Authors: Gloria Vanderbilt
My Darling Talbot,
I can hardly write as tears fall on the page. But of what use? You will never read this letter. Alone now as I was when premonition of death came, I write to anchor myself to you. I was in our bedroom reading and drinking my nightly ginger herbal tea when suddenly a ghostly presence made itself apparent emerging from the gate leading into our enclosed garden, approaching, covering the room in darkness. Something terrible had happened. Later when I told Rowena and others of this event, no one gave it credulity. But I know it was true.
The Rulesâno more. This as it is the last letter I will ever write to you and so I am free to speak at last of my bitter jealousy of Priscilla, who has now once and for all claimed you. SheâWife to carry the flame of your genius. Wife to have the acclaim and respect of the world, Wife surrounded by loving friends to cosset and protect, Wife, the admiration of the life you and she
forged together. Wife and the World do not know that I even exist. The Rules you now obey are hers: continuity of order, resolve, singleness of purpose bound into day-to-day truths of the so-called real world, while The Rules you chose for us were only a game and in death have no importance. Without support of the world by my side I grieve. What is left? For MaÃ®tresse: Alone, supported by transient memory of a beloved that never was mine. For Wife: Husband, supported by power of the legend of Talcilla. How bitter these truths. I grieve alone without support of the world by my side. What is left? Memory and the beauty and luxury of Akeru. Maja always admonished us at Janus Club never to let the secret place in the center of our hearts be touched, for if we did it would be fatal. How bitter to learn that this is true. I let myself fall in love with you as Wife falls in love with Husband, not as your stony-hearted Priscilla but as a woman who is blessed with wonder of the heart. I'll tear up this letter after I finish itâalthough
what I'm really itching to do is send it on to Priscilla by overnight courier. It is imperative she read it. I crave she know of my existence. She must. She
. But in some strange way (I can't explain why) I won't. Perhaps because it would negate the memories of the paradise you and I created at Akeru, which is all I have left. In this realm you will always belong to me and I will always be your Queen. How could we have known this past week that your visit would be the lastâ¦.
Hours in the enclosed garden by the marble fountain you'd commissioned in Florence, a scallop shell as one Botticelli chose for his Venus, andâon the ancient, ivy-covered wall above as on the carved doors to the entrance of Akeruâthe double-tailed siren sculpted in my image, but with this difference: in my hand a cowrie shell with a gentle waterfall splashing onto the lilies below. Naked you'd carried me to the center of the fountain's shell, placing me
precisely where the water, warmed by the sun, would trickle down between my legs finding the spot to please. Sitting back enjoying the effect it had on me, until concerned you'd hurried into the house, returning with a paper Japanese parasol to shield me from the sun as I called out, “Sing a song of Solomonâlet my beloved come into her garden and eat his pleasant fruit.” Laughing, you artfully entwined the parasol into the wisteria on the wall above the fountain, how relaxed you'd been, interested only in my pleasure as I lay back closing my eyes, but after a while wanting the pressure of the water falling between my legs to increase I reached out to you, asking your finger to follow the water as it trickled over my mons, down onto my clit, on behind my tulip before plopping into the marble scallop of the shell.
“No, sweet Bee,” you'd smiled. “It amuses me to see if you can be aroused without my interference.”
Enjoyable at first it became somewhat of a torment, drifting suspended in this slightly aroused state, longing for your finger to bring release.
You had no pity. I moved this way and that hoping to entice you as you called me sweet namesâ“my spouse of spouses, my milking honey bee, my cat of catkins”âas the nipples on my breasts puckered, swaying toward you I begged for your touch. Still you resistedânot even my mons, which at your bidding had been waxed, plumped up, as you liked, that very morning, patted with opaline powder to satin smoothness, tempted you. But nothing aroused me to your satisfactionâuntil you whisperedâI could barely hear:
“Shall I insert you with a sweet carrot from our garden,” and, as you said this, I overflowed in a stream of yellow salt-honey mixing with the sweet spring water dribbling down from the fountain.
“You've done well, Queen Bee, yes, well indeed,”
and, lifting me, you carried me back into the bedroom and oh god, in an act of high spirits how joyously we made love.
