Monday, November 9, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Destination

In Chicago he disembarked from the bus to have a cigarette and stretch his legs. A few people stood around in clusters, smoking and breathing out steam from the cold, most of them silent and keeping to themselves. He could feel the chill even through his leather jacket and sweatshirt felt it mostly in his thighs and feet and hands.
A young girl, sixteen or seventeen, dark mascara painted around her eyes, black lipstick, straight black hair, a jewel in her left nostril, met his gaze then slid hers contemptuously away. He changed his mind about the cigarette.
Inside where it was warmer, he plugged a quarter into a stall and urinated. He heard someone moan two compartments away, and after zipping up his fly, he hunched down and saw a figure, a makeshift collaboration of arms and legs and disheveled clothing, sitting on the cold cement floor, leaning back against a toilet. Probably drunk or stoned or both, he figured, and thought of his own years of abuse. Never mind, he thought, and leaving the terminal remembered his destination with a small pang of fire in his abdomen. His father had died, and the funeral was scheduled to occur in two days.
he returned to the bus and quickly boarded. All the overhead lights went off, and the bus slipped into the darkness, the white-lined freeway a smooth stream in his vision despite the underlying shaking of the engine and floorboard. And hundreds of miles to go, he thought, before reality sinks in. I am on my way home for the last time, and this is what it means to be lost and gone, the refrain from a poem written when he was twenty-seven. Regret feuled a fire above his groin.
Think of something else, he told himself. The poem. Poetry. Words lining up across a page, submitting to each other, each bending the knee to the next. He had read the poem in Denver that year. That is where he met Megan, and she had read in his eyes small whirlpools of caution, and suspected his pain.
Years later in bed he explained everything; they talked intimately in the darkness, peering towards the ceiling. Over coffee they discussed literature and poetry, abstract ideas; in the car and at breakfast discussion turned on objects and elements, concrete plans and details, the need for a Phillips screwdriver to fix the back screen, grocery lists, growing alarm over a stack of unpaid bills. During meals they often argued, exchanged emotional inclemency. In bed with Megan he disclosed the sharp and broken edges of his childhood, and experienced varying sensations of grief at last. She listened and consoled him as best as she could.
The bus jolted and he opened his eyes. He saw the lights of a city coming towards him in the distance, and craved a cigarette. Feminine giggles, those of a girl, drifted up from the back of the bus, joined by low juvenile, male murmuring, low and harsh and insistent. Had he been drifting? He felt as though he had been asleep. He glanced back to see the black-clad teenage girl hovering near a caucasian man clearly in his early twenties, a reddish goatee on his chin, crudley reaching for her breasts as she withdrew. He turned his attention away and inward, back towards the lights that shone and the city that lay ahead.
Businesses began to appear along the roadside, lit up outside and dark within, closed at this dread hour: a gun and ammo shop, a liquor store, a car lot, an applicance warehouse. A few people stretched or fidgeted in their seats. A green interstate sign: “Dawson, Indiana, Population: 15,563,” large enough, apparently, to merit a bus stop. The speaker crackled, and the driver announced that passengers would be boarding in Dawson, and the stop would last about twenty minutes.
he decided, or winter decided for him, to forgo a smoke, and instead he remained in his seat, closed his eyes. The bus rocked slightly as men and women walked its length, and leaving it, released their weight from its load.
He recalled one of his earliest memories of his father, amusing him when he was--four? five years old?his father’s colossal and exagerrated sweeps of movement, delirously distorted face and effusions of smells, mouth stretched in a mimicry of the gorilla. The magnitude of the man’s hands and of his girth impressed him---his stubbled chin, the undercurrent of laughter underneath his imposing performance. An implication of love indwelt his father’s ferocious snarl as he felt himself swept up, helpless. His feet disappeared from beneath him, the ceiling danced and flit from his line of sight. Light, wall, doorframe, couch, floor, feet, table, television, wall. There was the smell of Old Spice mixed with corduroy and sweat, the deep breathy exhalations from his father, grunting, performing, as he, the child, lost all sense of self-possession and became total self, nothing but self, yet also an extension of his progenitor, immersed in origination, overwhelmed yet completed by the terrible force of the prime mover, blown suddenly upward, tossed and caught with bright immense joy in his father’s unfailing embrace. A shadowy memory, a type, illustrated by and elaborated upon by the sentimental chimera of years that lay between then and now. Maybe just wishful thinking, he thought, a projection on the past. He felt bitterness pressed between his lips.
