So it was with this nest, with Dorian, immense, a gelatinous skin, a vitreous shape, undulant within that nest.
And if Dorian was male or female, I could not guess. This was a great pudding, an emperor jellyfish, a monstrous heap of sexual gelatin from the exterior of which, on occasion, noxious gases escaped with rubbery sounds; great lips sibilating. That and the sough of that labored pump, that constant inhalation, were the only sounds within the chamber as I stood, anxious, alarmed, but at last impressed by this beached creature, cast up from a dark landfall. The thing was a gelatinous cripple, an octopus without limbs, an amphibian stranded, unable to undulate and seep back to an ocean sewer from which it had inched itself in monstrous waves and gusts of lungs and eruptions of corrupt gas until now it lay, featureless, with a mere x-ray ghost of legs, arms, wrists, and hands with skeletal fingers. At last I could discern, at the far end of this flesh peninsula, what seemed a half-flat face with a frail phantom of skull beneath, an open fissure for an eye, a ravenous nostril, and a red wound which ripped wide to surprise me as a mouth.
And at last this thing, this Dorian, spoke.
Or whispered, or lisped.
And with each lisp, each sibilance, an odor of decay was expelled as if from a vast night-swamp balloon, sunk on its side, lost in fetid water as its unsavory breath rinsed my cheeks. It expelled but one lingering syllable:
And then it added:
“How long … how long,” I murmured, “has it … has he been here?”
“No one knows. When Victoria was Queen? When Booth emptied his makeup kit to load his pistol? When Napoleon yellow-stained the Moscow snows? Forever’s not bad .
I swallowed hard. “Is … is he?”
“Dorian? Dorian of the attic? He of the Portrait? And somewhere along the line found portraits not enough? Oil, canvas, no depth. The world needed something that could soak in, sponge the midnight rains, breakfast and lunch on loss, depravity’s guilt. Something to truly take in, drink, digest; a pustule, imperial intestine. A rheum oesophagus for sin. A laboratory plate to take bacterial snows. Dorian.”
The long archipelago of membranous skin flushed some buried tubes and valves, and a semblance of laughter was throttled and drowned in the aqueous gels.
A slit widened to emit gas and again the single word:
“He’s welcoming you!” My host smiled.
“I know, I know,” I said impatiently. “But why? I don’t even want to be here. I’m ill. Why can’t we go?”
“Because”-my host laughed-“you were selected.
“We’ve had our eye on you.”
“You mean you’ve watched, followed, spied on me? Christ, who gave you permission?”
“Temper, temper. Not everyone is picked.”
“Who said I wanted to be picked!?”
“If you could see yourself as we see you, you’d know why.”
I turned to stare at the vast mound of priapic gelatin in which faint creeks gleamed as the creature wept its lids wide in holes to let it stare. Then all its apertures sealed: the saber-cut mouth, the slitted nostrils, the cold eyes gummed shut so that its skin was faceless. The sibilance pumped with gaseous suctions.
Yessss, it whispered.
Lisssst, it murmured.
“And list it is!” My host pulled forth a small computer pad which he tapped to screen my name, address, and phone.
He glanced from the pad to reel off such items as wilted me.
“Single,” he said.
“Married and divorced.”
“Now single! No women in your life?”
“I’m walking wounded.”
He tapped his pad. “Visiting strange bars.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“Creative blindness. Getting to bed late. Sleeping all day. Drinking heavily three nights a week.”
“Going to the gym, look, every day. Workouts excessive. Prolonged steam baths, overlong massages. Sudden interest in sports. Endless basketball, soccer, tennis matches every night, and half the noons. That’s hyperventilation!”
“And ours! You’re balanced giddily on the rim. Shove all these facts in that one-armed bandit in your head, yank, and watch the lemons and ripe cherries spin. Yank!”
Jesus God. Yes! Bars. Drinks. Late nights. Gyms. Saunas. Masseurs. Basketball. Tennis. Soccer. Yank. Pull. Spin!