I stood out on the deck. The mountain wears a crown of clouds. The air carries the salty scent of the ocean. It is very familiar. Funny how the memory fades, but the emotion remains. I close my eyes.
Guinness with Coco. Our glasses were slowly drained, leaving rings where we began. We smiled at each other. My feet tingle and I say the name of an old song from grandparents time. Her mouth drops open, wide, the lines slowly stretching into a smile.
I get up to go, nervously leaning forward she opens her arms to hold, then backs away. Smiling, she sings the first line as I put ten on the counter and leave.
What can I tell you? Words always fail when used to describe other words.
Despair was opening wide her mouth. The whole town was wet, inky blackness. I was on stage when it hit, a series of sour notes sounding. This always drove the crowd at L’Amouors wild.
Loneliness and music.
“Do you still play?”
I thought about the gone horn that had been many rents ago. With nothing else to do I decided to listen to the song. In an empty night I will give myself, at least, this sadness. The record hisses and a hundred ghosts dance before closed eyes.
I go into the cabinet under the sink. I will drink whiskey ‘til I fall in love with the night. The song goes on and on. With plenty of whiskey to go I find the night gone.
She had been on me for months to come and see her. At first the letters were full of the beauty, her sister’s farm, the purity of her new life. I knew I should go, but every time I thought about buying that plane ticket my heart would pound. After a while the letters accused me, with their growing infrequency. I packed. Even though I had written first, when I called her after waiting at the airport for three hours, she was surprised. Confused, she didn’t seem to know what to do. I was tired. She just dangled from the phone, the cord creaking as she swung. “I’ll take a cab.”
I grabbed a brown bottle from the duty free shop. Her forehead pressed against the screen as she leaned in wait by the door.
Not having enough for a good tip, I got a dirty look as the cab pulled away. She slid into my arms. Dull eyes, white overalls speckled with paint. Nervously I raised the bag.
“This is for you.”
She smelled of cloves, sweat and sickness. I was going to write while she painted. We would take turns cooking for each other. Without waiting for me to follow she went out and sat in the driveway lighting up a cigarette. I made small talk until the words slowed to a trickle. She didn’t ask me about the flight, if I was hungry or what I had been up to.
An old cigar box in my closet held every letter she had ever written me. Now old and discolored they were held together with a faded blue ribbon she had worn in her hair.
It was years later re-reading them I would learn her secret.
Around midnight we went to bed. I was tired from the trip which helped me get the only good sleep I would have the whole time. At some point a radio quickly went on, then off. Around dawn she lay on her back lighting a cigarette. As I washed up she gave me a mug of coffee, little flakes of paint floating on the surface.
Give yourself this and then you can have what ever you want. It’s kindness. To survive you must be strong, do this, it will make you strong, then you can have what ever you want. It’s kindness...
My arms and ankles swelled with bug bites. She hadn’t shown me any of her new stuff. As she cleaned her brushes we talked, never about her husband. Shitty world, variations upon a theme. She slowly pulled eyelashes and held them over the flame of a sickly green candle. Where was he? I couldn’t ask because nothing had ever been asked of me, except to come. Stepping off the plane I had known that I had made a mistake, but with a morbid fascination I found that all I could do was sit back and watch the whole thing unfold.
We were picking wild flowers from the side of a little muddy stream that ran by the road. I could tell by the look in her eyes not one thing would happen close to how I had imagined it.
Her paintings were horrible and not even in an amateurish way. She had sold a few to some guy a few weeks earlier, her not even realizing what he was really paying for. I noticed he had made his mind up to stop at three paintings.
I had tried to clean up the area around my bed, but it was no good, everywhere was her.
She talked of changing her name, studying painting in Germany. She sat at the end of my bed flicking ash on the floor. Her ear, the small pale petal of a flower. I wanted to bite it.
The days blurred. I waited for something.
On Sunday nights we would have a few drinks and drive around the neighborhood to see if anyone had put anything interesting out in the trash. As much as I hated this it wasn’t as dull or receptive as fighting. She was out of shape and the fights would quickly lapse into silence. No, this was better. I didn’t want to make a trash run tonight. She sat across from me not saying a word. It was a battle of wills, which one of us would get up first to turn on the light. The tip of her cigarette, a small eye absent-mindedly walking back and forth, staring indifferently at me as it stoops down to lick the ashtray.
She goes to bed, kicking off her shoes from under the covers. I stayed up all night listening to the television mumble as I wrote on the walls. Drinking at dawn I realize everyone is secretly mourning a death or exile. Exile from Eden, death of innocence. Either way, no return. Without bothering to put a shirt on she gets up and goes to the bathroom. Slow sluggish steps, open door.
“What did you write about?” The lighter clicks three times. “A young boy who was born in front of a mirror, he becomes the world’s greatest magician.” She comes out, wet hands wiped on her pants. She stands in front of the wall reading. I hand her another cigarette which she tucks behind her ear.
The table next to the bed is littered with empty glasses. Every morning there were more. They formed a sort of city. Dirty glass buildings of different heights. From somewhere within the capital, faintly beats the heart of an upturned watch.
Sometimes drool would drip from her chin and she would start to say something about me owing her some money. It seemed dangerous for me to say yes, more so to actually give her the money.
The rain came pouring down. The rain is the best song I ever heard. After a few minutes worth of thunder she climbs into bed with me. I lay on my back and she has me clasp my hands together so that she can pin them down above my head by the wrist.
She is moving up and down, wildly. Her hair crawls across my chest in a dance of sudden stops and starts. Her bottom jaw juts out and from the back of her throat comes a noise. As I spill into her I feel her on me. Now a still, dead weight.
It’s hard to breathe, but I close my eyes and listen to the rain. Rumpled silhouettes of us from the night before hang off doorknobs and the back of chairs. The days blurred. How long had I been here?
Now I knew, there was nothing I could do for her. She had no interest in being saved and I didn’t have the discipline to do it anyway.
When I left she told me that she would write in a day or two. Until I got on the plane my heart pounded.
I took the train back to the city. I was tired but felt too anxious to go home. I couldn’t bear for the phone to ring. Yes, the phone was all I feared. Maybe Coco would have a drink with me. I walked to Faust’s. The streets seemed empty. My hat fell off. The wind blew the hat across the cobblestones of the plaza so that it looked on the hunt.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wayne Wolfson is a California based author. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has had pieces appear in literary journals such as Happy, San Francisco Salvo and Poems Neiderngasse, Recently he collaborated with Boston based GRENADIER on a cd of spoken text/music