Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dialogues With The Devil




by C. Sanchez-Garcia


It all happened so fast. In an instant he was on the ground and she was sitting on his chest, her face - a hellish mask of fury and need - was an inch from his. Her eyes had changed and he couldn’t bear to look at them.

Mi angel – “

“Stop that! Du verdammter bloder idiot! Stop that! I’m not your angel – look at me!” She grabbed his cheek in her sharp nails and forced him to see her. “I’m a devil; I’m a devil and I’m taking you to hell with me. Do you like that?”

“Nixie!”

“Your blood is mine! Do you hear me oh God?” She screamed the words in his face and he saw that she was crying those dark despairing tears again. “Why should you live another second? Tell me why! Tell me!” With both hands she grabbed his jacket and shook him like a rat. “Why! Should! You! Live! “

“The Blessed Vir – “

“Stop that! Stop that!” She slapped him so that his eyes spun. “Stop talking that stupid shit to me, sheissekurl, because you’re going to die now. Why should you live? Tell me.”

“Because God send you – “

“God didn’t send you shit, you poor stupid bastard – do you hear me? God screwed you over.” She slapped him hard again, her nails raking his skin. “Just like God screwed me over. God hates me. Do you like that? Why would God love you? You’re the same as me. Why should He save you? Tell me!”

“I got family!”

“I don’t! I will never have a family. I will never have a little girl or grandchildren or a warm home to go to. I will always be like this.” She beat her chest with her fist. “This is Hell, shiessekurl. You’re in Hell with me now. What do you think of that? I have a nice boyfriend, and he thinks I’m being a good girl. Just look at me! Isn’t this funny? Look at the good girl in Hell!” Her tears were falling on him. “Why did you leave your family for this place?”

“For money!” he cried. “Just for money!”

That seemed to catch her by surprise. She looked away and wiped her face on her sleeve. “Well, there. So zik, Scheisskopf. There you’ve truly said something now.” But when she turned to him, she put her hand on his throat and squeezed. “Money?”

“I love family.” He wheezed. “I hate money. Fuck money. But family, need money. You say, you say - Nixie, you want good girl. I want be good man.”

She let go of his throat and leaned back, thinking. Her bright hair, hung down over her face, and she put a white lock of it in her mouth, chewing on it as she sat quietly, mulling it over. “What means a ‘good man’ do you think?”

He gasped and drew a raw breath. “My Juanita. My little Lupe. My Papa, he leave me and my mother. He go another woman. They all go another woman, men in my country. Not me. Not me! I want be good man. I stay. Even poor, I always stay my wife. But no money. I no drink. I no putas, I no gamble money. I espouso for my Juanita and Papa for my Lupe. But no money. Mierda. How I be good man with no money? That’s all. Kill me - my family just more poor. That’s all.”

She slapped him but without strength. “What does it mean? Why has God given you in my hands? You should curse God.”

“Maybe, angelita, maybe God gives you into my hand.”

Her cool fingers reached out of the dark and stroked his hair. He felt the fury drain out of her. “There you go again, funny man, you think you’re good at breaking my heart, jah? So what shall we do with you? I want to do something bad, but then you go speaking some silly thing and break my heart all over again.” She stroked his bleeding cheek delicately with her fingernails. “Maybe the Blessed Mother really watches over you.” She lifted her hand to her lips, licked her fingers and shivered. “But I don’t know how to be a good girl for you.”

He reached up and took her fingers in his hands and squeezed them, feeling the bones beneath the cold skin. “If you devil, no too late be angel.”

She lifted her knee and rolled off him, looking away. “Get up.” She said. “Get the fuck out of here, quickly. Don’t look back.”

He got to his feet and his knees were shaking. Now that he had finally met the devil hidden there, he was no longer afraid of the night. “I pray for you.”

She sat in the dirt, somewhere in the darkness and he couldn’t see her. “Oh that’s good. Jah, light a candle for me, Manolo.”

