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.

 

Pushing the River: FLASH flash

It was not her first foray into the parallel universe of online dating. Madeline had been divorced for more than ten years. She had braved a string of relationships that progressed from interest, to the first tingle of excitement, to the exhilaration of genuine possibility, to the frightening, heady, joyful moment when the roller coaster passed the peak of its climb and in that split second, there was no going back: momentum had taken over; it was utterly and completely out of anyone’s control, because at that moment, there was love. There was real love.

And then there wasn’t.

Madeline took time to lick the wounds of disappointment. She allowed the lesions of dashed hopes to scab over. She understood that persevering was an ongoing matter of keeping one’s optimism just enough ahead of the injury of experience to keep going.

After a time, she would go back online, pouring over profiles, scrutinizing descriptions, gathering courage. As crazy a universe as online dating was – she recalled a friend aptly calling it The Wild West – it was essentially the only path to meet people. Since Madeline worked alone, had never buddied up to a man in a bar, and didn’t attend church, she reconciled herself to the necessary methodology.

Madeline worked hard to extinguish the flame she had carried for Jeff. But the feeling of being part of something larger than herself – everything from the ongoing sense that life was bigger and mattered more, to the immeasurable joy of small, everyday moments – was a living spirit inside of her.

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I am up to my eyeballs in re-writing/editing my novel Pushing the River.  The above snippet is excerpted from an early chapter. The first paragraph remains from the original draft; the remainder was written yesterday.  It struck me that it could stand on its own as a Flash.  It also struck me as being remarkably similar to the Flash I wrote entitled “January 2,” which suggests that I still endeavor to get it right.  WATCH FOR THE RELEASE OF PUSHING THE RIVER THIS SUMMER!!!

photo by Garry Winogrand

January 2nd: Flash Fiction

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Being single is January 2nd.

Yesterday’s twinkling lights quit working and now fill garbage cans. The festive flourishes that merry-makers painstakingly hung in windows and yards and around doors have been ravaged by time and weather. My Christmas tree has become so dry that every time my dog brushes it with her wagging tail, needles rain forth in a downpour of fire hazard.

The season of cheer, of good will, of hopefulness, is past. Not even the brain-scrambling, body-slamming, wretched but familiar hangover of the New Year remains to keep us company.

January 2nd. Nothing ahead but bleak, relentless winter, as far as the soul can see. A landscape of emotional white out.

I have wandered around this landscape for too many years – this relentless tundra of January 2nd status.  But it is a New Year.  And with whatever mixture of revelry and reflection we rang in 2018, here we stand.  We renew our vow to begin again.

Nuclear-Winter

A Dinner

Oops, I missed last Friday due to connectivity issues in Tulum, Mexico (!!).  Here, then, is the third installment from the “September” section of my novel PUSHING THE RIVER.  Watch for the fourth next Friday!

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A Dinner

“Now, exactly what is our role here, Madeline?” Auggie was barely able to contain his delight. “What do you need from us?”

After the walk with Ellie, Madeline’s renewed burst of enthusiasm for the prospect of Living in the Moment manifest in the form of shooting off a text to Dan: “Hey, no idea what you’re up to this evening, but having some friends over for dinner. Join us later if you’re free. I made pie.” He had texted back that he’d love to come by, but didn’t want to infringe on her time with good friends. He suggested he stop by around eight-thirty.

“Auggie, you’re being weird,” Madeline said.

“No, no. I’m serious. We want to be there for you. We just need to know what our role is.” Auggie radiated a decidedly boyish quality, in the best sense. And in his unbridled enthusiasm for the task at hand, he was adorable. Beth nearly always found him adorable, and made this obvious in frequent, glowingly loving glances at him. Across the dinner table from Madeline, the two of them radiated exuberance, good will and love. It delighted Madeline, and made her misty, and wistful, and, as her son would have said when he was a little boy, sickenated.

Auggie continued: “I mean, are we chaperones here? Do you want us to stick around until after he leaves? We would love to do that for you.” He put his arm around Beth, and pulled her head over to lean against his own. “Wouldn’t we, babe? Chaperones!” He caught Beth mid-sip with her wine, and as she gurgled an assent into her glass, he said, “Or wait. Do I have the wrong idea here? Maybe you want us to leave right away! Maybe you’re dying to be alone with him! Maybe the whole ‘why don’t you come over while I have friends here thing’ is just a ruse to make it seem innocent.” Beth could barely get her wine glass safely onto the table, she was laughing so hard.

