I have a collection of name tags, one for each department store in the city, and I cover up the name that used to be on the tag and put my own name on it. Then I walk into a department store wearing the right tag and just hang out for a while in an aisle, maybe straightening merchandise on the shelves or something, and soon enough some babe comes up to me all panicked, saying, Please help me! I dont know where I can find henleys! Please help me find henleys! And I kind of casually slip an arm around her shoulder and stroke it and say, There, there. There, there. No need to fret, honey. Ill help you find all the henleys you need. Then I point to my name tag. My name is Marlon. I can help. Please let me help. Im going to help you. Thats the secret: to get to them when they need help. Thats when theyre vulnerable. Thats when theyre weak. Next thing you know youre sucking that neck. Actually, that little gambit doesnt work all the time. Actually it hasnt worked yet, but its bound to soon. Actually, anyway.
Anyway this woman selling the perfume says to me, You look loveless. And I go over to this counter that shes standing behind, where theres a bunch of perfumes in this glass case in a bunch of different-colored glass bottles, and I say, Listen lady, you said a mouthful. Let me tell you. And then she reaches out with an index finger and puts it to my lips: hush. And I hush.
Then she reaches under the counter and pulls out the tiniest glass bottle in the case, which is filled with this golden liquid, and a piece of paper thats about a foot square, and a big glass jar thats got wasps in it. Theres a bunch of yellow jackets in this jar buzzing around, knocking their heads against the inside over and over again. She puts all this stuff on the counter and then she sprays a little bit of the golden stuff in the bottle on the piece of paper. A concoction distilled from the crushed and liquefied glands of animals from sixteen different species, she says. The stuff smells sickly sweet, like honeysuckle, and my eyes start to water. Some are still alive, she says. Some were wiped out decades ago. Then she puts the piece of paper down on the counter, and she picks up the glass jar and shakes hell out of it, like shes mixing a martini. Then she unscrews the lid of the jar and lets out the wasps.
So now I am thinking: you foolish woman, you have just released a horde of angry yellow jackets in a crowded department store, and this will not be good for business. But get this: the wasps fly out of the jar and straight as an arrow they make for the piece of paper. Soon the whole papers almost covered up and still theres more coming, and not one of them flying off on its own to sting somebody, all of them just flying toward the smell of the perfume, crawling all over the paper and I guess probably trying to hump it. And the lady behind the counter, shes gazing down at this with her eyes all glazed over and she says, Beautiful, isnt it. Soon the smell will drive them mad and theyll start to sting each other to death. Then she looks at me and smiles. We have different fragrances for men and women. And I say, I have got to get me some of that. Hey, Opheliasmell my neck! Smell that? Does that drive you nuts or what?
Ophelia looked at Marlon, and her bright blue eyes widened and she smiled with the sudden recollection of something long forgotten. Marlon and Ophelia, sitting in a tree, she sang with a gentle tremolo. K, I, S, S, I, N, G. First comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes a baby . . . in a baby carriage!
Excerpted from The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. Copyright © 2010 by Dexter Palmer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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