This page is a work in progress. At some point we’ll have a menu here, so you can just click on a title to see it. for now, Todd’s Story (the first post) is below these poems. (If you find any of my stuff too gruesome, I understand. Forgive me.) Tim
On this page:
Short Story: Hello Mr. Stranger (I have put this story out before, but it has a new ending.)
Short Story: Story Slip, (unfinished)
Poems: Secret Sky, Nov. 9, 2019
The Journey, Nov. 9, 2019
Short Story: Todd’s Story, Nov. 2, 2019
THE BLONDE: HELLO MR. STRANGER
I met her at the pub. She was small. I don’t know why they call women “petite” – it always makes me think of “miniature,” and I can never conceive of any woman as miniature. Even the smallest, with the slimmest waist, seems to me a pretty big bundle of flesh. But she was small, with short curly blonde hair, a pleasing face and deft hands.
She was talking with her friends, at three round pub tables put together, laughing softly. But when I began chatting her up – my method was to go and kneel on the floor beside the chair of the one I wanted, one knee on the floor, and talk from there. I said a few introductory things. Then I said she looked like Marilyn Monroe, which she did, but still I felt odd saying it, because, though her voice was musical I guess you’d say, she had some sort of slavic accent. When I said she looked like Marilyn Monroe, she burst into tears. I think that was it. I asked her sign, and she said Gemini, and I asked, Where’s your twin, and maybe that’s when she cried. I was puzzled, but for some reason not perturbed. Perhaps it was the four beer I’d drunk. I apologized, I tried to cheer her up, and we left together.
I was twenty-something, it was the early ‘70’s. I sold hash in the pubs, to support myself, just like my buddies. I wore zip boots, jeans and a leather jacket, and had good curls, down to my shoulders. We’d spend more nights than not in the pub, from three to ten of us. But, though I was accepted and we joked and chatted, I wasn’t really close to any of them, now that I contemplate it. Except Tony. He was a big Indian, like the guy in “One Flew Over.” He had a big laugh, loved to call people “Fools,” and had “adopted” me a year or so earlier, when I was still working in a warehouse. But he’s not in this story.
We went to the pretty little blonde’s apartment; it was cool and moonlit. She didn’t turn on any lights. We shucked our clothes and slid into bed. We fitted together with unusual airiness. There was not a space between us, yet everything felt light, almost unattached. She had this unremarkable yet oddly perfect body, perfectly proportioned to mine, small breasts, and this perfect air around her – nothing in her disturbed me, nothing in her speech or manner or movements, nothing in the whole bedroom nor in her aura. Nothing crude, no sharp elbows, nothing demanding, nothing awkward. It’s strange to have nothing clumsy. It was so smooth that I didn’t even notice it was.
After, as we lay in bed, she cried. It started softly, then built to a weeping, bigger than in the pub, but not sobbing; she didn’t make a sound. I asked her why she cried. She wouldn’t tell me. I thought that she was very lonely, and I had entered and broken the loneliness. I thought, how lonely it must be to live in an apartment by yourself, in the straight world, with short hair, probably with a job. Her loneliness, her grief, promised to make me responsible. I liked her, but I didn’t even have to think. I acted on instinct, a slight, mild instinct: I left, about 3 a.m.
I don’t think I even knew her name.
That was thirty-five, forty years ago.
About four months ago, I happened to pass the apartment building she’d brought me to that night of lovemaking. Well, I’ve passed it a thousand times, driving – it’s on a main route, right by the bay, on a drive that connects the Point neighbourhood with downtown. But this winter I started taking the bus instead of my car. For no reason, really, except boredom, loneliness, convenience. On the bus, you look at everything. I happened to note that apartment building. Then to remember her. I began to study it more closely every time I passed – the window of her bedroom, and her living room, both faced the street. It’s a square, three-story stucco building like a hundred others, carpeted stairs inside, an ersatz “classic” name written in gold leaf on the main door – let’s call it “The Balmoral.” A glass door with aluminum frame and a diagonal steel bar handle. It was actually a cheerful building, as they go: bright yellow awnings over the windows, cheerful flower beds.
My life has not been the greatest. I don’t really know why or how, but at some point in the late 70’s I rented an empty warehouse and started renting parts of it to friends and dealers. Soon, I rented a second warehoused, and kept it clean, and again split it up. On my third go, I leased, then split. Within a couple of years I was signing multi-year leases and by 1980 I bought one. I didn’t see my hippie/street friends after awhile. My employees were my only real social life. About five years ago a big firm bought me out, and I haven’t worked since. I walk and study at the library and sit in coffee shops with newspapers and play the stock market. I don’t have any real friends, no one I’d take home – nor who’d come. I’m that kind of male.
Then I decided to walk by this apartment, rather than gaze on it from the bus window. Then I stopped. Feeling odd but good, I walked up to the front door, then, after a moment, pulled on the bar handle. It was locked, of course. I studied the intercom buttons, two columns of ten, with little typed names; some blank. Casually, not wanting to peer, I glanced inside at the red carpeting and the typical flowery runner. I went away, down the cement walk to the sidewalk, then away. Yes, it was nostalgic, but it was something else, too. The whole “investigation” had wrapped me in a pleasantly numbing feeling that ended as soon as I hit the main sidewalk. Half an hour later, in a nearby coffee shop, I realized that every moment, every step and every glance, had been accompanied by a strange, mild but strange, trance.
I consider myself normal, but sometimes normal needs some help. So I went home – I have a nice townhouse overlooking the bay, and at night the mountains sparkle with house lights – and decided to file this experience away as a nice piece of nostalgia. I did not even question whether she still lived there or not – who but a ghost could stay in such an apartment for over thirty years?
Perhaps it was just boredom. I have too little to do.
Two weeks later, now feeling a bit criminal, I got off the bus a block away and repeated my walk to the front door.
This time it was worse – or better. The trace-like feeling vanished, because now I knew I was acting oddly, and it was replaced by an uneasy fear, mostly of myself. The flowers in the beds that ran on both sides of the cement walkways, and under the front windows, seemed starkly clear and – not so much beautiful as clear, absolutely clear. I saw every grain of dirt in the bed, every bit of water on the petals. I made myself approach the door, grasp the bar handle firmly with my right fist; then I turned in retreat.
Later, in the same coffee shop, with a newspaper for disguise, I went over my strange little odyssey: not why, for some reason now and in future I would not ask why – but what. I was only interested – though still feeling strange about it, and still skeptical about myself and my actions, and sure, convinced, that I would abandon this odd little adventure soon, and revert to “normal” – I meanwhile only wanted for a few minutes – but it was more like an hour – to absorb the strange experience. In my mind, in order to see what had happened, I repeated that second walk to the building’s front door, and as I walked, mentally, I detected all sorts of emotions and nuances, and wondered if they had been there all along, riding under what now seemed my silly fear, elusive and half-grasped emotions, like the promise of a sunny, hopeful day, as the clouds lighten from gray to pale blue, without the sun quite breaking through. Despite myself, knowing it was dangerously stupid, I left the coffee shop and rode all the way home with a kind of happiness and almost boyish buoyancy I hadn’t felt for – decades. Decades.
