A Man With A Pipe

November 9th 

It’s been three months and I find myself wanting to audit my thoughts, to unfold certain past events, to either forget or re-catalog them. In the desk drawer I find the letters. It is too late, they should remain there with the A-string, earrings, the condom and the dry scraps of blood. I can’t even begin to comprehend these things right now. I set the letters down on the desk.

I realize as I make my way through the other drawers that I am talking to myself. It is a nearly unconscious vocalization, not the deliberate talk of trying to figure something out, nor the pouring out of anger and frustration which I have also been prone to lately. What I am doing can in fact hardly be called talking, for whatever I have been saying has remained unheard and not responded to. Now that I have caught myself I feel compelled to continue, to answer myself in an effort to pass it off as nothing.

It is snowing, and quiet. I hear the furnace clicking and the hum of the room ringing in my ears like the end of a note at the end of a song at the end. When the note ends, I will be without… without what? I feel tight, like there is something inside of me driving me through the motions. Things I mean to remember escape me. Other things I had no intention of considering force their way upon me.

I was born on a night like this thirty years ago.

“This is a funny story,” my father would say. I am sitting Indian style in a pile of torn wrapping paper, a green bow on my forehead. Janis, my sister, is endlessly bouncing on one foot. “On this date six years ago you were yanked from your mother’s womb by a nameless intern while Dr. Charousek sat in a bar drinking scotch…” It was at least the third time I’d heard the story. I was always yanked, the intern was always nameless, the doctor was always drinking scotch, it was always night and snowing, my mother was always rolling her eyes. When he came to the part where Dr. Charousek runs into the ward my father would clap his hands and then fling his arms out. “Oh, yes! The doctor came, he did. He walked up to me, his eyes as big as plates, and said, ‘Did I miss it?’ His breath was overwhelming. ‘Did you miss it!’ I told him, ‘I thank God you missed it. One whiff of you and my son would be drunk!'”

“Alain is drunk!” screeched my sister.

“You’re a bouncing fool!” I shot back.

I shove the letters back into the drawer, as far back as they will go. It is too late. I need to work, do something to distract my mind, but it is hard to concentrate, imagining phone calls, disasters, attempts to pull me away from myself. I pull out a pen and chew on it for ten minutes. I am too manic to think coherently.

A snow plow rolls past the house and I shiver at the thought of being outside. Nothing feels colder than the sound of the plow scrapping the street… or needing to have the lights on in the middle of the day… or not doing any of things you’re supposed to. Mundane tasks have become a labyrinthine nightmare. There are bills and rent to pay. I need to find a new apartment, a roommate. This is a seemingly impossible concept. I have given up on want ads, preferring instead to go to the bar every night in the off chance that I will run into someone with a similar predicament.

I look around the room. What is it, I ask myself. It wasn’t in the desk. I have come to the conclusion that there is in fact just a single thing that I need to be reminded of, or, rather, simply to remember. “Reminded” carries with it an ostensible point which I know doesn’t exist in this case.

In the closet is a box containing a few never opened reference books: The New College Latin & English Dictionary, Dictionary of Mathematics Terms, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. There are also three ragged notepads full of my scribble, a thick stack of loose papers of various size and content, a hard bound sketchbook with broken spine, a clear plastic sleeve containing unused plastic protractor, ruler, and square, and finally several envelopes of photographs. I pull these out and find that I have marked the years on each envelope. The more recent ones are very thin. Some years are not represented at all. Among last year’s pictures I find what I have been looking for, a picture of Ann standing on the side wall of the recessed patio in front of the art museum. Stupidly, I suddenly understand what made me think of this image, for in the mail today I received my reserved invitation to next Friday’s reception.

Ann is facing east, towards Moore’s reclining nude. There is a man seated under an umbrella behind her. A bus can be seen reflected in the museum café’s glass front, as can a mirror image of Ann’s back, and, barely, myself taking the picture. She looks happy, unburdened. Her smile is unforced, her eyes directed straight ahead, gleaming. I have no better image of Ann than this one.

