The Purest Water


The Rocky Orchard, the novel that I am currently writing, has a multitude of underlying themes.  In terms of the tone, however, it is meant to have the feel of a long, rambling, wondrous walk through the woods.  I hope the following section engenders that spirit:

“The first trip Eddie and I took together, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We’d only been dating a couple of months.  Eddie planned it.  He wanted to make me happy, and knew that being outside and hiking and immersed in the mountains would be perfect.  We found an adorable little inn – equal parts cute and kitsch – with a remote-control fireplace in the room and our own jacuzzi on the private outdoor deck.  We arrived at night, popped open the bottle of wine Eddie had arranged to be waiting for us in the room.  We couldn’t stop playing with the remote, turning the fireplace on and off, cracking up so much we spilled red wine all over our clothes, so we ripped them off and ran naked out to the hot tub.  That was when I learned that Eddie had a thing about water.  Hot tub, shower, ocean – whatever – something took hold of him the second he got wet.  He had an immediate and overpowering need to make love.  So we did.  In our own little hot tub on our own little deck of the room in Estes Park.

“The next morning was one of those Colorado days you remember your whole life.  The sky so vast and blue that the whole world seems to be in sharper focus.  We took this amazing hike – straight up, like pretty much all hikes in the mountains; and when we got to the topmost point, we kicked off our shoes and waded in a stream not so much bigger than this one.  I took a picture of Eddie standing in the middle of that creek, right about the time he was saying to me, ‘This may be the purest water we taste in our entire lives, baby.  Drink up before we head down.’

“In a heartbeat, that blue sky darkened to a menacing, steely gray.  The temperature dropped probably twenty degrees, and hail the size of marbles slammed us with such force it seemed like it must be trying to hurt us.  We started running as fast as we could, and since it was a steep downhill, it felt like we must be flying.  Flying and freezing and getting pelted.  And laughing.  Laughing so hard.

“Right about the time we could spot our car in the parking lot at the trail head, the hail stopped and the skies cleared.  Poof.  The same stunningly beautiful, warm day as before.  Like the universe just wanted to play a funny little trick on us.  Know what else, Lula?  That ‘purest water we ever taste in our entire lives?’  I got a parasite from drinking it.  Was sick as a dog for months.  That is, I believe, an outstanding example of the concept of irony.  Eddie was fine, by the way.”

Mazie couched down at the creek’s edge and submerged both her hands in the cool water.  She spread her fingers wide, letting the creek’s slow current flow over and around and between them.  She turned her hands palm-side-up, raised them out of the creek, and let the water run between her fingers.

With a great effort, Lula knelt beside Mazie.

Neither woman said a word for quite a while.

“Is Eddie fine now, Lula?” Mazie asked.  “Is he all right?”

painting: Megan Gibbons

Lives Darkly in my Body

In previous blog entries, I have touched on the ephemeral, ethereal phenomenon that we refer to as “inspiration,” which the Oxford dictionary defines as “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

We know that inspiration can point its magic wand at the most unexpected times; still, I was taken by surprise when the recovery from my first total hip replacement last November transported me to a “place” that became the basis for the novel I am currently writing, entitled A Rocky Orchard.  Currently recovering from my second hip replacement, I have a solid start on the novel, and am thrilled to be back at work on it.

 

You lean your head towards mine.  You are going to kiss me.  How many times have you kissed me, and my stomach still does a little leap.  Your head jerks. “What was that?” you say. “What was what,” I say. I didn’t hear anything. “I definitely heard something,” you say. “You didn’t hear that?  Sounds like someone is throwing something — balls or something like that —  one after another. Listen, you say.  I hear it. Sounds like it’s getting closer, you say.  Sounds like it’s coming from the orchard.  You hear it, right? You ask me.  Yes, I hear it.

Stay here.  I’ll check it out, you say.  Probably some kid having a little fun, you say.

Don’t be silly.  I’ll come, too, I say.

The short step down from the porch, my bare foot on the hot summer grass, I am hit by a wall of humidity.  The full, fertile feel of the air that marks a Pennsylvania mountain summer. Thick, wet, ripe with a steaming, green life. “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.” That poem, the Pablo Neruda poem that you recited.  The humidity reminds me. Down on one knee in an old-fashioned gesture I never would have guessed.  Holding my hand and you said, “I love you as the plant that never blooms but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers.” The wall of humidity pushes against me.  Your arm reaches out and you tell me to stay back.  Please, you say.  Please stay back.  “Thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.”

I see him, you say.

Then I see him, too. 

I wonder what in the world he is doing here. 

Without thinking I start to call out to him.  I want to laugh.  I want to wave and ask him what in the world he is doing here.

