Protest the passing of the world. Mark and erase and paw and taw your way across the infinite palimpsest. An isolated instance of time seems to tear and pull apart to reveal the timelessness behind it, but that perception too lasts only a moment, not for, as you had hoped, ever. Anyway, who bothers to describe a thing except when they cannot attain it, when they have already lost it? To write at all is to embrace the passing of the world. A whirling embrace, stuttered solecisms.
Walls, Windows, Mirrors
Being self-conscious, one does not wish to be guessed at. Lacking self-consciousness, one does not wish to guess. Containing oneself in a singularly contrived version of reality, on which no other system can overlay, is the only enlightened path.
It is important to resist attempts to imagine anything. The process of ideation must remain muddled, the mechanisms below hidden, their singing muffled. Protected against mysterious empathy, time dies in an elevated moment and we continue on with calm immediacy.
There is no sun within the mind, yet everything is visible. Delphic renditions create a 1:1 analog of the world. This is more or less true. For every dot there is a naught which, in turn, in reflection, interiorly, is a not-dot. A scratch on the black painted mirror-back would reveal a glint from the bare bulb in the attic. Even then there is no consummate understanding, no great ideal to be gained.
There are no dull moments. They have simply melted across the depressions of a life not fully understood.
Existence is frighteningly untenable yet so easily accounted for by those who exist.
What we consider a chance meeting, an autonomous idea, is really a path by which we get from here to there inside of ourselves. Self-consciousness is other-consciousness, the constantly rearranged amalgam of all the various ways we can be. That there are at all different and separate versions of ourselves points to a deeper divide between us and the world, and reveals the inherent wounding nature of being in the world.
But for all that there is some insistent instinct for whiskey and talk. When we get where we’re going we can have a drink and come to some arrangement.
Do you know these lamp posts..? …Only at this time of night. Some time ago I heard an owl, on a chimney… come out from its lustrum, calling out to me. A long evening at the end of an Indian summer. The trees and large Victorian houses of this streetcar suburb… this sad ancient bourgeois place. Its staid demeanor echoing another, more respectable, era… a time for lighting the streets with flame behind glass.
The truth is, I can’t stand talking. Our attempt to connect through relatable experiences must occur on a ground of fixed symbols which cannot help but contort and confuse the idiosyncratic nature of acutely private perception. What I mean to say is, we will not understand each other. I know this from experience. We gain insight only into ourselves. Language both illuminates and baffles the intellect. We gain only ourselves, chained to this moment, sending a signal into the void, signifying our relationship to the existential. It is only an idea. Furthermore, it is only effective as an idea once it has been uttered. We must be together, however briefly, describing our encounter, such as it is.
This is our tiresome way. We must hold it to account, with or without answers. All that nothing – it is the sort of nothing that potentiates everything; pre-Logos ylem, opaque chaos. When a response comes, that is who we are. Our thoughts can no longer exist un-uttered in the mind.
In using that lack of certainty, and using that lack of certainty, block, and using that lack of certainty, open, to uncover the ideal conditions in which we use language, a language reserved for confusion, confusion and disintegration, disintegration and erosion, erosion and entropy, entropy and null. Fractions of the whole multiply an individual. An individual fractures into fractions of the whole. An individual is not individual. An individual is null. The human life is endlessly divisible. Movement, sensitivity and duration are divisible. Cognizance and remembrance are unstable. True or untrue? Supposing all things are one, a singular thought can move in a straight line amid distraction. Supposing all things are one, here is a singular thought, in the midst of everything, in the midst of all our thinking, there is nothing. What you perceive that to be, it is. It is everything but what it is to you, everything but what you think, but still yours, everything but not the thing, not true. It is you, not true. It is you, not true. You, not true. A singular thought proclaimed in the idea of the conditions of the proposition, which, being explained, express the ideal conditions in which we use our language, explaining, confessing through the lack of explanation, the truth. The language can lie, and you lie with it. The language can lie, and you lie with it. The language can lie, and you lie with it.
Delineating nothing more than a portion of the wall itself, the picture frame is empty. The absence of imagery comforts me. The attraction of the wall, and of the frame, is of a continuous nature. The wall within the frame is of a different quality than the wall outside of the frame because my appreciation of it is also of a different quality. The universe is mostly empty yet we, being things, only notice other things. If an image fits within a frame it can also fit outside of it. Whether in one place or another, a qualifying emptiness is implied. To be sure, all things will be in one place or another, and then another, and always then another.
The world of things blurs and sharpens in the variable intensity of a million small failures; the inevitable, devastating effects of time… varicose veins, pealing paint, spilled gasoline evaporating sunward, the slow flash of a distant line of trees caught in a mist of indigo half-light, torn paper edges, evening thoughts, chipped glass, accumulations of dust, magnetic interference, malfeasant algorithms, the speed and spectra of media, a loss of vitality, landfills, invisible poisons, rooms of panic and paranoia, daydreams of entropic doom, the attachment of love to objects, the disassociation of love from reality, neglect following depression, belief without utility, skin that dries up, bent and softened bones, soft tissue calcification, violent induction of subdural haematoma, the greening of bronze, the yellowing of curtains, phobophobia, a purple thistle cushioned in the velvet folds of an inward-turning mind.
We must be willing to recreate the world, again and again.
Rutted bikes trails, hillside trash heaps and pools of goldenrod bewilder the abandoned clear-cut and secondary forest of an obscure gap in zoning and use intention. Tiny yellow flowers stripped between fingers, captured in the palm, then… scattered away. Others must go there still, pulling nature apart to see what’s inside. From such pulling apart we grow. They are hiding in nature too, not thinking to look there, inwards.
The photographic image, itself an imperfect representation, replaces the recollected image and becomes the signifier of a more idealized and evocative memory.
Physicality becomes process, an unravelling method. Any revelations that seep through I will turn inside out, consuming and depleting them. When finally empty I will have the look of one suffering the end of the world. Certainly the world ends, but it is hardly noticed. It is boring. Looking upon the endless ending we only seek beginnings. Walking backwards into the unknown we describe what is already done and gone.
The naming of things is the all-consuming preoccupation of consciousness – the cruelest simulacra, an interference pattern that dimly points to sensations stripped of context and origin. There is something obscene about a name, so stale, almost accusatory. By naming a thing, we falsely claim it; it is not ours. Soon everything appears similarly, as if by design, blurred, and we lose the ability to focus. Our eyes limp from scene to scene, pained, glancing backwards, wanting to lie down and daydream. It is not the solidity of things that we must be wary of, but the ephemera that lies beyond. Black letters in the sky black above the black trees. In that shapelessness which we have made, our image is made shapeless.
In the form of a word a thing has no form at all.
Language constructs ideas of itself. It permeates the mind and alters our modes of perception. Its shapes shape us, move us, keep us still or hurry us along. The means of communication, the particular reasons particular ideas develop, how we take in, how we put out, what we refuse or allow to take in and put out, what this does to us… all of this is part and parcel of the true influence of language, which has become, after much bellowing, the ostensible a priori designator and deciphering of identity.
Break apart the senses until nothing matters anymore and time becomes instinctual, unmeasurable. The comings and going of things are a potent distraction. Do not look. Objectivity is disillusionment. Embrace solitary moments, points of departure.
I have thought so much of so little. I have allowed the effect of words to radiate through me, infecting every environment I enter. I become lost in a place where there is no actual knowledge, only descriptions used to conceal life’s ugly sensations; false phenomena that sink into a limbo of memories and desire. Though I do not wish it, I always find myself in that same abstracted place.
Within this world within me, transfixed by its specious wayward revelation, I cannot be and I cannot leave. Held in place by its indeterminate terminal edges, the boundary of the universe incomprehensible, ringed in by forest and orchard and innumerable houses with windows boarded or clear – I come to in anxious dreams.
Once, by this window, in a half-second of tiredness and light, I saw a garden, maternal but past its season. Nothing beyond the black iron fence. Within it the entirety of time. A leaf at the bottom of a pool. Clouds, pine cones, black earth, a child’s blue ball, puddles, crying, impatience, darkness, burnt wood, porcelain figures, glimpses of skin, sweat, fear, gravel, photographs. None of it existed, not even the photographs as I remembered them. The moments in which they were taken were as imperceptible as someone else’s pain. The texture, thickness and weight of the photographic paper – I suppose it is of little interest. What you may care to know is that I do think of such things.
There is a house, the fourth house from the left in a row of six. Held in place by those just like it, removed from its place between the others, the others removed from their place on the street, the street removed from its perpendicularity to the avenue, itself a long line fading in a narrowing compass arc, a spiraling line falling back on a center, a fixed point, a place removed yet fixed in my mind. A house both real and imagined, the reality and image both remembered and created, the memory and creation both real and imagined. A house on a spiraling line that crosses perpendiculars and falls back on a center.
The walls and floor of my room are not level. Two bookshelves stand side by side, tilting away from one another. The window frames are skewed and have been painted over many times. Slicing through layers of off-white, mint green, a deep red, lilac, I pictured the tenants that had come before me, and I judged them. The combined physical and temporal depth of the paint became the measure of my patience and when the knife slipped and opened a neat ellipse behind my thumb I channeled my rage into an expedient if messy success. The stiles have loosened in their joints to the rails, but up they go, little by little, back and forth. I often leave the window open and stick my head outside to inhale weightless air into hot lungs. There is nowhere beyond the sky’s reach. All is a gray fold, a convolution behind my eyelids, obstructing vision.
Trying to regain familiarity with what had been written before. Every moment seems to be a short black mark on a white page. Everything starts off dark and dense, quickly fades into a gray blur, then nothing. A definite end to an unexpected start. When I do not have to, I do not bother to dress or to do anything at all. The window remains open. I sit at the desk, returning again to what was written last. The days move in silence, full of menacing thoughts. (Not knowing where thoughts came from, they seem menacing.) An unwashed china cup sits by the sink in the kitchen. Every morning I fill it with black coffee, sit at the table by the window and stare out at the trees. The trees fascinate me. My relative position to the tree closest to me is about halfway up the trunk, just about where the branches begin to diverge from the main. Through the density of branches and leaves I watch fragments of green and blue and gray. The sky is a shattered bowl seen through the trees. When I finish my coffee I leave the kitchen. The feelings that image generated in me remain.
A letter arrives for me from a woman I’ve never met. Enclosed is a photo. Written on the back, “Do not try to imagine me.”
It is hard to concentrate, imagining phone calls, disasters, attempts to pull me away from the endless blank page. I am bothered also by thoughts of where I am in relation to others. I have an image of myself, here, with my elbow on the table, defenseless to the drift of buildings and monuments, leaving only their foundations cut into the cold earth. The table I use is gone, and the chair as well. The labyrinth has vanished. Must everything be put to this test? I imagine an endless continuation of phenomena and sense where it becomes possible to write the past, present and future all as one. There would be no room for interpretation. As it is, to write at all, absence must supersede presence, like a stone dropped into a pool of water. Space opens, is sucked down, then closes back again to define a gentle parabola whose lip copies and expands across the surface.
So it is with the things themselves which we remember. The shell of a cicada that is kept in a small, clear plastic box on a shelf. An aluminum canister marked FLOUR that has been handed down from someone else’s childhood. All that can be said to exist of these things is just what I have written.
The sun sets on every unsettled day; trapezoids of electromagnetic radiation sliding across the floor.
I have also seen light carried in crows feet, ripped through cloud-veils like nails from a wooden board by the wing-shaped velocity of the equinox and carried in arrow arcs through the torn cataracts of cloud and dust scattered beneath spring’s green vaults.
Restless hours pass. A vine has attached itself to the mesh of the window screen. Its young leaves, translucent with light, throw off a green aura. The world at large is separate of this, further back, pale and hazy. It, with its receding neighborhoods, cannot be real, not like the clear lines of my room. There is something more immediate about the glass with dust and light falling through it. The dust floats in the light, the light in my eye.
At the beginning of spring a scrap of paper can take on the appearance of a diaphanous leaf, and there are other illusions as well. Days lengthen. In the mud there are turtle eggs, sleeping beetles, and careless seeds, all of which will come out when the surface cracks and soaks again as winter boils away. Everything is set into motion. Blood thickens and clouds rise higher, lighter. The snow is reclaimed, crystals buzzing hotter into gasses that climb invisibly, building endless white towers that traverse the land, rising, falling, scattering, rebuilding again. Litter tumbles down the hillsides, filling every gully and crevice. There is no end to the treasures that can be found; months of nothing which washed clean become claimed memories. No one is immune to this more or less secular law, the shifting magnetism of organic earth. Rivers, dumps and arbors, spreading, spilling, rising on and through, on and through, the whole planet screaming through the mouths of cicadas, worms, buses, and half-emptied glasses. Churn, churn, endless organism. Rise and fall, suns. Burn, suns. Stars and ships and fuel, spew your insane gasses, your chemical rebirth, your light and water. Start again and again, all as one and one on top of the other. I will follow Shiva. I will follow this pitch and roll, this face-up sun-blind Black-eyed Susan sounding vowels up, up.
Afterwards (there is always an afterwards) I find more reasons to remain. The cognizance of time, the perception of light and dark contrasted and mingled to infinite degrees, perpetuates a unique awareness of lines and pits in my flesh, creases and wells of thought, the knowledge of non-specific pain and the voice it lends me. I explain to myself again that what begins will also end. The knowledge of dull and sharp pains ends; the application of pressure ends; days end; conversations end. All is of measurable duration. Forty-seven minutes at the bar drinking. The descent of a snowflake. My patience. However long it takes to forget, or to remember. Some small suffering. Keystrokes. Erasure. Waiting for my mind to fill, to blank; for words to come and for words to leave.
Through the window I watch people stumble through a labyrinth of streets, struggling against time. A silent wind moves the smaller branches of catalpa trees across the street. This movement is my only understanding of the wind. The further I look into the world the further it moves from me. A young woman bends down to tie her shoe. She takes her time, seems distantly aware of something. Her expression says that she is looking for something, expectant. What does she wait for? I watch her slip down the road, drifting beneath motionless clouds. I leave my room, the windows, and try to follow her. I run up the street. I come to the corner and stop at the avenue. I can hardly see for the sunlight. The streets consume me in a refracted diffusion of light and warmth. I am assailed by the quick flash of light and shadows off buildings and cars. The woman has vanished into this chaotic pattern of black and white, down one of these streets. I do not try to follow. I am afraid that I will become lost in all this sudden illumination.
I return to the house but do not go in. On the shaded porch I am safe from having to record any of this. Across the street the bare limbs insinuate a measurable sky. From the uppermost branches fall long wayward shadows, dividing the steady compass of the sun into an irregular, arboreal negative. It will not be long before these branches fill with sprouting leaf buds vying for the light. Perhaps I will still be here to witness it, me on my shaded porch, they on their sunny branch. The young leaf bud knows what light is, moves towards it, is filled with it, consumes it and thrives. A plant is sensual and witless. Man sees darkness as something equal and comparable to this. It can be entered into and felt on its own terms. It too can be sensual and attractive.
I fall asleep and the sun is almost down when I awake. I have been hoping for other distractions. Tonight I will go deeper into the city and seek amusements to keep me awake and aware.
I understand that I have been, or should be, somewhere else. I cannot remember burning my tongue, though it has obviously occurred. There is a definite tenderness, nearly numb, that I can feel at its tip.
I look out the window again, towards the bus shelter. There is an oak tree and a yellow bulldozer on the property of a stone church. I am blinking quickly, absent in my thoughts. The scene flattens out until the tree appears to emerge directly out of the bus shelter and the bulldozer becomes two unique shapes separated at the fore by the oak’s trunk. Further up, the same trunk cuts through a snowy slope, a line of skinny maples, and a row of houses before spreading thin, bare limbs into the sky. I become aware of myself blinking self-consciously and leave.
I find it difficult not to see life as boring and repetitive; a near impenetrable mesh of dull experience punctuated only rarely by something else.
I have been changed, irresistibly.
The depth of my life is no more than a remembrance of who I am. In the meantime I have been writing from beneath a thousand thoughts, all the same: I am not who I am.
The labyrinth cannot be folded back so easily. There is no ladder of light to lead me away from the endless intersections, corridors, closed doors.
All that seems the same is different. When our thoughts shift it is because we are effected by a thing. When a thing is changed it is because we too have changed. What begins will end, effecting more beginnings. The assumptions of words contain me, animating this process. Dim meanings become bright fires.
A multiplicity of real events is due to a multiplicity of unreal desire. I have been overwhelmed by opportunity and time and spent every moment projecting myself through various scenes into another existence where I might once have been or may soon be.
The ecstatic spirit is static, elastic, a revolving door of dense impressions stripped from the body, tripping away from the body, echoing the body, an endlessly repeated genuflection that mirrors flight. Passing through all extremes, our flesh wears itself down until it perceives nothing more than the boredom of purgatory. Once in that unchanging state bodily disintegration accelerates. We rebel. We sculpt life into stone and try to make it bleed, but we are not immortal and we are not great artists. Purity is a light upon the bodies I have seen in a funereal procession. It is a light that attends not absolution, but the knowledge that what happened was meant to happen.
My mind is wet with thoughts. Each one stems from some other, and that from another. What is expressed in language when language is nothing but a rock along the shore? We pick it up and whatever wetness clings to it soon dries. We throw it back in, hoping it may return to the source.
There are times in which I said things too purposefully, thought much too clearly, in absolutes.
I remember a belief in my childhood that I was God. The idea grew within myself, unprovoked. This splitting, doubling of self-awareness eventually evolved into something else… something blurry along the edges of the mirror. Aberrant physical manifestations. Entropy of consciousness.
Having crossed the boundary, the edge, the imaginary line of a door between two rooms, one in which I sleep, I sit and face the other. It is the time of day when she is often there, sewing or drawing, listening to Corelli. From the edge of the bed, with eyes unclosed, not open, I am lost amid my surroundings. I remain aware of, though not preoccupied with, her absence. That non-presence is like electric light cast against the sun. Any form can be coerced to fall away. All that is meaningless can be measured against the length of a wall. I see – as one sees lighter shades of paint where a sign was taken down – a desk, a window, a lamp, a chair, a stool, a dresser, a bed, a mirror, a doorway. First, the lamp, ceramic and so uninteresting that I cannot describe it. Only this: pink flowers and thin, olive-colored vines. The desk was given to me when I was ten. On the desk a mirrored tray which holds small articles: cosmetics in bottled and tubes, a brush and comb, a small, handheld mirror in a silver, molded casing. These items I first notice in their reflection in the large mirror in a swivel frame at the back of the desk. The chair, found in the trash along the road, sits pulled away from the desk. Some clothes are stacked on the reupholstered seat. Also the stool that my mother gave to us, I remember from my childhood. It is a vague recollection with no particularly pleasant or catastrophic phenomena attributed to it. The desk, chair, and stool all rest on one of several inexpensive oriental rugs in the room. The rug might remind you of a painting that you might have seen, somewhere. I have several good photographs of this room, and mine. The mental image I hold now is possibly based in part on these photos.
I am on the wrong side of things. In a room, during a heat wave, all the windows open, I sit at the keyboard, stand and pace, sit and type, lost in pages written years before, critical then bored. I have tried to recall in my words the blank sheet that preceded them. I don’t know why. The entire process seems paradoxical and meaningless. Write it all down. Too, too ridiculous. The world and everything in it.