Well, I won’t bore you. Like a drop of ink in a glass of water, that apartment building blossomed to color my entire existence. I rode the bus by it constantly, sometimes ten times a day. On these days I snuck around like a thief at both ends of my ride – I would take the bus sometimes several stops, sometimes a few kilometers past the building, then dismount and sneak across the street to the bus stop going the other way, and repeat this again at the other end of my ride, knowing my actions would seem to odd if anyone happened to observe me. I would board the bus with my head down, frightened by now, truly frightened, that I would encounter the same bus driver from earlier in the day, and be recognized. Sometimes it was not even so much seeing the building – for I examined it in every detail, every smudge, every reflection in the windows, every piece of flashing on the roof-edge, every plant in the wet garden beds, and felt a mild injection of urgent regret every time the bus pulled away from the stop (for, heading west, a bus stop stood almost right in front of the building’s walkway) – sometimes seeing the building was not the strongest feeling for me. It was getting off the bus at a certain point, deciding where to get off, how far to go past, away from that building, as if my – heart? Is it heart? – was on an elastic band, that stretched, then pulled me back. It was that delicious sensation of feeling that end-point, that point where I had to get off, and cross the street, and catch a returning bus to see the building again. This turning point, wherever it lay, always built up in me to a delicious, fearful peak (or depth, really) and then I would make the decision to get off, and the trance, the confusion and profusion of emotions that thrilled through me, would last right through the disembarking, crossing the street, standing there uncomfortably like a criminal, and, my heart pounding, getting on the bus that finally arrived, my head swirling with strange, ungrasped pleasures and tempting… tempting – what?
I believe this little adventure would have run its course, have slowly begun to bore me, and I would have been free of it and onto some other part of my life (but what other part? one might ask) if something hadn’t happened by accident. I don’t know if there’s accident, and coincidentally it fits into our life so neatly, or if there’s fate and destiny. I suspect, without proof, but with such indication as the following event, that we actually might create events through our desires. That, perhaps, the world is just so flexible. Anyway, this happened: a Vacancy sign.
I told you that I remembered – I don’t know how, or perhaps I just imagined that I remembered – the exact two windows of her apartment. Though I still like to travel casually in jeans, the purchase of my warehouse business had easily let me buy Holt Renfrew clothes, which I seldom wore. But now I did, cashmere, expensive coat and slacks, the works. Quiet elegance, I like to think. The manager, my age, let me in without an instance of reluctance, and betrayed, in his posture, an eagerness to show me the suite.
“I’m only interested in one that faces the street. I hate looking out on the alley.”
“No, this is street. Street.”
I imagined, deliciously, that the apartment would be on the same floor – the second – as the blonde girl’s had been, that night 35 years ago. And that I would be able to walk the same halls. Or if it was on the third, I would sneak down the stairs every so often, to walk by it. I had a check book in my coat. But when he stopped, I felt a moment of – not regret, but as if one says goodbye, quite calmly and formally yet with fear pounding in the heart, to oneself. Because it was the suite. Her suite. The exact one.
I knew I could not write the check. My hands were shaking so violently. In order not to reveal that, I kept them shoved in my coat pockets, and walked slowly through the door. That was it: I felt it: I had just said goodbye to my life. I wandered through the suite, which consisted of a hallway, hardwood floors faded and worn, closets, bare walls, living room, kitchenette, and bedroom. It was not the furniture-stuffed place I’d stumbled through in the dark that night, her light hand touching mine to guide me. It was stark and empty, but there was something, something I could not describe. In those bare walls was her story, her eternity. Seized with curiosity, I turned and asked, and I must have been abrupt or stood strangely, for he have me a quick appraising look,
“Who lived here before?”
“A tenant. What you think?”
“No, I mean – man? Woman?”
“A blonde woman?”
“What you want here? You want to rent?”
“Rent?” As if it had never occurred to me, I stopped, hesitated. But the need was much stronger. “Yes. Yes. I’ll take it.”
He peered at me suspiciously. So much for my expensive outfit.
“You have furniture?”
“You need damage deposit.”
“Yes. Yes.” I wasn’t looking at him now, but pretended to be still observing the apartment, because the thoughts that were going through my mind – I didn’t want him interfering. Except they weren’t thoughts, not even impressions; it was as if I was searching for something, but I didn’t know what.
Then a strange, temporary trance came over me, and I knew I could sign the check calmly. We went to his manager’s apartment and I gave him the rent and deposit, and signed the forms.
He wouldn’t give me the keys until my check cashed. He really didn’t like me. But I went back the next day, and he gave me the key. I climbed the stairs, opened the door in, once again, a mild trance, and slunk inside, one part of my mind alert, hoping no one watched me. I shut the door quickly and stood in the entry hallway for – five minutes. Slowly, each step taking another full minute, as I gazed blankly at the empty walls, I entered into the empty, square living room. I stood there a long time, blank, without a thought. Then it came to me – actually, two things came to me slowly, yet simultaneously: I began to remember (or imagine, or think that I remembered, who can tell?) what the apartment had looked like, the furniture it had contained, and the mirrors and plants and the poster, and crockery. These memories came slowly, and were only vague, misty things at first. But they weren’t elusive, not half-here and then wispy and gone, playing like sunlight on water. No, they were thick, solid and durable…but not complete, only ten, and then slowly, twenty percent complete. At the same time, exactly the same time, so that I could not distinguish one from the other, the idea emerged that I would go out and search for the exact articles of furniture and crockery and planters that I was beginning to remember, and buy them and furnish this place, this altar! – as memory dictated.
So I began. It took weeks – and to some degree the job was never done, for my memory (or imagination) was slow. Details came in dribs and drabs, sometimes only one small little detail in a whole day; sometimes nothing. But I found, as I haunted furniture stores (cheap ones, for she’d only been a young single girl, maybe twenty-one) and second-hand stores, that details or hunches would come to me more easily, aided sometimes merely by seeing a few rows of clap-trap furniture, or an old brass planter in a Chinese grocery.
The first thing I bought was the bed – I had to sleep. It was, I’m sure, a double bed, for I hadn’t felt crowded at all, that night of love, nor had the room been crowded. I bought a second-hand frame and mattress, for that seemed more appropriate. The slight smell it had made it seem that warm bodies, perhaps hers, had slept upon it, lived in it. I paid the store to deliver it in a pick-up.
I placed it almost exactly where it had been, for I could remember clearly where the window had been in relation. The head had been against the east wall, and the bedroom window was on the south, overlooking the traffic. And there had been a chair – and a small table? A night stand – bureau – there under the window? Slowly, the whole picture was still crawling back. Not that night, for I was too excited by my boldness (this was my first purchase, my first stick of furniture) – my heart pounded with this step into the reality of what I was doing – and, exhausted, I fell asleep almost instantly – but the next night, when I had time to ponder as I lay in bed, a massive regret stole over me. For the first time it struck me right in the face and chest: why did I leave? I knew why, of course, but I mean in the other, more horrible sense: why did I abandon everything that might have made my life different, and full, rich and – I could only imagine how rich. I lay as if murdered, dumbstruck and motionless, as the full truth of what I’d done crawled over me like a giant ravenous insect, eating away every ounce of cheerfulness, optimism and – and blindness, undisturbed blindness – that I had possessed.
