Writing As Anne Rampling
Spell-checked. A few short corrupt passages.
Anne Rampling’s Exit to Eden was hailed as a literary odyssey into a world of forbidden lust ...the same kind of skillful writing that brought respectability to the works of Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and D.H. Lawrence ...” (UPI). The Vampire Lestat, written under her real name, Anne Rice, was on The New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks. Now, here is a stunning new work from this remarkable best-selling novelist. A contemporary Lolita, Belinda is the sensual story of a postmodern nymphet and her provocative relationship with her considerably older lover.
Jeremy Walker is 44, handsome, refined, and world famous for his lavishly illustrated children’s books. He would seem to have it all when he is suddenly seduced by a beautiful and precocious sixteen-year-old runaway named Belinda. Innocent as the little girls he paints, yet passionate as any woman he has ever known, Belinda becomes his elegant muse and lover. Turning away from the children’s art that has made him rich, Jeremy begins to fill his studio with nude portraits of Belinda. Shocking and erotic, they are without question the finest work he has ever done—yet to reveal them would destroy his career forever. As he considers this risk, Jeremy is obsessed with the mystery she refuses to reveal. Terrified of losing with her silence as he finds himself in Belinda’s world
(continued on back flap)
THIS NOVEL IS DEDICATED TO ME.
Bend down, bend down.
Excess is the only ease, so bend.
The sun is in the tree.
Put your mouth on mine.
Bend down beam & slash, for
Dread is dreamed-up-scenes of what comes after death.
Is being fled from what bends down in pain.
The elbow bends in the brain, lifts the cup.
The worst is yet to dream you up, so bend down the intrigue you dreamed.
Flee the hayneedle in the brain’s tree.
Excess allures by leaps.
Stars burn clean.
Oriole bitches and gleams.
Dread is the fear of being less forever.
So bend. Bend down and kiss what you see.
—“Excess Is Ease”, Stan Rice
I. THE WORLD OF JEREMY WALKER
“Who was she?” That was the first thought that came into my mind when I saw her in the bookstore. Jody, the publicist, pointed her out. “Catch your devoted fan over there,” she said. “Goldilocks.”
Goldilocks, yes, she had hair like that, absolutely right, down to her shoulders. But who was she really?
Photographing her, painting her. Reaching under her short little Catholic school plaid skirt and touching the silk of her naked thighs, yes, I thought of all that, too, I have to admit it. I thought of kissing her, seeing if her face was as soft as it looked—babyflesh.
Yes, it was there from the start, especially once she gave me the age-old inviting smile and her eyes became for a moment a woman’s eyes.
Fifteen, maybe sixteen—she was no older than that. Scuffed oxfords, shoulder bag, white socks pulled up over the calves—a private-school kid who had maybe drifted into the line outside the bookstore just to see what was happening.
But there was something strange about her that made me think she was “somebody.” I don’t mean her poise, the cool manner in which she stood with arms folded just watching all the goings on at the book party. Kids these days inherit that poise. It’s their enemy, the way ignorance was the enemy of my generation.
It was a high gloss she had, almost a Hollywood look in spite of the rumpled Peter Pan blouse and the cardigan tied loosely around her shoulders. Her skin was too evenly tanned all over (consider the silky thighs, the skirt was so short), and her hair, though long and loose, was almost platinum. Careful lipstick, could have been done with a brush. All this made the school clothes look like a costume. And a very well chosen one.
She might have been a child actress, of course, or a model—I had photographed a lot of those—young things who will market the teenage look till they’re twenty-five, even thirty. She was certainly pretty enough. And the mouth was full, but small, puckered, real babymouth. She had the look all right. My God, she was lovely.
But that didn’t seem the right explanation either. And she was too old to be one of the little girls who read my books, the ones crowded around me now with their mothers. Yet she wasn’t old enough to be one of the faithful adults who still bought every new work with slightly embarrassed apologies.
No, she didn’t quite fit here. And in the soft electric daylight of the crowded store she suggested an imaginary being, an hallucination.
Something prophetic in that, though she was very real, more real perhaps than I ever was.
I forced myself not to stare at her. I had to keep the pen going as the copies of Looking For Bettina were put into my hand, see the little upturned faces.
“To Rosalind, of the lovely name,” and “For Brenda, of the beautiful braids,” or “To pretty Dorothy, with special best wishes.”
“Do you really write the words to the stories, too?” Yes, I do.
“Will you do more Bettina books?” I’ll try to. But this is number seven. Isn’t it enough, perhaps? What do you think?
“Is Bettina a real little girl?” Real to me, what about you?
“Do you do all the cartoons yourself for the Saturday morning Charlotte show?” No, the TV people do all that. But they have to make them look like my drawings.
The line went all the way out the door and down the block, they said, and it was so hot for San Francisco. When San Francisco gets hot, no one is prepared for it. I glanced back to see if she was still there. Yes, she was. And she smiled again in that same calm secretive way, no mistaking it.
But, come on, Jeremy, pay attention to what, you’re doing, don’t disappoint anybody. Smile for each one. Listen.
