He’d been on his knees all morning the second day when he first saw her. It was the only time in his life he saw truth in a female’s face. Others who had served him were always deferential. Others obligingly aped lust. Today it was real, and unbearable. She was the daughter of someone, who was the brother of someone, and distantly related to the king, who in turn was a direct heir of Sapor or possibly Narses. The lineage was not in any event so indistinct that she could not derive a palpably regal satisfaction knowing who and what he was, and how delicious this ungainly subjugation.
They dressed him in plated tin on both sides from thigh to shoulder. Eagles with fierce glares, half like their own and half like the Roman, were thinly embossed on the twin slabs. His bare butt was exposed between. They made him wear ladies’ slippers. Whenever he was given occasion to rise or change position, his penis and testicles would partially hang out the flimsy cloth covering that hooked down from the sidings. Rome was a hot shaming memory as he, of all its emperors, was the one to become this literal footstool to the Eastern enemy. His place in history was thus defined. He raged at first but no one cared. The soldiers and the indifferent courtiers and the relatives of the royal administrators let the rage expend itself. These Persian surfaces were impervious, and soon he blew himself out resigned to his fate.
They strung thick silk on his back between the mocking tin plates. Prone, he awaited the king. The king’s feet were tiny; his velvet slippers, striped like tiger skin, grazed his neck and chin. A quiet ripple as of contained mirth swept around the palace. And in this fashion they sat out the first day, the king and his retainers savoring the new human tool. The next day, sundry visitors arrived, including the woman with the great and unbearable truth in her face. “He’s a most accommodating emperor, this Roman,” said the Persian king to the woman as his feet nestled downward.
She said nothing, only nodding. As she nodded, he gazed up from his knees and saw an almond-dark face with fleshy puckered cheeks and paper-thin black lips. Her almond eyes sparkled with dark light. A courtier smiling softly placed his hand on her shoulder as sidling by her side he offered up a flower, a rich lily with a trumpet-like bulb. There were shining trumpets in his mind’s eye envisioning the lost imperial past as peering up from his knees he saw the awful unremitting sparkle of the almond-dark stare. She bore down, studying his face. The Sassanid monarch tickled his chin playfully, his big toe teasing the beardless chin, which caused the courtier to snicker and an even deeper dark light in the woman’s awful almond eyes to sparkle. “Hail Caesar,” said the courtier as the setting sun poured in through the side portals. It poured in from a northwesterly direction, from Armenia where he and his legion had been captured.
As the crowd pushed him toward where the bodies were trussed upside down, he saw furious men, with thin women, and with fat women, with haggard-looking women toting dark boy and girl children, plucking at Mussolini’s face like birds who had come to pluck away his eyes. Mussolini’s eyeballs were protruding so far out, it was as if many crows had already come and plundered. The men in the crowd formed a semicircle around the woman who hung there beside him. Her dress was torn off and her ankles were tied at the ends of two ropes that forced her legs wide apart. Everybody wanted to see the dead woman’s cunt. They wanted to see the cunt that Mussolini loved to fuck. One night ten years earlier when he was twelve years old in Siena he had peeked into his mother’s bedroom to see her naked. He had seen her naked before, but this time he peeped with renewed curiosity. It was only after he saw his mother’s naked crotch with its modest crotch hair that he dimly comprehended what it was he was peeping in to try to see. He dimly comprehended that it was no longer quite the same hole that he had first crawled out of, because the great man had since then chosen during an official visit, while he strutted self-entitled from room to room in their new model apartment building, to fill it for a few minutes. “Fascist swine,” the crowd shouted.
Two hundred years later, the lady’s gorgeous face with its tight smile and shining eyes so close to being wicked, to the winking lewdnesses of the Restoration and beyond, still astonished him. It was the woman in the Lawrence portrait at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. She’d made her acting debut in an early performance of She Stoops to Conquer. Her skin was so soft. He imagined that her smile in the portrait was the same unbearable smile she’d wear if some military swain were to sidle up and have her from behind. She remembered the unctuous smile on Peter Lawford’s face when Kennedy put his hand down her pants. The senator’s wife, forced by Caligula, awaits her husband’s return and dreads in advance the poor man’s battered twitching mouth now his treasure was state property. Faces of women kissed by Rasputin. Ransacked. Essex’ joy, when first he knew how Elizabeth tasted between her legs. Elizabeth’s wet lips, stunning to his tongue. When Marie Antoinette was beheaded, one boy ran to the basket because he wanted to capture a braid. A soldier chased him away and the head was then taken to a cemetery or else salvaged for a special place in the sacred grove where the priests of the cult of the mysteries of decapitated beauty honor the ungainly remnants. Jayne Mansfield’s last lop. Nicole Simpson’s.
