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Notes on Creation - Jennifer de Guzman

Latest thoughts on the creative life

Poem: Advice to a Migraineure

Jennifer de Guzman

 Detail from   Discretion   by Remedios Varo

Detail from Discretion by Remedios Varo

Advice to a Migraineure

Do not allow yourself to become
     or hungry
     or tired.
You must be self-contained.
You must not show
The true thoughts that
pulse in your skull, ready
to burst through as pain.
And if they do, you must
pluck them from the air
and press them like leaves
between your palms.

Hide hide hide.
Do not allow the light in.
The pain will try to draw
The tears from the well behind your eyes.
Tears are a weakness.
And you must not allow weakness.
Or allow what you feel
To break through into emotion.
Do not feel
     or sadness
     or elation.
You must be a walled city.
Any breach is disaster.

- Late 2014/Early 2015)

Poem: The Clown, In His Closet

Jennifer de Guzman


The Clown, In His Closet*

For Robin Williams

Quiet, at last.
The King, in his court, heeds my words,
But here, there is no one to hear my voice.
I do not want anyone to hear my voice.
I do not want to hear my own voice.
I want what there was before a Voice spoke –
“Let there be” – a void without form.
And silence.

But still, I hear these words,
Rattling in my skull like beetle carapaces.
Had I no jaw, I would hear these words.
They tumble out, words upon words,
And they fill the spaces between people.
If I cannot have it empty, then I will fill it.
So that all have what they touch in common.
Or what touches them.

I fear it, this emptiness I desire.
But there, there is no fear. No desire.
No Kings. No people. 
No words. No voice.
No spaces in between.
Only – silence:
More profound than when the laughter is stilled
And the hands no longer come together.

- August 12, 2014


I use “Clown” in the Shakespearean sense, a member of court whose job is to amuse the monarch with truths told in an amusing way. The Fool in King Lear and Yorick, unseen in Hamlet, are the most famous of these.

I mean “closet” in its Elizabethan/Jacobean usage – a small, private room – as used in Matthew 6:6 of the King James Bible “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret…”

Conceptions of Feminine Power: Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”

Jennifer de Guzman

(It’s a long song, so I’ve put the full lyrics at the end of the post, under a cut, along with the audio. I’ll be pulling up lines from it as I go.)

First, my interpretation of the song is based on little more than having listened to it many, many times since I was about fifteen years old — and many of those many times while I was lying on the floor feeling melancholy over everything or nothing in particular. I bring to the interpretation my own literary sensibilities, as well as a penchant for Catholic iconography and ritual.


Which is in part why Edvard Munch’s Madonna is my image for the song.

I have come to see Dylan’s conception of the Lady as a kind of assemblage of holy and luxurious objects as the temporal masculine understanding of the atavistic feminine. She exists as a metaphor — and literal metaphors (in the form of similes) are the only way Dylan describes the Lady. The first verse is typical:

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times,
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes,
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes,
Oh, do they think could bury you?
With your pockets well protected at last,
And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass,
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass,
Who could they get to carry you?

Each verse has this same construction — the fourth and eighth lines are questions the speaker asks the Lady, but the Lady herself remains silent, a kind of holy mystery. In this verse, the speaker asks about the Lady being buried — as if in a grave — and carried — as if a statue of a saint at the head of a procession.

The allusion to death and resurrection is clear, and the Lady’s essential, divine nature is further reinforced with the imagery of “smoke” (such as from incense or candles), the “silver cross,” “chimes” (such as the bells that the altar boy rings to mark transubstantiation), silk (such as the material of altar cloths), and glass (such as the stained glass of a cathedral). The last verse of the song adds the Lady’s “holy medallion,” “saintlike face,” and “ghostlike soul.”

Further, the reference to the “missionary times” marks the passage of time on something more than a human scale. The Lady is immortal, perhaps, or ancient, or at least long-lived. Being from California, I think of “missionary times” as 1697 through 1821, during Spanish rule and the construction of the Missions. (Further in the song, the speaker references the Lady’s “Spanish manners” and, strengthening the California imagery, “Cannery Row,” which is in Monterey.)

The stories of the writing and recording of “The Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” also speak in their own way to the unknowability of the Lady. Dylan stated, “I just started writing and I couldn’t stop. After a period of time, I forgot what it was all about, and I started trying to get back to the beginning.” 

When it came time to record the song, the studio musicians learned the music for the repetition of the verse and refrain, but didn’t know just how many verses there are. (There are five, and the song is more than 11 minutes long.) The drummer Kenny Buttrey recalled, 

“If you notice that record, that thing after like the second chorus starts building and building like crazy, and everybody’s just peaking it up ‘cause we thought, Man, this is it…This is gonna be the last chorus and we’ve gotta put everything into it we can. And he played another harmonica solo and went back down to another verse and the dynamics had to drop back down to a verse kind of feel…After about ten minutes of this thing we’re cracking up at each other, at what we were doing. I mean, we peaked five minutes ago.”

This is the Lady: She confounds men, leading them into a labyrinthine, disorienting world where she holds the power. Indeed, the refrain of the song says the Lowlands — of which she is the Lady — is “where no man comes.” The Lady’s domain is a purely feminine one, and her power is to deny them access to her.

The speaker highlights this in the refrain, presenting himself as a worshipper who leaves tribute (his “warehouse eyes” and "Arabian drums”) but cannot approach the Lady without her permission: “Shall I place them by your gate, or sad-eyed lady, should I wait?”

