The Copper Beeches

by Mark Edmund Doten

From Green Zone Kidz, a novel in progress, more pieces of which can be found here.


Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.

Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”

equipment, personnel, ad revenues, sky scrapers, almost ate me up. Key thing. Twenty-four news network, bury yourself, don’t get

no harness could hold him, prevent his little neck from snapping, she found herself an unscrupulous harness dealer, even he refused, she doubled and redoubled, soon six figures for a damn parachute harness, by no means a low six. He gave way as they all do, the wife indemnified him and took to the sky with our baby, crashed square in a pumpkin patch, neck snapping on impact, or before, in midair. Boy dead on impact, or before, perhaps, little heart bursting, perhaps. More than one way to take the wife’s later description of the sound. So peaceful, she said, snap the most peaceful snap possible. Our son perhaps gone already. Changes everything, crucial fact changed, snap not the same snap, no way of knowing. What delicious soup. After the tragedy, the burial, surrendered herself full-time to the exploitation of the corpse, most obscene goddamn

paid her deeper into the art game, AIDS-charity game, worked for a time, stifled her tastelessness. New toys, me with my own. Hocked the theaters, Obie awards, built ground-up a 24-hour cable news network, dandy new toys, none of it enough. Art game, AIDS game, news cycle. The wife back at the corpse, wailing at her misfortune, hers, mark it, nasty ululations, pseudo-spontaneous histrionics, express purpose bringing low all within earshot. Be warned, you, sir, and your Tanya, now within the perimeter of ululation, our wives descending, fourth cellar, and you and I at this table, and the high windows, and the chandelier, and Granger and Kidd, a locked

small, dried-out, bent and gravely crippled southern Italian men, with the family for generations, subjected me to heinous childhood rituals. Thought all that hidden from my parents, but growing up, gathering evidence, shoveling bullshit, the will at last to see what it had truly been. All these rituals expressly commissioned by

day in, day out, ululations. Couldn’t abide, left home, the beeches, sycamores, paintings of Granger and Kidd, hell out of Dodge. Disappeared for weeks at a time, news game, those vipers and cocksuckers, home shorter intervals, more and more among vipers and cocksuckers, finally left the Copper Beeches for good, hearth and home, childhood goddamn home, The Pentecost and Untitled #43, projecting hemicycle, arcaded side projects, all that behind me. Buried myself in advertisers, personalities, affiliates, going concerns, cocksuckers, vipers, every step dragging. Copper Beeches, childhood home, abandoned it to the wife’s ululations, those wails that shook bedrooms, libraries, first and second cellar, goddamn unending screams refracted in the accelerator of her toxic self-regard, up to such a pitch of horror, so many thousand decibels, that the last of our servants, the sorriest old pricks, the ones hadn’t fled, such disgust, at the boy’s death, smashed locked doors, scrambled through screens they’d slashed, literally ran for the hills, and me not there to wrestle them back. Pieced it together after, came home at last, rehired them, same pricks, double, triple salary, wrestled them back, still others back on their own, frail, flailing at the door

dropped like flies, ancient servants, to leave, to return, too much, did them in, all but the valet, also his daughter, such a precious baby girl, what delicious soup, eat goddammit. Ignore the wrenching of planks and mortars, the crash

silence in the Italian and African marble, cobalt and amber mosaics, the projecting hemicycle, arcaded side projects, silence there, ribbed vaults, mahogany tables, panels of goddamn ivory damask, all buffeted by oceanic silence. The beeches in the high blue windows, and a cold piss reek

your wife, her contractions closer, delicious soup, please try

creaking in the south wing. Pay no attention. As though foundations were precipitously

rubbing alcohol with food coloring, mashed together acids, bases, foodstuffs burnt and ground with unsanitary pestles, injected these deadly stews into the arms of North Africans, our scientists came to us addicted to painkillers and left in

