I'll be on the five o'clock train.
You'll be on the five o'clock train?
I think so. I'll try to be.
What would stop you?
I don't know. Traffic. The guy might keep me waiting.
Can't you just make it a point to?
Where are you now?
Almost into London.
I don't want to be out here alone. I hate being out here alone.
I know. I'm reading the paper.
Where are you now?
We're stopped. We're waiting for another train to pass.
Why couldn't I have come with you?
I won't be that long. I thought you'd rather work.
I'd feel better if I had come with you.
I'll be back at six. You can pick me up at six.
It's dead out here. It's a dead zone.
You'll get some work done.
And you'll be on the five o'clock train?
I'll try to.
I could tell by the way he was walking that something was wrong. I could tell the way his head leaned. It leaned to the right when something was wrong. Like something he had to hide was heavy. It weighed his head to the side.
Where'd you go? I had turned around and he had disappeared.
I went to get magazines, he said, and flowers. I saw my friend at the magazine stand. He's an ex addict. He's funny.
Where are the flowers?
They didn't have any good ones.
You were gone for forty-five minutes.
We were shooting the shit.
His eyes go hard when he has something to hide, close up like a camera lens to keep the light out. His eyes normally are liquidy and soft and turned down at the corners, a Southern look, I always thought. A soft Southern-boy look, fluid and gentle. That part of him.
Something's wrong, I said. You're acting weird.
I am not.
You're all jazzed up or something.
Let's eat. Are you hungry? I'm starved.
We went off through the crowd, him walking ahead of me, his head to one side.
Isn't she beautiful? he said, and went closer to look. I had never seen a dead person but I'd do this for him. I'd do that. See her long fingers, like his, her nails just done, her blonde hair. She was the one, I was thinking, the voice I heard over the phone, the Southern voice. Speaking to me. Asking me to call her, tell her where her son was. I remember staring at the message machine. Where is he, she wanted to know, she who had set the whole terrible thing in motion.
Across from the funeral house was the schoolhouse where he had gone, where she had gone too, I think. His little town where he'd first learned to run, got his first pair of shoes, there where his feet first began to carry him away, send him around corners and down streets eventually, up stairs and down into subways and out again, into cabs, through doors; disappear. That's where he first got the idea.
She's beautiful, don't you think?
She was a piece of work, somebody said in town; she'd chew you out for no reason. Chew you out for some two-bit piece of jewelry. She left rings and bracelets to her friends. Diamonds. She loved diamonds.
She threw things, he said. He was looking at her. If I asked for something to eat, she'd throw it and the pan across the room. She liked to dress me up, he said, show me off. She liked to lay out and get a tan. She liked her red convertible. Nobody could sit in it but her. She looks just like she's sleeping, don’t you think?
And I looked in again, thinking that I had inherited something.
He had closed the downstairs bathroom door. I ran a bath upstairs. Dusk had come to the windows, trees, cherry blossoms pink as the sky brushing across. Ten minutes went by. There was too much silence. He was never silent. I knocked.
Are you OK? But there was a strange smell coming from under the door. I pushed it open. He looked up at me, the hard look, even his hair standing up wiry.
It's just a little, he said.
A tube of foil was at his fingertips, a plastic water bottle, a cigarette lighter, his mouth black like he had sucked coal.
It's just a little, he said.
Call somebody, I yelled at him. Call your sponsor, call somebody. I can't believe you've done this!
I'll call somebody, he said, standing up.
Then it was raining. Then the cherry blossoms were against the windows, drowning. I walked in circles. He looked at me, stupid.
Call somebody!! I screamed. I hate you!!
Just talk to me, he said. Just talk to me a little. I won't do it again. I'll never do it again.
I put my coat on and went out, him behind me, hitching up his pants like he does. He followed me out and down the street.
I love you, he said.
