon. Maybe there were a few more chapters of my story to be written.

Maybe--out of my borderline contempt for those with penises--maybe I should date an uncomplicated, intelligent, sincere, and sweet woman with nubile breasts. Yet the “uncomplicated” part seems stupid. Because men and women are complex. At least the interesting ones.

Maybe I should change into a man with a vagina--and thereby become a ruthless, uncommunicative, selfish prick with flaps. Possibly. Sure. No. Yes.

* * * * *

I put the phone down an ice age ago and, like a glacier, I’ve barely budged an inch. The way I acted sarcastically and confidently with the lawyer was how I often am. But it seemed like I was pretending to be someone I’m not.

Now I’m just lost in my head. I’m somehow in a downward spiral--there is less and less color, less and less warmth, less and less air. Darker, colder, suffocating. Fear, apprehension, discomfort.

I’ve been having a conversation with Father. It was so convincing that I could smell his breath--it smelt of pink, healthy gums. Only after disentangling myself from that mind-conversation did it become clear that it was just my morbid imagination. It seemed real, like when you’re crossing a road but forget to check for traffic, and you think you can feel a car coming.

Maybe I thought too much. Maybe I felt too soon.

Yet now I feel that if I don’t get out of here, out of my apartment, out of this country, I’m going to die. Because being conscious of how you’re going into shock, or a panic attack, or a delusional state, for that matter, doesn’t necessarily disempower it . . . .

New death. I don’t value life enough because I’m not afraid of death. Now I’m like a dried-out sponge just before it’s thrown away.

I bet my eyelids are flicking like a massive clock’s second hand visibly shudders with each tick. There’s no way that this is just psychological. My stomach’s doing tricks. My feet are cold and pulsing.

I’m starting up a conversation--another mind-conversation--with the lawyer now. Because sometimes it’s good to tell a stranger all your problems. Even if it’s all in your head. Even if they’re a lawyer.

I’m telling him that at this very moment the lining of my uterus should be thickening and that in a few days this lining should break down and discharge along with an unfertilized egg, and voila, I should have my period. Should, but won’t. No blood. No voila.

I tell him that fingerlike projections at the ends of my ovaries swept my ovum into a fallopian tube, where an ova had a cordial meet-and-greet with a microscopic swimming thing deposited by my husband, and the fertilized egg swept into my uterus.

I mention to the lawyer in my head that a ball of cells is already forming, soon to become a recognizable shape. I mention that, since becoming pregnant, I’ve experienced every nauseous and forbidding color of a moon rainbow--sharp purples mainly. And cravings for ice and cornstarch.

Hormones haven’t just kick into gear, they’ve revamped the entire gearbox that links my engine to my driving axle.

And this business of Father dying is just adding to my anxiety. Can you get that, lawyer guy in my head? It’s not like I’m afraid of death, it’s just that I don’t know what this means.

I’m terrified that my husband will find out that I’m pregnant--he’s so in tune with my menstruation cycle that I’m scared rigid he’ll notice my cycle’s off. Okay, absent. Horrified at myself that I contemplated--just for a split, insane second--stuffing my own blood up my vagina to simulate menstruation.

Paralyzed knowing that this child is unwanted, unneeded. That while there’s no risk posed to my health, I won’t be keeping the kid. This won’t end with birth, but with death. There is no maybe in certainty.

And like that--pouff!--the lawyer disappears and I’m imagining being in therapy. My therapist reads aloud from a massive medical dictionary upon her desk. She drops my name into every other sentence she says--she once told me that names help people believe they’re liked, and she likes helping people feel liked.

Next to a horseshoe on my therapist’s desk are pictures that look like ultrasound scans.

Her vulnerable body parts, her neck and wrists, are concealed.

Body language isn’t communicated until you read the signs.

Worn over her gray turtleneck sweater is an amulet. That old charm against evil.