Theatre, those triumphs, even all that, the faggotry, the Obies, so much, just so much bullshit, would’ve been devoured, news game, lacked the will for it, if not for the son, his death, and the wife’s ensuing ululations. The hell out of

back again at last, Copper Beeches, first night back, a year ago today, first night, such silence, stench, such piss and suicide, the wife dead at last, I thought, had to be suicide, she’d never up and abandon her childhood home, nor find the will to shut down her ululations, should have said my childhood home, but that’s not it either. Copper Beeches our shared childhood home

echo of an echo, each night

Mother, father, me, here in the mansion, she and her father over the garage, the Mechanic’s House, we called it, her father a mechanic, then a suicide, still after his death we called it the Mechanic’s House, not the Suicide’s House. Spied through bedroom window, tits in profile, bigger by the year, opera glasses, the two of us children, just think, two children, running among the sycamores, then our crawl space where the Second Nocturne hissed. Our hand-crank record player, she wouldn’t have abandoned all that. And the stench in the foyer, lounge and conservatory, rotting meat. Perhaps a human stench, a human rot

and you and your Tonya, stranded on the mountain these months, your Pullman car. No more shivering, you’re home at last. Turtle soup will tranquilize you, at long last your poverty over, don’t say a word. Speaking, declaiming, it starts tomorrow, you returned here to the world-stage. You, your wife, Tonya, here again for new Obies at last, though only you will be acting, your wife, the life gestating inside her, the contractions, she will

demanded it, brought you back, that my wife might once again take on Melinda

16th-century opera glasses, straddled a branch near the garage, the Mechanic’s house, the tape is running. Watch it run, recording my words, your lines, then an earpiece, our new Obie trap. You me, valet you, my speech, your silence, soon your speech, his silence, every night recorded, two tapes alternating, degrading at the

first night back, wife alive, found her at last, silent, perched on the bed, pearlescent white slip gathered at thighs, no blouse, socks or hairnet. A view of my wife. Tits in profile again, these weeks or months alone had beautified her, indecent. Such goddamn indecency. This the most discernable in the onrush of feelings. Hairline, face, rack, knees, ankles, toes, profile-view, like children again, indecent, grisly. And, second chain of associations, less visceral but in retrospect perhaps

and fear. Turtle soup quiets her. She escorted your Tanya through the trapdoor, my wife, shell in hand, escorted your pregnant wife down, second cellar, third cellar, down. Such silence. See how well I’ve arranged things. Arrangements always my forte, you must remember. Your star turns in Mother Earth and Hot-L Baltimore, as theater producer I was the past master, not of the art, but the arrangement, halt the rehearsals, you remember now, undercutting the director, not a lick of goddamn shame, usurping prerogatives, a leap onto stage, rearrange your bodies, hauling this way and that, working arms, legs, into improbable combinations, then at last a tableau of breathtaking rightness. Always the lowest possible opinion of the actor’s art. Took on the producer mantle, actors my mannequins, I called them that, my stop-motion mannequins, all actors can hope to be, stop-motion mannequins, what’s required, soon you and your wife came to understand, full surrender to the master-arranger, nothing

world-wide declared you best husband-wife duo, O’Neill, yes, and Strindberg, Chekhov,  triumphs all, such art, such triumph, such bullshit, I hired you, put you in your place. The master’s arrangements counterintuitive, physically excruciating, tendons pushed to breaking, then past, crack of sinew, vast dark stage resounding in your submission, never relent, you soon came to understand. Broke you of your stage-art, stage-faggotry, broke you down, took you apart, my tools first bags of money, then arrangements, I changed you from grotesque actor-artists to stop-motion mannequins, shook you like peach trees, what showered down wasn’t juicy peaches but Obie

wife insisted, clean break. Sent you packing, you and your Tonya, not your child. Took your baby, your first baby, made him ours, our first baby. World-historical thespians, now broken-down, worthless. Closed the theater, pawned the Obies, my wife planned love-activities, bonding activities, snorkeling, rock-climbing, base-jumping with our first baby, the one we’d stolen, it’s not we, not this time, who will raise him, this time me, second boy just me alone, 3rd cellar, his quarters, 4th cellar, our wives, if they live, even now a new boy, about to be born, or being