The rhetorical questions in the verses show what is being asked of the Lady and what she will not grant:

“Oh, do they think could bury you?” They THOUGHT, but they can’t.

“Who could they get to carry you?” No one. I will not be carried at the head of their procession. I am not their figurehead.

A series of “Who among them…?” questions follow:

“…can think he could outguess you?”
“…would try to impress you?”
“…really wants just to kiss you?”
“…do you think could resist you?”
“…do you think would employ you?”
“…do you think could destroy you?”

The Lady doesn’t need to speak for us to know her answer: “Who indeed?” 

The fourth verse differs from the others in the construction of its characters. There are three questions rather than two, and they don’t begin with “Who among them.” The first is asks of “the farmers and the businessmen,” “Why did they pick you to sympathize with their side?” and “how could they ever mistake you?” and “how could they ever persuade you?”

The speaker’s tone in this verse is one of astonishment — it is obvious to him that she is beyond their influence, and yet they still will try to win her over. But her power invites it — men will try to win her favor, and through her favor control her, but they will fail at every turn.

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
by Bob Dylan

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times,
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes,
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes,
Oh, do they think could bury you?
With your pockets well protected at last,
And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass,
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass,
Who could they get to carry you?

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I put them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

With your sheets like metal and your belt like lace,
And your deck of cards missing the jack and the ace,
And your basement clothes and your hollow face,
Who among them can think he could outguess you?
With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims,
And your match-book songs and your gypsy hymns,
Who among them would try to impress you?


The kings of Tyrus with their convict list
Are waiting in line for their geranium kiss,
And you wouldn’t know it would happen like this,
But who among them really wants just to kiss you?
With your childhood flames on your midnight rug,
And your Spanish manners and your mother’s drugs,
And your cowboy mouth and your curfew plugs,
Who among them do you think could resist you?


Oh, the farmers and the businessmen, they all did decide
To show you the dead angels that they used to hide.
But why did they pick you to sympathize with their side?
Oh, how could they ever mistake you?
They wished you’d accepted the blame for the farm,
But with the sea at your feet and the phony false alarm,
And with the child of a hoodlum wrapped up in your arms,
How could they ever, ever persuade you?


With your sheet-metal memory of Cannery Row,
And your magazine-husband who one day just had to go,
And your gentleness now, which you just can’t help but show,
Who among them do you think would employ you?
Now you stand with your thief, you’re on his parole
With your holy medallion which your fingertips fold,
And your saintlike face and your ghostlike soul,
Oh, who among them do you think could destroy you?

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands,
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I leave them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?


Short Story: Minx Mouse Monster

Jennifer de Guzman

Originally published in the Fortean Bureau, June 2005

  Beauty and the Beast by Walter Crane, 1874

Beauty and the Beast by Walter Crane, 1874

Her lover was a monster—long teeth, fur, claws and all. People called him this, a monster. The Monster. Never a brute, never a beast. She was not beautiful, so that cliché didn't enter people's minds. In fact, she was hardly noticeable, a sort of monochrome blur of pale browns. Her hair, her eyes, her skin—they would what one would call "dun" if one were fond of old words, and I am.

Most people supposed she worked behind a counter somewhere—a flower shop or bookstore or bakery, they said, before they returned to putting her completely beneath their notice. Her lover drew almost all of the attention. He was a monster, yes, and quite horrible, but at least he was interesting—or so they thought. Women, bored with their own lovers or husbands, called her the Mouse when they thought to call her anything, and spent most of their time devising plans to draw her lover away from her. 

Men have accused women of having many traits. They have called women fickle, devious, jealous, manipulative, irrational, lascivious, deceitful, plotting and cruel. I can tell you—though whether from observation or experience you will have to guess—that they can be, have been, all of these, in turn, at once. But they have been many other things, too, I hope you will see.

The romantic in you would like to think that the Monster withstood the assault of attention from these women, many of them pretty, some of them beautiful, all for love of his Mouse, but the Monster was a monster after all, lusty and fierce, and you can't expect such a creature to completely understand loyalty and fidelity. Monsters have hungers, more than one Mouse alone can satisfy. Still, the Mouse remained the Monster's only constant lover; other women grew bored of the novelty, and his ugliness became mere ugliness. And, besides, many these women had keen intellects and quick wits that they admired in themselves, and such qualities are entirely wasted on a monster. They returned to their husbands or lovers who were writers, artists, musicians, back to their former lives; but having known something strange and savage, they were never quite the same.

Nobody would have ever really known what the Mouse was like—except the Monster, but he wasn't one to be able to describe people—if one of these women had not decided to meet her. This woman was not the most intelligent, talented or beautiful of the Monster's former lovers, but she had enough smarts and education, accomplishments and pretty features to gain more admiration than most women ever receive.

I don't know if it's true of all such women, but this particular one—let's call her the Minx to keep our theme consistent, though she would dispute the name—did not enjoy admiration without a twinge of embarrassment and a strong element of wonder. But, still, she was self-possessed enough to hold the Mouse in a certain amount of disdain.

"We're not very different," she said of the Mouse once, "not on the inside, anyway. But I don't let myself become part of the scenery. Do you think she's happy like that?"

But she was asking the Monster, and so it was a wasted question. He had only grunted and gone on stroking his long, wavy hair with his claws.

