When the whirring of the Final Gates finally stops, the space that has just opened up shows nothing but swirls of mist, painted yellow by the street lamps. The night is yellow. The peace that floods Morgana doesn’t only come from the knowledge that everything is over. The very notions of time and space have ceased to have any meaning. All times and all places coexist outside of time and space.
“Our lovely visitors can now appreciate the fabulous architecture of the Lund Mansion,” says Omar, purported Italian heir and the Lund twins’ best friend, sitting next to Lilith in the back seat, as if anyone could see anything but fog. “Classic Hollywood Hills glamour, 1920s Spanish style. Red tile roofs, arched windows and decorative tiles. Note the carved wooden doors.” He gestures like a magician with the crack pipe in his hand. “Two acres of fenced-in land and its own security force. We’re talking about one of the most expensive mansions in this part of the hills, ladies.”
Morgana doesn’t know why it’s Omar who’s been explaining stuff about the Lunds all night, as if the twins weren’t around. Truth is, the Lund twins don’t talk much. Morgana can’t hear any Italian accent in Omar’s voice, although you can’t hear any British accent in hers or Lilith’s either. They both did their best to get rid of it, plus they were very young when their mother brought them to America, in ’91, fleeing England after the ‘Abandoned Blood Girls’ scandal. Of course, Blood is not the girls’ real name, just like Betty Blood is not the real name of their legendary punk diva mother. Betty was named either by Steve Strange or Johnny Rotten in 1976, when she was a mere follower of the Pistols gigs and didn’t yet have her own band. The ‘Blood Girls’ nickname was made up by the Daily Mirror in 1990, after the girls were found by social workers in Betty’s flat in Bromley, filthy and malnourished. Apparently, their mother had been on a smack binge in North London for two weeks and had completely forgotten about them. All of England recalls Betty’s trial for the abandonment of the Blood Girls, widely covered by the tabloids at the end of that year. Morgana and Lilith are the Blood Girls’ real names, though. Another thing they have to thank their illustrious mother’s creativity for.
The ’57 Plymouth negotiates the unlikely coexistence of eucalyptus, pine and palm trees under the street lamps’ voltaic yellow light to pull up in the garage, fittingly located in the mansion’s old coach house. The coach house is larger than many houses in the lower hills. Because the garage is located between the mansion and the cliff, the breeze on that side has cleared the fog and allows a better view of things. The infinite carpet of city lights at the foot of the hills. The swimming pool, covered in swirls of steam, is in the elbow of the huge L-shaped house. The car pulls up in the garage and the muscular arm of the Lund twin sitting at the wheel turns the ignition key forcefully before pulling it out and tossing it in the glove compartment.
“I wanna do back-to-back,” says Lilith as the guys get out of the car. She brings the lighter flame close to the crack pipe and inhales. “I wanna do back-to-back until my brain oozes out of my ears.”
“Technically, Mr Lund still lives in this mansion.” Omar goes on in that PBS documentary voice that has been bugging Morgana for a while now. “It’s unclear why nobody has seen him for years. Not even the maids. Of course, his side of the house has a separate entrance.” He pauses to take a puff on his pipe. “He does send us invitations to all the premieres, though. To the studio parties, the Academy Awards, the Grammys, everything.”
By the time Lilith gets out of the Plymouth, the Lund twins have already taken off their clothes and are jumping into the pool. The twins’ bodies are perfect in every way. Their complex systems of muscles perfectly waxed. Their hair so blond it looks like a layer of silver sparkles. Strictly speaking, neither of the Blood girls has a style that is clearly inspired by Betty Blood’s. Morgana’s style is classic Antichrist Superstar-era Marilyn Manson, or to be more precise, Twiggy Ramirez at the time of Antichrist Superstar. Lilith is more Mechanical Animals-era Manson mixed with Lady Gaga in the ‘Born This Way’ video and a hint of something impossible to pin down that is reminiscent of Aladdin Sane. And yet, with that almost tragic pathos of monkeys dressed as firemen or minstrels in blackface, the faces of the Blood girls are the face of their mother. The same broad face and melancholy eyes that the young Betty Blood used to highlight with tons of black makeup until she became some kind of sad doll. The same face that goes everywhere with them. That looks back at them from posters and televisions as if they were mirrors. Omar is already getting into the pool with his clothes still on by the time Lilith reluctantly begins to undress, as if it hurts her to be separated from the pipe. Seeing Lilith’s naked body gives her sister a stab of pain. The idea that such a young body is reaching its final hour. The loose, winding movements, inherited from the mother-snake. The inescapable fate that awaits them in that dreaded house no girl in her right mind should enter with the twins after a crack binge in an East Hollywood dive. Her younger sister, Morgana knows, has always been the more helpless of the two.