Over the hours of that night, my choice became clear. I had entered this reconstruction almost like a game, something (admittedly something a little queer) to amuse me in my retirement. I guess a person shouldn’t retire as early as I did, age fifty-five. The insect of regret stung me; the enormity of what I had began to create stood before me – or around me. I had two choices. The first, to regret that I had thrown away the one woman I had ever loved – for now I was convinced of this, despite our short few hours of intimacy – at the very least I had thrown away the most perfect little person, body, companion and soul that I’d ever met, the only woman who had not, in some way, in some feature of her looks or her personality, grated upon my love of perfection – to regret that I had wasted an entire lifetime since rejecting her, and to now go away bitter with this, and, over my shrunken, empty life, to keep that regret within me like a curled parasite. Or, I could remain in this strange state, this strange apartment, and spend my time assiduously collecting ever bit of furniture or crockery to recreate that stage upon which I abandoned my happiness — or a chance for it. This way I could live in regret, chew and mull and bury myself in it as if in a sweet drug. Of course I would just be delaying — and intensifying — the regret, but this way perhaps I would never reach the point of bitter loss. (Of course I knew this to be untrue, and the whole scheme to be mad, but most of me didn’t care. I only wanted it because it gave me hope — mad hope, that somehow she would return to this apartment. (Yes, I thought of it.) But the real reason lay in the first sweetness of regret, which held a hopefulness, a sort of sweet maybe. In any case, furnishing this apartment distracted me, soothed me for the moment. My second choice was, in effect, to plunge further into the very thing that most sharpened my regret: furnishing “her” apartment. This way, I could hold off the regret, distract myself from it by busily recreating the scene of my loss. Of course I realized this was a colossal mistake, a gargantuan mistake, that would, perhaps, drive me mad – yet it was just this that made me pursue this course… To escape the past, I had to steep myself in it, draw it around me like an insulating blanket.
So a month passed. I slowly furnished the other rooms, and the kitchen with cutlery, plates and pans. The kitchen was the hardest, because I had given it the briefest glance that night she’d invited me here, and had not even seen her plates, etc. Here, I had to guess what she would have possessed, from my feel, my absorption, of her personality. I was, after a month, about halfway, perhaps a third, toward my goal of recreating her apartment – our apartment. Often in the days I would stand motionless in the living room, immersed in the pool of regret that bathed me and often now hypnotized me. And I night I would lie on my back under the blanket of regret.
But there are good days, too. Excellent hours, when I’m temporarily not regretting – then her shadow lies with me at night; her aura surrounds me in the day. Her weeping face sometimes appears in the television, or dimly, on the walls. (Yes, I bought a television, which I turn on desperately, yet with a numb slowness, when I can’t bear the hunger of the insect eating me.) The walls are still bare, because I haven’t been able to remember what kind of paintings or posters she had on them. I supposed that part of the puzzle would come later, perhaps soon.
Sometimes, it is almost as though I’m becoming her. My heart has begun pounding when I walk past a women’s clothing store. I’ve wandered, twice, through the women’s floor of the Bay, but guilt made me hurry. Some day, with courage, I will slow down and begin to approach action, some action… I have tried and tried to understand why she wept, but I have never gotten beyond my first assumption, that she was lonely. I remember – or imagine I remember, for after so many years, and one single night, who can tell? – I remember every turn of her limbs, every curve of her cheeks, and her large, observant eyes, her small breasts, her small waist and small hips, every pore of skin…
I’ve been here two months. Sometimes the future, the vastness of time, and the crushing boredom of not feeling either the hypnotizing regret or the entrancing memory of her limbs, her eyes and perfect-ness, this empty space, weighs on me so strongly my back bends. One day last week, as I returned a fruitless search for some doily – or, second choice, a knick-knack (the kind a young woman would have in the 1970’s) – just as I was feeling this vast boredom, and was almost afraid to enter the apartment again (for sometimes I grew bored even with my madness) I ran into the woman who lived next door. She was just leaving her suite.
“Hello, Mr. Stranger,” she said. Her eyes twinkled, dark, full and bright. She turned, flounced along the hall and down the stairs. I assumed middle European, Slavic, around Romania, Transylvania, Bulgaria, maybe Sophia, that area. Short dark brunette hair, but with gray tinsel in the dark curls. Fifty, maybe, but with a petite, well-proportioned figure. (I hate that word petite, but in this case it applied even more than to the blonde. I guess she was a tiny bit smaller, certainly a bit more gaunt, or thin.)
The sad thing is, now the woman next door is in my apartment, and we are about to make love, and she has a nice body with small breasts, as I like them. But I know, or suspect, that she will be living here, and I will be living one level above, or below, or beyond her grasp, living with the blonde, on the yellow level, while this European woman – Sandra – is trying to possess me, possess or build a new life. Right now, we’re sitting on the couch, and my fingers are up her dress, and wet in her vagina, and she’s looking at me and I know that soon, afterwards, today or in ten weeks, she will look at me and ask where am I, who am I, why do I have that vacant look (which women hate, absolutely hate)…somehow I know this…perhaps even she’ll move in here, in one way I have no objection, for I’m very lonely, I’d like someone around, even in the midst of my regret…I even know, quite certainly, that when we make love in a minute, I’ll be embracing the blonde, pulling her small young lithe body into me. Of course in myself, secretly, I’ll be living… Well, that’s interesting: even as I stroke her vagina, dip my finger into her wet depths, it’s like two realities clashing in my head, like beating pots, I can hardly hear. Oh God, I’ve done it. I’ve collapsed on her, my sperm still jetting in small after-drabs, her slit now slick with me, her warmth beneath me. I’ve done it; in the stark light of the living room (I hadn’t yet found the right lampshade for the ceiling) I felt totally alone. I had abandoned her; and I almost wondered how she would react, if angrily, punish me… The woman beneath me began weeping softly, and stroked my face.
Okay. I don’t know. Have I gone to hell? Does the world have a grim, punishing sense of humor? Not that I’m unhappy. For a few weeks, Sandra and I have made love. I haven’t told her about my townhouse. She works in the day, and returns at six, makes me supper, we chat. She’s easy to abide, and in bed we fit together with a kind of pleasant airiness. I wasn’t going to let her lie in my blonde woman’s bed, and she never asked to, but I changed my mind. I don’t know why I changed it. It was one of those moments of light trance that I get into. It seemed – strangely appropriate, rather than perverse. Though I suppose it was perverse. But I never felt forced to do anything by this woman next door, this Szandra. (For that was how, she told me once day, she really spelled her name. It was the closest, in English, to her Czech name.) She never felt (nor did anything) too heavy or suffocating. It was almost as if I could take her into our (me and the blonde’s) bedroom as a wisp of smoke, or a fabric so light it would float on a breeze, so she was not making a heavy footprint there, she was just floating, and could float beside the blonde and I… though sometimes it seemed the blonde was floating beside us. What I’d feared would be a clash of realities had become a water ballet of co-coordinated swimming. I suspect she has been lonely, perhaps for a long time, and perhaps that is why she is just slightly on the thin side of her perfect weight. But she never speaks of it – loneliness. Thank god. She has that middle-age lightness. There isn’t a space between us, in bed or in conversation, yet everything feels light, almost unattached. There is something, something hard to pinpoint, an unusual lack of rough edges, not in any showy way, but in a way that just exists, and then, slowly, you notice.
