Monday, May 30, 2011

FIVE: Circle Jerk

            Alexia Farrell had tears in her little gnome eyes. “I should have been nicer to her,” she said, letting the tears slide down her cheeks. “She had more costume changes than anyone else and I just lost my shit with her.”
“She wanted to talk about breaking up with Doug and I was too busy to listen,” Tammy DeBardeau said. She was sitting with the others in a circle on the theater stage and she looked out into the darkness of the house. “Now I have to live with that.”
Jerry Taller pressed his hands flat against the floor. “Yeah,” he said, “she was hurting and I didn't see it.”
            “I could have paid more attention to her,” someone else said. “Maybe I could have helped her….”
“I kept meaning to help her learn her lines—“
“This production had forty-seven costumes,” Alexia said loudly. "It was insane." Snot leaked from both nose holes. “And on closing night, I had to take care of all of them by myself.”
“Jesus fuck, Alexia, I’m sorry I had to bail, all right?” Keneesha White said, shifting from lotus to Japanese sitting position. “I was in the goddam infirmary for fuck’s sake.”
“Easy, Keneesha, nobody’s blaming you,” Jim Bolton said.
“This isn’t about you,” Alexia said.
Jerry Taller said, “It’s just really hard for me to think—“
“No, it’s about you,” Keneesha mumbled as she checked one of her fingernails.
“--that maybe I had something to do with her killing herself, that’s all.”
“I feel the same way,” Joanne Dark said. She was pulling her hair tighter into her pony tail.
            “Speaking of having something to do with it: is Douglas coming today?” Tammy said.
“Ohmygod, Tammy!” someone gasped.
            “Yeah where is he, anyway?” someone else said.
“I heard he left a rose in the hallway outside her door Saturday night.”
“Yeah, real late—sometime yesterday morning—she was probably inside...already…you know….”
“Aw man, he’s gonna carry that around for a long time.”
“Yeah, maybe about a week.”
There was a silence. And a couple of snickers. Then:
“Where’s Temple?” someone asked.
“Does he even know we’re meeting today?”
“Maybe Caleb’s picking him up.”
            Another snicker.
“Or maybe they’re still having breakfast, hee hee.”
“Yikes, inappropriate.”
“C’mon, if I had to listen any more to how amazing Temple’s play is and what a wonderful privilege it was to design the lights, I was going to puke for days.”
“How about Caleb and Les and their constant pissing contest?”
“Moira got caught big time in the middle of that.”
“Well, to be fair, her inner diva was getting pretty much outer.”
“Yeah, outer control.”
"Les, you’re asking me to be two things at once. I can’t do that. I mean it’s impossible for Octavia to be so completely different from one scene to the next and still be believable."
"Moira, we have the playwright here and he clearly asks for Octavia to be a ball-busting bitch in this scene. Temple, will you please explain to Miss O’Hare exactly what you have in mind."
"Um, well, I suppose I could do a rewrite but I think it’s apparent what my artistic goal is--excuse me while I jerk off."
"And, Moira, if I can just interject here--it’s such an amazing privilege to work on this magnificent play. We can talk about it after the rehearsal, okay? Maybe you'd like to join us, Temple, honey. Or better yet, maybe I could just join you."
            "Hah! Hah!"
“Caleb might have been out of control, but you know what pisses me off even more? Les bringing townie Diana Whatsername into rehearsals as if we wouldn’t know what the hell that was all about.”
“Well, I for one don’t know what you think it was all about. She’s a family friend.”
            “And I'm glad she's a townie. We should extend ourselves into Falkes Hollow as much as we can.”
“Yeah well, Les is extending himself way into Falkes Hollow.”
“I asked Diana to come today,” Alexia said, finally wiping her nose and cheeks with something.
It was at this moment that Olivia Troute’s voice came from the back of the auditorium. “James Bolton, I am assuming that as stage manager you have keys to the theater and that you let everyone in.”
Everyone went quiet. Jim Bolton sat up a bit straighter. “Yes, Miss Troute.” 
She came down the center aisle. She was wearing a grey suit and heels. “And I’m assuming that you are all meeting here to help each other through a traumatic, even a tragic, experience.”
“Yes, Miss Troute.”
She stood at the foot of the stage, her hands folded in front of her. “I just passed Professor Overchord outside. He will be in momentarily. And I assume Professor Deering is on his way.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Beginning tomorrow and extending through reading week and finals, a grief counselor will be available to the department. I advise you all to take advantage of him or her. And a week from tomorrow there will be a campus-wide memorial service in the chapel. I expect the entire theatre department to be there. Now let’s go around the circle and each share a favorite Moira O’Hare story.”

                    *                    *                    *                    *                   *                   *

Outside Diana hadn’t concealed her shock at Les’s announcement. “You’re leaving Lydia?” she said.
“I’m moving out. Getting an apartment in town.”
“Soon. I don’t know. Soon as I can find one.”
“Does she know? What about Patti and Derek?”
“Look, all the details aren’t worked out yet. It’s going to be a rough couple of weeks.”
“Let’s go inside. The students are waiting.”
“You said you and Lydia are separating.”
“Well, Jesus, I’m moving out.”
“But I mean—“
“So, yes, we’re separating.”
“Does she know? What did she say?”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
“When did all this happen? I mean, since last night, right?”
“Things came clear last night, yes, and this morning.”