barren wife, should’ve known

day by day, year by year, until it snaps, then cellophane tape, spliced and

my first boy, now dead, but then, his living days, to scrape your Tonya from his skull, feel that love, that open-heartedness, as idealized by Melinda Gates, she planned love-activities. The wife, how she needed to feel such love, enwomb him, base-jumping, para-sailing, stegophily, that she might see Melinda Gates through the child, and the child through Melinda Gates, to feel that openness, that love

night she dreams Melinda Gates, the wife finds Melinda Gates’ thumbprints everywhere. Spotted Melinda Gates at the reservoir, wife behind a stroller, my first boy, not dead yet, me at the wife’s side, or just ahead, beside the stroller, the wife behind it. Melinda Gates jogged towards us, white sweatbands gleaming, wrists, forehead, all white. Melinda Gates paused, jogged in place, complimented the wife on our baby, I should say our dead baby, that first baby, not yet dead, no, not yet. A time when my boy, when he wasn’t, you see, when he wasn’t dead, and at the compliment of Melinda Gates, the wife’s jaw, no other way to say it, hung ajar. This jaw-event, it extended beyond your normal case of shock, case or nerves, wife a corpse, Marley’s ghost, binding-scarf undone, skull and mandible blown apart, I had to laugh. Stared, perverse fascination, at last as she really was, a goddamn corpse, dangling jaw, Melinda Gates to thank, our first Melinda Gates encounter, the absolute life in Melinda Gates exposed the absolute death in my wife, I chuckled, touched the hand of the baby, of the dead baby, rushed Melinda Gates, shook her hand, furiously pumped the arm, caressed the sweatband, thanked her for at last exposing my wife, shuffling corpse-meat contraption, no hope for her at last, grisly

huge mastiff, he tunneled so good, blocked escape, that mountain, that Pullman car, your avalanche, your true home, these months, coming to term, as if escape were even

reason for the summons, the telegram, 32 weeks ago today, no inkling of that. Such knowledge by grim necessity ruthlessly and unconsciously suppressed, you and your wife smiling like jerks, seats of plush velvet, first-class passage already booked, years of brutal, near-fatal emmiseration behind you. Actor’s art long abandoned, more soup

Obies soon to glint, second cellar, appurtenances and drainage holes, while, fourth cellar, the wives free to ululate, I will take the boy, the new boy, leave the wives, the valet will bring them turtle soup, this will silence them. Turtles now an endangered species, thanks to the wife, her turtle-hunger, turtle-mania, my wife deep down with your wife, fourth cellar, two wives, their new living quarters, you soon in second cellar, the theater I’ve constructed, my star, my wretch, emmiserated to the point of death, I broke you down, sent you packing, waited years, then, via telegram, called you back. Buried you halfway here on the mountain, left you stranded, you and your wife, Pullman car, a life gestating inside her, freed you just in time, your wife now fourth cellar, her labor, her ululations, my wife’s beside her, my wife’s ululations beside her, now again your child will be my

The Pentecost. And our two wives, dead or alive in the fourth cellar, my new child playing in the corner of the third cellar, plastic horses, safe from

Sent private dicks to monitor your love rituals, record her sleeping temperature, monitor her cycles, at last the moment came, a telegram

first night, weeping, the wife stroked my face, this is not it can’t you see that it’s just not it anymore. I said, we’ll get the servants back. Said I’d change, listen, love her again, the two of us children again together, I’d find again for our nocturne, our hand-crank record player, amongst all the rubbish, and I searched and searched

opted for a week facing Kidd, travel a mile in my wife’s shoes, not only excruciating but psychically destabilizing, the wife swapped out Kidd paintings nightly, Untitled #18 for  Untitled #5, Untitled #77 for Untitled #18, eyes that

that halt, Pullman car high on the mountain, an avalanche of my own arrangement, your wife came to term, every courtesy shown, no service denied, you could not leave or kill yourselves, that was all, eight months, your mountain, your Pullman car, then onto  the Copper Beeches, this dining room, turtle soup,  trap door below, other doors locked, Baccarat chandelier suspended above, paintings of Granger and Kidd, a locked room

