Harold Jaffe's fiction

Cancer Is the Mother
by Harold Jaffe

cover image of Sex for the Milleniumfrom Sex for the Millennium
(Black Ice Books, 1999)

     Said I had liver cancer. In "a fairly advanced state," he added smugly, then offered me a Marlboro. I slapped him hard across his face and slammed the door.
     Stopped at a bar on the corner called The Broke Spoke, ordered a double Jack Daniels, took out my small notebook, and composed a wish-list:

--3 sex partners in one whack (ménage-à-quatre)
--exotic travel
--ethical murder

     The question was: in what order? That took some consideration. I sipped my Jack.
     Logically: travel (to Bangkok, say, or Amsterdam or Rio), then truffles, reputedly aphrodisiacal, followed by the ménage, followed by opium, said to be great but not for sex. Then, close to the end, ethical murder.
     But murder who exactly?
     "Exactly" wasn't the point. Virtually any mid-, or better, high-level technocrat would do. By technocrat I meant an institutional big who routinely fucked over ordinary people. These bigs aren't hard to find, and they topple like bowling pins.
     Despite not having any symptoms I could pinpoint, the doc predicted three to six months. I sipped my Jack, easy going down, no impediment / no pain. Moreover, fantasizing about the wish-list had produced a woody; I felt it pulsing in my jocks.
     Do cancer victims get hardons?
     Money? I possessed eleven credit cards. Easily good for half-a-dozen ass-kicking months. Hell, I was good for half-a-dozen years. Then, if I'm still sexy, file a Chapter 11, start all over.
     Finished the Jack, resisted the temptation to have another, waited for my erection to subside, paid and left.
     Since I was just two blocks east of Madison Avenue, I stopped into Ralph Lauren and outfitted myself in the casual British-American elegance that conformed to my platonic version of myself. $4300 and worth every wooden nickel.
     I hailed a cab and gave my address, but halfway down Fifth felt that woody starting to swell. I redirected the cabbie to a massage parlor on 40th and Lex. Called Siam, I'd passed it many times and wondered, but never stopped in until now.
     The plump, thirtyish Asian female in a geisha outfit bowed me welcome, led me to a small perfumed room, asked how long I meant to stay, took my credit card and instructed me to undress and lie on the rack.
     She returned a few minutes later, had me sign for the credit, then left again. Oddly, I wasn't in a hurry, lying on my back in the warm fragrant room, semi-hard penis curling up around my navel. When she returned she closed and locked the door and instructed me to turn on my stomach.
     In response to my question, she said her name was Keiko. After a perfunctory kneading, she had me turn over and commenced with the real deal. I asked how much it would cost for a second . . . masseuse. She paused, looked inquisitively at me, and said that it would cost double the price, but that the other "girl" was engaged with another client.
     I motioned her to continue. She certainly knew what she was doing. Or maybe it was my peculiar sensitivity.
     Imagining the C-word, incapacitating, deathly, sexless in the extreme, my erection buckled. I willed myself to recover.
     I asked Keiko whether she would undress. She quoted a price, I paid in cash, she undressed. On my back I stroked and squeezed her plump, firm body with one hand while she kneaded my sex with two. Yes, I'm rather large. But then her hands were small. She was, she said (in response to my question), part Korean, part Puerto Rican.
     I ejaculated pridefully. Three gushy spurts, three medium, and three juniors. All threes, maybe that signified something. Even Keiko's impassive face seemed impressed.
     Back at my condo, feeling a slight post-orgasmic depression, I ignored the three messages on the machine and pulled out some travel books and atlases. Deciding, finally, that I would travel to all three: Amsterdam, Bangkok, and (if I still had my chops) Rio.
     After Rio I would return to this benighted country and murder me three technocrats. Unless, of course, I ran into murderable techs on the road.
     I flew to Amsterdam three days later and checked into the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, just west of the Red Light district. Had a few Dutch gins then lay down on the queen-sized fourposter to sleep off the jet lag. I awoke at three a.m., fully awake, showered, slipped into my Ralph Lauren wide-wale cords, plush Lauren turtle, Lauren tweed hacking jacket, and went downstairs to the cafe. It was weekend and it was A'dam so there were souls--tourists and locals--drinking, hanging out.
     Ordered a rum and espresso.
     Nursing my rum, fantasizing, I smelled a delicate floral scent, and looked up to see a raven-haired woman sitting across from me at the small table. She seemed to be appraising me ironically with just the trace of a smile on her handsome, mobile, full-lipped mouth.
     "You could get hurt," she said. "You could get sick. You could do all these things, and if you don't have intimate relationships that are strong, you're really alone. But alone is something I know how to do. Intimacy comes and goes. Alone is forever. Be single. Be plural. Just be."
     Actually she didn't say that. I spoke first.
     "Sorry," I murmured. "I didn't see you."
     "What are you sorry about?" she said softly. Smooth mezzo, ambiguously accented.
     "Brevity, banality, barbarity."
