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RE: Southern Expressions: Part 3


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RE: Southern Expressions: Part 3
Topic: Miscellaneous 1:29 am EDT, Apr 12, 2007

One of my favorite moments from William Gibson's Virtual Light, which I highly recommend if you haven't read it:

Nightmare Folk Art was like that, sandwiched between a dead hair-extension franchise and some kind of failing real estate place that sold insurance on the side. NIGHTMARE FOLK ART-SOUTHERN GOTHIC, the letters hand-painted all lumpy and hairy, like mosquito legs in a cartoon, white on black. But with a couple of expensive cars parked out front: a silver-gray Range Rover, looking like Gunhead dressed up for the prom, and one of those little antique Porsche two-seaters that always looked to
Rydell like the wind-up key had fallen off. He gave the Porsche a wide berth; cars like that tended to have hypersensitive anti-theft systems, not to mention hyper-aggressive.

There was a rentacop looking at him through the armored glass of the door; not IntenSecure, but some off brand. Rydell had borrowed a pair of pressed chinos from Kevin. They were a little tight in the waist, but they beat hell out of the orange trunks. He had on a black IntenSecure uniform-shirt with the patches ripped off, his Stetson, and his SWAT shoes. He wasn't sure black really made it with khaki. He pushed the button. The rentacop buzzed him in.

'Got an appointment with Justine Cooper,' he said, taking his sunglasses off.

'With a client,' the rentacop said. He looked about thirty, and like he should've been out on a farm in Kansas or somewhere. Rydell looked over and saw a skinny woman with black hair. She was talking to a fat man who had no hair at all. Trying to sell him something, it looked like.

'I'll wait,' Rydell said.

The farmer didn't answer. State law said he couldn't have a gun, just the industrial-strength stunner he wore in a beat-up plastic holster, but he probably did anyway. One of those little Russian hold-outs that chambered some godawful overheated caliber originally intended for killing the engine blocks of tanks. The Russians, never too safety-minded, had the market in Saturday-night specials.

Rydell looked around. That ol' Rapture was big at Nightmare Folk Art, he decided. Those kind of Christians, his father had always maintained, were just pathetic. There the Millennium had up, come, and gone, no Rapture to speak of, and here they were, still beating that same drum. Sublett and his folks down in their trailer-camp in Texas, watching old movies for Reverend Fallon-at least that had some kind of spin on it.

He tried to sneak a look, see what the lady was trying to sell to the fat man, but she caught his eye and that wasn't good. So he worked his way deeper into the shop, pretending to check out the merchandise. There was a whole section of these nasty-looking spidery wreath-things, behind glass in faded gilt frames. The wreaths looked to Rydell like they were made of frizzy old hair. There were tiny little baby coffins, all corroded, and one of them had been planted with ivy. There were coffee tables made out of what Rydell supposed were tombstones, old ones, the lettering worn down so faint you couldn't read it. He paused beside a bedstead welded together from a bunch of those pickaninny jockey-boys it had been against the law to have on your lawn in Knoxville. The jockey-boys had all been freshly-painted with big, red-lipped, watermelon-eating grins. The bed was spread with a hand-stitched quilt patterned like a Confederate flag. When he looked for a price tag, all he found was a yellow SOLD sticker.

'Mr. Rydell? May I call you Berry?' Justine Cooper's jaw was so narrow that it looked like she wouldn't have room for the ordinary complement of teeth in there. Her hair was cut short, a polished brown helmet. She wore a couple of dark, flowing things that Rydell supposed were meant to conceal the fact that she was built more or less like a stick-insect. She didn't sound like she was from anywhere south of anywhere, much, and there was a visible tension strung through her, like wires.

Rydell saw the fat man walk out, pausing on the sidewalk to deactivate the Range Rover's defenses.


'You're from Knoxville?' He noticed she was breathing deliberately, like she was trying not to hyperventilate.

'That's right.'

'You don't have much of an accent.'

'Well, I wish everybody felt that way.' He smiled, but she didn't smile back.

'Is your family from Knoxville, Mr. Rydell?'

Shit, he thought, go ahead, call me Berry. 'My father was, I guess. My mother's people are from up around Bristol, mostly.'

Justine Cooper's dark eyes, not showing much white, were looking right at him, but they didn't seem to be registering anything. He guessed she was somewhere in her forties.

'Ms. Cooper?'

She gave a violent start, as though he'd goosed her.

'Ms. Cooper, what are those wreath-sort-of-things in those old frames there?' Pointing at them.

'Memorial wreaths. Southwestern Virginia, late nineteenth, early twentieth century.'

Good, Rydell thought, get her talking about the stock. He walked over to the framed wreaths for a closer look. 'Looks like hair,' he said.

'It is,' she said. 'What else would it be?'

'Human hair?'

'Of course.'

'You mean like dead people's hair?' He saw now the minute braiding, the hair twisted up into tiny flowerlike knots. It was lusterless and no particular color.

'Mr. Rydell, I'm afraid that I may have wasted your time.' She moved tentatively in his direction. 'When I spoke with you on the phone, I was under the impression that you might be, well, much more of the South...'

'How do you mean, Ms. Cooper?'

'What we offer people here is a certain vision, Mr. Rydell. A certain darkness as well. A Gothic quality.'

Damn. That talking head in the agency display had been playing this shit back word for word.

'I don't suppose you've read Faulkner?' She raised one hand to brush at something invisible, something hanging in front of her face.

There it was again. 'Nope.'

'No, I didn't think so. I'm hoping to find someone who can help to convey that very darkness, Mr. Rydell. The mind of the South. A fever dream of sensuality.'

Rydell blinked.

'But you don't convey that to me. I'm sorry.' It looked like the invisible cobweb had come back.

Rydell looked at the rentacop, but he didn't seem to be listening to any of this. Hell, he seemed to be asleep.

'Lady,' Rydell said carefully, 'I think you're crazier than a sack full of assholes.'

Her eyebrows shot up. 'There,' she said.

'There what?'

'Color, Mr. Rydell. Fire. The brooding verbal polychromes of an almost unthinkably advanced decay.'

Rydell had to think about that. He found himself looking at the jockey-boy bed. 'Don't you ever get any black people in here, complaining about stuff like this?'

'On the contrary,' she said, a new edge in her tone, 'we do quite a good business with the more affluent residents of South Central. They, at least, have a sense of irony. I suppose they have to.'

Now he'd have to walk to whatever the nearest station was, take the subway home, and tell Kevin Tarkovsky he hadn't been Southern enough.

The rentacop was letting him out.

'Where exactly you from, Ms. Cooper?' he asked her.

'New Hampshire,' she said.

He was on the sidewalk, the door closing behind him.

'Fucking Yankees,' he said to the Porsche roadster.

RE: Southern Expressions: Part 3

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