Saturday, November 19, 2011


            After leaving Lydia—it was almost one in the morning--Les remembered Diana. Jesus! Did she go to the priest’s place without him? Where was it anyway? What was it called? He drove to her house. The lights were out in all the apartments. Just as well. They could talk tomorrow after class.
He slept in his office on the floor between the desk and the bookshelves. At six he woke and his body ached. The muscles of the right side of his neck had stiffened deep up under his skull and tight behind the right eyeball. 
The theatre dressing rooms and showers were in the basement. He took a towel and a change of clothes with him. Twenty-six minutes later, he was in his office stowing his sleeping bag when Olivia came to the door.
“I’m just leaving,” he said. “Forgot something at home this morning. Gotta go back.”
“You can’t continue to do this,” Olivia said. She didn’t move her head, but she let him see her eyes taking in the office. He was aware of his damp hair and the sleeping bag in his hands and the towel on the desk.
“Do what?” he said.
“For one thing, there is no insurance for this.”
“Olivia, I’m sorry but I have to go.”
            “Come to my office this afternoon after your class. I’d like to ask you something.”
            You’d like to ask me something? he wanted to say. Right. But he had to get to his car—Lydia’s car—and drive home. 
            “See you at three,” he said.
Patti and Derek were already up and eating breakfast. They were sitting in their usual chairs and he and Lydia sat in theirs. It felt tentative, like the first run-through of a scene with unfamiliar blocking. Patti and Derek stayed in their chairs because that’s where director Lydia had told them to stay. They listened as Lydia and Les talked. They did not cry, they did not question or challenge, and he was aware of their struggle to follow the script. They had stopped eating. He said nothing about their discomfort because he wanted to leave as soon as he could.
Everything he was doing felt wrong.
He was back at school in time for the faculty meeting. It was he and Olivia and Fred Whister, the history/literature/criticism teacher, and Portia Baker from the English Department. She taught playwriting and Les had no idea what her qualifications were. Caleb Deering wasn’t there.
As Olivia talked, Les looked out the window. Two summer students were sitting under a thick tall tree. She leaned against the trunk, he lay on his stomach at her feet. She said something and he laughed and rolled onto his back. Les turned from the window.
            After the meeting Olivia told him she wouldn’t see him later after all. “I forgot I’ll be meeting Caleb’s class then.” She saw his look and said, “He’s back Monday. I agreed to cover for him.”
            He said it was okay because he’d forgotten that he had to run an errand anyway.
“Can you come to my house at five?” she asked. “I’d like to show you something.”
You’d like to show me something? he wanted to say. What the hell does that mean? 
“Yes,” he said, “five.”
            And why the hell wasn’t Caleb teaching his fucking class? Oh yeah, right, he was on some goddamn tropical island with his bitch--with both his bitches.
He felt the way he used to feel dragging himself back to the base after a weekend of drinking and whoring all over Berlin. All over West Berlin. At least then he felt beat up because he’d been drinking and fucking. Now he felt beat up because he’d been beat up.
It was going to be a very short first class meeting.

            Diana left the bank with just enough time to get to Les’s class. Dumping the class today would be an immature way to retaliate for his dumping her yesterday. But she could make him squirm a little and wonder if she was going to show up at all. She opened the door to the theatre auditorium exactly at two o’clock.
Les wasn’t there. She counted five people sitting scattered in the front several rows. Tammy DeBardeau was one of them. Lord. And Alexia Farrell. Shit. There was a balding middle-aged man who turned in his seat to look at her with wide-open eyes and an expectant smile. He was wearing a short-sleeved seersucker shirt and though she couldn’t see the rest of him, she’d bet on khakis and hush puppies. Sitting in another row was James Bolton, who had stage-managed Temple’s play. He was staring at the fingers of his right hand as they traced the contours of the knuckles of his left hand. And sitting in the farthest seat in another row was a youngish red-headed woman Diana had seen on campus but whom she couldn’t place.
            “Did you read today’s paper?” Tammy asked, handing her a copy and pointing to the bottom of the page: College Professor in Auto Mishap.
            Diana stood reading. The back door opened and Les came into the auditorium and Diana sat in an aisle seat a row behind everyone else.
If Les was squirming, he wasn’t showing it. He said something private to Tammy and gave her his guru smile that suggested she was in on a secret with him. Diana had seen that tactic before. It was designed to make everyone else want to become part of the inner circle. He surveyed the room with an expectant look she had seen him manufacture at the beginning of rehearsals. Then he registered his best pleasantly surprised expression and said, “Alexia! You’re not an actress.”
            “If I want to design costumes for actors I guess I should know what they’re doing,” she said as she wiped the back of her hand against her troll nose. “And anyway I’ve been wanting to feed my inner actor.”
Les continued to survey the class, pausing to look amused and puzzled at the balding middle-aged man.
 “And my father’s gone all summer,” Alexia said, “and I’ll be damned if I'm going to live at home and let my step-mother turn my life into a worse Grimm fairy tale than she already has.”
The middle-aged man gave a surprised little laugh and everyone looked at him. He introduced himself as Thomas F. Greer, the speech and drama teacher at the high school. This was the first class he had taken at the college as he was beginning credits toward a Master’s Degree in Education. He smiled broadly.
Next Tammy said she thought a summer acting class could only help deepen and hone her craft and then James Bolton said he was making up a credit for a class he had dropped last quarter because of the play. When Diana said she had been intrigued by how good the actors in that spring production were and that she wanted to explore what acting was all about, she thought Les looked relieved. Finally the youngish woman sitting off by herself gave just the slightest toss of her short red hair and said she was Gloria Westerman. She worked in the dean’s office and she was hoping to get help with her shyness in speaking in front of people. In his most charmingly teasing tone, Les suggested a public speaking class and Gloria smiled and lowered her eyes and then looked back up at him.