“I think I saw my mother this year,” says Lilith, stepping into the swirls of mist of the pool with almost baptismal steps. “What month is it now?”
Morgana is the last to join what has already begun to happen in the pool. It is difficult to think in terms of linear time when your life is already over. In a way, what is beginning to happen in the pool has also finished happening, or maybe it’s been happening since the Blood Girls were born. Morgana’s clothes rest in a neat pile on the Plymouth’s hood as she follows the trail of garments scattered on the ground leading to the pool, like breadcrumbs in a fairy tale. The Lund twins already have Lilith on one side of the pool. Every women’s bathroom in every bar in East Hollywood is full of whispered warnings about how dangerous it is for any girl to make the mistake of getting high and going to the Lund mansion at night. To Morgana, who is very high right now, those warnings seem straight out of a fairy tale. Beware of the wolf hiding in the woods. In a cabin in the clearing there’s a witch who eats children. I know a girl who knows a girl who knows a girl who was stupid enough to end up at the mansion of the Lund twins. The entire hills are a fairy-tale setting, with their black canyons and their winding roads. Canyon Drive, North Beachwood and Mulholland. The reservoir and the 1920s mansions, illuminated by the phosphorescent shimmer of the pools.
The bodies in the pool make fluctuating movements that seem to be a mere extension of the fluctuations of the surrounding water. One of the twins has penetrated Lilith from behind and presumably he’s fucking her up the ass while the other twin fucks her from the front. Lilith has her head turned to the side, frowning as she tries to light the crack pipe despite the combined lurching of the three bodies. Morgana knows it is just a matter of time before they make her fuck her sister, because in the end that’s what everyone wants. At the edge of the fibreglass pool, Morgana gives Omar a blowjob while he takes pensive puffs on his pipe. Then she gets on all fours and lets Omar fuck her from behind while she tries to smoke, her elbows leaning on the lawn. After a few minutes she realises that Omar’s cock is not very hard, so she sticks first a moistened finger in her ass and then two, to dilate her anus. Omar takes out his half-flaccid cock, jerks off for a minute and finally penetrates her ass, where he hardens again almost instantly. The way the five of them fuck in the pool is the same way groups of people always fuck, or at least all the groups in which Morgana has fucked: without exchanging a word and seemingly without any kind of communication. Nevertheless, their various sexual acts have a strange lack of spontaneity, as if everyone was playing parts of a script that nobody remembers or is aware of. While trying to keep the pipe and lighter from falling out of her hands with each of Omar’s thrusts, Morgana is aware of every way in which what is taking place is a prelude. The pool is the introductory phase of ritual, of course. Most entrances begin with a water ritual. But the wolf lives in the inner chamber. That’s what the whispered warnings suggest, between lines of cocaine in the women’s bathrooms of East Hollywood. Omar, of course, is a mere prelude to the twins. A simple officiant, or perhaps a vizier. In the hot water, Morgana allows herself to be manhandled by the Lund twins’ tanned arms and fucked by their identical penises taking on silent permutations: mouth/ass, ass/mouth, pussy/ass, pussy/mouth and eventually mouth/ass, which is when she finally has her orgasm. It is unclear whether the orgasm comes despite her fear or if it is fear itself that causes it. The twins’ bodies cover her completely. Afterward, the five of them go back out to the lawn and they make her fuck her sister. Lilith’s jaw is out of joint and she keeps babbling that she wants to do back-to-back. Morgana licks the dirty semen from her sister’s anus while the boys masturbate. Everything is yellow.