Good-bye my darling,
Alone since Talbot's death Bee chose to wear white caftans sewn by nuns in Florence according to her specifications. Linen from Rheims, others of gauze, raw silk, embroidered with magenta crest of crown and bee. Silent, celibate as a Carmelite nun, angrily she strides through house and gardens of Akeru as a green poison runs through her bloodstream distorting her beauty, turning her into a creature screaming up at the sun by day, “How will I live?” At night baying at the moon, dream-traveling, she becomes an
eagle capable of controlling thunder, sweeping over valleys and hills, across ocean and mountains, waking at dawn to find her pillow drenched with tears as thoughts of Priscilla become a madness from which she must find surcease or die. She cannot accept that Priscilla has wonâa plan starts weaving a web, but it's tenuousâit needs elaborating.
ROM DANK CAVES
I shall summon demons to don their black hoods and at midnight when the fireflower blooms but once a year they shall be dispatched in rockets to capture Priscilla. Her screams crack the mountains as she attempts to escape, but she is blindfolded and stuffed into a box too confined even to accommodate her skinny body, only a small hole punched to let air in to keep her
alive. Thus Mrs. Talbot Bingham shall be brought to Akeru.
Upon arrival, just about done in, she will be let out of the box, the blindfold removed. Welcoming her stands a giant figure of towering beauty, its face hidden by a mask of doves' wings and marabou feathers. Minions will lead Priscilla through gardens lush with narcissus, the scent intoxicating her into a state bordering on anesthetized. Ensconced she shall be in a cottage surrounded by tall pines under which lily of the valley and ferns, delicate as lace, sprout from patches of moss, moist with dew, where ominous mushrooms grow. She will be drawn into a damp, ferny dark by the beauty surrounding her in an unimagined world, tormented by the mystery as to what? Where? Why is she here?
Left with only a silent Rowena to attend
her, bringing her breakfast of bitter coffee, clotted cream, and lumps of dark sugar, croissants freshly baked and a particular jam, made, she will be told, of honeycomb mixed with black orchids from the giant figure's hothouse. She will question Rowena as to what is the flavor that makes her deliciously drowsy every time she partakes of the jam and who is the giant person? Rowena remains mum on both queries and after a time Priscilla wearies of questioning. Each morning after she finishes this repast Rowena removes the teacart and returns to the sunken tub of green malachite in the bathroom adjoining the bedroom to attend to her bath. As it fills, Rowena pours oils into the tub from a cruet which stands on a table with unguents and threatening objects Priscilla has not yet been able to identify. Rowena turns the hot-water
faucet on full-force, so that it crashes down on the oil, releasing steam into the room with tantalizing scent that stirs Priscilla's memory, but of what? She starts to bathe herself, but with grace and poise Rowena will firmly seize the loofah sponge from her hand and submit her to Rowena's bathing not only her face but the intimate parts of her body, indicating when she should stand, bend over, before permitted to sink into the scented water. Actually it will be pleasant not to resist; Rowena's hands are skillful and more than once, between her legs, she will feel a sensation that makes her moan, bringing a nod of satisfaction from Rowena's usually impassive face. When the cleansing is to Rowena's standards, she bids her stand with hands above her head, but how unprepared she is, shocked by fistfuls of icicles Rowena hurls at
her warm body to stimulate circulation. This is most unpleasant. She is bidden to step from the tub; she will be rewarded by the warmed terry robe Rowena wraps her into as she leads her back to her room where a brew of soothing belladonna herb tea sugared with meadowsweet honey-aphrodisiac awaits her. It will be pleasant to giddily loll back on the bed as Rowena, from a sumptuous array of kimonos hanging in a closet, selects the one she is to wear that day. Later she will be permitted to go into the garden and the day will begin as she meanders unattended down pathways leading into the forest among trees so tall that sunlight seldom glimmers.