Les told them that since they were few in number he could better tailor the class to their individual needs.
“I want us to work on plays with complex characters,” he said. “People with flaws as well as virtues, with needs that make them take actions we might not completely approve of. Characters who are, in fact, like actual human beings. People like us.” He did not look at Diana--a little too determinedly, she thought. “Chekhov,” he said. “Maybe Ibsen. Maybe something more contemporary too. Mamet? Shepard? We’ll see what the class dynamics suggest.”
They heard unhurried footsteps coming from the wings of the stage and from behind a side curtain Douglas Wrythe appeared. He was wearing white tennis shorts and was carrying a racquet. “Sorry I’m late,” he said without remorse. “My eleven o’clock broke her ankle on the court and I took her to the hospital.”
He jumped off the stage and came up the aisle and stopped at Diana’s row. He looked directly at her with a smile that suggested she might regret being here. “May I?” he said, and she angled her legs to let him in. He sat in the seat next to her.
“Don’t bother sitting,” Les said, “I was just letting everybody go. We’ll work out the syllabus next class. Diana, may I talk with you?”
Everyone left and Diana showed Les the newspaper story. As he read it, she watched Douglas walking out with Tammy. Les asked if she was going to the priest’s place again today because, he really was sorry, but he couldn’t go with her then either; he had to take Lydia’s car back and pick up a loaner. After that, he had an appointment he couldn't break. And then she saw him let her see how tired he was.
She said they should wait til both Hardy boys could investigate The Rectory in the Raw together. She was hoping the title might pique his interest. But he looked at his watch and said, “Good, we'll figure something out maybe tomorrow.”

            At five-fifteen Les was sitting in Olivia’s front room. She lived on the road to West Tilton in an old farmhouse with out-buildings and lots of land. The windows of the house had narrow wooden frames and simple curtains. The furniture looked like stuff that was passed down in families. He realized he’d never been here. He wasn’t sure if any of the other faculty had either.
            Olivia poured two glasses of sherry. She had changed from the dark blue suit she was wearing in school into a green and black plaid straight skirt and a white blouse. Her sandy-streaked gray hair was still knotted at the back of her head, but it seemed softer, looser. And her front teeth seemed bigger, even prominent, as if when she relaxed even her teeth relaxed.
“I have had reason recently to wish that I were not completely alone out here,” she was saying as she handed him his glass.
            “Are you all right? What happened?”
            “Nothing to worry about unnecessarily.”
“Ah no no. Health. Heart. It would be good to know that someone was nearby if I needed immediate assistance. You are the only person who knows about my heart and I’d like to keep it that way.”
She sipped from her glass and put it on a side table.
            “Olivia, we wouldn’t last a week with me staying here. We’d strangle each other. Or at least we’d want to. Even if I had my own bathroom.”
            For the first time the entire day, she laughed. “Come. I want to show you something.”
            They went out behind the house to a large two-story barn made of gray weathered wood. It might still hold an old tractor or two. “Follow,” she said, walking past the front double door and around to the back of the building. A wooden staircase led to a second-story landing. She preceded him up the stairs and unlocked the door and let him in. When she switched on the light, he saw they were in the living room of a furnished apartment. There was a sofa and a coffee table and at the window an easy chair with a side table and a reading lamp. On the far side of the room was a counter with four stools and a small kitchen behind it.
She took him down the hall to a bedroom and a bathroom. It was all fully appointed.
“There would be nothing expected of you beyond proximity in case of emergency. In exchange, I ask no rent. You will be independent here. There’s even a back road you can use if you want.”
The students thought Miss Troute was something of a prude, perhaps of the sisterhood of the New England spinster. And it was easy to understand why: The way she dressed, the way she carried herself, her precise way of speaking. Les had wondered about the person who might possibly live behind the Miss Troute the students knew and the Olivia he knew. And here in her house he was getting a glimpse of her. Even in the way she spoke: There was a softer “r” and something of a drawl to her vowels. Perhaps even a lilt. Was it New England? Maybe the South.
He accepted her offer.
Before he left, he asked, “How long have you lived here?”
“I bought this house when I came to the college a long time ago.”
“Was the apartment here then?”
“I had that built.”
“May I ask why?”
“You may. But that story is for another time.”
He nodded.
            “No matter how well we know someone,” she said, ”there’s always a surprise to be had, no?”
It was his turn to laugh for the first time today.
“Sometimes I think there are little nascent budding others in each of us that continue to emerge so long as we are alive,” she said. “So long as we nourish them, cherish them.”
“Sounds like a tale from the crypt.”
“Perhaps we die when we have used up--or more likely killed off--all of our embryonic other us-es. When there are no new buds to surprise ourselves with.”
He smiled. At what she was saying, yes, but more at the light in her gray eyes and the few white hairs that had worked free from above her left ear and at her own smile playing at the corners of lips that now seemed not quite full enough to cover her prominent front teeth. He couldn’t tell if she was putting him on or if she was pleased to be sharing something of her philosophy of life with him.
She gave him keys. He left promising to return with his things later in the evening.
After his car pulled out of the driveway and onto the road, she turned out the lights and sat in the darkness. “Well, my darling Barbara,” she said not quietly, “at last your apartment will have someone in it.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

SEVENTEEN: You Your Emily Dickinson and I My Robert Frost

            "Derek said they’re sad.”
            “He said she pissed herself in school.”
