Friday, December 21, 2007

The answer my friend is . . .


I did not know what time it was or how long I had been lying there. And when I realized, feeling cold there in the dark, that I had been lying half-awake for quite some time, it was with only a dull half conscious estimation. I was not disconsolate. My condition was sedate. The collar of my shirt was damp. I’d been sweating. My breath was shallow. My spirits were recessed and I lacked any motivation whatsoever to stir them up or fan them into flame. All I was aware of was the damp, the dark, a slight wheezing in my chest.

Then I felt a draft, the play of air from around the edges of the window. Wind knocked against the glass. I remembered how much I hated falling asleep in my shoes. My feet felt hot and cold at the same time—the dual currency of wind. Iowa. Voices in my head. Huffing around my collar. Fricatives in my shoes.

My mind wandered. I was in Ohio, back in that sleazy little lounge. I saw those same four skells seated at the bar. It was their voices that I heard. A heavy odor wafted through the room, rotten, a dank sponge. Still, I retained the vague sense of lying in bed, as though I were half-dead in the middle of an Iowa night, those four shitbags yapping in my head.

And there was music playing, though I did not recognize it. Their voices flooded the place and drowned it. A manic spirit, a lunatic voice, bounded round the room. I could not make it out. Everything in sight, the papered walls, the tables, the people drinking at the bar, all shadows in a dim, uneven orange haze. Wild laughter. A little box set on the bar. One of them had set it there. From time to time the loudest of them would run his fingers over it, move it an inch this way, then that. A small wooden keepsake that could have housed some jewelry or some other form of memento. And the way they hovered around it--it was always at their center, never out of reach, always in their midst--I thought it must contain something very important to those boys.

Funny. I had not noticed it the other night. But I must have. The voice speaking softly in my head assured me this was so. It had registered even though I’d taken no note, or had not wished to see it there. Again I saw the fat one with the beard reach toward the little box, but this time the clean-cut, boy-faced crony to his left drew it fast away, cackling wildly as he did. A scowl by the cheated and the cheater grinned timorously, setting it back down again. Drugs? Perhaps. Funny the things we remember, they say. Funnier the things we don’t.

The wind kicked up, rattled the window. I looked out and saw the lit and empty street. No cars. Air whistled round a shaking lamp post, rifled through the tops of trees. A sheet of news scampered along a painted yellow line. Across the way, the park, an occasional ocher lamp stand and a bench. Darkness hid the river beyond. Then something, a stick, a branch, thudded against the glass an inch from my nose, causing me to draw back with a holler. Shit! I said out loud, covering my face. I threw my feet out so that, in an instant, I sat upright on the edge of the bed. I fingered the collar of my shirt. My breathing had expanded.

I stood and headed to the bathroom to splash a little water on my face. I’d suddenly grown restless and after drying my hands I checked my pocket, making sure I had the keys before I bolted out the door. In the hall I could hear the wind wail.

A shrill ringing announced the elevator’s arrival. It opened like a yawn into which I was drawn. Three floors down, I emerged like Jonah. I passed a row of payphones in the lobby and headed out of doors. A gust of wind blew me back a step. I felt lightheaded, but my blood had begun to flow.

I leaned into the wind and crossed over to the park. Every hollow rut, every cornered sheave was filled with sound, the wind, like chimes, like the sound of breaking glass, the repeating upsurge whirling and receding, dropping suddenly, ebb and flow. I was invigorated. My steps livened. Like the wind I moved swiftly and soon I followed a trail along the bank of the black and coursing river. Its waters ran high and fast, its currents tipped with light. I began to jog and the wind blew away my hat. I spun to grab at it when suddenly I hit the ground. I tripped, and . . . I was not alone. I thumped something full of hair. I heard a growl, felt a body there, a dog—(I hoped it was a dog)—I jumped up. It was a dog, a very big, very hairy dog.

I looked down at him. He sat and gave his tail a wag. Beside him sat . . . an elf . . . a changeling . . . a girl. It was a woman with a sharp athletic face. She was dressed in workout gear. A pony tail hung out the back of her runner’s cap. She was seated on the ground beside this brick shithouse of an animal, this broad-chested mauler that had fixed an eye on me.

And this woman’s eyes were full of terror, startled as she was at my sudden dropping out of the sky. She wrapped her arms around the dog and I smiled the tiniest smile, a frightened little smile, an embarrassed little smile. Her eyes softened and she looked away, reached into a satchel, scribbled something on a pad. Then she stood, all five foot two of her, crisply muscled like the sun, and handed me a note which, had I not been firm, would have been hauled off by the howling wind just like my hat.

With that she turned and ran off. She bounced, easy as a bean, elbows high, her solid chocolate dog in tow. He looked back twice to check me out and soon I was alone, again, or so I thought. I looked around making sure that was the case. Strange to find someone out this late on such a windy night. I turned the note up and read “Have you ever felt really empty?” I made a grumpy sound with the back of my throat and pocketed the scrap. Whackjob, I thought and turned back in the direction of my room. The wind beat against my back, tousled my hair. I turned to look back but she was gone. Beautiful, beautiful whackjob, I said aloud, the words swept from my lips in a great gust of wind.

1 comment:

Beth said...

This is very good. You should do more with it.