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Authors: Gloria Vanderbilt

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Rising from the divan, standing in front of the mirror, Dominique coolly appraised me. Maja once told me that the unbinding of a woman's hair by another may control cosmic powers and bring destruction, and although you might think this of
no account it filled me with dread as I stood behind her watching as you leisurely unwound the braids around her head, freeing the copper-burnished hair, so similar to mine, touching it so tenderly as it rippled around her shoulders, moist from perspiration, and bid me comb it. “Hey—go easy there,” she admonished when I pulled at the tangles. “Yes,” you agreed, “don't be so rough, best get Rowena to come assist with the toilette.” When I returned with Rowena I found Dominique searching among trinkets on my dressing table to find hairpins which she then poked into her hair as you were now re-braiding it, fiddling it into a crown on top of her head. “How charming,” you enthused, bidding me go into our garden, gather morning glories, and upon return observe you playfully weave them into the crown. Anticipating your wishes, Rowena saturated a sponge with Eau Jasmine—handed it to you as I watched Dominique float in the scented water
of the bath you had prepared as you caressed her breasts until her nipples rose into bud, worthy to be kissed. Oh Talbot, I hate you so.

I've never questioned The Rules. There was never any confusion. Maja had been fully briefed and so was I. You told Maja that you had come to a point where your “erotica had become chaotic, interfering with work and home,” and passion for beauty inspired you to come up with a solution—Akeru—and so began your search for a Maîtresse worthy to reign. I will not let you take this away from me. I am your chosen one to be its Queen. I do, and have done everything to please you, followed The Rules to the letter. In the years ahead you may desire me less. This I am ready to face. And if that does happen, you will find me, as I am now, an eager collaborator whose only intent is to satisfy your most extreme wishes and fulfill your desires. Until I ran away from the orphanage—well, surely
it is not difficult to figure out why control is important to me. I never had it—and now I do. It's my life, my happiness—it keeps me sane, balanced, gives me strength to explore my aptitude to perform as you would expect, to maintain Akeru a kingdom of beauty and pleasure unto itself for your delight in which I joyously share.

Maja knew full well what you were seeking and how to find it for you, the permanent Maîtresse, to stabilize your wandering attention span and restless spirit, a steward to be in full charge managing the erotica of your life. In return you would build Maîtresse a house (which you did—the paradise Akeru) to be in her name, putting money in trust for her independence and lifelong security. What woman who never had a home, loves sensuality and beauty, and cannot have children, wouldn't die to be blessed with this opportunity. I was bowled over and honored that you chose me. From the time I was born
I was in orphanages; never able to make a satisfying relationship with my actual parents, I stopped looking for this with real people—used my imagination to create substitutes for them in the form of idealized images. Who better than Maja to project onto her a fantasy image of nurturing Mother—and who more qualified than you, although you are far too young (age has nothing to do with it!), to project onto you the authority image of Father. Logically I know neither one of you will ever come up to what I'm seeking and that no matter where I look I'll always be disappointed. The only reality that is not a fantasy is Akeru and that belongs to me. And no matter how I hate you (sometimes), I still crave the power you have to turn my body into an instrument of joy as it pleasures your wildest fantasies. In love still with the image I've derived from my own inner world even though I know it bears little relation to the reality of you who receives it. I must have
been mad, deluded, in thinking that you were the one person, the answer to life and all my emotional needs, but no matter: now aware of my errors, I'm determined still to continue following The Rules to the letter as Queen of Akeru, with approval of who enters our paradise. Be fair. Never again torment me with the sudden appearance of a Dominique, or the other, whose name I have mercifully forgotten. If bringing them to Akeru without consulting me was a test, you cannot fault me, for I passed it well. And remember it was you bid them leave, finally—not I. But let it be the last time you test me so cruelly. Never will you find one more capable of following and keeping The Rules than I—none more worthy to be Queen of Akeru.

I am so angry now I can say no more.

Your

Queen Bee who must be that—always.