I recall showing her the picture the following week, remarking how fascinated the scene seemed to be with her, explaining that the old man behind her was actually myself in several decades while Ann would stay young and beautiful forever. This led into a discussion of the fact that there were, again, a fresh bouquet of flowers on her kitchen table.

“You’re too young to have a mid-life crisis, Alain.” She was ignoring my attempts to bring her secret admirer into the conversation. Then she turned me towards the mirror, her hands on my shoulders, and said, “Stop fidgeting and look at yourself. You’re a handsome man.”

“Our signals have always been hopelessly crossed. Who sends you these flowers? Or does he bring them to you himself?”

“You are frustrating. Do you need a ride home?”

“No, I’ll walk.”

Ann’s dissembling ways charmed me. Why did I question her about other suitors? She must have had thousands of them. Men would be fools not to send her flowers… but had I, ever? No. Of course, after the bouquets there was no way I ever could. I’d been one-upped, duped into choosing between being insensitive or ineffective. How do such things happen?

I return the pictures to the envelope and the box to the closet. I don’t know what to make of this. Why should I care now about one day or another with Ann? It seems of no more consequence than my sixth birthday. I walk over to the window and gaze outside. The snow has not let up. I lay on the bed. Clearly I see Dr. Charousek, a green bow, a blue ball, Ann, an old man, flowers. I put the bow on Ann’s head, hand the ball to the old man, and send the flowers to Dr. Charousek. He brings them to the museum patio, where he meets with Ann and the old man. They play four square with the ball. The winner will get the bow. The flowers are in a vase resting on a table. The ball gets loose and knocks the vase over. Dr. Charousek wanders off, drinking scotch from a flask. The old man hobbles over to the table and tries to pick up the flowers. Ann places the bow on the wall.

It has been three months, I think. I need to find a new apartment, and a roommate. Tonight I will go to the bar in the off chance that I will happen across someone with a similar predicament. I have wasted the entire day. I am waiting for something to happen. Next Friday I am going to the museum. The phone hasn’t rung once in over a week.

November 12th 

I meet Darcey for a drink. She has a limp from a recent car accident. We haven’t known each other long, a few months. Over spiked coffee I realize that she isn’t very bright, doesn’t have much to say about anything except television and her girlfriends. It doesn’t matter.

“Do you see that man over there? His name is Louis Janssen. Six years ago he went through the roof of a truck cab. Tore his face right off. Can you imagine what sort of accident a truck would have to get into to make someone riding in the back go straight up with that much force? It happened to Louis. Look closely, you can’t see a single line on his face. Perfectly smooth. The doctors did excellent reconstruction. Skin grafts, bone welds, etc. Too good a job, if you ask me. Not a single line there. Can you see?”

Darcey thinks it’s horrible. “What was he doing there?”

“In the back of a pickup? Who knows. When we were little my sister and I would ride in the back of the Ford on family vacations. We rode all the way to Myrtle Beach and back like that, wrapped in blankets.”

“How do you know him?”

“Just a friend. He’s rich now. Made a killing off that accident. He’s got a screw loose. I suppose anyone might after having their face ripped off. All he can think of is sex. Maybe he was like that before almost dying, but I doubt it.”

“He’s not attractive at all.”

“Maybe not, but he gets women anyway.”

I invite Darcey to my apartment. She sits in the chair by the door and chatters on about her co-workers and her mother. It disgusts me. I sit on the arm rest and begin stroking her hair until she stops talking. She knows she doesn’t belong here, but it doesn’t matter to her either.

Later I close the door behind her and return to my desk.

November 15th

I have been feeling unnatural, affected. Lulled by my restlessness, I find myself trudging down winding back streets that seem to narrow ahead and behind in the snow. I came from the café. I was doing nothing there anyhow. I follow a long, uncertain tree-lined passage, heading towards the sentimental solace of a graveyard at the bottom of a dead-end street.

