She was a dame. She talked like a dame, moved like a dame, smelled like a dame, breathed like a dame, slept like a dame, yawned like a dame, coughed like a dame, dusted like a dame, cooked like a dame, had the metabolism of a dame, knew about as much astrophysics as a dame would, had a selection of hats typical of a dame. She was a dame.
No doubt about it. A dame through and through. Her hips were as wide and curvy as a concert piano and her feet were like pedals, so if you stood on one while she was talking her voice would become a swelling overlapping echo and if you stood on the other her voice would be muted and soft. But no man could play her well. She was out of tune.
Her lipstick was a dame’s lipstick and it was the colour of the edges of a bullet wound or some sort of massive head trauma. It could even be said that it was the shade of blood that gushes from a busted lip. It wasn’t the lipstick of a homunculus or panda. She left her apartment and swayed down the length of this sentence to the end of the paragraph.
Her hips kept getting stuck between the margins of the story, that’s how wide they were, but she finally arrived on the street and headed downtown, a part of town under uptown. She was going there because the plot told her to and she had no choice. She was without choice, without even a dame’s choice, but she had everything else a dame should.
Yes, she was a dame. She was also a broad. A broad is a certain kind of dame and in fact I don’t think there’s any difference between them, but I’m not really an expert. Maybe there is a miniscule arcane difference, something to do with the atoms of the ankles. Who knows? I don’t. Maybe you do. Maybe you are a dame or broad who knows. Well done.
I am a private eye. That’s who I am. I used to be a public eye, but people got upset and complained to the authorities about my appearance. They didn’t like to see a gigantic eye rolling along the pavement towards them. It disturbed them that the rest of my head was missing, that I had no body or limbs, that I was just an eye with the diameter of a cottage.
So the authorities forced me to go private and encased me inside a brick pyramid and now I blink out near the summit of the structure and you can find me on the hill overlooking the town. I don’t solve many cases these days, to be honest, but that’s because I’m too busy living a fantasy life. In my fantasy life I’m a man with all my parts fully functional.
These daydreams are starting to occupy all my waking hours. I imagine that my name is Sergio Surges and I have a moustache so big that a policeman can conceal himself inside it. This is helpful when confronting lethal criminals with their deeds. For example, at this precise instant I’m about to enter a bar where a notorious gangster is playing pool.
I watch him splashing about with the rubber ducks and toy boats but it’s rude and dangerous to stare so I turn away and order a drink from the barman, who happens to be a midget pygmy.“Rum.”
Pygmies are quite small already, but the midgets amongst them are really tiny, no higher than the knees of a freak spider.
“What kind?” he asks.
“The kind that begins with the letter B,” I reply.
“Brandy, you mean?”
“Sure! Make it a double on the rocks.”
He places a selection of pebbles on the bar and slowly pours the alcohol over them. I nod and pay him. I also tip him. Over the edge of the tall stool on which he stands. He plummets through an open trapdoor that leads to a very long passage that passes through the world all the way back to where he came from, which is the Pygmalion Republic.
That passage is so long it goes on for umpteen hundred thousand pages. This is the highly condensed version.
“What did you do that for?” cries the notorious gangster.
“He was corrupt,” I answer coolly.
“And what the hell do you think you are?”
“I am Sergio Surges, the private eye who is more than just an eye, and I am not corrupt at all, partly because this is just a daydream, but I know for an unchecked fact that he, the barman, was taking bribes from you in order to let wicked things happen on the premises.”
“Oh yeah? What sort of wicked things, buddy?”
“No idea. I don’t bother with little details like that. It’s too much effort. Maybe he allowed you to fight the shadows of gibbons on that wall over there. Or maybe he let you to use a freshly baked pizza as an indoor Frisbee and the toppings were pineapple and chocolate.”
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“Do I look like an Englishman and Scotsman and Irishman? Of course it’s no joke. You are under arrest.”
“I’m going to kill ya with my heater!”
