Dead

Intuition.  Bohemians, outsiders, cherish intuition.  That insight, that awareness, that…knowing.  I knew when I saw him.  I knew I loved him.  He wasn’t shy of the other women in the gallery and he wasn’t disdainful.  He was watching people look at art which was so evocative.  He saw me and I forced myself not to turn away.  I wanted him to know that I was staring.  Staring right at him.

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Intuition.  Bohemians, outsiders, cherish intuition.  That insight, that awareness, that… knowing.  I realized when I looked at him that loved him.  His mannerisms did not indicate shyness regarding the other women in the gallery nor did his features let slip any thoughts of disdain.  The man watched people look at art, his obvious curiosity regarding other people’s reactions filled me with a longing hard to suppress, even harder to hide. Noticing my stare or rather acknowledging my star by turning toward me, for I felt certain he knew I had been staring for some time, he smiled slightly.   I willed myself not to turn away from his gaze. I felt a desire to challenge him in some manner yet I wanted to run.

“So how often does he brush his teeth in a day do you suppose?”

My mother’s voice.  My dead mother’s voice.  She died seven years ago, but she has never left me.  I loved my mother and I love my mother but her interference at the moment I was staring at the man who intrigued me flustered me to near tears.  My shoulders tensed, waiting for my mother’s voice to sound in my ears again.  I wanted, needed, the deep background music of love to sweep over me as I looked at this tall, slender man, dressed in a somber dark suit.  I needed a moment without questions.  I wanted to plead with my mother.

“I suppose he reads in the bathroom.  He looks the intellectual type…”

“Mother,” I hissed and stepped away from no one.  A few people looked my way.  Did he notice me talking to myself?  I took a deep breath willing my shoulders down and imagining my face serene and unhampered by anything but the art surrounding me.  I wandered in an aimless relaxed manner, at least I hoped I was wandering in an aimless relaxed manner.  I was urging the tall slender man to approach me.  I wanted to him to compel him to approach me.

“Well, he is a tall drink of water, isn’t he?  Your father was so short, God bless him.  He would provide the tall gene our family so needs.  Your kids would come up to his navel.  Wouldn’t matter if you had girls.”

I whirled around infuriated with my mother.  She was dead.  Dead.  She needed to get out of my head.  I stomped back to my chair the man of my dreams forgotten and grabbed my hand knitted alpaca wrap.  Swinging it around my head and letting it float gently down upon my shoulders, closing my eyes and breathing deeply as the light but ever warming shawl gently floated down upon my shoulders I willed some calmness into my body; leaving was my best option.

“You haven’t even looked at the exhibit.”

I didn’t turn around, anger and frustration bristled out in rudeness.  “I know,” I said, defeated and humiliated.  “A friend of mine is the artist.”  I suddenly had no strength to explain.  My voice tightened in a sobbing disappointment.  I had so looked forward to the evening.  Great, I was going to cry over my dead mother’s assessment of an attractive man; she always brought men down to mud level.

“I suppose your mother is a little jealous of anyone who connects mentally with you.”

“She’s not a bad person,” I said quickly and in defense of my mother.  “She worries about me.” I felt a sudden chill.  Turning I was face to face with a light blue silk shirt neatly sheathed by a dark suit.  He stood before me, his expression kind but his features set and his skin an icy hue.

“Hmm.  Yes.  Most mothers worry and not without reason.  Your mother worries you will do something rash.”

“She’s been dead seven years,” I said gazing up at him, his bright blue eyes clear and without judgment.

“Your wrap is beautiful.  Did you make it yourself?”

I nodded

“Did your mother teach you to knit?”

“Yes,” I said quietly.

“Have a glass of wine with me and let’s walk the gallery. Your friend will want to know why you don’t walk the gallery. We can’t explain your dead mother.”

“How do you know about my mother?”

“Intuition,” he smiled down at me, handed me a glass of red wine, his hand was blue-ice cold yet lovely.  “Intuition is ingrained in bohemians and outsiders, we cherish the ability.”