The first place was beneath the sidewalk, but perfect he said, really chic, the best address in London. Anyone would want to live there. I couldn't see where I was. When I came out I blinked like a mole. I didn't know east from west. The river was in the wrong place; the city; not the right waterform anyway. I never did know which way the city was. In the flat were just legs passing, canes, umbrellas. Tires. Children. They looked in and saw me.
It's a great address, he said, the best.
I never knew where I was. I never knew which side of the street the traffic came from.
But he did. He who couldn't wipe himself when he went to the toilet. He knew where he was. He looked good. Bought flowers, candles, incense. Turned heads. Knew how to get across town. What fabric to tell his tailor to make his suits of, what leather he wanted for his shoes. I fell over cracks in the sidewalk. My hands were always bloody.
I wanted the Pacific Ocean, which I knew was west, which I knew was a boundary, an end where you can turn back.
I had fallen. I had blood on my hand. We were standing in line for him to get his drivers’ license, one he wouldn't get until the third try because he couldn't read those kinds of things, they made him nervous. But he looked good. Looked perfect; hair, jacket. Shoes. Everything. I never looked good.
We were going to a meeting afterwards, across the street. AA. He liked me to be with him. He had thirty days. Before that sixty, ninety. Two thirties. I was holding his "chips."
Congratulations, the man in line next to us said to me.
There were bags in the car, rotting fruit, vegetables, bottles of wine, ten or fifteen. A dozen bags, more in the trunk.
I wanted to write checks, he said.
They let you? I said.
Always, he said. I got hit on, he said. A gay guy.
I looked at him. Completely fucked up.
There was a hotel across the street.
I can go there, I said to myself.
I'm fucked up, he said. You have to help me.
Where are you? I was crying.
King's Road, he said. At a place.
A motel. A terrible place. Can you come get me? I need you.
I don't want to come down there. I don't want to go into one of those places. Why did you do this?
I don't know, he said. I didn't mean to.
What do you want me to do?
Just come get me. I'll wait outside.
Where's your car?
It's here. I can't drive, he said. I'm fucked up. I need you. This is the last time. I love you.
I knew King's Road. I'd been there a hundred times. But now it looked different. Now it would never be the same. Nothing would ever be the same. Like in the song. It used to be our town.
Past the Italian restaurant, Safeway, past the furniture store, past The Center of The World building or whatever it was. Hotels, the big church, or temple, full of figures I'd never seen before, never knew were there before. Passed it a thousand times; people on corners I'd never seen before. Now it was another place. Now there were shadows. Now the motels for tourists were dark places. I knew someone who stayed in one once. Ugly suddenly, someone missing. Not visitors to see Buckingham Palace. To this day, I don't look at motels.
Upstairs, in a room, someone said, over there, upstairs. I'll get him for you. He's OK. He'll come right out.
He came out, but started to go back in.
I'm leaving, I said. I won't come back.
His pants were undone, I’ve never asked why, have slipped it into my memory where it lies dirty. His mouth was black, the sucking coal mouth. His big Southern teeth. Black. His eyes, nobody I knew. Nobody who loved me.
There's a river. Someone is in it. Drifting away. The current too strong. A head drifts swiftly, tilting. Going down. I catch him, catch his hand. I have him. I've saved him. I've caught him. He's heavy. Slippery. He slips away again, I catch him again, by the fingers. Barely. But I have him. I have him. He slips from me again. And goes under. The head goes under. Too heavy. I've lost him. I don't see him anymore.11
He was a man with tapered fingers,
clean, a smile that said a dentist every six months,
in his small town
where his father was a lawyer,
his grandfather a judge,
the daughter of a banker.
He’d go through the banker’s money,
and the judge’s.
I saw him as a Saturday matinee;
The Southern Boy,
Frank and Helen’s son.
It spilled out of his mouth
this terrible thing
that was him
like teeth in a bad dream.
He had lived in a box
in downtown LA.,
told me he met some nice people there.
His mother fed him chocolate bars,
always the helpful one.
He was on the phone to her,
talking about a car.
