So Long Marianne…

I didn’t know her, but I did; her passing connects me to the sadness of having loved and lost someone she seems to represent.

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English/Methanian/Barnyardian Translation (for Evelyn dear Fender)

Language is a method of communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in an agreed upon structure.

A group of scholarly Englishmen once got together and agreed that a fury little creature that wags its tail and goes “arf, arf!” is a dog. “From henceforth,” one of the esteemed Englishmen had said, “everyone must call this critter a dog.”

A group of scholarly Frenchmen wrongly agreed that a dog should be called a “chien.” Not even close! A chien, as we all know, is that bony structure below our mouths. And here England and France, while right next door to one another, could not agree on a clear and simple word such as dog.

On the planet, Bufadu, everyone happily speaks the same language, which they call “language.” There has never been but one, or so the people of Fraidland have always assumed. They also assumed they were the only people on the planet, just as the people living on the mythological continent of Methania, on the opposite side of Bufadu, believed.

Like Britain and France, two unique languages evolved on the two oblivious land masses of Bufadu. But by some outrageous chance, the two continents came up with precisely the same vocabulary, the exact same set of words. However, a group of scholarly Methanians once got together and agreed that a wooden vessel that floats upon water should be called a “town.” So, what became of the word, “boat?” Boat, as defined in the Methanian dictionary is: a greater or additional amount or degree. What we here on Earth might refer to as “more.”

When creating Fender’s language (Methanian) I swapped words based upon their length (rhythm and aesthetics), with little or no regard to their meaning. I figured the concept was already bordering on too complicated. Taking meaning into account added unnecessary complications.

I had to create a dictionary with two sets of translations, based on who is speaking. Fender sees a boat; he says, “town.” When Evelyn says the word, boat, Fender hears, “more.”

When Fender sees a face, he says, “wind.” When Evelyn uses the word, face, Fender hears “high.” Face means: of great vertical extent… or what Evelyn might refer to as “high.”

Can you see the logic behind my using two different translations for the same word? If you are one of those who require congruency and order in your gibberish, I am providing you the use of my translator. CLICK HERE: alien dictionary

Three days and three nights

It’s been a week now since our ‘rendezvous’.

Twenty-eight days?

Sneaking around requires some discretion, plus a trick or two—a ploy, a ruse. So, yes, we met, but not being one to kiss and tell…

I hadn’t seen O in over twelve years. So, we’re like, what, over twelve years older than we were? This was a huge concern for O, who was so certain I’d take one look at her, see she was now a decrepit old hag, or whatever, and tear out of the Motel 66 parking lot never to be heard from again. Was I harboring reservations about her advanced age? I wasn’t … not at all. I did admittedly add twelve years to my mental image of how I remembered her, and, even so, the picture I painted was still looking pretty good to me.

Another concern of O’s was that she’d be disfunctionally nervous at first. “We need to have a clear itinerary from the get go,” she said. “We need structure.”

So we came up with a step by step, detailed plan. We would first take our luggage and groceries up to the room, step in, then quickly out—for lunch and a drink, then a long walk in the park. And if that wasn’t enough to calm her, then, well, we’d go see a movie, and then another.

I left my house at 7:30, headed east on I-70, feeling good, cheerful, a bit excited—a four hour drive to the motel. As I got to within a half-hour of the place, it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve committed myself to a blind date—for three days and nights. What the fuck was I thinking?

I couldn’t find an answer to the question, so I drove on. I would have anyway … no matter what. We’d agreed to arrive at the same time, to avoid the torture of waiting for the world to end in a motel parking lot. Actually, I agreed to arrive first.

“If you’re not there when I get there,” she said, “I’ll turn around and head home… no ifs, ands, or buts.”

So I got there ten minutes early, checked in, took my stuff up to the room, then, with one minute left before her expected arrival, I went back out to my car to watch for her. Twenty-nine minutes later, I spotted a vehicle with West Virginia plates pulling in. I was warned beforehand not to approach her too enthusiastically, so I gave her a call to see if she might want to chat over the phone for a while before leaving her car—talk away some of the nervousness—ease into our meeting.

“Hi,” I said as gently and sweetly as I could manage.

“Are you going to help me get all this shit up to the room or just sit there and watch?” she said.