The Minx left him shortly after that. Of all the lovers she'd ever had—though there hadn't been many, many fewer than most of the other women who'd seduced the Monster had—he was the one she kept for the shortest length of time. She'd thought perhaps that the Monster was brooding and secretive, with torrid emotion roiling behind his stoic, fierce-jawed face, but it didn't take long for her to realize that he simply had nothing to say.

She couldn't say exactly why she had decided to talk to the Mouse. After everything was over—and rarely had over had such finality—she told herself it had been pity or curiosity or her own loneliness for friendship, but none of these seemed entirely correct. So she sighed and asked herself what did it matter why? She had done what she had done, and it had led to other things, which led to it all being over.

As it turned out, the Mouse did not work behind the counter at a flower shop or bookstore as some supposed, but behind the key-making counter at a hardware store. Awkwardly enough, the Minx had seen her there when she'd had a second key made just in case she might want to give it to the Monster. As the Mouse had taken her key and set about the grinding and filing it took to copy it, the Minx had nervously crossed her arms and ducked her head, thinking the whole time, Oh god, she knows. I know she knows. Oh god.

The anxiety seemed ridiculous later, when the Minx thought about the picture they must have made—the small, slouching Mouse with her stringy hair hanging in her eyes, her baggy tan cardigan unraveling at the sleeve, and the slender Minx, at least four inches taller, dark-haired, dark-eyed, a red silk rose pinned on her lapel. Anyone else seeing them would have thought it was the poor Mouse who was cringing inside.

The Mouse did recognize the Minx as one of the Monster's lovers—the Monster was not cunning enough to hide any of his affairs—but she didn't let on, not then. She made the key without saying a word and smiled vaguely and said, "You're welcome" after the Minx thanked her. And that was that. The key remained in the Minx's purse; she never gave it to the Monster. She gave someone, a man, a key—not one the Mouse had made—eventually later, after it was all over. She told him as little as she could about her time with the Monster—she couldn't get away with telling him nothing; by that time everyone knew. It was all over now, she said, and it did no good to think about it more than necessary, and it was really never necessary.

When the Minx returned to the key-copying counter at the hardware store, this time to talk to the Mouse, she didn't know quite how to approach her. So she poked through the aisles of the hardware store, pretending to examine drill bits and wrenches and lengths of copper pipe. After she'd wandered into the garden center and the third sales clerk asked her if she needed help with anything and she had smiled and said, "No, thank you, just looking" again, she sighed, put down the box of Slug and Snail Death that she'd been pretending to read and went to the key-copying counter.

The Mouse was already copying a key, turning the blank over the grinding wheel with fingers that seemed waxen and boneless. Under the store's green apron she wore the same tan cardigan, its cuffs dingy, smudged with ball-point pen marks. Her hair was pulled back this time, and the Minx noted that she was much prettier in profile—prettier, but not quite pretty.

"I'll be with you in a moment," the Mouse said, glancing up—and seeming to start in surprise—and then quickly back down at the key.

"All right." The Minx shifted her weight, smiled, sighed. "Have you been making keys long?" she asked. The question sputtered out of her, as words do when you think about them too long before you finally say them.

"Not really."

The Minx waited, but the Mouse offered nothing more. She took the key the Minx gave her and returned to the wheel without even looking at her. It was the Minx's house key again, and she didn't really need another copy, but she wanted to seem as if she had some business standing there and talking to the Mouse.

"How... how did you learn how to do that?" the Minx asked as the Mouse returned to the grinding wheel. "Make keys, I mean."

"They trained me," the Mouse said, not looking up, though she seemed to be done making the key.

"Oh." The Minx put her hands on the glass countertop and studied her fingernails. She listened to the whine of the grinding wheel and said nothing else.

After some time, the wheel stopped, and the Mouse blew on the finished key. 

"I know," she told the Minx.


"About you — about the Monster. So you don't have to stand there pretending to make small talk." She still didn't look up, and her little chest heaved beneath her green apron. "What do you want?" she finally asked. Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.

"I don't know," the Minx said. "I just want to talk to you.”

"Why?" The Mouse turned away from the wheel, but continued to look at the key, which she held delicately between her thumb and forefinger. It was shiny, bluish steel. "Why would you want to do that?"

The Minx shifted her weight, annoyed. Look at me, goddammit, she wanted to say. Do you think it's easy for me to look people in the face? Do you think it's easy for anyone? Little fool.

"Why do you put up with it?" was what she did say. "All those women. Why is he worth it?"

The Mouse finally looked up, and her eyes were a clear, pale brown. "I wouldn't expect you to understand," she said. "Here's your key.”

The key, when the Minx took it, was not warm from the grinding wheel and the Mouse's hand, as she expected; the iciness of the metal stung her palm. She dropped the key onto the countertop, half-expecting it to shatter when it hit the glass.

"You see?" the Mouse said, still looking up at the Minx.

"No," the Minx said, rubbing her palm against her thigh. "I don't understand."

The Mouse dropped her gaze nervously. "I guess not," she said. "Please just take your key." She slid it across the counter and began to turn away.

"But--" the Minx fumbled through her mind, trying to think of something to say. "Don't you care?”

"I don't know.”

The Minx shook her head. "I feel sorry for you," she said, taking the cold key once more, this time closing her hand around it until the iciness disappeared.

The Minx's hands trembled on the wheel as she drove home, trying to shake the feeling of foolishness. But she kept seeing the Mouse's hard little face, saying, "I know," and feeling her superiority dissolve into mortification, again and again.

"Stupid," she said.

