Wilna Panagos


Mayhem days and allegory nights and hypothermia swims without a sound in either ear. We've got neuron soup and mute maraud and the St. Vitus dance of a pencil that refuses to die. Voodoo blues chicken boogie and throw your appliances out the second floor window on a nihilistic New Year's Eve.

Lie down with me and listen to a story. An incendiary story told in a whisper in the dark. I will tame the story in the telling, calm it. I will fish you from beneath the ice floes in the shivery river and I will bathe your cold limbs in orange words, sun warmed cantaloupe sentences, sweet and low. I will feed you a broth of songs and visions, of dinanderie and chryselephantine. A filigree of calligraphy, lost words smelling of spices and opium. I will wrap an Edward Hopper blanket around your shoulders and we will play strategic board games during your convalescence. We will watch imaginary battles and on mild afternoons we will go for short drives so that you can look at the city. We will invite undemanding guests for dinner, maidenhair ferns and dandelions, a lotus eater and a string quartet. I will let you fall asleep on the chaise before the end of the narrative because you are still pale and need the rest.

Wormwood louche [De rerum natura #1 (abridged)]

Rowing your dirigible over the expanse of night black regret without causing a ripple, the vapour above it sullen and smelling of take-away fries and vinegar. You can't see the saloon at the end of the road, but that's where you're going. A ghost in a rowboat. The boat's argument is full of holes, soaking you up to the ankles in incorrigible agave juice. You adjust your spectacles and bail sporadically with a neural net, but you eventually give up and put the neural net on your head. You row past a clown lying in a bed of reeds, sunning his toes in a thesaurus of DDT. It's for the mosquitoes. But you don't see him, he's as pale as the mists and his orange fright wig just an instance of delusion. The last little mushroom cloud of a swamp faery mutually assured annihilation. Played nuclear poker and everybody lost. The last card has fallen from your sleeve a long time ago. Say hello to the Fleur-de-lis saloon.

The hangdog horses tethered to a rusting car wreck and you get a revolver with your first murky glass of absinthe. No slotted spoon or sugar. Shots are fired occasionally but you hardly ever see any blood or anyone dead. The jukebox has a spindle full of poverty-stricken singles but the only song ever played is The Listeners sung by Screamin' Jay Hawkins and everybody always waits to mouth the words at the end. Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup, And the sound of iron on stone, And how the silence surged softly backward, When the plunging hoofs were gone. A few fans turn slowly in their cages, more out of habit than anything else, moving the air over the lovely bare breasts of the house-girls. Nobody has gone upstairs with one of them for a long time.

The clown arrives after a few years, dragging a bunch of reeds behind him, shivering with malaria, and joins a game of hearts in the back of the room when Andromeda leaves to write on the window in the bathroom. She writes: I wait for you to whisper to my trees until their leaves grow calm and lie down in your car to drive east with you. I believe every word you didn't say. The names of the named stars are tattooed on her legs: Alpheratz, Mirach, Almaak. The names of her mother and father: Cassiopeia, Cepheus. The name of her country: Ethiopia. The name of the sea monster Perseus saved her from: Cetus. There are chains feeding her wrists with love. Back at the table the clown shoots for the moon too often and mostly ends up with the queen of spades and half a suit of hearts, busting the bank with no apparent concern. Always a cigarette between his gloved fingers, shivering with him, smearing his lipstick. The other players: 1] a bear with a gasmask, everyone complained about his berry-and-guilt breath. He sips his absinthe with a straw and he likes fishing for the queen and ruffing. 2] the boxer with his broken nose and his broken heart and his punch-drunk brows and the tear-stained Virgil in his coat pocket. He always takes his share of splitting the hearts but loathes painting tricks. 3] the queen of a small, calm country covered in ice and herds of reindeer. The queen with her invisible crown and her steady shooting hand. She's usually the low man.

A thick layer of sand covers the floor of the saloon. Things live in the sand. Words, feelings, voodoo spells that didn't work. Three grams of welding flux chipped from a hollow man sculpture, wrap it in the corner you cut from a flyer on a round pillar and carry it with you at all times [so that whatever you lost will return to you and stay]. The eighteenth seed you pick from an orange bell pepper, dried in the light of a waxing moon, powdered and sprinkled over the roof of the car of the person you want to love you. A quote from Voltaire crowd surfing during the last song at a Howling Wolf concert, say this out loud in a graveyard in the middle of the day [for winning the lottery]. The Mandarin pictogram for an angry word that you can see in the rosettes on a leopard's back, transcribed onto a piece of blue paper and mailed to the person who did you wrong [include a self-addressed envelope], and so on. Things that are pinpricks of absinthe green light in the dark. Things that make faint chicken noises and things that sing the chorus from a Tom Waits song in cheery little ant voices. Misery's the river of the world, Everybody row! Everybody row! There are Acacia seedlings growing in the sand, dreaming of thorns like Watusi cattle horns and flowers like powder-puffs for tiny little movie stars. A patron once tried to record all the spells, lying on the sand, listening and writing in a notebook for months but eventually this person [nobody can remember if it was a woman or a man] came across a spell that actually worked and simply hasn't been used yet. He/she was transformed into a brown merry-go-round that was moved to the roof of the Fleur-de-lis. Sometimes someone goes and stands on it as it turns it slowly, looking at the city's insular lights, but most people prefer to watch the city in the transparent projection on the glum and uneven wall next to the jukebox, flickering and jumping and ticking and scribbled with white scratches and black specks. Often the city is New Orleans.

Occasionally some fool comes looking for trouble and sometimes the barman's behind-the-counter shotgun takes care of business. The barman's name is Mary. But usually the fool leaves deflated and confused that nobody there could be provoked. That they all laughed ruefully when he insulted them [this is the only time anyone ever laughs here (except for the time a guy in khakis and a neckerchief confused the place with a scout den)]. On very rare occasions the patrons are in a particularly cranky mood and a listless shoot-out occurs. I mean, what idiot would miss the dusty revolvers lying next to the absinthe glasses and on the black felt of the hearts table? Then the winner of the Darwin award would be dragged out to be buried behind the skip in the alley and Mary would wipe the shardy soup and absinthe up and throw the bullet hole riddled Campbell's tins away.

Here at the Fleur-de-lis nobody ever sleeps. Here it is always midnight and the glittering coach is always a bicycle. Fires spring up here, unexplained, to consume the look in the patrons' eyes. One of these fires burnt down the chandelier and all the little invisible birds that lived there. Everything here's a secret, nothing is apparent or large enough to see without looking. You cannot readily feel the braille on the playing cards or taste the memories in the absinthe. The Fleur-de-lis is a place without a punch-line. A guillotine with the blade welded to the top.

That Artemisia absinthium was commonly burned as a protective offering may suggest that its origins lie in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root *spend, meaning "to perform a ritual" or "make an offering".
On a compass rose the fleur-de-lis indicates north.
A looping flight demonstration manoeuvre is called a fleur-de-lis.
In medieval heraldry the three petals of the fleur-de-lis signify those who work, fight, pray. The saloon is not a medieval place.

Wilna Panagos writes (occasionally it is published somewhere), illustrates things [biology mostly], does web design from time to time & so on. She wrote and illustrated a few children's books and is currently writing something which may or may not turn out to be a short, odd novel. Oh yes, she lives in Pretoria, South Africa.
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