I clapped my phone shut, hopped from my car and stepped over to hers. She was bent over her back seat dragging her luggage toward the car door. She turned, gave me a brief, nervous glance, and then turned back to what she was doing.

OMG! Wow! Just like that! I remembered what it was that I had, all those years before, been drawn to, fascinated by, and frightened of. It was her, just as beautiful as I remembered. This woman really rocked my world—rattled my foundation.

I tingled with excitement as the elevator door closed before us—just O and I in a tiny six by six-foot box… alone… breathing, deep nervous breaths. (Elevator? OK, so maybe it wasn’t Motel 66.)

We put our stuff away, then threw each other quick glances.

“Do you want to go to lunch now?” I said.

“I’m not hungry,” she replied.

“I’m not either.” I looked down at the king-sized bed. Our bed. “Do you just want to sit and talk for a while?”

She glanced from me to the bed and back to me. “No.”

“OK.”

“Yes.” She lowered her butt to the bed, so close to the edge, it’s debatable whether she was really on it or not.

I scooted up to the middle of the backboard, piled a couple of pillows against it, and leaned back.

She took a deep breath, fidgeted, then suddenly got back to her feet. “Let’s go do something.”

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I offered.

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

“Hold you,” I said.

She took a deep breath, then, a long moment later, let it go. “OK.”

The smell of love

(A composite story, created from the first two chapters of my novel, The Other Mr. Bax.)

Saturday, the twenty-fifth of September, Dana had gone to her mother’s house to help make pizzas. Roland walked the bike-path alone.

To his right was a small backyard orchard where hornets and bees busied themselves feeding off rotting windfalls. A stray gust of wind sent a cloud of leaves fluttering down from the trees. The autumn air carried hints of compost, mildew, burning leaves, and cider. Glancing toward the trees, to his right, Roland drew in a deep breath; the memory of a young girl running off toward the back entrance of a school building skipped along the edge of his mind. She seemed to have arrived on the scent of the wind, on the air’s coolness, its dryness, encouraged by the light, teased by the colors of the leaves, a particular brightness, the crispness of autumn, the season of love and loss. He scanned the scene before him as if he might catch a glimpse of her, but then stopped—the memory vanished, leaving not so much as a trace of her.

Another fall had arrived. A cold, dark winter would inevitably follow. Every year, about this time, these memories resurfaced. But these weren’t the same leaves he’d kicked through in the autumn of ‘63. And it wasn’t the same wind that then whispered through the branches of maples and elms lining the streets of the small, rural, Hoosier community he grew up in. Perhaps the catalyst for these memories was really nothing in particular, but a combination of many things.

 

Roland’s eyes shifted as he followed the carousel of distant events turning in his mind. A low vibration, like a hum, a moan, left his throat. The memories—most at best were vague, though some were as vivid as the day before: a farmhouse, his grandpa and grandma, the interior of a school bus, swings on a playground, Joyce Rubens—a mix of pain and disappointment, of wanting, and moments of joy. The key events were easy to recall—the big moments, the thrills. But the spaces in between, the ordinary everyday spaces, were hidden—lost among a million insignificant breaths.

An eddy of air shuffled leaves around the smooth asphalt surface of the path—a sound like TV static; they swirled about his feet, skittering like paper butterflies, and then quieted. He targeted a particularly crisp-looking leaf, crushing it beneath his foot.

 

He recalled the farmhouse his parents had rented on Mud Dauber Road, a night in the summer of 1961—he and his big brother, Keith, his sister, Kate, and baby brother, Brian, all lying on a pile of blankets spread out in the grass of the backyard, scanning the crystal-clear, moonless sky in search of a rare satellite or shooting star—those last few days before school.

Accustomed to a life of freedom, Roland was ill-prepared for its sudden denial once the classroom door shut on that first day. He was slower than most, adjusting to the rigid structure, but, like a broken pony, he came to accept it. The girl who sat at the desk directly in front of him unwittingly helped. She was far more interesting than the teacher squawking at the front of the classroom. Her name was Rebecca—the only name he could now recall from his first-grade class. His memory failed to produce even his teacher’s name—only Rebecca, only her first name, no face, only the braid of brown hair that persistently hung down her back.

But then, the following year, while wandering the playground during recess, a girl Roland had not noticed before caught his eye.

