fiction

Seasons’ Spell 3

Part 3 of 4. Read part 1 and part 2. Or don’t, it’s up to you.


She sits at the small square table by the half-open window, now in his chair, trying to feel his angle, again wearing the white sun dress but now with gray wool leggings below and a crimson cardigan unbuttoned above. Her hair is down and a single silver strand glints in the gradually approaching dusk. The sky beyond the window is sharp and cloudless, and the fading embers of day are being pushed down over the edge of an uneven horizon of autumn treetops now turned red, orange, yellow, brown, pushed down by the ever-deepening purplishness of evening’s onset. The sweet, pungent aroma of decline is carried into the room by cool air like an offering of resting peace.

She has before her a torn-open envelope which moments ago contained the letter which is now on the floor beside the chair, her left arm hanging at her side above it, hand limp and useless. Her right hand is in her lap and her heart beats slowly, as if out of pure, ignorant reflex, knowing nothing else but beating, and she’s looking, staring out the window to her right, crumpled. The oxalis is wilting and the corners of the tablecloth are as still as painted life.

The house, too, is still and silent, as if it holds the breath that has just been removed from her lungs. There is only the autumnal near-nervous whisper and swish outside, its indifference providing some cover for the dull, pointless beats of her heart. At least it’s not winter yet, she thinks, breaking free from her trance, at least these beats don’t sound like a hammer on cold steel. Because they will, the longer I stay, they will. And in that thought she realizes she does not feel lonely, she feels alone.

It’s the sound. The quiet is different when you’re alone, she thinks—you can hear it like a living, breathing, watching, thinking thing, a bigger thing than you by far, teeth and claws and eyes and all, virulent and terrible. Deafening, near-deathly—the quiet of aloneness, not lonesome presence, only absences drowning out all else, keeping you disclosed and defenseless because it knows no one is coming, knows it has you all to itself, knows how piddling and afraid. How does it know these things, how does it get through like this, she implores, at the edges of frantic, heartbeats hastening, feeling cornered and muted by the vacuity around her. Everything is so loud when there’s nothing in it.

The menacing quiet begins to recede, its work seemingly complete, giving way now to Silence, a silence which she is certain radiates from inside her, pure and terrifying. The wonderland has closed in, closed off, worn thin, turned colors real and sorrowful, but almost apologetic in a last gasping, pleading breath of beauty, a tease of remembrance and a hint of hope for yet another chapter, another turn, at least another page, just one more page, and for a moment she begins to dare to believe that that page has already been composed and lays helplessly, cruelly on the floor beside her, written for her rather than by. She steadies herself, steadies her heart, and closes her eyes and turns inward to face the Silence, seeking its source, much as she had once turned outward to him, opening, she had thought, to the source of Love like an alchemist to her prima materia.

It pains her now, all of it, everything around and within—the crispness and the clarity, indescribably profound in its extraordinary this-ness, teeming with absolutes, the colors, the smells, the turn, the radiating silence, the tease and the hint, the faded coffee stains on the tablecloth, the chipping, peeling paint on the sill, the sight of her own empty chair, as if it is she who has departed, now haunting her own home. What does it mean now to be here, to be where they once were and were They, she wonders, but she cannot make herself move. He has taken the life with him, she thinks, feels, knows, all the life, so she just sits, one hand hanging and the other dead in her lap, dark eyes seeing straight through to nothing, astonished it has come to this. I did everything for you and you just took it, took it.

She brings her right hand to the table and traces her index finger along a familiar groove, halts, lays her palm flat on the envelope, and reaches without looking for the letter on the floor with her left. Once retrieved, she summons her right hand to help fold the letter back up and return it to the torn envelope as if retracing her steps, maybe even rewinding time, then places the mended missive on the table before her and smooths it flat. Winter is in the air, she thinks, inevitable and portending, but the details have yet to be written.

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fiction

Seasons’ Spell 2

Part 2 of 4. Read part 1 here.


She sits in her chair at the same small square table by the same open window, a sultry, hazy sky beyond, air like bath water in both hue and temperature and stillness, air soaked up by the same hills and trees, same curtains, same oxalis, same tablecloth, now still and languid, though, same newspaper, but now laid flat, flat and folded on his side of the table. It’s how she feels too, she thinks, folded and flat, as she looks around the room with an almost purely peripheral gaze, almost at the paper, almost at his empty chair across from her, pushed in, then completely out the window, staring without seeing into the spaces around her.

