Chapter 38


Crunchy and Creamy made tea in the lodge, and all the People assembled to drink it.  How did we all know to go there?

I had a pulse in the back of my head, the soft dark spot where tendon meets bone, that roused me from where I lay with Laurel, like a pair of lizards waiting out the afternoon heat.  And I caught Laurel’s fingertips to bring her along, although, I let go her hand before we had gone far.  Not so much to hide that touch from D-, who knew all about it anyway, but.

The People moved toward the lodge from various directions, drawn perhaps by the funky aroma of the tea.  Or maybe it was the pull of D-‘s intention.  We could feel it, one could feel it, like a lodestone.  The smell was stronger the nearer you got.

With a certain solemnity, Crunchy and Creamy ladled from their caldron into Styrofoam cups.  The tea was black and tasted smoky, musty.  I must have been very distracted that day because it wasn’t till my vision started to go strange around the edges that I knew we’d just been drinking psilocybin, and the People were all going off on a higgledy-piggledy trip.

D- came downstairs then, wearing a blue flowered kimono so much too long for him that the hem trailed behind like a bridal gown’s train.  I thought he had lipstick and painted nails but that might have been just an effect of the drug.  He stitched himself through the People like a minnow through water.  Here a touch, there a kiss.  There a whisper.  We were thirty or forty strong that day.  Girls mostly, but a double handful of men.  But some of the men were just there for the party.

D-‘s voice began, rapt, sonorous.  The voice didn’t seem to come out of his throat.  It surrounded his whole body, like an aura.  That might have been an effect of the drug.

It’s all starting to come down, the voice said.

D- began undressing Stitch, loosening the white buttons on her pale blue work-shirt-same shirt as Creamy and Crunchy wore under their vests.  Stitch stood as passively as a child, except that in her smile I saw the points of her teeth.

Oh, yeah.  The voice.  We’ll break it down.

Like most of the women of the People (Laurel being a great blowsy exception to this rule), Stitch had a boyish build, next to nothing in hips and breasts-and yet her body was very well made.  A sigh went all around the lodge, when D- had laid it bare.



The drug made it a yawning hollow, echoing, deep.  Stitch tossed back her dirty hair, exposing her white throat.  Soundlessly she sank down to her knees before him.  But D- connected her to another and moved on.

The voice.  Me.

At the fringes of my vision there began to be little cobwebs of Op Art graphics.  Not possible for me to blink them away.  The drug, taking me into itself regardless of my will.  Without further prompting, others, everyone, began to disrobe.  I looked away from Laurel.  The other way from her.  A disposable person behind me assisted me with my clothes.  It had only taken him a second to shed the ridiculous striped djellaba he always wore.  So I must know him, though I didn’t know his name.  Was he one of the People or just …there.  For the ride.    With Jesus hair like all the rest, but melting brown eyes like a puppy.  A pulsing psychedelic cobweb crawled over the left side of his face.  I looked away.  D-‘s hands assisted our connection.

Me.  Me.

D- ‘s kimono had disappeared.  He was half erect in that cloud of goat hair but otherwise only a certain tightness in his voice betrayed any sort of erotic involvement.  He didn’t participate, directly.  He conducted.  Guiding, encouraging.  Inserting.  For the more difficult connections he had a prosaic little tube of KY jelly.


The mushrooms turned it into a sort of cricket sound as I sank deeper.  Bonelessly bending.  All the sounds warped.  D- bent people to his plan.  Like Gumbi.  What was the name of Gumbi’s horse?  The various noises of suction began to grow unbearably loud.  That familiar sensation: the invasion of arousal.  Willing or no.

Let go of me.  Let go of mememe

I agreed, I suppose.  Or there was no longer an I to agree.  Or suppose.  A butterfly shutter wheeled over my vision.  Darkness.  Darkness.  Light.  More darkness.  When it opened I saw or perceived that the People were linked into one great wriggling wreath around the central fireplace, which was cold and smelled of ancient ash.  When it closed I saw eyelid movies of Dayglo green and yellow fields, goats prancing, a woman turning into reeds.