“Can you afford an apartment as well as a mortgage?”
“I’m telling you I haven’t worked everything out yet! Leave it alone!”
“Les, I'm thinking you might want—“
“I’m going inside. Are you coming?” And he was gone.
Diana stood for a moment not actually unsure of what to do. A few yards away in front of the theater was a bench sheltered by mountain laurel. She sat on it. The air was still. She thought of Tippi Hedren sitting on the bench outside the school house, smoking a cigarette as the crows gather on the jungle gym behind her.
“Chicken,” a voice said and Diana jumped.
“You scared me,” she said to George.
“Sorry. I have that effect whether I want to or not. Afraid to go in?” George was smiling or smirking and Diana couldn’t tell if the smirksmile was being shared with her or if it was being aimed at her.
“Is Caleb inside?” George asked. She was wearing a purple peasant dress that fell in tiny gathers from her breasts, which, Diana noticed for the first time, weren’t in themselves all that big. And sandals.
“I don’t know. Les just went in.”
From her bag George took a pencil and a small notepad. “I’m not sure why I came," she said. "It’s not that I need further demonstration of the young ones’ capacity for self-or-over-dramatization--"
            Was she going to take notes?
           "--but I promised Caleb.”
“They’ll appreciate it.”
“Are you coming?”
            Diana wanted to ask George why the sudden solicitousness. “I think I’ll sit here for a bit longer,” she said.
George went in. And Diana sat. She thought she might think through what Les had said, but she didn’t. She just heard him saying over and over again, Lydia and I are separating. 
            And then she saw Caleb and Temple coming down the walk. They didn’t see her. At the door to the theater Temple said, “Go on in. I’m going to have a smoke.”
“I’ll wait with you,” Caleb said.
“No, please don’t. I just want a smoke out here by myself, okay?”
“I’ll join you.”
“Caleb, I need to be alone for a minute. Please.”
Caleb went in.
Temple walked over to Diana. “I don’t want to go in the same time he does,” he said, taking a metal cigarette case from his pocket and opening it. “He doesn’t hear what they say, but I do." He worked a hand-rolled cigarette into shape. "I don’t give a crap, but I know he would. He wants them to respect him.”
“And they do, don’t they?”
“Most of them. I do.”  He struck a wooden match on the bench and lit the cigarette. He saw the look in her eye. “Artistic pretension,” he said, tossing the match.
“Lubiak,” a voice came from behind the laurel bush. Douglas Wrythe appeared, walked toward Temple, and punched him hard in the face with his fist. Temple went down. Wrythe stepped over him and walked across the grass and into the theater.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

FOUR: Truce or Consequences



      Les left Diana's apartment shortly after Olivia’s call, but he didn’t go home. He drove out of Falkes Hollow twenty minutes to Lake Wildmere. It was a manmade lake—a pond, really--at a reclaimed strip-mining operation. While there were forests thick with evergreens and dense fern and mossy underbrush in the hills surrounding Falkes Hollow, Lake Wildmere had few trees and scrubby bushes. The college owned the pond and there was a small cabin and a dock. 
        Les sat on the dock trying to think. Could he have somehow prevented Moira’s suicide? Did his treatment of her during rehearsals play a part in it? Perhaps if he had taken more care-- But before he could follow these thoughts through, Lydia and Olivia whirled into his head. That’s why he was sitting on the dock at--he checked his watch--fourteen minutes after midnight. He had to organize his life before going back to that house and Lydia and the kids. What was he going to say to Lydia? What would he do when she looked at him, knowing that she would know that he now knew that she knew everything?
        He sat listening to night insects and looking into the vast sky sprayed with stars, feeling alone and wrong. 
        It got too cold for him to stay and he was too practical to indulge for long in such drama.
        When he finally got home, the house was dark. Lydia was in bed, turned to the wall. He undressed in the hall and got into bed quietly. She did not move. He lay still. Diana was right about this. Lydia was lying there awake, aware of him, hating him. How long had she known? How many nights had she lain there wishing him dead or suffering or vanished? 
        He went downstairs and lay on the carpet in the study. He wasn’t aware of falling asleep, but he must have since bird sounds surprised him and the windows showed greying light.
        His first impulse was to dress quickly and leave the house before Lydia came down. But he realized if he did that, he would never be able to face her again. He had to have it out with her today. He would tell her that he regretted what had happened, that he was sorry for the pain he must have caused. Maybe then she’d be willing to hear about his unhappiness, why this thing had been able to happen.
         But immediately he heard Diana’s voice mocking Lydia’s: Oh, Les, have you been unhappy and I too blind to see? Am I responsible for your unhappiness? And the chilldrenne? Are they complicit? Shall we all beg forgiveness for driving you out of the house and into the upstairs apartment of a Mellon Bank teller young enough to be your daughter?
        The light gradually brightened outside. He was alert to any sound that might come from the second floor. He was prepared to bolt at the first indication of life from above.
        He thought about Moira. He imagined her lying in her bed, an arm flung up over her head, the other at her side, the hand palm up on the sheets. Or perhaps she had lain on the floor as he lay now, a bottle on its side next to her, a strand of hair caught in her mouth. The possibility that he might bear some responsibility for her suicide wormed into the image. She was a fiercely proud young woman and vulnerable enough to be weakest where she was most proud. In fact, she was an emotional girl, unsure of herself, in need of constant attention. And he didn’t give it to her during rehearsals--partly to prove that a director didn’t need to put up with her carryings on, partly because he didn’t know how to deal with it. 