The bus began to shake; its engine cranking into a gutteral drumbeat. He abandoned his daydream as someone settled into the seat next to him, a woman. She wore a tight off-color skirt to her knees, and black spandex pants. Her arms and elbows, revealed, looked strong, like she had been lifting weights, and were scattered with freckles, which made him think she dyed her hair. Lines were beginning to show in her face in the usual places; he guessed she was in her late thirties, early forties. She glanced at him blankly as she adjusted her seat and organized her things, and her eyes made him want to wince; he could see therein some unforgotten wound, or a series of betrayals, something too general or too often repeated to specifically call into focus. Her thin hair was tied up behind her neck with a red scarf. She nodded at him and smiled grimly. She had a cruel mouth, her lips thin and chafed, bruised with day-old lipstick.
He turned to look out the window; the lights were on inside the bus, and so his own reflection greeted him, his oval and slowly-aging face, thinning wisps of hair, the pink of his receding hairline, the cleft in his chin.
“So where are you going?” the woman asked.
He turned, startled. “Me? Oh, Virginia.”
“Relatives there?”
“Yes. Well, actually, I’m going to bury my father.”
His voice sounded dry and flat in his own ears.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I shouldn’t have”¦”
He sought to soften the tension. “No problem.” He smiled, and told her his name, reached out his hand, which she took briefly in her own. Her skin seemed chafed and lank, fingers made chiefly of bone.
“I’m Cheryl,” she said. “Your mother is there?”
“She died when I was a kid. Where are you headed?”
“Big Apple.”
“New York? I see. Business or pleasure?”
Cheryl’s laughter was throaty and insincere. “Just getting away,” she said. “I have a sister lives in Rochester. This will be my third divorce.”
“My turn to say I’m sorry.”
“Don’t.” She faltered, and he felt a tendril of her pain pierce his own heart. The grief ruminated within him, a wounded energy in unfamiliar territory, and he sent it away, did not accept it. She was a stranger on a bus, not someone he cared about, or to whom he had obligations. Let sympathy drain away, he told himself, everyone has problems. He could not afford to carry more than his own share.
The lights went off inside the bus, and they pulled away into traffic. Cheryl flipped on the overhead bulb and began to rummage through her purse. He turned to look through his own reflection at the diminishing city lights. No moon tonight, he noticed. “So, are you married?” Cheryl asked.
“Widowed,” he said.
“Christ,” Cheryl laughed, maybe nervously this time. “That’s strike two for me. Sorry again.”
“That’s all right,” he said, seeking to smooth things over, say anything. “Her name was Megan. We were only married seven months, and she was killed.”
“How long ago?”
“Oh, it’s been eight years,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Cheryl said again. She thumbed off the overhead light and pulled a silver flask out of her purse, unscrewed it, and drew it to her lips. He could smell the slight sweet odor of whisky, which he knew she would offer. What the hell, he thought. Six years clean and sober, as they say. And dad is dead. And it’s cold out. He fidgeted and averted his eyes, tried not to think about it. Maybe just a little to warm my chest area. When she offered it, however, the old Siberian fear of limitless space made itself known; his gut clenched, and he only pretended out of a sense of twisted propriety to imbibe what he could almost taste before handing the flask back to her.
“Yeah, seven months of marriage,” he said. “Not a long time.”
“Seven months is nothing,” Cheryl said. “You were just newlyweds. Couldn’t have even gotten used to being married, but still”¦”
She took another drink, and offered the flask to him. He lifted his hand and squinted, shook his head. “No thanks,” he said. But still, her fragmented phrase repeated itself, and he relived for the nth time a scene he had never seen with his own eyes, but that had been described to police by witnesses, and written down in a report with gruesome detail, recurring cruelly in his heightened imagination and in his dreams with vivid clarity. Seven months into the marriage they attended a seminar in Eugene, Oregon, where he would speak. After four days of mediocre lectures and workshops, Megan decided to visit some relatives, Uncle Vic and his family, in Portland, a plan he grudgingly accepted. Her last words to him were, “I love you. See you in a couple days.” He said, “okay. I’ll see you in a couple days.” She kissed him. “I love you,” she said, and kissed him again.