shrugged off the throng of porters, threw out elbows, one telegram and you came running, you and your Tonya ideal assholes, suitcases empty, you saved room for cash money, bags of money you imagined awaited you here, and which do in fact await you, in the telegram no mention of cash money, studiously avoided it, but between the lines, that studiousness pressed to breaking, something gleamed, like money, wouldn’t you

each day erase your memory, sharp crack to the skull, revolver’s butt

first night, pearlescent, profile-view, an understanding, Hello Roger, she said

judge from the crash, your eye tracking down, the sconce below Kitt Kidd’s Untitled #43 broke free. Won’t glance back, even now, never look back at Kidd’s work. Kidd behind, Granger in front, the Baccarat chandelier dozens of meters overhead, it will not fall. You and I together again, Limoge porcelain and green-fired Meissen porcelain, silk jacquard table cloth, high windows spilling blue light, or sepia, sun falling through different panes, hours pass, a multiplicity of panes configured just so, always a single color, blue or sepia or dull white light, depends on the hour. Blue now, soon dull white, then sepia at last. And mirrors to reflect our light downward, ingenious cellar mirrors, thus did my parents arrange things here at Copper Beeches, no reason to part with it, keep the finest traditions, eliminate the rest, blue light dropping through the traps door to the first cellar, valet perched between second and third, the darkness there, turtle shell pressed conchlike to lips, at ululations or screams he’ll signal with a

The Pentecost. And our two wives, dead or alive in the fourth cellar, a new child to play in the corner of the third cellar, plastic horses, safe from

miss him so goddamn much, I miss my boy, so much.

something of the actor’s art. It burned in the infant’s eye, faint but true, would have had to break him down if not for the wife, pumpkin patch, an end to all that. My boy no actor, you see, a news cycle boy, that empire. My scion, not yours. But the actor’s art, genetic faggotry, you tainted him, I think, this new one free of the taint, he’d better be

first night, her bedroom, at last I saw it, a turtle shell. She lifted it, sipped. I understood how she’d survived, floor parqueted in turtle shells, living turtles, dead turtles, must have blockaded herself in, then survived on turtles, she returned the shell to a Bunsen burner, I said, what’s with all the turtles, she lowered the flame,  O these really don’t know where they came from one day, and snapped her fingers, such contrast to her otherwise languid demeanor I flinched, there were just turtles

first cellar, reception and box office, second cellar, theater, your quarters, third cellar, my quarters, also my control room, also the boy’s quarters, plastic horses, fourth cellar, wives alive or dead, dull white

last a child, a new child, trapped you in the Pullman

trap door, listen for the ululations, or rather, blowing of the shell. Nothing, nothing, wait, yes, faintly now, nothing, now again faintly, no, now nothing. Can’t hear the wife’s ululations if she’s uluating, your Tonya’s screams if she’s screaming, too distant, too muffled, thus the valet, positioned between second and third floor, blows the turtle shell. At screams or ululations he blows. Nothing, yet faintly now again

tits in profile, feet and hands, onrush of emotion, I’ll translate or transcribe the speech of the wife’s hands and feet. First night back, two hands grip one another, creatures doing battle, then cold mechanical interchange, first attacks, then interchanges, her hands, her feet, half-legible movements of her extremities, they told the tale. Pooled blue Bunsen light, right foot tapping among turtles, left foot stationary, big toe and long calloused second toe twisting, such tapping and twisting, translate, transcribe, we came to the house out of great horror both of us childhoods of unspeakable pain came into this marriage of convenience yes with postures of absolute vanity we had both of us broken through every convention destroyed every prejudice that might have kept us as we were as they imagined we were little children damaged children stared with ravening eyes held our ground as we’d learned we must took possession of the household with unspeakable arrogance  no other weapons damage and arrogance our only weapons one or the other we’d made our choice seized the latter joined forces in this big house this haunted space this Castle Rackrent cue the bats cue the shadows and ghosts cue the howls and rattling chains, all this true, I admitted, and also, what I didn’t say, beside the goddamn

and my wife, don’t you understand the moment passes and it never comes back? The wife demanded new country, new language, new animals, no, I said, without saying

