Blood and Bourbon
Traumatized recluse, ghoul's ex-wife, & haunted painter
“In the end, life makes victims of us all.”
“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim—letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”
“Maybe you’ve had this nightmare before. If not, just ask someone who’s strayed from their marital vows, betrayed their lover’s trust, or destroyed their family or someone else’s, and they’ll describe for you in painful detail the nightmare that can be yours if you make one wrongheaded decision. If the errant lover or spouse is willing to tell you everything, they’ll confess their naivety. They’ll say they had no idea how many lives would be affected by their decision. They will acknowledge that none of the players were all good or all bad, and that innocence was a shoe that no one fit. But this is not the welcome revelation that the cuckold precipitated his own fate, or that the cuckolder was saving the adulteress from an abusive marriage, or that he was lured into the situation. It’s no fun to discover you’ve been swindled, and worse when you discover the swindler is you.”
—Louis Fontaine, half in the bag, dispensing bar-stool advice after another adultery investigation turned into a domestic homicide
To the few that ever see the decades-long recluse, Mariángel Batifole resembles a woman on the cusp of old age, the upper crust of middle class, and the brink of a mental breakdown. She keeps her blonde-hair short, her nails and makeup subdued taupe and beige, and her fingers and wrists unadorned, save for the occasional missed smudge of oil paint or potting soil. By and large, her wardrobe has changed little in the last few decades, such that her once haute couture fashion has almost but not quite become retro avant-garde. One of her few recent purchases is a pale turquoise rain-slicker that commonly serves as a makeshift painter’s smock. Mariángel’s once youthful, tan face is marked by short, razor-blade wrinkles that widen into a web of old, unforgotten pain whenever her rain-colored eyes cry–which is often.
The tragedy that became Mariángel’s life began in 1963 in Comayagua, Honduras. There, she was raised by her parents, Inès and Carlos Blanco, the latter of whom once went by the name of Karl Klöpfer. Back in Nazi Germany, Carlos or Karl had been the namesake bastard son of Karl Fiehler, the Third Reich’s mayor of Munich. Although his father was spared execution upon surrendering peacefully to the American forces, the illegitimate Karl was wanted for his part in overseeing the violent deportation of thousands of Munich’s Jews to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where less than half survived. Instead of facing prosecution, Mariángel’s father, like other of his peers, fled to South America. Yet, after Adolf Eichmann, his erstwhile Schutzstaffel supervisor, was captured in Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960 by Israeli secret service agents, the blonde-haired expatriate adopted the name of Carlos Blanco, fled north to Honduras, married the native Inès to further conceal his infamous origins, and resettled in Comayagua where in short time Mariángel was born.
Despite such an ignominious lineage (of which she was ignorant until many years later), Mariángel had a relatively mundane childhood. Her late adolescence, however, was not. In the early 1980s, the United States established a strong military presence in Honduras to support El Salvador and the Contra guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government. To support these foreign policy objectives, the Americans selected Comayagua as the site for an air-strip and the eventual Palmerola military base. Naturally, this proximity deeply disturbed Mariángel’s father, but he found himself unable to escape without blatantly exposing himself, as he had wormed his way into the Honduran military, namely the notorious Battallón 316 which was responsible for carrying out political assassinations and torture of suspected political opponents of the Honduran government during the 1980s. Initially, the US forces indirectly assisted Carlos and his Battallón’s ‘quiet’ war against Marxist-Leninist militias such as the Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, but when the CIA started backing their extrajudicial kidnappings and killings, Mariángel’s father finally cracked under the pressure, convinced that his CIA handlers knew his identity and were just toying with him before eventually, inevitably killing him and his family.
So convinced of his fate, and increasingly weighed down by the atrocities he had committed, Carlos entered his daughter’s bedroom one fateful night. Sitting on the edge of Mariángel’s bed, he woke his only child up, then proceeded to confuse, shock, and horrify her as he revealed his true identity and both past and current genocidal-military sins. Tears drowning his face, her father then told Mariángel how much he loved her and was willing to do anything to protect her. As a final addendum to that tortuous confession, he raised a luger to his temple and blew out his brains. His still-warm corpse collapsed on her, staining both her body and psyche with his death-throes.