You might think this a moment of epiphany, or at least change, for the Minx—brought down to face her faults by a woman she though she pitied. But this particular moment was a familiar sort to the Minx. She could recall, if in a mood for self-flagellation, any number of incidents when she'd done something stupid: The time she'd been stopped by a waitress when she'd tried to take a wooden sake cup, thinking it came with the drink; when she'd said to a woman she'd only just met "It's like faking an orgasm" when they tried to dance to intensely un-danceable music; when she'd merely smiled self-consciously at the most curiously interesting man she'd ever met, unable to think of anything to say.

But the moments that mattered, that would truly hurt her to think about because they were the moments when she'd hurt someone else, these she was able to keep out of her thoughts. The Minx didn't think of the exchange with the Mouse as one of these, not yet, so she could not make herself stop reliving it.

As she walked to the door of her little townhouse, she muttered random words to try to occupy her mind—"Gumdrop, grapeade, pell-mell, marigold, mattress, subterfuge...." When she began to open the door, she stopped, and instead used the new key the Mouse had made, which had steadily been growing cold again in her coat pocket. Might as well see if it works, she told herself. She'd never tried the first key the Mouse had made.

When we tell stories, or hear or read them, we see situations from the outside, so we can see what those within them cannot—at least not while they live them. And when she forced herself to consider her past, the Minx did so as if telling herself a story—an attempt to keep the painful parts at arm's length. Later, when she told herself the story of this part of her life, she understood that her decision at that moment changed everything. Had she used the key she always used, she would have finished the evening like any other night, and the incident with the Mouse would have been just another one of those stupid moments when she'd done something she should not have.

But she used the new key, cold and shiny, its edges still sharp. It turned easily in the lock, and when the Minx put her hand on the doorknob, she thought it was colder than it should have been. Inside her dim little townhouse it was cold, too, cold enough to turn her breath to mist. Her hand stopped short of the light switch, and she leaned against the wall in a sudden wave of sorrow. The tears that spilled from her eyes were hot and stinging, but cooled as soon as they reached her cheeks. She fumbled back toward the door, throwing it open and then pitching herself onto her front porch. After pulling the door back closed with a thud, she leaned against it, wiping her eyes and face with her hands, trying to calm her breathing as sobs shuddered in her chest.

The Minx got in her car and returned to the hardware store. The windows were dark, but she could see the Mouse when she peered in. She was sweeping the floor, wisps of hair that had escaped from her ponytail hanging around her face, shuffling as she walked. For a moment, the Minx considered rapping on the window, but instead she leaned against the wall near the exit and waited, arms crossed around her middle. In the translucent reflection of herself in the store window, she saw that her eyes were ringed with black smudges. She dabbed at them with a tissue, not really helping things much, but at least doing something. She told herself that she couldn't leave, that she couldn't just throw away the new key and forget everything—forget the Mouse, forget the Monster, forget it all had ever happened. She wished she could, but the Minx knew she would always wonder what had just happened, what it all meant. 

The Mouse finally came out of the store, folding her green apron as she walked. The Minx had never seen the Mouse unguarded. Every other time, the Mouse had been conscious of at least the possibility of being watched, and her eyes took on the darting, nervous quality that the Minx had always associated with her. But now, the Mouse sighed, eyes cast downward, not really seeing the apron in her hands, which she was clenching too tightly. She was angry, perhaps, or nervous. Or sad. The Minx sighed herself, and stepped away from the wall toward the Minx. She held her palm out, open, the key cold and gleaming on it.

"What did you do?" she asked the Mouse.

The Mouse seemed tinier than ever. The Minx realized her boots raised her more than a head taller than the other woman, that she was wearing black with flashes of red, that her eyes were ringed like a night-creature's, that she loomed over the pale brown woman as if she could very well devour her. But she did not move away.

"I don't know what you're talking about," said the Mouse. She clutched her apron tightly against herself, as if for protection.

"There's something wrong with this key," the Minx said.

The Mouse looked slightly alarmed, her mouth opening a fraction with no sound before she spoke. "Didn't it open the door?"

"Of course it opened the door," the Minx said, not understanding exactly why it was a matter of "of course." "But it changed things inside my house. It was cold." She paused, licked her lips. "It was sad," she added, her voice almost turning to a whisper as she realized how ludicrous she sounded.

"I think you're crazy," the Mouse said quietly. "Please leave me alone."

She tried to walk past, but the Minx stepped in her path, still holding out the key. God, what are you doing? she asked herself. You are crazy. "No," she said. "You did something to this key. Feel how cold it is." 

She stared down the Mouse, who shakily reached out and placed a finger on the key. "It is," she said. "Very cold.”

The slight, wobbling smile that twitched across her mouth convinced the Minx that the Mouse knew exactly what was going on. Impulsively, she reached out with her other hand and grabbed the Mouse by the wrist.

"But you have to see what it does," the Minx said, holding more tightly as the Mouse tried to jerk her arm away. "Aren't you curious about your handiwork? I know I am. Come over to my house, and you can tell me about it.”

She pulled the Mouse to her car, surprised that the smaller woman didn't resist, the whole time wondering, Oh, girl, what have you gotten yourself into now?

In the car, the Mouse sat quietly, her waxen hands folded in her lap. "I know what the key does," she said.

The Minx said nothing.

"I just wanted you to feel what I feel," the Mouse said, raising her hand to the window. "Like glass. Do you understand?”

"I think so," the Minx said.