Two more college kids appeared—oil paint on the sweatshirts and jeans—and they had the big coffee-table book left over from Christmas, The World of Jeremy Walker.
Confusion every time I saw that pretentious package, but oh, what it had meant, the grand imprimatur after all these years, the text full of lofty comparisons to Rousseau and Dali and even Monet, with pages of dizzying analysis.
Walker’s work has from its very beginnings transcended illustration. Although his little girl protagonists at first glance suggest the saccharine sweetness of Kate Greenaway, the complex settings in which they find themselves are as original as they are disturbing.
Hate to have someone pay fifty dollars for a book, seems obscene.
“Knew you were an artist when I was four years old ... cut out your pages and framed them and put them on the walls—” Thank you.
“—worth every penny. Saw your work in New York at the Rhinegold Gallery.” Yes, Rhinegold’s always been good to me, showing me when people said I was just a kid’s author. Good old Rhinegold.
“—when the Museum of Modern Art will finally admit—” You know the old joke. When I’m dead. (Don’t mention the work in the Pompidou Center in Paris. That would be too arrogant.)
“—I mean, the trash they call serious! Have you seen—?” Yes, trash, you said it.
Don’t let them go away feeling I wasn’t what they expected, that I hadn’t listened when they murmured about “veiled sensuality” and “light and shadow.” This is an ego-booster all right. Every book signing is. But it’s also purgatory.
Another young mother with two battered copies of the old editions. Sometimes I wound up signing more of those old books than the new one from the stacks on the front tables.
Of course, I took all these people home with me in my head, took them with me into th
e studio when I lifted the brush. They were there like the walls were there. I loved them. But to meet them face to face was always excruciating. Rather read the letters that came from New York in two packets every week, rather tap out the answers carefully in solitude.
Yes, all the toys in the pictures in Bettina’s House are in my house, it’s true. And the dolls I draw are antiques, but the old Lionel trains can be found in many places still. Perhaps your mother can help you to find, etc ....
“—couldn’t go to sleep at night unless she was reading Bettina to inc—” Thank you. Yes, thank you. You don’t know what it means to hear you say it.
Yes, the heat was getting unbearable in here. Jody, the pretty publicist from New York Whispered in my ear: “Just two more books and they’re sold out.”
“You mean I can get drunk now?”
Scolding laugh. And a little black-haired girl on my right, staring up at me with the most blank expression—could have been horror or nothing. Squeeze of Jody’s hand on my arm.
“That was just a joke, honey. Did I sign your book?”
“Jeremy Walker doesn’t drink,” said the nearby mother with an ironic but good-natured laugh. Laughter all around.
“Sold out!” The clerk had both arms up, turning right to left. “Sold OUT!”
“Let’s go!” said Jody, squeeze on the arm tightening. Lips to my ear: “That was, for your information, one thousand copies.”
One of the other clerks was saying he could send around the corner to Doubleday for more, somebody was already calling.
I turned around. Where was she, my Goldilocks? The store was emptying.
“Tall them not to do that, not to borrow the books. I can’t sign any more—”
Goldilocks was gone. And I had not even seen her move out of the corner of my eye. I was scanning everywhere, looking for a patch of plaid in the crowd, the corn silk hair. Nothing.
Jody was tactfully telling the clerks that we were late already for the publishers’ party at the Saint Francis. (It was the big American Booksellers Association party for the publishing house.) We couldn’t be late for it.
“Party, I forgot about the party,” I said. I wanted to loosen my tie but didn’t. Before each book came out, I swore to myself I’d do the signings in a sweater and a shirt open at the neck, and everybody would like me just as much, but I never could bring myself to do it. So now I was trapped in my tweed coat and flannel pants in the middle of a heat wave.
“It’s the party where you can get drunk!” Jody whispered pushing me towards the door. “What are you complaining about?”
I shut my eyes for a split second, tried to see Goldilocks just as she’d been—arms folded, leaning against the table of books. Had she been chewing gum? Her lips had been so pink, pink as candy. “Do you have to do this party?”
“Look, there’ll be lots of other authors there—”
That meant Alex Clementine, this season’s movie-star author (and my very good friend), and Ursula Hall, the cookbook lady, and Evan Dandrich, the spy novelist—in sum, the megasellers. The respectable little authors and short story writers would be nowhere in sight.
“You can just coast.”
“Like coast home, for instance?”
It was worse outside, the smell of the big city rising from the sidewalks, the way it never does in San Francisco, and just a stale wind gusting between the buildings.
“You could do it in your sleep,” Jody said. “Same old reporters, same old columnists—”
“Then why do it at all?” I asked. But I knew the answer.
Jody and I had worked together for ten years on this kind of thing. We’d gone from the early days, when nobody much wanted to interview a children’s book author and promotion was just a signing or two in a kiddy’s bookstore, to the madness of late, when each book brought demands for guest spots on television and radio, chatter about the animated movies in the works, the long intellectual write-ups in the news mags, and the endlessly repeated question: How does it feel to have children’s books on the adult best-seller list?
Jody had always worked hard, first to get me publicity and now to protect me from it. Wasn’t fair to back out if she wanted me to do this party.