I thought she would start demanding, with her woman’s intuition she would sense that I was living in a separate world – even worse, with another woman – in my mind, as I am, gazing out the window every day at the buses, the traffic, wondering if perhaps the blonde girl was in a car, driving by, in some new life, a life formed after thirty years – a mother? Career? What kind of dress, and stockings? How were her thighs? Was her vagina hair bushy and blonde, or thinning? What understandings in her eyes? Or was she in some insane asylum, driven by loneliness, chained in loneliness? Who would rescue her? I didn’t even know her name. Sometimes, as Szandra sits angled at the kitchen table, talking, I see the blonde girl’s face overlaying hers, or her face transforms into the blonde girl’s… at some point, I know, she has to rise in query and disbelief, in anger, and ask me where I am if not here with her? Who am I thinking of, if not her? It is easy to ignore her, and she lets me.
But what would she think if she knew what a queer, hidden journey I’m on, with another woman, right under her nose? I could imagine her scurrying out the door, terrified to have touched me.
Last night, as we lay in bed, in the darkness, eyes wide and absorbent in the dim gray glow, she confided in me. “I used to live in this apartment, you know.”
I said nothing, just watched her face. It was strange, a little, getting out of bed with her was nothing, so easy, and staying was so easy, too, there was, in this queer way, no difference. That’s what I meant about no rough edges. You couldn’t sense any chains, anywhere.
“The super told me. He had a laugh about it. He said you asked if a blonde woman had lived here before you rented.”
Shock froze me. Was I being discovered, me and my strangeness?
“So?” I said.
“The joke is, I was blonde. I began to dye my hair a few months ago.”
“U-hum. Just before you moved in,” she said lightly, as if stating a mildly odd coincidence. “I’d been in this apartment for thirty or so years. I felt it was time for a change.” She said this with the lightest sadness and regret, as if remembering something far away. My chest went cold with surprise. “So I dyed my hair and moved next door.” She smiled, warm and distant.
I lay down in her light arms. Nothing crude, no sharp elbows, nothing demanding, nothing that hinted of chains in the morning…In fact it was like laying down in space, as the universe seemed to widen around me. This was almost pleasant at first. Then I began to feel adrift, lost. As if I’d suddenly awoken on a rowboat in mid-Atlantic, facing madness if I couldn’t get to shore, and there was no shore. A vast, subtle panic crept into my chest…
I rose to my elbows and looked at her. She stared back, as if knowing, a thousand expressions in her eyes, unmoved, huge.
I’m in a bright, sunny apartment, on stilts right on the water’s edge. Sometimes at night I can hear the lapping ocean disturbing the pebbles beneath, the shore pebbles, with a deep sigh. The apartment is white in most rooms, but for some reason in the living room, where I am now, the carpet is blue, a blue that I don’t love, too bright and electric. Otherwise, the walls are white.
There’s a pipe sticking up, about 3 feet high, in the middle of the living room floor. It’s painted white, with many layers, like you see on ferries and other iron, rust-prone boats. It’s hollow, metal, and as big around as a regular mason jar. You think you can put your hand down there, but if you did, you might never get it out again. Once I peered down there, I cannot remember even what year it was, I saw that the pipe’s bottom was filled with smooth, rounded pebbles. Curious, I poured water down the pipe; the colours in the pebbles sprang up.
One pebble, when wet, looked exactly like the face of Sandra. I say exactly, but I’m a bit short-sighted, so nothing’s certain. I have poured many cups down that pipe, perhaps 500 times in the past year. I don’t know what madman put that pipe in the middle of the living room. But I worried that a large wave would wash the stone away, or disturb the pile. I drew up a plan. The apartment was on stilts, and the land sloped fairly steeply toward the sea. The pebbles I saw through the pipe lay in that bed of gravel beneath the apartment. It should be easy to go down there and locate the Sandra stone, because it lay directly beneath the pipe. So the next morning, sunshine warm like love on my hand, I poured a cup of water down the pipe to make Szandra’s face obvious, then went out to clamber under the apartment to the pipe
But I had not anticipated the steepness of the slope, nor how deep the pile of gravel was. So, a bit shakily, taking exaggerated steps, back bent so my nose was no higher then my navel, I advanced toward the pipe. Just as I was within grabbing distance of the pipe, and reaching to grab it, the sloping wall of pebbles beneath me gave way, and tumbled down to the ocean, about half of them sinking into the green waves. I watched in horror, and tried to reach out and stem their descent, as a hundred pebbles beneath the pipe joined the festivities, and tumbled down. I caught five in my hand, and two balanced on my wrist. None were her. For twenty minutes, maybe more, I flung myself carefully over the stones between the pipe and the lapping ocean, calculating with my sight a widening pathway that the stone might have taken, and checking the stones there three or four layers deep. It was awkward and wasteful: the pebbles beneath my feet kept cascading down the slope, some into the ocean. I looked at my watch: 3 hours!
It was hopeless. I sat there the rest of the day, sometimes idly sifting through the pebbles, sometimes just sitting; mostly sitting. Night came, so I went indoors. I knew I’d never find it. I would sporadically go beneath the apartment again, to search for, almost more to attend what became a sort of ritual of regret, a sadness that wasn’t totally unsatisfying. But I have not, to date, found it. Sometimes I look down the pipe, and spit or pour a bit of water, perhaps that stone will re-appear.
This short story is unfinished…
“When all is acceptable, nothing is exceptional,” he said. The fish jumped in the windy sun, whipping and splashing, brisk whitecaps, fins and foam scratching the ocean’s back in perpetual ecstasy.
“They are all together,” she said. How thick his hair is! “So perhaps not one is exceptional. But look at the vigour, at the energy they possess! And it’s a bigger energy than anything you or I could produce, physically, alone, simply because they are many. Many are doing the same thing, so it makes a larger thing. But there’s another interesting phenomena: being conformist to a group and group actions does not drain one of energy as we would expect, because as individualists we consider grey conformity to be boring, therefore enervating. It might even increase it, because no energy is taken up by decision making. When each fish leaps, its arc, proportionately, is twenty times higher than a human could achieve.
“This is one reason I welcome the Millennials’ vision of the world to come, for their world is communistic, with the struts of support going outward, laterally, rather than vertically. This creates an essential change in the hierarchical system, almost a gutting-out of it. Pluto is “causing” this trend; until 2025 it will be remaking hierarchical systems. The Israeli kibbutzim were “prophetic” — our Millennials possess the same strong group orientation as those Israeli kids. This will sooner or later change the outer shape and inner structure of Western politics. The change will/has already started to occur in the U.S.”
“Yes,” he said dreamily. “I can see villages, even large ones, instead of cities; or cities are rare, and not wild west like ours today. It’s like a bunch of domes, or perhaps smaller houses, all together, all similar, peaceful and green. We control/tune with nature so well that each village can grow the bulk of its own food. All that stuff. We are close to telepathy, and can already communicate in many wordless ways. Most elections take place without ballots, paper, digital or other. And there you lie, in your red skirt.”
Forgive me, dear Reader, for using chaos. Fertility lies in unexpected places.
Secret sky, mother of secrets, Moon wombed, the Sun a fierce dog on a hot farm.
Joyous sky, friend of my days, lover of my skin; but you are burdened by knowing unshared (burdened or buoyed) and by wounds unhealed.