Accidents

he sat stony-eyed not acknowledging Carlos at all.  “Darla will have a glass of the house wine,” I said hastily fearing she would do something unconventional. 

“I have one question.” She looked at me with something between dread and vexation which merged and culminated in a purely “Darla-like” expression.

“I know, I know but really just one question,” I pleaded.  Darla leaned back and gave me a slight nod.  Taking that as permission I blurted it out, “What happened to men?”

Her pale skin blanched to a sudden milky gray and her beautiful sculptured lips turned a leaden color her smile conveyed a sort of evil satisfaction.  “Nothing, they’ve always been that way, you’ve just noticed.  That’s what I hate about optimists.”

Darla’s voice sounded as if she were down a deep echoing well.

Carlos, our usual waiter, was walking up to our table.  I could tell he was having a bad day because his usually pristine and pressed black trousers were splattered with something shiny from the knee down.  His small white apron had a washed out yellow looking blob almost dead center.  I felt myself turn red because the stain was dead center so I hoped whatever hit him hadn’t been painful.

“Stop blushing you idiot,” Darla whispered, “and stop looking at his crotch.”

Darla was never very nice.  I looked away and tried to compose myself.

Carlos came up to me and didn’t smile.  “How are you today?” he asked and I knew he didn’t care to know.

“I’ll just have a cup of coffee and whatever pie you have today,” I said squinting up at him.  He had managed to stand just where the sun was painful when looking up.  I though perhaps he should have been an international spy or an assassin rather than a waiter.  I looked over at Darla, blinking heavily.  She sat stony-eyed not acknowledging Carlos at all.  “Darla will have a glass of the house wine,” I said hastily fearing she would do something unconventional.

Carlos walked away not letting me know what sort of pie to expect.

“You see?” said Darla.  He’s a man and a typical one.  He has had a bad day, splattering grease on his pants…

“Trousers…”

“His pants when emptying the garbage at home before he came to work.  While at work some clumsy American tourist like you…

“Expatriate, I live here,”

“Tourist spills their orange juice in a projectile fashion because they saw a spider on the table so naturally, he’s a total shit to you.”

“Oh I know men are moody and take out all their frustrations on women, I was just wondering what happened to them physically.”

Darla lifted her eyebrows to me in question.

I looked about at the street, narrow hipped men with billowing shirts and long hair.  “They are all different colors and heights but all look the same.”

“Perhaps you are simply become cured of obsessing over them,” Darla said.

Carlos reappeared, his face looking like it was carved in oak.  He placed my coffee and blueberry pie in front of me and Darla’s wine in the center of the table. “Will that be all?” I could tell Carlos didn’t want to be standing next to the table. Darla stretched out her long gray hand and pulled the wine to her side of the table.  Carols blanched visibly.

“She is here today?” asked Carlos.

“She sees you, Carlos.  I’m sorry for that, truly.  I’m sorry too about the clumsy American tourist.”

I was sorry too, Darla was relentless and very good in causing accidents.

When She Thought of Him

There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all.  Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox.  The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper. 

After the shove or taunt, she imagined herself with the older man who came at night.  He was the one who would cause envy in all those who sneered at her during the day.  He was the one who spoke to her gently, read poetry and didn’t like to dance.   She remembered events that made her happy but never happened.

There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all.  Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox.  The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper.  When the cool started to settle in she dreaded the call to be sociable outside the need for church.

The whispered jeers and snarling looks of disdain from her peers would not have been so painful if they had not, in turn, been so hypocritically kind to her father.  Their kindness lightened his face with hope when invitations were sent but she refused to go.

“Mrs. Harper will think you rude; you didn’t accept her last invitation.”  She would go and in the prettiest dress but feel awkward and uncomfortable none the less.  She would sit as still as possible allowing her tea to cool or lemonade to grow warm.  She wouldn’t eat a thing for fear of looking more uncouth and gangly then feel the tears burn into her eyes knowing her father was disappointed.  So she thought of the older man who came at night.  He would walk by Mrs. Harper’s window and she would think that he was so handsome and some day she would be the envy of all the lovely girls when she walked by his side.