Thoughts, once ethereal and emancipated, settle into my spine. They have been light and dust, stones and alters, the womb, men. Thought becomes flesh, but flesh also becomes thought. The cells of my mind are sensitive to the phantom inhabitation of another consciousness whose far-reaching hand, like a needle in its shuttle, inscribes the corporeal cloth; every fold, the lie of the purl, outlined with fine, silver thread. I am the light that sweeps across the rippling cloth. Yet I am anxious. Threads stretch, stitches disengaged. A rag unfurls, torn and useless. There are holes in the once vast, smooth fields of tight-knit thread rows. It doesn’t take much to realize that every tear and fray belies an imperfection that has been there all along, latent, its destructive effect inevitable.
Of the threads that tangle around me, there is one long one twisting upwards through the clouds. The days when I stare after it, lost in a daydream, are fewer and fewer. I know the other is still there, a kite at the end of this silver thread, a flash of fading color, moving much faster and further.
Wandering this topography, I observe and alter it with my presence. All of my movements are plotted against this map, locked within the coordinates of city, book, mind, body, pain and imagination. This spinning is terminal, axial tilt jacking my orbit like an upper cut to the face, leaving me to wobble through the repetition of seasons.
Change takes time for a chemical body driven by electrical functions, but not for the stripped down, sense-sensitive body – not for the skein of film projected across this burning city – not for this quick-witted shape slipping in and out of someone else’s monologue. Everything is plastic, malleable. I force a few inches here and there. Every box and body is connected by an omniscience from which I cannot hide – my own big idea hanging around my ears, gravity stronger than the love of others – all the differences in the world tangled up inside until something comes to an end and I am left with the whole deal, the nameless thing, somewhat larger than before but forever within the bounds of city, book, mind, body, pain and imagination.
Though I may cease altogether, here I persist? To write a line is to hinge the door to the frame. It is to fix time for one moment before it subsumes all truths into another.
While the physiognomy still enables me I will replace myself. The corpus reciprocates, alleviating pain while embodying eventual death. I become a ghost, vanish, haunt a daydream. A trap doors opens, drawing me down passageways of flesh, nerve and bone. I pass through cavities and corridors collapsing under their own weight. What was once perfect in its blind, self-sustaining efficiency suddenly wastes away before me. I become old, aging years in the span of seconds standing before my mirror. My body is escaping me, leached away by various chemicals, by the end or beginning of love, by sudden realizations, sudden forgetfulness, sudden remembrance. With this dying body I am writing, dying to make myself again to make myself again.
Artifacts and Artifice; A History of Relationships
There is no return. The bare, bent trees don’t dare make a move. I hear only the wind against my ear and my own heavy, trudging steps. I circle the cemetery loop, eye a couple of obelisks and feel alarmed by their rising, dark profiles. That is sufficient. 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.
Three months pass before I find the letters in the desk drawer. It is too late. They should remain there forever, like the A string, the condom and the blood; relics of passion and doom.
At about the same time I find that I am talking to myself. When I notice it, I feel compelled to answer. To buffer myself against the inevitably irony, I give only the obvious replies, answers people give before more questions can be asked.
I survive these momentary glitches somehow. As long as we have an equal share in this destruction I will remain unnoticed and have a place among the ruins.
Love is impossible. As a word, as something to talk about, composed of the most fantastic and unbelievable attributes, love is impossible. Love is known and unknown through the supposed transparency of flawless truth; sunlight through a window. Every one of us possesses such a window, marked with the blows and low glances of attack and surrender. Stacked to infinity, an opaque composite of infinite flaws is revealed. The absolute can only be hinted at through such humiliation.
It is true that we are more affected in the soul by abstract perceptions than in the body by their consummation. Unable to measure this, we imagine that we can reach further than the compass of the sun.
I met my onomastic doppelgänger in the front room of 207.
A tattered cloth hung loosely in the large window facing the street. There were no proper furnishings, only those things other people had discarded – dysfunctional chairs, ugly lamps. Wooden planks on cinder blocks served as a bookshelf. A heap of comforters, blankets and couch cushions was his bed. The room didn’t have a closet. Two large recliners were heaped with clothes – one clean, one dirty. A hook on the back of the door held his coats. The floor was hidden beneath an array of personal effects – books and papers, a record player and albums, boxes of junk, halloween masks, hats, socks, pens, a laptop, boombox, medicine bottles, tissues, empty bottles of whiskey, ashtrays, toiletry items, gadgets and gizmos and anything else he had picked up along his haphazard way. At various points in our acquaintance there could be found bags of wet clay, deer skulls, dried flowers and potted plants, another battered old chair pulled out of the trash. On the mantel were kept his most treasured things (besides books) – a large hooka, a brass candelabra, a yellow rubber ball sitting in a ceramic bowel, bird feathers, pictures torn from magazines, plastic action figures of aliens and such. Despite this menagerie of clutter my friend always made me feel welcome, hurrying to clear a spot to sit, offering whiskey, cigarettes or a book – and of course endless conversation sustained by his indefatigable, manic personality…
“You want to know about me. I am a monster. I speak and code in English, Russian and Arabic. Keyboard confessions, Proppian functions, whiskey stupefaction. Time is ending; we are doomed. Everything I write will begin with the Big Bang and end with the Apocalypse. I want to write about the end and the people who feel it the most, the conjurers of their time. Where has the beginning gone? Not the obvious one, of course. Not the cock’s crow. Now there is no question. It has all come together, contracted into a singular moment.
“I adore Dot, and you. You are here with us. It is no mistake. Tell me about her.”
“She was unwilling to accept any help beyond what was necessary to survive through one day. I cannot pretend to understand her. Besides that, I feel as I have from the start. I remember our very first moments, those few minutes on the street. My recognition of her was immediate and profound. How can I describe my recollection now? Sublime fear. An unbearable sensation spreading across my senses like sleep. Water rushing towards the lowest point.
“I wanted to capture her in an image, place it in a frame, catalog it with other images. Because her face was beautiful I did not see it. Because I did not expect it. We isolated ourselves. Three December nights passed. Three times falling asleep together, three times waking. Sunday morning, listening to La Boheme. Her flesh had the quality of an ancient map. My comprehension of her was utterly false. Was there ever really a moment that I truly wanted to know who she was? Traces of line and color, etched upon fine-textured plant skin, a lost Eden. There, centrally, adorned with fabulous creatures, bloomed the fantasy of an incomparable world.
“In the weeks following we used each other as a mirror and vanished in furtive mythology. The full spectrum of existence, the heights and depths of ecstasy as we stupidly imagined it. The more we meditated upon each other the more intricately detailed became the lie; illuminated manuscripts infoliated with images that danced like fire towards distinction.”
“A crazy girl who thinks she needs someone to love, and constant catharsis, and the girls that don’t know how to love, and the boys too, stupid brutes. The whole shebang. I am sick in my bowels in my heart in my mind.
“I have no money and no ability to reconcile what I want with what is available. What is around the bend? I do not want to be pumped for information or emotional voodoo, but to proceed in the way of folly. My face carries nonchalance towards human suffering.
“It cause we cause be.
“I have started my own version of events. Dreams of death and people I haven’t seen in years. Psychic bulimia. We are all poison to some others, at some times. Everyone is either dying or being reborn. The weirdness of things now is almost unbearable. ”
We go back and forth, Dot and Scott and Scott. Each of them leverages me for validation, for a way to love around me. He releases me from any obligation to her. She entangles me with him, creates a loophole. Back home, away from them both, I put memories of Dot to paper. Because that must come first, then whatever else.
Hand to handle hammer to anvil pounding whirling fire up opalescent skirts into her seamless belly dancing in a whorl of recognition she is about to break brightly through the silence of white stockings that tear and fly like dandelions or scattered snow flakes moved from sleep driven across adulterated senses in a strange room where she leans forward open with a distinct loosening of the knot in her gut an ocean of light like the buzzing of wings singing each of her desires one in the same with the world of objects culminating in time fire hips and snow with my tracks erased coming back just as she pulls inwards great gasps of air thoughts draining out on the dirty ground by the tracks running lost past tall dry grasses with raised one wing down in the dirt fingers sliding in between my fingers into my thoughts submerged in fire and heated gasps grasping at straws one for each of our mistakes in place of the place where I left my imprint fingers waiting for a strand of saliva to collect that movement of wetness lost in the movement of tall grass echoing return but for us there is no beginning middle or end time comes and goes pulling back to reveal some interference in my mind where I see your face and know you at last for flesh I only know flesh which has never known anything else your serious heart ruins the possibility of all but the dream the wet dream the daydream of polished mirror-like flesh neck cheeks and forehead and coming closer the shallow creases around your mouth and eyes so relaxed focused precariously sculptural mannerist not my eyes not as I know them when they’re half closed amid flashes of black and white still frames of imagined marble lips echoing the inverse image of a singular shape the tangent of a spiral spiraling hard off the page.
It is from you and your work that I have been given what is presently my own. Our ever-tightening tangency and your invitation to collaborate has unleashed a long-stifled necessity to conjure my own time, unravel my own end. That is why it is good that you and Dot are not always here to talk about things. Not so much the grit, the shit, and the flowers that grow in it, but the obtuse and peripheral, which are clearly my domain. Time is ending. Thank you for the beginning.
We like it when the windows steam up and the street lights fall in puzzled patterns across the pavement. We fall into mindful reveries over crumpled napkins and contemplate love’s cosign in an arc across the city. A line of fuzzy light running away.
We like the floors silent, the doors well-oiled, our homes not far from anything. I’ve been painting in the kitchen, lining up two planes of color at the corner. The cat is at the window, by the coffee tins, cautious and tense.
Hours in my room, a book on my chest, un-remembering what I read, unaware of what I think. I like it when the room loses its shape at the end of the day, when nothing is broken or lost between the world and myself. All is sense and indefinite oneness.
In time I take myself back and bend in thoughtful doubt over a number on the nightstand. Will time allow anything more?
This doesn’t explain why it happens at all. Days passing, unrelated. A vial of sand miles from the sea.
It is tough to walk the line, like a man. I used to be so high, up there, in metaphysics, academia. Now I am here, on sidewalks. It is difficult to find the balance… but I am in the moment now, drunk with it. How can I not taste it? Only as an artist can such a life not be wasted. We can make something from it, while the others are simply drunk. Think of Celine. It raises some interesting questions. Life has inherent value. To sing and share. To sink the ship.
Listen, Scott – I am trying to think through the chanting Sufis. Dot talked to me about you. I imagine she told you the same. Did she say that I already knew? I can’t say yes, no, maybe, please, why, or what. The only thing I feel is my male ego and I want to rip it out and burn it because there is nothing there but self-inflicted animal stupidity like a thing with twelve heads and just one heart or the other way around. Anyway, I understand with searing clarity the what and the why. There is no need for me to repeat it. Yes, that’s all. I will explode if we hide inside or outside of ourselves, but in the end it doesn’t matter, for we are the Akh, Ba, and Ka of a single soul.
Green tea in a china cup. Fragile sips. Lavender stripes, white stripes. Walls between us. Her in another place, practicing the cello. Somewhere else, but not so far for a sob to go unheard. Pause. A breath, a sigh. I raise myself up, listen. The second sob is quieter than the first. I count my steps to the doorway. Every part of me is attuned to a sound: my footsteps, her sobs, the world outside the window. The world outside the window is a single sound, a drone. The sobs cease. She hears my approach. Does she fear me, herself, or some malfeasance? On whose part? She raises her bow, but the strings are suddenly as thick as tongues. In the hallway I count the black tiles, but they merge into shadow and are lost. My eyesight is like the fold in a curtain, the lull in simple thoughts, easily dispelled. She is closing up her case, snapping snaps, preparing for the night. My presence remains in the hall, pressed into the darkness. She expects me, doesn’t expect that I will leave her, cannot believe that I do not remain somewhere close. I spin my own bed sheets. Time is dying, nightly. I feel how suddenly the sun has dropped into the forest. In my chest, the sunlight explodes. Autumn is brighter than gleaming icicles. Where is this temperate place, where oak leaves decay in the gutters, dust and mushroom-studded moss and fine, rainbow tinted cracks in each window?
In her room with the door open.
Listening to dresser drawers open and close.
The sound of a green, knitted sweater.
I moved into the doorway. She was buttoning up a white blouse, the one with tiny blue flowers on the collar. I spoke. She shrugged. Discomfort crept into the room. I glanced at her bed, then walked over to it. The sheets were disordered, but clean, white and cool, suggestive of something just out of my mind. She sat at her desk, clipping dark hair up with little plastic butterflies. The colors seemed appropriate to her, to my previous mood. Already, no trace of uneasiness remained.
Standing at the edge of the porch, she lit a cigarette with flamboyant gestures before leading me across the walkway. At the corner I paused, glancing back at the burgundy, blue-gray, and dimly lit silver forms which lay one in front of the other. First was a compact aggregate of six units, each three narrow stories high, one of which was our home; the spire of a Catholic school; the more brightly illuminated retirement home from whose dumpster, on the occasion of some tenant’s passing, fresh flowers could be retrieved. Even in the icy gloom about us, I sensed some remnant of summers past. There, my eye to a crack, watching, as one would a rehearsal to a play, a woman’s fingers splayed through curly black hair, holding a mouth to her naked crotch. Michael consuming a mouse from head to tail. It happened so fast, a matter of seconds. When I held him up to my face his breath reeked of blood. A friend that I sketched against a backdrop of sunflowers and tomato plants. Others too, people who no longer matter to me. I have few sentiments for that time now. It took years before I could see myself properly, act deliberately, be sharpened through a sequence of precise moments.
We crossed the street. The night air was still, thin, frigid, clear. I lagged behind, watching her breath mingle with exhaled smoke. Despite her coat, her shoulders hunched, she looked cold. Catching up, I put my hand into her pocket. Shifting the cigarette from one hand to the other, she slid her right hand into the pocket, twining her fingers with mine. Something silent and ancient unfolded around us; an ancient city beneath which flowed an ancient river. We passed the black stones of the Church of the Ascension, then gray and beige apartment buildings. We crossed streets lined with bare limbed trees. I walked with her in her black coat, bright, plastic butterflies in her hair. I walked with her, my hand in the pocket of her black coat. It was February, three and a half years into a relationship that would not last through the summer.
For a long time we lay together, back to front. For a long time I thought of another. We lay in silence and I thought of another. My reason for leaving. I had sent her letters full of lies and assumptions. Lies about me, assumptions about her. I said the most tiresome things, repeating myself because she never really answered. Headlights flashed into the room, appearing halfway up a wall and vanishing halfway across the ceiling. I could have reached out for what was most immediately attainable, the nearer body, nearly constant. I deliberately thought those words through, pictured the movements required to initiate the action, and was compelled to push it away. Therein was pain. The continuous, slow release of pain from within. I drew myself closer to the other, all shadows and light shimmering through the architecture of meaningless correspondence. I began to fall asleep.
At her drawing table, she leaned over her work, hunched with concentration. I watched the subtle movements of her back as her arm moved the pencil. I could see a bit of the rectangular hole in the front of the desk where a drawer should have been. The desk was painted white, but once had been red. What was she thinking while she drew? It was mid-April, but felt like January. Things were different everyday. I no longer felt the world was stagnant. It had become as quick as perception. I walked through the house, where was she? Struck by sudden solitude, I believed that I had always been alone.
We lived in our rooms, isolated and together. Attempts at rational communication despite constant dissonance. Interrupted by the cries of the city – cars colliding, disembodied screams, a phone, not ours, ringing, echoes of angry conversation, fragments of music. I do not recall sleeping at all, laying restless and fragile, diurnal birds competing with night’s ambient clamor while my own thoughts clanged into Saturday morning listening to someone calling over and over, “John… John…” A woman’s voice, outside, calling, “John…” Five seconds, then again. “John…” A longer silence, then again and again. “John… John…”
She sat next to me on the bed, crying of pain and heartache. There was no explaining that away. I felt nothing. A long silence. “John…” An urge to speak, constricted by the distance I had deliberately placed between us. “John…” The moment swelled and passed the point of being unbearable. I felt empowered by my resistance. I could no longer hear. A pit opened in the floor at our feet, the room spinning around its rim. We remained suspended above, staring down. I wanted to send us both tumbling in.
I told her that I didn’t love her and watched as she flew away from me, unfettered by this nightmare. A howling of blood and brokenness. Heartlessness isn’t easy, but necessary and impulsive. Afterwards, the slow building of guilt was also necessary as a form of responsibility that I grudgingly accepted.
I attempted to piece her back together, to diffuse the catastrophe. My thoughts were incessant, paradoxical. The night before leaving, laying in my bed, I was afraid. Perhaps she was leaving me. I was pushing into places I never imagined I would have access to. I sensed an inextinguishable carnal need. I knew she would not allow herself stop wanting me if I showed that I still wanted her. I became aware of both the inside and the outside. The echo of that I do not love you entered back into my mouth. The inner voice, the one which comes into first contact with thoughts, split and shuffled the phrase. You love. I do not. Then it was just tongue and lips and teeth. Her flesh was steeped in maieutic offerings. Skin like water tapped through a copper coil. Her moans, broken by long, uneasy pauses, left a wet, salty residue across my cheeks.
The story’s penultimate phase, the one which brings realization and release, is the journey to the sea. This is a lie that I have lived through three times. Suffering our self-inflicted fate to its proper end, we trudge the topography of fairytales even when the plot has gone off the rails.
We drove to where the walls of the Earth fold against each other. I never felt as alone yet weighed down with some tremendous urgency. We will crash. She will be killed instantly, gone in a flash of red. I will phone her parents, send letters to her friends, absorb the hatred, the sadness, even the sympathy. No. I will kill her myself. Here, along the highway, in a ditch… No. At the beach. There will be a storm, a hurricane. Seized by it, she will run, dance into the ocean, laughing, defiant. She will drown. No. Don’t listen to it. Pass the time. Talk to her. Anything at all. In the corner of my eye she floated, buoyant, separate. The shadow of indifference wedged itself between us until I ventured to place my hand on her thigh. Without hesitation, she moved her own hand across mine. While mine was an act of charity, hers was of love. I tensed in anger and disgust.
I removed myself more completely, waiting for time to end. I could no longer remember how we met. It seemed unimportant. She walked ahead through the surf, aware and afraid of me. I tried to reconcile my growing solitude with the sea and pretended disinterest as her shadow fell across the sand. In her white dress, she seemed to vanish and reappear with each wave. The image was broken by the gleaming evening sun, the tale and mouth of creation. Before the waves, beneath the sky, our momentum slowly ebbed. In the descending blackness, the sound of waves crashing became a disembodied moan. I remember worrying how long the night would be.
There are very long waiting periods, hours and years of staring, unable to focus or call to mind what it was that drew me to my current state. Something I cannot remember. I am simply here, drawing lines in the gravel, half-heartedly tossing rocks at passers by. It is not what I seem to be doing. Nothing I actually do is seen or known to exist. There are reasons for writing things down.
Why remember any of these things… embroidered saris, random experiences with strangers and other people slightly, only slightly, more familiar? Silver utensils, broken book spines, words leaking out, mingling with the lime and the detergent? Thoughts of friends I never phone? I need a new pair of shoes. Blank pages. I remember nothing. Every time I look in the mirror.
Moving from room to room, I see things differently or not at all. I don’t even bother to fill in the blanks. I enjoy the luxury of forgetfulness. It is the seed of all abstracted potentials. Magical idealism.