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“Auggie, seriously, don’t do anything one bit differently than if Dan wasn’t here. Really. Stay as long as you want to stay. Leave when you want to leave! Like always!! ”

“What about a sign? Maybe we should come up with a sign – two signs – one if you think it’s going well, and you want us to leave so the two of you can be alone; one if it’s not going so well, and you want us to stay.”

“It really doesn’t matter what I say, does it? You’re deep into your own thing here.”

F I N E,” Auggie said. “Mission aborted.”

“More pie, Auggie?”

“You betcha.”

By the time Dan tumbleweeded through the front door and into the dining room, Auggie and Bess had pushed their chairs back from the table in healthy respect of keeping a certain distance from the remaining rubble of pie. Auggie and Bess looked Dan up and down while Dan looked the tumult of plates up and down, and before fifteen minutes of interesting conversational tidbits had criss-crossed the dining table, Auggie turned squarely to face his wife and said, “Well, honey, we really need to get going.”

“What?!?” Madeline said, nearly before the words were fully out of his mouth. “Really?!?”

“Really. Come on, babe.” And with an incredible efficiency of movement, he grabbed Bess’ hand, pulled her up from her chair, and led her towards the front door while both of them exclaimed the virtues of the food and the wine and the company, until the door shut behind them and their continued words drifted into the evening air. On the other side of the door, the entire atmosphere inside the house shifted by the time Madeline took the twenty or so steps back to sit at the dining room table, side by side with Dan.  He gave a faint chuckle. “Nice folks.”

“The best.” Madeline said.

They sat facing the table laden with the evening’s detritus.  As if he had read the crusted plates like so many tea leaves, Dan said, “This house is so you.  You are everywhere.”

“Really?” Madeline retorted, more than a tad skeptically, as he had arrived less than a half hour before and seen only two rooms.  “How’s that?”

“It’s so clear what this house is.  It’s the place that you created, and have worked hard to protect – a haven to encircle all of the people you love.”

“Geez,” Madeline thought to herself.  “Just how much longer do I have to wait to fuck this guy?”  But what she said aloud was, “Huh.”

“There is love everywhere,” Dan said, still looking down at the plates.

“Maybe not quite yet,” she considered.  “But soon.  Very, very soon.”  The thought exhilarated her, thrilled her, yet also filled her with quiet apprehension.  She said in a pitch that was tauter and higher than usual. “Would you like a house tour?  Want to see the rest of the Haven of Love?”

Strolling the myriad of rooms, Dan remained decidedly quiet.  Madeline ran her fingers along walls and gestured with giddy abandon as she dug up tidbits of historical facts about the 100-year-old house, and recounted treasured memories of her thirty years within the confines of its walls.  Dan nodded once or twice.  He knit his brow now and again.

The house tour completed, Madeline plopped down beside Dan on the sofa, their thighs pressed together.  The arc of the evening – the deep pleasure of Auggie and Bess, the astonishment of Dan actually getting it about her house, the chance to tell its stories – had left her in woozy, buoyant spirits.  She sighed aloud and rested her head against Dan’s shoulder.  He reached his arm to encircle her, kneaded her shoulder, then withdrew it.

“Are you feeling it?  Are you as totally uncomfortable as I am?”

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For a split second Madeline thought he must be pulling her leg.  An attempt at a bit of ha-ha hipster ironic humor; but one quick look at his face persuaded her that this was not the case.  “What?” she said.

“You can’t tell me you’re not feeling the same.  How completely different this is from last night.  How awkward.”

“No…I…I’m so sorry that you’re feeling uncomfortable.”

“Last night just flowed.  Every minute.  Flow.”  Dan sat forward on the couch, leaning as if ready to spring.

“You look like you’re thinking pretty seriously about leaving,” Madeline said.