In my mind-chat with her, she’s saying that you can take a combination of pills. First, Lulu, you can take mifepristone, which blocks a hormone needed to maintain the pregnancy. Later you can take misoprostol, which causes contractions that expel the fetus. The side effects aren’t too major, Lulu. Maybe a little queasiness, some breast tenderness and fluid retention, sensitivity to smells. Really Lulu, it’d be manageable.

I’m thinking: when did psychologists start practicing obstetrics and gynecology? And when was killing re-branded as family planning?

She’s asking me if I know that a fetus is just a polite word for parasite. That, like the parasite, a fetus possesses an insatiable impulse to attach itself to a host--you--not only in order to survive, but to flourish at your expense. Did you know that, Lulu? That a woman’s immune system is suppressed so that it doesn’t reject the parasite during pregnancy. She questions me: did you know that? She says, when a woman’s immune system isn’t adequately suppressed, she stillbirths. Did you know that?

My therapist flips a page of the medical dictionary. Flip. And another. Flip.

Aggressively flipping pages of newspapers and magazines in the presence of an important person in your life is body language for one who wants to maintain control, fails to take time for leisure activities, and is prone to social isolation. I’m wondering if she knows this.

With her eyes in the dictionary, she continues talking: Lulu, or a physician can inject you with a drug that interferes with cell division. Abort that way if you like. Lulu, prepare though for serious complications. Like pneumonia. Like arrhythmia, whatever that is. Like death.

After saying death, her face comes out of the book. She’s looking through me as an arrow drawn in a bow looks through its target.

She says, Lulu, or you can do it the old fashioned way. Take a boiling hot bath and drink a bottle of gin. She questions me: Did you know that’s why gin’s called mothers ruin? Did you know that?

She refocuses on the medical dictionary. She’s reading aloud to me like I’m a rape victim sitting cross-legged on the floor. Don’t ask me how I know this, but I know this.

She’s reading out loud that maybe a narrow tube inserted through your cervix, attached to a suction device, such as a syringe, to extract the contents of your uterus--maybe this is more your go Lulu. They also have electrical powered pumps, she tells me. This is called vacuum extraction. It only lasts a few minutes. Unless they also scrape the uterus wall with a spoon-like tool. Scrape scrape, for good measure. Watch out for heavy bleeding, though.

I am a glacier. I simultaneously melt and refreeze, but I don’t move an inch.

Chapter 3: Cause to celebrate

It’s a month later and after the lawyer phones me and tells me that the other firm’s appeal for Father’s estate was withdrawn, after I sigh, after he tells me Father’s inheritance is just waiting for me to claim, after I sparkle, after my cat walks away from me and abruptly does a right-degree turn to the left and continues walking, unfazed, and after I realize that cats might hear voices too, I think about something my therapist once said after my daughter died: that some cultures rejoice in death. They make it merry.

Day of the Dead--if you’re Latino. All Souls' Day--if you’re Roman Catholic.

My therapist said, because God knows it’s the right time for that person, grieving just shows your lack of understanding of life. She said, Lulu, your anguish demonstrates your selfishness.

Halloween or Guy Fawkes' Day--if you’re into Hallmark, Cadbury’s, and precarious fireworks.

Thus, with just a few twists of language, pleasure is concurrent with death. Death? Great! Rejoice! The saying “pushing up daises” takes on a new slant.

I have a visual of me throwing the ultimate party to celebrate my dad being dead for a month. I hear audio of my therapist saying: eat, drink, and be merry. I hear audio of me completing her sentence: for tomorrow we die.

Another treat my therapist told me--that “mourners” unrelated to the deceased can be rented to wail and grieve at funerals--suddenly seems poignant.

I break out of my reverie and quickly look at the phone in my hand. Yawning, feeling drained, heavy, I tell the lawyer, “You’ve got my full attention.”

He rattles off details about houses and then some, bank accounts and then some, investments and then some, businesses and then some--Father’s so-called “empire.” It all seems convincing, in a far-fetched sort of way.