"But you can't. The Monster and I are made for each other. I know people say that kind of thing all the time, but it's just a figure of speech for them. I can't leave him, as much as I want to.”

The Minx shook her head. "Maybe you think that, but it can't be true.”

"It is. I'll break into tiny pieces and then melt away.”

"I've felt like that, too, but it never happened," the Minx said. "I got through it.”

"You think I'm just saying that. But I mean it—that's what will happen.”

The Minx didn't answer. She glanced at the Mouse's pale profile at a stop light, silhouetted against the dark outside the window, her little body lost in her cardigan. Only when the light changed to green did she say anything. "I'm sorry," she said.

Later, the Minx would be glad that she at least said that, though she didn't know if it helped anything at all. She hoped it did. She hoped the Mouse understood that she regretted it all, that she saw at that moment the difference between pity and sympathy, and between sympathy and empathy. But the Mouse didn't say anything to that effect. The Minx would wish for the rest of her life that she had made the Mouse acknowledge it. There was nothing worse the uncertainty in regret, she thought.

But the Mouse only said. "What happened to the other key?" There was something provocative in her voice that the Minx didn't understand, not then.

"I don't know," she lied, picturing the key at the bottom of her purse and knowing at that moment that she would find out what it did, that the Mouse, expecting sadness, would enter her house and feel something different. Her cold façade would shatter, and she would tell the Minx something different from all her riddles. "I lost it.”

"Good," the Mouse said.

So on her doorstep, the Minx found the key beneath her make-up case — it was brass, dull and yellow-brown, the same color as the Mouse's hair — placed it in the lock, turned it. She stepped aside to let the Mouse in, followed her. She felt instantly the steamy heat in her townhouse, saw the orange light that filled the room. Before she could close the door behind her, the Mouse had pounced on her, pushed her hard against the wall. Her little hands were hot and damp, pressed against the Minx's throat, and her eyes were wild and desperately angry. But she was still the Mouse. The Minx pushed her, hard. The Mouse broke her fall awkwardly and sat for a moment on the tile floor, clutching her wrist. 

"You shouldn't have used that key," she said, before rising again.

What happened next is a matter for police reports and court testimony. The Minx never repeated it for any other purpose, not even to the man to whom she finally gave a key — for a different lock, a different door; the Minx would try to escape her past merely by changing her location, which never works entirely. Let us just say that the Mouse found the knife block in the kitchen, and that when the police arrived the Minx was bleeding from her arms and hands, covered in blood, not all of it her own, and the Mouse was very quiet and very still while the Minx shook and cried, but still somehow felt vindicated in it all. The small, dead thing near her feet had been too slight to live, she told herself, like the scared part of herself that she had pushed below the surface and suffocated.

The Monster faded in everyone's memories, dimming even in the minds of his former lovers, though there was always something of his fierceness in their looks. The key that the Minx kept—hidden away, but kept just the same — to remind her of the despair that could have destroyed her, became just a key, its iciness gone. And so it was all over, as I said it would be, and the Minx sometimes said cruelly that no one would have remembered the Mouse at all if she had not died the way she did. The Minx shivered a little as she said this, as if some part of her had gone cold.

Short Story: The Story of the Scar

Jennifer de Guzman

A True and Amazing Adventure in the Life of a Lady Pirate,
 Erstwhile a Fallen Gentlewoman


Part One
An introduction to this work's Author, such as you will find her.

On my features is a singular mar -- a small scar, a line about a half-inch long, along the underside of my chin, a reminder of a story of adventure and passions, a story long kept hidden. Recent interest into the lives of Lady Pirates, and my life specifically, has moved me to uncover and describe it for the interested Reader.

The seas were a treacherous place in 1719. Ships carrying valuable goods between the West Indies and England were open quarry for pirates to overtake, raid and plunder. And such plundering we did! Precious sugar, yards and yards of fine fabrics and, of course, that nectar we call rum.

By the time I was twenty-one, I had command of my own ship, the Scorpio. She was a fine vessel, with men chosen as much for their bonny faces and elocution as their fighting prowess and cunningness at the sails and masts. They loved me as much as my enemies feared me, but both my men and my foes called me by the same name: Gentle Captain Jenny.

"Gentle" was a name so given to me because of my high birth, not my disposition. It was a name that inspired dread in the hearts of pirates and soldiers and sailors alike all over the Caribbean. All knew to stay clear of the Scorpio. If they saw from afar so much as my red scarf fluttering in the wind or the glint off my well-polished cutlass, or heard the chanting of my men at their stations -- "Full fathom five thy father lies; of his bones are coral made..." -- they knew that very soon they would find themselves in the deepest embrace of their lovely mistress, the sea.

I sailed with impunity for nigh three years, my riches outstripped only by my reputation. All sailors and pirates told tales of Gentle Jenny, lithe as a cat, brown and raven-haired, fearsome in her skill with the blade, the gun, and the lyric as well as the epic forms of poetry. "Even Italian poetry," they whispered below decks when storms raged on the sea. "They say she has several translations of Dante that have circulated in manuscript form. And the pages of her books! They are cut with clean precision -- never any frayed edges. She reads with her dagger by her side."

But then Wicked Will returned.

Part Two
Recounting the history of Gentle Jenny and Wicked Will, in which we learn something of Jenny's character.

I had not seen Wicked Will for some six months. I had assumed he had died when my men and I raided his ship, The Swallow, set our blades and bullets into his crew -- an obnoxious, foul-smelling lot -- set fire to the sails, and watched it sink. 