He wanted a car, wanted her to buy him a car.
Forty-one years old.
He wanted a Jensen.
He reads car magazines.
“Tell her,” he said, handing me the phone.
“Tell her a Jensen is a big Ford.”
I put my hand over the phone.
“It’s not,” I said.
“Tell her it is,” he said,
pushing the phone to my lips.
“Helen,” I said,
“how are you?
I guess your boy wants me to tell you about the car,” I said.
“Well, I don’t know anything about cars, but I think it’s a big Ford.”
She was crying,
so I handed the phone back.
“She gets nervous,” he said. “Thanks,” he said to me,
making a kissing sound
with his lips.
God was so good to him.
God always gave him
the perfect thing to say.
I had never heard
the word spoken that way,
with a u and an h.
He was exquisite, drunk.
Maybe my old man was too.
My father went first, then my mother.
She looked for him behind pillows
in the bedroom,
then she went down one day,
saying she must have tripped against something on the wall,
but I knew
she was just going down.
You light candles.
You say your prayers.
You look into a storm,
and scream your head off,
but you make the decision,
The Family Decision.
She was the brave one.
“He’s not here,” she said.
“He wouldn’t want us to grieve.”
She of all people, the rest of us mangled, mute as logs.
“He was a good man," she said,
but still she went down.
Within ten minutes
a person will tell you
he or she is.
Within ten minutes
he told me
he was a drug addict.
His big beautiful mouth.
He said cocaine.
Left out crack.
Left out the burnt mouth.
He looks like both of them,
is both of them----gorgeous legs,
man with a southern voice.
father and son.
She wanted to lie out in the backyard,
and tan the gorgeous legs,
his addiction starting somewhere in there,
he said, the chocolate bars.
The terrible thing that was him.
The Southern Boy. In black and white.
I always thought his legs would look wonderful in high heels.
She made me look at her, he said.
Who? I said.
She did, when I was little.
She kept the bathroom door open,
and made me look at her.
Oh, my god, I said.
That’s so terrible.
I folded him onto my bed.
The Zen of Falling.
Do you have any idea where my boy is?” she said.
I found him down there
with his pants hitched up, crazy look in his eyes,
mouth black from smoking what they gave him,
said try this, and he did,
One of them from under the awning of the church.
One of them with garbage bags around his shoulders for the rain.
One of them.
A mouth I used to kiss,
eating from a garbage bag.
I looked through a door and
saw it in his eyes,
saw it in his mouth,
pent up for too long. Where does it live?
It rushed over his tongue,
But it is more, is more, another life form from another planet in another galaxy of our imagination; no legs, eyes, fingers, nose, needs different things for its terrain, or whatever it is called. But it came reptilian from his tongue.
I knew it was there.
looked at the clock and said to myself,
it has come.
He spent the money on Aston Martins,
five of them,
couldn’t stop buying them.
He didn’t know his other addiction was spending money.
You don’t notice it in the small things; clothes, shoes,
shaving cream, cologne,
but Aston Martins
His banker sat us down, us,
said what do you want to do with the money?
Said you can put it away and live on the interest.
Oh yes, he said, good idea.
At first he called the banker
and for that, here and there,
suits, shirts, shoes, sunglasses,
It adds up.
The banker gave up.
It wasn’t my money.
He said I got that look when he bought things.
He was a train wreck coming, and I imagined getting off, imagined myself rolling down green banks.
I made one good friend in his small town.
He was in London. I was going to save the house he grew up in,
take away the memories, fix the house, in case all else failed,
in case we had no place to go,
had no candles, shoes, or shirts,
go back to his small town, live in his mother’s house,
where she had died in the bed with the peach bedspread,
where a light shined through a colored
making a spot on the bed.
I couldn’t make the spot go away,
couldn’t reach the light.
In his room under the carpet
were candy bar wrappers,
hundreds of them.
In the house he grew up in,
with Helen and Frank.