My People.  Be One.  Be One.

A reduplicated compound.  A beast of many backs.  It hunched.  It moaned.

Let go of meme. Higgledy piggledy- let it all come down.  Be One.

I was then unpleasantly penetrated by the thought that although Laurel was several places away in this vast fucking daisy chain, I was still most tangibly connected to her, through the transitive power of fucking.  At the repulsion of this idea I groaned, which encouraged the beast, when I had no wish to encourage it.  I could find no voice to say to Laurel that I really didn’t care a damn for O-, that I had gone off with him only to hurt her.  There was only one voices in the bowels of the beast and the voice seemed only to speak to mememe though I knew it was meant for all the One People.

Hung up on each other.  Hung up on yourselves.  You can’t hear the god’s great voices.  You’re too busy-talking to  yourselves.

In the midst of it all there was mere discomfort.  Skin scraped across the splintery floor.

Can’t you hear the god’s great voices–

The truth came through D- .  Was not of him.  Perhaps D- didn’t himself understand it.  Except for the special times when he did.

I wanted to say I hear them I do! I hear gods’ voices.  The words they shape around me like a door. But I couldn’t, not only because some fleshy thing had stopped my throat.

I knew this bacchanalia was not what I had come for.  This was not the bacchanalia I had come for.  That was elsewhere.  My frenzy.  One’s frenzy.  I knew that it had happened before, if I and I only heard the true voices, and I knew it was going to happen again.

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MADISON SMARTT BELL is the author of thirteen novels, including The Washington Square Ensemble (1983), Waiting for the End of the World (1985), Straight Cut (1986), The Year of Silence (1987), Doctor Sleep (1991), Save Me, Joe Louis (1993), Ten Indians (1997) and Soldier's Joy, which received the Lillian Smith Award in 1989. Bell has also published two collections of short stories: Zero db (1987) and Barking Man (1990). In 2002, the novel Doctor Sleep was adapted as a film, Close Your Eyes, starring Goran Visnjic, Paddy Considine, and Shirley Henderson. Forty Words For Fear, an album of songs co-written by Bell and Wyn Cooper and inspired by the novel Anything Goes,was released by Gaff Music in 2003; other performers include Don Dixon, Jim Brock, Mitch Easter and Chris Frank.

Bell's eighth novel, All Soul's Rising, was a finalist for the 1995 National Book Award and the 1996 PEN/Faulkner Award and winner of the 1996 Anisfield-Wolf award for the best book of the year dealing with matters of race. All Souls Rising, along with the second and third novels of his Haitian Revolutionary trilogy, Master of the Crossroads and The Stone That The Builder Refused, is available in a uniform edition from Vintage Contemporaries. Toussaint Louverture: A Biography was published by Pantheon in 2007. Devil's Dream, a novel based on the career of Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest, was published by Pantheon in 2009. Bell's latest novel, The Color of Night, is now available from Vintage Contemporaries.

Born and raised in Tennessee, he has lived in New York and in London and now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Princeton University (A.B 1979) and Hollins College (M.A. 1981), he has taught in various creative writing programs, including theIowa Writers' Workshop and the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. Since 1984 he has taught in the Goucher College Creative Program, where he is currently Professor of English, along with his wife, the poet Elizabeth Spires. Bell served as Director of the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College from 1999 to 2008. In 2008 he received the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

2 responses to “Excerpt from The Color of Night

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Madison Smartt Bell,

    I adore your name. Did you make it up?
    I already downloaded this book on two kindles, (because Jessica Anya Blau is trying to break up my marriage,) so I’m going to wait to read it on the plane in a week or so.

  2. Greg Olear says:

    I’m excited to read the book. You got a really kick-ass cover, that’s for sure.

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