Under the sheet, Al Addin mounted his trusty steed, the Rock. From a great height, he could see that a panzer-division of Tail Ban were about to head Jasmine off at the Cyber Pass. The Russians were selling them Baryshnikovs. Al Addin sent a squadron of Toronto Raptors to protect her. He would have flown down himself, but he had bigger fish to fry.
Until the twins were born, Remy and Francine lived in degenerate abandon -- caviar and parlour games one week, cruises from Venice the next. What a difference from the cruise he took with the simple Susan McFarlan! Susan was impressed merely to be sailing over the water sipping a malbec as the sun sank gently into the sea. Francine, on the other hand, refused to even step on board unless there was a 21-string orchestra to welcome her. Jason Stradivari had done quite a job spoiling his Parisian minx.
Every several months Francine insisted that it was her birthday and that the moment her crystal slipper hit the deck she be welcomed with a live rendition of “I Will Love You” from the recent Broadway musical Marie Christine. She also insisted that the guests wore either Roman togas or nothing at all.
By the time the guests had gone through several jeroboams of Pol Roget, they were throwing garlands around each other's necks and sailing a miniature replica of the Argosy through the canal that connected the main pools.
Francine encouraged the ladies to make love to the pool boys, whose only clothing consisted of serving trays that stuck out from their flat stomachs, offering long flutes of bubbling champagne, thick éclairs à la framboise, slippery poires bel-Alain, and other luscious fruit bought that afternoon from the Goblin Market next to the North Cove Marina. Meanwhile, Francine performed fellatio on two or three of the more eminent guests. Between gulps, she would shout at the orchestra to play “I Don’t Hear the Ocean” one more time.
Earlier in the evening, Francine shoved Remy into the captain's bedroom with an indulgent wink. There, a buxom tart from Spanish Harlem locked the door and introduced herself as Rosario. She slowly undid the lone button that kept the binary planets of her breasts in orbit. She then lowered his head past the spiral arm of stars that circled her torso, past her belly button and downward, inward, pulled by the fierce weight of dark matter into the centre of the galaxy. When he came up for air, he had forgotten all his legal concerns and laughed uproariously as he powdered Rosario’s frizzled hair with cocaine, fine as icing sugar. She reminded him of a mulatto judge at the court of Henry the Eighth.
Francine knew Remy’s weakness for mulattas, which allowed her free rein with the galley-slaves, who she then brought on deck. There, under the studded sky, she did them slowly and psychedelically, like super novas of sparkling dust.
Francine looked over at the children, huddled under the dimly-lit grey sheets between the sheetless beds. She turned her head away, and looked out again at the streaks of rain that pulsed in the neon light that spat from the motel on the far side of the boulevard of her broken dreams.
There was no more Prozac in her purse. The days when they would empty hub-caps of organic mescalin into vats of Dom Perignon were ten years gone. All that was left were her two childish children and her ever-faithful dog of a husband -- with his lawyer’s salary and his stupid ideas of a family vacation. Let’s just toss some sleeping bags in the Benz and travel down to Florida! he had yelped, in that irritatingly optimistic voice of his. What do you say, kids? Let’s find some fun in the sun!
The kids whooped and shrieked. It disgusted her, this family of theirs. He had betrayed her by choosing them over her. He used to look at her like she was a goddess. Now he talked about schools and ballet lessons. He spent more time at Sam's hockey games than at the symphony. And what made her feel even worse was that he was faithful as a dog!
Remy’s enthusiasm for family adventure precluded hotel reservations. This at a time -- spring break -- when all the parents north of Charleston dreamt of laying back in sun-chairs with thirty-pound margaritas strapped to their right arms. They dreamed of watching their children frolic far, far away from them on the white sands, in a little solar system of their own, while the parents blotted out the world of their families from their minds.
Francine had just seen the film, Eat, Pray, Love, and understood exactly how the heroine Liz Gilbert felt. Trapped. Bored. Angry. She would have idolized Julia Roberts if she weren't an American.