“I am.  Thinking about it.  This is just so…weird.  I’m not sure what I should do”

Something old, and very deep, within Madeline felt a profound shame.  She tamped down the instinct to apologize over and over, to do anything, to do everything, that might possibly make Dan feel better, like her, want to stay, want to hold her, want her.  She was also aware of a flash of rage, an intense desire to slap Dan’s flow-spouting face.  Inside, a part of her screamed, “Fuck you, you arrogant fuck!”  Alongside the shame, and the blind anger, the most profound feeling of all was a wish that something, just one thing, could be simple.  Clear.  Easy.  Known.

With swift and precise movement, Madeline pushed Dan backwards on the couch, threw her leg across his lap so she fully straddled him, and gripped his head between her two hands.  “Want to know what I think you should do?”  Madeline moved in, her lips, tongue, teeth showing all of the threat, and all of the promise, of a wild and starving animal.  She threw her head back, panting hard.  “Any questions?” she asked.

Taking Dan’s hand, she led him to the staircase.  With her back to him, Madeline ascended with measured, deliberate steps, resting their entangled fingers against her ass, with every intention that he pay keen attention to it.  She took her time lighting the two candles on her bedside table, her back still to Dan, waiting for the match to burn all the way down before she blew the slightest puff of air.  Standing behind her, Dan reached one hand out to caress her buttocks, took a step forward, and cupped her breast with his other hand.  They stood for a time, motionless, listening to one another’s breathing; and that marked the last instant of anticipation, or of anything languorous.  Madeline ground her ass into Dan’s pelvis, hard, and rocked it from side to side.  His fingers dug into the crotch of her jeans.

Clothing flew.  Hands could not explore fast enough, could not cover enough ground.  Lips, tongues, saliva were everywhere, all at once.  The air in the room thickened to a fecund hothouse from the blossoming of body parts and ooze of fluids.

Dan gripped her haunches and pulled her onto him, astride him as she had been on the couch.  Madeline ran her hand along his cock as she slid him inside her, and shut her eyes tight to block out any thought, any hint of any sensation, that was not the feeling of his cock reaching into her.   Dan seized her hand and enlaced his fingers with enough force that Madeline’s eyes snapped open.  Her first inclination was to gasp. She had never seen a look quite like the one on his face.  His impossibly blue eyes wide open, his body trembling, Dan looked right at her, right into her, with a hungry yearning that pronounced there would be no place for a single part of her to hide.  A sound arose from deep in her gut, a sound she was not even sure was her own.  And when that sound reached up through her body and spilled from her mouth, she was gone.

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A first draft of this chapter was originally posted in 2013, in three installments.

Quantum Leap

The bulk of my novel Pushing the River takes place within the confines of a house, over the course of four months.  As promised, I will be posting a chapter each Friday (oops) from the “September” section of the book.  Here is the first chapter:

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Quantum Leap

It was certainly not her first foray into the parallel universe of online dating. Sadly, it was quite far from it. Madeline had been divorced for more than ten years by this time, and had watched a string of relationships move from interest, to the first tingle of excitement, to the exhilaration of genuine possibility, to the frightening, heady, joyful moment when the roller coaster passes the peak of its climb and in that split second, there is no going back: momentum takes over; it is utterly and completely out of anyone’s control, because at this moment, there is love. There is real love.

And then there isn’t.

After a time, she would be back online, pouring over profiles, scrutinizing descriptions, gathering courage.

There were less than a handful of people in the “neighborhood bar,” each one sitting at a measured distance from the others, making the throbbing lights and disco music seem thoroughly pathetic. Even the bartender looked as if she would rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else.

A first glance around the room didn’t turn up anybody she thought resembled his online picture. Certainly nobody came close to what her daughter-in-law Marie had called The Underwear Model upon seeing his photo. “Oh! My! God! He’s an underwear model!”

“Do you know if there’s anybody here waiting for somebody? A guy?” she screamed at the bartender, leaning as far as she possibly could over the bar in order to be heard.

“Are you kidding?” The bartender retorted, “Everybody here is waiting for somebody.”

She gestured with her arm, waving her hand around the room in a need-I-say-more sort of way.