Outside, at night, under another light,
a car used to drive up, he said,
his father going out,
saying he had work at the office.
I stayed two weeks in the house in his small town,
the living room sinking from mold and condensation,
silver in the cabinets, and wedding pictures;
the room she added on.
No one could go in there either.
The friend was a cousin of hers, I think, a
real estate agent.
How fast can you sell this house? I said.
We drove to Charleston,
on the way stopping to eat shrimp,
watch the shrimp boats come.
She was a piece of work, she said.
While I was in the house in his small town, he was buying more linens, shoes, shirts, suits; brought home the shopgirl who sold them to him, pushed my things out of the way and made a spot on my bed. The Southern Boy. With the Aston Martin. I love you, he said over the phone. He brought her home on a regular basis. She’d take the train, wave. He’d pick her up in the last Aston Martin. He said she liked Johnnie Cash, liked to say darlin’. I’d like to have killed her. His therapist spoke about his affair. It’s called fucking a shopgirl in my bed, I said, imagining the green banks. One hundred and fifty thousand was spent in rehabs. You can hook-up there, he said, it’s crazy. His beautiful mouth was a cavern through which wind traveled, gathered debris, a cavern through which a cornucopia of food rushed in, a stampede; wind rushing out and terrible words, black flecks of himself, his soul or old chocolate; his father rushed out, his mother, Frank and Helen; furniture, clothes, shoes. He said he saw pictures in a little square on his forehead, and I thought of the little box of Orthodox Jews. He said there were bears there, and toys. His mouth was a carnival where trains and boats went through. He presided over the ceremony in the graveyard; flawless. I think I’ll be mayor here, he said. What will you do? I said. Remodel the movie theater, he said. In the graveyard, ants came up by where she was buried and bit everyone on the leg. One of his aunts had to go home for the welts. At night, and over the weekend, was the sweet-potato festival. The sweet-potato queen waved too.
It rides on beauty,
seeds on wind,
knowing, the way God knows babies,
that beauty is irresistible.
You hear a door open and close,
see his eyes go liquid to hard
before the finish of a sentence.
I wonder how it ebbs away, the soul,
mine, not his, but his too.
With me, there must have been a leak,
punctured by death,
where decay set in,
You stop to repair things, tie a shoe, file a nail,
but deathwound leaves you gaping, seeping.
Things crawl out, in.
The soul leaks.
Enter the hero.
Enter the villain.
The beauty thing, the seed-on-wind thing,
someone to pull from death.
You don’t see the reversal, the mirror action,
Who’s Zoomin’ Who?
Keep The Beast alive.
It sucks as you go, drinks, laps
eyes, ears, attention,
here and there, now and then, like his money.
I didn’t know I would leak my soul.
His grandmother painted her windows black.
She may have known it was coming,
may have heard the door, herself,
knew something was on the way, Rosemary’s Baby.
The pictures of him were adorable,
in the room no one could go into.
In his small town there was a church with a white steeple.
I saw a girl playing there, once,
she seemed to slide around corners.
There was a curtain, a bathtub for baptizing.
The curtain drew back
for children in white,
Soldiers for Christ.
My grandfather, whose soul I wouldn’t give a dime for, said that souls chose their destiny in heaven, chose which path they would take, good or evil. He told my mother, who came before he was in the picture, thank you God, that she was a corrupt and demented soul who chose to be born without a father. By this hypothesis, maybe we are talking about a predestination for the thing that became the Southern Boy, the terrible thing that was him. But going by the pictures in the room no one could go into, I think it slipped in sometime around the age of five. It’s in the eyes, not there and then there. Another kind of deathwound. The dying child. Sometimes the child spoke to me. Sometimes the liquid eyes were his. Sometimes the tapered fingers.111
He wasn’t on the train. He said later he knew he wouldn’t be. But he had called from every stop. We were in the country where the Astons looked good on the roads. We were in London because he looked good in the tweed jackets. The money was worth half as much in England. Before he bought the jackets, and the cars, or laid out one British pound, he had gone through half the banker’s money, the lawyer’s, and the judge’s. In the country, lambs played in the fields, jumped high in yellow flowers. At night, in the middle of sleep, there was bleating on the road, hooves. In the morning the lambs were gone, the yellow flowers.