        And he saw Diana grow more and more enamored of Caleb. Not that anything sexual or intimate could come of it, of course, but she was falling under his spell as many people did. Caleb was a seductively high energy person. He had the ability to be ever astonished by what he was doing; and an even greater ability to manufacture astonishment when he didn’t feel it. Les hated the asshole. And, yes, he was jealous of the way all that astonishment dazzled the students. When he saw Diana being drawn in, he got preoccupied and pissed off. And Moira was there and so he laid into her harder than maybe was necessary.
        And now she was dead.
        And Georganne had driven him crazy with her endless schedules and lists and diagrams and graphs and all she did was get in the way of a productive rehearsal. She was smug and self-contained and clearly allied with Caleb. Did they think he couldn’t see?
        Why did he allow women always to fuck him up?
        All his damn life.
        Beginning with a mother who—no, he would not do this, he would not go over this yet again. And Julie Stuckey. When she dumped him after high school, he didn’t even have so much as an opinion about anything for a long time. He enlisted in the army—to spite his mother--and spent two years in Germany. What he remembered most was the routine VD checkups and treatments. And the theatre. Even though he didn’t understand German, the theatre was a revelation. And when he got out, he went to school, graduated, taught for a couple of years in a junior college where the department secretary Andrea Swindle made his life agony, got an MA and ended up at Falkes Hollow. It was while he was working on his MA in Chicago that he met Lydia. Her father was chairman of the bio-engineering department at the university and she had been subtle, canny, even crafty in her engineering of their relationship. He had fallen in love, or had been put in a state that he misinterpreted as love, before he was aware of what had happened to him. Lydia was pregnant and they were married. She lost the child and began taking the pill. They had Patti and Derek when Lydia wanted them. She hadn’t wanted to move to Falkes Hollow and she made him miserable for having done it.
        He heard footsteps on the stairs. For an instant he imagined himself escaping through a window. Then: it has to be faced. He got up and went to the kitchen and stood in the doorway. Lydia was pouring coffee.
        "Good morning," he said.
        She paused, carafe in hand, and looked at him. "Yes, it is," she said.
        Some moments passed. "I'll have to go to school today after all."
        She busied herself at the toaster. "Oh, yes?"
        "Moira O'Hare committed suicide last night."
        At the silverware drawer. "Moira O'Hare?"
        "A student. Her friends will probably come to school today. I should be there."
        "Indeed," she said. "I'll be on the court this morning." She was wearing a white tennis skirt and blouse and shoes. Her racquet and a gym bag lay on the counter. Her hair (blonde) was pulled back from her face by a white ribbon. She was deeply tanned though it was barely the end of May. She was forty-one, and while her muscles still had the spring of youth, her skin, youthless, was older than forty-one.
        She finished half a piece of buttered toast and smiled. "I'll probably be out all day."
        She put her mug in the dishwasher, picked up her tennis things and left the room.
        He followed. "That's all you're going to say?"
        "People die and we deal with it.”
        "I'm talking about--" His jaw clenched.
        She looked at him, dared him.
        Goddammit, she was going to make it agony to talk about Diana. All right, he wasn't walking into that trap. "Moira O'Hare was my student,” he said. “She was in the play."
        “Of course,” Lydia said with a metallic glint in her black eyes, “it’s harder when you know them. Well, I’m off.”
        Before he could stop himself he said, “You’re really going out!"
        She was at the door. She turned in surprise, even delight. “Yes, Les, I am going out. It is important to me. Is there something else you'd like to discuss?”
        This was the way his students must feel when he slapped them across the face.
        “Is there?” she said.
        “No, I--"
        “I realize that I live a life much duller and less meaningful than yours, but this happens to be a free holiday afternoon as the chilldrenne are spending the weekend with the Balfours.” She was nearly out the door before she added, without really looking at him, “By the way, they miss their father.”
        And the door closed.
        He sat in the ringing quiet for some minutes. Diana was right: Lydia knew about them. She had told Olivia where to call, she even had the phone number. How long had she known? How did she find out? Who else knew?
        He sat at the kitchen table. Why hadn’t he made her talk about it? She was punishing him. He had not seen it clearly, but Diana had. To use Derek and Patti that way! She knew and she was going to make him suffer.
        Well, he wouldn't suffer any more. He got into his car and drove toward school. At Bridge Street, however, he turned downtown instead of up the hill to the college. He parked the car in front of the bank and then he remembered that the bank was closed today. He went to Diana’s apartment. She wasn’t there. He went back to his house, but it was no use, what would he do there?
        He went to school.
        When he pulled into the faculty parking lot, he saw Diana walking toward the theater. He called out. She turned and waved. He ran to her.
        “What are you doing here?” he said.
        “Alexia Farrell called and said they were gathering in the theater for Moira and she wanted me to come. Isn't that sweet?”
        “I’m moving out of the house,” he said. “Lydia and I are separating.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

THREE: Night Maneuvers

        Temple Lubiak searched among the rhododendron bushes growing against the house. He was angry, confused, shamed. What would happen if people found out that he had had sex with Moira O'Hare Saturday night? Had Moira left a note? Oh God, did she keep a diary? He pulled under the leaves, pushed aside the stalks and pink blossoms fell into the shadows. He wouldn't be safe until he had Moira's gold chain in his hands.
