sometime later – March? – slush splashing hem of pant, not good pants, sneakers already soaked, sun shining slant or obscured, morrow coming soon, cold above or below freezing remitting unremitting, gloved hand holding top of coat closed, knee aching in anticipation, wind rising falling steady unsteady, no chestnuts here, not much jostling, just enough, throat dry not sore, stomach less said, head even less said, nose running, I wiped it with my scarf, alone or nearly alone again, in the midst of, uncertain feeling, why not just leave, prelude to
On Sundays I used to walk the perimeter of Greenwood Cemetery for that is where I wish my last love was buried. Though it was a long series of subway rides from my apartment those Sabbath circumambulations had become the highlight of my week. I’d start of course by ruminating upon the circumstances of her death and brief aftermath. She was lost or tossed at sea, the place, so said her friends and what little of her family I knew, where she, a displaced island girl, truly belonged and to which she longed to return. When I first began this ritual I would reflect almost exclusively upon her, returning to think of myself and the week ahead only as I neared the end of my gloomy jaunt. Lately though I thought about her only at the start of my walk and then only perfunctorily. Funerals and memorials are of course for the living: that’s not how I justified my self-centeredness or rationalized my routine. Somehow that cliché comforted me, I who sought always to avoid cliché. I was stuck in my job, stuck in my real work (there is no real work), alone and adrift, in the middle of another fallow and transitional period, molting into nothing: I was not yet or just over thirty. Ah well, the years haven’t been good to me, the years don’t owe me anything as the authorities say and who am I to gainsay?
“Hey!” I heard from a voice not from around here though he lived close by or so I gathered from the stroller he pushed, I should have been saying “Hey!”: he rammed into my leg with it. “I know you,” he continued. “Let’s go to a place I like a few blocks from here. It’s near the subway. It’ll warm you up.” He must have seen my hand struggling with the top of my coat, a quick gust lifted dropped lifted one of its skirts. He was bundled in some down thing. His boots were immaculate and dry. He wore a kind of cap that complemented his hair, ears, and chin. The baby was wrapped in pink. She slept through this brief exchange.
“But I don’t know you and I hardly drink. Besides –”
“Nonsense! I saw you at the memorial.”
“I was distraught then.”
He grabbed my arm and we went.
The bar was a good avenue and a half away from where he accosted me. It was a long rectangular room with the bar stage left, wooden tables stage right, and a few pool tables upstage. He chose a table halfway in, the quietest section, he explained. There were normal sized TVs at either end of the bar and a huge TV behind the pool tables. All were showing basketball games which he studiously ignored. We were manly men drinking and conversing godlike above the vicissitudes of tournaments and leagues. I shucked off my coat, laid it on the seat next to me. He carefully unzipped his, hung it on a peg within easy eyeshot.
“Relax,” he assured me. “Think of this as a respite from the dregs of winter, I’m not going to pump you for information, I just want to talk to you because you’re creative.”
“I’m not creative. I have little to no talent and, worse, no discipline.” Did I say that or merely think it? I didn’t hear him say or gesture Pshaw!
“Euglena only loved creative men. She”
The waitress approached. He ordered a pitcher of beer, a well-known watery brand, not what I expected him to do. “You don’t have to drink much,” he said. “It’s my treat. We’ll just sit for a while and”
The baby started crying. He took its pink and white coat off, extracted a bottle from one of the many bags hanging from or within the stroller, and began feeding her. “This is mother’s milk. Just between us guys,” he leaned forward and whispered as if we were conspirators, “that’s the real function of a woman, to” He broke off when I didn’t respond, either from my free-floating malaise or because I disagreed with him. “She filled two of these bottles this morning while I watched, in between sit ups.” He patted his nearly flat stomach. “You can guess how ample she is. Have you ever tasted mother’s milk? As an adult I mean.”
I nodded that I hadn’t.
“It’s really something. I’d offer you some of Adelaide’s but that would be cheating, as if we were sharing.” The girl burped. He patted the baby’s back, deftly placed a towel on the shoulder of his tailored work shirt. “It’s really something, fatherhood, I mean, changes your life completely, but where was I, oh yes, we were talking about sharing.”
“Yes, in a way we shared Euglena. She and I were lovers until I left her for the woman who became the love of my life, Adelaide’s mother. That must have been five years ago. Tell me, how was she?”
“In bed! How was she in bed with you?”
“We never got past palpa-“
“Euglena was the most inventive orgasmic woman I ever met. Best lays I had or am ever likely to have. Some of the things she did – I never experienced anything like it before or since. I was first attracted to her hair. I took her to my apartment. She took off her extensions. She was completely bald. I was shocked of course but still we balled uproariously. I was afraid we’d wake the neighbors and I had thick walls. Even then I had a reputation to uphold.” He seemed wistful. “I’d tell you more but there are eavesdroppers here. You can never be too careful especially if you’re in my position. Of course you weren’t with her that long. Relationships take time to develop. They’re like plants: you need to tend them carefully until the roots take hold. That means no watching football on Sunday afternoons, no reading on the bus or tram when you’re with her, I say tram not just because I like colorful language but because there used to be trolleys here, I’m something of an authority on the history of this place.”
“Ever since we moved from Manhattan and bought our one point one million dollar loft. I tell you the price,” he said, acknowledging my raised eyebrow, “because the real estate transaction was not only listed but our search for the place was profiled in the papers. It’s public knowledge. That’s another of my hobbies, tracking real estate prices. It’s safer than drugs or chasing women. You don’t seem that interested. My wife, you remember her,” (I have no recollection of her or her amplitude), “tells me I assume everyone is interested in the same things that I am which may not be true. Tell me, what are your passions?”