There and with those thoughts she sits in her white cotton sun dress, a favorite of his, her thin arms crossed, long black hair held loosely up over her slender neck and lithe but sturdy shoulders. The day is waking hot and thick, soon to swelter. The heat’s ubiquity acts as a level, she imagines, aligning her with and to all the rest, and she feels ok enough, sort of, tells herself, for the moment, perhaps, looking up at the photograph on the wall above his chair, the small, dark-framed black-and-white photograph of a sidewalk along a foggy Paris avenue from the Past. It has been hung high at standing eye level so he, tall as he is, can give it a for-granted glance or even stop and peer in for a moment when he comes to sit or stands to leave. Sometimes he will gaze at the photo, lingering, caught, she often mused, by the cimmerian figure of a girl and her little white dog about halfway to the image’s vanishing point, standing and looking back at the viewer between a row of bare trees to the right and a corresponding line of store- and housefronts to the left, together forming a corridor of sight with the sidewalk as its floor, leading straight to the girl. Its origin unknown, he has carried this photo with him for years, and where he hangs it is home, marked.

It must’ve been winter there, she fancies each time she looks, or late autumn, perhaps. The trees are bare and a cold-seeming mist hangs, obfuscous, and a presence of something about three paces short of sinister seems to lurk, just a sense of what if, what if the frozen moment were allowed to play. What would we see? He never talks about the photo, never describes it, never says anything more than that it’s “one of his favorites,” keeping the rest, whatever it is, to himself in his customary self-keeping way. He has never been to Paris, she knows that much. It’s something from inside him, she thinks from time to time, and then placed on the outside, hung on the wall, open to view and most likely best left untrammeled by common language.

It is summer Now, though, no matter what it was in Paris or inside him Then, and her gaze drifts to the window and out to the sky, still thinking of the photograph, losing herself in the vapid, smoky blue marked with incidental clouds, some whisping, some cottoned, all hanging above inert treetops and a thought occurs as a crow swoops through the frame. Chekhov and necessity. “If a pistol appears in a story, eventually it’s got to be fired,” he said, she recalled, and it stuck with her the way her arm feels stuck to the table in the heat, the way she feels stuck now, though she knows implicitly that the stickiness has no meaning beyond itself, and is glad for Chekhov, glad someone has thought thoughts before, glad for thoughts of function and relationality, for necessity, for something more concrete than morals or principle. She sits, ruminative, and time hangs, floats, drifts, slow and quiescent, detached from space.

The dog barks outside—three times, two, then one—and she rises from her seat, draws the curtains, and slips on her shoes.

*

Afternoon now, late, but still not dark, and she sits on the sill in her white cotton sun dress, feet bare and dirty and knees tucked up to her chin, looking, just looking, and hearing without listening to the low, unpunctuated hum of the World. Her gaze drifts down from the clouds—fewer now, and their sky deeper and bluer and yellowing with early sunset—and settles absently on the hills and treetops extending as far as Forever and she wonders where he could be. Wonders, imagines, begins to fantasize that he’s lost in the great wild wonderland on some great wild wonder-adventure, even worries a little, for comfort’s sake, oh familiar and trusty concern, hoping he’s safe and well-fed and thinking of her, longing for her, hoping against a deep gnawing knowing that it’s just foolishness, but a sustaining foolishness nonetheless, she tells herself, her thoughts becoming as boundless as the emptiness she’s beginning to sense within and without. He should’ve been back by now, should’ve been back, this is not like him. But something more than nothing tells her he’s not coming, not all of him anyway, and in her mind their wonderland begins turning to mere land, coarse, tangled, verdant, and overgrown, as if a switch has been flipped in a dimly-lit room and the thin gauze of their swoon-myth evaporated.

No, no, breathe, she tells herself, breathe, remembering she needs a reminder, something essential and constitutive, a mantra against the nothing around and rising dismay within. She inhales and hears it fill her, thinks about the air in her lungs, how it’s hers and she’s captured it, how it gives her shape and for a few seconds she’s an origami swan floating there in the viscid air, then it’s expelled and she’s folded and flat again, like the newspaper still on the table, still untouched. She swings her feet to the floor and leaves the window behind, padding off to busy herself, must stay busy, make sound, motion, life, something against this slow summer crawl of time, this boundlessness. He’ll be back and it’ll be ok, like Before, air in and out, remember.