        He froze. Had he said that aloud? Or had he just been thinking it? He looked up at the windows to see if anyone was watching him. Mrs. Fordyce, the widow who rented her three upstairs bedrooms to students, had gone to her sister's for the long weekend. And his two housemates had also left. He was alone. Still, he couldn't shake the feeling of being watched. He looked around the yard. It was just before noon. All was warm, quiet, even the insects were still.
        Temple was six feet tall but he was small-boned. His hands and feet were small. And his nose was small and perfect. Once when he was fifteen, he had played an entire evening of bruising football with older neighborhood boys in hopes that someone would break his nose and smash its tiny, upturned symmetry. But while they all called him hurtful names and a couple of them had pounded on him at every opportunity, he had emerged from the game still as delicately handsome as a porcelain prince.
        The winter of his freshman year at Falkes Hollow he had discovered weight training. He worked quietly and he worked alone. He stayed at school over the following summer and by the time fall arrived, he had gained fourteen pounds. He had always carried himself as if he were massive, had swung his hands at his sides as if they were big. And now, when he looked in the mirror, he saw that mass. He was manly.
        He was gauging the arc Moira's chain might have made as it sailed out the window Saturday night. And he was thinking. After helping to strike the show, he had stood in the hallway as people called to one another, moved past him, made arrangements to go to the cast party. Ugly little Alexia Farrell from the costume crew had appeared from somewhere, had looked up at him with her little gnome face, and had said, "So, do you want a ride to the party?"
        At the same moment Caleb came from behind them, slapped Temple on the shoulder and said, "Let's walk. I need the air and you promised to keep me company." On their way out the door they had met Moira who stepped between them and said quietly, "Off to see the wizard?" She looked at them with big green eyes. Her straight hair, hennaed for the play, hung short and shiny like a Victorian schoolboy's. And with Moira between them, they had walked to Temple's house to get a bottle of Bush Mills and his tobacco pouch.
        "He's so pine needles and wood chips," Moira had said when on the walk to the party he lit one of his self-rolled cigarettes.
        At the party, Temple found a dark room at the back of the house where a few people had gone to smoke dope. Moira didn't go in with him. Douglas Wrythe was there, but Temple said nothing about the break-up with Moira. He didn't know how long he stayed in the room but when he came out almost everyone was gone. Candles were burning low; the stereo was still playing--good lord--Roxanne. Caleb had left. For a moment Temple thought that Moira, too, had gone--perhaps with Caleb--and then he saw her sitting alone on the sun porch, hidden by plants, mottled by moonlight and shadow.
        "Let me walk you home," he said.
        She looked at him for a moment--her eyes were wet--then said, "Yes." A few blocks from the party he asked her to come with him to his house and again she said simply, "Yes."
        He tried to say something beautiful about the night. She asked if he was disappointed that Les had not come to the party and before he could answer she tossed her hair and said, "Oh, let's not mention any of those people." Then she reached her hands up to the vast darkness. "Those people! Oh God, those people!" She wailed in mock agony and simultaneously stamped each foot in a labored walk up the street. He couldn't find the right way to ask her which of those people she meant.
        When they reached his house, they went upstairs without turning on lights. His room was small. There was a rag rug on the floor, a single bed against a wall, a dresser, a desk, an easy chair with a reading lamp, and a window with a window seat. Moira went to the window seat. Temple lit an oil lamp, which he told her he liked better than candles. From the top of his dresser he took a bottle of Bush Mills that still had several swallows left in it and he took a long drink.
        "You look like ten dreams in the moonlight," he said. He lost his footing and sat down with a bump too close to her. She didn't respond and he put his hand against her cheek. "You are beautiful."
        "You are drunk," she said with a smile and a tone that confused him. 
        "Indeed I am drunk," he said. "And a little stoned." And then, "I envy you."
        "You can come up to Caleb and me and ask to walk with us. And we love it. You can go up to Caleb and say, 'Let's rent skates' and he'll do it."
        She laughed. "Did he tell you about that?"
        "I would never be able to get him to skate," Temple said.
        "Oh, I think you could."
        He gave a little snort and looked out the window.
        "Especially now with your play," she said. "He loves it, he put his heart and soul into this production."
        Temple touched his lips to her ear. "And you?" he whispered. "Did you put body and soul into my play?" He leaned against her until her back pushed against the window. The gold chain around her neck twinkled and some night thing moved in the tree outside the window. "Well?" he said.
        "It's a wonderful role and I like your play very much."
        "As much as Caleb does?" He was still very close to her and she seemed unmoved by his presence. She pulled her head back to look at him and she shared something unspoken with him as she said, "I'm not sure that's possible."
        "I love you," he said. "I worship you as I worship the goddess moon."
        "Temple, you're a better poet when you're sober." She touched the sunned strand of hair arching over his forehead. "And it's better on the stage than in your bedroom."
        "You're right. I'm not a poet and I'm not a playwright." He went to the dresser for the last swallow of whisky. "I'm nothing."
        "Don't drink any more. Your play is good. You're young. How old are you? Nineteen?"
        "How old was Mozart? How old was Michelangelo when he wrested David from the marble?"
        She came toward him and he grabbed her hand. "Love me," he said. "Make love with me."