In the beginning, there were the fans. Again you have to make a considerable effort to return to the flow of time. Morgana and her sister were nothing more than shadows, but the fans gave them bodies. Even before the scandal over the Blood Girls trial that forced them to go to America. Before the worldwide success of the second record by Betty and the Hobgoblins, which would bring Betty Blood’s face, in poster form, to bedrooms and streets across the entire planet. The post-punk diva.
Lilith doesn’t remember, of course. She was little more than a baby crawling around the flat in Bromley. But Morgana saw them sometimes through the window. Women and men dressed and coiffed and made-up just like their mother, with the same teased black hair and the same black eyeliner that made them look like sad dolls. Standing on the street corner, smoking cigarettes and talking amongst themselves until their mother left the house and then they stopped talking all of a sudden and came over to her with nervous steps. At first their mother would speak to them. She’d sign some records for them. Later she avoided them and went running into the record company car. Sometimes their mother came home very drunk in the wee hours of the morning and they would wake up and go downstairs and she would tell them to be very careful with the fans. Beware the wolf in the forest. And they would watch her go up the stairs with her staggering, drunk steps. The world is a fairy tale, my girls. Everything got much worse, of course. During the trial it seemed the fans were everywhere. Suddenly they were carrying handwritten signs and some shouted threats. Their mother moved house every week. They moved so many times that they didn’t even have time to unpack their things. They never saw their mother, and the manager didn’t let them take more than one doll each with them: the rest of their things were in packed boxes scattered around the floor of the parlours of a confusing sequence of empty flats. Some journalist had somehow got hold of a photo of Lilith and Morgana when they were two and five respectively and now that photo was everywhere: in newspapers, in magazines and even on the TV news. Their mother had spent a month in hospital and during that month the manager had left them with a strange woman they were told was their grandmother. The supposed grandmother hated them because she didn’t want to take care of them and sometimes she also left them alone at home, in spite of the fact that that had been precisely the root of the supposed problem they were all suffering now. Later, when the judges forced Betty Blood to take her daughters with her on tour, Morgana and Lilith saw the fans everywhere. In the airports of the cities they flew into, hundreds of them, all disguised as their mother, holding up signs and gifts that they tried to give Betty but which she never took. Sometimes Morgana and Lilith wanted to grab hold of some of the presents the fans held out, dolls and stuffed animals with the girls’ names, but they weren’t allowed. The protocol for going in and out of places was always the same: the manager and his assistant covered the girls with a blanket or with coats, then someone opened the door and finally they all went running to the open car door, in a whirlwind of shouting and extended hands and camera flashes. There was no school. Each place they went, Morgana and Lilith would go to school for a couple of days. Then they didn’t really know what happened. Nobody would take them to school. It’s possible that nobody remembered to take them. Morgana and her little sister spent the entire day in the empty house, watching TV and grabbing food from the fridge whenever they felt like it and playing together, usually making up stories because they almost never had toys. Sometimes they put on the music video channel and sat there for hours waiting to see their mother. That was how they got to know the other members of Betty and the Hobgoblins. Sometimes they tried to stay awake at night to see if their mother would come back, but they almost always fell asleep and didn’t end up knowing whether she’d come home or not.
And suddenly one day everything changed. Lilith and Morgana stopped being shadows.
What Morgana most remembered about that creature that ran toward them were its eyes. Eyes that were very red and filled with the most frightened expectation she had seen in her life.”
