:: Article

LOTE: an extract

By Shola von Reinhold.

Because Elizabeth/Joan did not come back, which was to be expected, and because of the weather, which was unexpected, we decided to have another brandy upstairs before leaving. The room held an odd fascination for us and we clearly loved to stand about in it, two awed but smug trespassers. Whenever I glanced at Agnes she had a sort of shining, triumphant light in her eyes and I thought I understood something of it—of being in this room, of having this space to ourselves. But eventually a cruelness I also understood came into her face and she buttoned up her coat and said,

“Make sure you pull the bottom door shut properly behind you; are you listening? Right, see you tomorrow.”

I watched as she passed below. Rain fizzed white on the ledge like soda water. Then the rain fell differently, glossing the streets and rooftops into a state of divine lamination.

I took a slim bottle of something green from behind the bar and ventured outside into a loch of granite and bobbing umbrellas. All the trains had stopped, and I would have to take three or four buses.

I limited myself to a maximum of three inspections of the photograph per bus. I felt it might dissolve in my possession, outside of the archive, but instead it became more substantial, if anything materialising not dissolving—sucking in atoms, becoming more of an object, more vivid. I became fearful that commuters would notice I had stolen something almost a century old, that it was glowing with the undeniable aura of valuable old things, of masterpieces and antiquities. But, of course, no one did notice. It was not valuable.

What was beyond doubt by the time I got back was that a new Transfixion had arrived in the form of Hermia Druitt, the woman in this photograph. This was confirmed by the sensations: flashes from Arcadia. Moonlight, of a kind, sighed up and down the tube of my spine, but above all, that indescribable note which accompanied all my Transfixions was present: humming beneath the high fine rush—probably not dissimilar to holy rapture—was an almost violent familiarity. The feeling of not only recognising, but of having been recognised.

A new Transfixion.

 

In the month prior to my discovery of Hermia Druitt, I often found myself ‘recording’ my other Transfixions, working backwards to the first, who came to me at about fourteen, though I suspected they were happening before this in a more abstract manner. These records took the following form:

 

On silver card written in shell coloured ink (barely legible)

Front:

            Stephen Napier Tennant

(Image—photograph of Tennant in costume as Prince Charming, lying like the effigy on a tomb, hands in prayer and with a glossy silk cape spread out around him, by Cecil Beaton.)

Span: 21 April 1906—28 February 1987

Memorabilia: Queer English socialite most prominent during interwar era. Is frequently quoted as responding, when asked by his father what he wanted to be when he grew up, “…a Great Beauty, Sir!”, which became the case.

A human orchid who said he heard the flowers, his siblings, chant his name whilst walking on the Salisbury Plains as a boy.

“You needn’t wave and dye it like that, because you don’t need to at all… You know, a man doesn’t want to look pretty,” said Tallulah Bankhead when he met her in New York in 1931.

“Well, some men, I think, do want to look pretty. And nicer still, beautiful!” he replied.

Marcelled not only his hair but daily existence, by which is meant he induced the decorative wave in all things.

Is said to have lived in bed. This is not quite true. Certainly spent later life in comparative seclusion but by no means a total recluse. Friends included Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Cocteau and Willa Cather. Ended his four-year relationship with Siegfried Sassoon after Sassoon, turning up unannounced, found him without makeup on. Spent most of his life working on his novel Lascar: A Story You Must Forget, producing over 500,000 words but never completing it. Rarely mentioned is the unpublished novel he did complete, The Second Chance.

What in life could be more ecstatic an occupation than putting orchids in an ice-box and then taking them out again?”

Back:

Sensations: Silver wafer into lead-white paste, soundless string instruments involving beeswax in their production.

Further notes: Was an aesthete in the purest sense– a lover of beauty; but not a dandy, which tradition- ally entails a certain adherence to masculinity.

 

Other Transfixions included Jeanne Duval, Roberte Horth, Luisa Casati, Josephine Baker, Nancy Cunard, Richard Bruce Nugent, Ludwig II Bavaria and Bel-Shalti Nannar, Babylonian High Priestess of the moon god, Sin.

I hadn’t planned for cards at all but something visually more complex, involving star charts and tabulations, looking mystical and mathematical. Something diagnostic that would capture the essence of each figure, establishing intricate patterns between them, before at last identifying in a serious manner the source of my fixations.

The result displayed none of the hoped-for rigour, resembling a teenager’s overly embellished revision flash- cards. But they soon took on a devotional function, like prayer cards. Miniature icons.

I caught myself shuffling them, trying to intuit hidden meanings, and it was because of this I threw them in a high-street bin one day. It was clear that the making of these cards was atavistic, a basically perilous regression. There were other figures who fascinated me but did not produce these feelings, who transfixed but did not Transfix, and in answer to this I was given to constructing explanatory theories. Initially it was to do with reincarnation. All at once I had been Lola Montez, Ludwig II Bavaria, Jeanne Duval and so on, with a tangential theory to justify so many overlapping lives and just one soul. When this at last became insupportable (and unbearable—the shock of realisation was like nothing else, I was locked out of Arcadia) another gleaming narrative was constructed. In this one I belonged to some divine clan of being, a sort of celestial siblinghood to whom I was irrevocably connected (I imagined a network of silver cords) and so, when I heard the music of Ardizzoni and felt like I was suddenly ‘home’, it was because through his music echoed the undeniable timbre of my kinsfolk (the twitching of numinous cables). This was also too flimsy a reverie to surf, and the resulting comedown was such that it became necessary to put a stop to these self-induced delusions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shola von Reinhold
was born and is based in Glasgow. They have had work in Hotel, the Cambridge Literary Review, Gutter and Ambit and were awarded a Desperate Literature 2019 runner-up prize. LOTE, just out from Jacaranda Books, is their first novel. Twitter: @socialmedea

Jacaranda Books are a finalist in the Small Press of the Year Award category at the British Book Awards.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, May 5th, 2020.