* * * *
Nixie and Manolo from the story "Singing In The Dark" copyright 2009 C. Sanchez-Garcia
image based on art by Gene Putney
* * * *

In 1960 in Buenos Aires Argentina, in a little house on Garabaldi Street, a man named Peter Malkin was babysitting for the devil. His charge was a balding old man in dark horn rimmed glasses who sat in his underwear in a back room, occasionally asking permission to use the bathroom. Malkin had been given strict orders not to talk to this man, not to ask him questions. If the man tried to escape, he must kill him. The man who gave him those orders had a sister and three nieces who had been killed in Buchenwald. Malkin also had close friends and members of his family killed in Nazi death camps. Ricardo Klement, the old man in the glasses had had much to do with it twenty years before when he had been Adolf Eichmann, the minister of the death camps and an architect of the final solution for the Jews.


There are things about Eichmann that are universal to evil, in the real world and in good fiction. Evil is transparent to the evil doer. Evil is complex. With the increase of evil, the world becomes smaller and more dangerous for the soul sinking into darkness until there's no light left at all. When evil has matured, the only way for the soul to endure its damnation is to bend the world into a reflection of itself.

Eichmann, Saddamn Hussein, Adolf Hitler, all of these men were good men in their own eyes. They loved their families, and bought gifts for their grandchildren. The Israeli Mossad agents had confirmed the old man they'd been stalking for weeks through Buenos Aires was Eichmann because they had observed him on the evening known to be his silver wedding anniversary. When they saw Ricardo Klement carrying a large bouquet of flowers home for his loving wife, they knew they had their man.

In life and in good fiction, men are drawn into darkness willingly by their choices. They make decisions. This is the difference between a villain that breathes and a villain that is cardboard. They have moral reasons for the decisions they make, and while a part of them cries out against the soul's rape, the other part seduces them with explanations. Eichmann had his reasons. In his view he was not an evil man. I can't emphasize enough how key this point is. In fiction and in reality. Evil is transparent. Eichmann saw himself as fortune's fool, one who haplessly found himself on the wrong side of history, when all he wanted were opportunities for advancement and prestige. The price was merely mass murder. He had nothing against Jews, he told Malkin. He rather liked Jews, admired their piety. Think of this skewed midnight conversation from Malkin's "Eichmann in My hands":

"What were you doing in Palestine anyway?" I cut in, trying to shift away from the subject.

"It was a study tour, to see the Jews in Palestine. It was necessary for my work." He paused. "Haifa. Ach! The view from Mt. Carmel is enchanting. You must believe me, I was always an idealist. Had I been born Jewish, I would have been the most fervent Zionist!" He paused. "Ich war den Juden immer zugeneigt!" said Eichmann. I have always been fond of Jews. "I had Jewish friends. When I was touring Hiafa, I always made a point of finding Jewish taxi drivers. I always liked the Jews better than the Arabs."

I paused, almost unable to contain myself. "My sister's boy, my favorite playmate, he was just your son's age. Also blond and blue eyed, just like your son. And you killed him!"

Genuinely perplexed by the observation, he actually waited to see if I would clarify it. "Yes, he said finally, "but he was Jewish wasn’t he?"

That is what evil really looks like in this world. Left to judge themselves, no one would be condemned except the most morally sensitive, ironically the truly good men and women.

The Zyclon B showers? The ovens? Nothing personal, just business. Just a matter of getting things done and keeping the traffic moving along. It was his poor fate that he had been given the dirty job of running the camps instead of something nicer. But, he explained, like a traditional German of his generation he believed in duty, diligence and hard work. He ran the camps well, he said, with efficiency because that was the responsibility he had been given and it was his nature to be efficient. People did not escape his camps. Schedules were followed. If he had been given a railroad to run, he would have managed it with the same perfection.

The great villains of Shakespeare are all moral beings of one kind or another, with powerful character arcs. They come in all shapes. Goneril and Regan torment their father Lear out of a twisted sense of public duty. Iago and King Richard III were evil geniuses since they were in diapers. Hamlet's Uncle Claudius murders Hamlet's father out of romantic passion for Gertrude, and has enough decency left in him to cry out in shame when he sees his crime reenacted during a play.