He gets out of the pool and plugs a portable electric heater into a socket on the wall, taking care not to drip on the wires, and waits for the filaments to start glowing. But he is far too slow. The policeman in my moustache instantly reveals himself and blasts him with a truncheon that is actually a mini-bazooka and I watch him burst like applause.
A round of. Very satisfying.
The door swings open and the dame walks in like a baby grand. My jaw drops open. What is she doing here?
“This is my daydream. Get out!” I bellow.
Her lipsticked lips curl in a sneer that is half smile. “A daydream? Fine. I am a day-dame, so I belong here.”
I despise it when confusions arise and unplanned things happen in what is supposed to be my personal fantasy. I usually escape them by going into the next level of daydream, by closing my eyes and imagining I am Hugo Lobes, a private eye with ears so large that a couple of pygmy midgets can hide behind each one, both armed with blowpipes.
I am sitting on the top deck of a tram and reading the newspaper and the front page headline screams at me that a terrible gangster is sitting downstairs on the same tram at this very moment, so I get up to make my way down the curving set of metal steps, but my way is blocked by a woman who is coming up. To my dismay I recognise her...
The dame! She followed me into this fantasy!
“This is most unfair!” I roar.
“I go wherever I please,” she retorts.
“But I thought you didn’t have a choice. It said earlier in this story that you were a dame without choice.”
“Precisely. I have no choice but to go where I please.”
“You mean that your free will is—”
“Predetermined,” she says.
So I vanish into the third level of daydream, the level where I am Bogie Clubs, a private eye with such a big mouth that gibbons could bake pizzas in there without anyone getting suspicious, and I am on the deck of a cruise ship that is heading to the Bermuda Shorts, a pair of islands where a gangster has taken refuge in one of the deep pockets.
A steward approaches. “Would monsieur care for a drink?””
“Gin,” I answer languidly.
“What kind?” he asks in a high voice.
“The kind that begins with the letter V,” I reply.
“Vodka, you mean?”
“No thanks. Vermouth please.”
But he doesn’t go to fetch me my beverage. Instead he pulls off his cap and unbuttons his jacket to reveal—
The dame! It’s the dame again! That damned dame!
I vanish into the next level.
Now I am Griswald Jerkins, the private eye with a chin dimple so deep that a tram driver with a halberd could conceal himself and pop out and swing it most effectively at the drop of a hat, especially one of those very heavy hats that make a clanging noise when it lands. I am furiously pedalling a unicycle up a mountain path in pursuit of a gangster.
Another unicycle catches up with me, draws level.
The rider is the dame again!
I escape into the next level. I am Morton Punchbowl and—
The dame, the dame, the dame!
Through all the daydreams she follows me and each subsequent fantasy has slightly less detail in it, is less fleshed out, sparser, bleaker, less real then the one that preceded it, and each private eye is less convincing, because I’ve spent less time working on their identities and environments than I might have done. But fleeing this way is my only hope.
Here’s a short list of some of the private eyes I become:
Ajax van Scruba.
And then I run out of daydreams and run out of names and run out of big body parts and run out of time, energy and space, and I find myself, as I’m sure you have already anticipated, completing the circle, closing the loop and becoming myself again, a colossal eyeball inside a pyramid and I glance down and see her climbing the hill towards me.
“Leave me alone!” I scream.
“I will now,” she says. “I just wanted to go on a journey, that’s all, out of this story and around the world. I wanted to go abroad. I was a dame but a stay-at-home dame. And now I’ve been abroad, so I’m a dame abroad and a broad at home, and it feels just fine. I climbed up here to thank you but also to ask your advice. I really need to know.”
“What is it?” I am frantic to get rid of her. I’ll say anything to make her go away, answer any question. And then it comes, she hits me with it, and I’m more acutely aware than ever before that she’s a dame, that she has the soul of a dame, the heart of a dame, the plot of a dame, the metaphors of a dame, the grammar of a dame, the power of a dame.
“How do you curl your lashes?”