Like Liz, Francine underwent a shocking realization: New York was a cultural wasteland! The garish lights of Broadway were blinding her to the true colours of the world -- the ochres of the outdoor markets of Pushkar, the aqua-marine waters next to the icing-sugar beaches of Boracay, the orange robes of the monks as they wound their prayer-wheels at the Sakya Gompa monastery in the high valleys of Himachal Pradesh. Above all, she yearned for the golden light of Rome, for which flowers -- and ruins, Gucci scarves, music, Baccarat les Larmes Sacrées de Thèbes perfume, and words -- were weak / The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.
The racket of the Upper West Side deafened her to the silence of the night stars, that promised to tease her out of the thought of having to get up each morning and make breakfast for her thankless brats.
At least Liz didn't have kids.
And there they were, under the dingy grey sheet, playing some stupid game -- some rehash of a Disney plot -- somewhere on a highway not far from a city dedicated to the recycling of Disney plots, devised according to sales projections by the advertisement section of Disney Corp. In her mind’s eye, she saw some modern genius using a PowerPoint presentation to superimpose a plot arc on a sales chart.
As it turned out, Jafar was more sneaky than Al Addin suspected. He poisoned the palace guards in the Krispy Kreme Line and took direct command of the Red Light Sabre Army. The evil despot had sent his top general, Al Cairo, to reinforce the Tail Ban and destroy the renegade princess, who was now a thousand miles west of Agrabad, nearing the gated city of Jews-in-Salem.
They'd be better off dead. She would make a clean break. She would follow the path of Liz Gilbert.
She would still have the West End apartment, with its view over Central Park, its seven rooms, and its balcony jacuzzi. And she would get the money from Remy’s insurance policy: twenty thousand dollars a month until she died. Liz Gilbert was right.
Al Cairo had stolen the Magic Ring and given it to the Dark Lord, who lived in the eastern caliphate of Moredoor, surrounded by drudges with dark circles under their eyes who went round and round the Black Drone. Their bearded leader, with a gigantic hornet’s nest on top of his head, declared Fat Wars and whipped the drudges into a fury against the cities of Agrabad and Jews-in-Salem.
Typical Hollywood garbage, Francine thought, and yet there it was in the policies of George W. Bush. As a secular French existentialist, she didn't know who she hated more.
From the high minarets of Baghdadi, Al Cairo sent squadrons of shrieking black flying beasts to topple the Twin Towers that stood in his way.
The light of the firmament was blocked by the creaking of gigantic black wings of the fan.
Remy was laying back on the sheetless bed, eyes glued to the little rocks on the sparkling ceiling. Each circled in its little orbit, but he couldn’t make out the relation between the orbits. A week ago he watched a show on the Discovery channel: there were about 200 billion suns in our galaxy. So far they had identified about 200 billion galaxies.
He waited for Francine to turn out the lights. He focused on a single star, the brightest it seemed to him. Yet everything circling the ancient star had no idea that deep within the fiery mass the core sputtered. In a fraction of a second, the star would implode. Everything would be sucked into the black hole. He saw Suzy MacFarlane's face as he nodded off.
Francine thought to herself, It would be so easy. All I need to do is offer him a rum and coke, and tap the powder in.
She would get the coke and ice-cubes from the machines down the hall. It would be a glorious walk back to the room, a stroll worthy of Circe and her magic potions.
The twins would eagerly gulp down their pink cream sodas. She could already see the caps flying off the glass rims of the bottles, and the vapours floating briefly into the air. And then - poof! - they were gone. She would ascend into the heavens with her diamonds, trailing silk.
She saw their big eyes looking up at her, their cherry lips thirsty from their play. She saw her husband, leaning up from the bed, happy to see the bubbling drinks she had poured for the two of them. She saw him see the open mouths of the hotel glasses, with their jagged watery cubes, beckoning him to oblivion.
She looked at her two children and her ambitious husband, and thought of Liz Gilbert. Javier Bardem was waiting for her on the beach, blue-green drops of happiness dripping through the black hair of his chest.