In your blueness you answer nothing; and your blueness, when we want to touch a thing, turns out to be infinite. It is easy to be touched by infinity; but impossible to touch it.
Ships slip through waves, ship and wave feeding itself, laden with questions unexpressed, answers like water, never grasped. But sensed, as water thinks, flowing by, sensed as these clouds swell and slip, the unspeaking Moon herding dreams carried by virginal bellies pierced in waves by virginal trains, white, in our deepest cynicism we are wedded to this old sky, virgins to this old sky, I remember gold skies of my childhood, hysterical
skies, unfurling skies and frozen skies hard as steel skies writhing in the torture of their own beauty — or God do you ever answer except with — how small, limp the word beauty is — except with scratches? Never answer! We built churches only to find adoration is its own exquisite failure, and the tiny self-torture of priests and penises.
We lie on this hill with this woman, I and these two friends below, waiting. We are waiting for an extremely important conversation to arrive. We scan the tidy fields, careful but abandoned, wide ditches carefully laid by quiet men, all serene, empty. We are waiting for the arms the embrace of a pick-up, a bus or train or plane (it could land on the drugged fields) to be familiar. These two friends, I don’t know their names or thoughts. I touch the woman’s shoulder, diffidently. She stirs slightly or does she? She like everyone is God but I am unable to claim passion. One of us says “The coroners are missing.” A wind sighs inside me, hollowing me. I realize the day is dead and empty. Where have the explainers fled? For how long? I pull a string from the earth and it says: “Liar.” Why do the clouds fold within like a physics demonstration? Fold and fold like marbled morals. Are we in Dover? Is this my childhood? If dreams trump logic, logic is just another dream; worse, it denies itself. Denies its parent, that bellied man who huffed and whacked his way through a jungle of rituals to clear the thighs and plant his corn, the copia of seed burnt Aztecs shouted, raged and wailed and finally flung against the gods who tore them limb from limb who stripped the muscles red, pulsing, from their screaming thighs: the seabirds swirl in Dover, crying in French, announcing the ships of regret.
On their hulls (swollen bellied) (as they float rotting in harbour) incomprehensible
scratches from forgotten battles, hieroglyphics of tales no one remembered to tell, in languages lost. Languages that were just a dream, after all. Even these are more revealing than you, secret sky.
These scratches, warm now, dry now in the sea-scent sun — answers once? Questions, once? Q & A surrounded by a dream, attacked by sciences of fantasy, by armies of opinion-mongers, crumpled noses smearing the glass of God’s exclusion.
This woman (blonde, slim, mascara, watchable) I see the everyday cotton of her white sleeve, folded by a shift of her arm — will I love you after time > forever, or will I lie bored, waiting for you to leave? White fabric twisted gently like the clouds above, swelled by an indeterminate breast; in my second mind, freight trains of desire rush, thump, thrum, thump, thrum, thump. We wait, us four, for a bus, or train, or boat; we need to leave for home, find home > where, we once thought in dreaming youth, nothing lurked. I cannot miss this bus, or plane or boat, I fear aloneness in this perfect place of, but I must run back into the pension, to find myself, rank and mad in the mirror, to brush my teeth and wash my armpits for this watchable woman. Inside the cold walls I race, panicked, unable to locate toothpaste or soap, the sink is smaller than my head, panic shrills the seconds.
Stilled, outside, lying elbowed on the grassy hill under the cold implacable sky and the welcoming implacable sky. In everything implacable! Implacable as swords! Sharp as insults! Hard as edges striking thighs! As stones smashed into eyes! As cold eyes striking uncertain boys! Boys whose large eyes judge in — judge in — silence, God — You who are judged for your silence by the thousands billions trillions (for we include spiders and emus) who, even being instruments, do not know it, and judge without knowledge. Judgements are only party favours, crepe torn loose from festive walls by the wind, blown in splatting sail, starved-flat snakes twisting in puppet convulsions of celebration, folding sail, to finally die, exhausted, on the stubble-cheeked sidewalk. But perhaps they are correct judgements! Correct! In these clear mists, what is correct? Correct! Sidewalks, do they dream? Do they seek direction? As the black crepe sighs onto the cheek of its lover cement, trembling with desire to die in ecstasy, seeking the oblivion of judgement, does it seek answers too? Or is the crepe red as as penis? God, are You a sidewalk > a sky > a rock > are You a direction?
Or are you directed by a thousand venal priests, penises disdainfully conquering reverence?
The man who, suddenly on an afternoon, walking with his wife, is crazed by the intense beauty of all other women, this woman near the olive barrels, with voyages in her eyes; this one, plucking tomatoes, with archetypes layered playing like violins in her smile (what regrets, tragedies and stale bedrooms, what losses and sadness make that inviting, wounded smile a twinkling of mysteries?); this one passing in the aisle conscious of his averted stare whose averted stare speaks of a censored message and maybe a return but drifting also away on a sea-song of lust clean and white as a wave breaking or a branch’s flesh new-whittled by the boy’s penknife, white before it browns from no other sin than age;
In each face he sees a perfect future as if choices were like cards, each a picture of an event never lived, but never meant to be lived again, or before — to live again like a cool ember blown on, a first hint of birth, swelled female belly mouthing angels’ thoughts; he takes his child lovingly in his cathedral arms;
All futures are ships on an ocean, on clouds: suddenly, like shrill visions, a silver ship parts the hysterical sky, drops like an ejaculation from the madness above; it lands on the gravel at the drive-in movie, hidden beside the concession stand; carried, the boy faints in
a monster’s arms. Silver tables and silver implements and silver silence. He returns, eating popcorn; popcorn pops and spews from his belly; (there is no period because nothing ever ends) (no adjustment ever un-adjusts; everything grows beyond its time) (no bent twig straightens) (no minuscule moment of molestation ever disappears; it grows like fungus through every sequential moment, year, flesh, growing flesh, love and black inspirations plague the boy, until his cock spews weak, sadly, unendingly weighting his flight into manhood, into future, felled by air things, his heart staked like a watchdog at the gate of desire; like a round bowl turning on itself, hungering after its own emptiness. Or, worse but easier, softer, a kind of love, eating others to make them hungry.
Oh. How. Does. One. Know. Act. To act is knowing, the only knowing. I am paralyzed by the prospect of knowing the watchable woman and by not knowing. Do you want me? I hurl such questions at you now, enraged by my paralysis, wind rising, joying in rage — dumb with dumbfounded-ness or dumb with shock or dumb with acceptance and further dumbed by convention, you do not answer.
Is there another escape? To burrow beneath our sense, your unspeaking statements, my ranting sense, is truth there somewhere? Below?
Sky, mother of my childhood, canvas of my fantasies, cold rejecter of my maturity, is the earth any wiser? Any comfort? It’s possible all herein is mine.
She stood in the doorway. His life, every memory, died.
The moon’s mad eye pushes through my nights. This week a wink, this one a stare.
Don’t you think I know what you are doing, you harvester of dreams, plowing the sky planting madness and reaping the weeping joys, lighting young men’s heads (jack-o-lanterns) with the crazy swell of breasts and the succulent swells of bellies, girls with seeds of cities — all for nothing. As you wander through that secret sky, pushing clouds with your staring eye-dignity, do you whisper to Him, does he share tidbits with you? And these girls who pour forth future cities and arrange them in their hands, do you share with them, deep, bits of his whispers — does it gossip, this sky? When it hides behind those tiding clouds, does it utter breathless tales of sins and embarrassment? Only you would know.
