Sunday, March 28, 2010

UNCOMMON PLACES XVII.

by W. H. Pugmire

I walked across the Garrison Street bridge, stopping midpoint so as to watch the play of moonlight on the Miskatonic that flowed below me. I listened to the river water call with liquid voice, as if trying to coax me over the railing and into her depths; but I resisted temptation, for I had other abysses in which to plunge. Continuing my walk across the river bridge, to Water Street, I approached the antique house that was my destination. I contemplated the woman I had arranged to meet -- and possibly to paint. I knew that she was incredibly old, and that she lived in the darkened edifice, never shewing herself except in deepest night. A line from Ovid came to me: "Blemishes are hid by night and every fault forgiven; darkness makes any woman fair." Yet Delia Eliot was not any woman -- nor was she young and fair. No one knows how old she was in 1925, when Richard Upton Pickman painted her; and his canvases were certainly no indication, for in some of them she looked very young, little more than a teenager, while in others she was depicted as quite mature, a spinster in some shadowed room, seated at a spinning wheel.

Miss Eliot had earned a slight reputation as an underground bohemian poet, but I knew of her from my obsession with the Boston painter and his work. He was reputed to have completed thirteen canvases of her shortly before his mysterious disappearance. Using my criminal influence, I had obtained a small painting -- one of a series -- in which she was shown as an adolescent surrounded by dog-faced ghouls, with whom she was depicted as feeding. Pickman titled the work "The Lesson IV." I had no idea that this bewitching woman yet lived -- until I saw a recent painting of her at an exhibition in Salem. The artist assured me that, although incredibly aged, Delia Eliot was very much alive and dwelling in her mansion by the river in Arkham. It was her prejudice never to be photographed, and thus all images of her were aesthetic recreations. I remember how queer I felt as I gazed at that image of an elderly woman at her spinning wheel; although incredibly ancient, her face was recognizable as the visage that had apparently haunted Richard Pickman. She haunted me, now, and thus I arranged my meeting, after a few months of sporadic correspondence. Although my artistic talents are limited, I worked with a friend on a charcoal sketch of Richard Pickman, inspired by the one photo of him that I had been able to locate from a police report concerning his disappearance. She claimed to have been delighted with it and suggested that I come to visit her in the old house she had inherited in Arkham. And thus I found myself facing that magnificent old habitation in autumn moonlight. My knock at the door was answered by a fey man of indeterminate age who looked like Aubrey Beardsley dressed in formal attire and holding a taper. Softly, he spoke my name, and I nodded in acknowledgment; he then stepped aside and allowed me to enter the dark domain. The flickering candles, held in antique bronze sconces fastened to the yellow walls, threw dancing shadows on the servant's face, highlighting his gauntness -- the somber eyes and tapered ears. Curling his thin lips, he motioned for me to follow him through a hallway and into a room with walls of paneled oak.

She sat on a cushioned chair of red fabric, dressed in flowing black. I had expected her to be old, but the sight of her withered face with its high forehead and pale eyes shocked me. Her long white hair was covered by a black and silver lace mimkhatah that gave her a kind of frail beauty -- yet it was a morbid beauty, for her skin was so thin that one could easily discern the skull beneath the face. She smiled and motioned me to a chair, then nodded at the servant, who departed.

* * * * * * * * *

I need to stop as I'm expected a visit from my buddies, the Mormon missionaries. I will conclude this portion from Uncommon Places tonight. I am presenting here because, suddenly, to-day, I have decided that the only way to completely satisfy my obsession with H. P. Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" is to write a wee novel inspir'd by HPL's story. I want it to be rather strange and rather sexy -- in a ghoulish way. I shall probably incorporate my invention of Delia Eliot into the thing. Yes, I know, I've said before, "Gonna write me a novel," & it never happens. But this, somehow, feels different. I've been wanting to write a wee weird novel for a publisher who likes sexy stuff, and I think I can be rather risque with this. It will be set in the 1920s, a real challenge, and it can concern itself with the poetry of that age, another of my obsessions. We shall see.

At any rate, my work on my other tale, "To Se Beyond" (a sequel to Bob Bloch's "The Cheaters") goes very well. I read a really piss-poor rough draft of Part II of that tale on YouTube, probably a mistake because my roughs are always very rough indeed -- but listening to that reading shew'd me errors and their resolutions. The polish of it I am now working on is quite satisfying.
So -- the work flows, & that is the best feeling in the world. More tonight, my darlings.

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