He wandered off across the playground, to the opposite end, where two sets of swings patiently grazed like giant stick-figure horses with children swinging from their stirrups. Of the twelve swings, six per set, only one was available, and sitting in the swing to the left of it was Kathy Goodman, a girl he saw nearly every day—her desk being directly behind his. The other girl, the one to the right of the vacant swing, he’d not seen before.

Selma Elementary had twelve classrooms, two for each grade level, one through six, and allowed each level, one at a time, onto the playground. Roland was pretty well acquainted with the faces from the other class, but not this girl’s; he would not have forgotten hers. Framed by a pair of blond pigtails, hers was an exceptionally symmetrical face, painfully sweet, the epitome of innocence. He was instantly infatuated.

At first, he maintained an inconspicuous distance—the unknown girl, seemingly off in a world of her own, pumping her swing even higher—but then, finding it impossible to keep his eyes from her, he moved closer. The swing to her right remained motionless and empty, as though waiting in reserve for someone else. He hesitated. More than anything, he wanted to stare. He wanted to sear a picture of her onto the back of his mind, something he could possess. He fantasized having the power to stop time, imagined himself standing before her, invisible, where he might satisfy this thing, this urge to look and get closer yet—examine her eyes, her cheeks, her hair, her nose, her lips, and perhaps determine just what it was that compelled him to want this.

She caught him. He turned away—quick and obvious.

His reticent peeks, like smelling but not tasting, only fueled his hunger the more. Again he glanced her way; the swing to her right miraculously had not yet been claimed. It was now or never, he realized. He quickly scraped together enough courage to approach the empty swing, and sat. Then, pushing back as far as the chains would allow, he lifted his feet and began pumping. After a couple of self-conscious passes, he turned toward the girl flying by, an arm’s length away, swallowed, and with a most concise greeting, which nonetheless managed to feel unnatural and rushed, he split the universe in two. “Hi.”

The little girl threw a glance his way as she swung by. Did she hear? She may have returned his greeting, and the surrounding pandemonium interfered. Trusting that he somehow missed her response, he waited until she made another pass, swinging by from behind.

“Are you new here?” he said.

The girl leaned back, her legs stretched out before her, an elfish smile on her upside-down face, pigtails flapping to either side of it. She gave a reply, which could easily have meant “What’s it to you?” Roland, however, took it as an affirmative.

“Yeah?”

He pumped his swing to the same height as hers, finding himself as far out of sync as possible, her backside coming as he was going, and vice versa.

“What’s your name?” he asked, as they again scissored past each other.

“Joyce Rubens.”

He began dragging his feet, kicking up sand and dust with each pass. Bringing himself to a stop, he twisted his seat around, positioning himself to face her. From the toes of his shoes, he pushed himself back and forth, studying her through casual glances as she flew by—Joyce Rubens—back and forth.

 

Twenty-eight days:

The days remaining between now and our meeting.

I can’t remember the last time I saw her. I know it was before April of 2001 because that’s when I moved away. We’d known each other for about four years prior to that. She had only recently started working full-time at the art gallery where I worked, though I’d seen her occasionally before—an archivist, and a painter like everyone else. I don’t recall our first meeting, not at all. She was just another face in the crowd, I guess.

Were we introduced? I don’t remember. I do, however, remember the first time I was jarred into noticing her. Sparks flew… but not the pretty kind. Our relationship (I’m going to call her ‘O’ from here on.) started with a head-butt. O stepped into my office one afternoon, interrupting my immensely important work, whatever it may have been, and asked me to move some artwork for her. I just looked at her like, “What? You want me to take time from my exhaustively busy day to move a couple of paintings that you’re perfectly capable of handling yourself?”

Every time I revisit that moment, a burning smell comes to mind—my eyebrows perhaps, singed by her searing glare. She left me with an unambiguous huff as she turned and walked out the door.

A short while later, another one of my female co-workers, one who I’d always gotten along exceptionally well with, came stomping into my office and barked, “Why are you being such an asshole?”

“Me?”

“You should know better. You should know that pregnant women aren’t supposed to do heavy lifting.”

“Uh… pregnant? Her? Really?”

I felt like such a turd after that. I couldn’t let it stand as it was—me, the heartless, son of a bitch asshole, and O, my poor pregnant victim. I had to somehow make it up to her. From then on, I would be her willing slave.

“Rodney, will you move this two thousand pound sculpture for me?”

“Yes, immediately.”