 

Chips of pain rattled my head. Inside my body an octopus seemed to be growing, restless, its tentacles pushing me into altered states. Hallucinating, in a dream, Talbot was carrying me to a divan. Bee's voice, whispering bees on a summer's day—rain (but how so? as outside was blaze of noon) pattered on the roof—a sound so intimate lulling me into half-sleep, half-dream. Feverishly I sank into pillows as Bee's voice, soft, tender…

 

“Look Master, no doubt you didn't insist she wax her mons as you do mine—see—the silky hairs swirl beguilingly as on a cherub's head,” and she buried her face between my legs—“there's a salty sweetness you might enjoy—her clit is rising slowly, but nicely—there, suck it, here—she'll like that. No—not
like that—this”—she grabbed his finger and pushed it up into her pussy, pleased that I suffered seeing that it aroused him—I felt myself open as a flower toward the sun as Bee took Talbot's hand, pushing his finger roughly up into me, causing me to cry out; dizziness overtook me as Bee's face came closer, merged into mine as we became one. I pushed her away and kneeled down, took Talbot's cock into my mouth as he stood, put his hands on either side of my head to steady it, whispering, “My darling, my love,” thrusting his cock, faster and faster, up and down my throat, but instead of satisfying himself he pulled out and lifted me back onto the chair to face him, spread my legs, gently, not to frighten, kneeling down, explored with tongue and finger, lingering as long as I desired—my voice cried, “I love you, Master, I love you I love you…” melting into quicksand as his voice came from a great distance, “Sweet Priss, I know, I know.”

 

W
AS IT DAWN OR DUSK
? Seizing the cat in my arms I hurried away from the annex, back across the lawn into the kitchen, and filled a bowl with cottage cheese. All left now was to eat it, wait half an hour—get something in my stomach, the article in the
New York Times
said—and who was I to quibble? Since Talbot died I'd thought about it often. Wait half an hour—then take the ninety Seconals I have collected. Five minutes was all it would take—and sure enough—I'd be gone.

How could I not have known that from the beginning he knew sex was distasteful to me—my joy, performance—lie, pretense, fraud. It wasn't enough. But why did he stay? Why not leave me? How like his genius to come up with a solution so as not to let the hassles our separation would involve affect his sacred art—a Maîtresse with the infu
riating name of Bee to replace what I could not give him. But the letters? Are they left in the box among mine, stamped with an invisible tête-bêche for me to find as rebuke? Or a farewell message that in spite of it all, because he chose one who resembled me, I was his true love? No—probably it simply amused him to create a paradox that might (to some) define a possible truth. His dictum, like Goethe's, had been that the first and last task of genius is love of truth. But what truth? Was this Talbot's—that when sexual boundaries no longer exist it frees us to integrate our personalities into the boundaries the world expects, the demands it imposes? This filled me with terror, for it would be a place of untamed impulse, in which unspeakable fantasies, perverse desires, possessive love, and all other egocentric passions of infancy
continue to exist unmodified by civilization or the process of growing up. And what of this Queen Bee in their castle high—Akeru—created by
her
Master—
my
Husband? What sort of woman could condone and be partner to this? Is she a chimera? A fire-breathing serpent, a snake with a lion's body, a second head of an antelope? If I could kill her monstrous guile, as in mythology, by pushing a lump of lead down her throat to be melted by her fiery breath, I would. How different their Akeru from our castle high—Talcilla—which Talbot and I created—did Talcilla exist only in my imagination? A ritual, a convention, a method of defense, a means of transmuting instinctive impulses to find expression in more appropriate ways—a standard method of control in which impulses and instinct are, as it were, tamed and allowed symbolic
expression the world respects? Which castle is real? I torment myself—was it because Talbot possessed an unusual combination of qualities, rather than one particular attribute? Was the tension between these opposites and the need to resolve this tension the motivating force that drove him to create The Rules—Akeru—seek a queen for his realm? My beloved, bewitched into a Minotaur with the head of a bull living in the body of a man, devouring any person or thing as he lives in a paradise with this Bee person. It is she who is his Muse,
not
I, she who possesses his creative spirit, illuminating his body and mind with pleasures; as abandoned in a labyrinth of pain and misery I am torn asunder, the flesh of my heart they feed on. How can I not deny
She
is true Wife—not I. To her—no Minotaur—but beloved King Jupi
ter. And Talcilla
not
the logos—Akeru. Oh the bitterness—the betrayal—with what objects had he surrounded her? Had he insisted on selecting the clothes, the jewels she wore, as he had with me? I must stop or I'll go mad.