The source of my restlessness is always the same. It leads me again and again to these places. I take a foot path up a steep hill towards the center of the cemetery. The granite stones seem mockingly pretentiousness. I laugh once, audibly, and cut myself short. There is no return. The bare, bent trees don’t move. I hear only the wind against my ear and my own heavy, trudging steps. I circle the icy loop, eye a couple of obelisks and feel alarmed by their rising, dark profiles. That is sufficient. I am beginning to feel pleased with myself. Despite the monuments, the cemetery seems small, isolated. I snuffle my face in my hands, breathing the acrid perfume of an earlier cigarette. I sense my throat drying, mucus accumulating within. Sharp inhalations, sharp thoughts, everything like a knife. My legs heave and the rest of me follows forward, half stumbling back towards the car.

November 19th 

Snow swirls from one side to the other of the long steps leading up to the Museum of Natural History. I hand the man my card and step inside. The rose marble hall is bathed in yellow light, a sharp contrast to the clear-blue and cold outside. I am approached by Jason and Morgan, handed a gin and tonic, made comfortable despite my darting eyes. “You look uptight, Renard.”

“I’m not used to events like this.”

“No need to hide in the basement this time. You know too many people here. I’ve already seen Mara with someone.”

Before wandering off, Jason assures me we’ll go to the bar later. I get another drink, fall into the murmuring crowd, look for Rene. She’s across the Hall of Architecture, standing in a small group by Menander’s Seated Senator. I cross the wide expanse of the hall, suddenly reassured by the crowds who have come to gather beneath these high, vaulted ceilings, drawn in by some sense of warmth and light this late November.

I stand on the edge of her group, waiting for Rene to break away. Not once do I see her make eye contact with me, but then she is leaving her associates with an excuse and grabs my arm as she walks past. The party has made her buoyant and talkative. She’s happy to see me looking so well. She apologizes ahead of time for her meet-and-greet obligations. It’s obvious she is distracted. She looks me in the eye several times to reassure me that coming here wasn’t a mistake. She let’s me finish my drink and then puts her hand on my arm. She’ll be around, a couple of hours and then she can go. Will I stay? I say of course, some of us are going to the bar afterwards. I’ll wait for her to join me.

Jason I end up leaving before Rene, who waves me off with a promise that she is right behind us. In the bar I remove my tux coat, head straight for the back and start a game of pool. I lose the first game and go back to the bar. Heading away from me, down the hall, is a tall, luxuriously built woman in a full length black dress. I watch her weave her way to the back where she sits down on the stage next to two large men. I follow. There’s no time to think. I approach all three and crouch down to better talk to them. The woman speaks with the remnants of an Eastern European accent, maybe Hungarian. The two enormous men flanking her don’t seem the least bit surprised that I am there. I tell her she is beautiful. She thanks me unabashedly, but with professional reserve. Her name is Jeanette. Perhaps she is an escort. Her companions look like football players or thugs. None of them have been here before, and to my question they reply that they are just friends. The woman tells me that she isn’t going home with them, if that’s what I thought. One of the men suggests that maybe I should take her home. I don’t respond. I thank her for talking to me and go for a drink.

Rene arrives with a small entourage of friends from the museum. She separates from them as they move to the back. “I wanted to take you to my favorite spot by the river tonight, but it looks like the snow is getting worse. James called anyway.”

“He’s coming here? Well, a rain check then?”

“Yes. Are you playing?” she asked, nodding towards the pool tables.

We team up for partners. We win ten straight games easily before I remember to refill our drinks. I go to the bar, order, and when I turn around I see the black, magnetic shape of Jeanette at the jukebox.

November 20th 

“Admit it, you’re stalking me.”

“Maybe a little.”

“I need help with this. Can you teach me the jukebox? What is a good song?” I start picking some out while she goes on… “I am not going home with those men. Don’t you think you’re awfully forward? You don’t know who I am. I am glad you did talk to me, though. Tell me what a good drink is. Do you need one?”

“I’d love to, but I’m in the middle of a pool game right now. But promise me something.”

“Yes, what?”

“Don’t leave without me. This place is full of people who will talk to you and then vanish. I’m not doing that, I want to stay here but…”

Jeanette laughs and thanks me again. “I will be back there, watching you play your game.”

