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.