I saw her waiting on the porch. She had changed, taller in a dress that I had not seen before. Our immediate contact was familiar, not intimate, and it did not take long for me to understand that things were irretrievably different. Along the railroad tracks, between narrow swatches of goldenrod, milkweed, and Queen Anne’s lace, I thought of time and how it moves faster than any one life can be aware of. Not long before, she had been insecure, desperately wanting and unable to see beyond the fears that I helped make real. Among the frail, drying weeds beneath the bridges, she placed my arm around her, allowing my hand to slide easily down her side. My hands skirted her waist and ascended to her breasts. On the ground by the tracks, lost within tall, dry grasses, she raised her dress and masturbated for me. When I slid my own fingers inside, even my thoughts were submerged in the clear, hot fluid. Gasping, laughing, she came quickly. I left my fingers inside as she unzipped me, then spat into her palm, waiting for a strand of saliva to collect there. When I came, she cried out, “yes, yes!” We rested for some time there. I lay back, looking up at the sky. The pain of the past months ebbed through me, spreading like semen and clouds.
I start smoking. One cigarette a day. That’s all I can handle of this inane disillusionment. Things that make sense need to be counter-balanced. I start smoking but only in winter, only out in the cold with the wind in my face. I hold the butt in my right hand like a pencil, like a stick, sticking it in. I am compulsive. If the cigarette is lit, smoke it. Things are meant to be done with. I am quick, quickly sucking, blowing hard. Already sick, my brain hurts, as if I had the thing poked into my forehead. What’s another hole in the head, breaking sense to pieces? No slight stimulation, this is the humiliation of knowing. Any creation story: quick birth, forever dying. Living half-dead amid life’s continuous explosion. And the kicker, kicking us, is that we remain lucid, aware of the pain.
The force of certainty and consciousness lingers, obscured further by my reminiscence. Mine were the fantasies of preexistence, that is, of the spiritual end of things. I fancied myself a deity of sorts, something willful, innocent and inquisitive… qualities which when put into practice long enough destroy each other. More than once all my systems and structures would collapse due to their own reduplication; a mind of flimflam, a life of whimsy-whamsy. Memories and desire have failed me. They were to be my salvation (I almost had a plan, and I almost pulled it off.) Now I walk with wet feet, slogging up and down dim avenues to nowhere and nothing. No, it isn’t sad. It isn’t sad at all. What it is will be lost and forgotten even as it happens. It is to that vacancy that I respond, as a clown, gleefully depressed, happy to be broken. I can laugh or be filled with sad recognition, then laugh anyway. Nearly impossible to escape any reaction at all, which is what I strive for when my friends become obscenely self-occupied. I too am self-occupied, but I do not project my preoccupations for the benefit of pity or mock understanding. I have tendered what I view as an authenticity of self; a complete lack of emotion.
All my edges blur, homogeneous, deceptively tranquil. However, this blankness, this vacancy of caring is beyond my control, even my recognition. I never know what face I make.
I will offer her small gifts, but otherwise leave her alone. Her nervousness worries me. I will have to be careful. Contrition is an evil thing that makes liars of us.
Moments don’t exist. If they seem to, it is only because we have paused in our hearts at some perceived understanding, from which a memory is made. Only half a circle, and better left incomplete.
Alone, I feel for my face. Like an unexpected gem glinting, half-buried at the bottom of a shallow pool, a congregation of sense, eyes, ears, nose, mouth arranged in close proximity to one another, holes in the skin, some filled and bulging, others gaping and empty, skin creased and lined from frequent repetitive movements, all exposed, taken for granted, used without thought. There is much beyond my control. The focus of arguments and desire, contempt and adoration, moving about on top of a sighing body, smiling, scowling here and there, unaffected inside or out.
I am in the bookstore café now, writing. Words are a facsimile of vision, which itself is the reproduction of visionary experience. Let me begin with that, with what is caught in my thinking. I am relaxed, observant not oblivious. Objects create pools of space upon which my eyes float. I am waking in this intimacy of humanness, and I am content with myself in the world I know. I remain however only half aware of the intricacies of the view through the café window. The totality of the scene is subtle. It blurs all of its parts, lending each segment a unique characteristic of the larger matter. The cafe is filling with people, but I recognize no one. I am always amazed at how few people I know.
Right now I thought she might call. I have forgotten her voice, but not what it is to listen to her. With my mind I listen, as when the eyes follow the score to a well-known melody for the first time, and this changes it, and it changes the mind.
The storm wind covers the sky
Whirling the fleecy snow drifts
Now it howls like a wolf,
Now it is crying, like a lost child.
Let us drink, dearest friend
To my poor wasted youth.
Let us drink from grief – Where’s the glass?
Our hearts at least will be lightened.
Zimniy Vecher, Pushkin put to music by Glinka. All juxtaposed binary opposites, of alternatively being alone and then snuggled warm with one’s nanny as a child, of the extremes of youth and age, of sobriety and drunkenness, of silence and noise, of ferocity and innocence.
Dear Scott, Ha, ha, ha. Elle stopped by here last night, creating and then leaving the attached .bmp file. I gave her my best smile when she was recording an answer on your machine, to let her know of my approval. I tried to mine out more info on her, but only with great struggle, and nothing of grave importance, just the obvious. Good anyway, however. It confirms suspicions. Harvard Jewish Leftist radical, spontaneous personality. Used Adobe PageMaker for a newsletter for the unemployed. Probably comes from $$$. Duh. She seems reticent to give out info freely, to me, at least. With you might be different. Maybe you can see something in the picture she made that might tell of something. She doesn’t smoke, of course. Light drinker: practically abstinent. I asked for her email address, she said that she didn’t check it that often. She brings a great sense of life and freedom to the sister-house community, I must say, and further upsets (the nearly non-existent) patriarchal control among us. Was threatened by that before, but now it not need be, I think. Have fun … and tell me what you see in the picture.
I intuit it as both portrait and self-portrait. A frightening mask, hideous and debased. Sickly green with rotten breath. But this one makes out like a bandit. The one selfless act of intellectual wealth is to eschew all other wealth. Mutually destructive and blind in so many ways. Too aware and in love with our vision. In love with talk, information. To know others and confuse ourselves. Anthony says it OK as long as you realize that it’s all a game. Then you can ask questions, define terms, penetrate systems, build bombs and stick your cock anywhere that makes you happy. Anthony also says he has headaches. His brain feels warm and bruised. Natasha has chronic migraines. Symptoms: blurred or spotty vision. Linear pain. non-linear reaction. Everyone is cooked. Well done. Edges singed. Even Rachel was an American flag burning. I didn’t see that. Rather, she was an elemental. Salamander. Amphibian. Transformer. Angel of destruction. Michael. The bridge. Much like you. Shattered mirror. Who is your friend? What do you trust your friend with? What he sees? What he feels, coiled in his solar plexus, his gut, his bowels? And your friend’s best friend, who is that? What are we defining here, over and again, creating a palimpsest of names? Blurring every line: symptom. Of? I am so very happy, and it does not show. I am so very sad, and it reduces me to ashes.
I want to murder my father. BOTH of them. Why does God hate me? Because I hate him. God doesn’t play dice with the universe… but I am Professor Tossthedices. God DOES play dice with the universe. The phoenix is manic-depressive. I am the phoenix and the phoenix says, ‘Yes. Yes. Yeah. Uh-huh.’ The phoenix that has a thirst longer than its shadow. The phoenix with a thousand IQ. The phoenix that is a thousand points of light. The phoenix that is mad. The phoenix that is genius. The phoenix that sweats like a professional fiend. The phoenix that loves like a suffragette. The phoenix that desires a little taste of blood. If I harass the bartender it is because the prick is an asshole. I like whiskey, they offer me beer. No sense of humor. He doesn’t understand, because we are poor, the object of pool is to make the game last as long as possible. What is the point to the game? I only enjoy the random chance, the implausibility. When we down the last of the Scotch and go stumbling onto the street again, why are we not tired? Here I am gesturing towards the bartender again: he said my eyes are freaky. I want a record of everything – to give everything to some purpose. The taking away floods my soul. Writing and writing. There is no such thing as over-doing it, is there? The absence of words is a wrench in the gears. Words are oil. When life arouses me I onanize myself with words. I have taken notice. I recognize perfection and it’s closest relatives. Here is a bit of myself, some genetic material, as white and salty as sea foam. Yes, here is my communion wafer. I do this in remembrance of you, Deanna and Mel.
I will omit nothing. Every word we speak. My thoughts (extant and after the fact.) Invisible and unheard communication. Signs, actions and mood. Base reality and imposed fantasy. Improvised art-making. The hollow and the bursting. The beds and the graves. The people who are and the people who are not (we know which is which.) Those who never had a chance and those who swindled theirs. Love and disgust. The puke and spittle in a kiss. Man and Earth (ego and geo). Worship and desecration. Hearts and brains and tits and cunts and smiles. The flaccid and erect. Books, music, movies, sound bytes, laughter, coughing, trash track sound. The fuck you’s and the handshakes. Politics and ridiculousness. The red and the blue. Every misshapen horror. Every implausible, irresistible joy.
The shape of things never corresponds to the imagination. We are too far, too different from one another.
There is power, and there is love. Take your pick, but believe me, only one takes you home. Only one is creative, turns shit to gold.
Life is complicated. Let’s not argue that. No one will say that everything is clear to them. When things become clear to you, beware. Life will bend over and pollute it once more.
I feel like I want to leave. It gets so tiring to be in this body all the time. Especially when I have been sick. I’m just tired. How improved my life is now, and how I have fucked things up. Because I tried to make a Paradiso Terrestre.
I’m sorry I’m not any fun tonight. I see the moon come out from behind the clouds for a moment. It is almost full. Two more days. Through the haze of cigarette smoke I smell the damp earth and leaves. The first time it has smelled like autumn this year. November 9th.
Scott, last night proves it: the city is everything and just as much nothing. There is only what we enjoin with our minds, in the car, along the sidewalks, on the faces of houses – a complicated projection of experience and imagination, careening towards or through oblivion.
Scene: Smoke escapes through the driver side window. The radio is off. The passenger, wearing a leather jacket and shades, is uncharacteristically quiet. The cigarette in the driver’s hand is nearly done. I drop the butt through the opening, close the window and grip the steering wheel with both hands, taking the wide left turn at the top of the hill. The entrance to a golf course disappears behind us. My hands are cold, and you are singing.
Tell me, you people, what are you
What are you doing
Here and there and
There and here and
Tell me, you people
What are you
We are and must remain wasted when we hit the detour signs ahead. Without hesitation, I embrace all charms, portents, omens. I negate all but the formula for temptation. Nothing more is needed at this hour of the wolf. Our scene penetrates the night. The light does not fade but is gone inside.
Today is Laundry Day. I remember my mom wiping away the dust from her coffin. I was six. My brother was two – he doesn’t feel the same way about as I do. My mother calls me this day every year. My baby sister died and I took a ride in the taxi cab – to the grave where they tossed the lifeless body. She wiped the dust away from the grave of my sister who did nothing wrong. She died – why? And she is buried in a place that no one… it is nothing. A place civilization ignores. There is the Guggenheim, the Louvre, places of culture and money… away from all that, six feet in the ground. Was it my father’s sperm that was crippled? Vietnam, chemical warfare. Nixon. The bastards. Or my mother’s Jewish blood? Not Jewish, but Christian. Blasted self-worth. Doubt and guilt. Letting herself be abused. Why else would she marry The Fucker? Makes me want to shoot myself (points finger-gun at head). Shoot (mimics sticking needle into arm) myself. Let myself sink down, into the six feet. But how can I believe that bullshit with these eyes looking back at me? Beautiful eyes, full of life. How am I worthy of it? When my sister who did nothing wrong is dead? It is amazing that I continue to survive. My mother is not a bad person. I am a bad man.
Thursday night. $2.00 cover. I have six, and spend the other four on a pack of Camels. I have no more money for beer. Guy at the bar turns around and says, “That’s my hat!” but then realizes his hat is in his jacket pocket. He apologizes and gives me his beer. I sit in the theater seats up front, watching people dance. The crowd is thin. I leave my knit hat (brown with yellow stripe) on, despite the heat. A girl sways about like a dandelion in the wind. Can hardly stand up straight. She staggers towards me for a second, staring, eyes not focused, then lurches away. I move to the side of the room, against the plush, red carpet wall. I take off my jacket and dance my way into the center of the room. Suddenly a rather odd woman slinks her way in next to me. Mid 30’s, very short with long, dark hair. There is a gap between her two front teeth. Shy eyes. Drunk. Carrying a large bag. She seems out of place, not dancing but eyeing up every boy around her. She starts saying things under her breath. Her eyes roam up and down my body as I dance. This amuses me. Then she says something that I can’t hear it. I bend my ear down to her and ask, “What?” She says, “Nothing.”
Scott, you crazy mother fucking father killing bastard son of a ?? Sentiment and sediment. Who’s perfect? Human? Divine? What we are is so obvious – though it has no proper name. If what you require is complete nonsense then it shall be provided. No one can help but laugh themselves to death. That’s MY plan. Wonderful no-name freak, I love you and your lazy eyes. Your whiskey paunch pickled liver spleen swine kidneys. Dot has the recipe, right? For so many things. She stews you and your low sloping forehead; post-historic man killing time, letting the walls crumble, letting the grass grow, letting the sun shine. And when the reptiles come out to sun themselves, you will crush them between two stones, two hemispheres of ze goooood brainz. Revel and reveal. All in all ways always.
We will tell a story, one that has been told and retold. There is no keeping it to ourselves. Undoing the undone. Together, separately. That is why we have been called by our names, then renamed. Strange and changed. Strangely changed. Strange bird, dirty bird, cuckold shmuckold.
Scott sighs and lingers over her hands with rare attention. I look on, placid. What goes on here I do not know, I do not see. I don’t live here with them. The distance between us, though it is not much, keeps things properly obscured.
At last he pulls away and we go. Minds swarming, eyeballs bulging, arms heavy as rainfall, we walk to the car like giants. I reset the trip odometer, pull out with narrowing eyes. Craig street. Forbes Avenue. The entrance to the Schenley golf course disappears behind us. Park and leap out of the car. Manage the sidewalk. Ahead of us is portentous darkness. In my peripheral vision: neon and none.
We enter a happening dive and indulge in strange comforts. We are in the wilderness. Dim features reflect jukebox scenarios. Casual, piercing laughter punctuates a dry murmuring. Inanity surrounds us, probing any passing orifice for a sympathetic feeling. Plenty of rot to revel in, but we are not about to relent. We have distractions of our own: mirthful anarchy, philosophic pyrotechnics, lust for our Jewess waitress, eyes as big as flying saucers.
Scott’s voice explodes while something bangs around inside of me. I am feeling the swell of the evening consumed in tiny fists tightly grasping my ribs. Scott is practically screaming, “Hey cutie pie! Loosen the drawstrings! Lower the drawbridge…”
“Why?” he asks, placing a finger on his forehead. “Why!?”
“Forget it. I like this crowd.”
He swivels, looks, laughs. A moment of silence wherein a bottle of olive oil is concealed.
Scott accosts the waitress, “Could you…” His hand levitates over the table, moving counter-clockwise – against time – simulating the use of a washcloth. “Could you?” The hand turns, palm up. The fingers come together and point down, the face tilts down, all lines are parallel, sloping towards the pool of beer, indicating the problem. By this combination of gesture and articulation the waitress understands. She starts away and again Scott stops her.
“Something else? Another pitcher?”
“Yes! And… and two shots of Jameson’s, and… and!” he goes on, “A wipe of the table.”
She laughs. Pointing at Scott’s beer. “Do you know what your problem is? You fill your glass too high.”
With sweat and emotion, Scott laughs, serious. “I fill my glass too high. That is my problem.”
“That is your problem.”
“The Eternal Feminine leads us on.” Then, without indicating who he is referring to, adds, “I do not need that… that quenching of fire.” He demonstrates appropriate contact with the Eternal Feminine. “We must be like this,” he almost whispers, one finger softly caressing another.
“Unattainable, but indistinguishable.”
How normal things can seem. The gunshot of dark, lonesome eyes illuminates deserted corners of our vision. In a place like this, a lacuna smack in the middle of a daydream, moments can be wasted.
There is a foreshadowing lull in the noise, noticed in retrospect. Someone is calling me. A truck backfires. The windows rattle. My mind reels. Crowds gather and look. Filmic consciousness fast-forwards towards the street steeped in cooling blood and lights and everything flashing. It’s nothing. Only a sound pulling people in. Sidewalks trap the elements in cement. Passage ways block our choices. Passing pigeons track through the cooling pools of blood, leaving signs on the sidewalks. We are all just passing through.
One of us says, “Want to go?” and we do. Outside, Sam takes out the bottle of olive oil and smashes it against the doorstep. I make a sound like laughter but not really.
I wonder to myself, how can there be a word for no sound?
We are cold, and I am out of cigarettes. I have sketched three portraits of Scott on the back of my place-mat, which is held in my left hand, folded three times.
Are we creating anything at all? Or are we simply abusing the truth however we can?
Reflect, he said.
I am reflecting, I replied, and discover that temperance, or wisdom, if implying a knowledge of anything, must be a science, and a science of something.
Yes, he said; the science of itself.
Plato – Charmides.
207 rises up to my left and then slides behind me as I slowly troll down Neville Street, eyeing a place to park. At the bottom, once across the tracks and under the bridge, the road narrows and I could easily feel led on through weedy, narrow planes of gravel, dust, and abandoned lots. These crumbling detours excite me. I sometimes long to approach from different angles. From the grounds of Central Catholic. From above, gliding down from the Cathedral. From the sewers, if possible. As it is, I have already parked and climbed the haphazard stairs to the porch. I am already knocking.
I am led in and we begin immediate consumption. The idea is to be put in a rarified, Platonic, state of mind, “To immerse ourselves in the world of forms.”
Dot appears at the door and we urge her to participate.
“You must chug it. Quickly now.”
A tentative taste, and she exclaims, “Awful!”
The phone rings. Scott answers. He speaks into the receiver. After a moment he turns to us and asks:
“Do you want to go to a party?”
“Sure,” he says to the phone, and hangs up.
Dot ascends to her room and changes. When she comes down she is in her Parker coat. Scott calls her, sickly-like, “Sweetie Pie.”
On the way to the car he asks me, “Do you feel it? That is the Dextromethorphan in your blood.”
We sit in Bob’s living room. Some days are better than others when it comes to this. I am not even sure… what am I waiting for? Complete disorganization in this household. I am opening up like sink hole on this orange and brown couch. Absolutely calm and unresponsive. Even now, when Elle appears at the door, I am touched by how little I feel inside me. She seemed at first glance to represent the antithesis of everything that I am feeling. I have a similar reaction every time we meet. I suffer easily, for nothing. It is all made up. And now look. Elle flops down onto Dot’s lap. There is much gloating. They’ve hit it off so well.
“A friend for Dot, perhaps,” said Scott a few days ago. I nodded and hoped it was true. It would be nice for her, for all of us.
Everyone is finally ready to go, except Elle, tired and distant. No, she is not tired, not distant at all. I am confusing the two of us.
Dot, Scott and I sit in the back of Bob’s tiny, tiny car, thigh to thigh with our knees up to our chests, being driven into some undefined neighborhood.
The party is on the third floor. A nice space, slightly pretentious, with walls painted sky blue. The music is not too loud, or of a disagreeable sort. It’s bearable. We mingle about the ameba crowd. We spread out from one another, quickly coming together again. We confer.
“One never sees this sort of people, except in a situation such as this.”
Dorothy thinks she needs to remind me that I once said the same thing somewhere else.
All around us stand resemblance’s of prostitutes, stale and recovering addicts, floppy coifed fops, Euro Trash, and, most of all, thin, dieting MFA’s in earth tone sweater vests. It’s a masquerade of tube socks and stripped shirts. And there are a few illusions, a few paradoxes: the forever dying who manage to look eighteen their whole lives. I take it all in, check myself, and… whatever. I overhear a shadowy valley girl urgently speaking of Prozac and a face from a dream. “Like that fire-spitting nun.” Her voice piques my attention like ice in amber whisky tumblers.
