fiction

Subliminal

Sometimes you talk to me like you’re sending thoughts from underwater, strange deep-sea aquatics coming up for air and you probably hope they’ll sprout legs in less than evolutionary time so they can wiggle up on dry land and track me down, collect their intel, and scurry back to tell you what I thought, late-carried messages, forever later, doesn’t matter as long as you get something because you won’t say so but you don’t think I say what I’m thinking and I find that marvelously ironic.

I think maybe I just don’t listen closely when you’re way down there like that and probing, distorted beneath the surface, and that’s my way of not playing along, of doing my best to make sure it takes that long for your words to sink in when they’re not cutting right to. And I tell you so, start to—you think…—but it’s loud in here, and hot, and the louder I try to be the hotter I get and I wonder why we came here in the first place when it’s a cool dark quiet night but we’re in here like we didn’t get enough bright hot noisy day. To stay mute, it seems, drowned, and I really don’t want to fight with you, at least not aloud.

It’s different at night, I think, everything is—told you that, earlier, once, before it was, and now that it is I don’t even consider saying I told you so or asking what you think because of the overheated yelling so instead I stop and look away in that way you always say is my way of vanishing and I always say I know which really means just let me vanish, except for the first time you told me, now that was a thing. Remember? You called it and I came right back.

WHAT? REMEMBER WHAT. YOU’RE MUMBLING AGAIN.

Nevermind.

Lovely, now you’re a smidge annoyed because I’ve gone from “vanished” to “difficult” in your color scheme of me, so fuck it, I continue being what you’ve decided I am for the moment and take a slow sip of beer while looking at you quite obviously out of the corner of my eye so you’ll notice as you sit there watching me be what you’ve decided, then I slowly put the glass back down on the thin cardboard coaster with the whale on it and ask with an overdone sense of nostalgia if you knew my grandfather was a whaler, which he of course was not and you know it.

Your grandfather was an insurance man and you think he was like Wallace Stevens but without the poetry and that’s what killed him.

You say it plenty loud for me to hear, but not yelling, just firm and clear and so unlike the things you think and I wonder why those things can’t be like this too but all I say is I know, that’s my point exactly.

Ah and there it is, your full-blown stoicism, rueful and trimmed with disdain, refusing to say another word or flash much of anything human because human has cracks in it as if cracks will only encourage me and we can’t have that because we both know they will.

I lean forward to get you out of my periphery and put my elbows on the bar, crossing my arms like I was told my grandfather did when he sat like that, the verysame whaler-suit-unpoet grandfather, and I remember reading a book about generational cycles which I enjoyed because it was interesting ok? isn’t that enough? it was interesting and it lent some convenient credence to the part of my person-myth I always believed was my grandfather reincarnate. So maybe he liked it. I grow weary with talk but never ever with thought which makes me think talking is an exercise, especially with you now, like it’s a test, but I don’t know what of or if it’s a nighttime thing or a daytime thing or neither—well, both, I mean, not neither. I’ve surely grown tired of hearing myself speak both day and night, not reaching you, been tired of finding words to cover thoughts like pillowcases for nightmare heads resting and that simile doesn’t even make sense because the words don’t cover they open like the nightmares and that’s the kind of shit I’m talking about. Or not. Not talking, thinking. Because you wouldn’t want to hear it and I don’t need to.

Thinking of thinking, there are certain books I simply will not read any time other than night, certain brain patterns and postures, certain ways of speaking that are purely nocturnal and I wonder if that scares you. If my place, night, scares you, supposed day creature you from the deep dark waters valiantly pretending not because you’re really a lot like me, precisely because, my stubborn contrarian and loather of mirrors. It’s as if some things can’t stand the sound, others the light, most both, not because they’re too muted or fearful but because they demand something more than graph paper for straight lines and whale coasters on which our banalities might rest, sweaty, the real shit around us that’s all lit up and loud in daytime, where you thrive because of all the cover, underexposed in the midst of that overexposure, while I thrive at night when it’s turned down low and thoughts have space and lunar rovers.