After such times away from home and books, and bubbling brooks, away from tracks in the snow and blankets of fallen leaves she would think of him.  She saw him in the fields right after harvest, standing alone among the stubbled stalks of corn.  She saw him late at night while the new moon hid in angles; he stood between the broad, tall barn and her lofty old farm house.  He stood and gazed up at her window and when she crept up to the glass to see if indeed he was there, he would not flinch or change expression but continue to stare.

When William only tipped his hat at her not seeing her, she would think of him, tall, angular and looking off into the distance.  When Tom’s smile turned into a laugh as she walked by she thought of him, standing just below her window.

Then one day her father sent her away to Chicago.  The move was sudden and unexpected.  He one day fired all of his hired hands and sent her to Chicago to learn.  Her grief was an agony and only once did she try to plead.  In the city, there was no time to think of him.  She had only time to learn how to set the table, order her meals in French and dance in shoes that pinched.

She had no time to remember and then one spring a gentle touch caused her amnesia regarding the white tail, the fiery red fox, the tracks in the snow and the blanket of multi-colored leaves at her feet.  She may have remained if not for a night at home again.  Smiling at her father, speaking to him in excited tones of what goes on in Chicago.  Asleep in an instant so glad to be home and suddenly awake, the old sadness about her.

He sat on the edge of her bed, broad-shouldered, angular and silent.  If she closed her eyes and willed herself asleep, she would return to the world of whirling seasons, high towers and smiling people.  Or she could open her arms up to him.

He had stayed with her when she was alone, so opening her arms to him she felt the alarm of bitter cold for only a moment and the soft contentment of returning home again.

Photo by m wrona on Unsplash

 

She Rattles, She Doesn’t Knock

After my wife left me I felt a terrible loss because she took the dog and the cat with her.  She left angry.

Don’t blame me.  We both agreed we didn’t want children.  A friend of mine told me that would change.  He told me so sitting slumped over on a barstool with a begging look at the bartender who kept telling us the place was closed.  He wasn’t drunk, well not stupid, pie-eyed drunk, he just didn’t want to go home to the wife and kiddos – all four of them.  No, five total, if you counted the wife.  He has a sweet wife, really, just a little, well a little…she’s a little dumb.  She’s a great mother, though, but they had agreed that they would not bring any children into this awful, dying world.  Like I said they had four.

I held my ground on the whole pregnancy thing.  Now my wife is someone else to someone, with a little girl that “means the world,” to her.  I know my wife, she’s sorry she let her biological clock get the best of her.  I know she misses the long weekends listening to Lake Michigan pound the coastline and reading by the fire.  Yeah, I kept the cabin because there was no way she could afford it, not with a kid.   Sure, we sold the two-story house but I’m fine with a small apartment downtown.  Little has changed for me – except for the damned door knobs.

She showed up when I was moving in, my wife that is.  She showed up about three months pregnant to make sure I was “okay.”  I told her in no uncertain terms not to show her face at my apartment again and that this was not some “adult,” type of divorce where we were going to be friends and concerned about each other.

Actually, I said no such thing, I just told her I was fine and got back to rearranging my apartment.  She had no business being there.  The friend who didn’t want to leave his bar stool spoke loud and fast at her for about fifteen minutes.  I didn’t see her leave.

That night while I was on the toilet reading Jaws, the door knob rattled.  I shouted at Ralf, my big dumb golden lab to knock it off and go to bed.  Then I remembered that Ralf, the big dumb lab went with mommy.  I sat there, book in hand and stared at the door knob.  Why had I shut the door to go to the toilet?  I was the only one living in the apartment.  I didn’t have to worry about offending anyone.

The door knob softly rattled.

“Who’s there?”