I spy Dot, still in faux fur. She’s trying to be seductive, in her clumsy way, writing out a gangsta haiku: yo bitch get down here – you ain’t no good for nothin – but crocodile rock, which draws a stir from the audience.
I move on, find space between two females and lounge between twin sets of halter top cushions. I fumble, forgetting, not really listening, stretched out under an image from the Floating World.
“I have been trying.”
With what means?
“To get Hans.”
Who is Hans?
“To sell me that print.”
I go into the hallway, where Scott tells me that everyone here has their sob story.
“Yes,” I say, eyeing a girl with a flaming forest uprooted spiraling down around her face. She approaches.
“I know Scott.”
“Yes, but that one.”
“Oh… I am afraid to go in there.”
“Would you go in there and get me a drink? All those people…”
“There is beer right under that table.”
“Yeah? OK, I’ll try. I’ll be back. No I can’t do it. There are too many people. There’s my boyfriend. Hey, will you go in there?”
“You want me to mix you a drink?”
“Yeah, thanks. Are you guys drinking?”
“We are OK.”
“Are you on something?”
“Really? I was on cough syrup for two years.”
“Yeah… are you really on cough syrup? Are you kidding?”
“Yes,” says Scott. Then, as an aside to me: “You should never let people know what you’re on.”
We journey into the alternatively dim and sharply lit arena of backward capped jocks, ubiquitous losers, pale-cheeked crack heads, beer-guzzlers, pizza-chewing non-descripts, eternally adolescent geeks, and all the pimply-faced microcosms of chance indecency this city can muster. Passing through takes but a moment of our time and nothing is wasted. Except one cigarette that I give to a bum.
He is on the phone. He says, “Come over… blah, blah, blah… bye.”
“Who was that?”
“Elle. She’s coming over. With others… twenty or so people.”
Obviously that’s not true, but we wait for them anyhow. Two or more hours pass, during some of which Sam is asleep in his red chair. Finally we decide to go for a another walk.
Motion recedes to fold and flash again stronger than her holding back the loosening line slackened in our tentative hands a wand glows deformed against his facing up when all strains beneath caring and under the basement steps a furnace warms scars made unclean by a school marm thrashing whicker sticks against his slipping missteps charged to navigate this spread wing throwing covers back asking when he knows the answer all is sworn though unknown or easily led astray a pretty miss who tarries by and by not afraid to ask why but is it any wonder all these tears when his bird has flown from no home and circles between miracles and fallacies we trudge here and here listening to painted rants in pool halls and the pages ask you to temper the heart his core swallowing the lost and found mostly lost a pretty miss sings to forget him for to get him before the scene changes but it does when black inscriptions point to sluts splitting up between themselves these unearthed knells blanketing for just a moment this season’s spells.
Like a hunchback he lurches forward and tosses a rolled up Post-Gazette at me. He is in a strange mood, flinching and ducking. He says, in repetition of an email he sent earlier that day, “You stole my depression.” He calls Dot and I bastards. However, there is affection in his meaning. He is like someone resigned to a life he despises. There is torment in his movements, his eyes, his voice. All comfort is gone. He is restless, alternatively a baby and a monster. I tell him so.
He wants slapped. Dot won’t do it, so I do. A feigned swoon. An erotic smile. I want to hit him again, but harder.
Dot has on her powder blue pea coat. Out of the corner of my eye I see Sam running down the hall. He ducks into the bathroom.
Erratic energy. Sinister emotions. Something is definitely wrong. I am getting uneasy, because Dot and I had planned on going out alone, together. It doesn’t seem likely now.
When he comes out I tell him, “I am stealing your woman.”
“I don’t have a woman.” Turning to Dot, “You told me that.”
She and I are not going to leave him here.
“Where are you going?”
“We are going to…”
“You are going to… do? go? what?”
“To go out, for some… for awhile.”
He asks, sad and quietly, with something of a puppy dog face, but not quite, “can I come?”
“Of course,” we both reply, because we do not want to give way to bad feelings.
I am driving on an empty tank. At a red light I ask, “Where are we going?” Sam suggests a place, “The capital of Franco-Russian worship,” as he calls it; one of the few mundane comments he has made so far. Everything else has been simmering bile, raging against his father, whom he calls The Fucker.
We walk the street towards the bar. It is dusk, darkening. Inside it is even darker, dirtier. We sit in a booth near the bar. No one serves us, so we get up and order. Scott grimaces, scowls.
We move to the other room where there are pool tables. We sit at a table on a stage against the back wall, which is lined with silver foil paper and Christmas lights.
“Stop it,” I say. Scott is staring bug-eyed at Dot and I.
“Laundry day… have I told you about laundry day?
“Tell him about laundry day.”
“You should tell him.”
“When… what is laundry day?”
“Yesterday… the day I do laundry. Tell Scott about laundry day.”
“I don’t think I can do it justice.”
“In layman’s terms then,” but Dot has already giving up on this. She wants to know if we are going to play pool. There is no more talk of laundry day until Scott comes back from the bathroom with blood on the back of his hand. He crawls under the pool table. He is on his back, looking up at me. “Are you manic depressive? Bipolar?”
His expression tells me he thought as much. “You’re pretty even keeled?
“Yes… but I know. I do not feel everything you feel, but I know. We are similar enough to understand each other, and different enough for balance.”
I lean back on the pool table. Dot stands next to me, touches my arm.
“I understand you better now.”
“Don’t get confused, and don’t upset him. It’s you who you understand better.”
While we are talking, Scott is elsewhere, chatting to three girls. He seems sane, polite, not upset at all. I can tell that he knows at least one of them from somewhere. There were introductions, just a moment ago. I forget their names already.
Despite everything, I am trying to remember all this.
Dot’s face is now close and bright. Her tears tell me everything. She doesn’t love him. She doesn’t know me.
The girls are preparing to leave. Dot is talking to one of them. I cannot hear, for I stand apart and think about what has been going on. When the girls leave, Scott explains: associates, co-workers. Dot refers to them as sluts. She feigns indignant aristocracy. Apparently it is not the only drama allowed. Scott starts in again. A shameless display of affection and real anger. Repeating over and again:
“You are over-doing it.”
“OK. I am such a fucking fool.”
“Maybe. Why don’t we go?”
In the car I reset the tripometer to zero.
This is city living. Popping Sinus Tabs with Coca-Cola. Copiously coalescing mucus membrane. Is it the smoking? Immune system breakdown? It is true, I haven’t been eating as I should. What reason? I am full and filled with The Life. Just like the Jesus freaks, a diet of worms, eating me from the inside out. Decomposition can be so beautiful. I give everything up, and back, and I still have The Life. The only tragedy is the sickness. The sickness keeps me awake, and quickens me. I cannot take it all in, and so I write to drain off the excesses. The fat rises to the top, and that is good for taste. Everything can be used and reused. You reinforce this position.
I take quick notes on every detail I can recollect. If necessary, I make a collect call to yesterday. I will be severely disappointed if I do not do this, and it is draining me a little. Thus the cold. I must kick ass. Fuck the microbes. I have to go on.
There is a Bollywood film in our new VCR. Hello Brother.
Question: do we go out to eat, as Dot suggests? Scott and I want to conserve our money. We offer to make pasta. It takes some work to convince Dot that we should not go out. Finally, she relents.
“Does it matter? Won’t we have fun anywhere? Whatever we do?”
I think the question is pathetic.
There is a jug of 90 proof sour mash. We take it and go to the second floor kitchen. I have a cold, blowing my nose every ten seconds into paper towels, toilet paper, etc. Finally Dot brings me a red cotton handkerchief, the kind my dad used to use before he went to white.
“I want to stick a torch up my nose.”
Dot makes a face, then says she wants to play a game.
“I will kick your ass. What are we playing?”
“Anything Goes Scrabble?”
I ask, “Am I playing?”
“Yes, you’re playing.”
“I have never played,” admits Scott. “I mean… not since…” He hates games.
Dot sets up the board. “OK, we’ll play anything goes. You get nine tiles. That’s all that fits on the block.”
She continues to explain the general rules until Scott asks, “how many points for bluffing?”
“50,” I say.
“Can’t you play seriously?”
There is some fussing about who starts. Scott claims he can begin with a 8 letter word.
“OK, that’s more than I can do… wait. Is it a real word?”
“Well…” He fabricates an etymology, then laughs. “Bluffing!”
“Stop it. How long of a word can you really make?”
“Um… seven.” He picks up a few tiles and shuffles them around. “Maybe.”
His eyes are not on this game, but another. More bluffing. “100 points.”
“I’m going to go first then, since I can’t believe you.” Dot lays down this six letter word: PARCEL. Words slowly appear across the board. They transmogrify: TUT – TUTU; RA – RAN; VITA – EVITA; IRAN – IRANI. NIN. WODEN. UR.
We get drunk and listen to Dot’s childhood tapes about Madeline, Sandy, and Elenora in the haunted house on the cliff above the ocean. We think Dot should be Jewish.
“Tell that to my parents.”
Someone calls for Scott. He goes downstairs and after awhile I follow. From the red chair he motions me in. “Do you want to talk to my mom?”
I take the phone. She says, “Scott has told me all about you. You sound like a very nice man. Maybe we will meet sometime soon.”
Dot comes in just after I hang up.
“Today is the anniversary of my sister’s birth, and her death.”
We stand uneasy. Scott has mentioned his sister only once before.
There is a droning quiet, then, “That’s what I am afraid of most – destiny – fate. Everything happens for a reason. The bad things (he is looking down, then up at us). The good things (he takes Dot’s arm). I want to treat a woman better than my mom was treated. I want to treat WOMEN better…”
He bends down and kisses her, tells her he loves her. I look at the bookshelves, thinking of his attempt to understand where he came from, who his father is, why his sister died, and to find meaning and purpose in a chemically imbalanced brain. He goes on again, repeating his themes which are not the old myths, but a reality too big to exist in this room with him, too unwieldy for him to handle alone. Still, neither Dot nor I say anything. We dare not obscure Scott’s vision of his dead sister.
Eventually Dot says she is tired and goes upstairs. A minute later she comes back down wearing embroidered silk pajamas. She is still drunk, falling over. Holding her up, Sam kisses and gropes her. They lay down together. I place my hand on Dot’s face. I play with her hair and lips. One of her frog toggles comes undone. I am thinking…. Thinking. This isn’t right.
Still, I touch her. The air is full and quiet. My mind wants to wander, but keeps being drawn back to her laying here on the floor, her pajamas coming undone, her body loose.
I am being drawn into Scott’s attention to her., his attention to me, this lack of concern for boundaries and rules. Is our love is shared? Our lust too? I want to treat women better…
Silk and skin slide in whispers along the swell of hip and shoulder. The fabric arches upwards, undulates and folds. A breast, curving away. Time at a standstill. Oppressive uncertainty. Dot’s nipples are hidden still. I pulse and pretend distraction. When will it end? Dot breaks away.
“If no one here is strong enough to carry me, I am going to crawl back upstairs and go to bed.” Then she makes like a limp doll, making us believe we can keep her here… keep her with gentle caresses, kisses, elusive words teasing… there is little room on the floor… Scott tries to lead her down… “Here… shall we?” but it sounds like “Shelly.” He laughs, then points to us in turn, naming us, “Mary, Shelly, and Byron.”
Dot finally is able to stand. When she is gone, Scott confides in me, “I love her voice. I cannot help but love her. You are more of a brother to me than my brother.”
“You too. I never had a brother.”
“Then it is true, but she is not my sister.” He is thoughtful, then exclaims, “No…!” with a laugh.
He shows me a picture of Joyce on the back cover of Ulysses. I prepare to leave. He takes a giant swig of the whiskey. His body hunches over. His face puckers with disgust. Contortions. He spews some, hacks and grimaces.
Earlier, in the kitchen, he had said, “I have a presence. I hate it. I cannot enter a room without being noticed.” Now I finish his thought: Or remain without dominating, or leave without being missed.
We leave Pittsburgh at nightfall, 7:45 PM.
“Don’t you think you’re going too fast?”
“No. We want to put distance between us and the city.”
“Like a bat out of hell.”
Zipping past exits, Scott hands me a tape with many a chanteuse. Marianne Faithful. Marlene Dietrich.
Show me/the way/to the next whiskey bar
Oh/don’t ask why/oh/don’t ask why
For/if/we don’t find/the next whiskey bar
I tell you we must die/I tell you we must die
I tell you/I tell you/I tell you we must die!
There are three ideas in this stanza: A request for help, direction, the start of the journey. A request that we do not question the reason for the journey. The third idea states – three times – that if the journey fails death is the outcome.
The following can be assumed: The asked knows the way, or at least has a better concept of the way than the asker. The asker has been to a whiskey bar before, and recently. The asker had a reason for leaving the last whiskey bar. The asked does not know why, and asked for the reason. The asker and the asked are somehow involved with one another.
The following cannot be assumed: That the asked is a single entity. That the asker and the asked know each other, or do not know each other. That the asked has been to a whiskey bar before. That the asker does not know why. That the asked actually helps the asker. That they find the next whiskey bar.
Therefore: The asker does not know the way, so asks the asked – an entity that may be singular or plural, and whom the asker may or may not know – to show the way to the next whiskey bar. It is not known whether or not the asked has been with the asker at the previous whiskey bar. First of all, why has the asker left the previous whiskey bar? Barkeeps usually stop serving when one becomes too drunk, or too rowdy. Perhaps the asker has had too much to drink and so now needs help finding his/her way to some other place where he/she can be served. Naturally the drunk asker would ask someone also drunk for direction. Even if it is the case that he/she/they is/are sober, and has not previously known the asker, the asked could still surmise that the asker wants to go to the next whiskey bar to continue drinking. What the asked might not understand is why the asker specifically asked him/her/them for help to get there. The unheard question of the asked might have been, “why should I/we show you the way?” and not, “why do you want to know the way?” The more probable query is the first, because the asker gives this answer: “for if we don’t find the next whiskey bar, I tell you we must die.” This answer explains why BOTH the asker and the asked must go, and why the asked has been asked to show the asker the way. If neither of them find the next whiskey bar, they both will die. Is the asker showing concern for the asked, or does he/she have more selfish interests? Perhaps “we will die” is a lie, a ruse to convince the asked of the mission. That is not likely. If the asker were going to lie, he/she would more likely go for sympathy: “I will die”, rather than, “we must die.” So the question posed is why will the asker AND the asked die if they do not find the next whiskey bar? A murder-suicide on the part of the asker? Not likely. Does the asker believe that the only hope for life is to be found in whiskey? If so, then he/she will die if he/she becomes sober, and the asked will die if he/she/they remain sober. Sobriety equals death, the asker is convinced. Yet, paradoxically, the asker is so drunk that he/she cannot find his/her own way, and must resort to someone sober for help. If the scenario is extended infinitely, what happens when everyone is too drunk to find the way to the next whiskey bar? It must be kept in mind that one can die from alcoholic poisoning. If we go with the theory that the asker believes that sobriety equals death, then death becomes an inevitability either way. Perhaps it is a matter of the “better death,” or of the better sort of living which leads us to our death. The statement, “we will die,” may not exist so much to attach the effect to the cause called sobriety, but to say, metaphorically, that to live sober is to be dead in life. The asker might be posing this very idea. Anytime we ask for help we open ourselves up to the influence of the others. If the asker was firm in his/her belief, he/she would not have asked anyone for help, let alone anyone sober who might try to direct him/her AWAY from the next whiskey bar, turned him/her into the police, a hospital, etc. However, that raises the idea that the asker WANTS to die. Notice the emphatic final phrase, repeated thrice: “I tell you, I tell you, I tell you we must die.” That improbable “must” stands out, demanding further attention be paid to this particular phrase. Why not, “I tell you we WILL die”? “Will” is more symptomatic, whereas “must” suggests some greater decree which makes finding the next whiskey bar a moot point. It is not the drinking which drives the asker to the bar, but the threat of some outside force. Could that force be the awareness of his/her own already impending death? Could not this be the reason for all that drinking? We each reach a point where all we want is a place to lay down, be it in another bar, a cell, or on a clean bed.
Scott is prepping us for his parents. Dot sleeps awhile, but is awake long enough to point out the stars to us.
I pull in at a rest stop under construction. An old woman is walking between the orange cones, along the orange plastic fence, over a long narrow ditch.
“Why do you think she made it so difficult for herself? She reminds me of my mother,” I say.
“Always taking what seems the shortest route, regardless of how mucked up it is. ‘Just go around it,’ I’d tell her. ‘You’ll get there in the same amount of time, or sooner, and with less trouble.'”
Side by side at the urinals, Scott tries to explain to me that there are people, old women in particular, who live that way, “because they can’t help it. It is in their blood. And, there are other people, you for instance, who recognize them by their blood – by their troubles – and call them all ‘mother.’ You are the man in “the thief’s journal” who happens across a beggar woman and imagines she could be his long-absent mother.”
“My mother isn’t absent, though.”
“No, not literally.”
Ranting about Reagan, the Cold War, Vietnam, Monday Night Football, running, Catholicism. “He’s for Vietnam. How can I like anyone who is for mutually assured destruction? The Cold War, you know?” He emits scared laughter, exasperated sighs. “My mother has my same eyes… but with nothing behind them. No intelligence, no fire.” “You will know them by their vapid stares, their banality and bad taste.”
The house has a stultifying non-atmosphere, warm but hollow. My feelings are tempered by the stronger affection of the other two. Every minute it is made obvious. Scott’s mom tells me to relax. But I am relaxed, as much as possible in this environment of magnetic repellence. Static. Every sound is absorbed immediately. Nothing exists for more than a nanosecond. No flow. No causality, and no death. The occupant’s hearts are cryogenically frozen. What they cannot reach out to no longer belongs to them. Every object is a clean and perfect fiction. No regard. No sympathy between objects or persons, not even their son, half of whom they tried to turn inside out, to nullify a mind that means nothing to the father, The Fucker. “Are you still running?” he asks. Only the things which can be called selfish, though not unique, have any sway with him. Sam’s mother says to us, “Listen to this.” She calls one of Scott’s nieces over and asks her, “Who are you going to vote for this year?” “George Bush.” “Why?” Without hesitation the girl replies, “Because he is a Christian.” “We had quite a discussion on politics this afternoon.” Perhaps she has not always been afraid, but the mother only finds strangeness where really there is beauty. Everything beyond these walls is too wild, not a part of the construct, the compound, the purely exterior interior of their souls. They are hidden from the uninhibited gleam in the eyes of the devil who guards the paths to Earth, who burns the sky with frozen winds which I can hear even now banging like a raven wing against the windows. “We will leave you alone soon. We know we are uninteresting to you.” Yes, so make it quick. Wash, dry, and put away the dishes. Everything here is clean, but in some way diseased. Even their bodies seem to bulge too much here, cave in too much there. But they are scrubbed and groomed like French poodles. It is indecent.