The horizon shifts with childhood memories unlisted in my ledgers, incongruous nuances, whispers of sense slowly turning like dumb acrobats, but when the bright small moment of revelation fades, so does the sense, to drift like wisps over the fields, an evening fog dressing the sweet damp fields, dewed as if sheets for God, a night with God, the bright Moon shearing the dark, a wedding trail. Into this the hawk of accusation dives, whether to conquer or disappear doesn’t matter; that the accusation is made, a shrill thing: only the thing. That anything exists, even for a second: that’s everything; though the next second needs another. These happy women, they clutch in their preying beaks the scavenged truth. All truth is old. Only lies are shiny and fresh; invention outweighs existence, and the invention becomes itself. The Sun is black, and bombs implode: the future’s horizon is only the past (re-jumbled?). Is this why you won’t answer me, because even the question has never made sense, no, the question has never been discovered, not by man: is there a sense beyond, that we can only scratch at, like the scratches on the boats made by fishes’ fingernails? What were they clutching at? Escape? Deliverance? Congress? Coitus? You, sweet fogged farmed field, what is your question? Or are you struck dumb by your own beauty? (The Moon strokes your furrows with its lascivious light, that fat whore, smug in her grace.)
In the eye of the bird, eagle, hawk,
Sky and vision ring with silent tufts like the quick little slap of death or
Violent wisdom crashing into implacable windows;
In the blank eye emotions round and perfect: polished mirrors, mirrors don’t have to feel: intelligence high above my feverish grunts and queries. The Sun is your lover, brave birds; the Moon is mine.
Felled by air things, abandoned (or incarcerated) by my loins,
My heart staked like a watchdog at the gates of Desire; like a bowl turning on itself, eating its own emptiness.
Or the bowl of her lips o’d with scarlet hesitancy, hungry with curiosity, but
Hesitant to ring
my pungent plow;
or let it furrow her honey-weeping thigh-brow.
But fuck is easy, safety is not. In the social, the heart, the opinions, the options, the words, the stances, the air, the soul:
Her perfect expectations deny entry to the long hallways of her delicate house,
The hollow bones of her flight, powerful slow wings fusing nuance.
Will my dog nails click on her halled floors, will my black throat howl in her bowelled basement? Or sit, student, in her school of misty morals?
Nature, are you ashamed of the bush, the grass, the flower? Why then do you cast us in shame? (Why do you grow priests to make us guilty? Did God want priests? Or did priests want god?)
We are born in you; we die in you; we are your genius; at our height we cannot match the bird’s eye.
You are responsible: Answer.
I lie, elbowed on the grass bank beside the watchable woman, waiting, teeth unbrushed; I wait for everything I do; to end. So I do; nothing.
* * * * *
November 3, 2019 (Btw, the poem is not finished, I think.)
Order is just the shirt of chaos turned inside out.
The sky sobs.
On the table, an empty bowl hugs itself.
Have I dreamt? How long?
Teenagers dream a street, swathed in sex/screens/silence/songs.
Does my mind’s terrible wheel,
Grinding on so long, so long,
All the way
That’s been a lost way so long.
Is the road low?
Are there birds? (Angels who didn’t make it?)
The sky’s sobbing rain plops on the bed of bright leaves
Bright as inspiration’s slippery wing
New as an angel sighing through my window: for a moment, elusive, it buoys the earth,
tilts its flight through me light as a breath unbreathed, torturing ecstasy into engraved bracelets at the September fair.
* * * * *
Note: In answer to a reader’s comment (“hardwater”) I have written a note at the bottom of this story.
Twenty years before, Todd would spend an hour in any ordinary restaurant with a calculator, calculating the eventual result – least and best – of a bond investment, a mortgage commitment, or his wages. All that calculating – or luck – had proven profitable. Now, at 58, he was comfortably affluent, and did little work. But he missed the guts. Now he would go into a café, order a pie and coffee, and know the rough answer even before he drew his calculator or his pen out (or for that matter, lifted his fork). It was an empty exercise. He had nothing to gain, no strong impulse of greed or security, and he felt the vacuum of this. It felt like his life was lazily sliding over warm ice. Not in any danger, but without traction.
He’d grown up poor, but somewhere, somewhere physical and psychic, even as his now-sold business began to thrive, he’d picked up a level of sophistication that allowed him no comfort from driving a big Cadillac, or wearing loud clothes, or speaking loudly in cafes, or showing off his modest wealth. So he drove a tin-box Tracker, five years old, and dressed in jeans. (Though here, as a tourist, he had a shiny red rented compact car, a Yaris.) And he was too aware – or perhaps too passive – to slide into deeper forms of decadence.
He was too close to death, at 58, to welcome or seek any exotic degradation of his soul. And he found repulsive any vision of himself as, say, a haunter of brothels in his grayness, or a ravager of rear ends, an oily porpoise perched on some brocaded couch. The lust, the selfishness, the egoistic use of another—none of these appealed to him. Other avenues of passion had closed years and months ago – he couldn’t locate the exact door, now that it had closed. The quiet clink, light as the tendril of breeze that swims the bedroom space, or lifts the kitchen curtains; but a clink still, or perhaps a click, but definite, the admission to himself that he knew the difference between love and lust.
So he couldn’t with clean, burning heart – heart justified with the high octane of rebellion, or biology, or a rationalizing philosophy of love’s permission – he couldn’t chase young lust, or, as he had in his twenties, a married woman. He knew what love was. He loved his wife, married three years; and he loved his children, all five. He would never cause them shame; he couldn’t. To top it all off, his suspicion and certainty that there was an afterlife kept him from obvious forms of decadence.
Despite all his reasons for satisfaction, for contentment with his middle class affluence, he had felt clearly, lately, several times in the last few months, a large, fluid, not painful, not fearsome, but bothersome emptiness. It sloshed inside him like a light, floating liquid, so that at the oddest moments, while he was rounding a mental corner, it would slosh up and surprise him with its cool, light touch.
At the moment, he sat, ankle on knee, on a black iron-slatted bench in the sunshine, at a downtown corner of Cobourg, Ontario, an obvious tourist in his duck shorts; while Margaret went poking about in the local stores, hunting for souvenirs for the kids – his three and her two, all grown except for his 17-year old Nancy, the bouncy baby of the family – and the one who resented her step-mother.
He might easily live to 88 – 30 years away. Too long, if the emptiness continued. He was even bored by his life’s favourite hobby – looking at real estate.
“Hi!” he said, rising, standing ready. Margaret advanced on him like he was a plan, a scheme she had to unfold quickly.
“Hi. Look. I want to go to that dress store. Here’s a realty thing.” She handed him a local real estate home buyer’s sheet. “Can you give me another fifteen minutes?” She waited impatiently for his answer. Lately she often showed a mild, hidden impatience toward him. He assumed it was related to his quiet passivity, to the circling wafts of emptiness he had begun to sense.