The morning passed, another night. Silence. Someone came and got me. I had booked a ticket, I could leave from their house.
Where does he go? they asked. He’s in a hotel somewhere, with prostitutes, I said.
I had held my father’s hand, warm as a baby’s, willing him to be alive.
had taken a ferry across the water to sit with him, wait for him.
I had slept with my mother, but it was not me she wanted.
I cried into the wind,
for the pain of the living.
She said her heart beat soft and fast when he walked into a room.
He had his shopgirl too. Hazel. My mother pulled her hair.
She loved him so.
He called ten days later. Why did you leave me? he said. I was three thousand miles away, across oceans. I’m hungry, he said. Can you order me a pizza?
The house burned down in his small town, the real estate agent said. The doctor who bought it had remodeled it, maybe gotten rid of the room she added on, the one sinking with condensation. I don’t know if he was able to reach the light that made the spot on the bed or not. Behind the house was a road named after his grandfather, the banker. Behind that were railroad tracks. Behind the tracks was the house his father grew up in. His aunt owned it, the one the ants bit at the funeral. She lived there, with her friend, another woman, close by. That’s what they called it then. Her friend. She was his teacher. She was kind, and gay, but you couldn’t have said that. We could have bought her house when she died for what one of his jackets cost. It had a verandah, rocking chairs. But there is no remorse for that. He would have lost it, would have lost his mother’s house too, would have given it away on a street corner, the way he did his father’s and grandfather’s gold watches, his class rings. He gave away cars; rental cars, his mother’s old Mercedes. I picked him up barefoot when he gave away his shoes.
We went to a pawnshop, looking for some of his things. In the pawnshop were motorcycles, guitars, cameras, televisions, baby strollers.
He gave away his microwave, his cashmeres, television, lamps. In the country he threw things away, shitcanned them, threw away jackets, sweaters, shirts, put them in black garbage bags and set them outside. Why don’t you give them to charity? I asked. Don’t bother me, he said, I’m purging.
The house in the country had been a church, The Old Chapel. There was a door in the dining room under the table. I thought for baptizing. I hoped for baptizing. Upstairs through small pretty windows is where you could see the lambs and the tall yellow flowers. It could have been a happy house, for people who didn’t disappear. There was a fireplace, wood for long winters, washer, dryer, dishwasher. He didn’t give any of them away.
He shitcanned my things when the shopgirl was there, put them in black plastic bags and set them outside. Shall I help you? she said.
When he wasn’t on the train, the house was a thousand years old, the fields outside, fallen soldiers; Roman, Norse. I don’t know my history. The streets cried, and the fields, old men by gates, wind and rain, medieval bones and bodies. I hated England. Hate it still. I wanted my two-hundred-year-old country. Where there were fewer bodies, California, the Pacific Ocean. I became a patriot, a nationalist, a westerner. I said Howdy at the airport, said Mosie on down the road.
A deer steps into a hole covered by grass.
The realization comes later, after the fall----
-----there are holes in grass.
In the first month I met him, when I still had my soul, I told him I couldn’t see him anymore, told him not to come to my house anymore. He asked me to meet him at the park; brought me flowers, two of his cashmere sweaters. He said he’d go to rehab. For us, he said----there’s that word again. Asked if I’d stand by him. He hadn’t given away the microwave yet, the television, the other things, or I had no knowledge of this behavior, past or present. It hadn’t yet occurred to me anyone would do that. I didn’t know then his cashmere sweaters were disposable, the ones he brought me, not his favorite colors anymore. His favorite book was Alice In Wonderland, he said, although I never saw him read anything but car books. His other favorite was Lolita, he said. The association to me seemed vaguely sinister, but I never, until this minute, made the terrible connection.1V
The best bookstore I’ve ever been in
was in London.