On the way back from Portland, a rig carring a ton of logs lost its load just as she was passing it on a slick, sixty degree turn. Megan’s compact Subaru was crushed, timber splintering violently through the windshield and smashing through her skull and upper torso. She died instantly. The trucker’s rig toppled to its side and slid nearly three hundred feet before plummeting off the edge of the road into a cache of trees. Thirty-seven minutes later, the truck-driver was dead at the Portland Municipal Hospital. Two other vehicles also collided. A middle-aged male who was an elementary school teacher from Beaverton suffered head injuries and whiplash; and a carload of teenage tourists from Switzerland, on their way to Ashland for the Shakesperean theater, wrapped the front of their rented Chrysler around a tree. The driver, Janine Donaldson, a young woman, a girl of nineteen years, who had been accepted at Oxford the coming Fall, was left paralyzed from the waist down.
The news on local television while he was having a drink at The Four Horse Inn with a young writer who admired his poetry grabbed him. He did not know the personal import of the news until the police were finally able to contact him. He continued to laugh and talk about trivial things--about meter and rhythm, chiasm and free verse, post-structuralism and marginal accretion--as though life were fixed in its present state and he would never have another worry in the world, oblivious to the fact that his life had already been dramatically and inexorably changed. When he found out he felt helpless, unable to speak or move, cut off at the knees. Later that night, in shock, he returned. The bartender was busy serving drinks and giving back change, so he had to signal him three times before he caught his attention. Loud talk and rock music forced him to shout his order, a couple shots of Comfort to start off the evening.
Seven mean months, he thought, watching shapes drift and tumble in the moonless darkness outside the bus window. Most of the passengers were asleep, and Cheryl continued to unscrew and sip from her flask, until finally she left it open, staring into the dark empty spaces in front of her.
But still, he thought. Seven months. A scantily-clad period, a nightcap, a mere toast to marriage, filled with re-arrangements, lousy discoveries, the fighting and bargaining of the newly-united. But still. Not enough time. Injustice cursed his heart. During the funeral, he strove against the insistent but irrational notions stirring inside him, soulish voices with open mouths that never quite formed the symbols of words. The coffin lowered into the ground like an excruciating black slab of rage in his breast. Other coffins were buried there as well, one after another they descended and were covered; a swirling deep blue grief, a red block of blame in his gut. Sometimes he blamed her, replaying the motion picture in his mind, her final departure, the scene opening as elegantly and as suitable as the blade that carves epitaphs. “I love you,” she said, and kissed him. “See you in a couple days” what was this but a promise forsaken or forgotten, unfulfilled. A deception, thought he in his darkest moments, a fierce lie perpetrated by his wife, his love, in cooperation with fate or God or both, all were to blame and none could ever be blamed, such a thing could never be thought, much less spoken. He could not sanction nor permit any concept or word to take shape resembling blasphemies so delirious in their potency.
He continued to drink after the funeral, not allowing himself the pleasure of tears, or any release of pain. It would seem a betrayal, he felt, to cry, selfish to grieve or accept his feelings of loss. He sought to resurrect her, to knock time flat and prevent the accident through the sheer force of his will. After her burial his heart felt chaotic, and he was afraid. Too much was unfinished between them for it to have ended. Rough edges sharp as broken glass had gouged their souls harsh words, deception, bitter weeping; both were wounded to some degree. But we would have been healed eventually, he thought, we would have worked things out if only”¦if only: an invitation to a litany, a drinking chant, an entrance into a bubble of self-pity, womb of the damned. Two finger signals to the bartender, make it clean and simple before you retire to your room for a last libation, drown yourself to sleep. Never mind the lapses of continuity, the black periods. This is normal, and nothing matters anymore, and no one cares anyway, but it didn’t have to be this way. Always keep that in mind; it is that tidbit of knowledge that keeps you going on this narrow, chosen path, my friend, keeps the rim to the lips and the glass bottom chasing the ceiling, dulling the raw extremities.