The trauma of that night cut to the quick of Mariángel’s soul. As if to block out the terror, she became both deaf and mute. Physicians assured her twice-grieving mother that Mariángel physiologically was fine, even as they failed to ‘cure’ her. Things only became worse though when the Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement retaliated by targeting Battallón family members with bombs. To escape such dangers and to obtain better services for her inexplicably crippled daughter, Inès sought and received approval for her and Mariángel to immigrate to the United States. In 1982, they and other refuge-immigrants resettled in the northern portion of Kenner, Louisiana, a region just outside of New Orleans that has since become known as “Little Honduras”. Only a month later, the still unhearing, speechless Mariángel had the misfortune to witness Pan Am Flight 759 crash into six houses in Kenner, killing its 145 passengers and 8 locals. Needless to say, the experience did not help her already fractured sanity.
However, such tragedies seemed to do wonders for Mariángel’s budding artistic talents. Mariángel had already long taken up the brush as a child in Honduras, but upon arriving to Louisiana, her mother (under the orders of Mariángel’s daily psychoanalyst) did everything in her power to promote and facilitate her daughter’s penchant for painting. According to her psychoanalyst, that medium also became the voice of the psychogenically mute-deaf young woman, whom he diagnosed with conversion disorder. Beyond providing “projective test data tapping Mariángel’s trauma-regressed subconscious”, her paintings also gained her some local renown. Indeed, her painting of the Pan Am Flight 759 crash gained national if transient attention when it was incorporated into a primetime documentary on the crash.
Most saliently, this budding renown drew the attention and later affection of her eventual husband Sterling Batifole. At the time, Sterling was a well-respected art dealer and talent scout whose professional star was still rising. Already intrigued by her artwork, Sterling became smitten when he saw the beautiful nineteen year old artist. Moreover, the canny artist appreciated the ‘human interest factor’ of the young woman’s tragic history and symptoms. Not deterred by the young woman’s lack of speech and hearing (or even English fluency), Sterling quickly became obsessed with acquiring the blonde-haired half-Latina. Over the next year, that courting changed from purely professional to passionately romantic. After all, touch was the one language they shared fluently, and their relationship was heavily encouraged by both Mariángel’s mother, her psychoanalyst, and the local artistic community. Indeed, Sterling’s affection and attention were the primary cause of her slow psychological recovery, and her first word after nearly two years of psychogenic mutism was “Yes” after Sterling proposed to her on bended knee amidst silk-bannered live oaks.
Their engagement and honeymoon were the happiest periods of Mariángel’s life. As one of his foremost artists and assistants, she infused both Latin exoticism and feminine grace into Sterling’s personal and professional life that initially enchanted his nouveau rich clientele and yuppie social circles. Sadly, such successes only hastened their ruin.
Marguerite Defallier, the Toreador Harpy and peer-slandered poseur, caught scent of Sterling’s rising star and quickly coveted it. Three nights later, he was hers–body, mind, and soul–and as hers, he was charged to procure the best and brightest artwork and artists for his domitor so she could conceal her own lacking artistic talents and thus preserve if not elevate her social standing amongst her clan and guild-members.
Initially, Mariángel did not detect the change. She had become pregnant during their passionately consummated honeymoon, and pregnancy hit hard, rendering her nauseous and near bed-ridden for nine months. She interpreted his emotional-sexual distance as natural given her increasingly swollen, sick state, and believed his heightened professional labors to be the symptoms of a father who wanted to provide for his growing family. Initially, some of these interpretations were correct, at least in part; yet, after a year of blood-bond poisoning, Sterling’s interpersonal aloofness and professional overexertion were far from natural. Ignorant of the true cause of her dying marriage, Mariángel believed that things would improve after their child was delivered. She was wrong. Terribly.
Following the birth of their son, Francis Batifole (whom she privately called in her own tongue, Franshesco), Sterling only withdrew further away. Crushed, Mariángel sunk into deep postpartum depression that left her desperate for affection, manically angry at her indifferent husband, and despondently suicidal. For Mariángel, the next year proved a dark time, and not just in mood, as her psychiatrist proscribed heavy sedatives that sent her into a long foggy fugue that took away even her ability to paint. Meanwhile, a nanny largely cared for the infant Francis, as both of his parents were either unwilling or unable to care for him.