The next day, he decided to look at a piece in the “realty thing.” Fifty acres at a bargain price, but strange directions. He drove a half hour north of Cobourg to, as the directions stated, a dead end road. Walk past the railway tracks. He didn’t see the tracks, and the road wasn’t a dead-end, but continued, up, not paved, dry water gullies running like emptied veins down its middle, but broad, obviously drive-able. There was a “No Exit” sign and a yellow sign stating that this was a “non-maintained” road. One of his greatest fears was being stuck in some back trail, unable to turn the vehicle around, and the embarrassment of reporting to the rental agency that he was a schmuck. So despite the drivable appearance of the passageway, he parked the car off the end of the paved section, and set off on foot.
The road climbed a hill through treed cover, almost a forest, then leveled out. The woods disappeared and large abandoned agricultural fields lay on either side. Knee-high grass and weeds grew in sullen, isolated clumps, and here and there clumps of green bushes stood, like oases in the dry fields, green mirages promising something sweet and aromatic in the desert of sandy, rust-red dirt. There’d been a recent rain; the soil, compacted by the falling drops, baked softly in the September sun.
The road was long, wide and very open for an un-maintained passage. It surprised him, cast a spooky whisper over his journey. As he walked, two vehicles approached from the distance before him. He waved as they passed, the country wave, a hand held peaceably up, open-palmed, but neither driver, nor the one passenger, a grim woman, waved back from the first, white car. A black SUV with tinted windows followed. He trudged along, considering whether to turn back. But a native stubbornness kept him going.
A half hour later the road entered between two bosomy swells of green, nodding trees. Fifty feet before him a wide steel-and-wire gate, solidly locked and flanked by a wire fence, blocked his way. No realty sign. Just a “KEEP OUT.” He was half tempted to hop it anyway; it promised much more than the poor second way to his left. But remembering the grim people who’d driven past him, he decided not to push.
The left fork grew into – actually, dwindled into – a much more modest clay track, not much more than the width of a car. First, soft, muddy, it ran through a grassy clearing. It was a small, lush, sunlit clearing, and the bordering trees bent warm and shining in the sun. He turned quietly and wandered into that road, watching the trees. There, twelve feet up a tree, obviously up there because vandals had trashed earlier, bigger signs that now lay scattered, rain-curled, rotted and sun-faded in the grassy verge. High up there was a small realty sign, less weathered but only half readable, almost apologetic – and cryptic: “For #ale – 905-#43- #2#3. Mat# Besoig##e #0 acr##.
He contemplated whether to go further, or to back away from this place, which scared him slightly. To give himself time, he stood and tried to absorb the goodness of things, the lush meadow, the bright, shiny grass coming forth from the fertile earth, growing, blossoming – but it didn’t get rid of the spooky feeling.
His mind jumped to an internet movie he’d watched some weeks ago, a crude documentary that insisted Christianity was merely disguised sun worship. That Jesus was a myth, based on the progress of the Sun (“son” exchanged for “sun”); the 12 disciples, the 12 astrological constellations; Jesus’ birth, born at winter solstice, just as the Sun was reborn. And that Jesus was simply another in a long succession of prior Sun-man-gods, Mithra, Horus, Orpheus – all born of virgins, all born around Dec. 21, all with 12 disciples…
Intellectually he agreed with the proposition, but he’d been born Catholic, and his heart missed being encompassed by the boundaries, the arms, of a nurturing, protecting thing, the promise that if he were good, all would be well, forever…
I am good, he thought.
Not really heartened, he ventured further, diffidently, wondering where the 50 acres lay. Soon the road thinned to a deeply rutted cart path, now dry and hard as stone. The ruts were so deep and narrow that he had to walk on top of the hard clay peaks, a foot above the ruts. The thin-limbed trees seemed to wrestle with each other; they so closely embraced the road that he stopped himself from falling into the ruts by grasping their branches. The peaks and furrows constantly interchanged, so he had to leap nimbly from peak to peak. He tried walking in the narrow furrows, but gave up after scraping his ankles painfully on their hard, unforgiving sides.
He grew afraid, too, that his foot would lock in a furrow and, losing his balance, he might snap or twist an ankle. So he stumbled awkwardly along the bruising road. The trees closed in even more, their weak, leaf-swathed arms brushing his face or bare arms with the tentative grasp of lovers. It had cooled, gnats swirled lazily in the dankness. The sunlight, though he saw it above, didn’t lie in the path. Something made a sound in the brush, and he jumped.
With an irrational sliver of panic, he ducked into a hollowed side path from the rutted trail – it ran through a screen of bushes, then emerged in a vast, hot bowl dotted with scrub bushes. It was so large he could not see a tree-line defining any boundaries or horizon. Everywhere, paths ran up and down small ridges and hollows, and wound around. He began to walk down one. There were so many hard-packed trails baking in the sun, too many to remember his turns and twists. So, fearing he would get lost, at each fork he took the right hand one, assuming this would eventually bring him back to where he was.
He heard nothing, no machines, no dirt bikes. Fear, unknown fear lay about him. They must be biker trails, but the paths were such hard clay – and in some dips so sandy – that no tracks showed. What else could they be? He began to feel not silly, but ridiculous. He feared being discovered alone by a wild troop of bikers or just wild young men. It was his aloneness, and his obvious lack of reason for being here, his obvious lack of purpose, that would make him odd, ridiculous, and he knew how gangs sometimes felt a need to exterminate or thump the ridiculous, to exterminate absurdity. Absurdly, he strode on, almost brave now.
After awhile, pausing first to feel, to grope at the deep, almost melancholy thrill it produced in him, wondering what it meant, he strode left down one small roller coaster path, then right, then right again (then, forgetting himself, left) and at last, with a rising heart, a slight, light lift, he gave up trying to note which way he’d come….
The exhilaration of abandoning his right-turn plan, he supposed, would last as long as he chose to make it last. As long as he chose to be lost, that sad, sweet lift of his heart would hover strong as a silent hummingbird. But if he regretted being lost, if he wanted to go back, then fear would strike.
Todd stopped short and jerked upright in the twilight, heart pounding. There, at the base of a bush, were feet, and bright blue sky. He bent quickly before thinking. It was a mirror someone had propped against a bush: it was his own feet and legs. He knelt and leaned, peering; his face, oily, sweaty, his eyes overly serious, staring back to pierce him. That face was demanding, guarding his inner secrets without humor, perhaps secrets he held from himself. He stood quickly, afraid someone might be near, at his back. He surveyed the land around, though he was in one of the thousand small hollows, and couldn’t see much. Without humour – seeing its lack in his face bothered him. Twilight was approaching. Time to go home.
Then, without sound or warning, to one side of the trail, a man squatted. The man watched him. Suspiciously, or with assured violence? Todd couldn’t tell. His unkempt beard was grizzled gray. He held a large sack tightly by its closed throat. His pants clutched his waist in the same way, heavy woolen pants, and an old sweater, torn open at one elbow, hung from the rack of his shoulders.
“You startled me,” Todd said. Though, strangely, he didn’t feel startled. After the shock of the mirror, he didn’t feel any surprise. As if another human being was welcome.
“The mirrors tell me when someone’s coming,” the man said in a voice that was slightly off kilter, his tongue hanging on an eccentric hinge. “It reflects up there.” His eyes looked up at the sky, as far as Todd could tell. “And when it’s gone, the light’s gone, someone’s here. Right here.”
“Yeah, I see,” Todd said politely. “What’s in the sack?”
“Everything I need, nothing you need. No sir.”
“You live around here?” Todd asked.