“Well I like to”
The waitress returned with a pitcher of beer and a bowl of pretzel nuggets. He put Adelaide back in her stroller. “She’s sleeping now,” he whispered. “She’s teething. Mother’s milk is the best thing for her. We don’t give her much baby food yet. But I’m boring you. It’s just that I’m a new enthusiastic father who assumes etc., etc. Let’s change the subject. What do you do for a living?”
“It has its downs and”
“I’m a copywriter. I think of it as a kind of poetry – the real poetry of our day. I could elaborate but I need to stay concise. My detractors say my copy is quirky. It isn’t quirky. It’s distinctive, meant for the discriminating. More importantly it moves product. I’m sure you read some of my work.” He rattled off a list of web sites, high end or obscure products, and magazines. “You look dumfounded. It must be the weather and the lateness of the afternoon. No fear of too much afternoon for us working folk, eh?”
Something got in my eye. I wiped it.
“You’re crying,” he said. “I know you cared for her in her last days. It’s what unites us”
“But I never –“
Tell you what,” he’d already drunk a glass of thin lager and was halfway through a second, “this beer is going right through me. I’ll make a quick trip to the men’s room and while I’m there I’ll think of better things we can talk about. Your job will be to watch little Adelaide and reflect upon your passions. Euglena can’t be all we have in common.” He punched me lightly on the upper arm and was gone.
The bathrooms were in the back of the bar. He was approached by a man his height just as he drew parallel to the nearest pool tables. There were mirrors scattered along the left wall. I watched the reflections of the conversing men through one of them, saw the confident face below the cap he still wore. They were laughing – at me I feared. I looked at my sad rheumy eyes and red nose in the mirror to my left. I drew the beer mug to my face, tried to appear less haunted. I didn’t think I was haunted by death, that there was a danger of following Euglena. No – I would have my own private abyss without roommates, undesirable, a miserable piece of real estate. Now my throat was sore, what use the false overture? The men parted, the copywriter touching the bill of his cap as he left. Maybe he wore it to hide a bald spot. Euglena told me about her bald period, said she hadn’t cut her hair since she gave up shaving it. This decision she claimed was the precursor to or real start of her period of profusion, her final full flowering. As her hair grew, she in reverse Samson fashion [we’ll bracket any role for Delilah] weakened. She needed a strong man to support her in her weakness. Enter me to unwittingly hasten her demise.
Adelaide yelped then fell back asleep. I thought of drinking from the bottle left on the table, for the baby drank very little of it, but was afraid of being found out. Relationships need to build roots he said. I was incapable of establishing roots. I’m more like a tumbleweed blown here and there, landing once in a madwoman’s apartment now in a bar shaped like a western saloon. I looked at my hands covered with salt from the pretzel nuggets, thought of chicken nuggets and the possibility of eating the meat of many chickens at one unsatisfying meal.
The millionaire copywriter was playing pool now. My role – but how was this assigned to me? I should be on the train preparing for the drudgery ahead – was to reflect upon and honor our shared link and to safeguard little Adelaide. I didn’t want to come up with talking points, could care less about the products and services he whored for.
Apparently he was playing well. There were two or three balls left on the table. He was lining up a difficult shot, the game-winner. He held the stick behind the cue ball, eyed his shot, straightened up, then walked to a nearby table, opened a bottle of dark beer, swigged some of it. He looked up at the TV screen, pointed his cue stick at it. “That’s not a foul,” he loudly complained. The players and spectators argued about the referee’s call. The television showed the play from five or six different vantages. While this was going on he rehearsed his concluding shot from different angles, including one from behind his back.”
“Such poise,” a woman admirer said.
“That’s not all,” her companion replied, “he”
The game broke for a commercial. The copywriter chalked his cue stick, limbered his upper back and arms, tapped his stick lightly against the side of the table, and leaned to take his shot. A crowd of twenty or so people obscured my view of the game. The baby cried. I bent over her, displayed my most tender smile. She sort of grunted, continued whimpering. Her little hand opened and closed, her blue eyes weren’t focused either because she was incapable or didn’t want to look at me. I felt like an old crone who tries to appear kindly but nonetheless frightens the local children. I never held a baby. I put a pretzel nugget in her hand, scattered a few more on her chest, slipped my coat on as best I could and wandered off just as a roar went up from the crowd round the pool table, though from whose side I couldn’t tell.
About the Contributor
Clyde Liffey lives near the water.
Detour - Michael Brodsky
"Detour" begins in the Thalia* movie theater where the narrator, about to begin medical school, meets a former heroin addict. They become lovers. She follows him to Cleveland. Along the way, he loses her in a group living arrangement and flunks out of medical school, thus losing a profession. The narrator is more concerned with describing the motion of leaves in the wind or comparing someone's actions to a scene in a movie than in advancing a career. What we lose in plot and forward momentum we gain in language. I love the novel for its beautiful language and its development of a questing, alienated character. At the end, bereft, with no means of support and no viable future, he is told to do what he has to do. * The Thalia,on New York's Upper West Side closed more than twenty years ago (after "Detour" was written). I believe I saw my first foreign, i.e., non-Hollywood, films there.
More from Issue Nine:
- The Place That He Can Never Return To
- The Cyclops
- The Girl with Many Names by Kristin LaFollette
- Three by Deb Scudder
- The Mourner by Louise Burgess
- Margot by Marni Appleton
- Pebbles on a Shore by Lynne E Blackwood
- blindfolded minds by Rachel Hawkins
- Phantom habits by Blakeley Bartee
- Dementia’s Mantra by Mike Ferguson
- Pack Animals