        He waited for her to do something. She stood looking at him, letting him hold her desperately at her wrist. Finally, he kissed her and she let him. He couldn't tell what she was thinking.
        He let go of her, turned to the oil lamp and lifted the chimney. "Put out the light," he said and he blew the flame out. Then, holding her hand, he went to the bed and lay back on it. "And then put out the light."
        In the moonlight she stood over him.
        He let a moment go by. Then, "I have loved you for so long."
        "We don't even know each other." She stood directly over him like a grey and blue and silver statue in the moonlight. Her smile was indulgent.
        "Perdition take my soul but I do love thee," he said.
        She leaned over him and her hair fell in layers along the sides of her face. The gold chain moved in the moonlight like a thin, indifferent serpent.
        He grabbed her quickly. She shrieked and fell to the mattress. The chain broke in his hands. They laughed and he rolled on top of her. "And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again." She made a sound but he kissed her before she could turn it into words. They held the kiss and he rubbed himself against her, pulled her tighter. She opened her mouth, nipped at his tongue. He made a pattern of quick kisses along her cheeks. "I took you for that cunning whore of Venice that married with Othello."
        Her hands went to his hair, pulled at it. They didn't speak for some minutes. She unbuttoned his shirt and he let her take off the rest of his clothes. She was comfortable, practiced, aggressive. He lifted off her sweater. She had small taut breasts with little nipples. She got up, removed her panties, stepped out of her skirt and turned to face him. He didn't breathe.
        She touched his hard penis, squeezed it. "It's as beautiful as the rest of you." Was she mocking? Panicked, he pulled her to him and rolled on top of her. She put her hands on either side of his face and lifted her knees. Then, as his panic threatened to become terror, with a hand she guided him in. She made a low, deep sound, hesitated. He froze. Was he doing it wrong? He pushed and she grunted. Her fingers kneaded his biceps. He gripped the chain in his fist and kissed her quickly and looked at her for a sign. Some little light danced in her eyes, but she didn't share it with him. He lowered his head beside hers on the pillow. "It's good, it's good," he said. He eased out a little, held a moment, and then pushed in again. Shouldn't she push back? He pressed his chest against her. Why wasn't she squeezing and pushing back? "Desdemona," he said, then slower, a growl. "Des-de-mo-na." He thought he heard a slight, even impatient, sigh.
        "Temple," she said and her voice was liquid, gentle, pleasant. "Go easy, go slow?"
        He blushed. "Easy," he said, "Slow." He lifted his chest a little and worked his pelvis up and down. "Slow, easy," in, out. Again he lowered his head beside hers and he felt her hands gripping his back. "Slow," he said, "Slow, easy." Again she made that sound. Was it pleasure? "It is the cause." He grunted. "It is the cause my soul." Louder. "Let me not name it to you...."
        Beneath him, she moved to adjust her legs and he lifted up, held, pushed back. "It is the cause." She held on. "It is the cause," they were moving together, "It is the cause, it is the cause."
        "Oh Lord," she said.

        He must have fallen asleep. Grey light was barely filtering into the room and he heard the rustlings and chirrupings of tiny animals in the garden. In his tight fist the little gold links of Moira's chain cut into his fingers still. He felt blurred and dull, surrounded by a vague pain. He looked across the room.
        Moira was sitting in the window seat. When he moved to lift himself on his elbow, she looked at him. She said nothing. She was naked.
        He blushed. Her sweater was lying on the floor where he had dropped it--how long ago? Suddenly he leapt out of bed, snatched up the sweater and tossed it at her.
        "Put this on. You look ridiculous. You look like a dirty little boy."
        She looked at him a long time. He was naked and for an instant he almost reached for something to cover himself, but in a defiant flash he realized that he must stand in this room naked and unashamed. Without a word, she put the sweater on and went to the foot of the bed for her skirt. If he was to survive these minutes, he must stand immobile as she dressed. She dressed unhurriedly. He waited. Finally she slipped into her shoes, found her bag and went to the door. She turned to him and smiled.
        "Thou has not half that pow'r to do me harm," she said, "As I have to be hurt." And then she was gone.
        He wasn't sure how long he stood staring at the door, even after he heard the front door close. But finally he was aware of pricks of pain in his left hand where he was gripping the chain in a fist. He lifted the window and flung the chain out into the cool grey light and the chirping birds and the scrambling mammalian things in the garden below.

        Standing now in the rhododendron bushes he felt his heart pounding. He was sweating, breathing heavily. He looked up to the house and at his window. The sunlit air was heavy. He heard nothing, yet he sensed movement behind him or just out of sight and earshot. And then suddenly he caught a glint of sunlight pricking out from the top of one of the pale green, barely blossoming hydrangea clusters.
        He raced to the bushes and there, caught among the blossoms, was the chain. He grabbed it, squeezed it in his fist and looked around, the blood pounding in his head. Not until he had run into the house, up the stairs and down the hall, not until he had locked the door behind him and kicked off his shoes, stepped out of his shorts and pulled off his shirt, did he feel safe. He stood naked, took a deep breath and then another.