 

P
RISCILLA FELL INTO DEEP SLEEP
, and when she woke she looked at the cache of pills, dazed to feel something like—hope? curiosity? dream/hallucination? Whatever it was had been awfully good—better than anything.

The cat jumped onto her lap and sat staring at her. She replaced the cap on the vial of pills. She got up to pour the cat some milk.

 

B
Y NEXT MORNING
, reading and rereading the letters, I'd worked myself back into hysteria.
The letters became the only reality, and reality became dream as I put them in my suitcase and hurriedly left Easton for our house in New York.

My housekeeper Phoebe, after greeting me, retreated into silence, interested only in doing her job serving me my meals as requested, on a tray in the library in front of the fireplace, and making certain seasonal flowers were replenished in the rooms looking out over the river.

The bedroom I shared with Talbot had been lacquered and layered to simulate the shades of a seashell we'd found on a beach in Africa. A silvered screen painted with flamingoes he'd placed at an angle so the Balthus painting of a girl hanging over our bed, her legs stretched apart on a divan, a
cat by her side, would be only partly visible on entering the room. I lay there under it, reliving the last time Talbot and I had been in New York, shortly before his death, to attend a charity function. I'd been on edge, as he'd been in one of his moods—distant, withdrawn on that brief trip, detached, until weeks later, on a business trip to Rio, in sudden desire on our way out the door, late to attend a business meeting, he pulled me back into our room at the hotel, closed the shutters against the blaze of noon and forced entry into me from behind, a form of lovemaking I detested but which I had come to adjust to, as, mercifully, he infrequently required it of me. But distasteful as it was, it once again restored me into an image of myself I could believe in.

 

T
HE POISON OF JEALOUSY
consumes Priscilla as she acknowledges Bee to be Wife she was incapable of being. She brooded on the energy put into years creating a castle high that never existed. It was Bee who possessed the living, vibrant, passionate sexual side of the Talbot Priscilla had smugly believed belonged only to her. She could not deny it—Bee had won.

 

N
OW, IN
N
EW
Y
ORK
, I would wake each morning and lie looking up at the chandelier, sun filtering through the windows, following rays as they hit prisms, my heart pounding. I placed a hand across my eyes straining to shuffle the shards of glass into a different kaleidoscope so as to divert me, postpone the torment awaiting me as I opened the drawer
by my bed, knowing I would do nothing, see no one, but read and reread the letters, each time lashed into fury that Bee had known of my existence for years, while I had not known of her until the discovery of the letters.

 

A
LTHOUGH ALWAYS DEVOTING
an inordinate attention to her appearance, making herself look as seductive as possible for Talbot—Priscilla took brief respites from tormenting herself by looking in the mirrors lining the walls of her dressing room to reassess her body and the passion it had once provoked in Talbot.

Reflected back—a woman with copper-burnished hair swirling into patterns as if by mild breezes, which Talbot had loved running his hand through, watching as it settled
back into a nimbus of light. Her complexion translucent, and, most unusual, the same texture as the skin of her body. Her eyes (although she wished for green) were the blue of true sapphire, set rather too wide apart in a triangular face of haunting delicacy, hinting at something off-beat—something you can't quite catch. A curious juxtaposition when devoid of makeup, her long eyelashes were jet black contrasting with the fairness of her hair, and without her having to fiddle with an eyelash curler or mascara they naturally swooped up into a sooty fringe accentuating those eyes. The nose, delicate, slightly retroussé. The lips suggesting a smile, and when it came it was as if a lightbulb had been turned on in a dark room. Priscilla dwelled on her broad shoulders curving down to the waist, imagining Talbot's hand circling, but
she could not deny her breasts are those of a youth's, and as he cups them they are not hers; she imagines they are Bee's full ripeness, mocking herself as she thinks of Maja, agent who discovered Bee. She muses on another courtesan, Ninon de l'Enclos—hadn't it been she who said, “One needs a hundred times more esprit in order to love properly than to command armies”? Priscilla thought she'd had both—bitterly she speculates on why Maja knew instinctively what would appeal to Talbot, wondering if, in Maja's place, instead of Bee she would have promoted the plump Rowena or perhaps the shrewd Nadine? But she could not deny that the image reflected back appeared appealing—outwardly there was nothing cold or hard—only a yielding femininity that belied the coldness of her frigid heart.

BOOK: Obsession (9780061887079)
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