The door knob shook and turned as if someone was going to wrench it out of the door and then suddenly went silent.  I felt cold to the bone.  I sat there until I felt my feet go numb.  When I stood up my knees were wobbly.  I made lots of noise, flushed the toilet twice and open the door suddenly with a wide sweep.  The apartment was completely quiet and gray-dark.  I heard the noise of after hours downtown, a comforting sound and noticed the dim glow of street lights.  I walked about turning on all the apartment lights and the TV.  I slept on the couch and was to work early.

Yeah, that’s nice by the way.  I can walk to work and do.  I’ve lost five pounds already and some envious people are looking at me and saying I need to take it easy.

So, when my wife had this guy’s daughter she plastered her ugly little face all over Facebook.  Friends who didn’t know what to do with either one of us put their little thumbs up under the kid’s picture so I closed my account and I started reading The Count of Monte Cristo.  I even bought the audio book and have it playing while I cook.  It’ s a little galley kitchen in the apartment.  I miss the big old kitchen in the two-story house we sold but I don’t cook like I used to; I can still cut a great salad.

One night I woke up to a door slamming and thought that one of my neighbors was having a loud fight.  My bedroom was dark and I was aware, in a groggy sort of way, that the room was too dark.  Where was the night light that I kept in the hallway?  I didn’t become fully awake until I heard the rattle of a doorknob.  My bedroom door was closed.  I had lived in the apartment almost 10 months and I made it a point not to shut any of the doors leading into rooms (the closet door knobs never protested up to that point).

I have no idea what made me brave, I simply got out of bed while the door knob jiggled in the door.  I grabbed the thing and felt an electric shock go through me.  The only thing I remember is my teeth chattering and trying not to urinate and feeling…I don’t know…terrified.  Absolutely terrified.

“Janet, I think my apartment is haunted.”

“Janet, are you still there?”

“Yes.  What makes you think it is haunted?”

“The doorknobs rattle in the door and last night I tried to open the door while the doorknob was moving and something…something happened.”

“I know a good priest.”

“I’m not joking.”

“Neither am I.”

“You never went to church a day in your life.”

“I know I started after I left you.  Jeffery goes.”

“Yeah, well never mind.  I wouldn’t want you to miscarry.”

“I’ve already had the baby.”

“Yeah, right never mind.”

I hung up before she could say another word, disgusted with myself that I had called her but I couldn’t shake that feeling of apprehension.  I spent the weekend up at the cabin.  I left instructions with the apartment’s handyman to change every damned doorknob in the place.  When I came back every doorknob on every door, including the closets, were changed.  I deliberately closed the bathroom door Monday night and continued reading The Count of Monte Cristo.  When I had finished, hands washed and reaching for the doorknob the damned thing began to rattle.  I stood in the bathroom for an hour.  When I opened the door – nothing.

At Wednesday’s board meeting I lost track of the conversation, thinking about what my apartment would look like with no doors.  I could use beads or heavy damask material for doors.  My boss pulled me aside later and asked if I was okay.  The job had actually been great, sales were up and my department was top of the line, so I was a little impatient that he pulled me aside.

“Listen, you’ve lost weight and you are here early and you leave late.  I know things have been tough but I want you to take a few days off.”  The boss walked away before I could protest.  I wanted to shout after him to come on over and use my toilet but I didn’t.

I can survive my wife leaving and becoming instantaneously pregnant with a younger guy named Jeffery instead of Jeff (who actually goes to church) but it’s the doorknobs that will unhinge me.  Is there a pun in that?

I take the week off and spend it at the cabin.  It’s on the Wisconsin coastline, due north of Chicago and a place of refuge.  I thought I’d miss her but oddly enough I miss the dog.  Ralf and I would walk the coast while my wife and the cat would read by the fire.  For the first few days I looked at any door knob before I turn it or pull it but by Wednesday morning I forget all about doorknobs and thought about grilling steaks, putting together quiches with sweet potato crusts and mixing together egg custards.  Salads didn’t cross my mind and I finished The Count of Monte Cristo.

I returned mid-afternoon on Saturday thanking my boss mentally for the good advice.  The apartment seemed small and cramped to me so I opened a few windows and thought about maybe buying some plants to help freshen the air.  I stood in the middle of the living room and said, “I like it here, it’s close to work and I don’t have to park on the street.  This will work.”

