The city of Nashville straddles its polluted stretch of the Cumberland
River like a lover, nestles into its fertile patch of Tennessee land like
a cluster of rhinestones sewn onto rich cloth of earth brown and
malachite green. The streets of the downtown area are brick, dating from
the early days of the city. Above these cobbled paths, towers of glass
and chrome soar up and up, some for thirty stories or more, elegant
hotels and shopping centers and temples of commerce, catching the
southern sunlight by day, reflecting the million colored fairy lights of
the city by night. Many of the tallest buildings have glass elevators
that can be seen from the street after dark, ascending the sheer faces of
the buildings like shimmering insects climbing toward the moon.
Or spiders, thought Anthony, going up to spin their webs between the few
stars that were faintly visible through the haze of city light. Yes, he
could paint that: white and silver spiders, spinning gossamer threads
between points of light in velvety purple-blackness.
But he thought Rose might paint it better. The image was more suited to
He stood naked at a window on the thirty-first floor of a grand hotel,
pressing his body to the cool glass so that a foggy outline began to form
around him — his body heat made visible — and gazing out over the city.
Only the faintest shadow of his reflection was visible in the glass:
sharp- featured, big eyes staring, skin very pale and hair paler still.
He was backlit by the Christmas lights strung around the room, the
candles burning, the tiny orange eye of an incense stick smoldering here
and there. A room lit by juju.
From what Anthony had seen, the hotel staff consisted of impeccably
dressed black men with gleaming bald heads and big-haired white ladies
who wore their makeup like an extra face, so thickly applied that it
seemed to hover a fraction of an inch above their actual features. They
would certainly suspect juju or worse if they saw the room now. But they
never entered, nor did the housekeepers, not during this week. Anthony
met them at the door to receive towels and soap for the long, steaming
baths he and Rose took. The bed could not be changed because it was in
constant use, so that by the end of the week it would be a swirled,
jumbled confection of sheets and pillows and small creamy stains, rich
and ripe with the many scents of sex. And, this year, with the faintly
sour tang of spilled champagne.
He placed his hands flat against the glass — two perfect, long-fingered
handprints lined in a nearly phosphorescent mist — then pushed himself
away from the window and reached for the ice bucket. A half-full bottle
of champagne was chilling there. Magie Noir, the strange brand
Rose had brought with her. She said it came from a winery near New
Orleans, where she spent the rest of her year.
“Cajun champagne?” he’d asked, a little nervously, the first time she
had poured it for him.
“You’d really have to call it ‘sparkling wine,’ I guess,” she’d said.
“But that sounds as if it ought to be pink and served in Dixie cups.
Magie Noir is a potion.”
All the rest of the year Anthony was a sherry drinker. He had never been
able to make himself like the taste of beer, and liquor mutated his
personality, made him a mad thing, unable to paint. Rose always drank
champagne. This year she’d begged him to drink it with her, and he had
given in. There was an underlying spiciness, a slight burn like the
essence of Tabasco without the garlic and vinegar, like oil of cinnamon,
a subtle heat stitching across the tongue. Still, he could not detect all
the flavors Rose said were in the bouquet; she knew the names and tastes
of herbs he’d never heard of. It produced a strange drunkenness he’d
never known before, balloon-headed, almost numb.
“You’re mine,” she had whispered the day before in drunken reverie,
standing over him in the empty bathtub as recycled champagne flowed out
of her, over Anthony’s chest and stomach in a pale yellow stream. “You’re
mine, no one else’s, not hers, only mine now.”
Her words, as much as her act, had given him a jolt. Rose never
referred, even so obliquely, to the uncomfortable fact of Anthony’s
Now he poured some more of the potion into a tall fluted glass and
sipped slowly. Bubbles exploded against the roof of his mouth as he
turned to look at the woman who shared this room and this week and this
city with him. The woman who slept the sleep of the sated, sprawled
across the white expanse of the enormous bed. Every year the beds seemed
to grow huger, softer, more enticing. Every year their bodies seemed to
fit together more precisely, their hearts seemed to bleed into each other
Rose LeBlanc. He knew so little about her, not even whether that was her
given name; the symmetry of its syllables seemed too perfect. But he
could imagine no name that would suit her better. And that was what it
said on her Louisiana driver’s license, next to a tiny snapshot, all
disarrayed hair and fierce, camera-hating eyes: Rose LeBlanc of New
They had met in Nashville, two up-and-coming young artists invited to
exhibit paintings in a museum show. Anthony’s wife wasn’t with him; his
career did not interest her. He’d been at some cocktail party sucking
down the free sherry, and suddenly there was Rose wrapped in black lace
and silk, hair in a wild purple cloud around her head, a glass of
champagne already in her graceful, gloved hand. When he saw her work,
Anthony knew he had to fuck her.
Rose’s paintings seemed ready to crawl off the canvas and twine tendrils
round your wrists, almost too beautiful and too morbid to bear.
Psychedelic washes of color twisted into intricate, mandala-like
patterns, seeming to swarm on the wall. Black-green swamp scenes so lush
and organic that you swore the leaning tree trunks could be made of bone,
the draping foliage and shadow a thin network of viscera, of stretched
flesh and trailing, looping vein. Her paintings glistened and seethed. It
was as if she mixed quicksilver into her tempera, LSD into her
They made Anthony think of creation and destruction, sex and voodoo,
broken skulls resting on candlelit altars, eye sockets blazing dead black
light. Of the thousand ghost stories that must pervade any block of her
native French Quarter, of the thousand deaths and pains inflicted there
daily. And of the sodden, decadent pleasures.