It must have been in ’95 or ’96, shortly before the band finally broke up. It happened in the Bradley Terminal at LAX, in the arrivals area, when one of the fans leapt over the security cordon and managed to slip past the two bodyguards travelling with the Betty Blood entourage. They had just flown in from Heathrow and Betty was depressed and furious. Touring around England always really affected her, and afterward she’d sink into periods of depression and alcohol that often lasted months. Which was strange, because their mother had always said that leaving that crap country was the best thing she’d ever done in her life. Morgana never knew for sure if the fan who leapt over the cordon in ’95 or ’96 was a man or a woman. Basically all the fans of Betty and the Hobgoblins had a similar style, whether they were men or women. What Morgana most remembered about that creature that ran toward them were its eyes. Eyes that were very red and filled with the most frightened expectation that Morgana had seen in her life. Morgana was eleven the day that she and her sister stopped being shadows. In the middle of the screams and camera flashes, the fan ran out, straight toward the Blood Girls. There was a chorus of muffled screams and finally a terrifying silence as the androgynous fan leapt on the girls and hugged them. Nothing more. The fan hugged them. Afterwards Morgana thinks she remembers the fan whispering something to them, something vaguely heartwarming, some affectionate words, something about someone loving someone. But she never could be sure. The hug only lasted a second before the bodyguards dragged the fan away. But it didn’t matter. It was done. Now the girls had bodies.
That same night, in bed, Lilith and Morgana were lying down, holding hands, awake but for the first time in their lives not talking or looking at each other. With their hearts still pounding because of what had happened to them in the Bradley Terminal. Breathing hard as if trying out their new bodies. It’s not that the Blood Girls had grown up all of a sudden. It wasn’t that the system of individuals and events in whose periphery they revolved slowly and in oblivion had reconfigured in any way. They had simply stopped being shadows. As if there had been a transfer of matter for antimatter in the universe. In the years following, Morgana and Lilith would fuck many of their mother’s fans, but none of the sensations that came from that could ever compare to the hug that first fan had given them in the airport. The world was indeed a fairy tale.
Four or five years later, Morgana and Lilith escaped one night from the London flat where their mother had left them. Returning to London always depressed their mother, but things got considerably worse after the band broke up. That night the Blood Girls entered the bathroom with reverential slowness. Their faces blushing. Their steps a bit shaky. Lilith was the first to open her mother’s vanity and she stood before the mirror. The sad doll eyes. The teased hair. They went out through a window that overlooked the courtyard of the block of flats and they ran down the avenue where they knew they’d find taxis heading north. There had never been any doubt about where they should go that night. The Underworld in Camden, where the cult to Betty and the Hobgoblins remained just as alive as it had been ten years before. That night, dressed in their mother’s clothes and made-up like her, was the first night in their lives when they stopped being the Blood Girls. The first night they didn’t have to hide. They danced until closing time and then they took a minicab with some of Betty’s fans to a flat in Shoreditch and snorted cocaine and fucked until the sun came up. Hiding in plain sight. The real Blood Girls, prowlers of empty flats, famished and alone, girls without bodies. Everything made sense. If they had to have a body, it should be that of the woman who had given them everything. The beginning and the end. The snake-woman who hypnotised them with her sad eyes from the television as they waited for her videos in the wee hours, dancing with impossibly sinuous movements and projecting a very long shadow on the fake walls of the gothic castles of her most famous video. A shadow with bat wings. They would go back to her. They would go back to being her. They never should have come out of her. Good girls in fairy tales should never stray from the path. And the strange Betty Blood dancing in the television, dancing and dancing, in the two girls’ empty wee hours, with sinuous snake movements, always on the other side of existence’s fleshy membrane, always fearsome, always walking on roofs and in airports with furious strides that forced Morgana and Lilith to run to keep up with her.
And the morning would find them sleeping.