            It was late. They were sitting at the kitchen table. She had made a pot of tea. Derek and Patti had finally gone to sleep after he promised he’d stay overnight. He and Lydia had been talking for more than an hour. He told her how he had come to crash into the mailbox on Starke Street and she told him how she’d gone with Patti to Lake Wildemere. How they had sat on the dock and talked. How they had cried together. No, she hadn’t thought to notify the school.
There were silences when there was nothing more to say or when they both realized that the next thing either might say would be hurtful. At least, he thought, they were trying to be unhurtful. It was nearly midnight. He was exhausted but he wanted to talk as long as she wanted to. They hadn’t mentioned Diana and he was hoping they would not.
Lydia had taken off her hair band and with her elbows on the table she held her hair behind her ears.
“Do you love her?” she asked simply and he could see--or rather he could sense--the effort it was costing her to ask openly and without accusation, without implication.
He couldn’t answer her as straightforwardly as she had asked.
She waited.
Finally he said, “I think I’ve been wondering for a while now if you ever loved me. Really loved me.”
She closed her eyes a moment. “We will talk about that,” she said, again simply, “if you want. But just now we need to talk about you and Diana Heard.”
You and Diana Heard. There it was. Clean. Direct. Unthreatening. She almost sounded concerned for him.
“Do you love her?”
In his lap under the tabletop he clasped his hands together. “Yes,” he said. And then, “I do. Yes.”
She touched her teacup with the fingertips of both hands. It was her grandmother's wedding china. Her hair fell on either side of her face.
“My father didn’t like you,” she said. “He didn’t trust you. He thought you were arrogant and manipulative.”
He had heard these things before, but they were always said with her quiet, wounding precision. And then he would hurl something ugly at her and slam the door as he left to show that violence was a reality even if it wasn't an actual option. But tonight something was different. She was not attacking. She was asking questions truly, engaging him truly.
“Though I remember,” she was saying, “that he did appreciate your telling him my sense of humor was delightful. I think he thought he was responsible for my sense of humor. Mother liked you well enough, though she never said so to him.” She took a deep breath. “I thought you were brilliant. Not in a bio-engineering way. In a creative way that neither I nor either of my parents could approach. Mother long ago had taken piano lessons. Father said that any field of science was a more imaginative pursuit than any art. And I...”
She pulled her hair back again. “I didn’t care that you were manipulative,” she said. “I was better at that than you were. I know you’ve always thought I manipulated you into marriage. I know you think I tricked you about my being pregnant. And I’ve let you think that. I’m not sure why.”
He'd never thought he was tricked. He had always believed she'd been pregnant. Hadn’t he? But if that was true, what had he resented all these years? What did he still blame her for?
“Maybe because it kept you off balance,” she was saying, “as if it were a source of power—for me, not you. I don’t know. But it isn’t true. I was pregnant.” She looked directly at him and said, “Yes, I loved you. I really loved you.”
She spoke deliberately, easily. “I had spent my life surrounded by intellects and artists, or at least academics. And always one or another of them trying to find his way in to me—a new faculty member or the son of an old faculty member. Or once or twice a daughter.” She almost smiled. “And every one of them reminded me of my father. Only less so. They were always, finally, lesser. You, though, you were dangerous. You had been to places and not the obvious ones and not just to do research for your next deadly book or your next pointless conference presentation. You respected my father no more than you had to. You dropped consonants purposely when you spoke and you made it part of the power of your language. There was danger in your muscles and in your eyes when you got angry. When you swore you really meant it. And when you were tender, you were like a child or a…I don’t know, an acolyte or something. Devoted, careful, aware. You tended my heart. You…uplifted me.”
She looked at her fingers touching the empty cup. “Yes, I loved you really.” 
She put the band back in her hair and she poured herself more tea. “I hated coming here. I don’t think I liked Chicago all that much but I hated coming here and for a few years I believed it would be temporary. I am aware that that hatred closed off a part of me to you. I am aware that the delightful sense of humor of my youth has lost its delight and much of its humor. That it has been replaced by a…honed rancor that has…diminished me. Perhaps I have not been aware just how much…damage…it has done.”
She sat still.
He knew he was supposed to say something now, but he also knew it mustn't be the wrong thing.
“I guess I’ve never wanted to admit how much you...hate…living in Falkes Hollow,” he said. “I was so happy when I got the job. I didn't think I’d finish college let alone get an MA. And they hired me without a PhD, what were the chances of that? I guess it didn’t occur to me until too late that you weren’t happy.”
“I don’t know that I still hate it,” she said. “Some time ago it became…tolerable. Reality.”
“Some time ago we stopped liking each other.” He brought his hands together on the table top. He hadn’t touched his tea. “For lots of reasons.”
"Ah," she said.
“We stopped wanting to understand each other,” he said. “Or believing there was something to understand. I think."
            "We stopped caring.”
She let a moment pass before she asked, “What do you want to do?”
He hesitated, then said, “I don’t know.”
“Have you been staying with her?”
“No.” He tried to read the look in her eyes.
“I have been past her house. She rents the little apartment on the top floor, yes?”
“It’s small, though perhaps not for those who live on love." She caught herself. "No. No wicked tongue tonight.” She took a breath. “If not with her, then where are you staying?”
“I’m all right,” he said, “It’s temporary.”
She acknowledged the evasion with a nod. “What are we going to tell Derek and Patti?”
“I can’t stay here,” he said. “It won’t work. It would be worse for them to be in the middle of that--you know what would happen--than to…deal with this…with us being separated.”
“Terrible things could have happened today,” she said. “When the hospital called,
“Yes,” he said.
“They each could have been killed.”
“Yes,” he said. “I know.”
