I’d never paid much attention to Pascale; she had always just been George’s wife, hanging around in the background at exhibitions: silent, smiling, always polite, while all the attention was fostered on George and his latest paintings. She was utterly passive, or so it seemed, a presence you would never miss. Other than being the married add-on to George, she didn’t appear to have any function in life.
However, when she started taking up photography and was praised for her work, that soon changed. George felt upstaged and when she had her first exhibition divorce was not slow in following, and she moved out the house. George had maintained she would never survive on her own and would soon come crawling back, but somehow Pascale not only survived, she also did exceptionally well.
About a year later, she had been involved in some collaborative photographic social project that had been exhibited at one of the major galleries, and so I’d gone to view it and had written a favourable review for one of the top art journals. Almost everyone was thrilled by the review that I’d written, including Pascale. ‘You’ve really launched my career into space!’ she’d beamed. Then one day over lunch we discussed the idea of engaging in a collaborative project of our own ‒ her photographs and my poetry.
I’d go round to her studio about once a week, but clearly the project wasn’t going to work. She couldn’t produce any satisfactory photos and I wasn’t writing at all. It was probably too forced. We wouldn’t admit it to each other, of course, and I was preparing for the moment when I would have to be the one to announce that our project was going nowhere.
So, on Thursday morning I drove off to her place for our usual meeting. As I said, I had never paid that much attention to her, and besides, she had always been George’s wife. Even now that she was single again, she roused not the slightest bit of sexual curiosity in me, and if I occasionally caught a glimpse of her bra strap or the top of her panties, I’d felt more embarrassed than anything.
But this morning she seemed different. Maybe it was because she had her long blonde hair loose and not tied in the usual strict bun, I don’t know, but I felt the sparkle of sexual energy the moment I arrived. She seemed free, eager to explore, alive, tempting.
As we sat down on the sofa, drinking coffee and going through some of her photos, when she passed them on to me, her hands would touch mine. I experienced a mixture of excitement and nervousness. And when she turned to look at me her eyes were inviting.
There was of course that awkward moment when we both stopped talking and just looked at each other, both of us hesitant and unsure of what the other was thinking. Then I made my move and leaned over and started kissing her. She put her arms around me and held me tight while I continued kissing her and I started running my hands over her breasts, my one hand then making its way down to her crotch.
We drew apart, breathless and looked at each other. Neither of us said a word as I unbuttoned and started unzipping her jeans.
Then it happened: it was like a vast dark pit in front of me, with blackness all around. I tried to retreat but couldn’t as I tumbled into the pit and was gone.
When I came to, I was naked in her bed. I could hear Pascale rummaging around in the kitchen. I could not remember anything and hadn’t a clue what had happened. I looked at my watch – about an hour had elapsed.
Pascale came into the bedroom with two mugs of coffee; she was wearing an ugly, faded dressing gown. As she put my mug down by the side of the bed I could sense tension in the air. She didn’t say anything; she just carried her mug in her hand as she went to open the window slightly. Whatever we had done, she was clearly unhappy and resentful about it. She sat in an easy chair opposite me. She just stared at me, saying nothing.
‘What happened?’ I asked her hesitantly. ‘What did we do?’
‘Shit!’ she shouted at me. ‘You have the nerve to ask?’
‘Did we have sex?’ I asked.
‘Of course we did!’ she said, slamming her mug down on a table. ‘How can you ask such a question?’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, feeling that an apology was in order.
‘Sorry? Sorry?’ she yelled. ‘Well, that’s a bit late now, isn’t it? Why the hell I let you do it, I don’t know! I should never have let you!’
‘But I can’t remember anything!’ I protested. ‘Honestly! I just remember unzipping your jeans and then it all went blank!’
‘Oh come off it!’ she laughed scornfully. ‘You can’t be serious! Well, now I’ve heard everything! The slightest excuse to avoid taking responsibility for your actions!’
‘But I mean it,’ I insisted. ‘Everything just went blank, I’m sure I passed out.’
‘Passed out? We were screwing for almost an hour and you tell me you passed out? Hell, maybe I should have filmed it and then I could show you the proof!’ She stopped for a second and then said harshly: ‘You’re pathetic.’
‘But I’m telling you the truth!’ I said. ‘Look ... if you regret what happened, whatever happened ... well, I do as well. We shouldn’t have done this. I mean it. It was a mistake. Maybe we should forget about it...’