For the first time, the door knob on the closet rattled.  It rattled violently.  I stood and looked at it for a moment.  It rattled again and then settled down into a tapping and then stopped.  I strode with determination toward the closet door and swung it open wide.

I stayed in a hotel that night and had movers take my stuff to a really cool loft apartment in an old Victorian.  It’s a little further to work if I drive but I don’t mind the walk to the L even on cold days; it clears my mind.  I started going to Mass and I talk to the priest every Saturday now, he’s a good guy.

The good news was that I was able to keep my deposit and I was reimbursed for all the new doorknobs.  They put the old ones back.  The handyman figures that she showed herself because of the new door handles.  He told me she was usually pretty quiet with women tenants and she hadn’t shown herself in several decades.  No one knows why she hung herself in the closet.

“One lady told me she thinks she did it for love.  Of course, the manager and owner think everyone’s crazy but hey, they gave you your deposit back.”  The handyman was a nice guy but I wish he would have told me she had hanged herself in there, I’m pretty sure I would have known we wouldn’t have been compatible.

I See In All

The angry are better off. The weak and frightened cling to me. To see the soft weeping, the gratitude for my listening and understanding ear does move me. They don’t see it coming, the price they pay for believing without faith but rather naiveté. It is just the right type of absorption I need that keeps me craving but not without pity for the terror that at the end I see in all.

The angry are better off. The weak and frightened cling to me. To see the soft weeping, the gratitude for my listening and understanding ear does move me. They don’t see it coming, the price they pay for believing without faith but rather naiveté. It is just the right type of absorption I need that keeps me craving but not without pity for the terror that at the end I see in all.

I regret none of my interactions with those of whom I have shared the gloom of tombs, dark empty spaces, sounds of voices from beyond the grave and the sudden awareness of being two in the room. Ghosts are subtle, and after years of exposing their secret places, I must conclude they are nothing to encourage, nothing to hope for and nothing for the living to live pursuing.

I see the young writers making heroes of those that exist beyond the grave. The more modern and exalted flimflam showmen flutter to the call that the dead have some vague romantic goal to reunite with the ones they love. The dead are just that, and if there is any ambition, it is to have more join them in the aching spiritual icebox they inhabit.

So, there we have the dead but it is the living that is the greatest heartache of all. They become involved in seeking their fairytale within the realms of the supernatural; especially those who crave touch and forgetfulness most of all.

I met a young man once, his eyes a deep, dark, blue who became angry with me at the end of his story. He was the hero, the gallant who would save his beloved from the shadowlands of death. Too there was the young girl with deep black eyes who thinks to this day that I bewitched her in some way. These escape my attempt at the soft sound of reason and comfort I try to convey.

It’s obvious to me that those who crave the unknown to quash the loneliness of existence live shallow little lives and those who have seen something they cannot explain wish for memories of the urbane but one-dimensional type in an attempt to reclaim their lonely little lives. Such quests never end well.

Corner of the eye movements. Reversals. Pictures that fly not drop from the walls. Anger. Fear. Sleeplessness. Tears. Some will escape, others will confide in me, especially after an alcoholic drink.
I draw large crowds, you know, of all sorts. I am not bragging, just well known. I am surrounded by actors and directors and glamorous dancers of every type. Inevitably someone will ask me if I believe in ghosts because, they will say, I certainly write as if I do. What is interesting or perhaps comforting is that the beautiful crowd reacts the same as those within the supermarket or the brown shoe beauties I meet in some obscure bookstore signing that I adore. Their eyes become large and luminous but after the hubbub of my first ‘yes,’ I follow those who walk away upset.

These I know are the failures who overstepped a living person’s boundary and challenged the notion of making good evil and a fatal habit of thinking evil good. These struggle less when my eyes turn red and explain that justice has nothing to do with me and getting away with my appetite falls at the feet of their determination to see the best in me.