     She laughed full-throatedly. I liked that.
     "Can I buy you a drink?" I said.
     "What are you drinking?"
     "Dark rum and espresso."
     "The same."
     I flagged the waiter then turned back to her. Graceful carriage, supple shoulders, glossy black hair pulled back away from her wide forehead into a plaited chignon. (Did her hair reach the small of her back? Could she sit on it?) Delicate ears with rather large silver hoop earrings. Nationality? Eurasian, Moroccan . . .
     "You are trying," she said, "to place me."
     I nodded slowly.
     "My name is Dido."
     "So you've come to Amsterdam to . . . "
     Sipping my rum, gazing into her clear, deep black eyes.
     "Fuck and suck three beautiful females," I blurted. "En ménage."
     "Must they be beautiful?"
     "No. Appealing would do."
     "Must they be precisely female?"
     "Well . . . "
     "I believe I can help you," Dido said, eyes shining.
     She suggested I meet her at Oudekerk in the Red Light area at 3 p.m. Then she stood, smoothing her magenta skirt over her hips. Full hips, muscular long legs. Smiling faintly, she pivoted and left. Her elastic, sensual, yet oddly frail walk reminded me of Buñuel's appreciative comment about Jeanne Moreau's walk during the filming of Diary of a Chambermaid.
     Before I knew quite what I was doing, I dropped onto my knees and pressed my face against the seat where she had sat. Still warm, smelling faintly of scent.
     Just then, my face on her vacated seat, but at the same time scanning the high-ceilinged room, I saw Dido at the other end of the cafe turn and nod her head slowly, perhaps smiling.
     Back in my room at 4:33 a.m., I was suddenly tired, despite the caffeine.
     I slept and dreamt.
     When I awoke it was nine a.m., someone tapping at my door.
     I cleared my throat.
     "Come in."
     The door handle turned and a gaunt woman in white entered carrying a staff. Death come to fetch me. No. It was the chamber-maid with a mop. She resembled my mother whom I'd just been dreaming of. She promised to come back.
     I showered, shaved, slipped on some Lauren a.m. wear and went downstairs. Truffle-shopping time. I asked the soul at the desk, who seemed to ponder. Motioned me to wait and went through a door; when she returned she gave me a small map with a penciled cross southwest of center.
     I'm generally a poor navigator but the map was easy to follow; it led me into the the Red Light area, but not to a greengrocer as I expected. To a restaurant that specialized in truffles and other fungi. It was closed, but would re-open at seven p.m.
     Though it was a few minutes after ten, some of the prostitutes in their glass cages were up, displaying themselves. There were clients. I watched a tall, rigid man with a grey brush cut who looked like a Danish Calvinist minister go into the windowed cubicle of a dominatrix done up in black latex from head to boot. She wore a black gas mask which resembled a pig's snout.
     Coincidentally, on the way back to the hotel, I noticed a "specialty" shop on Warmoestraat. Stopped in there and did something I'd always thought of doing: outfitted myself in black latex. Sans gas mask.
     Freshly showered and scented (does liver cancer smell?) Wearing a Lauren ensemble of cafe au lait suede bucks, hacking jacket, indigo denim shirt and camel cords (black latex briefs underneath), I was standing outside the cavernous chapel of Oudekerk, the oldest church in A'Dam, dating from the early 14th century, in the very groin of the Red Light area. Three minutes past three as I watched Dido approach, in purple velvet slacks and yellow clogs, clop-clop on the cobblestones, regal carriage, sexy-frail Jeanne Moreau walk.
     She offered her strong slender hand.
     We walked south along OZ Voorburgwal hearing the mallards make their kwek/kwek, yeeb/yeeb in the ancient canals, then east at Bloedstraat into a narrow, intricately gabled wooden building, up three flights of dank dark stairs into a flat with muted light. The hostess was a stout middle-aged apparent female, her dyed black hair puffed out into a faintly absurd bouffant, white makeup mask accented with a bloody gash of lipstick.
     We sat on a deep sofa in the small parlor sipping Genever, contemplating the odd-looking canapés on a silver filigreed tray.
     "Truffles," Dido anticipated my question.
     I tried one. Tasted like a cross between a mushroom and a cocktail onion. Popped a few more.
     Then up the winding stair leading to a wide, low-ceilinged bedroom, the fading light slanting through bamboo shades.
     The square-shaped bed was low to the floor. The floor was wide-planked hardwood, painted white. Fringed, vari-colored rugs on the floor.
     On top of a small wood table were the oils and scents. The space smelled faintly of frangipani.
     A woman appeared, young and slender, Thai, or Indonesian, downcast gaze. Barefoot, wearing a silver and green silk robe, loosely tied.
     Then another, black, full-figured in her jade green mini and pale yellow halter, perhaps Caribbean, with a beguiling kitten's face and long, intricate dreads.
     And then (mild surprise) Dido, my guide, naked, pneumatic, with nipples that stuck out like miniature candied apples. Un-plaited, her glossy black hair reached the small of her back.
     The lust was multiform, variegated, but deliberately paced (somehow), as though video'd then replayed at a slower speed. I was led through graded depths, artifice. Twist, torque, extend, extend. Moans without sound.
