What Does a Woman Want?

This is a story Leonard Cohen told me, late one night over drinks on the island of Hydra. (See Leonard: A Memoir.) I have preserved his unique phrasing as well as I could. Chaucerians will recognize it as the tale the Wife of Bath tells on her way to Canterbury.

King Arthur was hunting in the forest. He rode into a clearing and there before him was a knight in black armor, on a black horse, his visor down, his lance at the ready.

He accosted Arthur saying, "Well, Arthur, Fate has delivered you into my hands. Prepare to do battle."

Arthur said, "I'll gladly fight you. Let me ride back to Camelot and put on my armour."

"No, Arthur, Fate has decreed it thus."

"But I'm in hunting greens! Let me don my armor and we'll do battle evenly matched."

"No," said the Black Knight.

"But this is not chivalry! These are not the rules!"

They argued and argued, and finally the Black Knight threw up his hand and said, "All right, Arthur, ride back to Camelot. But you must meet me here in a year and a day with the answer to a riddle. And if you don't have the right answer you must do battle dressed as you are now."

"All right. Tell me riddle."

And the Black Knight said, "What does a woman want?"

So Arthur rode back to Camelot, called his knights to the Round Table and told them what had happened. "Don't worry, Arthur," they said, "we'll find out." 

And they mounted their horses and rode off in all directions, some to Ireland, some to Sweden, some to Italy, some to North Africa. They interviewed queens and princesses, merchants' wives, fish wives and peasant women, and they compiled scrolls upon scrolls of answers: "Eternal love," "Great prowess in bed," "Riches," "Three chickens and a goat"—every possible answer was there, and by the end of the year the scrolls were piled high on the Round Table. 

Arthur read it all, studied it all, contemplated it all—but somehow he sensed the answer wasn't there.

Nevertheless, trusting to the spontaneity of the moment, he mounted his steed and set off to keep the appointment. And as he was riding along the forest trail he saw before him a woman—though she was scarcely a woman any more—a hag, ancient and bent and wearing a black cowl, and from the cowl protruded a nose that bent in two places, and on the end of the nose a wart, and from the wart, hairs.

So ugly was she that he steered his horse to the far side of the path, but as he was passing she looked up and caught his eye, and raised a long bony finger. "You don't know the answer, do you," she cackled.

He reined his horse. "No," he said. "Do you?"

"Of course I do!"

"Then tell me!"

"Ah," she said, raising the long bony finger, "if you wish me to do that for you, you must do something for me."

"What?" he said.

"You must wed me to Sir Gawain."

Now Sir Gawain was the youngest, the handsomest, the most eligible of all the knights, and Arthur said, "The thought of his beautiful young body and yours in the marriage bed is grotesque! I won't do it!" There was a silence. "Besides, I couldn't possibly give Sir Gawain in marriage without his permission."

"Then ride back to Camelot and get permission."

So Arthur went back and called his knights around the Round Table and told them what had happened. "Of course it's impossible," he said.

But Sir Gawain came to him, put his hands on Arthur's shoulders and said, "My Liege, my life is pledged to you. If this can help you, I will do it."

Arthur sighed. "Well, we'll have a small wedding."

He rode back into the forest and found the hag. "It is done. You shall wed Sir Gawain. What does a woman want?"

"Her will in all things," she said.

Now Arthur was a man of the world and knew the right answer when he heard it. He spurred on into the forest and found the Black Knight. 

"Well, Arthur, a year and a day have elapsed. What does a woman want?"

"Her will in all things," said Arthur.

The Black Knight threw up his hand. "Bah!" he said, "my sister told you," and rode off into the forest.

Came the day of the wedding, and the hag arrived at Camelot. 

There was a small ceremony in a chapel, and afterward a modest feast. The tumblers tumbled, the jugglers juggled, the fools fooled, the fiddlers fiddled, and each knight danced once with the hag. 

Then Sir Gawain took a candle, gave her his arm and escorted her up the stone stairs to the bridal chamber. When they arrived before a tall oaken door he handed her the candle and said, "So, we are wed. the bargain is fulfilled. Now you go your way, and I mine."

She raised the long bony finger. "Ah," she said, "but the marriage is not yet consummated. Come in with me."

Sore reluctant, Sir Gawain followed the hag into the bridal chamber. She closed the door, placed the candle on the table and took off her robe. She looked—as we would expect her to look.

She lay on the bed. "Lie here beside me."

Much loath, Sir Gawain got on the bed.

"Embrace me," she said.

Trembling at the task, he fitted his hands around her waist.

"Kiss me," she said.

He squeezed his eyes shut and, puckering his lips so as to extend them as far as he could, bent towards her—

And the moment his lips touched hers she turned into a princess more beautiful than his most extravagant fantasies. They made fabulous love, and afterwards lay together in a profound peace.