“I mean, not that I know of. You’re just gonna have to look.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

And then she saw him. QuantamLeap. Standing in a dark shadow, pressed against the back wall as if pinned there, minutely nodding his head in time to the music in a good-soldier effort to not look as thoroughly uncomfortable as he clearly was. Off-white, baggy, mid-calf length shorts that could have passed for gangsta, could have passed for j. crew. Collared shirt.

(“Collared shirt?” she thought. “I did not see that coming.”) She had pictured: T-shirt. Definitely. Very faded. Possibly with the name of an early punk band, but more likely touting some esoteric, highly left-leaning thing. Noam Chomsky, maybe. But nope, collared shirt it was. And striped. (Striped?)

“Dan?” she yelled.

He was tall. 6’3”, maybe even 6’4”, so had to lean way, way over to get his ear in the general vicinity of her mouth. He nodded, minimally, in time to the music, as if he were not sure he wanted to acknowledge his identity to the person who had chosen this particular bar.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said. Knowing full well that he couldn’t hear a word, she made exaggerated pointing gestures toward the door.

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With the last beam of blue light evaporating across his arm, Dan emphatically pushed the bar door closed behind them. The instant the door was closed, they stood unmoving, still on the stoop, as an exhilaration of relief – to be outside, out of the blue light, out of the inescapable throb of long-forgotten music, out of the scene of utter desolate encroaching loneliness — washed over them.

Madeline said, “Oh my God, I am so sorry,” and laughed out loud. “Oh! My! God!”

There was something just a little goofy about him, the stoop of his shoulders, the enormity of his feet in the ultra-white gym shoes she later learned he had bought that day at Costco. A mortal after all. Thank God, she thought, or he would be too impossibly good looking.

She suggested they walk to a nearby place that she ardently wished she had remembered in the first place — a low-key homage to the 60’s that still sold tie-dyed shirts, incense and bumper stickers in a little shop adjoining the restaurant. It also boasted a lovely outdoor area, a giant screened-in porch strewn with twinkly lights that was heavenly on a summer night.

Though she was less than two miles from the house she had lived in for nearly 30 years, she got lost. Damp with fretful sweat that grabbed at her mauve silk blouse, she surreptitiously scrutinized him for any sign of frustration aimed at her. They had met in person less than fifteen minutes before, so she had no cache of information that could tell her whether his good-natured reserve was just that, or if, perhaps, he had already decided that these two particular people, him and her, would not be seeing one another for much longer on the evening of September 1, 2013. Or ever again.

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A version of this chapter was originally posted on 7/23/13 with these same pictures.

Touche

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In its first incarnation, my novel which ended up as You, in your Green Shirt, began as a memoir, entirely non-fiction. Over a process of years, two agents, many publishers, a lot of thought and two complete rewrites, I determined that the material – the sum total of story, voice, and intent –could be better served if I abandoned the “facts*” and allowed the characters free reign to tell their tale.

Still very much in a new and experimental place, my current thinking is that A January Diary might benefit from a similar break from reality. Thus (I’m always looking for an opportunity to use the word thus!!), following is the first foray into the realm of the constructed reality known as fiction for A January Diary.

Touche

It was after the first time we – hmmm, should I say made love? Had sex? Fucked? It’s best when it’s all three, all at once.

Should I fault myself for not remembering the details? Of the actual sex, I mean. Other things, I recall with the clarity of a photograph that sits right in front of me. One that I can stare at, examine over and over, discover new and more new. There was the Very Serious expression on his face. His extreme thinness, combined with his heights – he’s a blue person! I thought. One of the blue people from the movie Avatar!! The shocking cold of his foot afterward, as he traced it along my calf.

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There was the languid and lovely movement from the breathless, voiceless sinking into one another’s bodies that immediately followed, to the murmured first words, to the return of full sentences, to the eventual time when we woozily sat on the edges of the bed and regarded our widely-strewn clothing.

By the time all of our clothing had found its way back onto our bodies, we stood fully upright and regular conversation had resumed. He was saying that he really needed to get started on his Medicare stuff, grumbling about the whole pain-in-the-ass of it. I said that I was counting the days until I qualified. Why, I said, do you have any idea what I’m paying for my health insurance right now? Being a Company Man, the kind with paid-for health insurance, of course he had no idea.

