A Treatise on the King of Bulgaria
There is a man with whom I share a birthday: the King of Yugoslavia, Alexander I, who ruled during World War I. During his rule almost a million Yugoslavs died. It was nothing startlingly new. Some kings are, like women as lovers or child-bearers, habituated to the burden of human flesh with every successive generation. Someone will think up something to die for. But this story is about the King of Bulgaria.
A man who lived in a hard time. He shared a name with a man who was assassinated, the Archduke of Austria-Hungary. Ferdinand of Bulgaria was no stranger to assassination. Approximately twenty-five heads of state were assassinated in the twenty-five years before the Great War began, before this story began, and enough attempts on Ferdinand’s life were made as well: bombs tossed, concealed pistols discharged, malnourished anarchists beaten to a pulp and hanged, drowned in the Iskar.
Ferdinand was pressured into entering the Great War though he knew he would lose. The German army had been ordered to dig in; the General in charge hid in the attic of a country house in eastern France. The General later suffered a heart attack. In the east, the Russians were pouring entire cities of young men into Austrian guns. And yet Ferdinand of Bulgaria was forced into the war, what a stressful affair.
It is said that when Ferdinand of Bulgaria was stressed, he would retreat to one of his country palaces, nestle down on a chaise long, and bury his hands in bowls of precious gems—diamonds, rubies, emeralds. These jewels, always cool to the touch, never failed to sooth him.
Ah, history loves a detail like that.
History ignores what else is almost certainly true, that Ferdinand of Bulgaria, as he buried his soft white hands in the precious stones, had a Bohemian servant girl between his legs. No one can ignore the soothing power of a Bohemian servant girl between the legs.
Historical consciousness is a memory learned, and I have learned a memory about Ferdinand of Bulgaria.
And a thing or two about relaxation.
Ferdinand signs a document and sentences his tiny country to a couple years of epic slaughter. Only a man with tender kisses on the insides of his thighs can do that kind of thing and still find time for tea and baklava. And who can deny the satisfactory nature of Bohemian girls?
It is a common trope of history that oral sex and mass slaughter go hand in hand. They are symbolically as well as coincidentally linked, a perfect love. Don’t rely on a historian to tell you otherwise, those armchair affairists, afraid of action without teleology.
Noncombatants. Pacifists, some. They could never comprehend the full meaning of a blowjob.
The circle of life made into a half moon.
The terse microcosm of genocide.
Ferdinand Maximilian Karl Leopold Maria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha-Koháry: he made big
decisions and worked hard to relax in his bowls of jewels in his villa in the country.
Nonetheless, he lives a nightmare.
The dogwood is older than sin. A desperately ancient relative of Ferdinand planted the tree when he was Khan of the tribes who lived where Bulgaria exists now. The dogwood is gnarly and enormous, and all around it stand the graves of fallen officers, the graves of men returned from the front and successfully identified, interred. The dogwood, through phantasmagorical mechanisms of the xylem and phloem, draws the bodies of those fallen officers up through its massive trunk, revealing them as fruit when the petals of summer die and fall off. The officers grow from little bulbs, fetal fruit, to large, fecund men in full uniform. They hang by their hair until fully ripe, maybe 75 kilos, at which point their eyes open and they fall to the ground, pull out their sabers and stalk toward the palace, looking for the King of Bulgaria, for Ferdinand Maximilian Karl Leopold Maria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha-Koháry. There is no word for zombie yet, the word still means “snake god,” still belongs to the West African languages and not the Western horror canon. Ferdinand of Bulgaria awakes in a cold sweat. The little Bohemian next to him rolls over and asks him sweetly in Bulgarian what is wrong. She thumbs around his nightgown for his penis.
The tree of his ancestors has unearthed the future dead, how could the King live with that future?
Two floors down, in the east parlor, bowls of gems sit on small tables on either side of a chaise long. They hold the imprints of His Majesty’s fingers from the day before, when the Bohemian girl drowned untold millions through peristalsis.
On that day, King and servant both had committed acts of mass death, at least symbolically, playfully, and with simple repetitive gestures. The King of Bulgaria with the scratch of an inkwell pen, the Bohemian girl with her boudoir graces.
It takes a special kind of relaxation to join a war on the losing side.
And what of the zombies, the men from the front and successfully identified, interred?