Rene has already broke the rack. It’s my turn. There’s a little crowd gathered around, waiting for us to lose. We win ten more games and I’m laughing. We’re not even winning half of them on a full game. Two shots in and the other team drops the eight ball. Then I put the eight ball in on the break. We’re leaving the other teams with five or six balls on the table. I start lining up ridiculous shots… “Three rails… here, here and here, into the corner pocket off the two,” and it goes. I can’t stop laughing. A girl standing behind me reaches over and starts tickling me. It doesn’t matter. I ask her what her name is. James is here now and Rene isn’t concentrating, misses shots. It doesn’t matter. I’m shooting half blindly but everything goes where it should. We win seven more games. I see Jeanette at the back of the room. Her friends are gone. She waves at me. I make three bank shots in a row and win the game. Rene tells me she has to leave soon. “Ok, we’ll lose this next game.” I deliberately miss shots, but the other team scratches on the eight. “Jesus, it’s ridiculous. No, wait. We can’t walk away from the table.” I break. Something falls. I line up the eight ball and put it in.

Rene leaves with James and I take a seat next to Jeanette. She slides her hands under her legs, adjusts her dress and settles back, pressing her thigh against me.

“That was good!”

“I wanted to lose much sooner. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“You think I’ve waited for you?”

“I do. Your friends are gone and you’re alone now. Not even drinking.”

“You make a lot of assumptions, but you are right anyway.”

“They are going to throw us out soon.”

“Then what?”

“Then we go to either your place or mine. That is, if…”

“Yes. Mine, I suppose. I hope you don’t mind a drive.”

We’re on the turnpike, just over the Pennsylvania border. The storm opens up here, the flat expanse of Ohio offering no resistance to the white winds. I haven’t said a word yet about where we are going. Jeanette drives slowly, carefully. It’s been almost an hour since we left the bar. The radio is set low, just audible.

“Aren’t you curious, or scared?”

“More worried about how I’m getting back.”

“I’ll take you tomorrow. I work again.”

“It feels like a holiday. This stretch of road is familiar to me. I suppose if I hadn’t driven along it many times in the past I would be more concerned. Is that strange?”

“I don’t know. If I were you I would have made me drop me off already.”

“Out there?” I exclaim, turning my head to the window. “Wherever we’re going, whatever horrible things you intend to do to me when we get there, it has to be better than standing out in this. But now I am curious. You could have at least told me what you meant by ‘a drive’. Why are you comfortable taking me somewhere you yourself wouldn’t go? Which one of us is crazier?”

“This is what happens when you get into a car with a strange woman.” She is smiling, then looks at me with a raised eyebrow. “I suppose it is simple. I am the woman, and the one driving. Murderers don’t ride in the passenger seat, do they? Besides, I didn’t think you’d mind, as long as I got you home. Why didn’t you say anything? I don’t think you ever would have if I hadn’t asked.”

“Probably. I think I’m just in a daze. This storm…”

“It takes your thoughts. We’re almost home. See? Not so bad. Much faster, usually.” And indeed we are exiting the turnpike, making our way along a short strip of empty highway with blinking red lights. We turn onto a two lane road. Wet snow obscures the street sign. There are no lights for awhile. To my right pass a steady row of dark tree trunks. Beyond these I can just make out a line of houses across a rising field.

Jeanette pulls in front of her garage and parks. A light comes on. “Come on, it’s only 3:30 in the morning,” she says as she opens the car door. In the few seconds it takes to get to the porch we are covered with snow. I am fully awake, the night’s drinking has worn off during the drive. As Jeanette slides her key into the lock I brush quickly melting flakes of snow off her shoulder.

It’s a newer house. Just inside the door is a small, framed painting of a man with a pipe clenched between his teeth. Jeanette removes her coat and places it and mine over a chair in an adjoining room. I examine the painting. A crinkle of tobacco is visible at the top of the pipe, unlit.

“My dad, Martin,” says Jeanette. “In Czechoslovakia. 1961, probably. He had returned to Europe just a year before. He would soon leave again, with my mother and I, and come here. The artist was a good friend of my father. They are both gone now.”