It was around the corner and across the street
from where we lived with the cherry blossoms
outside the window.
They had shelves behind shelves upstairs, and ladders.
I discovered Australian authors there,
and German, I think, now I don’t remember.
I discovered John Fante there, Los Angeles in the 30’s,
the trolley that went up and down the hill,
There was a soap store where you could gather your own soap
like bowls of puréed vegetables,
pastes of almonds and pistachio,
balms and creams for the hair and face.
I liked to lie in a hot bath under one of the windows
by the cherry blossoms,
spread the pistachio on my face,
and listen to him turn the pages of
his car magazine.
In the tailor shop where he had his jackets made,
they asked how your crossing was,
asked whether one was dressed left or right.
They wouldn’t make a jacket for me,
said it wasn’t done,
said the Queen had her seamstress,
it wouldn’t do to make her one either, they said.
Lord something or other, they said,
kicked his shoes across the room
when he didn’t get what he wanted.
Charlie Chaplain was small, they said,
I could have worn one of his.
Science has successfully isolated the cell in the brain that causes one to lie, but I don’t think it is yet removable, and whether it was experimented on with mice, I don’t know, neither do I know how they determine a mouse is lying.
I could only find my shoe size in children’s stores. My size is a normal 6. I can find it in France, but not in England.
There is beautiful jewelry, and feathers, imports from India. Nothing from Mexico. You find yourself starving for an enchilada. When he wasn’t disappearing, there were moments. Yet I can’t hold on to one. When I find one, there is a tail on it, a tadpole, slippery and black. Every moment had an aura, a halo of despair; is this the one that would make the difference, the one that would be sufficient, happiness catching up and commuting into one bright foreverball? Is this the right place, the right car, restaurant, piece of bread? Would these be the right fields, the yellow ones or the blue? These fields like poetry, canvas. It came down to countries; here or there? Cities; east or west? Maybe south to the house with the verandah, the church where the little girl slipped around corners. We spent hours talking about it, then other days, other hours. Sometimes he got his hair cut twice in one day, disappearance a halo, a slippery black tadpole.V
The last time I saw him, he was coming from the plane, pushing one of those luggage carts, his belongings high and hanging off the sides, and at first, I turned away, a premonition.
He was heavier, not the lean boy-man I followed everywhere, the yellow fields, the slim roads, the lorries, and stone fences. He was not The Southern Boy, now, Frank and Helen’s son. His father did not know his own name by the time he was fifty-five, no longer took a bushel of potatoes for his fee, as could be his manner, or something else from the fields there whose colors I don’t know. In his small town, they said his Daddy this, his Daddy that. I almost think he could have been mayor there. Could have gone ahead and remodeled the movie theater, driven Helen’s Cadillac, or Frank’s. We would have sat on the verandah, looked over the railroad tracks that took his father, his aunt, their brothers and sisters into town to buy ice cream, would have gone cautiously, prudently, to the bank for the banker’s, the judge’s and the lawyer’s money, officiated at the sweet-potato festival, waved at the parade. Still, he would have given it all away, house, furniture, shirts, jackets, shoes, watches, disappeared down the street where they sold wet peanuts, or on the road past somebody else’s small town, where when they saw someone coming, everyone ran away.
Down sidewalks, across streets, through parks and under gates of gold filigree, leaves, flowers, stems for princes or kings, his stride so long his thighs once wove through mine like a vine and we tumbled and rolled, circus artists springing to balance; around tobacco harvest, and pea, heliotrope-colored blossom for cooking oil; ocean, sea, court, course. There are holes in cities, doors darker than dreams, blackness with sucking sounds. You can lean there and be no more. He diminishes like echo, spins like coin; scurries on spider legs. There may have been wings.---------------------------