We were crossing Union Square, weaving through the usual scatter of tourists and derelicts, the pavements filthy, the sky a colorless glare overhead.
“You don’t even have to talk,” she said. “Just smile and let them eat the food and drink the booze. You go sit on a sofa. You’ve got ink all over your fingers. Ever hear of ballpoint pens?”
“My dear, you’re talking to an artist.”
Sad panicky feeling when I thought of Goldilocks again. If I could go home now, I might be able to paint her, get her sketched at least before the details melted in the dazzle. Something about her nose, little upturned nose, and the way the mouth was full but small. Probably be that way all her life, and she’d hate it soon enough because she wanted to look like a full-grown woman.
But who was she? The question again, as if there ought to be a very specific answer. Maybe an allure that strong always creates a feeling of recognition. Some one I ought to know, have known, dreamt up, been in love with forever.
“I’m so tired,” I said. “It’s this damned heat. I didn’t expect to be so tired.” And the truth was, I was drained, smiled out, eager to just shut the door on everything.
“Look, let the others have the limelight. You know Alex Clementine. He’ll keep them mesmerized.”
Yes, good to have Alex aboard. And everybody said his Tinseltown life story was terrific. If only I could get away with Alex, hit some corner bar and breathe easy. But Alex did love this kind of thing. “Maybe I’d get a second wind.”
A flock of pigeons broke for us as we headed toward Powell Street. A man on crutches wanted “spare change.” A wraith of a woman in a preposterous silver helmet with Mercury wings attached to it crooned a frightening song through a homemade amplifier. I looked up at the charcoal gray facade of the hotel, the old building stolid and grim, the towers rising cleanly behind it.
Some old Hollywood tale of Alex Clementine’s came back, something about the silent film star Fatty Arbuckle accidentally injuring a young girl in this hotel, a bedroom scandal that wrecked his career, all before our time. Alex was probably telling that story now upstairs. Wouldn’t miss that opportunity surely.
A jam-packed cable car clanked at the taxis that barred its way. We darted in front of it.
“Jeremy, you know you can lie down for a few minutes, prop up your feet, shut your eyes, then I’ll get you some coffee. I mean there’s a bedroom up there, it’s the presidential suite.”
“So I get to sleep in the president’s bed.” I smiled. “I think I’ll take you up on that.”
Would like to have gotten the way her “goldilocks” came down to her shoulders in a triangle of ripples. I think she had some of it tied back, but it was so heavy and thick. Bet she thought it was too curly and that’s what she would have said if I had said how beautiful. But that was the surface. What about the tempest in my heart when I saw the look in her eye? Empty faces to the right and to the left, but there had been somebody home there is those eyes—how to get that.
“—a good presidential nap and then you’ll be fine for dinner.”
“Dinner, you didn’t tell me about dinner!” My shoulder ached. So did my hand. One thousand books. But I was lying. I had been told about dinner. I had been warned about everything.
The lobby of the Saint Francis swallowed us in a golden gloom, the inevitable noise of the crowd interwoven with the faint strains of an orchestra. Massive granite columns soaring to gilded Corinthian capitals. Sounds of china and silver. Smell of an ice box full of expensive flowers. Everything, even the patterns in the carpet, seemed to be moving.
“Don’t do this to me,” Jody was saying. “I’ll tell everybody you’re beat, I’ll do the talking—”
“Yes, you say it all, whatever it
And what is there to say anymore? How many weeks has the book been on The New York Times best-sellers list? Was it true I had an attic full of paintings nobody had ever seen? Would there be a museum show any time soon? What about the two works in the Pompidou Center? Did the French appreciate me more than the Americans? And talk about the coffee-table book, of course, and the gulf that divided it from the Saturday morning Charlotte show and the animated films that might be made by Disney. And of course the question that irritated me the most: What was new or different about the latest Looking For Bettina? Nothing. That’s the trouble. Absolutely nothing.
The dread in me was building. You cannot say the same things five hundred times without becoming a windup toy. Your face goes dead, so does your voice, and they know it. And they take it personally. And lately careless statements had been coming out of my mouth. I had almost snapped at an interviewer last week that I didn’t give a goddamn about the Saturday morning Charlotte show, why the hell would I be embarrassed by it?
Well, fourteen million little kids nationwide watch that show, and Charlotte’s my creation. What was I talking about?
“Oh, don’t look now,” Jody said, “but there’s your devoted fan—”
“Goldilocks. Waiting for you right by the elevators. I’ll get rid of her.”
There she was again all right, leaning against the wall as casually as she had against the book table. Only this time she had one of my books under her arm and a little cigarette in the other hand, and she took a quick drag off the cigarette in a rather casual way that made her look like a street kid.
“Goddamn, she stole that book, I know she did,” Jody said. “She was hanging around all afternoon and she never bought anything.”
“Drop it,” I said under my breath. “We are not the San Francisco police.”
She’d crushed out the cigarette in the sand of the ashtray and she was coming toward us. She had Bettina’s House in her hand, a new copy but an old book. I’d written it probably around the time she was born. Didn’t want to think about that. I pushed the elevator button. “Hello, Mr. Walker.”