I note that the lawyer hasn’t yet revealed Father’s net worth. It’s admirable that Father was wealthy when he blessed us with his final exit, but what’s his worth minus liabilities, funeral expenses, and all that creative accounting shit? How much should I celebrate? Should I bang up a fiesta? Throw on a colorful costume and folk dance on flower petals? Construct some papier-mâché skeletons and skulls? Maybe some floating lanterns on water and burning incense?

With a thick French accent, the lawyer says down the phone, “Mrs. Lilith, we are ready to facilitate asset-transfer to you.”

And everyone’s ready to take a cut, no doubt. Mind you, lawyers don’t always have their hands in our pockets. They have to eat sometime. When someone else pays for it.

Fuck, I hate lawyers.

Vacantly, in this moment, I have an image of the lawyer as one of those up-themselves cyclists who, when walking their bikes, steer it by holding only onto the seat (rather than the handle bars) so that the bike’s extending out in front of them, a manly-extension.

The lawyer continues, “Your father left instructions that, should you decline, the inheritance is to be left to Blossom and Ruby.”

He pauses. And I’m floored. The cold hard floor. Me.

Maybe the lawyer knows who Blossom and Ruby are; he claims to have worked with Father for decades--but Father was a magician at concealing his true self to everyone. Maybe this slimy lawyer’s rummaged through Father’s photo albums and personal papers. You make a mistake if you see what lawyers do as merely monetary. They’re like lizards trying to get their cold blood warmer.

Blossom and Ruby are names I haven’t heard in lifetimes. In a way, they’re proof. Proof that this lawyer must be who he says he is. Proof that Father is intent on screwing with my head from beyond the grave. Fucker.

Blossom and Ruby are Father’s other “daughters,” if they can be called that. Initially they were just photos of distant children in a distant country with distant problems. Father’s regular “compassion payments” went towards their education or the digging of wells or clearing of landmines. It was so humanitarian. On their birthdays, Father often sent clothes. Once he sent two Sony Walkmans, a bunch of “English as a second language” audiobooks, and batteries.

Years before the first US troops set foot in Vietnam, Blossom and Ruby lost their parents and brothers in a war that was, at the time, revving up. Father’s solution was a simple double-barrel shotgun: come live with us in New York; we’ll adopt you. Such an act of goodwill, even with hindsight, cannot be dismissed out of hand as evil.

Composing myself, visualizing myself getting up off the floor, I say, “I haven’t yet said I even want the inheritance.”

The lawyer replies, “It was pre-anticipated that you would claim it, and thus commensurate action was taken.”

I’m tempted to tell him that nothing can be anticipated before it’s anticipated. There can be no pre-boarding of a plane, only boarding. You can’t pre-eat an apple. I’m tempted to tell him that sometimes forgone conclusions aren’t.

I say into the phone, “I haven’t claimed anything”--yet. Then I add, “What else do you pre-anticipate?”

He pauses. I can almost visualize his slimy tongue licking the air. Lick. Lick. The lizard-lawyer getting its cold blood warmer.

Then he quotes the sum of the inheritance.

The inheritance is huge. My husband and I could live on the interest of the interest. Fuck financial survival, we’re looking at financial abundance. Kool and the Gang sing in my head: Cel-e-brate good times! Come on!

The lawyer knows he’s got me. Bastard. He’s got me by the short and curlies, as they say. Just like booby-traps: first win, then humiliate.

* * * * *

Father was swimming in cashola when I ran away from home; not that I needed any (more) justification to steal from him. I was a young girl back then, however, and what stash I stole from him soon ran its course--I spent about half on jewels, fast clothes, and fast men, and the rest I just squandered. And let’s not forget that, long before I met my husband, I made a pretty penny dancing, and a side income life-modeling. Nor are my husband and I scraping the bottom of the barrel like your average family with 2point3 Volvos. Last year I choreographed Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea, a critical and financial success. A movie version of my husband’s book Everything Influences Everything was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes a while ago. Another one of his bestsellers is metamorphing into a blockbuster, as we speak. Hell, we trade on the New York Stock Exchange so much that we know its acronym is pronounced nigh-zee. We have a tiny holiday house in the Hamptons that’s owned by a Hong Kong shelf-company owned by a Bahamas tax-dodge that we own. We’re global. Not that it can be proved. On paper we’re probably bankrupt. We know how to make minus plus minus equal positive.