Rebecca picks up a book: “A Farewell to Arms”. “I never liked Hemingway, but this book is OK. Especially the ending.” “The ending?” I ask, taking the book from her and turning to the last page. “What happens?” “She dies, but I like the way it happens. He always uses repetition a lot, but in this case it works. At the end.” I read a few pages. The girl’s death is portrayed in a very matter-of-fact way. There is no sentiment. She bleeds to death. The child (there was obviously a child) is already dead. He asks God (here is the repetition) again and again to save her. He reverts to the innocent pleading of a child: “If you let her live I’ll never be bad again”. They kick him out of the room. The doctor doesn’t appear too concerned, but the nurse is. He waits in the hallways until she dies. He forces his way back into the room, turns out the lights and sits with her alone for a minute. But he says it’s no good. It’s like saying goodbye to a statue, and he leaves. Rebecca finds a heavy wool black coat with a hood. It is Scott’s mom’s. “Go ahead…” he says, and she puts it on. Meanwhile Scott has found a guitar and starts playing and singing. We take the guitar, whiskey, and smokes and go upstairs. We go out the front door, put our shoes on, and head for the golf course. The air is cold, and dew is on the grass already. The moon is waning and only a faint glow penetrates through the iron colored clouds. We walk down the a fairway. I run ahead to the green and the flag says: “4”. “Let’s burn it,” suggests Mui. “No.” “Even you have your limits. But I guess that would be senseless violence…” “And we believe in sensible violence,” I add. We continue walking. Sam plays on the guitar and drinks out of the bottle shared with Mui. I can’t stand the stuff anymore. I call Sam Pedro. “Hey, Pedro. Toca la guitarra, eh?” The bottle is handed to Mui and Pedro begins a rousing ad lib: “I have lived… 20 YEARS IN THIS HELL… I want to… KILL MY FATHER… RIP HIS FACE OFF… go to him while he sleeps… AND MAKE HIM BLEED…” “Are you talking about death again?” asks Mui. We are on another fairway, wider and longer. Giant white pines line either side. Moonlight carves a hollow for us here, lined with stars above and dewy earth below.
“If we were in Bavaria, there would be a tavern in the forest over there.”
“We can have our own bar, here.”
“Yes! Alexander, you be the proprietor. Scott and I will come in and ask for drinks.”
We assume French accents. Mui becomes a whore, and I her pimp.
“Hey barkeep, give us a shot of your strongest stuff. We have just come in from the cold. We need something to warm us up! Perhaps I will warm you up too, eh? You like that? I will fuck you for some whiskey, and a room… do you have a room? You let us stay here and drink. I will bring in other men, for me to fuck and to drink your whiskey. I give you more business. Understand? I fuck him, and you… both of you, at the same time. You let us stay here and drink for nothing. Understand?” The space above and around us deepens. I place the guitar on the ground and begin to play it like a base. It feels natural this way, and my fingers slide across and down and pluck the strings with ease. Primitive Jazz condensation. Time distillery. Stars spin. The Earth on its axis, pushing outwards. The stars and everything else, sliding towards some unknown unlimit. Things which do not exist yet. Not until we have gained them and surpassed. Scott and Rebecca have put some distance between themselves and me. They are dancing, not acting out but in. Out of breath. I was about to say we were out of time, but the case is, we are throughout time. Time is full of us. Pinholes in the folds of a cloak. Starry pinholes in the folds of space and time. We are our own predecessors. Our own forefathers and brothers. And our sister-lover. Bodies in the light in the sky-shadow in the light. My eyes are shut, and then open, searching for the other two, ever dancing. I focus on the trees, which must be spinning in their eyes, blurred with ground and air, all shades of gray. I pluck and drum like an anonymous tribesman in ancient, nameless tribe with a singular voice. My rhythm and tempo have no guide, only reason which flickers out of the forest like a serpent’s tongue in search for a scent. Mui and Samone pant and slow. I push them onwards, then accommodate their pace, but do not stop.
Playing pool, she says there is something she wants to tell me. She says I do not want to hear it. I say nothing and wait for her to tell me anyhow. She says that Dan convinced her to burn everything I ever gave her. She wants forgiveness. I want some sort of retribution but she says that she won’t destroy anything Dan gave her. She doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice. I know that it also does not matter. Sam says he saves everything. He wants a record of his life. She takes responsibility for the action talks about how she was always jealous when I showed her pictures of Beth. Later that night we make videos at my house. The roaring 20’s albums, play-acting, dancing. Her as a sexy B movie actress being interviewed by the producer. Sam suggests a play he wrote: Raymond and Suzanne. We find it on his web page and act it out a few times with a minimum of props. Very drunk on whiskey, and lots of smoking. I get out bowl of water and take off Rebecca’s boots and socks. I wash her feet like Mary M. Then with olive oil. Christine – the anointed one. All on video. On the drive home, I tell her, “That’s what I think of you burning all my stuff.”
the red white and blue which is closed, craft store and Kmart and then costume world in the strip district. I buy a straw hat and a corn cob pipe… to be Van Gogh. s1 and I each buy white plastic half face masks. he also gets a ring of ivy leaves to wear on his head. Rebecca buys a black mask that she will paint herself, because she can save 20 dollars that way. s1 looks at several outfits. giant red hair and Viking helmet with horns. he considers the cost and how medieval he already looks, and decides not to get that. eventually goes for a jester hat with three spikes, each a different color. yellow, blue and green, with a bell on the end of each. he is very excited. the girl helping him he knows from somewhere. they talk in the rows of hanging costumes. lobster, Elvis, Alex, knights, roller girl, etc. s1 doesn’t have his credit card and not enough money to rent the hat just then. the girl gives him a smirking, disgusted, “just what I expected” look. s1 is embarrassed, as he admits when we walk back to the car. he did buy some fake blood which he smears on the white mask when we wait in the car for Mui to get her passport. we are going to bar 11 in the south side. another fav of Meredith. I am low on gas. we drive around for a long time looking for a place to park somewhere near to where Mui thinks bar 11 is. finally I just park at the first available spot. Mui needs money. we go to the iron and glass bank teller machine. then walk back down Jane street. the one building Mui thought might be it, isn’t. some people coming out of very small but posh bar give us a better idea, and six blocks later we find it. s1 wants to order a pitcher of Yeungling, as always, but they have no drafts now. we get three bottles instead. we sit at a small, low booth in the corner by the pinball and darts. there are corn stalks and tree limbs and smoke coming out from under rocks laid on the bar top. we were given candy necklaces and insect rings and vampire teeth with our drinks. Mui immediately finds a sheet of paper, the bar menu, and starts drawing me on it. then s1. then she asks me to draw her. we are sitting around the table. she says my version of her was very Modigliani. she says she wants me to draw a serious drawing of her. “right now,” she says, and gets a new piece of paper for me. “I love being drawn I can feel his eyes moving all over my body, then finally finding my eyes.” Sam watches me draw Mui, occasionally holding her hand, smiling at her. I finish and they inspect it, criticize it. the eyes are off. one is too big, or the other too small. I say that the lighting in the place is awful. everything looks flat. then I draw Sam in a 3/4 view, with his crown of ivy on. He lowers his eyes to watch me, and so his eyes are lowered in the drawing. I get everything down well except his mouth. “one of these days when we are just sitting around I will have a notepad and I will do a lot of fast sketches of you, to loosen up. it has been so long since I have drawn. I am so focused on writing now, and I notice with my writing what I noticed when I drew all the time. I can recognize myself getting better. you would think that when you do something everyday, that the improvements would be so small and incremental that you wouldn’t notice. but I do.” I get a beer and Mui and Sam are dancing. Mui: “I am going to ask you something, and I want an honest answer. do guys really enjoy giving cunnilingus? be honest.” “Yes.” “Yes.” Sam: “The legs…” I say it is the power “who’s power?” “Mine. It is a good feeling.” Mui asks me to see if they guys playing pool are still there. then a guy comes over and out of the blue asks if we want to doubles at darts. Scott and Mui are not interested. “We could play cricket. Are you interested? Do you play darts?” “Yes, but not well. I don’t know any games. You can teach me.” Mui and Sam go over to the pool table and I end up playing darts with this guy, Neil, and his girl whose name I forget. a skinny bleached blond. obvious south side native. “I don’t think I have a partner. they went to play pool.” so we play 501, double in, double out. they pay. I get a double on my 1st throw of three. Mui comes over a few minutes later. “where is my lighter?” “here, you can use this one.” “I have my own somewhere here…” then to me, “Alexander has just informed me that when I get drunk I …” but the end is lost in other noise. “I mean, you can have this one. it’s a little low on fluid, but it will work.” “OK, thanks,” and Mui goes back to the pool table. we finish the dart game. I join Mui and s1 at the pool table. I ask what Sam had informed her about being drunk, and she says that he says he didn’t inform her of anything. she is very aggressive and upset, and Scott looks upset, but more confused than anything. she stalks the pool table, smirking. when her eyes are not squinting, they lock on and confront you, dare you to cross her path. “even the moon has it’s moods.” “the dark side of the moon.” then Sam goes to the bathroom, Mui starts saying to me how men are all the same. they don’t like an aggressive woman. “if I become aggressive when I drink, then that’s how I really must want to be. drinking lowers your inhibitions, and that’s how we act. and if he doesn’t want an aggressive woman sometimes, then fuck him. I am not going to be a bunny always. sometimes, yes, but not always. and there’s nothing wrong with that. do you think I am obnoxious when I drink?” I fumble with an answer. “not obnoxious.” “but you see a change?” “yes.” “does it bother you when I become like this?” “no.” “he’s just like Dan. always wants a bunny. mish. get it? a mouse. timid and docile. fuck that.” “he changes when he drinks too. everyone does.” “yeah, he falls on the floor and throws a fit and writes DETH on his hand without the “A”. he acts like a two year old. writes “DETH become me” on the wall. what is that about?!” I see Sam at the bar. Mui says I should take my turn. “it’s Scott’s turn.” “he’s not here. so fuck him.” but I wait and he comes back and takes his turn. they prey on each other around the table. neither giving in to the other. every so often Sam comes over and gives Mui a kiss. she doesn’t repel him, but doesn’t embrace him either. she is waiting for an apology. a greater show of affection. Mui goes into the bathroom and Sam asks me what he did wrong. I don’t say anything. I don’t know the answer. “I have done nothing. nothing. I am completely innocent.” later he asks me if I know anything about this… the dark side of the moon. I do, but only answer that it will eventually go away. Rebecca can’t last long with such tension. even if she IS on a power rampage. we continue playing pool. the cue ball gets lost inside every time it goes down a hole. Sam and I kick the side of the table. I shove the stick up the hole a few times and finally the cue ball comes out. Mui needs a dime, which I give her, to buy a pack of cigarettes: Winston Lights. later she says, “I have under-estimated power in the past.” “that you have,” Scott concurs. “I always thought what was important was love and happiness. and money, because, you know, you can do nice things with it. fame – not really. I don’t really want that. and I never thought power was important until now. I’m thinking it might be fun. women can be powerful.” I say, “Woman are power.” “But only when they see it.” “Power is a penis,” says Sam, trying to irk her. she jumps on that. “no it’s not. it is a cunt. I have a cunt. the unchanging eye. A penis can go flaccid, but a cunt is always a cunt.” “power to the cunt!” bellows Sam.
later: “I am not Mui now. I am Dorothy,” and it is true. she is pissed in more ways than one. Sam: “craziness… I love it.” eventually Sam’s attentions seem to be chipping through. or perhaps she is getting tired. then she goes to him and they are whispering something. they turn to me, and Mui says, “we are mending.” “father Scott, come to our aid. don’t let anything come between us.” Mui goes to the bathroom again. Sam: “no mere bunny-mish is Mui. Uh huh. Nope. I love it.” Mui wants to email her uncle mike. “I should do it tonight, while I am drunk. that’ll be great. he’d appreciate that, because he’s a drunk himself.” we talk about getting Mui an email account. “you need to be plugged in,” says Samone with the characteristic gestures of the post neuromancer net-age. “who will write to me?” I point to myself, and Samone says, “those to whom you write.” soon we leave. everyone seems in a better mood. “where is the car?” I ask. Mui laughs. we walk six blocks, from 11th to 17th street, turn back three blocks, go up and down several streets. Samone is in a bad mood. “Sylvia Plath” he whispers to me out of the side of his mouth. then: “Mui, Sophia, D’isis, Christine…” finally I ask Sam and Mui to wait and I run off down the street, across Jane, down another street, find the car, run back and find Sam and Mui sitting against a building about 20 feet from where I set the drawings and ivy wreath. Mui is nearly unconscious. Samone holds her up and we go to the car. “is this it?” mumbles Mui.
music on the roof – Scott improvises with my mom’s old out of tune guitar Christmas lights, video camera, synthesizer, vodka and OJ starts to rain, we go into the kitchen video, song, booze Rachel calls, we go to surrealist art opening on Penn Ave. meet Rachel at her house 1st look at art and drink beer lord Byron etching in one piece and something else that references Pymatuming in 17– Rebecca’s old Pitt piano teacher as we are leaving Rachel says we should stop in and see her at work tomorrow, and I resolve to do this. we go back home and continue drinking, taping, etc. decide to go steal clay and plaster from Frick art building as we are walking past the museum we see the aluminum exhibit opening I walk up to two girls smoking outside and ask them what is going on $100 tickets they tell us our best bet is to go around back we do, and walk right in Scott has professors jacket with elbow patches on, and his leather satchel I have a plastic bottle with vodka and OJ in it no one questions us we take food and order drinks and dance to the Ska band no one else under 35 Fricks and Mellons and Heinzs and Scaifes and so on the dance floor fills up it is obvious we do not fit in, some people must suspect us but perhaps they are glad we came “no one questions us. they know who we are. we are gods.” “we teach people how to live” a woman hands us a flyer for a FLUX opening the next night. she must see through us. she is smiling knowingly. we leave and go to the art building. we get the clay. I throw some on the walls. we smoke in the outdoor garden the ceiling that is the sky, or the sky that looks like a ceiling. carry the clay and plaster back home and continue drinking, talking. I go to the bathroom because I am dizzy. I lay down on the floor and fall asleep Scott raps on the door later, and I come out. we lay on Rebecca’s bed. then I go downstairs to Scott’s room. he has no bed. I lay on the floor using some of his laundry as a pillow.
Wake up early, around 8:00. Scott wants to make Dot breakfast in bed. He types up a menu on the laptop and prints it out.
Windy Acres Asylum for the Terminally Insane and Lazy.
Bo the Chef and His Magical Assistant.
- Omelet with bacon, toast, coffee . . . . . gratis
- Pancakes with bacon, toast, coffee . . . . . gratis
- Cereal, orange juice . . . . . gratis
- Strawberries? . . . . . gratis
Dot selects an omelet, toast and coffee. Scott and I walk to the Giant Eagle on Center Ave. I want to smoke but I don’t have a lighter. Scott buys the stuff, plus some strawberries, milk, eggs, cheese, etc. I cook the bacon and omelets. Scott makes coffee, slices the strawberries, decorates the plates with sweet gum leaves that he found on the way back to the house. He toasts the bread and butters it, puts it in the microwave to melt the butter and then tries to put Dot’s back into the toaster because it is soggy, ends up making completely new toast for her. We eat together in Dot’s room. We take the coffee out to the porch and smoke.
I go home to take a nap, wake up at 2:30 and drive to Squirrel Hill. I go into the frameworks and see Rachel. She shows me the matte cutter called the Wizard. The phone rings, manager hands it to her. It is Dot, calling for me. “That is the first phone call I’ve received here, and it was for you,” she says. Dot wants me to come to 207, she needs me to help her with something. “Now?” I ask Rachel to ask Dot. “If you can,” she says. So I leave and tell Rachel I’ll see her later that night. Wondering what Dot wants as I drive over. She has painted her mask, but Eric told her it looks like a wrestling mask, so she is freaked out and wants to go buy something. Doesn’t know what to wear, maybe a cloak with a hood, at the Army Navy store. Scott stays home and we drive downtown to Liberty Ave. Dot remarks that this has been the first time she and I have been alone together in several weeks. She says Scott can be overwhelming at times. We discuss jealousy and her need and desire for a somewhat open relationship. “He is moving too fast.” The cloak at the Army Navy store is $60, so we go elsewhere. I buy more vodka with Scott’s money. Dot finds a nice wig at the Rite Aid. She decides she will wear the mask after all, with the wig. She wants to get a nightgown at the Goodwill. She buys a white one and a black one, and black panties and bra as well. We have dinner at Ritter’s. She reads me more of her screenplay and we talk about how to make it better. (A and B and Marguerite – the scarf, frying pan, etc.) Back at 207, Scott is asleep. Despite the noise we make coming in and knocking on his door he does not wake. The video we made is playing on the TV.
* * *
Saturday continued: first we go to the blue rain gallery at 2020 Smallman street in the strip. Tamara, Natasha, Dana. we have our costumes on. do a once-over of the art (bad “erotic” digitally manipulated photography). drink red wine. Natasha takes several b/w Polaroid’s of me in my mask. Samone demands that she take his picture as well. Natasha asks me what I think of the art. “better than the last show,” I say. “but you’re unwilling to say anything good about it.” I just smile. she ignores Rebecca. the strange mooch guy shows up and starts eating all the food and reading the newspaper in the corner. someone finally makes him leave. We do not stay long. 1/2 hour at the most. Scott 1 steals a wine glass. We drive to FLUX on center avenue. $5 suggested donation. Scott can’t find Mui’s passport, which is in his inside jacket pocket. Margaret is supposed to be there too. We find a table and have beers. Meredith shows up and sits with us. Ska band in football jerseys. Margaret arrives with Steve. Samone and I go upstairs to look around. Eastern music ensemble. belly dancers. the dark one and the pale one. she has the most beautiful stomach I have ever seen. I am captivated by them all, but mostly by the blue Dijnn. the water jug balanced on her head. I begin to cry. I think of Morocco. Desert flower in green-white light. Mannerist details under the vastest porcelain sky. cloud undulations. sun and shade. a near stranger. silent they finish and have a jam session. Sam 1 sings until the microphone is unplugged. we leave soon with Margaret and go to the party at bob and Della’s. not many people there yet. Rachel is not in costume yet, goes upstairs with Della to get ready. we have brought a bottle of pinot noir. drink some punch and beer. start dancing. Blondie and James brown. I take my mask off. the ninja guy. on the couch with Margaret and mui. sparring with Scott. face slapping, and spanking. Rachel as the American flag burning. Della as space cowgirl, pink hair. bob as homicidal, suicidal maniac. Scott jumping up and down. limbo. I fall, knock radio over. Scott falls later and does same. 101 Dalmatian girl. smiling, introductions. running away. the Jewess Waitress is there. bag of pot guy. hunchback on vacation. Margaret unbuttoning my shirt. Rebecca sleeping on couch. Scott totally fucked up. mui wakes up, feeds fish crackers to the fly guy and goes to the bathroom comes down to see that Samone has glitter on his face. she assumes he has been sucking on someone and leaves in a huff. we chase after her, but the car is blocked in. Rachel walks her part of the way, then comes back. she says we can go over the ivy, so I go and get Scott inside. he tells me he is on E. I tell him that mui left, and ask what he wants to do. “chase her”, he says. we leave with Margaret. mui is still on fifth Ave. and I stop and Scott gets out and talks to her. they argue. she gets in. but says it doesn’t mean anything. I pull in front of 207. more arguing. Scott doesn’t know what he did. Mui says he won’t deny it, and is being deliberately obtuse. mui leaves the car and goes inside. Scott keeps talking to us… loves mui, etc, etc. Margaret is getting annoyed. Tells him repeatedly to go talk to her. mui comes back to get Scott. They start in on each other again. Margaret tells them to get out of the car. mui says fine and slams the door. Samone still doesn’t appear ready to leave. I practically have to shove him out. I drive Margaret home and we don’t get French fries. we hug in the car before she goes in.
Eleven phone messages from Scott:
Hey Scott. How about going to the Cage at Eight O’clock? You can go there. You can call back. We love you… I love you.
Hi Scott. Would you like to go out tonight? If you would, please call us back. You can meet my friend Jenny. She is good. Smart. Spiritual. Bye. Love you.