“What did he do?”

“He was an engineer. He brought us to Pittsburgh to work for Westinghouse. He did very well.”

“And your mother?”

“She lives outside of Detroit with her sister. I will drive there in a few weeks for the holiday. Do you want something to drink?”

I follow Jeanette through the dining room into the kitchen. The house is laid out neatly, with half walls and arched doorways that give the illusion of more space than is actually here. Besides the portrait, Jeanette’s décor is mundane. There are few clues to the personality of the person who lives here; what does she do here when she is alone? Leaf through coffee table books? Wind the mantle clock? I realize that Jeanette must not spend much time here at all. Everything is perfunctory, purchased from Sears, arranged into a very good semblance of blue collar domesticity… the hollowed shape of her father’s American dream, perhaps.

Jeanette pours us each a glass of water, then opens a bottle of wine. “I hope this is alright. Here. I am going to change. Do you want something? I think I have some slacks and a shirt. By the way, I hope you don’t need to be back in the morning? I was thinking mid-afternoon.”

“No, that’s fine…”

We go down a short hall and into her bedroom. Jeanette opens a closet with folding doors, takes off her shoes and kicks them in. She bends over, her dress stretching tight across her hips, and pulls some clothes off a shelf. When she stand up the dress is hitched too high. She holds out a pair of pants and a white button down, but I don’t take them.

“Your dress…” I say, moving to her side. I touch my hand on her thigh and pull, bringing the loose fabric up. “I need to see you right now. Is that ok?” She doesn’t respond, doesn’t set down the clothes she is holding, doesn’t move at all. I have the bottom of her dress gathered in folds at my hands which are pressed tightly against her bare thighs. She drops the clothes and places her hands on top of mine. Together we pull the dress up over her head. I run two fingers down her spine in a blessing, then hook them into the elastic of her panties. I am amazed at the expanse and fluidity of her skin, taut and thick, much warmer than its whiteness suggests. Her back is strong and wide. I unhook her bra and place my cheek there, between her shoulder blades.

“Alain… I need to pee.” She turns and walks out of the room, throwing her bra onto the bed as she passes. I undress and put on the clothes she got for me.

I’m in the kitchen when Jeanette emerges from the bathroom. She stands in the hall facing me, her underwear hanging from her fingers. I smile and she ducks into the bedroom and comes back out a minute later, dressed in sweat pants and shirt.

“You’re confusing me. What is it now?”

“Have your wine. This is a perfect evening. There is some mystery here, in you and your house. I want to figure it out.”

“There is no secret here. You made me very wet… how come you got dressed? What do you think needs figured out?” She takes a long sip from her glass. “What does that mean?”

“This is all very strange to me. Look at us. I don’t want to talk too much about how I feel, because it will probably make you afraid of me.”

Jeanette squinted at me. “You are making things difficult on purpose. All your assumptions got us here but now you want to talk about mysteries. There is nothing strange here, I don’t think. This is my home. You’re wearing my clothes. It’s like we’ve already made love and it’s morning now. Earlier, you touched me in the strangest way. Why?”

“Because I can’t figure you out. Don’t think I’m afraid of you… I haven’t asked you too many questions about your friends tonight, or the drive, or why you live here of all places.”

“I’d be more comfortable if you did ask.”

“I’m interested, but not at the moment. You said it yourself, the storm takes my thoughts. I want to have my with you, to lead you away from normal thoughts. I know I can do that, because you drove me in your car across state lines, through a blizzard. Look out the window. What if we get snowed in this morning?”

“Impossible.”

“Not impossible, Jeanette. But even if not, we have a chance here.”

“What chance?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t normally go on like this. I don’t think anyone talks like this to each other, do they? I don’t see why not. I just want to be completely honest. Don’t you think that’s a good idea? We could talk our way into anything tonight. So far we’ve moved through the standard motions of being drunk and horny. I think we should shift gears and recognize the situation for what it is, a situation not unlike any other, that is, full of distractions and plot holes and endless potential. Drunk and horny potential, to be sure. But it needs to be found out. We need to take advantage of this and not take it for granted. Why should we confine ourselves to a single instance on the bed, or to a single glass of wine? We’ll never be here like this again, as they say. I don’t even know where we are. One long drive and you’ve made this night worth more than a tumble in the dark, regardless of how good that may be. We should turn all the lights on. It’s fucking snowing. Did you know that?”