our nocturne, our hand-crank, still lost, I couldn’t

19  bathrooms, 12 fireplaces, 29 crystal chandeliers, four-story skylit art gallery, 280-foot reception hall

instructed the servant, blow the hollow turtle shell at critical moments, your wife screaming in her throes, my wife ululating, the same sound for both, in the stage production the same sound-effect to be employed, blast of the turtle shell for either and for both, never know which of them is screaming, ululating, or if they both are, only know if  they’re both silent at

the wrenching of planks and mortar high above, the crash, I said the crash, of the port couchere falling, you hear and understand nothing, I hear, understand everything. Out the high crescent windows copper beeches

one tape playing, one recording, next night switched, your earpiece, my words

slipping and screeching in muddy leaves, the wife stumbled over herself on three hooves, she tore and tripped on her weirdly bloated and stained skirt, in her stumbles looked like she was burdened with a surfeit of legs. Hours of struggle through the beeches, the sycamore perimeter, at long last tumbled face-down in the mud, path of Melinda Gates. Did Melinda Gates slow down? She took no notice, jogged or danced on, soon vanished, never yet to return, radiating to the last absolute life. Very next day the wife closed her AIDS hospices, went to work on a cure, sent away the AIDS patients, rang security, had them literally kicked to the curb, done forever with AIDS treatment, dedicated now to the cure, goddamn mistake, macro level we work for a cure, micro level, treatment. Even tens, hundreds of millions, wife and I remained always on the micro level, with AIDS. To look for a cure not only futile, destructive. The wife’s dollars, my dollars, they sponsored obscene testing regimens in North Africa

trap door, my parents Indian-style at the edge, looking down, first cellar, second cellar, they observed  the heinous rituals. Third and fourth cellar, dug them this year, you on the mountain, Pullman car, coming to term, a mastiff tunneling, fierce black son of a bitch, windows all white, a Pullman packed in snow, the muzzle hits, I kept digging

rings on the floor, snifter rings where mother, father, slopped cognac, rituals night after night in the second cellar, my parents giddy and without the least shame, peering down

the fire that slices the tongue, faces uplifted, these holy people. I am

wife never failed to write them new checks, Grants 4 The Cure, yellow eyes burning with liver failure, with addiction, a matter of days or weeks word came they too had died, first doing in several score North Africans with their rank quackery

fletcherize the small painted turtle, Chrysemys picta, drink from the larger shell, Chelydra serpentina, you act my part, valet takes yours, me in the third cellar control room, or the wings, pistol cocked. High windows, blue light, or sepia now

Past the beeches, not among them, or rather through them, or just at the perimeter, between the sycamores and beeches, I think, passing from tree to tree, slender trunks like bone, Melinda Gates surpassingly or ideally graceful, gliding, almost dancing as she moved, simplest dance, expressing or opening onto the most profound inner silence, Melinda Gates falling, rising between sycamores, or erased from one tree, present at the next, ponytail, wrists-bands, whole person glinting complexly in the golden

you must see, Kidd paints

eyes, an endless run of eyes

to speak the truth here, this table, tonight, impossible. So the tape, the second cellar, Obies, wine-swilling crowds, the valet’s daughter, so precious, she’ll grow up to serve them, just as my boy, my new boy, will grow up for the news game, echo of an echo, each night new, further degrading at the truth

foul play, my new

up to the second cellar, crack the skull, down to fourth, check the wives, living or dead, third cellar, my boy, my son, each day growing up, plastic horses

always in the wings, always watching. Slightest hitch I reach in vest

and genetic faggotry, my new son perhaps an evolutionary mannequin, evolutionary faggot, no chance of that, but just say, perhaps

nocturne. Hand-crank player, here somewhere, dug for it, excavated crawl spaces, built third cellar, fourth cellar