Fuck, telling stories is hard—I don’t know how they do it, I venture to tell you, putting a cap on our silence, a silence prevented from being too loud by the din of voices not ours and music and glasses clinking and laughter laughing having far better times than us, sort of changing the subject neither of us outright stated and you tell me I should just try outlining or take a class and I think for fuck’s sake why don’t you listen, I understand that you hear. Seagulls hear, squirrels hear, but people are supposed to listen, right? It’s one of those people things we do when we’re being peoplely people instead of the animaly ones.

Eyes roll this time because I said it, not the whole thing but the whale’s portion part about why don’t you listen, and I ask you to be careful before they roll right out of their sockets and onto the floor—it’s dirty down there, I say, and you’d look weird without eyes, though it’d be much harder for you to give me that glare, yeah that one right there.

The pretty barback smiles at me—perhaps she caught some of us—and in the miniscule kaleidoscopic of fully imaginable possibilities her pretty smile triggers I realize I don’t know what I’m doing with you, what this story is we’re telling ourselves and no longer adding to, just retelling and replaying and shorter, briefer, more careless all the time, you from the concealments and smoke screens of day, me from the freedom and aversions of night and I remember for a few days previous I was taken by the thought that what’s not said remains unreal, that the unreal drops its un when spoken and that’s why I’m obsessed with inner, I thought at the time, and with night and silence, I think tonight, but I suddenly tonight now want to test that whole theory-thought and bring a little supposed unreal to real to see what new real it might create and I tell her her smile made me see stars whether it was meant for me or just comes with the job territory and oh now you’re suddenly perked up and listening, your unreal made just as real as my real was just made un, without either of us saying a single word to each other.

Here we go, I say to the smile, I might as well be yours.

 


I’m cheating a bit, you know, because this was originally published last summer on my personal site, Art & Insolence. Don’t tell anyone. Or do, because a writer without readers is like a chicken without eggs, nobody knows which comes first. I promise that doesn’t make any sense, but you probably catch my drift.

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fiction

Date Night

Those two over there, yeah, the table in the corner right there. Before you got here he said: “Are you more of a wine girl or, uh, martinis? I’m not much of a wine guy but I’d maybe go for a pinot grigio.” The waitress has come by their table three times already. Oh, no, don’t be sorry. I was enjoying myself, doing a little eavesdropping, just hanging out, killing time, etcetera etcetera. When they sat down he opened his menu and remarked that it was much longer than what he saw online as if making a pronouncement about a new land he’d just set foot upon, his crew of weary sailor-explorers in tow. Then they were talking about some tabloid scandal, hard to say which one, hard to say it matters—“I never really followed up,” he said—really said “followed up”—“but from what I can tell, he was totally in on it.” She said “yeah.” That’s the only word I’ve heard from her, might be the only one she knows. Yeah, aren’t you funny. Look if you can, at the earnestness of his expression, look how vacuous. It’s astounding. I feel like we’re on safari. How does a face get so empty? I know I’m being judgy, I know, I’m probably just trying to impress you with the astuteness of my observations and my charming prattling commentary. It’s really not cute. Does “judgy” end in -ey or just -y? Ah but now here comes their food and wait… wait… yep, their phones….

