I arrived at the residence of The Black Wizard at the appointed hour and, as arranged, sent a text message to his personal number. I received an immediate reply to enter the building. In the hallway, pink cardboard arrows pointed towards a narrow, steep stairway. Following the arrows up the stairs and along a landing, I reached a door and knocked.
The Black Wizard: Come in. Please sit down. I am told the floor in the vicinity of the gardening magazines is quite comfortable.
The Black Wizard was sitting up in bed wearing a leather biker jacket, sunglasses, and black stetson. He was flanked by two cats, one black and one orange, curled up on velvet pillows. The room was dark and it was difficult to determine where the Black Wizard ended and the tangle of comforters and cushions began. The bed itself was listing at least twenty degrees to port. From where I sat it appeared that one corner was sinking into the floor.
Feline 9ine: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. How would you prefer to be addressed?
TBW: Clearly and concisely, please.
F9: No, sir, I meant by which name? Over the years you have had many. "The Black Wizard," "Magister Ludi," "Jeff."
TBW: They aren't really my names. They are the labels placed on me by others. I always refer to myself as "me."
F9: Quite, but if you had the choice...
TBW: I can choose anything? How fun! How about... "Sagacity?"
F9: Sir Gass...
TBW: I have a better plan. Let's assume that whenever you speak you are addressing me rather than one of the cats. That way you needn't call me anything at all.
F9: Very well. May I first ask about your health?
TBW: Yes. [Long pause.] Oh, I see, you just did. For a being of my age, species, diet, exercise habits, and previous medical history, I am in perfect health.
F9: So you are not confined to this bed?
TBW: Quite the contrary, I am liberated by it. May I offer you something to eat? There are some tinned sardines behind the red boots.
F9: Thank you, no.
At this point in our interview, the orange cat to the left of The Black Wizard rolled off the bed and landed on the floor where it remained motionless. The Black Wizard glanced downwards and from deep in his throat a low, guttural growl emerged. The orange cat stood up, shook its head, and jumped back onto its pillow, where it curled up and went back to sleep.
F9: You are no doubt aware that certain allegations have surfaced...
TBW: Yes, they always do, don't they? I live in hope that one will fly through the window or be delivered in a wooden crate, but instead allegations insist on "surfacing." And one wonders from whence? The fact that they surface demands that they form underwater, then rise like bubbles. But bubbles need an object on which to nucleate, before growing and detaching and negotiating their perilous trip upwards. My current theory is that the fine hairs on the languid leg of a daughter of Achelous act as nucleation centers, then when she moves her leg in order to more easily scratch an itch, the allegations detach and eventually surface. I assume we are talking about Volumes IV and V of the autobiography of The Red Siren, or whatever she prefers to be called these days.
F9: Yes, Madame Seirena Thunbergii.
TBW: Oh how catchy! And such a rare talent to compress, or perhaps I should say "mangle," Greek, Latin and French into such a tiny space.
F9: Returning to the allegations...
TBW: Actions speak louder than words.
F9: Excuse me?
The Black Wizard sighed, lit a black cigarette with a gold filter, and directed a column of smoke at a brass owl that was suspended from the ceiling. He rested his hand on the black cat to his right and smiled faintly.
TBW: Given the target audience of your publication, I imagine you are referring to Her assertions about this cat. Specifically, that I proposed that She and I return to Europe to play Red and Black House. And that, in order to do so, I offered to return this cat to the streets where I found him, this being necessitated, She asserts, by her allergies.
F9: That is the actual cat mentioned in Volume IV of...
TBW: Indeed it is. And as you can see, he is neither homeless nor destitute.
F9: But wasn't this over twenty years ago?
TBW: Was it? I have no idea. I have discovered, over the years, that my experience of their passage is different to that of people who do not share my... talents. I find it quite likely The Red Siren enjoys a similar affliction. I am also convinced she is not allergic to cats.
The room brightened suddenly as the Sun emerged from behind a cloud and sent a shaft of light onto The Black Wizard's left shoulder. Noticing the direction of my gaze, The Black Wizard ran his index finger over his jacket, then showed me a discolored finger tip.
TBW: Dust. Dust and ash. The origin of the ash is obvious, of course, but the dust is more interesting. Most of it is me. Dead skin. The cats make a contribution, and I am told that plaster from the walls of this fine dwelling also crumbles and eventually settles, but a fair fraction of this dust is me. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
The Black Wizard frowned, and dug around in the blankets apparently searching for something. With a sudden look of triumph he held up a walnut which he proceeded to throw at a computer in the far corner of the room. The screen came to life and "The Man Who Dies Every Day," began to play.
TBW: Ultravox. John Foxx is the vocalist. He left and Midge Ure became the vocalist. And the band was still named Ultravox. But was it the same band? A large chunk of the thing that was Ultravox had been removed, and grafted in its place was an irritating Scotsman with a silly mustache. Bits of me, in the form of this dust, leave my body every day. To be replaced by new stuff generated through a bizarre process that begins with ingesting sardines and goes through countless biochemical reactions until I have new skin that can again fall off me as dust. I suspect the fact that the passage of time is puzzling to me is somehow connected to this process. Are you sure I can't interest you in some sardines?
F9: Quite sure, thank you. But staying with the culinary theme, your reputation as an accomplished if radical chef is also challenged by Madame Seirena Thunbergii.
TBW: Ah yes, Volume V. In which my dinner party guests suffer through burned parsnips, soggy tempura and loud, lesbian drummers. Well I suppose it's all a matter of taste, isn't it? I prefer my parsnips crisp. In much of Louisiana they would have been devoured without dissent. I will allow The Red Siren that tempura is not one of my strong suits, but I fail to see a problem with the lesbians. Although... Yes, the contrast with The Red Siren's own dinner parties provides a clue to Her dislike of mine. For reasons I could never comprehend, the food at Her soirees was invariably served three hours after the time indicated on the invitation. Dead animals would bubble interminably in the kitchen as the guests sat in complete silence. The only entertainment to be found was in placing bets on which of the twitching, highly-strung violinists on the couch would snap first.
F9: So you stand by your cooking?
TBW: With a spoon.
To be continued...