A novel by EJ Spode.
Chapter 13. Between a Rock and a Hard Place
When Circe got out of the shower, she threw on a white terrycloth robe and went
into the kitchen and made us a snack. She warmed up something she called
“burek,” which was a flat puff pastry filled with cheese – feta cheese maybe? She poured us shot glasses of rakia, which was a kind of Serbian schnapps, although different from Slivovic. Or maybe Slivovic is a type of rakia; I wasn’t clear on that. Shit was tasty, though, kind of like homemade grappa, only smoother than it had any right to be.
The burek was all kinds of cheesy flakey excellence, and the rakia burned
through it’s fatty, oily properties, making it seem like a much lighter snack than it surely was. While we were eating, Circe finally got around to addressing the two thousand pound bison bull in the room.
“So Spode, what’s the story with you and Penny these days?”
“Yeah…that. To be honest I’m not sure.”
“Not sure about what?”
I sat and thought. Circe waited.
My thought processes were going like this: Did I know Circe well enough to talk about this? Did I trust her enough? Would she think it was weird to be talking about Penny so soon after hooking up? Did this mean she was interested in me? Was she probing for something else? Did she want to hear that it was over with Penny? Did she want to hear that it wasn’t going well with Penny? Did she care at all about Penny? Was she just making conversation? Was she testing me? Did she know I still had a thing for Penny? Did she want to see if I would tell the truth about Penny? Or…was she offering to help me out with my Penny situation? Or, was she just being…you know…a good friend.
All of those thoughts spun around my head like the wheel of fortune, until the
wheel came to rest on “being a good friend.” I had no reason to believe that over the other options. It just happened to be where the wheel stopped.
I glanced at Circe. She was looking at me, waiting patiently. I came clean:
“Here is the thing, Circe. I don’t know where Penny and I are at.”
Circe said nothing, but waited for me to say more.
“And by that I mean I don’t know where I am at.”
“I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place here. It isn’t simply that I love
Penny; it’s also that I’m afraid of life without her. When she’s not around
everything goes to gray. It’s like some invisible vortex sucks all the color out of the world and then sucks out all the excitement and positive emotions and I’m afraid it’s going to suck me into a bottomless sea of nothing – a place far worse than death.”
Circe took a giant bite out of her burek, looking at me the whole time. I
continued with the other side of my dilemma.
“On the other hand…honestly, life with Penny is like being constantly
emotionally battered. Don’t get me wrong; there are moments that are great, but for every great moment there are so many that are deeply painful. It’s like getting smashed against the rocky shoals of Drama Island…. So that’s my dilemma. I either accept a life of drama and emotional battering, or I end up dead at the bottom of an ocean of emotional nothingness.”
Circe didn’t say anything, but sipped her rakia. She was waiting to see if I had anything to add. I figured I would add an invitation for her to comment.
Circe nodded. “I see the problem Spode. You know… the usual advice here is
that you are supposed to take the battering because it’s better to be battered than to be dead, right?”
“Is that what they say?”
“That’s what they have been saying forever, Spode. Think about it. It’s better to be alive and hurting than a zombie.”
“Yes it is. And you know it is.”
I nodded. Circe continued.
But here is the question, Spode. You’ve never let the vortex take you to the
bottom of the ocean, right?
“Nope, never let that happen.”
“So the question is, how do you know what you are going to find there?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you are so sure it is taking you to a place devoid of feeling…”
“Right, but it is.”
“Well that’s where it starts, but where does it end?”
“I dunno, where do you think it will take me?”
“That’s the thing about vortices, Spode, we never know where we end up. I
mean, where did Dorothy end up when the tornado picked up her house?”
“Not in Kansas.”
“Exactly right, she ended up in Oz.”
“Maybe I don’t want to end up in Oz either.”
“Would you rather stay in Kansas?”
“The thing is, Spode, you have no idea where you would end up. And I think…I
might be wrong…but I think you are afraid to find out.”
We sat in silence for a bit and sipped rakia. Well, that isn’t correct; it wasn’t 100% silent: I started noticing the noises in her kitchen. The compressor in her refrigerator sounded a bit shaky – like maybe it wouldn’t get through the year. I could hear the faint buzz of the incandescent lights overhead. I could also hear the heating air ducts in the apartment make thin, tinny, ghost-like noises as they expanded and contracted from the heat being pushed through them. That’s the fucking thing about silence. It doesn’t exist; it only gets quiet enough so you can hear the sad noises made by the infrastructure of our world, and when you hear that you realize how everything is being held together by string and chewing gum – like it could all collapse into a scrap heap at any minute.
“Here is another question for you, Spode.”
“Why are you in such a hurry?”
“Am I in a hurry?”
“Well, you say you have to pass between a rock and a hard place – between a
vortex that is going to suck you down into nothingness and being bashed to
death on the rocky shores of Penny’s Drama Island.”
“Well, why do you have to go between them?”
“Well, why not go around either the vortex or the island. Why go between
“Well, that sounds deep and all, but I don’t understand the metaphor. What
does it mean to go around Drama Island?”
Circe didn’t answer. “I don’t know, Spode; we have to figure that out!”
“OK…how do we figure it out?”
There was a long silence in which we both sat and thought about the problem.
How the hell do you circumnavigate this? What is the long path that avoids the
dilemma? And what’s the method you use to figure out the solution?
Finally, Circe broke the silence: “I tell you what, Spode, let’s do a tarot reading and see what the cards have to say to you.”
Well now that was an interesting proposal. I had never had a tarot reading done
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Image: Jana Astanov.
Chapter 1: Giants in the Earth:
Chapter 2: The Welcome Inn:
Chapter 3: Dimebag Bob’s:
Chapter 4: The Trojan Horse:
Chapter 5: The Turtle Diaries:
Chapter 6: The Cartagena Diaries
Chapter 7: Penny
Chapter 8: San Pedro
Chapter 9: Triggered
Chapter 10: Letters and Dreams
Chapter 11: Helena and Steady Eddie
Chapter 12: Circe
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, January 22nd, 2017.