In the creation of fiction, your hero is only as good as his opponent, and the general purpose word "opponent" is important. "Villains" are only a particular species of opponent. Opponent is whatever the hero or heroine has to push against to initiate their character change over the course of the story. The apprentice writer has to consider first and foremost the moral values of his villain or opponent at least as much as his hero, and they must be related. A good villain is a mirror of the hero. His values are similar though sometimes the reverse of the hero. He often wants the same thing the hero wants, but in a competing or skewed way. Next to the hero/heroine, the opponent is the most important character in the story and the story will rise or fail by the quality of the opponent and the stakes the opponent and hero are fighting for.

Opponents are not always what they seem. In "The Anatomy of Story" John Truby describes such variations as the false-opponent-ally and the false-ally-opponent. The false-opponent would be a character such as Hannibal Lector in "Silence of The Lambs". He appears at first to be the villain, the serial maniac. But in his relationship to fledgling FBI agent Clarisse Starling, he is an invaluable mentor, a "Yoda from Hell". In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago is a false-ally opponent. He appears to be Othello's friend in finding out if Othello's new wife Desdemona is cheating on him, when in fact he's conjuring plots to destroy him.

Common place villains in fiction are characterized by an inability to change. They are the wall against which the hero dashes himself over and over, which causes the hero to change. In bad fiction, villains twirl their mustaches and glory in their assholelinity. Good villains justify what they do; even take offense that any would oppose what they see as their righteous destiny. The most memorable villain is the one who starts out good and descends into evil. Think Darth Vader. This is the man who knows his nature, who clearly sees the blood on his hands and walls himself against his enemies and his conscience.

The best villain in Shakespeare and the most frightening by far is Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is unique among protagonists, in that he is the hero of the play in the Aristotoliean sense, but he is also the villain. He is both at once. The horror of Macbeth is the disintegration and death of a noble soul, a hero transforming into a villain. We bear witness to the heart breaking flowering of evil, knowing it can happen to us. The world of Macbeth is a reflection of his changing interior world. It is the increasing paranoia, murk and torment of a consciously made Hell. When King Duncan first arrives at Macbeth's castle for the night it appears to his innocent mind "This castle has a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and delicately recommends itself to our gentle senses." By the time of the infamous banquet scene, it has become as dark and haunted as Castle Dracula. As his soul dissolves into viciousness, his world shrinks around him. He becomes obsessed with security, as his soul struggles against his spiritual self-rape;

"One cried 'God bless us!' and 'Amen!' the other
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands.
Listening their fear, I could not say 'Amen.'
When they did say 'God bless us'.
. . . But wherefore could I not pronounce ‘Amen’?
I had most need of blessing and 'Amen' stuck in my throat."

Macbeth reels in nightmare phantasms until his conversion to evil is complete. Once he has accepted himself as he has become, he finds a kind of peace, because he is no longer a hypocrite to himself, but a pure tyrant. The world around him becomes a comprehensible world of endless death and cruelty. Cut off from his own humanity, he is spiritually exhausted:

"I have lived long enough.
My life has fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf.
That which should accompany old age as love
Honor, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have.
But in their place, curses, not loud but deep, mouth honor
Breath which the poor heart would fain deny but dare not."

His spiritual fall is fast but so perfectly paced as to seem organic and inevitable. The spiritual fall of Lady Macbeth is predetermined and in its way much more violent. Macbeth has the residual decency to struggle briefly against his damnation, to question his decisions. If Macbeth wails about his "hangman's hands" Lady Macbeth cries out to any evil spirits passing by "Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe with direst cruelty!" She is fearsome, fascinating, a creature of unrepentant evil. She wants it, baby. She wants it bad. But as Macbeth grows in power, she shrinks and her world dwindles until it suffocates her. Towards the end she is shambling wreck, who mutters in her sleep and relives in dreams her brief satanic moment of power. Her sweep of passion for that moment was irresistible, and absolute.