Cheryl said, “Mind if I ask what happened?”
“Hm?”
“Is that too personal? I was wondering about your father.” He guessed she was a bit tipsy now, losing her inhibitions. “Strike three, I’m outta there?”
“No, it’s all right,” he said. He searched for a sentence, and at last said, “Dad’s kidneys were shot. He’d already lost one, and the other was quickly deteriorating. We pretty much knew it was coming.” He paused, and saw the look of interest on her face.
“You two get along okay?”
“I haven’t seen him in years, but we had worked things out okay.”
“Hm.” She had stopped listening, he realized. She was thinking of him, husband number three, Lazarus behind a mask of silence, waiting to come forth. She offered him another drink of her nearly empty flask, and he waved it away. Gradually, she began to speak, losing him in a seriously complex history of names and situations difficult to follow. There were two abortions, then a short period of happiness in a rented townhouse until the visitors started to arrive. She worked full-time at a clothing store and could make commissions. Her husband had a job in “outside sales,” or so he said, but often sent strangers to their home. Anonymous people arrived at the door, sometimes sent alone by her husband, sometimes with him, to stay the night. A few lived with them for weeks, would get drunk or stoned with them.
She only smoked marijuana, she said, but suspected him of getting into harder dope. Once she found a crack vial in the bathroom sink, and didn’t even know what it was until her husband told her. He claimed he did not know where it had come from, but that it wasn’t his, and she believed him at the time. A man named Carl, her husband’s buddy, who had once rode with the Black Hellions, had the equipment to open a lab, and he and her husband started to manufacture amphetamines in their two-car garage. Just to sell, said her husband, not to take.
There were two tattoos of naked women on Carl’s neck, one under each ear, which he had done over a period of six months after he got out of prison. The day Cheryl left, Carl threatened her with an ice-pick. She didn’t like being involved in pushing drugs, she said, and had given her husband an ultimatum. Unfortunately, Carl had been there, and intervened. He said he would not kill her, but make her wish that he had, and Cheryl’s husband sat watching t.v. as if he couldn’t hear. She did not give in to his demand; she left. The last thing she heard as she went out the door, her husband’s credit cards and car keys in hand, was Carl’s laughter above the drone of the television.
Carl made her afraid, she said. He had been to prison young, and had done hard time. Men like that close their hearts up and cement themselves in, she said. It is a way of protecting themselves while doing time, but they end up hurting everyone around them on the outside. We become like the kinds of situations we choose to live in, she told he. Like those moths who lived in a forest covered with ashes from fires, which she read about in Life magazine many years ago; their offspring adapted by developing black wings to integrate with the ash; the whole species evolved. Men like Carl adapt to being locked up, and carry a cell in their hearts. They are locked up inside, and instead of coming into the world they try to compel everyone around them to suffer alongside them. Her husband had seemed good when she met him, and she loved him enough to marry him. But men like Carl drag down other men, especially weak-willed men like her husband. She had never met a strong-willed man, she said, her voice forceful, almost a challenge for him to refute, “or a man with integrity.” She was drunk, and the beginnings and endings of her words were starting to overlap each other. Her eyes were watery and shone in the dim light of the bus. “All men are like Carl, or weak maggots like my third Ex,” she said. She screwed the cap back on her empty metal container, and put it back in her purse.
Cheryl relapsed into silence and closed her eyes. Something rattled above the underlying rumble of the engine. For a while, the only sound had been Cheryl’s voice; the other passengers either slept or catnapped. He felt weary and disoriented, sorry for the woman sitting next to him and the hard edge that had become her soul. Asleep , her face seemed abrasive and firm rather than relaxed, the skin tight. Sleep made her look severe, as though any freedom or tenderness in her expression when awake was a conscious effort to release water from stone. Thinking of this, he leaned against the window and allowed himself to drift.