Then I see his face.  “Lives darkly in his body.”

And I know what he is doing here.  I know.

 

Crazy Boy

I think this section from my new novel THE ROCKY ORCHARD makes an especially good flash piece.

Teenage boy with thick curly long hair blowing in the wind, serious look

Sick. I felt sick, fucking sick, when the telephone rang. I wanted to snatch the old 20-pound, rotary dial monstrosity of a phone right out of the wall and fling it through the window. I wanted glass to shatter and fly in a million directions and create rainbows of light in mid-air. I wanted the shards to rain down razors and cut the room into little ribbons. I’m too young for this, I thought. I’m fourteen years old and I am too young for this. For this shit, for this utter shit.

“Hello,” I said into the receiver.

“I’m pointing a knife at my stomach,” Tim said. “Tell me why you broke up with me.”

Suicide was just a word, a vague concept. Something whispered, read about in books. Nothing that had ever come near my own world, just a specter keeping itself hidden and far away. I had not even read The Bell Jar, hadn’t thought of Sylvia Plath turning on the stove in the apartment where she lived every day. Had not been stuck with the picture of her putting her head into the oven with the gas jet running, her two young children sleeping in their beds on the other side of the wall.

Daddy Mommy, I thought. I don’t know what Tim is going to do. I’m scared. I think he’s going to do something to himself. Help me, Daddy Mommy. I need your help, I thought.

But I didn’t say anything.   Not to my parents, not to anyone.

Tim’s younger sister, the one that was in my grade, the one that I knew, was the first one home that night.  She found him.  Still alive, but unconscious.

It’s a blur after that.  I can picture flashing lights and sirens and a lot of people and a lot of running around, but that doesn’t really make sense, does it?  They wouldn’t have been at my house; all of that would have been at Tim’s house.  Still, I have a sense of a million faces looking at me.  It seemed as if the whole world was staring at me – a vast sea of expressions.  Such concern.  Some people blamed me; I could see it in their faces.  Most people were torn, anguished even, between the part of them that wanted to stare at me, and the part of them that wanted to look away. I’d become scary to people somehow.  So many different things that people felt when they looked at me.

All I’d done was broken up with a boy.  A crazy boy.

 

The People on the Stairs

park-slope-stoop-0410

The one from the basement started it.  He crawled up from his underground lair, from the smell of epoxy that he uses for projects, from the array of fluorescent vests that he wears to work.  He took up residence on the stairs.  Early in the morning, he was on the stairs.  Late into the night, still on the stairs.

Others began to gather.  I never knew where they came from.  There would just be another voice, a conversation, coming from the stairs.  Or I would come home, and have to step around and between others, bodies leaning this way and that as I made my way through their habitat.

I didn’t want to hear them, tried to not hear them; but they were on the stairs.  There was really no escape.

Sometimes I would take a long walk go for coffee invent an errand visit a friend drive to the lakefront, all with the hope that when I returned, the stairs would be a dazzling open space — no residents.  No clutter and detritus of citizens who had created their own fiefdom, on my stairs.

In the evenings, the sound of the citizenry would swell like a great ocean storm.  Still, occasional single voices would ring out like a carillon bell, random snippets that made no sense and created ripples of unsettledness: “ …had to escape my marriage in the cover of darkness…”  “…heard you can’t ever get rid of that smell, no matter what you do…”  “No, no, that wasn’t the time I got shot; that was a…”

The voices stop, a crashing silence.  A million eyes turn to me.

“Hey, how ya doing?”

“Doing great, Jason.  You?”

stairs

 

Voice

frida-kahlo-paintings-flowers-1432140808_org

“You’re always gonna be lonely, you know that, right?”

That was the voice inside of her head.  That was how it spoke to her – as if another version of herself was sitting in a chair, a few feet away from her, addressing her as “you” from a supposed outside, objective perspective.

She thought of the voice as a separate person.  She thought that person was pretty much a snarky little bitch a great deal of the time.  Although, to be fair, she also duly noted when the voice took on the role of a vigilant cheerleader.  She would leap onto the chair she normally sat on, throw her arms in the air, and fervently exclaim “Good job!”

She didn’t know if all of this was exceptionally odd, or if every single other person who had ever lived had experienced the exact same thing.  It was not the kind of thing people usually spoke of.  “Hey, does the voice inside of your head speak to you in the first person or the second, or perhaps even the third?  Is the voice kind, critical, or frighteningly neutral?”  She could not remember a single social gathering in which this topic had come up.

“So, as I was saying: you are always going to be lonely.  It is your legacy.”

Sometimes, it was not entirely clear if the voice was being a snarky little bitch, or a compassionate companion.

 

Art: Frida Kahlo