He eyed Sirhan across the yard. They always guarded him so carefully but that just made him hotter to somehow have him. The little Arab was cute. His rump was tight. Once he masturbated imagining how he’d force a way inside. How he’d make the little fellow grunt. He wanted to proclaim to the world: I fucked Sirhan Sirhan. I creamed in his world-famous Jordanian love bucket.
Too bad we’re not back east. Then I’d say: I fucked Sirhan Sirhan in Sing Sing! Ha ha!
“Can’t I just make friends with him,” he asked Abrisse, the guard.
“No, you sure as hell can’t,” said Abrisse.
How vast the clothing! What revelations: fold after petticoat fold until at last her blond and manicured pubic strands were bare to see. “Oh!” he exclaimed.
“Well now,” she winked, legs spread as if plucked apart. Her thighs creamy white as a child’s were bare to see, though her knees were still draped in the pinkish taffeta that bundled on down to her ankles. Her beauty was one lascivious wink. She winked from everywhere. He felt like he was smiling stupidly. “You mustn’t keep a lady waiting,” she said with a low insinuating grunt.
Elizabeth Farren was her name. She was the daughter of a prominent surgeon and became Countess of Derby when she married the widower Earl in 1797. Lawrence’s portrait, the long body bent gracefully, heavily, was shown at the Royal Academy and further popularized through an engraving by Bartolozzi. “This young man begins where I leave off,” said Reynolds in praise of Lawrence’s portrait.
Many harsh courtiers and soldiers mounted her, and she was the topic of whispered confidences at gala events. “She simply exulted in my balls,” joked one lieutenant to his boon companions. Other men were afraid of her, she was wicked in the way she winked. They feared the clipped soft strange accent that had a little Irish in it; they feared its lilted mocking sound were they to fail between her legs. I would particularly like to know if Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin might have tupped her during official visits to the defeated colonial power.
One wants form to emerge naturally from the lineaments of how we feel. The truest form, in its earliest evolution, must have done just that. One doesn’t imagine Homer consciously paralleling the taking of Briseis by Agamemnon to the taking of Helen by Paris, though both were rash love acts that redrew the lines of epochal battlement. Knowing that Agamemnon stood by her bed not daring to suck the tiny berrylike breasts tight against her skin, he sang it, and sang the great consequent fiasco, thousands dead because of it. Knowing that Paris ravened Helen’s cunt because it was golden and glistened with regal fluids, and that she had sobbed in her pleasures because nothing on earth or in the heavens could have persuaded her to spare the world this love, he sang it, and sang the great consequent fiasco, thousands dead because of it. But he sang, not thought. Form grew like a stalk from song. Pure song was loosened in the world as the spirit moves like wind in language. There is, to be sure, such a thing to decry as “decadent formalism.” But form, as when the story of Agamemnon and Briseis reconfigures the story of Paris and Helen, is an accident that comes of pure spirit, much like creation itself was probably just such an accident. Alas, the Soviet ukase indicted this pure free spirit of form along with self-conscious convolution for the sake of convolution, or stale rigor for the sake of rigor, and, in so doing, nearly made life itself hardly worth the bother.
She crouched on all fours. The lace panties, black and white, were cut slightly in the middle to allow easy access. There was a rose in the lips of her twat. She wore a persistent smile as would please him. She was a gift to him arranged for by his mistress. She was a tribute to him from that lady. Black stockings ran up her thighs and then suddenly stopped.
Her butt was uplifted a little, the suggestion being that he could have her there if he chose to.  She had painted her fingernails crimson red. There was harsh black ink accentuating her eyebrows. She’d been assured these would please.
“Happy Christmas, my sweetest best one!” Thus breathed the lady as they entered the chamber together.
He was delighted, was Gustavus Adolphus, unsheathing a fat member. As he waved it about, he laughed, and his mistress laughed too. I’m fairly certain it was Gustavus Adolphus, although it may really have been Maximillian II, in the salad days before he yielded up parts of Hungary to the Turks. Who knows, maybe it was even Francis Duke of Guise, who was assassinated soon after. No matter, they all left a mark thereabouts.

Larry Smith

Larry Smith’s novella, Patrick Fitzmike and Mike Fitzpatrick, was published in 2016 by Outpost 19. His story “The Magic Moslem,” appeared in Phenomenal Literature (New Delhi, 2015). “The Shield of Paris,” published in Low Rent, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “Woman, My Come Is Time,” won Judge’s Choice as highest-rated short story for Issue One of Heart and Mind Zine. Other stories were published in Exquisite Corpse, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Collagist, Pank, Sequestrum, Curbside Splendor, and numerous others. His poetry was in Descant (Canada) andElimae, among others, and his articles and essays in Modern Fiction Studies, Social Text, The Boston Phoenix, and others.