“Or worse.”
He was quiet.
“Do you want a separation?” she said. “A legal separation?”
“I don’t know, I guess not yet, I mean--”
“A divorce?”
He was beginning to feel the way he felt just before he lost control of the car. “It doesn’t have to be decided by tomorrow, does it?”
"What will we tell them?"
            "The truth. That things are up in the air. They’ll understand.”
            They sat looking at their teacups.
“The daybed in the study is still made up.”
“I can’t stay tonight.”
“You promised them, you told them--”
“I would have told them anything. I’ll be here first thing. Classes start tomorrow. I can miss the morning faculty meeting. My class is at two."
She got up slowly and put the teacups in the sink, came back for the teapot and put it on the counter. He saw suddenly that she looked exhausted, too.
“Can I take your car?" he said. "Should I call a cab?"
            She gave him her keys and she walked him to the door.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thanks for coming to the hospital.”
She nodded.
“For talking.”
She nodded again.
“I’ll be here before they wake up. They don’t need to know I didn’t stay the night. How about seven-thirty?”
“They’ll be up before then.”
“Okay, seven?”
“Do as you need to do,” she said.
After he left, she sat at the kitchen table for some minutes. Then she switched off the lights and went upstairs. She opened the door to Patti’s room and she looked inside. The bed was empty.
There was a twinge of fear. She checked the bathroom. Empty. She opened the door to Derek’s room and stood in the doorway. In the near darkness she could see them sleeping in each other’s arms.
She didn’t move, made not a sound, but he awoke.
“Is Dad here?” he said.
“No, sweetheart,” and before he could say anything else, “but he’ll be here first thing in the morning and we’ll all have breakfast together and we’ll talk, okay?”
He was a shadow on the bed and she was a silhouette in the doorway. “Sometimes I hate him,” he said without hatred.
 “I know, sweetie.” She went into the room and sat on the bed and she touched the side of his face with one hand and with the other she smoothed Patti’s hair as she slept. “Sometimes I hate him too.”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

SIXTEEN: Un--, Im--, Ir--, Dis--, Perv--

            Diana had crouched so low behind the yellow rose bushes as Father John Nepomucine and the young girl came down the path that she could no longer see them. Her heart was thumping. She was barely breathing. She had read somewhere that in trauma the body feels less pain if the lungs aren’t working and so during fearful situations you hold your breath. 
            It wasn’t until later that she laughed at her fear. What would have happened had she simply stood up and said, “Father Nepomucine, may I please speak with you? Would you prefer to be dressed or shall I just walk along with you and…?”
            And the child. Diana couldn’t tell what he and the child were talking about because they weren’t speaking English. Was it Italian? For a moment she thought it might be Church Latin. Was it French? She’d had one semester of French in high school but Mrs. Joy—ah, the irony of the name!—who was actually the Spanish teacher, had taken over the French class when the French teacher, Monsieur Krickowski, had suffered a heart attack during the home room period and had died on the way to the hospital. Mrs. Joy pronounced French the way class clown Alex Rosenfeld did when he was making fun of the way people who had no gift for languages spoke French. And Diana had no more gift for speaking French than did Mrs. Joy. Still, Diana was pretty sure that Father Nepomucine and the little girl were talking to each other in French.
            It wasn’t until they'd gone past her that she felt she could breathe and shift position enough to be able to watch them through the rose leaves. Father Nepomucine’s black hair curled farther down the back of his neck than she had noticed at Moira’s memorial service. And he seemed taller, though that might be because he was naked and the top of the girl’s head came only to the top of his hip. His glutes moved rhythmically in the late afternoon sunlight. “Jesus,” Diana said. Saint Cecilia’s Rectory must have a gym.
            The girl was thin and light and agile, as balanced and graceful as a dancer. She skipped alongside Father Nepomucine and she faced him and walked backwards and one hand pulled at her shiny black hair and she executed a ballet step or two as they walked and talked. She laughed pipingly in response to his bubbling liquid baritone. 
            They came to a turn in the path and Father Nepomucine leaned over and lifted her and she straddled his neck and sat on his shoulders.
Diana’s thoughts were not so much racing as careening into one another. Her heart was pounding, but it wasn’t simply from fear. Or at least not from the simple fear of being discovered. It was fear of what she was thinking. And to think clearly, she had to get out of the garden. She had time enough to slip through the hedge and creep among the apple trees along the side of the house before Father Nepomucine and the child could walk around the periphery of the garden and come back to the entrance from the other side.
If she met Gardener Leatherface, she would hurl herself into him and then bolt.
            The brick driveway in front of the house was clear and empty. She walked purposefully but unhurriedly as if she had just left a business meeting in the rectory. When she got to the gravel road, she jogged down to the foot of the hill, through the gate and to her car.
            Which wasn’t there.
            She had parked it just outside the gate, hadn’t she? She couldn’t be mistaken. Had it been stolen? Why would anyone steal a nine-year old Datsun?
            “This is private property,” said a voice from behind her. She turned to see Leatherface standing some way up the gravel road behind the gate. He was holding the psycho killer garden tool. “And if you park on private property, you’re just liable to get yer car towed.” 
He stood looking at her. She wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, she wanted to rip the tool out of his hands, she wanted to pick up a rock and at least throw it at him. But she stood helpless and open-mouthed.
He turned and walked up the gravel road toward the rectory.
What to do? The Bradish Towing lot was out on Harbour Road on the other side of town past where last year the mall had been built. And here she was, standing on Old Harbour Road on this side of town. She couldn’t yell after Leatherface and ask if she might use the rectory phone to call the police or the towing company. Or a cab. Or a friend. And, oh yeah, why the hell wasn’t Les here with her?