In the evening he returns, just past dusk, and a pale midsummer moon sits low in a star-flecked sky of majestic blue-black through the window. He is troubled, solemn, and distant, not himself, not at all. She is in her chair again; he does not sit, leaning on the doorframe instead. A few small words are exchanged, a few small glances, then he goes off to bed. She remains at the table, feeling smaller than small and still breathing small breaths, and the world Out There comes In Here and suddenly it seems that there are strange trees growing right up from a grass-covered floor, ivy snaking up the walls, and dark bushes in the corners with little eyes glinting from within, the room’s lamplight hushed and outshined by the night sky ceiling. There is a long howl somewhere off in the distance and a slow-stammered hoo-HOO-hoo-hoo in the branches and she feels the crickets in her bones. Afraid to move, almost afraid to breathe, it is all finally too much for her, and then she goes too, to join him, small steps with small, bare feet, almost silent, hoping the truth won’t hear her and follow and she can at least have the night.

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fiction

Seasons’ Spell 1

This is the first of a four-part storyish kind of thing. Trying something a little new here—well, the story’s old, or the idea for it anyway, but I’m sharing it anew.


It is morning, spring, and he sits by the open window at the small, square table covered in a light linen tablecloth with trim of crocheted lace. The window is hung with aphotic green curtains, almost black, like the undersides of the trees at the forest’s edge a stone’s throw or so beyond, pulled back and fastened with cream tassel to taupe walls. A white-flowered oxalis in a rust red pot is perched on the broad, thick-painted sill, its jittery leaves fluttering each time a gust of forenoon breeze picks up and joins them, and he thinks nothing of it, next to nothing of any of it, nearly nothing at all, just goes on reading his newspaper, absorbing words because they’re there. His long, grey wool-trousered legs are casually crossed, angled from the table so his back is partly to the window, mostly to the wall, the sleeves of his white cotton shirt are rolled to the elbows, top three buttons unbuttoned, and his high-arched feet are bare, the left one firm and assured on the worn wood floor.

From time to time the breeze agitates the corners of the newspaper and teasingly threatens to tousle his curly brown hair, hanging mid-length and in need of pruning. But he does not care—he rather likes it this way, letting it be, all as it may. The tablecloth dances lightly, softly with the breeze too, softer than the newspaper and lighter than the oxalis and things make sense.

The tablecloth is one of the First Things they—he and she—got for the house, this small hundred-something-year-old two-storey of timber and stone masonry set back against the rolling foothills by Settlers from Who Knows When, out and away in their very own wonderland, or so they liked to romance, wild and full, surrounded by enchanted things for young-hearted dreamers, nestled and deep-rooted in a bucolic vastness that they’d imagine like starry-eyed children was—is—the center of a great, wide, mysterious galaxy comprised of two fundamental elements: In Here and Out There, with their two souls warm and singularly glowing together like a sun.

That was both Yesterday and Now, and today there is a chair across from him, on the other side of the small, square table. It matches the one in which he now sits—hand-finished oak, finished by her hand—but is empty and pulled out from the table as if its sitter has just absented. The day is still waking outside, still unformed and possible and he breathes it in deeply, listening only to the vernal ensemble of sun and clouds and sky and air and wilderness and dream and memory playing something soft and discordant, a slowly coalescing prelude to the day’s coming harmonics, rising as easily as the steam which gently ascends from black coffee in a white mug near his right elbow and is occasionally stirred and dissipated by the window breaths.

He can hear her in the next room, then in the kitchen, then back again, rustling and bustling and shuffling briskly about, light and nimble and with purpose, easily deliberate, and it makes him feel good, thoughtlessly good, the best good, busy as she is with morning, as he is with it too. All is warm and warming, and they’re serene in their uncertainties.

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prosetry

Post, Scripted

P.S. – Believe me, I’m not trying to embark on some regular correspondence, just offering a splat snap smattering of uncalculated afterthoughts and feeling Los Angeles as if it were a psychological condition but I’ll leave you to decide what that means

and what it means to ask more than wonder or think whether we—you and I, addressor and addressee—feel obliged to act like less because so many think they’re more, countermeasures and weights we must, it seems, imagine as some kind of silent unsteady change and there I went saying “we,” you’ll notice, you will, as if to even out the statement so… well… so its mass doesn’t feel all mine, if I have to be honest, looking for at least one other pair of kindhearted, tired shoulders for baring, some way to share the load

because I need help and won’t say it in the body sometimes but will in the afterword, hidden tacked on and down below where it can stand as said but might just as well be overlooked all the same, help feeling that it has to mean something beyond image or projection or—god forbid—market value, our thoughts and sentiments, our dreams and wonderment, our sentience, something, anything without the flying buttresses of ego mystification and all those self-ful things which look so grand in person but not on them

just like how it has to mean something—maybe two somethings—to say something dimly earnest and American with the brow furrowed and eyes wide and glazed like: Same loving kindness for “them” as for “us” and maybe even for a police force of lowly paranoids but these times make that maybe big and make that saying seem to mean more than the first fact of the speaking matter which is that I know more or less how to put the face on like all the rest of them the juxtaposers and equivocators yes them as opposed to us and where do you think the honest truth lies in that, in this the spirit of our age.