Everyone loves Scott. Please come with us. Please pick us up at eight. Take us to the Cage. Bye. We love you so much. We want you to be a part of our family. Did you read my email? We must do that. OK?
I love you Scott. You can meet Jenny, the girl who made the Marianne Faithful tape, and Marlene Dietrich. Please come with us, so we don’t have to ride the bus. Bye. Love you.
So glad that I’ve got love and good friends and we all love each other. It’s good. What more could you ask for than lunatic geniuses and poltergeist aliens. So you come over at eight O’clock, and take us to the Cage, and hang out.
Hey Scott. I love Dot. Please pick us up at eight. Bye.
Hi Scott. Just wanted to tell you that I’ve fallen madly in love. Um. Come pick us up at eight. You can meet my friend Jenny. She’s not a bad Jenny. She’s the one who made the tapes for me, ah… Marianne Faithful… (sings) Show me the way to the next whiskey bar. Oh don’t ask why. Oh don’t ask why… Bye. Love you.
Hello Scott. Please pick up if you’re there. Later. Bye. We’ll call you again, and annoy you. You better believe it’s no big joke. Daylight savings time.
Hi Scott. Please call me back. Aaaarrrrrgrggggghhhhhhhuuuuuuuooooiiiiiiieeeee!!!
Yo man. Yo! You’re shit. What the fuck’s wrong wit you? Yeah. Algebra? Chemistry? You’ve got sumthin wrong wit your mind. You ain’t fixin it. Come wit us… at eight O’clock… to the Cage… in Squirrel Hill. Bye.
Hey Scott. Come out of your fog, you cunnilingus bitch. Come join us. We love you. OK… bye.
Meeting with Jennie at the SC.
I go to 207 and Sam and Mui are setting up a Hotmail account for Mui. I pick up Mulligan’s Stew and Sam flips me ahead to the raunchy poetry.
We drive to Squirrel Hill and park along Forbes.
“Do you have any questions?”
Of course I say, “No”.
“Did you ever have sex with her?”
“No, and I wouldn’t want to either. She’s smart… has personality. You’ll see.”
Scott’s book: St. Petersburg by Andrei Bely is in the car. (First published in 1913. Repressed by the Communists.) He takes it into the Cage. Mui orders a Heineken and Scott orders a pitcher of Murphy’s for us. Jennie shows up. She does not look as a expected. She is 34.
Sam tells her about his new screenplay.
“It begins with overdone melodrama. Sugary crap. A reunion of two New England lovers. Then a domestic scene in the kitchen. A lovey-dovey with coffee… cream… sugar. Then cut to me running around the Cathedral lawn with a realistic looking air pistol… going up to non-actors,” assumes mad psycho expression:
“Are you a people?! Are you a people?! Yes, no, maybe so. Ah! You are a people! I kill you!!… then a scene at the symphony, with Rebecca as an Oboe sniper,” and he breaks into laughter.
Jennie orders a Cosmopolitan, then shows us a picture of her 75 year old dad, who recently had a stroke.
“Every time of the day is breakfast. Three O’clock in the morning, it’s breakfast. Four O’clock in the afternoon, it’s breakfast. He told us that he has this thought in the back of his head that he is supposed to be a teacher for someone who is handicapped. He worked in a car factory his whole life. He never was a teacher, but he says, ‘Still, I have this thought.'”
The Jewess waitress is not working tonight, but the VERY petite strawberry blond is there. Sam recognizes her as the sister of one of his childhood friends.
“Your brother threw a rock at my head.”
The waitress seems a bit out of it.
“My brother. I have a hard time believing that. Were you picking on him?”
“No. He was picking on me.”
“Wow… I can’t see him doing that. Well, he did beat me up a few times… but he grew up into a pretty good guy.”
The waitress kind of skitters away from the table, looking startled. A perfect waif. Is that emptiness behind her eyes? Simplicity? Is she an idiot?
Sam talks about the waitress’s brother some more.
“He was my best friend for a few weeks. He had all the transformers.
He knew how to change them from cars and planes into RObots, Goloms.”
“Isn’t that the point?”
“Yes, but I had little patience. I needed friends for that.”
“Scott is known for throwing things at people.”
“I hit three of my friends with rocks.”
“Playing with Transformers in the basement. It was all wrong.”
“I formed a posse of my friends to kill Jason. Ha, ha, ha!”
“Was that before or after he hit you with the rock?”
We make a book list for Jennie, because she says she now has time to read, being done with her masters. It has “The Chess Garden”, “The Idiot”, and “Petersburg” on it.
“You know, I never read that,” referring to “The Idiot”. “That just shows how much of a bumpkin I am.” “I never read it either,”
I say, and Jennie shakes my hand. I read “The Devils… The Possessed, instead.”
Rebecca and Jennie are talking about the Harry Potter books. Jennie says she used to be heavily into Tolkien until she realized there were no female characters.
“Then I got pretty turned off by it.”
Later she tells us that there is a Jean Cocteau exhibit opening at the Warhol next weekend. She is visibly excited, and I know Scott and I would like to see that, but I do not say anything. I become aware of some satisfaction with leaving my feelings and thoughts secret.
She mentions her husband is the music editor for the IN PGH, and so she always knows things that are going on.
“You’re married?” asks Mui.
“Yes.” She takes out her wallet. “Visual aids…” and shows Mui a photo of her husband. Mui asks what it is like being married.
“For us it is actually going very well.”
She proceeds to say she never really believed in exclusivity, but she does believe in making a good decision.
“I married someone who is very sweet, who gets very excited about cats, and who is happy to drive me four hours and back so I can stay with my father.”
I notice Mui looking at me in a way that can make me think of only one thing: she thinks of me as sweet, or more than that, someone who might one day be a good husband. I sense the bond between us, extending far into the future. It is on her eyes. We both understand that things will not always be as they are now, and perhaps we will share ourselves with each other in a thousand ways, even as husband and wife. But is she conscious of my thoughts? Of her own? Sam is so, so, so in love with her. He asks me if I can see it, and I do. It is written all over his face. Mui might love him too. Well, she does, and she is taking it slow, tentatively. And I remember her saying how she hated to see her friends end up back with their old boyfriends. She used to say these things that never made any sense to me. Who cares what anyone else does? No absolutes. What makes sense for us? Now, later… we must take stock, continuously. I am playing my part, watching Samone fall hard for someone I love, but do not feel passionately about. I cannot feel passionately. Sam acts it out so much better. I am reserved.
Jennie leaves and we stay. Sam has ordered another pitcher of Murphy’s, but it has been 15 minutes, so Mui goes to the bar and gets a pitcher of someone else. But no, the waitress did not forget. She comes back and tells me the foam is settling. I explain with a flap of my hand that we assumed she got busy and forgot about us. She turns away, pouting a bit. “I didn’t forget.”
“You have to take into account the time for the foam to settle. I didn’t forget.”
“We apologize,” says Sam, but she is walking away. It is difficult to say whether she is playing or if she is really hurt. When she brings the Murphy’s I say again, “I am sorry we had such little faith in you.”
She smiles a bit.
“We should have just waited.”
She says, “I’m sorry you have all this beer now.”
“Oh, you can never have too much beer. We’ll drink it.”
“I like your attitude. That’s good… ” She walks away, cutting herself short. I think of her as a wide-eyed rabbit. High strung.
The evening wears on. I do not talk much. Sam keeps reaching his hand across the table, touching Mui’s hand and face. The he will turn to me and say, pained and serious, “Why do I love her?” He asks it in such a way as to say: how dare you ask me such a ridiculous, obvious question. But it was not me. Where did the doubts in his thoughts come from? Who put them there? He alternates between Mui and I, holding and kissing our hands. Every time Mui goes to the bathroom the monologue begins. “I have fallen… I love her… can you tell?” and I must answer in the affirmative, and smile. Of course I am truly happy for him, and her. I can feel it too. What is the problem with me? Mui intuitively senses that I am annoyed or sad. She always can tell. Most people can. Very hard for me to conceal my emotions, even when I am quiet. Or especially when I am quiet. A still pool, reflection.
Daydreams of Morocco. Calendar at work – Ait Ben Haddou Fortress and the Atlas Mtns in Morocco. The belly dancers at FLUX. Money problems. Disillusionment with work. Decision to get a loan. Rent problems. Credit card debt. Sell stuff. New job by end of year.
Halloween night. Hang out with Mui and Sam at 207. Sam cooks pasta. He said he talked to his advisers and professors. He told them everything… about us. They understood. He told Doctor B. that he was his idol. D.B. said idols are overrated. He said it would be a admirable goal to just be Scott Malec. He talked to his professor as well. Rolling rock and what’s left of the sour mash from our trip to Edinboro. Mui calls Dan Conboy about window in kitchen that still isn’t fixed, then duct tapes some plastic bags together and covered up the hole. Clay. Rebecca sculpts a naked woman in a semi-fetal position molding a child out of her own clay.
Thursday night: Work drags so I make up my mind that I am going to 80’s night at the Pollinator, with or without Samone and Mui. Sometimes I don’t think they fully appreciate or embrace the value of mindless, trashy fun. Sam can be too political with his entertainment at times. He sees systems and style where I see absurdity. And when I see absurdity, it is people I really see. Our particular brand of anarchy is truly humanist, but Scott carries too much identity in himself. He is a true outsider, incapable of melding with more than say, a crowd of two. Of course, that’s what I love, for he pushes us all a little closer to the edge. I simply make sure no one loses their minds in an inappropriate manner or inopportune time. That’s why this sort of mingling with the faux cool crowd is important, dammit. Naturally he tells Mui and I he is too busy to go out. I don’t believe it for a second. He may have things to do, but he won’t do them, he won’t stay in his room while Mui and I go out. It isn’t difficult to talk him into going to Charlie’s with us. Mui is starved. So am I, but I have zero cash. Mui pays for us, but I don’t order anything. We share a pitcher and I munch on some of her salad. I finish my pack and start in on Mui’s. Then we hang out in the 207 kitchen and finish the 90 proof sour mash from two weeks before. Mui makes a pot of coffee at my instigation and we mix whiskey, coffee, sugar, and cream together. Scott is having problems with his software, and so he readily agrees to come with us to the Pollinator. Mui changes and then we walk there.
It is Sunday. What a farce. Especially on this day do I evade Sol light, protecting my pupils from unsolicited penetration until eleven at the earliest. 11:48 happens to be the time, and I am trying to stand in one place. Suspended between the bed and the desk, I try not to tip over. Balance hasn’t checked in yet. And where is my soul? Hung out, dangling halfway to the floor.
I have a feeling that zilch is going to happen today. Rebecca is sick and Malec is wrestling with the Russian Formalists. I shower, then sit around naked and smoke my pipe before dressing myself in the cleanest clothes I can find in the dirty clothes pile. I eye the rancid heap with mild distaste. There is good light here by the windows, and none of the textured definition is lost. I consider taking the whole thing, four or five loads, over to 207 sometime.
Not today though. Perhaps, instead, some work. Go forth into this subdued, autumn Sunday and contribute something. The sky is like crystal, ringing. November 5, 2000. Doesn’t feel like it. It’s never the proper season, but the right one. Makes it easy to put things down on paper.
I put the laptop in its case and head for the door with the intention of going to the 61C when the phone rings. I let the machine answer it:
Please leave a message after the tone…
“Hi, it’s Rachel. It’s hard playing phone tag all the time. I hope you’re doing…”
“Hello? Hi… how are you?”
The next few minutes are simply the nervous preliminaries of two people who haven’t really ever had an in-depth conversation before. Then comes the awkwardness associated with neither of us knowing what the other thinks of them.
I hear Rachel ask me at least twice if I have any plans today. I reply that I don’t, except perhaps to do some writing. I don’t clue in on the fact that she is setting me up to say something like, “Not really, how about you? Do you want to do something together?”
Anyway, she finally suggests something herself. She wants to know if I’ll go on a walk with her this afternoon.
“I’ve heard there is a cemetery that borders Frick Park.”
“I know where you mean. That would be great.”
There is some mention of how nice a day it is, etc etc.
“But I know you want write, and that takes some time…”
“Not that much… um, how about I stop by your place at… 3:30?”
That settled, we hang up and I go to the 61C where I get a lot done on the as-yet un-re-named Desiderata. I spend a few moments considering a new title, with no success. It nears 3:00 and I drive back home where I clean the car out, and get a jacket.
I arrive at Rachel’s house at exactly 3:30. She is cooking Cous cous, with tomatoes and garlic and onions, and vinegar… and it smells amazing. We each have a bowl of it, and Jason gives us each a Twix bar, which we each while walking up Shady Avenue.
It is a cool, clear day, and the sidewalks are covered with mostly yellow leaves from Sweet Gum and Maple trees. Rachel asks me about Scott and Rebecca, how long I’ve known them, etc. She also asks me about where I have lived, my family, work, school, and so on. I cannot remember what she studies now, and that is because she is not studying anything now. She went to Harvard for Religion: A Comparative Study. (This is how she says it). Mark was also there with her and when he moved to Pittsburgh, she would visit and liked the place and when the time was right she moved here. She grew up in either Long Island or Brooklyn, but I don’t ask for clarification.
We reach Forbes Avenue and turn left until the Smithfield – East End Cemetery comes into view on our left.
I light up and say, “Time to aggravate my cold.” and sure enough after a few minutes I begin to sniffle. I know that Rachel doesn’t smoke, and perhaps it bothers her that I am smoking now, but I do not want to compromise myself for that reason alone. To even write that now suggests that I considered compromising myself by not smoking at all around her.
We walk through the grave stones and make our way to the top of the hill. We sit together on a concrete bench. From up here I can only see tree tops, and it is not hard to imagine being somewhere other than where we are.
Rachel mentions Ireland a few times.
“Some of the most beautiful cemeteries are there. There was one especially, on a cliff over-looking the sea. I stood there and said to myself, ‘I could definitely feel good about being put in the ground right here for all eternity.'”
“I like to walk through Schenley Park at night. There are some nice, isolated areas there.”
“On the golf course…”
“Yes, but at night it is easy to believe you are somewhere other than on a golf course.”
“This cemetery is nice, I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the fact that the graves are not organized all in rows. There are groups…”
“And they face in different directions.”
“Yeah, that’s nice. It’s not like those military ones, where it’s all about the tragedy…”
“The quantity of the dead. It’s like a catalogue.”
“You’re just one more person, like the rest. But here the design reflects something more about community. You can tell it wasn’t designed with the most efficient use of space in mind.”
We start walking back, down Dallas Avenue. She mentions the East End Food Co-Op, and this makes me think of Sean. I tell her about him.
“My sister dated a guy who worked for the co-op’s wherever he went. D.C., Montana, etc. He ran for state representative twice, and lost. Now he’s selling condoms online out of New Mexico.”
“That’s quite a path.”
There are long stretches of out walk back where we do not talk, but I do not feel that it is an uncomfortable silence.
We take Wilkens Avenue over to Shady again, instead of Dallas all the way to Fifth. We talk about the buses, and how dirty and loud they are. Rachel says in Cambridge they have electric buses, which are very nice, and Pittsburgh should get some of those.
It is almost fully dark by the time we get back to her house. we’ve been walking for one hour and forty-five minutes. Rachel is going to go to a writing workshop that Della and Erin and some other people from the Pitt Graduate English Program have put together as an alternative to what the class offers. But then a friend calls and asks her to go out to a movie with him and she agrees. She explains after she hangs up that her friend has been kind of down lately, so she couldn’t really refuse him. She apologizes for cutting our evening short. I say it’s OK. She needs to see her friend, and I am happy to have simply spent that last two hours with her.
I go home, and there are two messages from Mui. The first one says just to call her. In the second one she notifies me that she is at the Harris Grill, and I should meet her there. I have no way of knowing when she left the message, and “Harris Grill” does not register with me. Somehow, I am thinking of another place, closer to Oakland. I go online for an hour or so. I have intention of doing anything else this evening, until there is a knock at the door. I know that it is Rebecca, and it is.
She has her bike and only then do I understand that she has been at the Harris Grill on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. She is red-faced, out of breath, losing her voice.
“I’ve been smoking,” she says as she locks her bike to the railing.
She warms up quickly once the door is shut.
“I hear you have some green stuff.”
“Oh… you’ve talked to Margaret. Did Mark ever show up?” I go into the kitchen and pour us both some Crème de Menthe over ice.
“He didn’t even call her. I can understand that he might be afraid, or whatever, but that’s just inconsiderate, don’t you think?”
We sit in the living area, smoking, drinking, talking.
* * *
We do not stay long at the Druid hangout. I drive to 207, and Rebecca goes upstairs immediately. She tells Sam not to come upstairs later.
“I just want to sleep.”
Sam and I sit and discuss the joy and despair of love and life. He does all the talking, except when he asks me things. He explains the pattern of loves in his life.
“How improved my life is now, and how I have fucked things up.” He holds his hands up to either side, like a scale.
“What have you fucked up?”
“My classes, one in particular.”
He nods. It is because of Dan, whom he has to sit next to. And also because he talked to his professor about his personal life, and Dan also blabbed to various members of the staff and administration.
“The Russians talk.”
Sam says he is considering changing majors, creating his own, self-designed major.
“It is probably for the best anyway. I am sick of language classes. I used to learn languages to escape my English persona. Each language gave me a new persona, but it’s always me. Russian makes me vulgar. If I have time, I will try to improve my French.
He asks why he is such a pariah, and then a romantic, then a pariah again. He climbs the lonely tower of personal achievement, and at the slightest provocation will leap from the top… falling in love. Then he cannot concentrate on anything.
I talk about my first months with Mui, the three days in December, Greg, the half-awake dream state, descending into reality, the beginning of the end, the roller coaster, etc. Then I talk about Caroline, the year of words, millions of words, then coming face to face with flesh and bone.
“When she came out of International Arrivals door, she kissed me and didn’t stop for three days. Mind boggling.”
“How long did the affair last?”
“She was here for five weeks. Four of those weeks were hell, and the first was OK.”
I say sex with Caroline became a matter of survival.
“And when did this happen?”
“Just over a year ago.”
“And when did she meet Dan?”
“The same time that I was leaving here. July. And Dan moved in… in September.”
Sardonic laughter. “She wanted to show you that she could find someone young too, and that she could still love. And Dan was thinking about tits. And everything, the ring, was to bind her, completely have her under his control. Until something better came along.”
We hear strange noises above, either from Dan H’s room or Mui’s. Sam thinks it sounds like fucking. He is paranoid. He runs upstairs to find out. Her door is locked, but Dan H comes out of his own room. Sam comes back down and is only slightly relieved. Josie tells him later than Dan H. has a tendency to pace the floor. Again, this only slightly eases Sam’s mind. Now he thinks it might be Dan Criss.
The noises continue. “It’s been going on long enough. You’d think it would be over now.”
I can’t decide what I think the noise is, or where it is coming from exactly.
Scott is noticeably tortured by thoughts of Dan fucking Mui. Under these circumstances I soon believe that – yes – something IS happening upstairs. Dan Criss is pumping away between Mui’s legs, and thus the rhythmic creaking-bumping noise. That’s much more likely than the other Dan obsessively pacing his room. Woman is whore…
Sam says Mui has told him that she will eventually leave him.
“I read it and she’s told me. What am I then? Just a transition, a sexual diversion between her main squeezes. But then, there have been no commitments or requisites laid down…” Saying this, Sam’s thinking is obviously twisted. His mind is a oil damp cloth, torqued twixt slipping gears, flame flickering faint.
I say she did this to both Greg and I.
“I know! I know.”
The noises continue. Sam puts on a tape, but not too loud.