It was only a couple of miles to town and there was still enough light in the sky to walk to a phone. And it would give her time to think. She walked, staying just at the edge of the macadam. There were few cars.
In the late afternoon light the Saint Cecilia Rectory garden had been Maxfield Parrish beautiful. Summer fragrances hung in the air. Father Nepomucine was beautiful and the little girl had danced around him beautifully. In the late afternoon sunlight their bodies had moved beautifully and something of the interplay between the two of them—like a muscled planet orbited by a spritely moon—was all grace and beauty.
But Maxfield Parrish was also creepy and Father John Nepomucine was a man and Spritely Moon was a prepubescent girlchild and they had been walking naked together on the graveled garden pathway. Something behind Diana’s heart tensed and held tight to its discomfort. Something in her wished it had something outside her against which to contextualize what she was thinking. (All this happened before the sex abuse trials of places like the McMartin pre-school of Manhattan Beach, California, and before the explosion of sexual molestation charges against Roman Catholic priests.)
Some distance ahead of her Diana saw where the road bridged over a shallow tributary of the Schuylhanna River, marking the beginning of town. Across the bridge was the Falkes Hollow Lutheran Care Center that only a few years ago had been a family dairy farm. She remembered her aunt Louanne (her mother’s oldest sister) sitting in a wheelchair on a side porch at the facility, a blanket over her knees, her head lolling forward, her eyes unfocused beneath the brow, her mouth hanging open.
Who was this child sprite? Was she living at the rectory? Was she related to Father Nepomucine? They had been comfortable and easy walking together. Ohmygod, what if she was his daughter! Well, what if she was? What difference would it make to whether what they were doing was right or wrong? What was Diana to do? Who should she talk to? And what would she say? I saw the priest at Saint Cecilia’s Rectory walking naked in his garden with a child? Was that illegal? Was it immoral? It was at least suspicious, wasn't it, even if it wasn't inherently wrong or necessarily indecent? Did she really believe that? Or was she--
“Diana! Diana Heard!”
The voice came from a car that had just passed her and had pulled off the road about twenty yards back. 
Diana went to the car. There were two people in it.
The driver was Tammy DeBardeau. Diana hadn't seen her since, incredibly, she had recited a poem that Moira's brother had written for Moira's memorial service. 
“Wanna ride?” she said.
            On the passenger side sat Douglas Wrythe. In the days following Moira's death, he had been the primary object of Tammy’s delight in saying aloud what others dared only to think. And here he was in Tammy's car. Or maybe she was driving his car. And maybe it wasn’t so incredible after all that he had asked her to recite the poem at the memorial service. In truth, she had delivered it beautifully.
            “Get in,” Tammy said. “Where are you going? What are you doing out here?”
            “I think my car’s been towed.”
            “Well, let’s go find out,” Tammy said.
Diana got in the back seat and Tammy drove back toward town.
“Where did it get towed from?” Tammy asked.
            In the passenger seat, Douglas Wrythe had turned and was looking at Diana and he was smiling with a delight that Diana knew she wasn’t meant to share.
            “Do you know where the auto towing lot is?” Diana said.
            Tammy laughed. “I’m from West Tilton. Practically a townie. Been to Bradish Towing many a late Saturday night and Sunday morning.”
            “Towed from the side of the road, eh?” Douglas said still smiling, still ungenerously.
“Yeah,” Tammy said, “were you out picking mushrooms after work or what?”
            “Not worth talking about,” Diana said. “Where were you two going?”
            Tammy laughed. “After a long day teaching Falkes Hollow’s lonely needy middle-aged wives to play tennis--among other things I’m sure—" (All this happened before the word 'cougar' referred to anything other than a wild cat, a sports team, or an automobile) “--Pro Wrythe here needed a little distraction and ‘DeBardeau’ is French for ‘little distraction’, n'est-ce pas?”
            Douglas looked out the side window. “I was just telling Tammy how worked up Professor Overchord was this afternoon,” he said and Tammy said, “Speaking of lonely needy middle-aged women, right?” and Douglas said, “He was pretty intense about trying to find out where Lydia was.”
            “‘Lydia’!” Tammy hooted. “Half a tennis lesson and it’s ‘Lydia’ already!” Then to Diana, “She knows about you and Les, right?”
            “Oooo wow,” Diana said, “maybe I should’ve just taken my chances on deserted Old Harbour Road.”
            “Hah!” Tammy said.
            Diana couldn’t stop herself from asking, “What was going on with Les?” Maybe he did have good reason for baling on The Mystery of the Naked Priest.
            “Lydia’s in the middle of her lesson,” Tammy was saying, “which Pro Wrythe tells me was going very well—and we all know what that means--when little Patti comes crying onto the court and suddenly Lydia and Patti are leaving and a few minutes later Les comes in all frantic and he wants to know where they are—“
            Douglas was still looking out his window.
            “--and he storms out and I come and get Dougie to go for a drive in the country and then there you are walking along the side of the road picking mushrooms or something—“
            “Maybe she'd just gone to confession,” Douglas said.
            “Confession?” Tammy said.
“Maybe for penance she had to walk along the road and say three Hail Marys and fifty Our Fathers and let her car be towed.”
“Do Catholics still go to confession?" Tammy said. "Are you even a Catholic? Is there a church out here?”
            “Or maybe she was pulling a Charlie’s Angels,” Douglas said.
            “Did you find out what was going on with Les and his family?” Diana asked.
            “Nope,” Douglas said and he chuckled and rubbed the top of his buzz-cut.