“Shit, you’re making me nuts with your crazy talk!”

“I know. I’m sorry. Take your shirt off. Let’s go into the living room and you can take your shirt off and we’ll listen to old records.”

Now she is laughing. “I don’t have any old records. You’re totally fucked up.”

“No records? I was sure you would have some. We’ll just sit and talk then. Maybe you have family pictures? I’d like to go down on you while you tell me about them.”

“That’s perverse. Are you always so horrible?”

“I have to be. I’ve no way home tonight. Let me make you wet again. Let me be a pig. You can be my sacred cow. Have you ever been pregnant? I want to go down on you in your living room. I promise it won’t be terrible. Jesus, let’s just have some fun.”

“Maybe, let’s just say, I understand what you’re saying.”

“Take your shirt off, then. That’s it. You’re full of sex, you know that? You should be someone’s mother. You should smoke a pipe like your dad. I’ll paint your portrait too. I’ll paint you all over the walls. We’re completely isolated here, in Ohio, in snow, behind walls, in Czechoslovakian skin and Sears Roebuck and Company. The whole world is perverse. It isn’t just me. Don’t pretend that you don’t feel the twisted fingers of middle America groping your flesh every moment of every day. You watch the TV. Let’s turn it on right now and fuck over an infomercial.”

This makes her laugh. “You’re unlike any pig I’ve ever known.”

“This place is like my aunt’s house, except worse, because you’re not my aunt. You make me want to desecrate things. This little lamp here. I’d throw it at the wall and slit my wrists with the pieces if I didn’t suddenly prefer to rub it on your ass. Do you think a genie will come out? Just a little… a nice buff job there. Takes the dust right off. I want to polish you off too. Give me your hand. Feel my teeth. That one there is sharp. Do you know what time it is? Do you know where your children are? The big bad wolf is in your house, madam. He’s got your bread basket in his mitts.”

“You’re…” Jeanette is twisting her head to and fro, looking up and down, trying to speak, and she can’t seem to find anything to settle on.

“Do you jog in these sweats? Keep yourself in shape? Kegel exercises? How tight is your ass anyway? Show me. Can you smoke a pipe with your ass? It’s a dreamy behind. It is as irresistible as a dream. A magnet. A bellows under a bonfire. Look, it’s Saturday morning. When do your neighbors wake?”

“Never…”

“Take my pants off. The night’s slipping away, but we’ve already made love and I’m still in your shirt and it’s morning now. I could be your husband for the weekend. You said I touched you in a strange way, like an old lover. I could be your father’s friend, and your husband, painting portraits by the fireplace, beneath the mantle by the Christmas tree. Come dear, let’s plug the lights in. Let’s give each other a present. Let’s drive home for the holidays. We’re both drunk, it doesn’t matter who has the keys. Wear the green dress. I’ll pull it up in the hallway behind the grandfather clock and take you there while your husband does the dishes. Wipes the spots off the stemware. Open up. You’re like a autumn dandelion. I’m slicing your stem lengthwise and dipping it in vinegar. ‘Alain is drunk!’ yells my sister. I was born a long time ago, but you’re even older. Never forget that. Lay back. Shhh… Relax. Your brow is wrinkled. My sister and I used to pick all the dandelions from the yard, spreading seeds everywhere. I almost went to the river with Rene tonight. Another time, maybe. That’s what she said. I dropped all those balls. I couldn’t help it. The blinders are off, Jeanette. I wonder what the river looks like right now. Ice floes. Hold your knees. Yes, you’re a trooper. Fucking gorgeous. Goddamn gorgeous.”

Jeanette’s eyes are closed but I know she heard every word. Now her eyes flutter open wide. She drops her legs, raises her hips hard against me, breaths some words, shuts her eyes again. “Fuck you,” she says.