The King of Bulgaria wakes up the next day after a little help falling back asleep by the Bohemian girl—let’s call her a consort, she is now an important character in this Artsybashevchinist yarn of sex and death.
The King of Bulgaria orders the dogwood tree outside his bedroom window be cut down.
His attendants are flummoxed. They protest. The tree has been in the family for generations! The oldest attendant says how many generations? sixty!
How many kingdoms ruled over Bulgaria before Bulgarians ruled over Bulgaria? asks one attendant. How many Czars, how many Khans?
The attendants present all bow for a moment, and thank King Ferdinand for Bulgarian
independence, written into law by His Majesty’s own hand only eight years earlier. In Ferdinand’s boyhood, Mother Russia whipped the Ottoman Turks; it had taken thirty years for de jure sovereignty to follow. Ferdinand, while his attendants stood remembering, thought about how long it would take for the dogwood tree to flower.
The King of Bulgaria gives another order to his attendants; there was to be no cemetery on the palace grounds.
On any palace grounds, ever.
Let it be known.
The attendants go to work, hacking at the dogwood tree all day. With each dull thud, branches shake and buds fall. The sounds of axe blades in a tree so thick with time and phantasms of doom permeate every corner of the palace. The King is unable to relax—not with his hands in bowls of jewels, not inside his Bohemian consort, though she grabs his face with two hands; though she forces him look her in the eyes; though she pushes her peach plum breasts into his face and clamps her hands over his ears.
It takes seven days to fell the tree. The attendants hack, three at a time, day in and day out. Their blisters open and leak onto their skin. The young attendants complain, the older ones tell them it ain’t half so bad as the trench foot of the German army, the lice of the entrenched French.
That’s where the saying, “Put a candle to your arm,” comes from: French lice. The tiny creatures cry out, burned to death on hairy French arms. The wax drips to the trench floor and hardens against the shit and the dead. All over Europe the French lice were famous.
When the attendants told the King of Bulgaria that the tree was finally down, he went to have a look. He ordered the tree carried away and hacked into firewood.
Such details—jewels, fellatio, dreams, Bohemian consorts, trees, lice—are written off as historically irrelevant. Such trifling little details, pertaining to such a trifling little country—Bulgaria—are unimportant in the grander scope of World War I, in the grander scope of history.
That’s what they say.
But just look at how those jewels affect the lives of millions of men and women, look at how the soothing touch of a Bohemian tongue on the inner thigh of a statesman can make his pen twitch, make a signature bleed onto paper, a nation of young men bleed out.
The unraveling of reality is the cost of historical consciousness! spouts a French critic.
One cannot take archeological leftovers—antiques—the jewels of the Bulgarian royal treasury, a bland portrait of a strikingly blond Bohemian woman found in the walls of a statesman’s villa at Dolna Banya, and just will a narrative from thin air!
The French critic should know better—a Frenchman, having no academic understanding of the power of oral sex!
The very same sorts of calm decisions affected the modern history of his people, the French; how else could the Sanguinocrats, or Robespierre in his highchair, discuss morality and carry out Thermidorean terror whilst preserving their identities as idealists, as Frenchmen, as lovers? To better understand history, he, the French critic, should perhaps die once or twice; he should find himself a treaty and a bowlful of jewels, an inkwell pen and a Bohemian consort. A pacifist could never comprehend the full meaning of a blowjob.
The tree at Dolna Banya is now firewood, the flowers mulch. The twigs make a path from where the tree stood for sixty generations to the shed where the tree is split and stacked. Men mustered from the cities of Bulgaria make a path to the frontier, to the trenches that will serve double duty as mass graves. Their abandoned machine gun emplacements will mark the place of rest. The soldiers who don’t die will assemble their comrades’ discarded carbines and stack them in teepee triads. Some dead men return home when there is room on the wagons, but the wagons are often full of living men, men with head injuries and broken dreams, goners with gangrene. Some men can return home only as apparitions, or as the fruit of flowering trees in the gardens of the aristocracy.
There are whores too, in queue behind the columns of conscripts. Their pleasures are universal, their body language like Esperanto. Their price, reasonable. Their services are satisfying, but they come at a price beyond the going rate in Bulgarian leva: supposedly, more men died in World War I from venereal disease than from bullets and warfare. A pacifist could never comprehend the full meaning of a blowjob.