        He ground the chain into his chest, then turned to the mirror on the closet door and looked at his body, heaving still for breath, glistening with sweat, dirt smeared on his face and hands. There was barely a dusting of hair on his arms and legs and he hated it, no chest hair at all, little on his jaw and upper lip. He wanted body hair. He lifted his left arm slowly above his head, then rested the forearm on the top of his head, his fingers holding the chain loosely. He licked at the fine hairs curling in his armpit. He shifted his weight from one leg to the other and back. The chain fell along his right cheek. He lowered it and carefully, delicately, threaded it through his pubic hair, wrapped it around his testicles--"Balls," he said. "My balls"--and around his penis--"My cock," gripping it tightly--and it swelled against the pinching gold links.
        "Blow me about in winds. Roast me in sulphur. Wash me in deep-down gulfs of liquid fire."    
        The chain twisted his pubic hair, dug into the shaft of his penis. He winced, smiled, half closed his eyes. "Desdemona! Des-de-mo-na!" and he let his body move in waves with the rhythm of his fist.
        "I am a man!"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

TWO: Dread

        Several streets from Diana Heard’s apartment, Caleb Deering and George Ekdahl (it had been years since anyone called her Georganne) had finished dinner and were sitting in Caleb’s living room with coffee and a plate of little cakes she had brought. Caleb lit another cigarette, put another long-play record on the turntable, and in the candlelight and the quiet they listened to Isaac Stern play Brahms. They, too, were celebrating the close of Les’s production, not so much because it had been a great artistic achievement as that it was finally over and that, happily, it hadn't killed anyone.
  In Caleb’s opinion, Les had behaved like whatever the macho version of diva is. When Olivia Troute had asked Caleb to design the lighting for this production, he had nearly refused. But he had learned to give Les’s megalomania context: Big Fishes and Little Ponds. At first Les had been more genial than Caleb had ever seen him. And he almost had a sense of humor. It lasted for a while, but it extended neither to George nor to Moira O'Hare. George was an adjunct faculty member and she was Les’s assistant director and for a couple of weeks all was well. Then Les began to ask her at the last minute to take over full rehearsals that, for unexplained reasons, he could not attend. And then he vilified her publicly when he disapproved of something she had done. Eventually he had begun to talk about a “family friend” or “the family babysitter” or both and soon Diana the Townie was coming to rehearsals to assist. George did not complain even to Caleb, though she was the first to suggest that Les’s interest in Diana might have less to do with theatre than with other areas of his life.
  Les had long ago established himself as a hands-on acting teacher, fully engaged with student actors, provocative, physical, even confrontational. He used the phrase “in your face” to describe it. And they adored him for it and the few who didn’t left his classes and avoided his productions. But with Moira in this production he had reached new levels of psychic and physical aggression. A particularly intense scene in the play between Moira’s character and Douglas’s (it had seemed a good idea at the beginning of the semester to cast girlfriend and boyfriend opposite each other) got Les right up on stage in the middle of it, physically pushing, prodding, building the tension until at the climactic moment, he slapped Moira hard across the face. In itself, this was not unusual; he often slapped actors at the moment when the words of another character were meant to hit like a figurative slap in the face. It provoked true response, he said, rather than hollow emotion. Though Caleb recognized neither the wisdom nor the appropriateness of this, he had remained silent. But there was something particularly transgressive about it this time. Was this Les the Embodiment of Powerful Situational Stimuli at Work on Dramatic Characters or was this Les the Man in Charge Frustrated with Moira? And if so, was it artistic frustration or something more personal and therefore more dangerous?
  Caleb challenged Les about it and was told to back off since he had neither the experience nor the expertise to express a meaningful opinion. When he asked Moira about it she was furious that he had interfered--to the point of tears.
  It had happened early in the process—the first time Caleb had gone to a rehearsal--but last night someone had seen Les talking with Moira during intermission, cajoling her, “working her up” as they put it, and while it was discussed as fact at the cast party, no one had actually seen him strike her just before she went on stage.
  And then there was Moira’s deepening affection for him, Caleb—something that Les could not have missed. She respected Caleb, trusted him; she enrolled in all of his design and aesthetics classes and she understood more deeply than most what he was teaching. She had become his friend, he her confidant. He knew there were dangers in such intimacy. Falkes Hollow was a small college and its community was close. Still, Moira had entrusted him with details of her troubled family life and had allowed him to help her through the final throes of the hurtful break-up with Douglas. He had tried to help her navigate the increasingly difficult waters with Les, especially after the early violent rehearsal. 
        Caleb disliked Les but for Moira's sake he had committed himself passionately to making the production a success. The intensity of that commitment, however, he fully acknowledged had more to do with his passion for the playwright. Temple Lubiak was not yet twenty, he was in need of artistic encouragement, and he had decided that Caleb would be his mentor. The play was heady and poetic, perhaps a bit too sturmy und drangy, but it was young and earnest and full and fervent--as was the playwright. And Caleb was trying to keep himself from falling in love with the playwright.
  “You will love Bermuda,” George was saying. “It’s civilized. It will be a little bit of paradiso before the inferno of summer school. You’ll come to Governor’s House with us to celebrate the Queen’s birthday, which is actually April twenty-first, but in Bermuda the weather in April is so unpredictable that we celebrate it the second Monday in June.” (All this happened before Bermuda abandoned its annual celebration of the Queen’s birthday.) “And as it will be your birthday, I'll bake a cake. Or mummy will. And we’ll rent mopeds.” Here she let her nostrils flare and the corners of her mouth turn down slightly to indicate that she was thinking of something far cleverer than she could utter. “That is, if you and the Golden One will have time for birthdays or the Queen or—“
  “Stop,” said Caleb. “Oh God, I want him. I want him on the sands of Bermuda beaches, I want him on the floor of the Governor’s mansion, I want him under the prize cedar of the botanical gardens. You must help me, George, to keep my sanity through all of this.”
