Hot Lips Brandy

Dear Prospero,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your piece entitled Hot Lips Brandy.

While we enjoyed some aspects of the story, many of us kept questioning whether street swindler might not be a better vocation for you, but this sort of office chatter is unlikely to prejudice our view of your work as we are a top-tier behemoth of the publishing industry.

In some passages, our most senior editor seemed to have the need to lower her uvula, diverting air flow through her nose and producing a sort of nasal whine.

Though it is from time to time the sensitive writer’s wont to murderously impale certain words, many thought the word ‘veliger’ was typographically incorrect and that you must certainly have meant ‘villager,’ which in the context of the “visit to the local brothel” episode (part 3c) would have made good sense. But it was only on the fourth reading that a small cadre of us grasped the freshwater gastropod angle.

The sudden shift to Esperanto in the penultimate paragraph was admittedly unexpected. This linguistic sleigh of hand only works one out of a thousand times. This was not one of those times, though we did enjoy the sexual innuendo which came of its own toward the climactic end of an otherwise distracting and poorly lubricated gear change.

I personally felt your diagnosis of meningeal tuberculosis was unconvincing. Young farmer Brown probably suffered from eye strain.

One of our staff, Tina, a recovering bibliophile, saucer-eyed and mercurial of temperament, said your work was a finely chopped mixture of horseradish, Spanish onions, and Herbes de Provence sautéed in homemade goat butter and reduced nicely to an unctuous paste, and while her recent run-in with the law does not automatically disqualify her from opining on any of the material we receive–in hygienically sealed envelopes, as per the new regulations we were forced to adopt in the latter half of 2016–we make sure she is at all times kept away from the deep fryer.

In short, the majority of us look upon your cosmoramic writing style with a jaundiced eye. Gone are the days when a byzantine style is likely to curry favor with an editor, especially one prone to self-immolation; moreover, multi-protagonist stories can work a treat in the current market, but this sprawling amalgam of mirrory characters in search of the ‘perfect polygraph’ is weighed down by the crushing weight of its own invention.

Speaking personally again, I hope you will have occasion to submit some of your other work. We are always happy to discover new talent even if we have to look under rocks to find it. And believe you me, we’ve a huge collection of rocks ranging from petite pebbles to bulging boulders in the portico of our New York office.

We also wish to thank you for your submission fee. Rents are high and some of our staff seem to have acquired expensive habits.

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With other colorful splashes of vitriol

Lovecraft goes to the pharmacy, trudges up and down the aisles, finds what he is looking for (a case of vaseline) and repairs to the counter, where he flashes a smile at the cashier, a dour specimen of a girl with a freckled face and friendly though bovine eyes. A flimsy carousel, displaying in candylike packages the sort of appurtenance often sold in public bathrooms, suddenly rotates, momentarily blocking his view of the exit. By dint of habit, he is always keenly aware of all points of egress.

Next moment Lovecraft’s credit card is refused with a small but foreboding fanfare. This embarrasses not only himself but the orange-haired youngster behind him clutching several cartons of ribbed condoms. In narratology, this event is called the ‘inciting incident’ or, to use Gérard Genette’s terminology, the ‘impregnable incident.’ (Scholars may wish to challenge the veracity of this term as it smacks of pure chimera.)

Outside, clouds scud bankward, and this is where we find Lovecraft following the cottony puffs, at a stiff pace, to the edifice whose name, Benito Bank, was emblazoned upon the tidy rectangle of laminated plastic having caused the ruckus in the first instance, and which sported a hologram of a festive scene, where Bacchus and three airily-clad females drink cooking sherry from the bottom of an iridescent, indigo-black high heel pump.

Some five minutes later, Lovecraft arrives at the bank having exhausted his capacity to whistle gaily, and is confronted with a series of gold-plated revolving doors–surely a metaphor for the va-et-vient, the hither and thither of transactional banking: life reduced to a devaluing series of transactions.