I realized later that if I had been intent on seeing Will dead, I would have sought him out more diligently and run my blade through his faithless heart. But I all I cared about, so I told myself, what was in the hold of his ship -- goods from an English trading ship that were rightfully mine. 

Of course I had no true right to loot Will's ship, but amongst the goods in his hold was a hefty stock of books that the new governor of Barbados had ordered for his library -- not that he read his books; they were purely for show -- including the full five-canto edition of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock. Reader, understand that this was the most recent edition of 1717, in which the Author had added a new speech for the Heroine. I desired it most ardently, for I had been making do with the two canto edition of 1712. Furthermore, all the pirate captains, and indeed the trade ship captains, knew that books were my particular area of plunder. 

Will knew this most of all. Indeed, no one knew me so well as he did. If I teased him over his pursuits of pretty faces, he would laugh and say, "Come now. If anyone understands the -- ah, how shall one say? -- truly inspiring qualities of a lovely face, it's you, with all those poems and wavy-haired poets with which you surround yourself." He'd wink, adding, "And your crew of bonny boys."

So Will and I had been friends. And yet he used base trickery to steal my books, to steal the full five-canto edition of The Rape of the Lock so new that it still had the smell of ink on its pages! 

I blamed myself for having told Will of my plan. For having told Will anything of myself. For having come to Caribbean at all, instead of living in ignominy in England. Fallen woman though I was, surely I would not have had to raid ships in order to procure books!

But most of all, I blamed myself, for how I found myself the morning of his treachery: I woke in Will's room at our favorite Barbados haunt, the Rising Phoenix, in a terrible state of disarray and with niggling suspicion that, though I kept giggling to myself like an unschooled girl, I had done something the night before of which I ought to be very ashamed.

Will, who had been in the room with me, was then nowhere to be found.

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Part Three
A rake proves a counterfeit Jenny.


I thought that Will must have either confused our some of our clothes or taken mine on purpose. Whichever it was, I left his room in the Rising Phoenix in a coat slightly too large in the shoulders and one stocking that lacked a ribbon. Will had taken my hat but not left his own. My scarf was also missing.

"He spared my sword, at least," I muttered as I strapped my belt around my hips, and just to be certain, I counted my money. Not a was coin missing.

Downstairs, my boys slept beautifully, though they were sprawled on tables and chairs, or curled around table legs. Will and his men were nowhere to be seen. I headed to the docks, certain I'd find him on this ship. It was early yet, the sun just risen.

And in the distance, skimming over calm waters was The Swallow. I knew in an instant he had gone after my treasure.

"Will, you wretched lout!" I shrieked after the departing ship. Through my spyglass, I spied Will himself on the aft deck, waving my own hat at me. My red scarf fluttered around his neck. When he saw that I was watching him, he posed with one hand on an out-thrust hip and pursed his lips.

He was pretending to be me. And though Will cut a jaunty, striking figure--his wavy brown hair ruffled by the wind, the sun bright on his bronzed skin--he was carrying on this farce it without any of the kind of finesse that might have lightened my mood toward him.

His plan could not have been more clear: He learned of trade ship from me, then plied my men and me with spirits, seduced me (the shame to succumbing to Will as if I were an inexperienced convent girl was more than I could bear that morning!), then stole my clothes to pretend to be me. In this way, he would inspire fear in the crew that guarded the precious books, and then take the booty -- my copy of The Rape of the Lock included -- for himself.

"You filthy fiend!" I shouted at him. "You are an indecent pirate! Indecent!"

But he continued to wave, quite pleased with himself.

Reader, you know how it ends. I returned to the Phoenix, rousing my boys with quick switches to their lovely bottoms with my scabbarded sword. They woke like drowsy cherubs, but were quick to action when they saw their captain -- enraged, bare-headed, fiery-cheeked.

"Get to your posts," I told them. "Today, my bonny boys, you will be men."

Part Four
An adventure at sea, resulting in no good end, with some pragmatic philosophizing by the Author.

As foul as Will's men were, my boys and I got no pleasure out of killing them. There is no joy in killing creatures, and so many pirates forget in these violent times that what is important is not whom one kills, but what one plunders. However, it is an unfortunate fact that people often place themselves between one and what one desires to plunder. In this case, Will and his filthy crew formed an odoriferous barrier between myself and the copy of The Rape of the Lock that I regarded as mine.


Reader, you may regard it as very unladylike for a woman of such tender years to have taken the lives of so many men, no matter their personal hygiene. And of course your genteel scruples are not misleading you. My deeds have certainly been unladylike. Indeed, they would be ungentlemanly if I were a member of that sex which is more readily allowed such acts of violence. But if I may be so bold as to educate you, I must make it clear that the life of a pirate is something quite different from even the most scandalous events that take place in country manors and London townhouses.

But it is not so very different from the horrid and base things that take place in less polite and poorer places which would have been my home had I remained in England in disgrace. It is very difficult for society to forgive a young woman a slip, as all our best moralizers tell us, though they blame young women and not society for this. I will let the reader make of this statement what he or she will. I only ask, is it better for a young woman to live in degradation, sacrificing her soul to save her life, or for her to live with dignity and fulfillment, though admittedly with the same eternal consequence resulting?

I chose the latter and did not regret it, not even when, after felling at least a score of Will's men, I saw their captain himself jump overboard into the warm Caribbean. "Coward!" I shouted, but I did not pursue him. Finding the volume for which I had spilled blood was of more concern to me.