         George laughed.
        “Georganne, I must not fall in love with this golden Temple.”
        “Sweetie, you are already in love with this golden Temple.”
        “I can not—“
        “Each day he will wear his little blue running shorts. He will lounge in a chair on the balcony reading sonnets or perhaps Richard II.”
        Othello,” Caleb said. “He quotes Othello. I think he thinks it’s Manly.”
  “Well, I promise not to interfere,” George said. “I will have my hands full with Mummy. You’re lucky: She’s in one of her manic phases. She won't notice that you are looking at your student with lust in your heart. And Daddy is oblivious. He thinks”—she growled the words and made a fist—“MEN ARE MEN.”
        “Oh, God.”
  “We’re going to stop at Granny’s house for two days before flying on to Bermuda,” George said.
  Since her college days when she had been a dancer with auburn hair that fell to her waist and had a waist that her lover could nearly encircle with his hands, George had gained fifty-eight pounds. She was thirty-one years old, stood five feet six inches tall and had the tiniest hands and feet of anyone in her family. The grace of a dancer still played through the bulk she carried. She wore her hair twisted into a knot and held in place at the top of her head by a silver comb. She told herself that her growing preoccupation with Caleb was nothing more than a distraction and, after all, a safe one.
  “Oh God, oh God, what am I doing?” Caleb said. “I have been discreet, even saintly, here in this place that time forgot in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. I am not a cradle-robber, I am not a counselor of undecided and tormented undergraduates. I have stayed clear of confused boys who think of me as an artistic genius who can help them discover their own artistic genius and who wish that sex was not a part of everyday life. And, yes, I know I’m waxing dramatic, but I always do that when I’m with you.”
  “More like waning, I think,” she said with a smirk and then, “I think he knows about sex, darling. I think he thinks he knows which sexual vector he wants for his life. I’m just not sure how much practice he’s had at it.” Her eyes twinkled. “I did hear some of the girls talking in the dressing room the other night.”
         Caleb didn’t want to care.
  "It seems our holy Temple has had some unholy experiences with Falkes Hollow women. I couldn’t tell exactly, but Golden One may have made some frustrated attempts at bravura sex that might have been a bit too much for the co-eds.”
  “I don’t want to hear it,” Caleb said, sinking back into his chair. “I want to end it. I want to fall in love with some nice thirtyish—okay, I'll be forty-two in a couple of weeks, so thirty-fiveish—lawyer who has been tested for every imaginable disease and who is as immaculate as the Blessed Virgin Mary and who will shout for joy that he has found someone else over thirty as clean and yet as depraved as he is.”
  “It’s still not too late to tell him he can’t come to Bermuda with us. Mummy can have gotten worse, there isn’t room for two guests, whatever.”
  “No.” Caleb sighed.  “I want him next to me on the pure sands of Bermuda stretching his long legs in the sun and I want the exquisite torture of sleeping in the same room with him during the endless hot quiet nights.”
       “That will be arranged.”
       “And I want—“
       “—him to turn to you in the silver moonlight and ask you if you would please—“
       The phone rang.
       Caleb answered. It was Olivia Troute.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

ONE: Dinner Interruptus

“Has she said anything?”
“I’m telling you she doesn’t know.”
“And even if she does know, she won’t say anything because she doesn’t care.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“And neither do you.”
“I do. She doesn’t. She doesn’t know and she wouldn’t care.”
“Okay,” Les finally said, “maybe her pride would care or her vanity or whatever.”
“Well, my pride or vanity or whatever doesn’t buy it,” Diana said. "She knows about us and it pisses her off.”
They were in Diana’s apartment. She had made dinner to celebrate yesterday's final performance of the play he’d directed at the college. Les hoped they wouldn’t discuss Lydia. For her part, Diana had only recently taken to asking about Lydia. Not that she cared all that much, but neither Les nor apparently Lydia seemed willing to admit that there was anything to care about, that there was so much as a tiny blip in their marriage.
Ten days earlier this relationship had passed its sixteen-month anniversary and sixteen months seemed to Diana long enough for someone to recognize a blip. Seventeen months earlier one of the high school kids who worked part time with Diana at the Mellon Bank of Falkes Hollow--this all happened before Citizens took over the Mellon banks--asked if anyone would substitute for her at her weekend babysitting job. It was at the home of an acting teacher from the college named Lester Overchord, an ordinary guy with really intense blue eyes. Diana thought that acting teachers were thin gay men with fine bones and beautiful hands, not married men with two children and a wife, and since she didn’t know anyone from the college, she decided to get a firsthand look.
A week or so later, when she and Les were having sex for the first time, he told her that he knew it was going to happen the moment he opened the door to the substitute babysitter. Diana, who thought she was good at spotting the little leap of anticipation in the male heart and groin, had noticed only that Professor Overchord did indeed have intense blue eyes. But he had disappeared soon after answering the door and his wife had taken over. Lydia Overchord had black eyes that riveted without actually penetrating and in the few minutes during which she gave instructions about the children (she pronounced it chilldrenne), Diana had definitely felt riveted but unpenetrated. When two days later at the bank Diana looked up through her teller’s grille and saw the intense blue eyes, she felt the little leap in her own heart and groin. His smile suggested some secret she was challenged to discover. And she was not one to shrink from challenges.