Sunlight breaks into the building, which strikes Lovecraft as ironic: most people are seeking to break out of the money palace.

Catching a glimpse of an unoccupied bank representative, Lovecraft undertakes to arrive there with the legendary speed of lightning–mind now, not the accuracy, as angry bolts from the firmament often decimate perfectly salvageable structures, such as those pearl-white gazebos parked haphazardly in the verdant countryside, while giving a pass to heaps of rubbish which, when looked upon rationally, provide little enjoyment to anyone. Lovecraft, presently making himself as large as possible, looms over the bank employee and asks, “Are you the swine that tried to neutralize me?”

The clerk, a small man with a square jaw and watery eyes, clears his throat. “Passcode.”

“EBFS,” was the perfectly timed riposte, Lovecraft’s mnemonic for “execution by firing squad.” The diminutive man launched into an indiscreet ballet of mad, migraine-inducing rat-tat-tat on the keyboard, coupled with interminably long bouts of the dwarfish man staring blankly at a screen, as if to divine some meaning hitherto beyond the reach of humankind.

“Listen, Willy,” says Lovecraft. “You don’t mind if I call you Willy, do you?” An awkward, slightly pregnant pause. “I’m in front of your mug because your bank has seen fit to throw shade on my credit. For shame.”

The clerk remains stoic, conjuring up another screen. A list of names populates the dark void. His finger–a long member with a vaguely phosphorescent sheen–slithers down the list, then stops abruptly. “Credit card refutations: Mrs. Seaman,” he says perfunctorily, and then proffers a dismissive wave.

In another corner of the building a man is heard yelling “fascists,” which quickly gives way to other colorful splashes of vitriol.

Scoffing at the clerk’s insolence, Lovecraft turns volte-face. Meanwhile, drooping velvet ropes keep throngs of customers corralled. Like animals.

Soon he is accosted by a couple of sallow-faced bank guards, the tallest of the two muttering ‘like a dog’ under his foul breath. They are unpleasant, but polite. Impeccably dressed too.

Next Lovecraft is ushered into a small cubicle, whereupon he is seated forcibly across from a woman in a bathrobe. Was this Mrs. Seaman? Her head is covered by a phalanx of plastic curlers and her face smothered by a mud mask covering the entire real estate of her face.

“Sorry to discommode you,” starts Lovecraft, “but are you the one responsible for the bank’s shameful conduct?” At this point Lovecraft deftly pulls the wallet from his back pocket and removed the credit card, indignantly waving it about. “My credit card was declined at a very respectable shop in town. Are you sufficiently shamed?”

She takes the avatar of Lovecraft’s discontent from his hand, and exits to an antechamber. She returns, bathrobe intact, with a folder, which she lays out on the desk like a winning poker hand. “Johnny Lovecraft,” she sighs. “Your account has been in arrears since 1956.”

Lovecraft clasps his hands behind his head, supremely confident. “Impossible.” He pauses to reflect. “Though there is admittedly a gap between the impossible and the improbable.” His eyes narrow. “Yes, I acknowledge the error of my ways.” His voice deepens. “Still, nothing can alter my harsh opinion of Benito Bank.”

“Your healthy revulsion does you credit. But I can tell you that the chairman of Benito Bank, Mr. Rump, is a great man. A very great man.” She closes the folder, smiling through the mud. “Life is permanent warfare.” She stares dreamily at an imaginary ceiling fan. “A very great man.” She jerks her shoulder suddenly, ending her elegant soliloquy with some foggy thing she remembered: “All that corporate profits need to gain a foothold–is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

Later, in the jaunty spring of 2020, after a little scrape with Hyperbolea, which left one hundred thousand dead—still and all, not bad business for Benito Bank, whose tentacles reached Hyperbolea—Lovecraft and the recently widowed Mrs. Seaman would be wed at a cacophonous ceremony, forever curing Lovecraft’s disdain of high finance.