He thought briefly about Cheryl’s story, and wondered how she did or did not embellish it, but these cogitations were fragmented by his weariness, and dissolved quickly. Before he understood what he was seeing in his inward vision, he remembered the man in the bathroom stall in Chicago. This evoked some guilt. He had assumed the man was intoxicated or high on drugs, but had not taken the time or energy to investigate. He imagined the man bleeding to death, the victim of a knifing, his pants still wrapped around his ankles and his wallet gone. What if he had been dying, he conjectured, and people continued to come in and out, stand at the urinals, use the stall next to his, relieve themselves, ignoring the man’s low murmurs of agony. His final emotion could have been one of hatred and disbelief, cursing the community of men who had to undo their trousers and defecate like him, but ignored him in his helplessness, stood at the sinks washing their hands, refusing to come to his aid. He envisioned himself as the exception, next time, he thought, he would not rely on his assumptions; and he saw himself forcing the stall door open, tearing his own clothing to stop the bleeding, crying for an ambulance. Saving someone’s life.
Then these daydreams also disintegrated, slipped upward into the stars of consciousness as he slid further down into a realm of vivid color and movement, the meditation of sleep. He dreamed about his father and the last time he had seen him, after his father’s kidney had been extracted. Just as it happened in reality, his father was drinking gin, his face gaunt and pale. The morbid dark blue of the flesh surrounding his eyes made he think his father would not live another year. But he had survived six years after that. In the dream there was a sense of urgency, his father was trying to communicate something, and he felt a surmounting feeling of frustration, transforming into tight and unrelenting fear. His mind, long practiced in the artifice of poetry, constructed a dilemma he could not have known in real life; he discovered, and it pained him, that his father had a message for him from Megan, a message from beyond the grave, and he realized that this is what his dad was trying to communicate, but somehow could not form the words.
The world seemed to shake, to rewind and play repeatedly, and no matter how much he willed to hear, his father could not speak. He drank his gin, and offered his wry smile. “Is there”¦?” asked he. Knowledge dwelt in the hollow of his father’s eyes. “Is there something you want to tell me?” His father lifted his glass of gin to his lips, and smiled wryly. ¦tell me? Father?” Father and son sat at a circular table in the dining room of his father’s house, a dark comfortable room with paneled walls and bookshelves. They sat across from each other. A green glass vase of yellow and white flowers, the centerpiece of the table, lay between them. His father gave him a wry look, poured himself some gin. Cheryl came into the room, walked around behind his father, and began to massage his bony shoulders and the back of his neck. She was both Cheryl and not-Cheryl, the Cheryl of his recent acquaintance, and his mother who died of cancer before he could remember her, the voice of tragedy and loss. “Your father has something to tell you,” she said.
“My father is dead.”
He awoke. The dream shriveled away, and he remembered only that he had dreamed about his father. The driver announced their arrival in Spack Falls, Indiana. “I catch another bus here,” Cheryl said. “Two hour layover.”
“Really. I’ll be on this one all the way to Virginia.”
“Too bad.” Cheryl coerced a smile to her lips.
He waved goodbye to her.
She left, and a few minutes later, he also exited the bus. He stood in the cold as the sun turned the sky gray, and faced the east. He thought about his father, and the reality that awaited him. When he was young he identified with his dad, a general practitioner of medicine in the rural community of his birth. He was a disappointment to the elder physician, who did not value the beauty of language, and never submerged himself into the intensity of a moment. In later adolescence, their only tenuous bond became the fishing and hunting trips they took summers; and even this, thought he, had been like the remission of an inflamed disease that ravaged them, one which his father did not have any prescriptions to heal.
They fished in mountain streams, and usually he would catch a few trout, which they would clean and eat. His father’s exterior rigidness melted, under the fuel of his libations, sitting by the campfire at twilight and into the evening. Somehow, to the young poet’s irritation, his father deemed these worthy occasions for dispensing unsought advice. “A man gains his identity and worth by the work he does,” his father told him. “To make money and put bread on the table makes a man powerful, gives him strength and a sense of who he is. You can’t eat a poem, or feed poems to your kids. That crap won’t keep you warm at night.”