This moment is my sole refuge, invitation only. There is nothing more complicated or ideal, nothing more conducive to the real as well as the unreal. I put forth proclamations and declarations. I act out what it is I think I am doing, engage with what I see and seeing what I am engaged with. And all the while completely forgetting myself. What am I doing? Do I even know? I write it out in organic gestural decisions. All we get is right in front of us and it isn’t enough. Everything is allowed and it isn’t enough.. this invisible, mutually unspoken, not obvious encoded rape of spectral bodies, putting things where they don’t belong… emotional, psychological and mental associations and expectations. No one asks for this, but it is taken and given in good form, lovingly expediting the selfish needs of another self. We disrespect ourselves and our loves, first by not judging, then in our post-facto denials. Love, love, love. It’s not what it is, it’s never itself. Tried but not true. Always on trial.

We wake at one, lay in bed awhile and talk.

Jeanette is content, but concerned. She asks, “What happened last night?”

“Did any part of you enjoy it?”

“Too much, I think. You were… almost frightening.” Jeanette smiles to assure me of the ‘almost’. She gets up. “Come on, then. I’m going to take you somewhere.”

We are in a cemetery.

“My father is buried in a family plot in the Czech Republic, which he wished. I put a stone here, for me. I don’t need his bones.”

The cemetery is modern and flat, not a single raised stone or monument. There are few trees. We park along the narrow lane and walk down a slight grade.

“How can you tell where it is under all this?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s here.”

“You’ve made a cenotaph, a memorial to an absent figure. But today the cenotaph itself is hidden.”

“Do you think that’s strange? I think it is beautiful here.”

We stand together for some time, watching the clouds clear under the breaking sun. In a few days all this snow will be gone. The icicles are already dripping.

Jeanette turns to me. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”

December 11th 

Three weeks since I last saw Jeanette. She doesn’t return my messages. I am back to walking the streets day and night, or rummaging through my things in search of something… but none of this belongs to me.

I am constantly amazed by how careless people are with each other.

December 15th 

I’ve moved in with Jason. Closer to the bar. Shared rent. Despite this improvement I feel even more desperate.

I sit in my bare room, surrounded by crap. Alain’s bullshit life. I go to the bar and try to explain it all away to disinterested friends.

“Somebody told me once that I’m no different than anyone else. We all share the same stories, the same miseries and joys shared by all humankind. Doesn’t that seem the least bit funny to you? And here we are, side by side, thinking we’re alone, our souls miles apart. We’re practically invisible. All the same, all different, none known.”

“Drink up, Alain.”

“Yeah.”

As I am leaving Mara walks past me, up the narrow steps to the front of the bar. Halfway up she stops and turns to look at me. The knees of her jeans are dirty. Mara raises her hand simply, shrugs and disappears into the alley.

I go home and call Jeanette one last time. This is what I say to myself. The last time. The fact that she answers seems to affirm the truth of it.

“Amazing,” I say. “I didn’t think you’d pick up.”

“I’ve been out of town, and I am going again in a few days.”

“To your mother’s, right.”

“Yes, but you should visit me before then. Come out tomorrow or the next day, if you can. I haven’t vanished.”

“I… never mind.”

“Come out.”

December 17th

“I’ve brought something for your dad,” I say.

“My dad? What on earth?” Jeanette is actually cooking dinner. I had been living under the assumption that I would never have a prepared meal again.

“Here… flowers. You can have half too.”

“Impressive, Alain. You seem like a normal man today.”

“Don’t be fooled. You’re going to drive me to the cemetery later.”

We pull through the open gate and wind down the narrow lane. The land is wet but there is no snow. Jeanette leaves the engine running and leads me back down the hill.

“There,” she says.

Shanks of yellowing grass have grown long and lay half across the flat tablet. I pull them aside and read:

Martin Muskau

Father

“Did he really smoke a pipe?” I ask.

“It was a joke of sorts, to look bohemian.”

I lay the flowers across the inscription.

***

SM

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