She got up on her elbow and looked at him. "Now you must choose," she said. "I can be the princess you see before you by day, and the hag you knew me as by night, or I can be the hag by day and the princess by night. Which shall it be?" she twinkled.

Sir Gawain was cast into a brown study. He couldn't acquit his husbandly duties with the hag at night, but neither did he want to come find her waiting at his board.

Suddenly, seized by an inspiration, he got up on his elbow and said, "Your will in all things."

"Ah," she said, "I will to be as I am now, always."

Pretentious Pictures Presents:

You Need Money to Be Rich
a thriller about stealing with style
Nobody ever met cuter:
She's tough; he's refined.
She's practical; he's cultured.
She's brilliant; he's elegant.
She's serious; he's frivolous.
She's a lawyer; he's a crook.
She never loses; neither does he.
Daring British barrister Francesca Smithson, the darling of the press for her courtroom tactics, is appointed to defend American CFO Hugo Danch at hearings to extradite him to New York for absconding with a fortune from his crashing company Engone.

Proposed: Anna Friel
But at the hotel there's a mix-up—she's sent to the suite of Romeo Balue, a light-hearted charmer who mistakes her for the call girl he'd ordered—

Proposed: Christopher Lambert
—and, what is it, her spirit of fun? she is in a rut—she plays along!
Soon she's leading a double life—by night Romeo's bird of paradise, by day the defender of a man with a briefcase full of bearer bonds.

Proposed: Tim Robbins
To avoid arrest Hugo allows her to take charge of the bonds—but then Romeo disappears with them! Who's been conning who?
He's a retired art thief, whose mistress Ada Hauptmeier has seen paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts that the Nazis confiscated from her family, and are now in the hands of the Russian government, where they're being pilfered away. She doesn't want Romeo to do anything bad, but he's looking into it. 

Proposed: Anamaria Marinca
And why not scoop the bonds at the same time? 
What's Francesca to do? All right, she was bored with her fiancé, Jason—

Proposed: Steve Pemberton
—but Romeo has disappeared with the bonds, and a truck full of paintings, left her on the hook with some murderous people...and the game heats up.
Set in London—
—and Lake Como.
—plus this—
—equals this:           
Pretentious pictures presents
You Need Money to Be Rich

Short poems


It’s allergy season and the nose is always something of an issue,
So instead of rubbing it between your breasts I thrust it into a tissue.
But I miss you.

That which sees but is not seen
And puts on flesh to feel,
Immerses itself in the carnal dream
And bobs to the surface for meals.

Etre né,
C’est oublier.

Breeds caress.

Hollow distance,
Strange persistence.

A beautiful place,
Its own time and pace.

Put it in the drawer.
Never touch it more.

The mother country’s not easy to love.
It’s just full of mothers and fuckers thereof.

In the winter I’m a Buddhist,
In the summer I’m a nudist,
And when happiness is mootest
That’s just when I’m at my cutest.

The perspiration on your anal pucker,
Oh, sweetest distillation of your shit!—
Emboldens me to fix thereto my sucker
So I can work my tongue around in it.

A pleasure almost too intense to mention,
The perspiration glistening on your toes,
Lubricates my sordidest attentions,
To try to force each digit up my nose.

Also by Robert MacLean:

The President's Palm Reader: A Washington Comedy at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Smashwords, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel—the whole street.

Foreign Matter: In Trouble with My Fantasies at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Smashwords and the others.

Pretentious Pictures Presents

My husband suspects
A 20-minute romantic comedy without much dialogue

A middle-aged woman in love with a younger man is frustrated at every turn in her attempts to bring them together. But she doesn't know how to quit. 
A restaurant. The patrons are in evening clothes, the waiters formal. There is no music, only the soft sound of voices in conversation. Michaela, elegant in a black dress, participates in one such conversation.
We can't hear what's being said but the atmosphere is happy, polite. Her husband presides with an easy charm. Over her shoulder we see the couple they are dining with, Philip and his wife. Philip's eyes are toward the other two, perhaps carefully so.  
Michaela is absorbed in the general conversation, self-forgetful, but she too is restraining her gaze. When it does rest on him it is with a gaiety that seems a touch contrived.
She gets up and walks away, pausing to greet friends at another table. As her husband and the younger woman continue chatting Philip permits himself a discreet but lingering glance at Michaela. She is several yards away in profile, smiling, nodding.

Suddenly, absurdly, she is nude. She stands there talking with someone, in heels and necklace, tiny purse in hand, oblivious to her nudity, as are those around her. This is Philip's fantasy. 
But now, even more absurdly, she does notice!  She looks down at herself, shocked. The others don't see.

She does not convulse and cover herself but stands her ground, purse lifted in her hand, and glances at Philip—too briefly to be eloquent, but sharply. He looks away mortified.