            “Seriously,” Tammy said, looking at Diana in the rear-view mirror, “what’s up with you and Les? Does Lydia know?”
            “Tammy, I don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m gonna leave it at that.”
            Tammy laughed. “Whatever. And by the way, what would Charlie’s Angels have to investigate out on Old Harbour Road?”
            “Who knows what intrigues, both venial and mortal, bubble and brew at the far ends of those gravel drives,” Douglas said, looking at Diana. 
“Which Charlie’s angel do you think I’m most like?” Tammy asked.
“Who knows what kinky exploits flower along the walkways of those mysterious walled country gardens,” Douglas said.
Diana looked directly at him and did not blink.
"I'm thinking Farrah," Tammy said.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

FIFTEEN: Twist and Shout

Les went to the counter at the front desk of the old gym and he called the police. Desk Sergeant Whoever had the same response as Principal Whatever, Breznick.
            Have you talked with Mrs. Overchord?
            Have you checked at home? Lots of times kids just go home.
            I know you’re worried, sir, but there’s probably nothing to worry about. Call your wife. Call home.
            Yes, sir, in the meantime, if you want, I will send an officer over to the school.
            Les called home. The phone rang. And rang.
Anger, Les taught his acting students, is the word we use to describe the powerful emotional effects generated by a clash of conflicting urges to take elemental direct action, especially when we must restrain ourselves from taking action because of lesser, though equally powerful, forces. Good actors, he said, focus on action and not on emotion. 
Les wanted to smash the telephone against the wall. He wanted to take Sergeant Fuckoff by the front of his pale blue shirt and punch his stupid pig face. He wanted to grab Lydia at whatever goddamn coffee date or shopping mall or pedifuckingcure palace she was and drag her ass home. He wanted to hold Patti and hug her and he wanted to shake her til her bones dislocated. He wanted—
“Professor Overchord, hi!”
He was gripping the edge of the counter. He lifted his head and turned. It was Douglas Wrythe.
“Or can I still say ‘Les’ even though we’re not in rehearsal?” He was smiling but he wasn’t friendly.
Les wanted to push the smug asshole out of the way and get out of the building. “It’s ‘Les’ wherever,” he said. “The sixties decided that.”
Douglas laughed. “What brings you to this part of campus? Tennis lessons?" He was holding a racquet in one hand and two tennis balls in the other.
            "Huh? Oh. No."
            "Too bad. I'd like to turn the tables on you.” He laughed again and in a passable Southern accent he said, “The tables have turned with a vengeance.”
“No,” Les said, “I—“
“Love to be the teacher and you the student.” Douglas was still smiling and something in his eyes still wasn’t playing along.
“I’m sorry, Douglas, I apologize if I’m being rude, but I have to—“ and he was going out the door.
“Hey, Les!” Douglas called. “Tell Lydia I hope everything's okay!”
If he had hurled a javelin into Les’s spine he couldn’t have stopped him colder. Les turned. He came back.
“You've seen Lydia?”
“Uh huh.” Douglas swung the tennis racquet.
You’re her--?”
“Hey, guy’s gotta find a way to pay for summer classes somehow.”
“You saw her today?”
“Yup. Was her first time. She’s pretty good. But then, she didn’t stay the whole hour.”
“When? When was this?”
            "One o'clock. She was supposed to stay til two--"
            "What happened?"
            "Patti came--"
            "She came onto the court right during the lesson. Something was up.”
“Where are they? What did they say?”
“I didn’t listen. Patti was crying and Lydia cancelled, they both left.”
“How did Patti get here?”
“Dunno. All of a sudden she was on the court and she was crying and Lydia went over to her and I backed off.”
They were together! Why weren't they at home? Maybe he should call the mall. Where did she go when she took the kids out? When she went out with friends? With Jean Balfour?
            He was in the car and driving home before he was conscious of having made a decision to do it. 
            There was no one there. He went upstairs to the bedroom. It smelled like her. Her perfume. Or shampoo. What was he looking for? Open drawers? Clothes? Kidnapping!
He went to Patti’s room. The bed was made. There was a doll on the floor by the dresser. How long was it since he'd been--? If he stopped moving, he knew he would collapse, maybe stop altogether.
He was down the stairs and out the door. As he was unlocking the car, he realized he’d forgotten to lock the front door, he’d left the house wide open. He ran back and locked the door. He was breathing fast and hard.
He drove as calmly as he could--he knew it wasn’t calm at all--to the Falkes Hollow playing fields. It wasn’t game day, was it? Just practice, right?
He found the Little League field and walked across to the coach. What was his name?
“Hi, Coach, I’m Derek Overchord’s father. Where is he? I have to talk to him.”
Derek was in right field. The coach called him in. He was mortified and Les could see he was also scared. They walked to the sidelines. Derek looked up at Les with his mouth open. Les knelt on one knee.       
“Do you know where your mother and Patti are?”
“Dad, what’s happening?”
“I don’t know, buddy. Maybe nothing. Do you know where Patti is?”
“No, where is she?” There were tears in his eyes. "What's happening?" He tried not to, but he started to shake. He turned his back to the field so no one would see him.
Les grabbed him, held him. “No, no, no, buddy, don’t get upset. I’m just trying to find them.”
And then Derek was sobbing. “Why! What happened!” He held tight to Les and part of him was also trying to get away.
 “Do you know why Patti left school today?”
“No, huh uh, I don’t know.” 
            He wouldn't look directly at Les.
“She’s just sad, we’re sad.”
“Dad, please, I dunno. The kids said she peed herself.”
“Mrs. Short told her she should wait til lunch and I guess she tried to but she didn’t make it.”