Or the spirit of our we-weight, for that more or less unspoken speaking matter, the spirit of rhetorical dissatisfactions word-turned mutual and voice-made real, we like two grains of sand in a scale pan held way up high in the clouds while the world of bricks and mortar and the hard evidence of scientized deceit keeps the other side grounded in a truthishness I purport to despise while looking straight at you and plagiarizing and no one is any much more the wiser even when I say, wide and furrowed, And that was no lie. It was instead the best kind of truth, the one that means at least two things, saying without quote or attribution and to you it just feels like déjà vu, just more talk and dream

of reaching to you from across an expanse I don’t acknowledge because fear makes the wolf bigger than he is and so in my fantasies I talk like this in these fits and stops and fragments all around and through the central thesis, an act like wrapping it up the fear for you, a gift in the darkness for both of us, creating a both of us, and so I go on and on recollecting, stealing, plucking anything that mind thought time brings, memories and phrases from over here on my side in the matted grass like so much rotten fruit but not without a sense of stench and a pinching twinge, if honest I must be, from the daemon close beside with “hypocrisy” whispers on his forked tongue, “hypocrisy,” he says, “you don’t wish to share, to be, only to be wanted”

and so I say these things down here like this in the post script on the under and back behind side nipping at your elbows, treading on your heels, nudging saying look, if you’re inclined to see, how interesting, see, imagining what you’d think of how some other grain of sand—or maybe salt—once said “The only minds which seduce us are the minds which have destroyed themselves trying to give their lives a meaning” and throwing it out there as a smoke screen signal from across that chasm to conceal the real question which is

what would you think if at the end of this if after this at the end of this I finally shut up and told you that when I try to write a poem all that comes out is bad prose and if literature is equipment for living then who am I outfitting with faulty gear and broken hinges and fraying bootlaces, wishing I had an ounce of the ability to destroy my mind trying to give my life meaning and wondering who else feels this way, if you do, and that’s the only reason I bother lacing up at all

using too many words and too few breaths to simply wonder what you think of truth and lies and equipment and selves and if how when maybe someday past it all in fact turned boring—all done, all said—no matter how much lag there is between you, the instant, and I, finding the middle ground within the circle we create to do something more than lie to ourselves and in the beds we make, if the truth with a capital T is only in reflexivity, in obverse, the way Z is not for Xylophone, it just sounds like that.

But I leave you to decide, and leave you now, sincerely, goodbye, so long, farewell.

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life, poetry

Constellations

55203e23ae12eb68ba9706c86a8acf1e

A list exists

of all the addresses of all the people I have ever known

well enough to remember

a list like a map of constellations

pointing in myriad direction

if you go this way and lie underneath the lilac tree

you will grow long white roots

if you choose another path, the one where the orange soil

burns the soles of your feet

you may never return

and if you choose to fling

yourself from the rocks of Cyprus

into a green sea

you may see the magnification of the world

through your veins

already we know the choices we will make

what lies impossible for us

drying out starfish pressing against sand

may seem like an option but

everything is preordained before we know

as if some guiding hand

moves us sundering toward the end

with gentle entreaty

I could have told you at seven years old

what I would have done and those things

better left for dare-devils who Rollerblade

closer to the sun

I could have written out my sum

and all its stars

and made of the paper a map

of my journey before indeed

I knew the meaning of such quest

for as the girl sits out the game

thinking of faraway places instead of pursuit

or she who climbed the tallest tree knows

this will not confine her hunger

at such tender ages we become

the calculation of ourselves

I was always wearing costumes

left over from school play

and when it came time to remove my mask

and my tail

I found it melancholy to return

to ordinary

as others seek riches, or know how to

surf the highest wave

fearless in their far-flung gaze

I knew the edge of the lake

was as far as I would dare step

without looking back

without some regret

and nothing and no one

changes so much

they cannot find

their way

back

(image location; https://www.pinterest.com/pin/433893745323247752/)