Instantly she is dressed again and, taking leave of her friends, she proceeds to the bathroom...
Michaela has reached a certain age, and worries about her beauty—but Philip, her husband’s business associate, is mad about her. And she about him: lightening has struck. 
They do everything they can to meet but are constantly frustrated—each episode an assault on her dignity.
He's not a bad husband; she loves him. And his passion for her is keen, so keen that he can tell something, or someone, is on her mind, and watches even as the lovers try to elude his eye.
So does Philip's wife. He's starting to disappear at odd times. In fact she's sure there was a stranger in their bedroom while she was asleep. Did someone reach the balcony from the street outside and—?
As Michaela climbs a steep street past Philip's apartment, where the balconies hover near the steps, her friend hails her from up high—from where she spies at the other couple. That night she steals down and stretches their balcony—

The co-star is Athens, the only place this story could happen. Every opportunity, every chance meeting, every frustration is a piece of Athenian realty.
Always elegant, always in a little black dress and heels, she hangs from balconies, climbs cliffs, crosses deserts, clings between moving taxis
but her dignity prevails, and the sound of her steps as she threads the Athens labyrinth is the music of the film.
Pretentious Pictures Presents
My husband suspects
A 20-minute romantic comedy without much dialogue

CHOCOLATE AND CHAMPAGNE, a comedy in the spirit of Lubitsch

Reg’d © Library of Congress
A Beverly Hills woman wakes up middle-aged and finds her life with a younger man undignified.

The stage version was performed in New York at the Creative Place Theatre.  Think of...

...only this is her movie, and she gets the younger guy.

Diana, a woman of a certain age, deals with a birthday by throwing out her younger live-in Jim.

They're right for each other, and she regrets it immediately, but she can't take him back: her daughter Jackie, who idolizes and competes with her, tells her Jim has seduced her, and Diana believes it.

So she makes do with the respectable but empty new life she'd thought she needed—with older lawyer Griff.

Jim gives a driving lesson to frantic neurotic Betsy, who almost shoots them off a cliff.  He calms her down and she takes him home. But he can't forget Diana.

Proposed cast: Kristin Scott Thomas (Diana)

DIANA, the Hamlet at the heart of this comedy, is a clothes designer with a boutique on Rodeo Drive, a house in Beverly Hills, and a younger lover, Jim, her kept man for two years now. There’s nothing she can’t handle—except getting older.

Proposed cast: Gael García Bernal (Jim)

JIM is happy with a champagne-and-sports-car life, but he’s also a talented script-writer who’s postponing seriousness into a future that never comes.  Together they’re fast company.  They must have been brilliant at her birthday party last night.

This morning, though, even while he’s making love to her, she’s spooked.  She tells him he has to go.  She wants something more presentable, more—respectable—before it’s too late.

Which shocks him.  He takes life as it comes, but this is a bit violent.

Proposed cast: Kathy Bates (Betsy)
BETSY, the suicidal widow of a husband she drove to suicide, is too scattered to pass a driving test, takes a lesson with Jim, spins the    car onto a Mulholland Drive cliff and is ready to gun it and take him with her.

Proposed cast: John Goodman (Griff)
Diana's lawyer GRIFF, more her age and on her success level, has been in love with her for years.  Now’s his chance.  When Jackie tells Diana the lie that Jim has seduced her Diana gives up on Jim and tries to make a go of it with Griff.

Proposed cast: Adelaide Clemens (Jackie)
JACKIE, Diana’s daughter, idolizes her and so misses no chance to pick at and defy her.  Inwardly shaky, she is outwardly impish and sexy.  She thinks she’s in love with Jim; in fact what she needs is a father.

Proposed cast: Jack Roth (Dylan)
Betsy's son DYLAN—eccentric hair, psychotic eyes, twitches constantly and rhythmically as if keeping time to music he doesn’t much enjoy—is in the same class at UCLA with Jackie, over whom he moans uncontrollably.  He disgusts her.

Proposed cast: Rosie Perez (Maria)
MARIA, Diana's housekeeper, is the deadpan foil to Diana's Hamlet, secret ally to Jim, and the one person Diana doesn't dare defy.

Proposed cast: Stockard Channing (Gwen)
GWEN is Diana's mischievous best friend and alter-ego.  She'll take Jim if Diana doesn't want him!  Just kidding.  In an attempt to bring them back together she throws a party and invites both of them, but it turns into a confrontation....

And the final character is Beverly Hills—
—the tone, the climate, the village size and ambiance that make it inevitable for these people to collide.

The stage version of Chocolate and Champagne was produced by Love Creek  at the Creative Place Theatre in New York.

Pretentious Pictures presents a comedy with a dark center.

Reg’d © Library of Congress