“King of the Road” plays and Sam asks for a cigarette. We both smoke. At every noise Sam is at the doorway, seeing who comes down the stairs. “I just want to see his face.”
Josie interlude. Scott enacts the play we worked on earlier. I am getting tired. Josie goes upstairs and I prepare to leave. Sam and I smoke another cigarette on the porch. It is cold and windy. November.
He seems resigned to despair. His fantasy of what is going on upstairs is completely real.
“I should just go to sleep. Sleep! How can I, when I feel this desertion? She wants to hurt me, as a way of getting back at Dan… and even you perhaps.”
I nod my head.
“She hates men (pause) and so do I. So there you go.”
We talk about how immature she is, and how she cannot be alone.
“She has a lot more thinking to do.”
Our cigs are done, but he continues.
“Being a romantic, I am in love with decay.”
* * *
I unmask my self-proclaimed relativism with flagrant regard towards the abnormal incognito. I make imaginary journeys to the desert where I meet a young man who tells me stories about his love for a beautiful girl. It is 4:52. I missed tea. Even insanity is sincere, because everything comes from the heart. Even ze gooood brainzzzz have roots there. Expect nothing; you will be much happier and everything will seem like a gift. There are moments, wonderful moments, that’s all. For instance, of the five weeks I spent with Caroline, there were three good days. The first three. Because I tried to make a Paradiso Terrestre. I am thoroughly enjoying Bely’s Petersburg so far. Work is fine. I am looking forward to some time off. I am looking forward to the drugs. Much has been proven out by the events of the past few days. The trinity survives, albeit in a different form. Adaptation, genetic mutation, evolution. This is the way of things, and necessarily so. Therefore… write, write, write! And love. Just so.
* * *
Oce an eco mal fi semprey jui ce il kil y bour ban terra para disco tom-tom zingbangboom flashk point Christ anoint dot dot dashing through the no theater trickle sic a phantasm gassing mull tea ask bring his head up and upon a platter puss grinning chesterfield Sofia in a glass I am talking to you now listen there is little room here for thoughts to teach not aught I gott Sam I am I deny the word I naught icle clammy pan cough tea meandering be hindrance gate ride ride id re: Pete ergo ow ride ride o through on an ass darkly pass into shuttle ways bypass through and on on down side up saintly papa piss crux gaugin smears yellow in our brains tracing hoof prince filchlay in the marry moon of Mai melancholera in the monsoon a big boom resounds through tapping whisper crack the whip her flat stomach is still and is enough to muff full we’ve had not enough not the naught of ought which blots scars u able and can’t you cannot date the time blank the wine spirit giveth what man’s hands liveth une bless’d in mid lands waste for haste and that implausible taste ee freeze on the peri scope fairy realm along the park in glot’s lot where the third kiss takes place among the rest sleeping among the tempre toca la la la sing-song beneath oak and silver maple branch a kiss is a chance a prattering last ditch digging unfinished the war is over let’s signify dance with still loon diva a shadow on the water a wind on the water where I feel sane sans I am in the lot again there’s a lot to be given up such as one who marries and loves to preserve being observed by one passing on and on never looking back but too late now for such a such but why touch flux under late while others prattle glibly will nigh the flown moo tune which describes a reflective sheen unnoticed but bye a bye oh loverly sing-song one plus two the tri ales poor widower imbibe with pen sieve agony but we disagree mui jeers no she doesn’t really rather mui sips delicate neck Turin shrive the babe at the beast and all the rest who hid and sought amid the amens OM’s and omens glare ringing in Shelly bye a bye run to the church in white thyme thistles catching trip-a-ling into a mouthful of words lessor than the previous ones which meant no thing to even the previous-er words which meant a lot.
* * *
stylus handed on a frown on the wrong side of the tracks with ear pressed leaves dropping for wishing skirts mishing on a flit across frozen abandoned field lonely statues standing before bone fires bawling sparks ending spent and unforgiven for too little given tenderness not that same trespass hinging on solid oak martyred clod sprawling along a long dirt path saturated with prints of stringent erasure clap clap boarding to get her trapped whip her snap drag on on anon take us to the forbidden garden dim alarums hang frail and dewy on petals settling I can’t abide this meddling his terra cool mud dual misfire no fire squadrons circling be loaving inside what is yet the other better flame yet again undimmed but slim snaking over spilt mother’s silken sow’s ear incense d’I’m m no longer fairly seeing in the forest of trees I cleave her heart and soul such a fool’s toil embroiled snake shed on rough branch Indian trail blazed deep into forgotten elysia but then again who cares but the tired tried and true meekly exhale fills sails goodbye sailor muin your ship a seer once saw a sea and you and me and yes a shore with others waiting to love these lovers spying minarets for climbing tor climbing heights until heights take flight upon the minarets where we share a single room too large for memory smaller than even a breath to register in lungs too given to sighing nighty-night leave the moon in the window where it will fly only a few hours more until the done is un and bells toil and till for seasons to come.
Anything but indifferently she wraps her jangly spider legs around me. In the bi-fluvial run-off, phosphorous filaments, her legs, photosynthetic skin radiating green veils, the aurora borealis cascades in thin lucent skirts. I unwrap the beaded scarf that binds her belly, leaving marks, a shade redder than the lips of her smirking, proud mouth. I unbutton, slip down, slide off and am clean. I look at her wishing for an entity, not identity. I hope for peace not a piece of mind, for my own sake and hers. Looking at her I realize that she is complete throughout. She dreams with her nerves, with her vessels, pumps, and valves. She confesses with her tendons, joints, and marrow. She fills the world with her hair. Her jugular is going for mine, practically sobbing. I know there is more to it than this because I have done it too. Wherever I lay: de facto altar. There are sons in my scrotum, knives under the mattress and God is summoned in that last, lost moment of lost control. All senses funneling into one I vanish and reappear. In that instant of absence sacrifices have been made. This give-take is too much and so much less than the obvious fantasies of flesh. I want to take it outside with the other animals, into forests and swamps, to sink into the mud: Dust, not stars. Solid, not song. I want the real music, the sighs, slaps and suction, gravelly grunts, grinding teeth, toothy grips, quick inhalations punctuating every tremble, trying to keep it together, desperate for the falling to pieces, that mess of life we imagine is more like death. What a myth. She contorts, rigid then loose, ejecting an unnatural injured voice, unwilled and directed at no one nowhere. This is not how people die. Still, I can’t help feeling my own projected end when she twines her legs with mine, tugging me in like a drug, a trap, a real Venus proffering hemlock and stolen golden apples. No, no, it’s all wrong. I can’t get it out of my head except when she stops, wide eyes pleading for just as she gets. There is no sacrifice, not if I am right about how wrong it is. Not if that is the very reason, the only reason, I am here. I am dangerously close to that decision to sustain that last lost moment of lost control into the rest of my days, to drag it kicking and screaming, swearing oaths and promises that would smother me, to make it last, to turn into her. To make it, in a word, right. What is the point if my selfless end has a selfish beginning? Can’t I just stop? End it at the beginning, right now? I can no longer ask these questions. She is irresistible even while telling me that it is hopeless. Could be’s are good enough. I’d rather not think about it and once wrapped in luminous sheets, I don’t. Years of pressure, undisciplined release, a multitude of little mistakes… why not one big one? Her skin is already under my own, her voice already slinking around in my brain, leading me around that misty labyrinth, her comfortable, imperfect flesh stripping me down to the bones, so powerful, so real, scaring me out of my wits. I am tossing in bed like a brick tossed at a glass house. I throw and throw and every stone is swallowed up like nothing. I rest uneasy at the bottom of a mirroring pool, looking up at no one.
A vertical strip of light wavers in my periphery, in the direction of the bathroom. She is there, washing her face. The bathroom door does not shut right and every evening I lay here, confounded by the vertical strip of light and the woman washing her face in the bathroom. Any number of things might cross my mind in this time: the day behind or the day ahead, the arrangement of our furnishings in the room, something I read, a conversation I had, a letter I received, how long we have been together, how we met. I hear the water shut off and I close my eyes. We are told that the universe is expanding, which makes it possible for us to follow it backwards through time to a moment when it was very small. The answer to the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin can be determined here. Inside this pin head I see only dead energy, compressed static, nearly motionless, as cold, silent and pure as a field of snow with no one to trudge across it. I come to this point in my visualization again and again, incapable of continuing it any further. I am no better than an instrument that peers backwards through space, time, everything, and settles at last upon the limit of its sense; not the beginning but close enough. I approach this concept armed with tentative images of nothingness; a still void – black, white or clear, and vast. Occasionally think I feel it, or feel I think it – in the sense that I am merely perceiving an absence, like the phantom weight of an amputated arm. It is still here and there, like a memory. No, it must be neither vast nor small, empty or full. It must be unlike any idea my mind can hold. I lay there and try to form the thought anyway. It is constantly slipping away from me. Proximity brings apprehension. The light goes off in the bathroom and she emerges. I can hear her coming towards the bed, climbing in. I open my eyes. We talk awhile, kiss goodnight and turn our backs to one another. I drift off, the snow field spreading out endlessly before my shut eyes. I know I cannot cross it, or move at all unless I dissolve into it, which would mean the end. Then something happens. The field erupts before my eyes and it is gone. My eyes are also gone. I can neither hear nor see, but sense myself moving at incredible speeds. For the longest time there is nothing, then a light is switched on. I fly past as another light comes on, and another. Then there are suddenly countless lights all around me, and within each of these are countless more. I am slowing down, leaving the lights to shrink and grow dim behind me. Some go out completely. Others appear, and one of these grows larger and brighter, pulling me towards it. I am moving very slowly, almost stop completely. I move in a circle around this light. I am no longer cold. I can breath. The hairs on my body tingle and sway in the breeze. Molecules gather together for warmth, mingling and sighing together until they are alive. Animals roam across the surface of my skin. A man builds a room and waits in bed for someone to join him. They build an alter from my stones. They eat my vegetation. They join together and have children who spread across my body, build rooms, eat animals, join together, multiply and divide themselves. I am slowly turning in on myself, stealing momentum from the tumbling of stone and dust under the endless pounding of human feet. I emerge from a woman, fourteen billion years old…
I am awake, in the same position as before. She is breathing next to me, asleep. I cannot see the clock. The furnace clicks on and off. It comes to this, I think to myself, being born, struggling, bloody and crying, out of one of billions of holes in this shipwrecked craft to become a small circle of living matter possessed of the dim memory of light and dust, stones and alters, the womb, men; a living mind imprinted with the phantom weight of other, discontinued states of being which once culled together attain form and belie a consciousness that is separate, older, larger and more dear to us than self-conceit. I see she is coming to. Strange how we always know when the other is not asleep, how we cannot rest easy in our own isolated dreams. She turns towards me, heavy and sighing, her breath full of stale night air. We are both naked, our skin warm under the sheets. This moment is not yet so familiar as to be meaningless. There is no question of attraction or permission. In our closeness we are no better than two blankets full of holes, trying to keep the cold out. Together we stitch each other up, pull each other apart, on and on. I realize that it is only when I gaze through one of these holes that I can begin to understand the whole. This is what it means to be, to be effective as a being, to live in a world of unceasing change, to see through holes and be aware of things that are yet beyond the scope of my knowledge. It doesn’t take much to realize that every tear and fray tells of a necessary imperfection that has been there all along, its destructive and creative effects latent and inevitable. From the very beginning of our relationship I had sensed the path we would take, its final destination, and the inexorable process we would go through to get there. I had seen it all and chosen it anyway. She is wrapping herself around me, pulling my threads apart, unraveling me even as I wish it otherwise. I avoid her mouth, irritated and unwilling. She knows that I am not with her but she won’t stop. She slides off and continues to rub her crotch against me. It is wet and seems to bite my leg. She rolls away. The sheets are off her and in the darkness she arches silently. I watch. The sun must be out because just now I notice the window. Our bodies are illuminated, pale and blotchy here and there with flushed heat. She seems unreal to me, as I must seem unreal to her just now. For the moment neither of us are anywhere near the other, but soon we will be out of bed, starting another day together. Everything taken apart comes back together again.
A Day at the Cafe
It was a simple ceramic bowl, glazed in lavender and containing crimped-edged rectangular packets of sugar and sugar substitutes. Blue packets of Equal, white packets of Domino, pink packets of Sweet ‘N Low, brown packets of Sugar In The Raw, a natural cane turbinado from Hawaii.
Alain read these facts in small print and tried to recall what he knew of Hawaii… Pearl Harbor, his dad’s collection of James Michener novels, men in silver suits posing next to spurting magma; brown-skinned women waiting on the tarmac, leis dangling across their bosoms, arms stretched out in welcome. He rubbed the sides of a packet, felt the rough granules within, then carefully put it back next to the others like it.
Continuing to regard the bowl, he decided that it was for the moment the most interesting and attractive object in the world. It occurred to him that the arrangement had an aspect of spring, a display of colors that approximated the season. It seemed that they must have been conscientiously grouped this way. But the girl who opened the café that morning, whatever pride she felt when pulling down chairs and distributing a single stem vase to every table, probably managed these chores with a degree of interest proportionally opposed to the attention now being paid to them. Alain ran the edge of his finger along the rim of the lavender bowl, happily self-absorbed.
The day was, after seemingly endless months, at last one that could be enjoyed on its own, despite obligations. There were people everywhere, shopping, standing in the sunlight, standing in traffic. Joggers seemed to float by, resolute, seamlessly picking up where they left off in the fall. Doors were left open. Racks of winter merchandise spilled out onto the sidewalks. There was laughter and conversation.
Alain raised his fist to his lips and coughed. He suddenly did not feel up to this level of demonstrative excitement. It was perhaps premature. Surely there would be more lousy days. A ceramic bowl of sugar packets resting upon a wobbly tabletop in the sun can fascinate, but only because it, in and of itself, doesn’t matter. That is, Alain realized, it could have been anything: a clean ashtray, an abandoned scarf, or the pattern of stone that formed the patio floor. The only thing required was that it interrupted the light waves in an appealing manner. He knew that the bowl’s specious, elevated existence would cease the instant his mind turned away from it, and this did not bother him.
Even still, due to a run of bad luck, Alain desperately wanted to come across as being in a pleasant mood. Of course, with his ever-changing disposition, Alain did not always feel the way he should, or wished to. No one would think that was the case now. Due to circumstances his appreciation for the turn of weather remained understated.
It is to be understood that Alain was someone who, despite reservations, couldn’t help but wear his heart on his sleeve… or hold a shovel in his hand, pin a boutonniere to his lapel, or bear forth whatever else he was unconsciously clinging to as a reminder of how he should behave towards the world, and it to him.
Presently he was clinging to a few sheets of paper in a manila folder: resume, references, recommendations, etc. Obviously not an unconscious choice. Obviously not a metaphor. The hitch in his mood was based on the very real dilemma of not being employed, a situation which required that he carry very real documents around in a much too real manila folder. All of which was entirely too real and repulsive to him.
After the layoff the only emotion Alain had felt was a sort of fatuous “oh well” and an occasional frustration, which is merely anger stripped of its point. Of course he knew, understood and felt the urgent need to find a job, but all he could seem to muster was the same sort of reaction most people give to remote conflict. There really was a war now, but its causes and instruments did not effect him. In actuality, the subsumption of the mechanisms of catastrophe into faux normalcy had given rise to a half hope that it would involve him directly. The thought didn’t disgust him, though he knew it should. Selfish, yes, but too abstracted to point out any real moral flaw. It wasn’t war that Alain wanted to be a part of, but a life outside the bounds of normalcy, a societal breakdown to mirror his own… to interact with people on the most basic level, which is where Alain felt most comfortable, where he could do the most good, where he could be free of trying to fit in and manage his life on the basis of income and expenditure. Was this worth a disaster? Was he comfortable in his wish, which, though too abstract to point out any real moral flaw, was undoubtedly selfish, lazy and irresponsible? Alain knew he was all of those things. His life was full of self-inflicted disasters. He had hurt people in this abstracted, amoral way over and over.
“We are complicated, selfish animals. Though we may love, or hate, we are always ready to take advantage at the slightest provocation, to cause or relieve pain in ourselves or others so that we may feel unique, or perhaps the same. I don’t know which, or if it is both. Being utterly unknown is just as horrible as being utterly known. I wonder if we will remain like this, wavering in the half-light, for all time… destroying one thing just to build another.”
Alain turned all of this over in his mind at the café, and had no inclination to leave. His manila folder lay as a reminder of what he had come out to do but had no intention that day of doing.
A narrow, terraced bed of soil rose to Alain’s left, at once a garden box and retaining wall built up by a rising, staggered stack of three, four, then five rail beams which defined the outer parameter of the café’s patio area. Alain sat with hot coffee, waiting. At this time of year the small garden contained only the remains of last season’s shrub grass, cut off low and tied with twine. Later these clumps would be split with a sharp shovel and redistributed among an arrangement of iris, wildflowers, and young sunflowers that would reach eight feet in height by August.
It wouldn’t be long before the inscrutable arousal of plant metabolism would be initiated throughout this corner of the world. The effects would not be seen for a time, but up and down the valleys the seed-forms of the region’s flora were already stirring, their soft nuclei dividing, dormant, closed pathways warming into proper shape under the beat of the nearing sun. All would turn outward and grow.
On his way to the café, Alain had been pleased to see that many things held the aspect of spring. The trolley of used books outside of Three Penny, for instance, where he had been briefly tempted to buy Barrons “Dictionary of Mathematics Terms” for a dollar. It was a small paperback with a red cover and would fit perfectly into his pocket, but besides that he couldn’t understand why it should appeal to him at all. He picked up “Film: an Anthology” instead. It was then that he noticed the woman standing inside the bookstore. Alain half smiled, immediately realizing why he had stopped at the trolley in the first place.
He glanced through the window again. She was at least ten years his senior, distinguished and softened by her long white dress. She was at the register, holding her purchase in a brown bag and speaking to the proprietor. Alain went through an all-too-familiar and embarrassing pattern of self-conscious postures, one of which was to hold the book in front of him, pretending to read, facing the opposite direction, which in this case was across the street. There he saw a group of three teenaged girls walking in shorts and tank tops. By the time the woman in the store came to the door Alain was blushing, unable to raise his eyes from the anthology of film he had begun to mindlessly flip through. As she passed he forced himself to settle on a page and read:
There is no place for the outburst, the torrent of of words running up to a climax and a dramatic announcement, which so often heralds a curtain on the stage.
The whole of screen technique is based on the fact that a number of objects can be shown to people in rapid succession.
Alain was struck by the thought of ‘scenes in the round’ and other particular phrases, but, he thought, the passage as a whole wasn’t enough to warrant a dollar.
He looked up. The woman wasn’t to be seen. He decided he would try to remember the specific terminology ‘objects in rapid succession’ and use it in conversation later. Buoyant and relieved, Alain progressed down the avenue towards the café.
At eight the day was already blazing bright, fighting to take back the hour stolen from it earlier that morning, as was the custom on this date, the start of Daylight Savings time. Alain was yet unaware of this, fully confident that he struck out at an early hour.
From the moment he awoke there had been the clearest air and light streaming through his bedroom windows, the alternating warm and cool drafts of an elevated vernal barometer. The damp breath of a final winter night, a long, moist sigh fell on Alain’s face. It was air that had been condensed on every blade in every lawn, millions of droplets gathering and rolling towards the pulpy earth, drunk in and exhaled by the great oak trees outside the windows of his room.
Brought to by these magnanimous forces, Alain was convinced that the day was going to go well, despite everything. We can admire him for his eagerness to make the most of it, for he was not a man prone to waking earlier than he had to. A mere ten minutes past the time that his alarm would have gone off Alain was leaving the house, showered and dressed, folder in hand.