Half an hour later the sky in the east begins to illuminate in intermittent intervals. Powerful bolts of lightning of an impossible purple colour lash what should be the San Bernardino Valley or perhaps even the plains of Joshua Tree. The storm from the east doesn’t carry with it a single sound or wisp of wind. In fact, the slight murmur of the palm fronds at the Lund estate that was heard when the Plymouth crossed its gates is no longer heard. Which, in Morgana’s humble opinion, might not be a metaphor for anything, but is the closest to a real metaphor she’s noticed since they approached the hills God knows exactly how long ago. The naked dancing Morgana is doing in what appears to be the library of the Lund mansion is, of course, an imitation of the sinuous dance of the snake woman in the most famous video by Betty and the Hobgoblins. The imitation, however, in spite of appearances, has nothing to do with the conscious or unconscious memory Morgana or her sister might have of the nights they spent in the empty flats watching that video in those wee hours. Maternal imitation resides in ancestral memory. In the memory of the species. Good girls go back to their mothers. They go back to being their mothers. This is the way Lilith is doing back-to-back on the floor of the library: first she smokes from a crack pipe. Then she uses a lighter to heat the bottom of the tin foil that holds the heroin and she inhales all the smoke in quick gulps. She closes her eyes. And begins again. Ostensibly, doing back-to-back gives you a different effect than speedballing. In speedballing, the cocaine and the heroin are injected together and their effects combine. Doing back-to-back you can feel the highs and the lows. A flight through the clouds, like Betty the Witch in another of the videos from her childhood.
“People don’t realise the value of this library,” says Omar, without looking away from the porn film on the giant projector screen he and the Lund twins are watching from the couch. “They always talk about the Lund mansion gym or the spa with the most square feet in the hills. But this,” he points to the floor, “is the real treasure. Mr Lund bought part of the library along with the house, of course. And then he spent years buying up the libraries of other old Hollywood houses. Valued at ten million dollars in its last appraisal, in 2005. Open to academic visitors by appointment, although there’s an incredibly long waiting list. Of course, there are also the non-academic visits.” He smiles, still masturbating. “Everybody who’s anybody in the hills has been through this library. Nicole, Justin, Christina, Zac Efron, Kesha… Although they came for our drugs, right, boys?” He lifts his fists in a triumphant gesture. “We have the best drugs in the hills.”
The Lund twins respond with identical derisive snorts. On the coffee table there is a tray filled with pills for facilitating erections. Omar’s body has also been perfectly sculpted over decades in gyms, but somehow it isn’t perfect in the same way that the twins’ bodies are.
The world completely flips. Things roll to one side and after a little while Morgana understands that what she thought was the ceiling is actually the library’s carpet. She also realises she is much higher than she thought.”
“You aren’t here,” Morgana finally says to him, squinting her eyes to try to understand what’s happening on the screen.
“True,” says Omar, masturbating. “None of us are here.”
“No.” Morgana shakes her head. “I mean you aren’t real. You are one of those things with earpieces they give out on guided tours. You are a simple function of this house, like a hologram. Those two aren’t real either, I’m sure.” She points to the twins. “All that’s real are the horrible things that happen to the girls who come to this house.”
Finally Omar looks away from the screen and stares at her, his brow furrowed.
“Fuck.” He lets out a derisive snort. “You’re much crazier than I thought.”
“They’re both nuts,” says one of the twins. “They’re the daughters of that singer, I forget her name. The ones they found abandoned in an apartment. The mother’s nuts, too.”
“There also has to be a secret room,” she continues. “But I don’t think it’s this one. Where you do the horrible things to the girls. I was afraid before but I’m not anymore. I think I’m already on the other side.” She bursts into laughter. “Now you just have to kill me.”