“Rodney, will you carry this half-empty shoebox down to the basement for me?”

“Certainly. Right away.”

“Rodney, would you please pick up my pencil for me?”

“Oh, my God! Of course I will.” I dropped to all fours and crawled under her desk to retrieve her pencil. And in this way O and I became friends, and eventually ‘good’ friends. We began going to lunch together, out for an occasional cup of coffee and a cookie, and at other times a quiet walk around the neighborhood. We talked, though I don’t recall the topics of our conversations. Perhaps they were too mundane to remember.

Then the baby came—a healthy boy.

Our friendship continued to grow. Though, I think there was something more, something deeper, beyond friendly, like some hardwired instinct stirring beneath the surface. I felt it, but refused to give it definition, the same as she. For the most part we ignored it.

Her baby became a toddler. She’d frequently bring him into the gallery where I’d spend hours entertaining him, giving him rides on my shoulders. He’d grasp my hair with his tiny fists, drool all over me, and giggle and laugh as I pranced from one end of the gallery to the other.

That thing, though, that undefined thing would not stop. Neither of us spoke of it, but I’m certain O was just as much aware of it as I. It was unsustainable and dangerous—a train, with a stuck throttle, headed for the edge of the world. I think she understood this better than I. Something had to be done to stop it. And then something was done. Perhaps she didn’t realize what she was doing; maybe it was subconscious. Whatever the case, she managed to shake things up so thoroughly and effectively that I refused to talk to her or acknowledge her presence for weeks afterwards. I don’t remember what it was she said, but I remember how my reaction left a persistent chill in the air. I think the entire gallery staff was aware of the quiet. Then suddenly and unexpectedly my wife died. My world turned inside out, upside down, twisted, shaken, beaten, tortured, and burned. Six months later, I moved away.

There’s a gap here of nearly twelve years between then and now, and a big, complicated story within it. Twelve years, which I might visit another time.

So, about two years ago, I was in O’s vicinity visiting my daughter who stayed behind when I left. While there, I found myself repeatedly thinking of O, wondering if she was still around and if she’d have a problem with me contacting her. I thought it’d be nice to go out for a coffee or, at the least, say hi—see how she’s doing. I found her address on line, the same address she had when I moved ten years earlier. I didn’t call. I wrote her a brief note and included my cellphone number, then drove over to her house and slipped it inside her door. Days passed. I got no response.

When I got home, I located her email address and sent her another note. Weeks later I got a reply: two short sentences followed by exclamation marks, which I mistook as a brush off. A bit disappointing. But, oh well… I let it go.

A year or so after that, I got a Linkedin message, one of those ‘you may know this person’ things. And there she was again. So I messaged her. Weeks went by. I mean, God, reconnecting with this woman seemed as complicated as landing a Chevy Astro Van on Mars. But I did it. Or perhaps we did it. It’s such a curious thing—as if whatever it was that we had long before resisted was still there, lying dormant, waiting. And now it seemed it was pulling us back together. So, anyway, we’ve decided to meet. Though, this time it’ll be under entirely different circumstances; there’s no longer reasons to resist.

Twenty-eight days…

Blackmail

I have fairly simple tastes; I like oatmeal with raisins. Not the quick-oats though; I can’t stand that grimy slop. I like my oats with a dash of butter and lightly sweetened with maple syrup. But don’t ever dump Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima on my cereal. That crap messes my mind up. I sometimes fix myself eggs for breakfast. Very simple. Just two eggs over medium, fried in butter, a dash of salt. And for lunch, beans, like a bean soup. Simple, except I want Cheez-its with my beans, and I have a certain bowl I prefer to use when eating beans—my bean-bowl. It’s like those old diner bowls, the ones that had the buffalo on the bottom—heavy, thick sides, diner-white. Remember those? They matched the coffee mugs that the same restaurants used. I loved those mugs.

The other day, I cooked up a big pot of great northern beans. I minced some garlic, chopped a large onion, threw in a healthy dose of cumin, a little olive oil (my meat substitute)—

So, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, about to eat my beans and Cheez-its, when out of the blue I hear: “I know you’re planning to have an affair with a married woman.”

I jump halfway out of my chair, grab hold of the table, and gape at the bowl. “Did you say something?”

“Don’t play all blinky-eyed innocent with me. You heard what I said,” the bowl replies.