     What about the truffles? Were they aphrodisiacal?
     Yes, they were. Or maybe it was Frau Death, lingering.
     I will remember the smells. Interface of imposed fragrance, frangipani in particular, with the natural smells of the lusting bodies.
     As to whether the females were precisely female, in Dido's words. I think they were, but can't absolutely vouch for the slender Asian with her articulate feet. Her feet were pointed, delicate, but also supple, almost prehensile. Much of her sexual energy was generated from the waist down.
     S/he seemed impressed with my latex briefs.
     I felt purged though not shriven.
     Back at last in the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, I slept the sleep of the just.
     Jumpstart cancer victim eluding the Big D.
     I awoke abruptly at ten to three a.m. with a word on my lips: "More."
     Which could only mean opium.
     That epiphany birthed this one: Why not commit ethical murder, then smoke opium? That way I'd have something pleasurable to fantasize about.
     On that gracious note I fell into sleep.
     Awake again at 7:30 I slipped on my Lauren calf-length, turquoise terry robe and picked up the International Herald Tribune left outside the door.
     Ha. An American "trade delegation" with ties both to the US government and to Microsoft would be in Amsterdam to confer with EU reps. A presentation by a Microsoft VP named F. Jared Baldwin was scheduled at the new trade center just north of the city at noon.
     As planned, I met Dido at breakfast (croissants, cafe au lait). She wore shiny silver pants and a maroon sweater with a maltese cross on a silver chain about her slender neck. Her hair was freshly washed, pulled up, fragrant. Her black eyes glowed. She said:
     "A former car salesman who for three years pretended to be dying of cancer--even shaving his head and faking seizures--was awarded 13 months in prison. The perpetrator, 50, was also ordered to repay nearly $43,000 to his victims and perform 300 hours of community service. The perpetrator claimed to have kidney, lung and prostate cancer. His former wife and three stepsons believed him, as did most of his fellow residents. To convince people, the perpetrator shaved his head, talked about how awful chemotherapy was and dropped red dye in his toilet to make it look like there was blood in his urine. He also faked seizures, sometimes slamming his head into walls to make the episodes look realistic."
     Actually Dido didn't say all that. I spoke first.
     "I want to commit ethical murder."
     She said: "What will you wear?"
     "'DeathLust & Leisure,' by Ralph Lauren. Brushed taupe canvas trousers, mocha suede vest, Norfolk herringbone tweed jacket in olive with navy blue leather accents, modified riding-to-hounds boots, Royall Lyme all-purpose lotion."
     Long pause.
     "Go for it," Dido said.
     She waited in the lobby while I went upstairs to change.
     She led me to a small shop in a mews off Nieuwmarkt where I purchased a Beretta 9mm semi-automatic mini, with a fitted silencer.
     Time on our hands, Dido and I walked to the Asian sector of the Red Light district near Zeedijk. I told her that I was contemplating an opium smoke after the murder, and Dido confirmed that there were opium cellars in the area, pointing to to one beneath a pub called Mexico City.
     F. Jared Baldwin, the Microsoft VP, was out of Central Casting: late forties, square-jawed, pulsing cheekbones, gleaming teeth, ears close to the head, gray-blond hair like a carefully mowed lawn, shiny black tasseled shoes.
     The Dutch aren't security conscious (unless they're colonizing Africans). I got close enough to Baldwin to smell his cologne. Popped him as he was milling about after his presentation. A single silent round in his tanned neck beneath his custom haircut. No biggie. Dido and I were out of the building by the time Baldwin's handlers and their swinging nametags saw that they had dead doo.
     The opium (in the cellar of Cafe Mexico City, on Zeedijk) was as advertised. Dido showed me how to address the pipe, inhale just so, how long to keep it down. My unzippered mind moved, skittered, sidled to the smooth assassination of Baldwin, re-playing it with a difference, in, out, around, that sad-happy song, infinitely displayed, figured, filigreed, unfucked over. I also sang along with cancer, the Big C, and that was fruity too. In its way it was as good as the ménage-à-quatre. Well, almost. I'm a sex guy, always was. My poppy head in Dido's fragrant lap.
     At breakfast the next morning, croissants, kippers, cafe au lait, I asked Dido whether she would accompany me to Bangkok. She said:
     "A toddler with a rare condition that makes her face hairy like a werewolf's began a series of surgical procedures aimed at improving her appearance and, more important, keeping her safe from cancer. The three-year-old child faced a life of isolation, as well as the possibility of an early death from her condition known as congenital hairy nevus but also characterized as 'human werewolf syndrome.' According to her doctor, the surgery, if successful, 'could improve her appearance 300%, but cancer was, and always would be, waiting for her to make a single wrong move.'"
     That, I knew, was Dido's way of saying "yes."
     Three days later we were in that dusky jewel of the East: Bangkok.

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