“Holy Jesus Christ.” Les grabbed Derek’s arm at the elbow and started walking.
“Dad, please, I want to stay at practice.”
“Get your stuff.”
“Dad, please!”
“Do it, goddamnit!”
The coach was walking toward them and Les shouted, “Not now!”
They were on the way to Falkes Hollow Elementary, neither with a seatbelt fastened, when Les drove through a red light as a motorcycle came into the intersection and he jammed the brake and swerved the car and smashed into a mail collection box. 
Both the motorcyclist and a friend on a second bike kept speeding on down the street and out of sight.
They were taken to the hospital and released some time later. Lydia came for them. Patti was with her.

Monday, September 5, 2011

FOURTEEN: Defying Augury

During the night Caleb was awakened--though he wasn’t sure he had actually been asleep--by banging and clattering. He followed the noise into the parlour and down the short hallway to the kitchen where the floor was covered in pots and pans and serving spoons and bowls. Mummy was on her knees in front of one of the cupboards and she was pulling out cookie sheets.
“I’m sure I have the right pan, darling,” she said. “I have only to find it.”
Standing to one side was George. She was dressed in a nightgown that looked like one of her peasant dresses, though paler in color. She had covered her mouth with her right hand and with her left she was pulling a strand of hair. Caleb had never seen her with her hair down. She looked at him with her usual placid face though her eyes showed more hopeless panic--or simple pain--than usual.
“Mummy has decided to bake your birthday cake,” she said.
“What time is it?”
She looked at the wall clock. “Three-seventeen.”
“Well, dear, it occurred to me that I may not have time to bake Caleb’s cake later today as I have agreed to spend the day helping Mavis Blanchard with her prize spaniels.”
“I’m sure Mavis would understand if you can’t help.”
“Oh, no, darling, Mavis is narrow-minded and she carries a grudge.”
“She may be grateful that you can’t be there.”
Mummy pulled her head out of the cupboard and looked at George. “There’s no need to be unkind, dear,” she said. “Either to Mavis or to me.”
George assured Caleb that all would be well and he went back to the front sitting room. It was dark inside. Temple lay in bed awake. Earlier he had suggested he try the lumpy bed and Caleb the air mattress.
“What is it?” he said.
“Mummy’s decided to bake my birthday cake.” He was standing by the bed. Dappled moonlight came in through the window. “Little creatures were keeping me awake all night anyway."
"Animals? Conscience?"
"Mosquitoes. Mites. Bed bugs."
"I've been kept awake too. Different animals though.”
Caleb put his hand on Temple’s head, his fingers in Temple’s hair.
Several moments passed before Temple said, “My affections do not that way tend,” but his hand covered Caleb’s gently and stayed there a full minute.
“Pardon, my lord,” Caleb finally said. He went to the air mattress at the foot of the bed. “I have shot mine arrow o’er the house. Not to fret. It won’t happen again.”
Temple said goodnight and Caleb tried to sleep.
George succeeded in convincing Mummy to abandon her late-night cake baking and next morning she and Caleb went to the bakery to get a cake. Afterwards they were sitting in the ruins of the Unfinished Church. (All this happened before the Bermuda National Trust closed off the site to visitors.)
Caleb had been talking steadily. She was listening placidly and her smirk had returned.
“If I were an addict," he was saying, "you would be a failure as a sponsor.”
“You have stayed completely away. I spend all my time with him.”
“Which is what you wanted.”
“Your moped broke down the first hour and you never got another one.”
“Who can resist the will of the gods?”
"And by the way, I still can't get used to which side of the road I'm supposed to be on at any given time."
“Mummy would be alarmed.”
“You would help keep me on the right side of the road. Instead you stay apart and busy yourself with your mother and your father.”
“They’re my mother and my father.”
“I bought a sketch book to fill with Bermuda sketches to give you as a gift. All I’ve done is write about him.” He took the book from his backpack and read:
When I look at him, bronze and nut-brown against the blue sheet, his hair turning long and blonde-streaked in the sun,—
“My my.”
“--I imagine him engaged in thrilling sexuality, sustained, swelling chords and gentle glissandos.”
“Playing his own flute, alas.”
He would be as profoundly moving in lithe, luxurious lovemaking as the butterfly that ever-so-erratically plopped on my elbow in Granny's backyard, pulsating sweetly, silently. Would he not make love like velvet? Like the deep and powerful throbs of the ocean current that nearly carried me past the rock where he sat 'like a mermaid' as he later said?”
“There’s a term for this,” George said.
“Mmmm, not exactly.  I was thinking Really Bad Writing.”
I have sat next to him as he lies on the beach, following with my eyes the trace of hair that weaves its loose path from his navel to the puff of pubic gold poking out of the top of his speedo.
“Bruisedly purple prose.”
Caleb closed the sketchbook. “Today, he’s been sitting and stretching and moving in his little running shorts—“
“--that lift the testicles and curve the penis in an arc to the right against the blue stretch of nylon and spandex,” George said.
“You've noticed.”
“Ah, I too could be a really bad writer.”
“Last night I was lying in bed when he came in. I watched him standing in the square of moonlight, naked, his back to me—“
“--as he took his shorts off and put on his scrubs. He stopped to say goodnight. He leaned over to hug me. I kissed him. Quickly. On the lips.”
“And ejaculated in the instant.”
“Not until after he was sound asleep.”
“Criminal waste.”
“Yesterday we went to a beach where there were children playing. It was thrilling to watch him with kids: relaxed, easy, funny, actually talking—even his facial muscles changed.”
“I think I read somewhere,” George said, “that sociopaths often relate beautifully to children.” 
“I hate myself for talking like this about him to you. And yet I do it.”