‘You’re not going to worm out of this that easily!’ she said.
‘But I can’t remember anything!’ I said, almost pleading. ‘I’m serious, I can’t remember anything!’
Pascale jumped up. ‘You know what your problem is?’ she said. ‘You smoke too much weed. George always said you smoke too much, plus you drink too much. God only knows how you can even write coherently. Your mind probably went blank because of all the weed and booze!’
‘I don’t smoke weed!’ I said. ‘And if George ever said I did, he is a liar! And I don’t actually drink that much.’
‘Then how did our mind go blank, baby boy?’ she asked.
Pascale’s face was now close up to me. It was hard, flushed and ugly. I was seeing another side of her now ‒ a cold, harsh, unforgiving and demanding personality. It was a completely different, previously unknown side of her. I fully regretted what I had done – whatever it was – and wanted nothing to do with her. I had to escape.
‘I don’t have time to argue about this,’ I said, jumping out the bed and reaching for my clothes. ‘I have to go interview someone. An international rock star.’
‘My God!’ Pascale laughed and clapped her hands. ‘You do come out with some of the most imaginative excuses! One minute it’s a blackout and the next minute an international rock star!’
‘It’s true!’ I said, putting my shirt on. ‘I’m interviewing Patti Smith.’
‘Patti Smith. You know, the American singer.’
Pascale laughed. ‘And what precisely is Miss International Rock Star doing in Joburg? You are such a liar!’
‘Don’t laugh! It’s the truth!’ And so I told her the story.
A few days previously, I had been at the local shopping centre when I spotted a tall skinny woman with long black hair staring in a shop window. It was that same androgynous figure, a bit like a Gothic scarecrow, as Dali had called her. Naturally, I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t want to let the same opportunity pass that I did several years before when I had seen Rodriguez at Sandton City but was too shy to approach him. So I went up to her and asked, and yes, it was indeed Patti Smith.
‘I love your music, all your music!’ I’d told her, but this wasn’t really true, since I had heard only her first three albums – Horses, Radio Ethiopia and Easter. And I had also read loads of her poetry, though I disliked her most recent collection.
‘That’s great to know!’ she replied. ‘I’ve been in South Africa for nine months now, I might even be moving here. You know, Johannesburg is a great city and I have set up a recording studio here. I want to rerecord some of the earlier music, update it a bit.’
‘But why?’ I’d asked her.
I could see she was slightly put out by my question, which might have been a bit rude, but she explained anyway: ‘Well, I have moved on from the early music, all that Godmother of Punk nonsense. It was so dark and bizarre; I want to lighten things up. Our recording studio is at a house in one of the nearby suburbs, with some local and US musicians.’
‘Well, I am an arts journalist,’ I told her. ‘I would like to come around and visit your studio. I would write a story ‒ my magazine would definitely publish it!’
‘Sure, well why not come on Thursday? I will give you the address ‒ it would be a great opportunity for you to meet some of the band.’ And so she wrote down the address in my notebook and we set the appointment.
Pascale thought this was hilarious. ‘This is a joke! Are you really sure it was her? Remember when we had all those lookalike Jim Morrisons wandering around, rolling their Rs and asking “Is everybody in?”’
‘No, this is legit,’ I told her. ‘You won’t laugh when you see the story published!’
Perhaps I should have just ignored Pascale as there was no point in trying to convince her, but at least my story had eased the tension. She seemed less angry. She might even have been ready to forgive me.
I picked up my keys as she led me to the door – she was in quite good humour now and even said ‘See you again!’ as I headed out the driveway.
Smith had selected a house in Westdene for her studio, which thankfully wasn’t too far from Pascale’s place, as I was already running late. Nevertheless I reached the house in time. I locked up the car, and with notebook and pen in hand I rushed up to the front door singing softly:
Late afternoon dreaming hotel,
We just had a quarrel that sent you away,
I was looking for you are you gone gone?
I knocked and after a short while the door opened, and a young blonde-haired woman appeared.
‘Can I help you?’ she asked.
‘Er ... I am looking for Patti Smith ... is this the right address?’ I asked.
‘Patti Smith? ... Oh, Patti, yes,’ she asked, opening the door to let me in.
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I have an appointment with her this afternoon.’ I began to dread that she had forgotten about it.
‘Patti is out at the moment, but she should be back soon.’
‘Will she be long?’ I asked.
‘Probably not, you can wait for her,’ she said, leading me down the hall.
