Beautiful, pansexual Janus Tewditch was sprawled out in the seersucker sheets of his day bed. It was oppressively hot and fanged sunshine lit up the corridor where he slept. He slept in the corridor mostly in order to catch the fabled Arabian nighttime breeze but the strategy always besmirched him by nine the next morning. Janus was sweating both from the heat and from his feverish illness.
His current wife, Priva, was quietly preparing coffee in the shadowy kitchen down the hall. He heard her unstick the ice box open. Next, the thud of an ice brick on the counter. Then, the single sharding crack as she hit the brick with a hammer. It was the enamel hammer he’d bought for her a year earlier. The one with the inlaid design of parakeets.
Herod, an athletic, bronze man shuffled quietly up the hallway. He wore a roomy shirt and was barefoot. The skins of his feet softly percussed along the flooring. He looked at Janus in a friendly way and cocked his head to the side. Did Janus need anything? He seemed to say. Janus lifted a weak hand to indicate that he had no present need. Herod continued into the kitchen. Janus heard him and Priva kissing one another. He heard their low voices discussing their morning tasks, a soft murmur like a shady brook. Janus closed his eyes.
In his day — that is to say, when the days didn’t feel so numbered — Janus was a prolific sex hound. He had tried almost everything in the dominion of the flesh and had even dabbled in a few sexual excursions in the realm of the spiritual. He had authored several guidebooks about his travels across two continents and another two dense volumes of his adventures across the human body. Book sales were up and his lascivious Arabian carnival was a popular destination, bringing in princes, sheiks, and the rabble from both near and far. He was more than amply funded, a master of worldly experience, but now he was steadily waning into the final days of his mortal existence. The finale. It was an ironic blow that he was still trying to reconcile.
Janus was ill for many years before he finally succumbed to the severity of his condition. In his poor health, he married his carnival’s contortionist, Priva who herself was a holdover from the days at Drutherstone’s Circus. Priva was trustworthy and could not only bend over backwards for him but also through stair banisters, around imports officials, and sometimes even through the eyes of needles to procure him the help and comforts that he required in his accelerating state of deterioration. In turn, he planned to die and leave her everything. He had observed that she was rather capable of running the carnival operation he’d built here. And now, she wouldn’t have to do it all on her own. Herod, the bastard son of a dervish who had been brought up in the local acrobatic circuits, was good for her. The two of them, Janus hoped, might do something interesting with the property.
“Three of a kind!” he used to kid her. She never found it funny and lately he didn’t either. He found his mind turning back to the mosaic collection of memorable human encounters. What had it all amounted to in the end?
Over the years Janus had sampled numerous staccatos of flings but also the muscular undertows of a few trusted partnerships. Each phase had had its merits. Still, confronted with his fading vitality, he suddenly found himself curious over which style of living was the more satisfying? He luxuriated in mental comparisons as he ate the steaming, nourishing pilafs Priva prepared for him and continued his reveries long into the night as he suckled on rose water treats that Herod would purchase, three for a penny at the bazaar.
Perhaps it was an idle question. It’s not as if he had time to write one last book on the subject. Regardless of what conclusions he might arrive at, the pursuiting days were definitely over. Now life was all but a steady plod into whatever shrouded follows. “Whatever death consists of,” Janus would tell his young wife and business friends, “I intend to do it prodigiously.”
Priva handed him a chilly cup of coffee. He drank deeply, cooling down his overheated temple of clay. She patted his hand and smiled in a way that immediately made him suspicious.
“What?” he asked.
Priva sighed and crossed her hands in her lap.
“Priva,” Janus looked at her with a smoky expression, a bygone from their exciting days.
“I wrote a letter to Lindsey.”
Janus paused. Then he carefully put the coffee somewhere else. “And why would you do that?”
“Because you’re not well.”
“I’m not not well, String-a-ling. I’m dying. I’m next in line. I’m up. Curtains.” Janus settled down from his flare of character acting. “How many other letters did you write? I’ll not have a parade!”
“Just him. He’s the goodbying type,” said Priva.