Looking at Rose’s work — even the Polaroids of new canvases she
occasionally sent him between visits — was like being in a hotel room
with her, her tongue working him over or her legs wrapped tight around
his hips, burying him deep inside her. Sometimes Anthony felt stupidly,
nigglingly jealous of the other people who must see her work, wondering
if it seduced them in just the same way.
But they didn’t get to hold the artist herself they way he did. They
didn’t get to bite her throat and lick her nipples, they didn’t get to
spread her thighs and consume the nectar of her cunt under a rainbow of
Christmas lights, thirty floors above the city. They didn’t get to drink
Magie Noir with her. At least, Anthony hoped they didn’t.
He approached the bed. The folds and ripples of the white sheet caught
all the colors in the room; they spread like a watercolor wash over the
hills and hollows of Rose’s body. A corner of the sheet was draped across
her face, trembling with each breath. He took hold of the sheet and
gently pulled it away.
Flawless skin paler than his, pale even against the white sheet. Mouth
raw from the days they had already spent together — from the kissing and
the sandpaper rasp of Anthony’s scruff, since he did not often leave the
bed long enough to shave — too dark in the pale face, like an overripe
plum. Lashes smudgy against cheeks, twin streaks of charcoal. Hair of a
curious purple-black, the color of a bruise, teased and tangled around
her head; there were a couple of patches at the back where it had begun
to knot into dreadlocks. The soft bush of hair between her thighs was the
same strange color; when wet with his saliva or sperm, it glistened
Rose was thin and lithe, the upper part of her body almost boyish in the
hollowness of its shoulders and collarbones, its small, vivid nipples,
the subtle framework of ribs visible beneath skin white as parchment. But
her hips were wide and strong, and her ass was as round and heavy as
fruit, delectable. With the tips of his fingers Anthony brushed her
cheek, then ran his hand down the side of her neck and cupped the small
swell of her breast in his palm. The nipple puckered at his touch, and
Rose opened her eyes: all great black pupil and glittering purple iris,
hectic even at the moment of awakening. Huge, wild eyes, feral eyes.
“How long did I sleep?” she demanded.
“A couple of hours.”
He expected her to ask, “How many more days do we have?” It was the only
thing that disturbed the flow of their time together each year: halfway
through the week, Rose would start counting off the days until they had
to part, then the hours, and finally the last, excruciating minutes
before Anthony boarded a plane for the other side of the continent, back
to the wealthy wife he could not bring himself to leave, and she hopped a
southbound Greyhound. The diminishing time seemed to twist inside her, to
cause her actual physical anguish. At the end she could not even bear to
lose time to sleep. If Anthony slept, she would sit awake watching him,
studying the tightly drawn, compact lines of his face and body as if
memorizing them for another year.
But she didn’t ask the question, not this time; just pulled him down to
Her voice became thick with sex, clotted, like slow southern sap, like
sweet oil. Her pleading sobs and moans were curiously muted, as if her
strongest emotions burned pure and hot enough to drain the air of oxygen.
“Come into me,” Anthony heard her say faintly. “Come to me now. Come
into me now . . . ”
He descended into the moist, fragrant world of the bed and the body of
his lover. Nothing mattered but Rose’s tongue in his mouth, his hand
between her legs, sliding up and down the wet length of her cleft, then
sinking two fingers deep inside her, where it felt like the slow rippling
muscles of a snake. She groaned way down in her throat and moved hard
against his hand, forcing it deeper. For a moment his fingers found her
rhythm, heightened it.
When he pulled away, Rose caught at his hand. Anthony brought her
fingers to his mouth, kissed their small, sharp tips. Then he pulled her
legs wide. A passage more ancient than the river, with an ocean-tide
pull . . . He lowered his face to her, ran his tongue around the
swelling bud, then let it slide into her ruby depths. Her smell was like
flowers crushed in seawater, her taste like fruit ripened and slightly
fermented. Anthony thought he would die before he could drink enough of
“Inside me,” she hissed. He could not disobey. He tumbled Rose onto her
back and found the heart of her womb with one liquid thrust. Her scream
displaced sound, her movement, time. He might have spent minutes or hours
inside her before his orgasm finally brought him a sense of release,
They lay tangled together, too spent to speak. Anthony’s penis felt as
if it were melting inside her. In fact, his whole body felt ready to
melt. The slight, pleasant numbness he’d felt earlier had grown to vast
proportions. It weighed down his body, his thoughts. His brain buzzed
dully. He hadn’t drunk enough to feel this woozy, had never drunk
enough to feel like this.
Rose looked at him, her huge eyes shining, and smiled.
“I’m afraid you won’t be going back home to your wife this year. I get
so lonely, Anthony. I haven’t painted anything for months and months. I
spent all that time perfecting my recipe . . . my potion.”
Anthony tried to react, to question her; he wanted to get up and get
some distance between them, to get some air and clear his head. But he
could not twitch a finger or an eyelid, could scarcely remember his own
name. He was paralyzed.
She leaned over, held up a bottle of the champagne and whispered,
“Magie Noir, darling. Black magic. Bufo marinus . . .
itching pea . . . children’s bones . . . and datura, the concombre
Zombie, he heard dumbly. The word ought to mean something to him,
but he couldn’t think what.
“I don’t have much money, but that’s all right. You can go out and work
while I paint. You can do anything I tell you to do . . . and not a
damned thing more, my love.
“Now come here and fuck me again,” she ordered.
He would not move. He would simply refuse to move, would exert every
ounce of his will to resist her. But even as he thought this, Anthony
felt himself take her gently in his arms. He strained against his own
“Fuck me!” she commanded.
He looked on as if from a distance as his body propped itself up over
Rose’s. Unconsciously hard and ready again, he entered her and began
moving in her favorite ways, without a second thought. Soon the buzzing
filled his skull and eradicated all thought.
“Perfect,” Rose sighed beneath him.
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