This initial rush through the ostensible good fortune of extra time (when he had in fact lost some), the meteorological metamorphosis from lion to lamb, combined with his lingering gratitude towards sidewalk book trolleys and spring fashions all accounted for Alain’s revived spirits. Earlier misgivings faded into the scenery.
Alain sat very still, closing and opening his eyes slowly, and saw that there were many things about the café patio worth taking pleasure in. He breathed normally, even a bit more deeply than usual for his sooty lungs. The pack of cigarettes he had bought before coming to the café was left in his pocket, unopened. The thought crossed his mind that he could quit, if so inclined. It wasn’t a serious thought, no more realistic an idea than if he had decided to not drink the coffee he had just paid for. He smiled at this, and sank further back into his chair, thinking to himself.
“Everything is as it should be. On a nice day, with coffee, cigarettes and time, I could be content. That is, everything is perfect except this… torture. Regardless, I could stick around for a bit, go, then return later. I will cover this street, which shouldn’t take long. Still… never mind. Just this one thing, a hour or two, then home free. You never know. I could get lucky. Things always work out, and easier than you ever thought possible. I will return to this chair… but not yet. There is time. All day, in fact. Truthfully, if not for this stupid business I could sit here and think nothing of thinking of nothing at all.”
His coffee stood cooling while he traced the edge of its lip with his finger, a slow orbit that passed the time. It was a pleasant way, he thought, to wait, as long as you didn’t know what you were waiting for.
He manipulated a little eddy into the surface of his coffee with a swizzle stick, pretending that, like the center of a slow moving whirlpool, time could be made to turn on a single point.
It is impossible to tell where thoughts like this come from. We can guess that Alain, like most people, was prone to the sort of vague daydreams of a person sitting at a café table on an agreeable spring morning. We can understand that, being content with the general climate, a contentment rarely experienced in the city, he wished for time to stop awhile, and, having this wish, that the ability to make it so was within his power, that the whole dark mystery of interval and instance lay within his own mug of coffee which he could tap and stir at will.
Notions like this come and go all the time. Alain was not unlike you or I in this regard, though it is hard to believe. No one can recall how vital these seconds of dreaming are, how close they appear to come to unlocking hidden truths. We do not think them through. We allow them to remain merely an idea in the abstract until they vanish to where they came from, where they cannot be reached again. For this reason we believe we are alone in our experience.
Alain was no different. He was not, I can tell you, particularly disturbed by the failure of his experiment. He found the movement to be too complex, since he could not keep his arm from shaking, his heart from beating, or the air from resisting the path of his hand. The table wobbled and the sun flashed off a passing car window. That is to say, time did not cease for even a moment, but there was solace in the probability that he was the only one who noticed.
Business had picked at the café, both inside and out. Alain watched the crowd, expecting to see someone he knew. It was very likely. Not someone he knew well, but some random member of his social milieu. Alain recalled encounters of this kind months ago, when he happened to come to this café more frequently. He didn’t like the idea of it. As it happened, he then began to recognize several faces of people who were always there, the regular, ubiquitous characters. This did not bother him so much. The chance of his own self being recognized, the conceit of familiarity, the embarrassing questions, this is what concerned Alain.
At one point there were nineteen people on the patio, a figure he checked twice, remembering both times to include himself. When two left, two more arrived. The tables were nearly full, except for the one Alain sat at. The two central tables had four chairs apiece, all full, including the one Alain had granted a fifth chair with a nod and a wave of his hand. It had been a man roughly his own age, dressed smartly in a dark brown suit, who approached for the chair, which he then gave to a woman in an above-the-knee floral dress. Alain watched this woman accept the chair, hang her chic black purse on the back and sit down on the edge of the seat, carefully crossing her legs and leaning forward so that her back did not touch the chair at all. A thick wave of dark hair was pinned to the back of her head. She and the man in the suit spoke to one another in Italian. They spoke loudly over the conversation of their table companions.
Alain counted seven shaved heads, all male. There was a woman with long gray hair pulled back into a pony tail. There was a woman with red hair holding a white balloon. A girl with light brown hair stood up and walked to another table to ask a man about his salad, which was piled high with green beans. The redhead twisted in her seat and tied the balloon to the back of her chair.
There was a table of old men, two of them in particular whom Alain recognized. Everyday they sat in the shade and smoked, but rarely ordered a drink. They chatted in beige coats and blue caps, or red coats and no hats. Alain considered them and envied the age of the men, the freedom of thought they exhibited in such limited physical compass. But then a curious thing occurred, which changed his opinion.
The man on the left was reading aloud from a magazine. His companion hardly seemed interested in whatever topic it was. He looked elsewhere and repeatedly waved his hand about and nodded. There was a picture that went with the article, and his friend wanted to show it to him. The magazine shot out, a knobby finger jabbing at the page.
“No, no! Wait,” the other man growled, grabbing his coat off the ground beside him.
“What is it? Just look, would you!”
“Oh no! Oh! Where are they? Just wait!” The old man’s voice sent shivers through Alain, who hated when people became distressed in public. The man was desperately searching through his coat pockets for something. What was it? His glasses?
“What? You lost your glasses!” The man with the magazine stood up, then sat back down. “Oh..!
People began to stare. The pathetic tone of the men’s voices was piercing. What could anyone do? It was even worse than with children, he thought, because with children there is always an explanation. When they lose something someone always knows where it is. A parent is there, or some other adult who understands. Even when the thing, whatever it is, is really gone, broken or can’t be acquired, there is a ready explanation, a reprimand, or a moral to be learned. What do you do when it is the adult who forgets? A man who walks to a café everyday to banter with old friends is considered capable. Of course this isn’t always true, and although most people recognize the fact, no one is prepared to deal with a breakdown. What could be said? You cannot take their hand and talk the problem away. No one is there to appease them at all. Worse of all, there is no lesson that can be taught or learned in a case like this, except that with age we are all doomed to the truth of our own disintegrating minds. Therein is a world no one else can access or answer for.
As he watched the men, one practically on the ground, the other bending backwards and forwards in his chair, Alain grew rigid. His chest muscles tightened as he hoped, practically prayed, that the glasses would be found. Suddenly a young man entered the patio area and quickly approached the man kneeling on the ground.
“What did you lose? It’s me. John. What happened?” The immediate comprehension and gentle compassion in the young man’s voice bordered on being patronizing, but it was very clear to all around that he knew the man, and was probably his grandson. They discussed the missing glasses at length, the young man continually assuring his grandfather that they were at home. He never had them. The old man remained agitated. As they talked he paced about his table and even out onto the sidewalk where he glanced about the pavement as though his glasses might have fallen there hours ago. At last he composed himself, was talked into sitting down and putting on his coat.
“Try to enjoy yourself,” said the young man. “We’re going to D.C. this weekend, remember? We’re going to the zoo.”
As much as he was pleased with the outcome of all this, Alain disliked the grandson. “It is just as I thought… nothing has been gained from the old man misplacing his glasses, yet he is talked to as though he were a child. That’s a disgrace. His grandson even seems to have gotten some pleasure out of his situation. He is proud of himself and seems to want everyone to know that he is taking his grandfather to the zoo this weekend. What does he think there is to gain from us overhearing him talk like that?”
Eventually they left, leaving the other man alone with his magazine. Alain continued in his reproach for the grandson for awhile, until he was well assured that it was all quite disgraceful. New patrons entered the patio, and there were new distractions, such as a trio of young girls sitting nearby, attractive college students who probably lived in the neighborhood. Each one was pretty in her own way, and he discreetly watched them during the half hour it took them to finish their teas and leave.
Alain grew restless. His mind wandered. “A nice day, with coffee, cigarettes and time. I should be… ah!” He tapped the pocket holding his pack of cigarettes and pulled it out. Completely forgotten, this “discovery” excited him a great deal. He slapped the head of the pack against his left palm six times, rotated it 180 degrees and slapped it six more times. He stopped there. The noise of this ritual packing seemed ostentatious. He hurriedly unwrapped the cellophane, careful not to crinkle it too much, and removed a cigarette.
“Amazing,” he said to no one, fishing out his lighter. Then to himself, “In my pocket all this time. I hardly need it, I suppose, but now that I’ve got it…” and he lit the end and inhaled.
For a few minutes his mind was clear. His eyes strolled over the patio, not really observant, but simply looking. He noticed a woman with tortoise shell sunglasses resting on her forehead. She sat near the café wall, reading what appeared to be a medical textbook. Alain’s eyes slowly took all this in, but the longer he looked at her the less he comprehended. The image blurred as his cigarette burned down, and he allowed his eyes to roam with his hand as he stubbed the end out. When he looked back up, it was as if what he had just seen a moment before was again new and unfamiliar. He saw the tortoise shell shades propped up on her forehead, and the book. It was a textbook of some kind. Her head tilted as she neared the end of the page, and straightened again as she turned it. Instinctively Alain fingered his manila folder. He straightened up, startled. It lay on his table like a sallow fish glimmering in the sun, drawing attention to itself. It did not feel like his own anymore, and he irrationally wished that he hadn’t brought it with him.
“What is the point of this now? I should have bought that film anthology. What was that… objects in rapid succession? And what was the context? I hardly had a chance. Didn’t take the time. Rushed over here, and for what? Maybe I’ll stop back later, though that’s hardly necessary. How ridiculous would it be to run down there now? That’s something people notice. A man leaves his table for five minutes and returns with a book he didn’t have before. A film anthology. Does that make sense? No, it’s out of the question. No… no, I should get the paper, instead.” He stood, cautiously leaving his manila folder on his table to go inside.
It is not easy to keep in mind all that seems essential to us. Conversely, it is difficult to elude every passing whim that would impinge upon our thoughts. The greater portion of life is spent on a quivering wavelength, more or less absent from, more or less present in our central function. So it is with the sense of what we know about ourselves. Even the most worldly and socially involved can’t always answer for themselves. The relationship between a man’s accumulative propositions does not always make sense. The path of personality is not linear, not inevitable. It’s future cannot be determined by its past, but neither can a personality be transcendent. We are grounded by data. Wishing and wanting are never free of circumstances… physical, chemical, cultural. These are the vast realms in which each singular consciousness is contained. Our situation, in our confusion, appears nebulous but is actually concrete. It is real, always real, despite what we dream of. We can only imagine through the limitation of metaphor that there is a world that precedes us, a phantasm of metaphrands and metaphiers into which we manipulate ourselves and make real… or blunder through until realizing that we’ve imagined something impossible and hit a wall. What is difficult to come to terms with is that even in failure we have changed everything.
The heat rose steadily. Only two of the tables had umbrellas. The sun was getting too high to elongate their shadows much beyond the perimeter of the tables they shaded. Alain sat with his paper and sipped on his refreshed coffee, trying to fit again into everything around him. It all now seemed strange to him.
The girl with the balloon was still there, typing something into her laptop which sat surrounded by papers weighted down by various objects… an ashtray, a glass of water, a cell phone. The balloon waved above and behind her.
He squirmed in his chair, suddenly self-conscious. Staring upwards, the sun shone through a bright, high vapor. A dull light, but burning hot, then… a chill when the sun passed behind a cloud.
Sometimes, in dreams, we can breath underwater. Or we find ourselves in a city we don’t recognize, though it is the city we have always lived in. That disconnect between perception and cognition is like breathing underwater. Alain began to experience something like this. The heat rose and he swam through thoughts that were a continuation of his environment. He swam towards the white balloon, tried to grasp its thin cord as he floated higher, out of reach. No one called after him, but he recognized their faces far below on the patio… subtly altered versions of real people.
What was it he had been thinking? Oh yes, the man inside, behind the counter. He reminded Alain of a certain actor. He was smaller, but perhaps the actor was smaller too.
He had been leaning against the café counter, facing the large front window, diverting his attention from the server’s face. The two images in his mind, those of the server and the actor, were joining, becoming one. Vaguely disturbed by this, Alain stole another glance as he paid for his refill. He hoped to find not a movie star but an ordinary man serving beverages in a café. Straight on he looked even more like the actor, and when he suddenly smiled at something said across the room he found the two indistinguishable. In fact, there was nothing to distinguish at all, except the reason for his being in the same room as him. It was difficult for him to thank him for the coffee, for he didn’t exist, per se. Only if he chose to enter the scene could he do or say anything.
Alain decided that the girl behind him in line was in love with the man, or more accurately, in love with the actor but not the role he was playing. Then again, Alain knew she could love the server as well, if the script required it. She could pretend to, anyway. After all, she was a pretend person and did not exist except in relation to the other pretend people sitting around the café. This make-believe adoration would never be accurate though, for in her swoon of love the girl would steal looks and knowing smiles with him and betray his true identity.
Contrarily, this upset Alain, for he knew then that it was the sort of affair that makes it difficult to pretend at all. Lovers always want to be reminded that they are in love, which is irritating. Her endless winking would get in the way of any serious emotion. One can’t commit to such insecurity.
Alain’s peculiar reverie abruptly ended on that note. His prognosis of the girl’s unwitting insecurity occurred apropos of nothing, it seemed. He picked up a paper from the door rack and went out, ready to completely forget his fantasies.
A man approached. Weighed down by a large bag, he leaned to the side, unsmiling. Their eyes met for a moment, and they each caught themselves, recognizing. The bag was shuffled off a shoulder and the man raised and lowered his chin in silent greeting.
“What brings you here? Some sort of work…” Alain was surprised he said this. The man’s head tilted to the side and back. His eyebrows lifted.
“Yes, just some studying.”
“And what is it? Everybody comes here with something to do, except me.” Alain was trying to be light, but the man only looked at him. He pulled out a large textbook and showed it to Renard: Physical Examination. “Ah… looks serious. You’re to be a doctor then?”
Alain tried to bring forth a name, but all he could recall was that they had seen each other numerous times in a bar on the other side of the city. He couldn’t even be certain that they had spoken before. There was no answer to the question of being a doctor, just a question in reply. “What are you doing?”
What a way to put it! It was immediately clear to Alain that this person had no interest in knowing what he was doing. There was an impertinent look about his face that betrayed doubts that Alain did anything at all. Isn’t it the middle of the day in the middle of the week, after all? What’s that scrawny folder on your table? How is it that you can spend an entire day here, doing nothing?
“I was supposed to meet someone, but they never showed.” It sounded like a lie. It was a lie, of course, but Alain suddenly thought perhaps that had been his intention all along, to meet somewhere at the café. Having to explain himself made him nervous. It seemed like a form of oppression.
“Good day for it, though.” Again, that knowing tone. “He’s duplicitous,” thought Alain. “Placating me.”
More books came out of the bag. Before sitting, the man turned back and said, “I’ve got to get busy, but nice to see you. What’s your name again?”
They shook hands and Alain never thought to ask the man his name in return.
After a few moments Alain went back inside to go to the bathroom. As he passed the counter he happened to look up and see the time. 11:40. For just a second he hesitated, wondering. “I really should at least take a walk up the street and back. If I don’t I will regret it later.”
The truth was that he found it difficult to care. His was not the healthy nervousness of a man being heedful of his position and eager to “get on with things”, but that of a man who does not know what his position is and lacks the impulse to find out.
Of course he was worried; it couldn’t be helped, but he knew too well how to push everyday nagging concerns to the side and allow his mind to roam more freely than perhaps it should. Aware and constantly reminded of this inclination as well, he still found it difficult to care. To those who knew him, this persistent attitude bordered on a condition.
As it happens an equally careless young woman and acquaintance of Alain walked through the door of the café just as he entered the bathroom. When he came out she was at the counter, ordering. Alain’s earlier misgivings about running into someone such as this had all but vanished and he decided he would approach her. Under the pretense of getting some napkins he went to the side counter where the cream, cinnamon, and stirring sticks were kept. He kept half an eye on June and turned around just as she was approaching.
“Alain! What are you doing here?”
“That seems to be the question of the day. How are you?”
“Oh, you know. Aren’t you working?”
“Laid off. The company went under. Just like that.”
“Welcome to the land of the unemployed. Enjoy it while you can.”
“So, what are you up to?”
“I have to go to class at one. Thought I’d get some coffee in me. Care to join? Where are you sitting?”
June followed Alain outside, grabbed the chair he had lent to the Italians, who had left in the meantime, and sat down. She asked about the manila folder and laughed at him when he told he what was in it.
“You haven’t got very far, have you?”
He assured her that it was early yet, and that he fully intended to get on with it, eventually. Besides, it was only Wednesday. He had Thursday, Friday, and probably Saturday too. And all of next week, and the week after. Not to mention that he would soon be receiving unemployment compensation . Perhaps things were not so dire after all. Certainly a man can enjoy a few hours out of the day, without running himself ragged on the treadmill.
“Absolutely. You have nothing to worry about. I’m half-tempted to skip class myself. But, how can you just sit here, with nothing to read, or..?”
“Yes, that is a problem, I’ve discovered.”
“Last time I saw you here you were writing something.”
“Oh.” Alain did not like this line of questioning. He shrugged.
“You’ve got all the time in the world right now. Do something with it. I would… I mean, if I had anything to do. You seem like you’re full of ideas all the time. You don’t know how lucky you are. I can’t even choose a major. Do you know how stupid I feel all the time? Come with me to the store and buy a notebook. I have some pens here… uh…” She dug in her bag. “Here. Have a pen. Let’s get you some paper and you come back here and start writing. I insist.”
There was something humorous in this sudden emphatic tirade. Alain agreed to go with June to the store and purchase a notebook. He was doing it because, for some reason, it would please her. “And I really should at least have the option to write down some things, if I choose. That would be better than just sitting here all day, without even a book to read.”
June went into the store with Alain and helped him pick out a notebook. She almost bought him the most expensive full-sized, hardbound and ruled book they had, but he insisted that it wasn’t necessary. He had countless notebooks at home already.
They left the store and paused at the corner. “I’ve got to go,” said June. “It’s almost one.”
“Really, already? I thought…”
“Daylight Savings Time, silly.”
Alain simply looked off, and said nothing for a moment. For whatever reason, this little fact affected him deeply.
He returned to the café. Alain’s table had been cleared off and occupied by a rather large woman and her dog. He got a fresh cup of coffee and took a seat closer to the wall of the little garden. He placed the manila folder, legal pad and pen one on top of the other. He studied them for a long time, completely at a loss for thought. Lighting another cigarette, he left the table to stand on the sidewalk so as not to bother anyone. Alain decided he would write. That much was certain. Then, almost as if he had been struck by a tremendous idea – one that he could not begin to put his finger on, but which nevertheless impelled him back to the legal pad and pen – he quickly threw down his cigarette and returned to the table.
His cup was empty. He would first have to go back inside.
“Calm down,” he said to himself. “Take it slowly. Be careful here. You know too well this feeling. A tremendous thought pushing its way through… a tremendous bubble, taking up all this space in your head, yet it is full of nothing but air. Damn… I just had it.” He was shaking, excited and nervous. Maybe it was all the coffee, or maybe it was his nerves suddenly charging up which became more susceptible to its effects.
“A bubble, surface tension… reflective, scenes in the round… a round bubble, the expanding universe… surface tension… tense. A dog popping bubbles on its wet nose. Full of nothing but air, taking up space… empty space being taken up by more empty space… the surface, the tense surface of things… some kind of thin barrier which can be popped on a dog’s nose.” Alain was back outside, staring at June’s pen and rummaging through these thoughts. He turned to the woman with the dog and asked her for the time.
“12:33,” she replied, after much fussing. Alain blinked at her, thanked her, but said nothing further. There was no reason to correct the woman.
He picked up the pen, held it loosely in his hand and dropped its point onto the pad several times.