Anyway, I’m just dodging, to be honest. Funny how people say things like that, like “in all honesty,” “to be honest,” “full disclosure,” and then don’t tell the truth. It’s like a blatant pretext for a lie. But it’s kinda nice to know the truth’s not coming, so you don’t have to ferret it out. I’m not lying, though, just talking to keep from saying anything. Or getting lost in my thoughts and having a noticeable detachment sort of driftaway. That’d be uncomfortable. At least I assume. And you’d need ferrets. No, it’s not you, not at all. Well, sort of. Sort of you. That looks delicious, what they got. I should ask her if it is. I bet she’ll say “yeah.” It’s mostly me and sort of you. I’m not sure what that means either. It’s this. Me. And you. Full disclosure. And I’m afraid if I go down the path I feel is before me—us—it’ll be almost impossible to keep from going at it too… I don’t know… fervently. I was gonna say “hard” but that sounds weird and it’s not a matter of forcefulness. Like that time I was typing away and the period key popped right off the keyboard. I couldn’t tell where one thought stopped and another began. Just think of all those endings lost. Yeah, I really did. I know, happens all the time, not that interesting, but thanks for indulging me. I know that’s not what you’re saying, I am. Let’s put a period on that. Very funny indeed. He just sniffed his wine.

So here’s the thing, a very serious thing. The thing is I’ve had a thing for you since… I don’t know when. Kidding, kidding. That’s what he probably just said to her, right after the sniff and a slow blink. Then we’d end up like them, photographing our food and talking of scandal. Have you heard of the impostor complex? It’s a cognitive-behavioral thing. Did you know that thesaurus.com lists Siberia as a synonym for “limbo?” and “nada” as a synonym for “cipher?” Yeah, that was her name.

You’ve always made me a little nervous. I’ve been told my emotional intelligence is too high. That’s probably why I have to listen to music when I paint, so I don’t sit there and analyze each and every stroke for what it may probably not even remotely mean, falling down a wormhole of self-awareness with self after self after self flitting by and Matt Fucking Damon waiting on the other end on some unsustainable planet—did you ever see that movie? Or film, I guess, film. Let’s be sophisticates, yes. Did you know that was his middle name? No, that’s not all it was about. It was about time and love and alternate realities, parallel universes, shit like that. I think. And the end of the world. Then I think at times like this, times of pointed, scatterbrained observation and hyper-present-ness and unnecessary explanation, of something I read recently about advanced pop criticism. That it sits too firmly in the now, pulling all the rest of life and thought and time to the pinnacle-present. It’s like Buddhism gone wrong. Or wild. Or one aspect of it, flashing its tits on spring break and calling it a phase. Or an experience, yeah, funny. Like that, it’s like that. This is, I mean. Oh, yeah, no, not like that. Of course, no. There are too many people around and I have no such expectations. But, later, if you were to find yourself inclined… No, I’m kidding. It’s totally different and absolutely the same.

“Look, it’s nothing obsessive or overwhelming, just an enduring, definite thing. You appear without conscious intent, you show up in dreams, playing roles of a romancer of sorts, a close companion, a secret lover,” he says, and I wonder why I hadn’t thought of that, imagine he must’ve read it somewhere—or heard it, more likely—and I’m afraid to say so to you but just then our food arrives, breaking up the flow of thoughts and words and I’m glad there’s now something other than my foot to place in my mouth.

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fiction

Seasons’ Spell 4

Part 4 of 4, the end. Reminds me: “The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning” (Sam Shephard). Another beginning, a new beginning, or the same beginning, like part 1. Then part 2 and part 3.


He has written a note and left it on the table. The window, now closed and locked, is doing its time-weary best to stand against a wind that creeps disregardfully through the cracks and gaps and spaces, frosting the eight frames’ edges and inadvertently softening the view of a bitter, fuliginous gray sky hanging over leafless brown-black branches, if anyone were there to see.

The oxalis is long-dead but its empty pot remains on the sill, pointless and inert. The curtains have been removed, the tablecloth is gone, and the chairs are tucked in, left behind as if to commemorate shared comforts, and also loss. The photograph is gone but a faint rectangle of long-shaded paint remains on the wall in its place, and the only sounds in the house are the occasional wintry creak and groan of tired timber and the wind’s solemn, discordant breaths. The note sits on bare maple nicked and scratched.

I love the you I’m sure you’ve become even though I’m not there to know and see, he wrote.