With the back of her hands she wiped tears from her cheeks. She had not been laughing.
That evening after dinner, Mummy could be heard whispering very loudly in the kitchen to George: “I have forgotten to get candles for Caleb’s cake. Whatever shall we do?”
In minutes George came out of the kitchen holding the cake in front of her. Mummy followed holding a lighted candle of five stacked wax totems. They were the letters C-A-L-E-B.
“George has saved the day,” Mummy said. “She had this candle made in Pennsylvania and she brought it with her just for tonight. Happy birthday, Caleb.”

George wasn't at all certain that Temple would understand the irony of the Government House celebration of the Queen’s birthday. With people avoiding Mummy and with George having to watch Daddy experiencing publicly the failure he feels he's become, she told Caleb she simply didn't want to have to deal with wondering what Temple might say or do at any moment. And so she told Temple that there wasn’t an invitation for him.
Temple said he hadn’t brought anything to wear anyway.
It was a garden party on the expansive lawn of Government House. Caleb thought it was like the hotel grounds in Last Year at Marienbad, but in color and if Robert Altman had directed it.
There was a moment when someone--Lord or Mister Horsefield or Harshfield--said something to George about her husband as he was nodding toward Caleb. And George answered his question without so much as a twitch.
It occurred to Caleb that Temple might have had a very good time indeed.
At nine o’clock, Mummy and Daddy and George went to someone’s house to watch home movies of old Bermuda. Caleb pleaded weariness and a friend of the Ekdahls drove him to Bridge House. He could see Temple sitting on the balcony in the moonlight. 
“Will you let me in? I didn’t bring a key." 
Temple came downstairs and opened the door. He had a nearly-empty bottle of Bush Mills in one hand and with the other he handed Caleb a gin and bitters. In the dark he put his arm around Caleb. He was drunk. “Home is the hunter, home from the hill. How was it?”
“The vestiges of dead empire. Have you been here all evening?”
“The cemetery for a while. Thought I’d take the opportunity to write.” His arm stayed against Caleb’s back, his hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “It’s all crap.”
Caleb put his arm around Temple’s waist and as he turned to face him, he clinked his glass against the Bush Mills bottle to distract him from fears he might have about their near-embrace. “The Queen’s Birthday in Bermuda was all crap,” he said. “Though very funny crap.” They leaned together in the dark doorway. “But only because it was such very sad crap.” Caleb slugged down his drink. “Sorry you had nothing to wear. Put some gin in here.”
“Let’s go up,” Temple said. And by the time they were sitting on the balcony, Caleb had finished the second drink and Temple had poured a third. Soon he was certain he was as drunk as Temple.
“There were the elite and the middle-of-the-roaders and the hangers-on. Though, I was told, not so many people as in years past. Very Cherry Orchard Act Three. There were men in uniform. And women. There were civilians in suits with military decorations and medals. Very Three Sisters Act One. And a man in a vulgar shirt with bright green palm trees and iridescent pink flamingoes. Very Hawaii Five-O.”
Temple was concentrating on rolling a cigarette. It was going slowly. Caleb watched him. Temple said, “You haven’t smoked since Granny’s.”
Caleb smiled. “You noticed!”
“I have. And I salute you.” And he did.
Caleb went on. “During the celebration of the Queen’s birthday at Government House, I witnessed the governor and his wife giving up the pretense of any interest in the people moving through their receiving line just as the military band played The Stripper. And later I saw one of the boys in the band pissing in the bushes while Lady Yesteryear was being helped into a van that would take her and other crumbling ancients of Bermuda society back to the home.”
“You’re fun tonight.”
“I love being with you.” He couldn’t tell if he was slurring his words, but he knew it was difficult getting them all out.
Temple spoke slowly as if he had a ping-pong ball in his mouth. Or marbles. “I always wonder when it will happen that you will hate me.”
“Why me? I don't find myself worthy, so how can I trust it to you?”
“You could turn on me and break my heart in an instant.”
“It’s a pattern, my pattern.”
“I am prepared for, if not always on the alert to, the eventuality of your about-face.” He moved his chair close to Temple’s and Temple leaned his head against his shoulder.
“Maybe I’m doing all this just to get what I can from you,” Temple said.
“Not a surprise. You are a taker of lifestuff.”
“I want to be an artist.”
There was a silence. Then Temple said, “Recently I’ve been thinking if I were homosexual, it would be because of you.”
Caleb smoothed the hair back from Temple’s forehead. “Recently I’ve been thinking we’re both stereotypes, and that would also be because of me.” And then, “Which breaks my heart more than you ever will.”
“If I were sober, I’d be angry. But I’m laughing.” With effort he tossed the cigarette over the balcony.
“When I was in college,” Caleb said, “one of my teachers fell in love with me. You are the universe’s way of righting the balance for the way I treated him.”
“The fall of a sparrow.”
“He told me that he thought of his life as a sequence of eras: The Era of the Pole Vaulter, The Era of the Guitar Player, the Era—“
“—of the Talentless Playwright.”
“God fucking help me.”
“Let’s take the bikes out for a final run around the island.”
             Twenty-seven minutes later they were whipping along in separate lanes around the curve of a narrow roadway between a wall of stones and a wall sheered from the islands’ own volcanic rock when Caleb realized he was in the wrong lane as a bus came directly at him around the curve and he gasped and tried to shrink as narrow as he could, aiming the bike for the tiny space between the side of the bus and the wall of volcanic rock.
The next morning Mummy showed them the newspaper account of a tourist riding a moped--a professional stunt driver--who had been killed the night before in a traffic accident. “She was always so cautious,” her husband said.