What is your name?
I am called The Immaculate. You may call me Mac, if that’s easier.
If you’ll pardon the observation, Mac, your appearance is certainly less than immaculate. How have you come by such an incongruous moniker?
I’m sure I have no idea what you mean. There is no inch of myself that has not been planned to the last detail, that I have not adorned, festooned, and emblazoned to the utmost. Take for example the precise slant of the hat upon my head. Could such a ravishing angle have invented itself? Now that you’ve noticed the angle, could you imagine any other in its place? Furthermore there is nothing about the man beneath the finery either, not my deportment, nor my character, nor my sensibility, that has not received the same attention, all of it quite thoroughly tweaked and tricked out. And should I seem somewhat . . . like a human birthday cake—for I once overheard a young, observant girl say this of me in the street—if you find yourself cloyed by so much personal fuss and filigree, perhaps allow your eyes a smaller nibble. The Immaculate was not meant to be gobbled down all at once.
I see. And what line of work are you in, Mac? Are these your normal workaday clothes? One could surmise they present some semblance of a uniform.
I do not work, though I’m hardly unemployed. It’s the duty of The Immaculate to be present at all times or places of importance. To be spotted in front of a theatrical opening as lords and ladies swish by en route to their seats. To make myself available by hovering at the edge of a press conference of grave significance. To station myself somewhat in front of the door of a department store upon the advent of the holiday sale. Yes, this is a uniform I wear. Very good. You are more perceptive than you at first seemed. It is a uniform for one, a livery of very high office, and must therefore be perfect in every point. On occasion I do have to trade out my bow if it begins to sag, but that’s very rare—it’s a bleak day indeed when my ebullient bow thinks of sagging.
I’m not sure ‘ebullient’ is the term I’d use to describe it, but I do concede that this bow of yours is not easy to ignore. Is there a story behind that particular component of your uniform that you’d care to share with our (certainly by now) captivated audience?
Certainly. There is no part of me that does not come with a story, to add significance and color.
There is a married couple who lives in a large house above Slew Street. They are prolific and have added to their account fourteen children and a songbird. If the missus has a favorite I can only think it is the songbird, for every morning she sways in front of the window and sings to it. Behind her, her husband and children, all plump and red-cheeked, talk and move with maximum haste making ready for the day. From the street below, beside a popular news stand, I oft enjoy this simple domestic scene framed so charmingly by the window.
One day as I approached my post, I witnessed a moving crew emerging from the rear of the Slew Street home. The mover-men were hefting a giant bed—the couple’s marriage bed, it could only be. There in the alley they abandoned it, with what future plan I do not know, and drove away in their loud stinking truck.
Well! What a desecration, to leave such an intimate fixture of family life propped against an alley wall! Feeling aggrieved and drawn off my track, I strode into the alley to make an inspection.
Why the love nest had been discarded was only too clear. Many of the springs had collapsed. The mattress was misshapen and its striped ticking was blotched all over with an irregular pattern of brown, ring-like stains. The mottled motif was quite involved. I took it in from many angles, at first bemused but then with a growing sense of excitement. It was, in truth, mesmerizingly beautiful. I could not appraise the mattress highly enough. It was a masterpiece.
An elation filled me, which I can only call “Art.” My heart raced. It was as though I’d been pulled here, into this alley and towards the mattress, by magnetic attraction. A great concentration of creative power was centered here. Yes! After all, was this not the site upon which fourteen lives had been conceived? Fourteen living souls—what artist’s atelier or writer’s garret could be said to have produced so much?
With my extremities all a-tingle, I could no longer resist. I rushed at the mattress, gripped the frayed seam of its ticking, and ripped it free. A flash of white feathers stole my breath away. White feathers heaping over my spatz. White feathers floating up and around me. White feathers swaying in the alley like dandelion seeds. I was immersed. And in the white feather swirl I swear I heard, distinctly, our missus’ morning song. I had penetrated to the core of that melody; I knew it now, from inside.
Behold The Immaculate in living rapture. This is the meaning of the bow, a gift I’ve unlaced for you.
For, you see, it was from the mottled mattress ticking that I later formed the decoration I wear round my neck. The material is rather stiff, so stiff I must minimize my yes-ing and no-ing to save my chin from being constantly chafed. The rest of my uniform I starch furiously—when it rains there is a faint smell of potato about me, which is delicious—but my bow has never wanted a drop of starch. My bow is ever a thing of substance, standing to meet all occasions. Except when it doesn’t, which, as I’ve said, is very rare.
Well, that is quite a tale, Mac. I’m not familiar with the area around Slew Street, nor can I find it on a local map. Are those your usual stomping grounds? And do you perhaps live in a dumpster nearby?
Slew Street is easy to find. Go to Crag Top and head south towards Shatter Alley. You can’t get there without meeting a prolix swerve of pavement lined with news and flower stands. That’s Slew Street. It may go by another name on your map. I’ve taken it upon myself to rename many of the drably named streets and landmarks of my city.
Yes, I’m often on Slew Street, but Slew Street is merely one of my many habitual locales. I make it a point to distribute myself as universally as possible. This requires me to tear from district to district at demon speed. I am quite a vision with my ornate coattails flapping behind me like a dragon’s wings. Fortunately I’ve been blessed with a Napoleonic proclivity for marching or I should be constantly run off my feet.
As for where I “live,” I can only be said to live in the street, for that is the place I am most seen and appreciated by those who are equipped to see and appreciate me. As for where I sleep or base my operations, I’ve had many places over the years, and I daresay a few of them have indeed been dumpsters. But err not! A dumpster is never a dumpster by the time I lay myself inside it.
My habitation must be as exquisite as The Immaculate himself. Much can be accomplished with bottle caps and tinfoil. Ribbons can be fashioned from a good many materials, as I have already demonstrated. I never think of embarking on such a project until I’m already weary and it’s often wretched work. By the time I’ve finished transforming the dumpster it’s nothing short of a palace, and I collapse into it with a resounding, metal shudder—all energy has been expended for beauty, none for comfort. It’s a shame that my habitations have not been preserved. I would think they’d make a fine exhibition, shown all together.
Indeed, your bedazzled dumpsters do sound like wonderful art pieces, Mac. If I had any gallery connections I’d surely put you in touch with them. You must be a true artist to sacrifice your own personal comfort like that in favor of a higher level of impractical decor.
As much as I’d like to continue probing your psyche for more shiny nuggets of enlightenment, though, I think we’re going to have to bring this conversation to a close. It has been quite an experience meeting with you and learning about your curious ways. Are there any parting words of wisdom you’d like to share with our audience before you melt away into the gloaming?
Yes. To your admirable audience, a select and sophisticated coterie, I’m sure, I would counsel: If, by chance, you see me emerge before you from the sea of people on the street, do not let novelty be the beginning and end of your experience. Take me in. Little by little. Be patient.
You may start anywhere. With the inclination of my top hat or the poise of my neck-bow, with the unfailing dignity of my facial expression or any other exacting element of my personality. Do this and you will be amply rewarded. As I pass by, much will occur to you that has never occurred before, and yet you will sense that you’ve perceived only the merest fraction. As I vanish again into the human tide, you will feel a loss. You’ll wish we had longer together. But as now I slip from view, be rapturous. The Immaculate exists! There can be no doubt! For a moment your field of vision was filled to overflowing with him, with everything given its proper proportion, everything as it should be.
In this world where all colors are grayed together, where every force is blunted by its opposite to the point of aimlessness, there appears, from time to time, something pure. The Immaculate is unattainable, yes, but take comfort. Now that you’ve seen The Immaculate, he will always be with you.