inoculate him, one night on stage, new son, valet’s role, perfect boy, inoculate, eradicate, then onto news cycle, my boy, my heir.  Years hence, my living son, he joins you on stage. Fifteen, sixteen years old, plays you, one night only, plays you as you now sit, dumb, while you play me, earpiece, cassette tape, jabbering these words, as you will have by then jabbered them for years. The boy will only know you onstage, second cellar, one night only, never in third cellar,  in fourth cellar, where you shall never venture, never in any semblance of real life, never an understanding your biological roll, biological taint, he’ll take on the valet’s part, play you, one night only, just one taste, then vile rituals to inoculate

dawning slowly, over years, first realization, rituals not as the servants had insisted with what seemed, even then, an oddly jocular, ironic tone, shameful secrets that must at all costs be kept from my parents, second realization, parents played their own part, offered a basic sketch, types of activities servants might partake in with the subject, the subject how I imagined myself named during such negotiations, third realization, my parents laid out maneuvers, timing, precise degree of pain, number of candles, tensile strength of silk, angles of hip and bone the subject to be worked through, fourth realization, years later, servants, too, victims of my parents’ perversity, lesser victims, goes without saying

moans, shudders, dull steady creaks, syncopated, falling into easy meter, again syncopated, overtones and disharmonies of all possible description, dull white

both lamps fallen, paintings in shadow, sepia tone long gone, only the chandelier 120 feet above our skulls, the chandelier will not fall, this I can

goddamn chandelier, fragment of Baccarat crystal, a blood spray on Limoge, not fatal, I assure you. So then every night the goddamn chandelier falls. Vast crowds, ovations, perfect Obie trap, each night stellar faggotry, a falling goddamn

splice and continue, crack the skull, search for hand-crank

special staircase, first cellar to third, bypass second cellar altogether, so even on his way up he will never, before that night, have set foot there, second cellar, you forever confined

stamped your tickets, you steamed away, the mountains, the blizzard, fifty feet under, your Tonya strapped stove to her torso, dragged it through the Pullman to do away with the life inside her, she failed, only damaged herself, won’t make it, I fear

black gums, black muzzle, slapping against the Pullman window, through the packed snow parting, hot tar on glass, lips drawn, yellow fangs, black son of a bitch, incisors scratching glass, muzzle sliding, then, new quadrant, small tar blot, the foot pushing off. Muzzle gone, all white, snail-trail of drool

one night on stage, inoculate my new boy, falling chandelier, chandelier effect gone wrong, new boy, new tragedy, fifteen, sixteen years hence, no chance of that

lonely houses, vast fields, poor ignorant folks, no legal know-how, countless deeds, hellish cruelty, hidden wickedness, year in, year out, steaming piss, crack the skull

my boy struck, deep-vein, could never

foul play

and no chance for connection. He doesn’t know you, won’t know you, has never, will never have, seen you before

Second cellar, third cellar, down

The chandelier’s fallen. And there’s too little time

boy’s one day on stage, an accident, or perhaps human agency, perhaps

you, the wife, if alive, the valet, your Tonya, if alive, all suspects, wine-swilling crowds, vipers, cocksuckers, quacks, valet’s daughter, all suspects, the blame

this revolver in my pocket, the misfire

acute and deep-vein thrombosis, my boy

new boy struck, deep-vein, could never

Every day the chandelier effect, every day courting injury, death, that it should fall that day, perhaps human

jealousy, hatred, suicide, in this life so much that is possible, the wonder’s we don’t kill more often than

revenge, grief, dyadic death and neonaticide, valet’s granddaughter born dead, for instance, or killed soon thereafter, and the nocturne, the hand crank, you, your Tonya, all suspects, all vipers and

And say he loves her. My son, the valet’s daughter, a love-match. And if they fled, a chance. But a life of cellars, to free oneself, how can you

Valet’s daughter pregnant, and it’s

A Marley’s chain of motives, sparkling blue and sepia and white light

AIDS charities, art galleries, elementary chattering toys, wind them up, release them, return a year later to

dying son, please not

too late

perhaps a fifth cellar, sixth cellar

oh not again

indebted to Melinda Gates, I

change me

a boy

locked and


Mark Edmund Doten’s writing has appeared in Conjunctions, Guernica, Lamination Colony and the Believer. He’s the managing editor of Soho Press.