Eventually, Mariángel flushed her antidepressants down the drain. It helped, a little. But as her depression seemed to pass, Mariángel’s anger only grew. She nagged and harangued her husband for constantly working, for not caring about her or their son. She began to suspect he was having an affair, or several, and accused him of such. At first, she suspected the nanny and fired her, but then seeing the long overnight hours Sterling was working, she suspected his affair had to be with some client or artist. She confronted him with her suspicions, and he denied it, but all his words seemed to confirm her fears, anxieties, and rage. She exploded, physically attacking him, clawing at his face, shattering plates, and knocking over furniture. He eventually struck back, almost more in defense than anger, but the blow only caused her to attack him all the more viciously. The neighbors called the police, and only their intervention stopped the fight.
After the altercation, both apologized and promised to do better, to and for each other. They probably even meant it.
They definitely failed.
As their subsequent domestic altercations increased in number and severity, any love the couple once shared withered, replaced by resentment and loathing. Mariángel tried to leave, tried to take her then toddler son and return to Honduras or at least Kenner, but she was blocked by the authorities due to her domestic charges and immigrant status. Forced to remain with Sterling or abandon her child, Mariángel stayed. The decision, however, did little to improve her discontent and disagreeable mood.
As Mariángel seethed at home, Sterling spent more and more time at work attempting to earn back Marguerite’s favor, for his domestic disputes had ‘distracted’ him from his domitor’s demands. Afraid of being cast off, Sterling rededicated himself to procuring artwork and artists for Marguerite. Consequently, he became a rare visitor to his own home. When forced to interact with his wife, he learned to respond to Mariángel’s rages with either diffidence or indifference, exhibiting whichever he thought would let him return to ‘work’ most swiftly.
Mariángel’s loneliness and unhappiness only increased when Francis started school. She tried to reach out to prior friends and artistic acquaintances, but she found that most were no longer interested in associating with her or her husband. Others were simply… gone. Eventually, she sought new companions. It was not hard. After all, the French Quarter is known for its social vitality, and Mariángel was still a young woman: hardened perhaps from all she had endured, but hungry for attention and excitement. First, she simply visited local cafes, galleries, and exhibits while Francis was at school, but as time went on, she craved more. She started attending clubs and bars along the Vieux Carré and slowly but surely began to indulge in the region’s myriad peccadilloes, including the specious violation of the sixth commandment.
His name was Emile Boisseau. He was a creole busker, a demimonde aficionado, and most saliently kind, carefree, and emotionally available. The affair was like a slow burn. Initially, it was private and well-concealed, but then hinted at in semi-discrete circles, as if Mariángel wanted to inspire jealously, rage, or some kind of emotion from her aloof husband. When Sterling responded with infuriating indifference, Mariángel’s affair became all the more torrid and public.
And despite what laymen idiom’s posit, not all publicity is good. Indeed, as word circulated about the scandalous affair, Sterling lost an extremely promising artist he had scouted. After all, suggested the artist, how could Sterling manage his professional relations when his most personal one was in such disarray? Marguerite was livid, and threatened to disown her ghoul.
So threatened, Sterling responded with startling force. Calling upon some of his less than savory contacts, he hired a gang of Black Hand mobsters to follow Mariángel and Emile, catch them in the cuckolding act, and break every bone in the busker’s hands to “teach him to not touch another man’s property” with Mariángel as a captive witness. It’s unknown whether Sterling paid the thugs to gang-rape his wife, or whether that deed was lagniappe.
Once again, the walls came crashing down on Mariángel. The police took a perfunctory statement, but never pursued the culprits. The hospitalized Emile refused her visits, and her other demimonde acquaintances evaded her. Sterling publicly denied any involvement, but privately he made his actions and attitudes all too clear. Mariángel tried to tell her high school aged son what happened, but Francis utterly rejected her and her allegations. After all, the boy regarded his father as a hard-working, respectable man whereas his mother had publicly shamed and hurt her entire family by her scandalous behavior. Tearfully, he called her a liar and enrolled in a Catholic boarding school rather than live with her.
So rejected and re-traumatized, Mariángel prepared to leave everything behind and return to Honduras. Sadly, Hurricane Mitch struck first. It devastated her native country, destroying three-fourths of all its crops, bridges, and roads. As further insult to injury, Sterling finally granted her request for a divorce, but his lawyers then tricked her into forfeiting rights to alimony or child support (as Sterling needed every penny for his domitor’s demands). Ultimately, the divorce left Mariángel with nothing but her old paintings. By the time she considered traveling back to the slowly recovering Honduras, her mother developed cancer, and Mariángel was forced to pay off her paintings to support herself and her slowly but inexorably dying mother–whose last words were one of vitriolic blame before the terminal brain tumor stole her speech and then life.