The world completely flips. Things roll to one side and after a little while Morgana understands that what she thought was the ceiling is actually the library’s carpet. She also realises she is much higher than she thought. That at some point in the conversation she laughed so much and so hard that she fell to the floor. It is also possible that she knocked over the coffee table and the tray of pills to make the boys hard. Purple glimmers from the silent storm enter through the windows and reflect on the library’s walls and ceiling. From the floor, Morgana sees one of the twins head down a hallway dragging Lilith by the hair. Her heart pounds, but it’s possible that it’s just an effect of all the crack she’s smoked. Lilith is unconscious and Morgana is a little frightened to see that her eyes aren’t completely closed. Without really knowing why, she brings her hands to her chest in search of signs of heart failure. The room they are now in is very large and has mirrors everywhere and several HD cameras on in the corners and the most gigantic bed she has ever seen in her life. Some of the HD cameras have motion sensors and their blinking red lights follow the figures that move around the room. The mirrors – especially when you are as high as she is – are disconcerting and make it impossible for her to orient herself or to know exactly where the other people are. Very close to her own naked body, Lilith’s body has become some sort of inert rubber doll. The twins and Omar are fucking her in every hole and her inert body seems completely devoid of life. Blood must be coming out of her from somewhere, because the sheets are stained. At some point there must be some reflex still functioning in her body, because the boys are trying to stick two penises in her mouth and her bugged-out eyes open suddenly in the middle of her blue face. One of the twins pulls out his cock, giggling, and a stream of vomit falls onto Lilith’s chest. At another point Morgana thinks that she is watching them brutally fuck her sister up the ass until she understands that what she is seeing is them fucking her up the ass in one of the mirrors. Lilith’s face is still very blue and has something similar to a very swollen vein on her forehead, which may or may not have burst beneath the skin. Wherever the boys grab her hard and twist her, her skin fills with bruises. The glow of the lightning doesn’t reach the secret room, because it doesn’t seem to have windows. At one point Morgana thinks there must be some kind of medical emergency, because the boys are injecting something into one of the girls in the mirror, and slapping her face to revive her, but after five minutes she is relieved to see the boys are fucking that same girl again. Now there is blood and splatters of vomit all over the sheets. The cameras buzz and move their necks activated by motion sensors. Lilith’s body is no longer anything more than a bruised, lifeless mess the boys keep fucking. Morgana laughs. This is the Final Door. The Door Back. Good girls should be with their mothers. Morgana thinks about astral splits and ghosts who finally leave their bodies and go back to see the world they were expelled from. When they wake up tomorrow, everything will be fine. The mother is the snake; the mother is the mirror. She is the wall of flesh. One, two, three blows and the membrane tears. Driving at top speed in a convertible 1957 Plymouth through the birth canal, hair waving in the wind of the Hollywood Hills and an old single by Betty and the Hobgoblins playing on the stereo. Someone is pouring streams of whisky from a bottle onto someone’s unconscious, bleeding head. The bloodied face tenses in a scream of silent pain. Matter and antimatter flow in both directions. The mother is the alpha and the omega. There is nothing outside of her. She is blood, the memory of the species. The bat wings in whose shadow we grow and play and fear and snuggle and tremble. Leaving the shadow to beat against the membrane with our hips, to play with the nipples and collect the holy sperm we sprang from. The mother is the world and the spear of the goddess with snakes in her hair that goes through our chest when we try to escape from the world.
And when all the lights go out, deep in the secret room, Morgana sees her appear. Floating among the yellow fog. Lovely and hypnotic, a snake with a woman’s body. A sad doll mask. And when she opens her child arms for her mother to pick her up, she understands that everything will be fine.
Translated from the Spanish by Mara Faye Lethem.
Javier Calvo was born in Barcelona in 1973. He graduated in journalism at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and studied comparative literature at Pompeu Fabra University. He is the author of three story collections and four novels, of which Mundo maravilloso (Wonderful World) is published in English by Harper Perennial, translated by Mara Faye Lethem.
Mara Faye Lethem is a Brooklyn-born, Barcelona-based writer and literary translator from Catalan and Spanish. Her translations include Pablo de Santis’s The Paris Enigma (2008), Albert Sánchez Piñol’s Pandora in the Congo (2009), David Trueba’s Learning to Lose (2011) and Patricio Pron’s My Fathers’ Ghost Is Climbing in the Rain (2013). Her translations of Eduardo Sacheri’s Papers in the Wind and Marc Pastor’s Barcelona Shadows are forthcoming in 2014.
Read her essay about translating ‘Bat Wings’.
View from Hancock Park Street, Los Angeles (detail, colourised). Joseph Plotz/Wikimedia Commons
Goth rosary (detail). D Sharon Pruitt/Wikimedia Commons
Author portrait by Mara Faye Lethem