On one of their final trips, he came back from fishing upriver to find his father half way in the stream and half way out, lying on his back with spots of dark amber on his shirt, and blood trailing from his mouth into the stream. The young man felt judgment whispering through the trees, which lined the edge of the river like a jury, and his heart pounded. Anguish blazed in his father’s red face; he gazed, wide desperation in his eyes, up at his son, and with fierce gasps of breath, he pled with him to get help. He’s sense of smell sharpened, varying aromas from the green grass and the water and a sense of honey and insects and sun overwhelmed him. The sweet summer light in his eyes darkened and became more complex, creating thicker lines and deeper shadows. Matter grew heavier; he felt the pressure of the weight of his body in his ankles. Hesitating for an instant, not long, less than a second, he stared in shock, and without immediate recognition, at his father. In that flash of time he imagined the Doctor dead, and tasted the temptation of liberty, the inchoate blessing of release. Intuitively he thought that to leave at that moment and never return would lift the burdens from his breast, and he would soar. Yet, he fought this as insanity, and with horror he realized that his father had seen him falter, had seen the indecisiveness in his bearing, before reality finally affirmed itself and he sprang into action, climbing the hills not to escape, but to get help.
His father survived his alcoholic fit. But guilt stirred in the son, fomented, and began to stagnate into a painful mixture of self-hatred and self-pity. He wanted his father to die. He recognized this, yet submited to what is right, the clear path conscience dictates, no matter how the rational ego might try to intervene. He blamed his father for his mother’s death. He knew this now, smoking his cigarette outside the bus depot in Indiana, and he could feel incipient signals of rage rising up from their submersion in the deep fathoms of his heart not a fullness of anger, but inclinations pricking his awareness as though in Morse code, sent by an interior being with whom he was not familiar. The blame was irrational in every respect; his mother had died from cancer before he had the chance to store her face in his memory. Yet, the strong reproach he felt for his father had a tangible existence, it was an organ with its own noetic vessels and veins, clinging to him beneath the ribs. Perhaps he had let it inhere there for so long, he now also held his father responsible for all death, not only that of his mother, but also the death of his wife, of his poetry, the various small deaths and losses marking the path of his existence, even his own ending.
he finished his cigarette and put his frozen hands in his jacket pockets. He had not written for years, but now the small fire of grief within him urged that sort of release. There were juxtapositions he could exploit, he thought, thinking of the man in the bathroom stall, and Cheryl’s story, and the long bus ride through darkness towards a grave, yet another grave, this time his father’s, an inexplicible shadow of his own. Heavyness settled in him; he felt indistinct remorse. There were times in the months and years following the incident at the river when he regretted saving his father’s life, moments of conflict and hate. The promise of liberty taunted him; yet now, in the chill of the night, scant days after his father’s death, his act of heroism transformed in his estimation into his only source of solace. How terribly he would mourn presently, he knew, if he had indeed allowed his father to die that day, and had done nothing to save him, and how cheap and vacuous the promise of liberty would become. Yet distress still remained in him as the marrow of that memory, rooted in and springing from that instant he had faltered.
The young black-clad woman, disturbing his thoughts, brushed past him and joined her new companion near a taxi-cab parked by the curb. He watched as they moved their hands in the semblance of an arguement, gesticulating as though their bodies contained words their tongues could never articulate she hesitant, the bearded stranger smiling at her warmly, convincingly, with promises of love in his soft eyes, his countenance a mixture of puissant charm and of force. The driver, a stout man, opened the trunk and place her suitcase inside and the young man’s backpack, then slammed it down with the palm of his hand. The bearded kid climbed in, and she stopped and turned, met his eyes with interest, then averted her gaze. She reluctantly slipped into the back seat next to her new friend, and pulled the faded yellow door towards herself. Enclosed in the cab, her breath began to fog up the window immediately, obscuring her dark form. The world seemed to recede from him, leaving him exposed in the translucent lamplight. He shivered and snuffed out his cigarette.The car pulled away from the curb and slowly crept off and around the corner, out of sight and then gone.