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art, poetry

Distemper’s fall

pic_0001238-2

Then I remembered

the feeling of peace

emerald in quietude

cares of world gathered beyond

wound frugal in keepsake

selfish hour to behold

given merciful for weary souls

who strive with open eyes growing dry

in ceaseless stare into broken storm

being just for now

a tinkered peace

rain in silver sheets

cutting off sound

heavy and absorbing night

a haberdashery of weighted silence

reminder of the power and violence of being alive

darkness prematurely glimmering

fresh wind risen from swelling shore

feeling our tension dearticulate and release

all heaviness, all fear, all held breath

weighing, pressing us nose down

malformed spine wishing to be proud

like ancient drums, rain beats undeterred

by us who would have dominion

we no more than any sheltering, spark love

courtesy of nature’s betrothed trust

guardian’s who forget our place get lost

in re-making empty grandeur instead of love

still rain vents its anguish and orange ore

in powerful deluge drowning desire paper-thin

we could be swept right now from every vain pursuit

a tinge of danger electric in humid, woolen air, we are reduced

to owning ourselves and letting go

observers of something greater, letting us know

you are no more than this tree, leveled by my hand

this swollen stream bursting its banks, this growth, fire, cyclone, this order and disorder

you owe yourself to me, I am all, only I give you leave in small release you feel

when opening, I swallow day, while in battle with wind and rain you see the irony of your torment

and you let it go, to whirl like specters, cutting swath through sheets of rain until calm composes in balancing gain

 

(art by author)

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life

Shifting Sands

Tears had formed, and as he closed his eyes tight, the pool burst free and ran down his cheeks like a tram track. The newspaper lay folded upon his lap. On its front page an image of a candy-striped deckchair was prominent, and italicised text accompanied:

“It is time we eliminated the reminder of our cloth-cap heritage. Move forward with the times, eliminate our industrial past. We have a master plan for the rejuvenation of the town. We began two months ago with the dilapidated seafront.”

But this is my home, he thought, this town has been my life.

On the number twelve bus, Bill watched his neighbourhood pass through the window. His head was pressed against the glass like a small child. He absorbed the impact of each rise and fall of the suburbs. What he saw was different from when he was young, when both he and the town were in their heyday. In truth, Bill’s neighbourhood had died many years previous; this was now just the place he lived.

The seafront was quiet in comparison to when he last visited. He approached the stretch of beach, next to the team staton, where the deck chairs were hired out. He paid his money then lowered himself into the candy-striped deck chair. He reached into his pocket to withdraw the small scrap of this morning’s headline.  Looking down he re-read the article and again a tear formed in his eye. Taking a pristine white handkerchief from his hip pocket, he slipped it beneath his glasses lens and vigorously rubbed the socket of his right eye until it turned red.

In 1950 he was handsome and suave.  He had worked most of the bars, clubs and cabaret establishments along the front; it was his life, his income and was how he met his wife. A host with a handful of one-liners, he supplemented his income calling bingo for the septuagenarians in the Conservative Club hall.  Ethel, in contrast, was a class act. She was beautiful; she glowed. He would stand in front of audiences at “The Pear Club”, and with microphone in hand he would announce her onto the stage. She’d twirl to the centre of stage in her golden ball gown with incredible grace; transfixed, he would watch as she spun her honeyed web around him.

This is our home, he’d think, this is our life.

In 2015 they had been sat on the seafront, a candy-striped deck chair each, both looking every wrinkle their age. It was one of the hottest days of the year, and the beach teemed with chalky sun worshippers. Ethel wanted ice cream, so he joined a long line of pasty tourists for what felt like a lifetime. When he returned with the treat she was gone.  He took a lick of his ice cream, but it tasted bitter, so he became angry he’d spent the final minutes of her life, queuing for this.

Now it was twelve months later. To his right, a shop front was being ripped apart and refitted, just as the store next door was being boarded up and estate agent signs placed on the façade. Directly in front of him was an old run-down building.  Rusted scaffolding had been erected to preserve the remainder of the building. Above the door was a faded sign, it’s lettering faint and indistinct to all but Bill: “The Pear Club”.

He began crying and the tears blurred his vision; the scaffolding melted away and the club was once again pristine and gleaming. Posters proclaimed acts of vibrant music and enchanting dance, of unique cabaret and a thousand one-liners.  There was a buzz about the venue and the sound of laughter and applause echoed from within.  Then, a figure appeared at the doorway in a golden ball gown. She lifted her hand and in a wave, cast her web, beckoning him towards her.

This was my home, he thought, this was my life.

 

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