My jaw drops. I gaze intently at my bowl for a long, crazy moment, as though it might up and dance off the edge of the table. It just sits there, though—quietly, like a bowl of beans. And then it hits me: A joke! It’s a joke. I twist around, looking first over one shoulder, then the other. There’s no one there. I rub my chin, thinking something is not right here. I mean, I’ve told no one about my secret, except of course my sugar dumplin. Well, yes she’s married—it’s complicated. But, the thing is, she’s the only other person in the world that knows of our plan.

What is going on here?” I say.

“Nothing is going on here‘” the bowl says, “but I can tell you exactly where it will be going on, and when… and her husband’s cell phone number, which I’d be willing to share, at no additional costs.”

“What the…? You gotta be kidding!”

“Do you want it,” the bowl says, “to perhaps check in, make certain everything’s cool with the man?”

I see my face reflected back to me from the side of the toaster sitting a foot beyond my bowl—a distorted jungle of flesh with eyes, peering back—a confused, Scooby Doo kind of face. “Huh?”

“Hu…uh?” The bowl mocks.

“What is this?!” I glare at the bowl—my eyes emitting microwaves.

“An opportunity,” the bowl says.

“How so?”

“We both gain something from the deal.”

I raise an eyebrow. “The deal?”

Except for a single Cheez-it floating in the middle, the bowl of beans is expressionless. “Yeah, I make a few bucks, you get a few fu—”

“Why, you despicable bowl of…”

“Oh, Mr. Rodgers, Mr. Epitome of chastity—”

“What do you want from me?!”

“For a mere hundred dollars” the bowl says, “I won’t spill the beans.”

What choice do I have? What? I mean, this could very well spin out of control. It could explode into a Monica Lewinsky kind of thing. A big, ugly, humiliating international scandal. And my poor honey muffin; she’d naturally assume it was my fault. What a mess. Yes. No, no… no choice at all. I pay up—though that kind of cash is admittedly hard for an author to scratch together at a moment’s notice, like all of a sudden I have arthritis in the fingers grasping the bills. Nonetheless, I give my backstabbing, double-crossing bean bowl the hush money.

I take a moment to allow it all to settle, draw a few breaths, pick up my spoon—can I trust it? it seems all right—then shovel some beans into my mouth.

Misunderstandings

  …happen all  the time in relationships, especially those you have a strong emotional investment in. Misunderstandings in romantic relationships comprise some level of disconnect by one or the other persons involved. One or the other is offended by something said or implied, or perhaps something subtle, hidden (and, I might add, entirely imagined) within a misspoke word, phrase, or gesture. Ninety-nine percent of the time we jump to a conclusion triggered by some past hurt, which ninety-nine percent of the time is the result of a similar misunderstanding. What we so often fail to take into account is the fact that the person who we perceive as being hurtful, selfish, sarcastic or whatever, has no motive to be any of those things. Often, their motives or intentions are very much contrary to what is perceived.

“Oh, Honey, I like you a lot.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What?”

“I like you a lot? You used to love me. Now you just like me?”

“I didn’t say, I just like you; I said, I like you a lot.”

“You used to tell me you love me, all the time. You never say that anymore.”

“I do too!”

“I guess I should feel lucky to get an, ‘I like you’.”

“If you don’t like being liked then I’ll try not to.”

“So, now you don’t love me or like me? That might explain the generic anniversary card I got last month. You used to make them by hand, remember? You used to write clever and sweet things that you claimed came from your heart.”

“Well, I used to have a lot more time … ree-memm-bur? You used to be just a wee bit more grateful, too. But that was before I took this suck-ass slave job so I could afford the house-of-your-dreams and the pretentious Prius that you fill up at PB every chance you get, and then charge the gas on your Bank of America card!”

“Oh, like you’re Mr. Social Conscience with your cheap, plastic made-in-China Adirondack chairs that you bought at Walmart.”

“So sue me!”

“Maybe I will! Maybe I’ll sue you for abandonment, and meanness!”

“F@%K You!”

Wait a minute …

May I suggest that we assume the other’s innocence and love—that we perhaps stop for a moment, hit the reset button, and try reading the script through the filter of the admiration we feel for those people we’ve shared so much of ourselves with? the admiration we know lies just beneath the fear and self-justified suspicions lurking at the surface?

I mean, we might as well be happy.