‘Great – maybe I could see the studio?’
‘Well ... we don’t quite have a studio,’ she replied, looking slightly confused.
‘Oh, but she told me there was?’
Again she looked confused. ‘Maybe you could wait for her upstairs in her room?’ she suggested, already leading me up the staircase.
The house was dark inside, with not much evidence of activity. It was pretty bland and I couldn’t imagine why Smith had chosen the place.
‘Just wait in here for her, I will tell her that you’re here when she arrives,’ the blonde said as she led me into a bedroom and closed the door.
I looked around. The bedroom was almost empty: just a bed, a sofa, a bedside table and a few dull wall paintings. I checked the address again – it was definitely the right house. Why would the creator of Horses and such wild hallucinatory poetry be living here? Granted, this wasn’t the 1970s anymore, but even so.
I’d been waiting for about five minutes when I became restless and decided to have a look around the house. I opened the bedroom door and headed downstairs. The house seemed deserted; there was no noise, not even a radio or television. The blonde woman didn’t seem to be around.
I came to a door which probably led to the front lounge. I knocked. There was no response so I opened the door and went in. The room was empty, no furniture, nothing, cleaned out. There wasn’t even a light bulb in the ceiling socket.
Pascale had been right – the whole thing was a joke. I had been misled and taken for a ride. God knows who that woman in the shopping centre had been. And who did this house belong to? It was once again time to escape.
I was heading for the front door when it suddenly opened: it was Patti.
‘Hell,’ she said, ‘I’m so sorry, I got delayed. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.’
But there was something different in her voice this time, something not quite right. The American accent seemed artificial, rehearsed rather than genuine. And there was another factor I had not considered until now: the woman in front of me looked like she was in her mid-forties – Smith would be in her sixties.
‘I forgot my camera in the car!’ I said hurriedly. ‘I just want to get it so I can take some photographs before and after the interview. I won’t be a minute.’ I was trying to squeeze past her.
Her expression changed. She was obviously suspicious, not fully convinced of my excuse, but she let me go anyway.
‘Sure,’ she said with smile, ‘just don’t take too long.’
‘I won’t,’ I assured her, but once in my car, and as I saw her turn to walk into the hallway, I put my keys in the ignition and drove off fast, without looking back. I just needed to get away from that house.
I didn’t know where to go to. I knew I had a story but I didn’t know about what. Almost perversely, I wanted to drive back to Pascale, but at the last minute decided it wouldn’t be wise.
Nevertheless, a few days later I arrived back at her door.
‘So how did the interview go?’ she asked as she let me in. She had a slight smirk but I decided to ignore it, and told her my tale instead.
She waited until I was finished, then said sharply: ‘You’re an idiot! I have something to show you.’
She brought over a sheet of paper with an online news story printed on it. ‘I found this yesterday and thought you would be interested.’
The story read:
AS ROCK STAR’
Johannesburg – Police arrested a 45-year-old woman in Westdene
yesterday on charges of attempted fraud. It is believed she may also
be linked to a murder.
The woman, from Cape Town, has a close physical resemblance
to acclaimed American rock star Patti Smith, known as the Godmother
It is alleged that the woman posed as Smith and pretended to have
moved to South Africa with the intention of rerecording some of her
earlier music. She had attempted to persuade some local music companies
to make substantial financial advances.
Police are investigating the possibility that the woman is linked to a
drugs-related murder in Durban two years ago.
It is also suspected the house was operating as a brothel, and one other
woman was arrested on charges of prostitution.
‘See, you’re an idiot!’ Pascale said triumphantly.
‘I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I fell for it’, was all I could say.
‘What I can’t believe is that you are so stupid!’ she shrieked. ‘Hell, you even have sex and can’t remember anything about it! You’re not even easily led or incredibly naive, you are just plain dumb! I have never encountered anyone as hopeless as you – God knows how you keep your job, you haven’t the brains for anything! Call yourself a journalist? You’re absurd!’
And so she carried on insulting me until the blackness came around. I tried to retreat.
Order from Dyehardpress: http://dyehard-press.blogspot.com/
Gary Cummiskey is a poet living in Johannesburg. He is the editor of New Coin poetry magazine and of Dye Hard Press, which he started in 1994. He is the author of several poetry chapbooks, most recently Sky Dreaming and I Remain Indoors. In 2009, he published Who was Sinclair Beiles? a collection of writings about the South African Beat poet, co-edited with Eva Kowalska.