However, search as my boys and I might, we could not find among the morality pamphlets and the unavoidable copies of The Pilgrim's Progress that coveted tome. I was convinced Will had taken it with him, and had quite ruined it with water, along with my red scarf and a hat of which I was quite fond.

I was very vexed indeed.

Part Five
The crew of the Scorpio returns to Barbados, seemingly with no ill effects.

I had been patrolling the trade routes for some weeks, finding little worth the attention of my crew and myself. Wariness of Will's revenge was the reason I gave for my avoidance of ports, but I suspect my men knew that their captain had proven no less susceptible to the charms of Wicked Will than any other of her sex , for they knew I feared no fight. 

I had recently allowed my crew to overtake and plunder a ship with a fine haul of textiles from the Orient. Men must have something to occupy their time and bring joy to their hearts. The beauty of the silk managed to light in me some of my old spark; unlike matters of the heart, in matters of adornment I am not ashamed to claim the sensibilities of womanhood. I allowed the sewing of a new wardrobe to serve as my excuse for shutting myself in my quarters. But alas, no new frocks, and not even The Faerie Queene could rouse me from the melancholy that had fallen upon me. Besides, sewing has never been a task in which I have excelled. So finally I called my first mate to announce that we were to sail to port.

"Mr. Molko," I announced, "I am in need of a seamstress. Set a course for Bridgetown."

Mr. Molko is the best of first mates, loyal and quick, with a boyish face, and shiny dark hair of which he is rather vain. He also possesses that most necessary attribute of a good first mate: the ability to read his captain's moods and that of the crew and to be the intermediate between them. Before Mr. Molko dashed off to carry out my order, he gave me a small, reassuring smile, for he I knew was hesitant to return to Bridgetown, and even more loath to return to the Rising Phoenix.

However, he also knew my men were eager to once more find ease at their favorite establishment and that I, as a good captain, would not want my melancholy mood to infect my crew. I told myself that a captain who commands so many able men must overcome personal weaknesses, and I led them with an air of feigned merriment.  And to tell the truth, I was pleased myself to find the Rising Phoenix to be still a familiar, friendly place.  The bottles were passed around, and that night I slept soundly in my room upstairs, which the proprietress of the Phoenix, a Mrs. Fielding whose story deserves telling as much as mine, had prepared as soon as the Scorpio had been spied upon the horizon. 

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Part Six
An old friend, lately an enemy, reappears.

The reader will be forgiven if she has concluded that I possess something of a quick temper. As this is a work of true events, I feel no need to hide my true character. If my purloined translations of La Divina Commeddia have taught me nothing else, it is that my reigning deadly sin is that of Wrath.

I awoke the morning (very late in the morning, reader -- if I have adopted truth as my guide, this too must be admitted) after a night carousing with my crew with no predisposition to anger. The melancholy spirit that had possessed me had dissolved in a potent solution of rum and good company, and I looked forward to the strong tea that Mrs. Fielding was to bring up to my room. I have often found that spirits prove no friend to my own spirit, making the spleen rise in my humors. But I had been in such a state of melancholy adust that I surmised the shock to  my system could do naught else but good. It was not a mood that would last, however.

Reader, you have seen me vexed in this narrative before. However, my vexation at the misappropriation of my favorite scarf and hat, and at the theft and ruination of my precious tome was unmatched by the vexation that was to overcome me when I opened the door of my room.

For the person I found behind that door was not Mrs. Fielding. Instead, my tray balanced upon his fingertips, my red scarf tied 'round his hips, in the cheeky posture of a rake, about him an air of abandon, stood Wicked Will.

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Part Seven
A long section, containing a brawl.

A cry emerged from my lips before I could check it. My hand rose, trembling in the air for a moment, and then Will received a box to the ear such that he will never forget. The tray fell to the floor with a crash. The tea I had so look forward to spilled from the smashed tea pot, and the covered plate clattered upon the wood floor. While Will staggered from the blow, I quickly grabbed my cutlass from where it rested against the foot of the bedstead. 

Having just risen from sleep, I was in quite a state of dishabille, my hair loose and wild, my feet bare, my nightdress falling from my shoulders. This worked quite to my advantage, for even when Will had recovered from the box to his ear, he stared at me in a state of rapture, not finding his tongue until I had demanded of him several times what business he had and how he dared show his face to me when he knew I would slice it to ribbons.

"Madam," he said, finally, "whatever disagreements we have had in the past, I entreat you --"

"I do not care to hear your entreaties, Will!" cried I. "You are a scoundrel. You have robbed from me what you knew to be most precious to me!"

"I beg you, Jenny --"

My name coming from the mouth of such a man was the pique that finally induced me to rage. Will was not unarmed; his sword hung at his side, and he should have drawn it long before, so I felt no dishonor in striking at him with mine. I was in no state to be accurate, however. Will easily ducked under my slice; my sword struck the wood of the doorframe, splintering it. He ran past me, into my chamber, and still I swung my sword at him. Will jumped upon my bed, and in throwing at my blade the pillows and quilts obscured my vision with flying feathers and down long enough for him to unsheathe his sword.

"I had not meant for us to meet like this,  Good Captain Jenny, but you leave me no choice." 