But the mammoth amount of inheritance that came out of the lawyer’s mouth is obscene and almost funny. It’s too much to be a joke though.

Indeed, the life of a well-constructed lie is a function of the number of parties privy to it, and its interrelation with sex and/or money. And if lawyers aren’t ripping you off and talking circles around you, then they’re ripping you off and talking circles around you--and you just don’t know it yet. They always give me the impression that they’re pretending to be something they’re not. Think about it; the only time you ever talk with lawyers is when you’re in the shits or someone’s dead.

But I did hear with my own two ears two names: Blossom and Ruby.

I get a rush from thinking what that money means; because there’s no way José in Havana I’m forsaking it to my “sisters.” All of this scares the bejesus out of me. But I’ll get over it just as smoothly as I intend to get over Father’s death but know that I never will. As smoothly as blasting cocaine up a rolled $100 bill.

* * * * *

And I’m thinking of that quote and that word. You know.

That quote: Money’s the root of all evil. But it’s not money itself, it’s the love of money.

And that word: Mammon, which means ill-gotten wealth.

Father used to say that wars arose from the spirit of Mammon. But, like the church, he sided with wealth and protected it, sanctified Mammon. In his own special way he venerated evil. Hell, he’d be the first to christen warships and bless soldiers off to war.

So if I’m carried away by my love of sensual happiness, comfort, and material things, carried off to foolish lusts and destruction, then so be it. If that’s what you call evil, I’m what you call ready. If this is an unavoidable choice between two alternatives--either God or Mammon--then I pick Mammon.

Into the phone I say to the lawyer, “Can you set me up with a French bank account, pronto? And transfer a large chunk of the inheritance--my inheritance--to it?”

“Mrs. Lilith, my firm can work with whichever international bank your chose, and I will liaise with them on your behalf. Your father has . . . .” He pauses, realizes his mistake, then corrects himself--“He had several bank accounts here in New York. The asset-transferring process is really just changing the names, from his to yours. Nothing really moves.”

“And I need lots of travelers checks,” I say. “Can you get me some?”

“Yes,” he says meekly.

“How about those soft eye-masks that help you sleep on planes, the ones that turn the light of the world out? I can’t sleep when I fly.”

“They’ll be provided in-flight. You’ll be taken care of.” He says this like a noble servant, but I haven’t forgotten he’s a lawyer.

I want to say thank you, but I don’t.

“Mrs. Lilith, I also have two envelopes for you.”

I despise surprises and the lawyer keeps springing them on me and I’m about to make a link; yep, made it: I despise the lawyer too.

“Who are they from?”

“Your father.”

“What’s in them? And why didn’t you tell me about them last month?”

“You were not confirmed as the beneficiary then, Mrs. Lilith.” Pause. “They are standard envelopes, both addressed to the beneficiary, both sealed and--”

“Open them and tell me what’s in them.”

“--there are instructions that the contents are for the beneficiary’s eyes only.”

Father messing with me, the dead fucking with the living.

“Let’s work as a team. You were Father’s lawyer. Now you’re my lawyer. I want you to visualize those Successories posters that I’m sure you have hanging in every room of your office. Y’know the posters I mean--the ones with generic yet inspiring captions about efficiency and teamwork and learning, the ones with photos of eagles and golf courses and skydivers.”

Zilch coming at me down the phone line.

I say, “Got the visual, lawyer guy?” He grunts. I continue, “Okay with that in mind, get this: I specifically instruct you to open them.”

“I cannot do that, Mrs. Lilith.”

Gutless wonder.

“Shall I post them to you, Mrs. Lilith?”

Spineless son-of-a-bitch-turd.

“Just goddamn open them,” I yell down the phone.

“Or would you like to pick them up?”

“Describe to me the handwriting on the envelopes.”

[The end.]