After an unsuccessful semester and a half at Penn State, she had got a job at Mellon Bank and had moved out of her mother’s house into the little apartment on the third floor of a Victorian house on a street of many Victorian houses. There had been boyfriends, but nothing serious. Her mother had begun to fear that her daughter might prefer women. And while she was glad to be reassured that it was men Diana preferred, she would have preferred that they be unmarried.
             Les did not look like the man Diana had always imagined would lead her into adultery. That man had a body like muscled thunder and a fullback’s ass. Les was not a fullback and he was several years too old and a few pounds too heavy to do much thunderous rumbling. And his hair was not the mass of black burly curls that Thunder had. Tonight his thinning reddish hair took on the golden quality of other things in the candlelit room. His glasses reflected the little candle flames and his eyes glinted behind them.
At first, sex with Les had been ordinary with occasional bursts of energetic invention that gave her hope. Within a few weeks he was laughing and twisting and groaning and had come to enjoy burying his tongue deep between her legs, so that once in a while she actually did experience a little thunder in the heavens.
Lydia couldn’t possibly have failed to notice the difference in him over the past months. He had lightened up, he had discovered a sense of humor. He still had the intensity of a popcorn kernel about to explode, but now it was mostly reserved for his acting students, who experienced it as a mystical power that might miraculously be tapped if only they could discover the right chant, the right mantra, to unlock the genius teeming behind those eyes. 
In the candlelight Diana poured more wine. Les glowed. “We’re safe tonight,” he said. “Lydia thinks I’m at a post performance critique.”
Diana went into the little kitchen. “And she’ll be asleep already—ho ho—when you tip-toe into the bedroom tonight. Her back will be turned to you and she won’t move when you slip in beside her, careful not to disturb her untroubled rest. And tomorrow morning she will ask nothing about the post performance critique, she will ask only, ‘And what’s on your agenda for today?’ As for her, she will be playing tennis with Denise or shopping at the new mall on Harbour Road or perhaps going to see the head of alumni relations about working part time on the alumni news after all.” 
From the kitchen Diana brought a bowl of strawberries. Les was at the turret window where Diana had set up her easel. “What are you working on?” he asked.
“I’m tired of Grant Wood landscapes. I’ve decided to enter my Georgia O’Keeffe period.”
 “Flowers?” he said. “Or female parts?” He lifted the cloth from the canvas.
Neither. A week ago she had found a dead squirrel, had boiled it, cleaned it, dried the bones and mounted the skeleton on a board and then used it as a model for the weekend’s painting.
“It was easier than bagging a buffalo,” she said. “Or whatever, a steer.” And back to the kitchen. 
“Sweetheart?” Les said. “If we don’t finish eating soon, we’re not going to have time to fuck and if we don’t get to fuck I will be really and truly pissed off when I slip into my wife’s bed tonight careful not to disturb her.”
From the kitchen: “How can I help loving such a dickhead?” and then the phone rang.
“May I speak with Lester Overchord?” a woman’s voice said.
            Diana looked into the room to Les, who was staring at the painting. “Lester Overchord?” she said and he looked up like a startled rabbit.
“It’s an emergency,” the woman said.
As he took the phone he mouthed Lydia?, but in the panic of the instant Diana hadn’t registered the sound of the voice. 
“This is Les Overchord,” he said in as professional a tone as he could manage.
“Lester, this is Olivia Troute. Forgive me for disturbing you.”
Les could barely hide his relief. “Not at all,” and then immediately, How did she know where to call me?
“I called you at home and when I told Lydia that it was urgent, she suggested I try you at this number.”
“Of course,” he said, his voice sounding hollow and alien to his inner ear. Had she heard it as well?
“I am calling everyone to inform them that Moira O’Hare was found this evening in her dorm room--dead.”
“My God.”
“There were no signs of foul play.”
“She killed herself?”
 “Alcohol and pills of some sort.”
“My God.”
“I thought everyone should be alerted before coming to school Tuesday. There will be some aftershock among the students.”
“It will help that classes are over and we’re moving into reading week—“
“God, we don’t want anyone else—“
“No, we don’t. In any event, we may have to deal with emotional upset—“
“Yes, of course. Thank you for calling.” He replaced the receiver.
Diana was standing in the kitchen doorway.
“Moira O’Hare killed herself. She’s dead.”
“What? How? Who was that on the phone?”
“Alcohol. Department chair. And sleeping pills or something.” It was just last night that he had seen Moira.  “She stayed to strike the set, didn't she?”
“Did she go to the cast party? How did Troute know where to--?”
“Lydia told her.”
“Hah.” Then, “Who found Moira? Do they know why--?”
“I was rough on her during rehearsals,” Les said. “Especially the last few days with this crap about breaking up with Douglas when she freaked on us--”
“Bullshit,” Diana said. “Moira isn’t fragile—wasn’t….”
            Silence. Diana sat on an arm of the sofa. Les was standing at the turret window looking out through the leaves of the maple tree and down into the street. A car went by. He was trying to decide something: what to do next or how to sort through the situation or what he was going to say to Lydia or—
“When Caleb Deering finds out--” Diana said.
“Oh, Jesus Christ.”
“—he’ll make it all about him.”
“I hate that asshole.”