Santa Rosa, CA, 1998

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Boy Who Lived in the Forest

There was a boy who lived in the forest. He lived in a house made of mud walls with a rock-hewn floor and a ceiling made of straw. His father had gone off long ago and disappeared, never to be seen again. His mother cursed herself with anger, became so consumed with her bitterness that she began to swallow herself. Her body conformed to the action, as if her limbs and spine were all curving in on themselves in order to be digested. Lines appeared in her face under sagging eyes and around terse, unflinching lips. Her words were bile and filled with the sort of poison that extrudes from dead and rotting things. She was mean, shallow, brutish, her skin the pale off-blue color of tombstones.

She had not always been this way. The boy remembered -- but only in a vague manner, in images that spun through him like the flashes of sunlight refracting through a sheen of turbulent ocean water as he gazed up from under the surface, swimming, that once her soul had not been so shriveled and prepared for self-consumption. She had not always been so occupied with herself that she saw others (mostly just him because she had no true friends) as either vessels for her own pleasure, or obstacles to the same. Once, it seemed she had had a soft and suppliant expression, a tender glisten in her eyes, and spoke with such warmth that her voice would send him easily to sleep. But that had been long ago. It was as though that person had left at exactly the same time his father did.

What the boy remembered of his father was more linear and devoid of imagery, associations that sprang up from the experience of daily life. The path down to the sea, for instance, covered with large gold leaves in autumn, moistened by rain, reminded him of his dad for a reason he could not understand. The smell of burning wood and white smoke in winter fires, and the texture and odor of old clay that is cracking, less malleable, and no longer fit to be molded, also suggested something paternal to him. His father, he thought, laughed like a goat, and likely had the dirty hooves of one, the same unsettled obstinate will. His father, he thought, was like one of the many streams that endlessly pulsed down through the rocks and gullies, fragmented into rivulets and tributaries until finally absconding into the sea.

The boy liked to follow the paths down to the ocean, particularly on days when he managed to finish the many chores his mother had given him. He would set out with a long stick that he had found, following the creeks to the ocean as though they were trails, fascinated by the fresh water that he drank, unlike the salty water of the sea. He explored, picking up various shells and rocks, lightweight driftwood that crumbled and broke easily, and heavier green pieces of wood with which he might dig in the sand or dirt. On one occasion, he became so immersed in the forest that he hadn’t quite made it to the beach before nightfall, and was startled when he heard in the distance what sounded initially like the long wail of a ship pulling into a harbor. He had been to the city once before long ago with his mother, had seen the crafts with their broad white sails, and amid the bustle of the market had seen the rough and tawdry, lean men who worked them, big men with rough and sunburned skin and deep bellowing voices, and garrulous growling laughter that seemed to frighten his mother.
Now he heard the long wail again and cocked his ear to listen more closely. The sound reverberated through the trees, bounced and echoed throughout the forest, and came to him with the elongated arms of mournful vowels, compelling him, calling him. It was his name that he heard! He thought instantly of his father, and his heart pounding, ran through the brush, pouncing from one rock to another to cross the river, balancing for a moment on the branch of a fallen tree, then, panting as the sun sank down at the edge of the world, listened intently.

“Faaaarrr-ell…” came the voice. Two syllables, the first more drawn out than the second, but without mistake his own name. “Faaaaarrr-ellll…”

The boy, whose name was Farrell, climbed down from the cliffs onto the sand, listening to the tide recede, then come in. The thought occurred to him that he was out too late, and his mother would make him pay, but he was too much entranced by the eerie voice to heed his own warning. He listened for it, standing in complete stillness. The voice came again, nearer, and a chill ran through him, his hair crawling as though he had been struck by lightning. It was nearer. He could see nothing but the inky water and the gray foam of waves clashing against the shore in the distance. Crickets sang behind him in the forest, and a slight autumnal breeze touched his cheeks. Farrell held his breath in intense anticipation. He would have tried to calm and slow the loud pounding of his own heart against his ribcage if he could have.

“FAAAARRR-…”

The boy shrieked, “I’m here! What is it? Who are you?” He held his walking stick tight in his grip as the voice, which emanated from the near darkness, diminished, cutting short the second syllable of his name.

(to be continued)