*

And spring returns, and the house remains. The trees, the hills, the sky, the night, the day—they all remain with time, ever changing, ever the same.

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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 felt beneath the tablecloth, 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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prosetry

Strong Oak

I went past him on the bus. Well I could only see his feet but I knew it was a ‘him.’

Sometimes my eyes see things that aren’t there. They are there, because I can see them, but apparently they’re not visible to other people. Like the time I saw a human-sized dog bounding towards me but nobody else saw it, even though my face was somehow covered in its slobber and I had dog hair on my clothes. Sometimes I entertain the things I see, sometimes I assume they’re not really real and ignore them. I wonder how many real things I’ve discredited because I’ve been told that parts of my brain aren’t trustworthy. But him, his feet, felt like something I should investigate.

I got off the bus at the hospital and instead of going to the psychiatric ward where I had an appointment I turned back and walked the way I’d just come, past the little park. I walked slowly but with purpose. I knew what I was going to see and I didn’t know what I was going to see.

I pushed through the willows and hedges and there he was, strung up from the strongest arm of the oak tree. Male. Late 30s/early 40s. 6ft-ish. Looks Eastern European. Blue t-shirt, navy jacket, dark jeans, white trainers. Fists clenched. Gold band on the ring finger of his right hand. Rosary in his left. I hope the Catholics aren’t right about suicide. He doesn’t look like he’s in Hell. And if his life was hell on earth then he’ll be well-prepared anyway. I’m glad his eyes were closed, it would’ve been more disturbing if they were open, less peaceful, less okay.

I stood about a metre away, lit a cigarette and looked at him for a while. He waltzed with the breeze. The only music was the rope creaking. He was a reluctant dancer. His face was pale grey and his lips were blue: he looked like a painting. I looked at the rope. A perfect slip-knot. Would’ve been painless. No broken neck. Boy scout.

I thought about him climbing up this tree, perching on the branch, tying the rope around and around, double-checking it’s secure, putting the noose around his neck, tightening it, triple-checking it’s all secure, taking a moment to look around, to breathe in, gently lowering himself underneath the branch, his arms over it, then placing one hand on the rope, then another, slowly slipping down, one last look at the world and then letting go. Bam.

I reached up to his jacket pocket and took his wallet out. Polish national. Same name as my grandfather. Oh, it’s his birthday today. He’s 38. Shit. I put the wallet back. I found two folded bits of paper in the other pocket. Oh, of course. Notes. One to his brother, one to his wife. I don’t read them even though morbid curiosity tells me to go ahead. No. I might be crazy but I’m not heartless. I put them back in his pocket. They’re not mine to read.

I looked around the tree for other clues. Bingo. A black plastic bag from the off licence. Inside: today’s newspaper, a switched off mobile phone and 4 cans of Dębowe Mocne, a strong Polish lager. In the bush nearby I see an empty can of Dębowe and at the base of the tree trunk there’s another. Creak. I go over to it and pick it up. Creak. It’s half full. Half empty. Half drunk. Half gone. Half left. Around the lip of the can I see saliva mixed with beer.

Suddenly a yappy little Jack Russell comes running over out of nowhere. He looks at me and looks at the hanging man and starts barking.
“SAMMY! Come here, boy, over here. Sammy!”
I say to the dog, “You’d better be on your way then, Sammy.”
He didn’t move, just kept on barking.

Then comes his owner. A short, tubby Irishman with a red face.
“JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH!” he says, taking his hat off. “Christ! What’s happened?”

I stare at him, blankly.

“Don’t answer that, bloody come here and help me get him down!!!” he yells and he hugs the man’s legs and tries to lift him up. I want to laugh but it’s not the time nor place.

“Fucking well help me then!” he shouts at me.
“He’s dead,” I say, unhelpfully, helpfully.
“Christ!” he says, letting go. “Have you got yer mobile telephone on yer girl, we need to call an ambulance right now, right now!?”
“No, I don’t. Sorry.”
I say.
“WHAT! I thought all yous kids had a phone on yer! Right. Right. Okay,” he says, clearly losing his shit.