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I threw out the monetary figure, which elicited a visible level of shock and horror. He actually paced around his hallway a little, trying to wrap his head around the sum. Ha! Saw my opening. So with a totally straight face I said: well, this is as good a time as any to segue into something I really need to talk with you about. You can probably understand now why I have an ad up on Craigslist – I’m advertising for an arranged marriage for health insurance.”

Without a second’s hesitation he said: Hell, I’ll marry you. Let me call the benefits office right now and get the info. Lemme just go grab my phone.” And with that, he walked away, pretending to search for the phone.

Touche, I thought.

Touche, indeed.

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Exerpt from upcoming novel “Pushing the River”

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The minute she walked into the blue-light-pulsating, music-thumping, eardrum-shattering, sad sad sad “neighborhood bar,” which is what the online City Guide had called it, she knew she had made a hideous mistake.

            “Pick some place where a yuppie or hipster type would never dare set foot,” he had said.  “Some dive.  A real neighborhood place.”

            “Are you kidding?” she had responded.  “We are very groovy up here.  We’re talking brick walls and industrial chic lighting in places where millions of dollars have been sunk to make the joint look like the basement of a factory, where you will be gouged with exorbitant prices for a PBR because it’s all ironic.”

            “Consider it a challenge,” he had said.

            Ah fuck, she thought, a challenge.

            It was certainly not her first foray into the parallel universe of online dating.  Sadly, it was quite far from it.  My lady had been divorced for more than ten years by this time, and had watched a string of relationships move from interest, to the first tingle of excitement, to the exhilaration of genuine possibility, to the frightening, heady, joyful moment when the roller coaster passes the peak of its climb and in that split second, there is no going back: momentum takes over; it is utterly and completely out of anyone’s control, because at this moment, there is love.  There is real love.

            And then there isn’t.

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            After a time, she would be back online, poring over profiles, scrutinizing descriptions, gathering courage.

            There were less than a handful of people in the “neighborhood bar,” each one sitting at a measured distance from the others, making the throbbing lights and disco music seem thoroughly pathetic.  Even the bartender looked as if she would rather be somewhere else.  Anywhere else.

            A first glance around the room didn’t turn up anybody she thought resembled his online picture.  Certainly nobody came close to what her daughter-in-law Marie had called The Underwear Model upon seeing his online photo. “Oh!  My!  God!  He’s an underwear model!”

            “Do you know if there’s anybody here waiting for somebody?  A guy?”  she screamed at the bartender, leaning as far as she possibly could over the bar in order to be heard.

            “Are you kidding?”  The bartender retorted,  “Everybody here is waiting for somebody.”  She gestured with her arm, waving her hand around the room in a need-I-say-more sort of way.

            “I mean, not that I know of.  You’re just gonna have to look.”

            “Yeah.  Thanks.”

            And then she saw him.  QuantamLeap.  Standing in a dark shadow, pressed against the back wall as if pinned there, minutely nodding his head in time to the music in a good-soldier effort to not look as thoroughly uncomfortable as he clearly was.  Off-white, baggy, mid-calf length shorts that could have passed for gangsta, could have passed for j. crew.  Collared shirt.  (“Collared shirt?” she thought. “I did not see that coming.”)  She had pictured: T-shirt.  Definitely.  Very faded.  Possibly with the name of an early punk band, but more likely touting some esoteric, but highly left-leaning thing.  Noam Chomsky, maybe.  But nope, collared shirt it was.  And striped.  (Striped?)

            “Dan?”  she yelled.

            He was tall.  6’3”, maybe even 6’4”, so had to lean way, way over to get his ear in the general vicinity of her mouth.  He nodded, minimally, in time to the music, as if he were not sure he wanted to acknowledge his identity to the person who had chosen this particular bar.

            “Let’s get out of here,” she said.   Knowing full well that he couldn’t hear a word, she made exaggerated pointing gestures toward the door.

            With the last beam of blue light evaporating across his arm, Dan emphatically pushed the bar door closed behind them.  The instant the door was closed, they stood unmoving, still on the stoop, as an exhilaration of relief – to be outside, out of the blue light, out of the inescapable throb of long-forgotten music, out of the scene of utter desolate encroaching loneliness —  washed over them.

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