Eichmann's evil is mediocre, bureaucratic, and dumb. A kind of J. Alfred Prufrock paper pushing evil, murder carried out with statistics, forms, fountain pens and weary discussions over drinks. If not for the fact he'd overseen the death of millions of people, you’d want to swat him with a newspaper. Because of this his hands are clean in his eyes, there is no awareness of death. Because he is clean in his eyes, he can be fingered as that man bringing flowers on an anniversary who will yet have a secret tattoo of the SS under his left armpit.

I don't believe in Heaven and Hell as such. But if there were, I think when the worst souls are brought before God, they will be outraged that they are so poorly thought of.


7 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Garce. It seems like you delve really deep into some subjects while I just skim across the surface.

    Shakespeare reminds me too much of school. *shudder* And I have no idea who J. Alfred Prufrock is...LOL

    But I know Eichmann, and he rates up there as a villain to me.

    Hugs.

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  2. Shakespeare is great. School ruined Shakespeare for a lot of us, but it was just one of those things we had to get through.

    Prufrock? That's this poem by T.S. Prufrock that has this atmosphere of sort of weariness and a struggle with mundane stuff. I dunno.

    Hey Jenna - you read my stuff - thank you.

    Garce

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  3. NOT TS Prufrock - sorry - T. S. Eliot.

    I'm an awful typist.

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  4. "Let us go then, you and I,
    When the evening is stretched out against the sky
    Like a patient etherized upon the sheets,
    The muttering retreats
    Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels,
    Of sawdust restaurants and oyster shells.
    Oh do not ask what is it.
    Let us go and make our visit."

    -- "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock", by T.S. Eliot, undoubtedly misremembered in detail but burned upon my soul... I learned it in high school, more than forty years ago - when I could barely understand the nature of the author's weariness.

    A wonderful post, Garce, though of course you and I have discussed this topic at length in emails.

    Nixie, however, is not a villain. Never was. She is the heroine of your story cycle, even when she is tearing off people's heads. The villain in your tales is off-stage. Maybe the person or persons who made her what she is (we'll find out soon...). Perhaps God. Can God be a villain?

    I just finished a disturbing but fascinating novel called "The Vintner's Luck", by Elizabeth Knox. One of the main characters is a fallen angel. He is a living contract between God and Lucifer; each agrees to control or own one aspect of him. The angel becomes a creature of despair, torn by the conflicting demands by his two masters.

    Perhaps the key to an effective villain is relativity. If you can look through someone's eyes and see the villain as just or even justified, you've succeeded.

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  5. Hi Lisabet!

    "The Vintner's Luck"? That sounds like a really interesting premise. I'd like to take a look at that book.
    There may be something there for me.

    I think what you;ve said about relativity is the ley for me. How to see the bad guy through someone else's eyes. I think a villain can get away with being stone evil too, as long as there is something there we can connect with.

    I think there is a villain in Nixie's past I don;t know of yet. I'm having a hard time with this first story.

    Garce

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  6. J. Alfred Prufrock as a villain would be genius. And I bet he'd probably work in the DMV, condemning us all to eternal torment while we wait in line to renew our drivers' licenses...

    It seems to me you have three categories of villains here - the villains who aren't aware what they do is evil, and thus blunder on in ingnorance; the villains who do realize what they do is evil, and go ahead with it with no remorse; and the villains who realize what they're doing is wrong and are tormented by it. Only the last group is capable of change, and it's a fine line between group 2 & 3. The villain would have to want to change to succeed.

    Lovely post, Garce!

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  7. Hi Helen!

    I've always missed your remarks in the past because I didn;t know they were there. I'm sorry about that.

    Prufrock in the DMV? I can see that. Or he might be a barrista in a Starbucks measuring out his life with coffee spoons . . .

    Your comment about villians is interesting. I think it has to do with ego, as to whether a person can be tormented by their deeds. Some of us aren't evil so much as oblivious. But the willfully evil, these are mysterious people. I think in order to live with themselves some part of their humanity has to die, or be anesthetized by ego. That's the heart of the thing.

    GArce

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