He crosses himself. “How very sad it is. It’s a sad thing, suicide, isn’t it? Very sad. Very tragic. Good grief. Right. I live just over that road there, I’m going to run home and call the ambulance and the police and do yer think I should phone the fire brigade? You know, to, to cut him down, like? Jesus. Oh, Jesus. You stay here, won’t yer. Just… watch him… make sure he doesn’t move.”

I don’t know what’s funnier, the thought of this fat little flustered old man running or me watching a corpse to make sure it doesn’t do anything.

Right. Stay here. Come on Sammy, come on boy. Mary mother of God. Right. Police, ambulance, fire,” he muttered, shuffling away.

I was still holding this can of Dębowe Mocne. I took a few swigs because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Then I suddenly thought about this dead man’s saliva mixing with mine, on my lips, in my mouth. I decided that I can either think of it as disgustingly disrespectful and too macabre to justify or I can think of it as a sort of last kiss, a kiss goodbye. I looked up at him. The poor bastard.

I noticed that whilst the chubby little man was manhandling this guy’s legs, one of his shoelaces came undone. I did it up. For some reason I said aloud, “There you are. All fixed” like I say when I do my nephew’s shoelace up after he’s fallen over. I wondered about this man suspended above me, about who he is, who he was. I said to him, “What was it that made you so sad?” I wondered if his sadness is equivalent to mine, or if he was even sadder than me, or if I am in fact much sadder than he was when he chose to do this but by some fluke I’m still alive and he isn’t.

I looked at the beer can. Dębowe Mocne. That literally translates as Strong Oak. I wondered if the beer was a coincidence. He killed himself on a Dębowe Mocne, on the strongest oak tree in the park. Maybe he wasn’t strong enough to ask for help or to carry on. Maybe he came to this tree for strength and didn’t find any. Or maybe he just bought this beer because it’s a super-strength lager and it’s cheap to get pissed on it.

I lifted the can up as high as I could, above level with his stomach, and said aloud, “Happy Birthday, Stanisław. Wszystkiego najlepszego. To sadness. To slipknots. To strength. Na zdrowie, mate.” I necked the beer, threw the can in the bag and walked to the hospital.

“Sorry I’m late, fucking roadworks. Can I still see Dr K for my psych review or do I have to reschedule?” The receptionist eyed me suspiciously and said, “Take a seat.”

“You’re late,” said Dr K. “And you smell like a brewery. Have you been drinking?”
“Not really,”
I said.
“Well you stink of beer,” he said sternly, offering me a mint.

We went through the usual charade. How’s my sleep, how’s my energy, how’s my appetite, how’s my concentration, how’s my social life, how’s my sex life, how are my thoughts of harming myself, how are my thoughts of harming others, how’s my drug use, how’s my alcohol use, how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Dr K asked me if I still see, hear, feel or experience things that aren’t real. I said, “No, not to my knowledge.” He asked if I am still taking my anti-psychotics properly and I said yes, yes I am, and he said great, I’ll see you in 6 months then.

On my way home, past the park, I anticipated the presence of a police car and ambulance, perhaps the coroner’s hearse, the area cordoned off, officials milling about the tree. But there was nothing. I stood there for a moment in shock, surveying the park. Then this yappy little dog ran up to me and started barking.

“SAMMY! GET HERE NOW!” I heard a man shout in a broad Irish accent.
I don’t understand.
This stump of a man strolls up to me and says, “Sorry about my dog. Have yer been at the hospital?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Have yer been at the hospital, like?”
“Erm, yeah, just now,”
I reply, perplexed, thinking he’s going to tell me what happened to the hanging man.
“Ah. That’s it, you see,” says the red-faced old man, “my little dog here smells death from a mile off.”

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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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