He posed once again, fop-like, in the frame of the window, feathers settling around him and the sun lighting his silhouette. A water ewer stood on a table to my right, and my sword being in my left hand, (I favor, as the French say, le sinistre), I seized the ewer with my right hand and pitched it at the clear outline of Will's head. It struck him squarely, breaking, and he tottered on his feet for a moment. In gaining his balance, he waved his arms wildly, his sword cutting the air and finally connecting with the window pane. The glass shattered and tinkled as it hit the floor, and I used Will's confusion to charge him. He managed to block my blow, however, and push me to the floor. In my fall, I grabbed the curtain of the bedstead on impulse. The gauze ripped, fell about me, and my limbs and sword became entangled in it. When I  managed to extract myself, Will was standing above me, sword extended.

The floors of the Rising Phoenix are quite well-maintained, despite the motley guests who find shelter under its roof, so I was able to slide away from Will on the polished surface as he thrust his sword toward me. I grabbed a handful of the down that lay on the floor and threw it at his face, where it stuck grotesquely in the blood that had run from a wound on his head produced by the ewer. I scrambled to my feet, but could not find my footing quickly enough to evade him once again. His rapier slashed at my throat, breaking the skin just under my chin. I raised my hand to the wound, and it came away bloody. I looked at Will in astonishment.

His eyes were wide with something very like terror. "I am sorry!" he cried. "Parley, Captain Jenny! We must parley!"

"You fiend!" I screamed, rising and  grabbing from the small table next to the bed the matching basin to the ewer. This, I smashed over his already wounded head and followed it with the small table itself.

Will dropped his sword and to his knees, his eyes crossed and his mouth twisted in a foolish grin. He began to giggle.

"What is there in this to find amusing?" I demanded, but he only continued to laugh quietly. His shoulders shook and twitched; he kicked at the floor.

Mr. Molko, hearing the commotion, had arrived in my doorway at this moment. "Why, it's Wicked Will!" he cried. "And he is mad! You have driven Wicked Will to distraction!"

"Oh, I have had quite enough of this," I said, thoroughly exasperated. I sheathed my sword, crossed the few steps to Will, and began to question him, each interrogation and exclamation point a blow with my scabbard. 

"You fiend! You fiend! How dare you laugh? How dare you come here? How dare you steal my precious book? How many engravings are in that book, Will? How many? Let us count them, shall we? One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Six engravings! Including the frontispiece!"

Will curled up, clutching his stomach and groaning. "There --" he said weakly, "look." He gestured toward the fallen tray in the doorway. "Beneath the lid. Look."

"Do you think I care about my breakfast?" I demanded, preparing another blow.

"No!" Will cried.  And then in a voice almost tender: "Truly, Jenny, look beneath the plate's lid."

I looked at the fallen plate, the lid of which had miraculously remained atop it, then at Mr. Molko, who bent to remove it.

"No," I whispered. "It is some trick. Run."

Mr. Molko ran.

"No trick, Madam," Will whispered in return. "If you have never trusted me before, please trust me now." His fit of laughter had ceased and he drew himself up to lean against the bedstead. He coughed, producing a small flurry of feathers. "Please."

I looked from him to the covered plate and then, setting down my sword and kneeling upon the floor, drew the object that Will was so intent upon toward me.

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Part Eight
A short section, revealing a cunning plan gone quite awry.

Reader, if you have not guessed what will come next, I am quite disappointed in your powers of deduction. In the telling, events often reveal to have much sense in them, but one never can perceive this when one is in the midst of living through them. So when I lifted the lid off the plate and found beneath it, a sprig of flowers bound to it with a black ribbon, the very copy of The Rape of the Lock that I had thought lost forever, I could not understand why. I dared not to touch it, as my hands were still sticky with my blood. Quite speechless, I looked to Will for an explanation.

"What is this madness?"

Will brushed the bloody feathers from his face. "It was a gift, my lady.  My vanity and pride pricked me to the action -- I was to plunder the ship that bore it and present to you the spoils, thus proving myself to deserve you. Alas, all did not go as I planned."

"Oh," said I, reaching toward him. "You wicked man. You terribly wicked man."

Will was quite pale, and the wounds in his head continued to bleed profusely. He began to laugh again, quietly but with the desperation of one who cannot catch his breath.  Between his gasps he managed to ask me, "You are not badly hurt?"

"No," I replied. "It is only a scratch. See?" I lifted my head so that he might see the small wound.

"Oh... good," he said weakly, and then fainted dead away.

Part Nine
The end, with a Moral.

The Rape of the Lock thus restored to me, I took up my old enterprises with the enthusiasm such activities deserve, and soon was easily able to pay Mrs. Fielding for the damage Will and I had done to her inn, as well as endeavor to deserve Will by replacing his ship and crew, which I had so mercilessly destroyed.

We are often guests at the Rising Phoenix, its proprietress treating what she has dubbed our "lover's quarrel" with good humor and discretion. In the chamber where that violent scene took place we have found much pleasure, but I have also found there much time for reading and contemplation. I have found in the adventures and misadventures of my unusual life that improvement of the mind is no less a struggle than the preservation of the body, and no less necessary; that, indeed, one must be willing to fight and to die for the means to success in this struggle.

Will, looking over my shoulder as I write, asks me now, "What of Love, then, my scholar captain? Must one be willing to fight and die for that?"

I must, reader, lay down my quill to supply Will with his answer, but I hope that the preceding adventure that I have related shall, in part, be an answer to you, and that in this regard, at least, you will follow the worthy example of Gentle Jenny and her Wicked Will.