In February 2003, Mariángel buried her mother.
Two months later, she buried her son.
The twenty-year old young man had been kidnapped by one of Marguerite’s rivals, an over-eager vampire fulfilling a boon for Katherine Beaumont. The plan had been simple: hostage Sterling’s only son for a sculpture coveted by several Toreador. Francis was sure his father would comply. He was so sure.
He was also so wrong.
It’s hard to say what torture was worse: the physical mutilation he suffered by the wroth vampire or the psychological agony he experienced as he finally saw who his father really was and realized the truth of his mother’s words. The former was definitely lethal. The latter, however, transcended death, causing the young man to arise as a wraith.
Officially, Francis Batifole died in a car accident, allegedly inebriated and caught by a midnight rainstorm that caused him to crash into and off the Chef Menteur Bridge. Mariángel had no reason to suspect foul play, mundane or supernatural, and Sterling certainly did not enlighten her. Consequently, Mariángel falsely interpreted Francis’ first manifestations and spectral communication attempts as signs of madness. She resumed psychoanalysis and psychiatric medicine. So stymied, Francis’ ghost followed rumors in the Shadowlands and found the office of Louis Fontaine.
There, the wraith beseeched the occult investigator to help him pass. The task was arduous, particularly as it required Lou to first unravel the truth behind Francis’ murder and then find and convince Mariángel of both her husband’s and son’s supernatural fate. The latter task, however, proved less difficult than expected though, as the Catholic Latina was less close-minded, or sane, than many of her American peers. Indeed, Lou and Mariángel discovered that the woman had long possessed a latent sensitivity to the spectral dead, and had several prior encounters with haunting spirits, including her own father’s spectre and the wraith-victims of the Pan Am Flight 759. This ‘talent’, however, did nothing to ease Francis’ final request: forgiveness–for his adolescent lack of belief and acceptance of her, for his father’s ghouldom and subsequent cruelty, and perhaps hardest of all, forgiveness for herself.
Months of heart-wrenching conflict passed, but eventually, Mariángel honored her dead son’s last plea. She let go of her bitter hatred, and with it, she was forced to let go of her son, again. Twice bereaved and bereft of the resentment she had long been nursing, Mariángel felt empty and without purpose. She begged Lou to let her help him, to see if she could use her supernatural talent to ease the pain of other wraiths. Occasionally, the old man relented. Occasionally, she was successful. After a few of these remarkable victories, Lou introduced Mariángel to Dr. Jacques Beltremieux.
Since that precarious introduction a decade ago, Mariángel and Dr. Beltremieux have become companions of a sort. More specifically, Mariángel used nearly the last of her mother’s will-given fortune to purchase the shade’s antebellum property in Lakeview. Although she still hopes to permanently pacify the vengeful spirit, the burden of Beltremieux’s and other wraiths’ suffering and torment has caused Mariángel, who was never particularly resilient, to largely withdraw from the outside world and limit her contact with the living. She shops for food only a few times a year, buying in bulk and stockpiling impressive (or sad depending on one’s view) of food storage. Otherwise, the farthest she strays from her decrepit home is the distance to her mailbox, which she uses to pay her bills and little else. Her computer allows her to stay connected with those incredibly rare acquaintances she wishes to maintain. With the rest of her time, she reads, cooks, or engages in a few modest pastimes, including gardening. The latter she only does when it rains: allegedly because of some horticultural benefit, but in reality it helps her avoid interacting with her acre-plus distant neighbors.
What Mariángel does not realize is that she has resumed painting. Nearly every night, Mariángel rises from her bed, and while still asleep, walks to a secret studio and paints for hours on end before returning to her bed, only to awake hours later, tired but none the wiser. Thus far, her ghostly host has not seen fit to enlighten her. Instead, he has become increasingly fascinated as her artwork has begun to resemble Francisco Goya’s darker pieces, as if her somnambulant artwork is using the old to define the modern, to illustrate the relentless and unchangeable nightmare of not just her life, but all of human existence.