“Only until someone comes home. Then I got to get out of here.”
“Do you know the way out?”
“Yes and no.” The madman closed his lips solidly around that.
There was a silence. A breeze flew over and through Todd. The atmosphere changed. Todd, still upset by the intense, demanding, serious face that he had discovered was his own in the shard of mirror, as if to ward it off, blurted out suddenly: “I just want love,” but clearly and loudly, enunciating each word, as if the madman could not hear. Then the breeze vanished. The air was still and clear again. Todd felt shamed and humiliated, vulnerable, open. Excited by having made such a pure, brave, senseless statement.
“Got to go,” he mumbled, and stumbled away from the mad man. He heard nothing following him.
“What was that?” he thought, nervously, Why was he here? But his hopes of getting quickly home reared up in disappointed surprise as he saw, several lurches down a hard-packed clay hill, that mirrors now were everywhere. Large shards and small ones, well-preserved squares and circles and jagged pieces, all strung haphazardly from bush branches by string, or crooked in the forks of twigs and branches. There must have been twenty or thirty. The sky reflected crazily in most of them; some were bright, some were dark, reflecting nothing.
Seeing them, Todd drew physically into himself. His shoulders drew in, arms tight to his chest, legs squeezed together, scrotum pulled in; and half-turned, almost like a small pirouette; and shuddered, one huge shiver. He looked at the horizon, where now the tops of trees showed, golden in the late afternoon. “This will end soon,” he thought with determination. He took one step forward, then caught himself – that way lay a dream, too much exploration – turned, and headed back in – hopefully – the general direction he’d come – veering to the left, though, to skirt around the place where he’d met the madman. Generally, he hoped and guessed, he stumbled along in the direction where he’d find the road – and everything familiar. He clomped along. His legs were tired but his motivation was strong, making his steps large and clumsy.
The way back almost accomplished itself, was surprisingly quick, easy and smooth, as if his instincts had known where to go all the time. Suddenly, there was the line of trees and weeds and the rutted road.
An hour later, back in the car, he luxuriated briefly in a sense of security. He wondered if he should recount his adventure to his wife. Adjusting the rear-view mirror before he pulled into the road, he caught a glimpse of himself. His expression was so fierce it again surprised him. But now, rather than worry about it, he quickly looked away and pictured the way back to Cobourg.
A day later, they flew home. That evening, he sat in a booth at the White Spot Restaurant with Margaret and his son Tony and his son’s wife. He hardly knew his son’s wife. She was always quiet, but he could see intelligence in her eyes. His son was intelligent too, he knew, but he masked it, kept his voice guarded and his eyes wary. The four of them chatted without purpose, hesitantly.
He first saw her two booths away and across the aisle, bending at the knees, all six feet of her folding with a strange, fascinating poise, as she extended a graceful arm under the booth to pick up something spilled. There was nothing remarkable about her appearance, yet an invisible magic crept and moved about her, a magic maybe only he could see (for no crowds gathered around her. In fact, later, he half wondered if she had just appeared that instant – part of him, that he would not admit to the surface – thought she might be a goddess.) She seemed suspended between all extremes, neither beautiful nor ugly, fat nor thin. A healthy head of glowing black hair, movements measured and poised, black skirt and white blouse – she was nineteen or twenty. He turned back to his family, feeling both satisfied and intrigued. The notion of fascination – letting himself be fascinated – was impractical and inappropriate, so he dismissed it.
But several minutes later she was at the table, laying their cutlery, and he felt she’d come because she’d caught him watching her. Her body, her stance and smile radiated ownership of him, and he liked it, immensely. She laid his setting last. The cloth napkin wouldn’t lay flat; it had half opened. She opened, folded and laid it again, without hurry, and flattened it with a careful, sensual caress. Her whole hand slowly pressed the napkin. Glancing upward at this gesture, he saw her looking with soft directness at him. Her eyes stroked him with quiet assurance, with unassuming but intimate confidence. He averted his eyes swiftly, to stare down again at that strangely pleasing hand; it lingered a moment longer, pressing the napkin, signalling untold, underwater pleasures. He could tell that hand had never had children, it was too calm and certain – mothers’ hands were tentative, hovering, compassionate, alert with nervous care.
He was grateful, felt the experience was worth – everything. He had been touched by a god. He knew immediately that everything in life, everything, only equaled one moment of that invisible touch. He also surmised, immediately, that this alluring hand knew cock, it caressed that napkin to tell him just that. He could see its graceful length stroking, hypnotizing. He looked up again, but this time at the table of his family, masking his guilt. Fearing his momentary obsession had become obvious to everyone at the table, he fled the goddess.
He fled because if she had said, “Arise and come with me,” he would have. He automatically chose to avoid his children’s shame, his wife’s hurt, the human wreckage. Even as he watched his son and Margaret talk, refusing to look around the restaurant for the goddess, he felt steeped in the elixir she’d poured upon him. But he could say nothing, and he did nothing, except to now look at his son and try to summon ordinary words, a bit of ordinary conversation, to disguise his secret adventure, to disguise everything, as he felt her go away. He knew he would never see her again. (He had not proved worthy.) But he failed to find anything ordinary to say fast enough, and his son stared blankly at him with opaque eyes, and Margaret said to his son, “Do you want wine, Tony?”
“Why have I been touched?” he wondered on the drive home. He could see Venus sitting in her bedroom, back straight, at her vanity mirror, contemplating her beautiful self. Regretting his earlier flight from her love potion, his eyes had covertly searched the restaurant for her as they exited. But she seemed to have vanished as completely as she’d appeared. “Does it have any meaning? Was it a signal? Am I meant to change my whole life? Am I meant to chase her? Nineteen or twenty-two maybe?”
That night, at home, Margaret couldn’t get a jar open. She dropped a knife. She exploded, began screaming at him.
“What’s the matter with you?” he said.
“I hate you! Pedophile! Pervert! I hate you!” Her words sang with anger and hurt. He didn’t understand. Of course, she must have noticed something. But he’d been faithful. He hadn’t chosen. Hadn’t abandoned her. He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand in the bigger way, either, anything. He went into his office, shut the door and sat at his desk with his hands over his ears, because her voice hurt his brains. He didn’t understand. He seethed with delicious dissatisfaction.
In answer to a comment by a reader, “hardwater,” that Todd’s Story was really two stories, I thought I’d do something which is really gratifying but seldom wise: comment on my own story.
Todd has moved from ennui to “delicious dissatisfaction.” To do this, he had to restart his spiritual or emotional engine. He had to move from his nascent/hidden self-loathing, or fear of his self, which was displayed in the mirrored land, to the opposite state: love, embodied in the beautiful young waitress. He has gone from anxious self-consciousness with a manic, masculine god of mirrors to lapping at the orchid-sweet feminine presence calmly radiating from the goddess of love, Venus.
So the answer to Todd’s ennui is love, but even love becomes complex: strains of lust, eroticism, enter too. The sight of her hand sends him into adoration of her — sexually and physically. (“Her hands knew cock.”) So I think Todd’s story, tho’ in a sense two stories as you point out, is also a “necessary pair.” A pair of opposites, really. You can see Todd as a pilgrim, one who just took a significant (says me) step forward. But there are many more tests/challenges to face. “Delicious dissatisfaction” is not happiness.