At the edge of this dark forest Priscilla spots a Victorian pergola identical to one she and Talbot found on holiday in Cornwall. Yesâit
the very one but no longer pristine-
whiteâit has been repainted a rich magenta. Garlands of honeysuckle trail from curlicued arabesques and saffron gauze curtains drift in the breeze ready to draw should privacy be indicated, and under the pergola cushions of magenta silk, left in disarray to lie around the centered dais. She stares, stunned as to how this pergola which Talbot had transported from Cornwall to their garden at Talcilla in Easton, Maryland, now finds itself here. Even more confusing is that although it is daylight, under the pergola it appears to be dark as night, as fireflies flicker in alternating patterns of stars and crescent moons intermingling with fairylike creatures; elusive and swift as hummingbirds, they dart from darkness into the sunlight toward her only to circle around her head and disappear back under the pergola.
Suddenly a group is seen approaching from a path in the dark forest. An astonishing sight: four figures wearing identical kimonos of lavender and saffron silk led by one of outrageous beautyâtaller than the othersâthe giant personâcarrying a banner emblazoned “Akeru,” her robe a caftan of yellow gauze embroidered with crowns and bees. Over this, a cloak of magenta taffetaâits hood framing magnificent copper-burnished hair that wafts around her shoulders as she moves in stately manner toward the pergola. This image of frightening splendor is, of course, me. It will be the first time Priscilla has seen anyone save Rowena since arriving at Akeru, and, as our procession draws near, she will not know if we are friend or foe. But suddenly a reassuring huddle of black and white monkeys, led by my favored twin pets Oscar
and Peter, scramble from trees in the forest, clutching in their tiny fingers castanets that they clickety-clack in improvisational rhythms, incessantly chattering in strange tongues as they hasten toward Priscilla in an overbearing but friendly fashion.
Rowena has been unobtrusively trailing Priscilla in her meanderings about the gardens and now it is time for her to spook Priscilla from behind a tree, pushing her toward the pergola, mumbling to sit on a cushion beneath it. As I take my place on the dais, Oscar and Peter separate from their
, taking the banner from me to scurry up the pergola securing it on top, and come back down, compose themselves to sit and remain staring at her in a disconcerting manner. There ensues a silence, ominously threatening, as the sky darkens, but instead of rain about to
pour down upon us, from the shadows of the forest an invisible group of skilled musicians start to play Talbot's favorite fifth movement of Beethoven's C Sharp Minor Quartet, op. 131. This has been chosen because it reminds me of Talbot's pattern of lovemaking: expectations first denied; then fulfillment, progressively postponed by fragmentation of rhythm, but at the very moment when rhythm, harmony, texture seem all but destroyed, the little fugue that opens the movement raises hopes and redirects expectations and returns to give fulfillment. Is Priscilla sensitive enough to pick up on this? Apparently not, for she is far too interested in getting a look at goddesses Galaxy, Volupia, Milo, and Luna, seated serenely on cushions well aware that as long as they are beautiful they
are alive. “Pay attention Miss Priss,” I reprimand the cringing Priscilla. “There is to be a three-minute silence in which you must squeeze your eyes so that your face becomes a tight little fist as it strains to think positive thoughts to prepare yourself.” But for what is not revealed. “If you open your eyes even for a peek there will be serious consequences.” Priscilla scrunches her eyes tight, her face becoming an unfortunate ball of hysteria. This pleases me. I give release by tapping her bent headâtime to wake up. Finally she dares look at meâstunned by the startling resemblance we bear to each other. I return her glance with icy stare advising she turn her attention to the others present instead of ogling me, for they have often enjoyed intimacy with someone she knows well. I let her take a good look
and order her to select one, assist her onto the dais, and remove her kimono. So as not to displease me she quickly complies. It is Milo she has chosen, and, as Priscilla removes her kimono, bathed in the dappled light filtering through the leaves of honeysuckle garlanding the pergola, the naked Milo stands a wonder of nature to behold.
“You have selected wisely, Priscilla, for Milo is one Talbot has enjoyed for special intimacies the others have never been able to get the hang of. But Luna, Volupia, and Galaxy each will have their turn on the dais when you will have opportunity to comment in detail which in your opinion Talbot has most enjoyed fucking. If you select correctly you will spend time being instructed in things I don't have time to go into right now.
If the goddess you select to be your teacher gives you an A-plus I shall deem you worthy to observe a video of Talbot fucking me and then you'll really learn a thing or two. If notâgod help you.”