The first winter of our married life, we lived in a slum near the edge of the Wabash. The university had thrown up half a dozen prefabricated duplexes during the war and rented them out to the faculty whom it also impoverished in other ways. The war was over. I had persuaded Martha to marry me. I carried certain glorious credentials, and we were both ready to make a start in life, as the saying was then. It proved a bitter winter in every respect. We lived side by side with a fellow from biology: his sink butted our sink; his John rubbed the rear of ours; the shower stalls were linked; and we shared laundry and storage sheds like a roll towel in a public lavatory. Our garbage went in a common can and we parked our cars nose to tail in the street like sniffing dogs. Often the mailman got our letters mixed.
In front, the property was divided in fair-minded halves the way Solomon, in his wisdom, would surely have apportioned it (around their gum tree they planted crocus bulbs, while around our Chinese elm we put in daffs); but the backyard was enclosed by a weak wire fence which any gumptious turf would have shoved aside in a single season. There our lawn lay in pale passivity while weeds pushed through its flimsy sod like the spikes of a florist’s frog. We were conscientious renters, though, and by unspoken agreement, took carefully measured turns to mow the dandelions and plantain down.
The walls were thin, and soon we were sharing our quarrels too. The sounds of love-making passed between us like cups of borrowed sugar, and cooking odours were everywhere like the same paint. When the cold water tap on our tub was first turned, a shudder went through the pipe to which it was attached, it seemed to me, all the way to the reservoir. A single furnace fired us, but somehow all our ducts were tangled, so that the moans and groans of the house would wander like lost souls, carried through them on the warm rising air, to emerge with a bright irrelevant clarity (‘. . . on the sofa . . .’ ‘Carrie called . . . ’ ‘ . . . later . . . – n’t the time . . . ’) in any odd place at all and abruptly as a belch – occasionally even returning to the room where they’d been made – echoes as battered as our cooking pans.
When we met on the walk outside, often hugging groceries or lugging books – just because we heard our toilets flush – we scarcely spoke, our heads hidden behind redly stencilled paper sacks; and in the laundry room, encounters were so brief and polite the gas man knew us better. Martha’s ardour oddly came and went, and although I knew it was connected with the goings-on next door, it did not simply wax and wane with them; the correlation was more complicated, duplicitous, remote.
We were soon ashamed of our own sounds, as if every sign of life we made were a form of breaking wind. We were ashamed because we believed we heard the pop and creak of their floors, their stairs and settling springs, when normally we never noticed our own; because the scream of their kettle called us to our quiet kitchen; because we struggled to restore some sense to the voices which burbled and rumbled behind our common walls as one strains a pulpy juice for jelly; and we had to assume that they were curious too, had exchanged lewd grins, held fingers aside their noses like Santa Claus in that stupid poem, and had at least once listened through a wine glass to passages of passion of one kind or other. They would have been mostly about money, then, for at that time we hadn’t any, nor could we hear any harmony in the loose rattle of our change; so we fought like children about whether we should spend or save.
Martha kept faith in a challenging future. I lapsed like an unpaid policy. Hence Martha conserved while I consumed. She sold. I bought. She bawled me out. She wanted me to quit smoking. It was a selfish habit, she said. She claimed we couldn’t afford to buy books or pay dues in my damn clubs or fees for regular check-ups. Nothing’s going to go wrong with a nice soft body like yours, she said, palping me like a roasting turkey. The university’s library was large. There were lots of free lectures, and all the good movies would come round again like the famous comets. But who wants to watch a film as ancient as the family album? Who cares about last year’s lovers, or all those stabbings stale as buns, or auto chases on worn-out tyres, I said, exasperation showing in my prose.
But we cut back. We inspected the dates on our pennies. I felt like a shabby freeloader, attending receptions just to snuffle up the cake and cookies, pocket mints. We kept magazines until they were old enough to be reread; converted boxes, cans, and jars, by means of découpage, a little sanding and shellac, into jaundiced baskets, pencil crocks and letter bins – Christmas presents for the folks which only cost us our pride. I licked her slender virginal lips like a Roman emperor. The simple pleasures are the best, she said. I cadged returnables from our neighbour’s trash; she returned the empties, saved trading stamps, suggested an extensive use of departmental stationery, the department phone for distant friends. Off and on I’d hunger for a steak, a melon, or a mound of shrimp. I think the wine we drank was trampled in Vermont.
Indiana’s cold came down the river like a draft, and the deep grey sky grew closer every day. Chimney smoke seemed simply an extension of it, as did one’s steaming breath. I had suffered many a Midwest winter, but I had never been married to the snow. During an embrace, I would discover my arm clamped about my wife’s waist like a frozen limb.
At first the snow helped. It kept us in. We played parchesi to calm our nerves. Martha would cook chicken livers again, and then, because they were so cheap – dear god – immediately again. She recommended peanut butter and claimed beans were a good buy. They blow balloons up your ass, I’d shout, with an embarrassed unoriginality, and then we would both look warily up and down, ducking the outcry as if I’d just hurled a tennis ball against the wall. In this toilet-tissue house, I’d hiss poisonously in her ear, we can’t afford to fart. Then even when there was boot-deep snow, a cold scarf of wind, I’d leave the place to pout, closing the front door cautiously, violence in my silent face.
They’d designed our building like a pair of paper mittens, but the left mitten had been limp when we moved in, otherwise we might have been warned; and when its new tenants arrived, we found nothing amiss in the movers’ tread or the gruff reality of their voices. The clear scrape of cardboard cartons did not trouble us, or the thump of heavy chests. Besides, it was warm, and windows were open. We simply had new neighbours. There was a hand now stuffed in the other glove. The noise was natural. Things would settle down. We hoped they would prove to be sympathetic types, maybe even friends. Then a headboard bumped rhythmically against what we’d thought was our most private wall. Their vacuum cleaner approached and receded like a train. Waters were released which gushed and roared and even whistled. Didn’t I hear a male voice singing ‘Lazy Mary’ one morning? Whose life could ever be the same?
After that we tiptoed, grew footpads, became stealthy. When we heard their closet hangers jangle like cattle on a hill far away, we shut our doors so silently the latches snicked like a rifle. I had heard his heavy smoker’s hack (hollow, deep and wet as a well), so we took multivitamins to ward off coughs, then syrups to stifle them when colds caught us anyway, and increasingly felt like thieves and assassins.
Our ears were soon as sensitive as a skinless arm, and we spoke in whispers, registered the furtive drip of remote taps. It was like living in front of a mike as you might pose and smirk in front of a mirror. We heard ourselves as others might hear us; we read every sound the way we read the daily paper; and we came to feel as though we were being chased, caught, charged and humiliatingly arraigned for crimes against the public silence – for making obscene sounds at the symphony or crying out loud at the circus.
In the flush of our shame, we wanted no one to know us, so we held hats in front of our voices, coats over our sinks and grains. We treated even the crudest iron cooking pot as if it were Limoges, slowing our motions as movies had shown us we should to defuse explosives. I ceased singing in the shower. We kissed only in distant corners, and as quietly as fish. We gave up our high-spirited games. Martha no longer cried out when she came, and I grew uncertain of her love. Small incidents were absurdly enlarged the way the whine of a mosquito is magnified by an enclosing darkness: a fallen spoon sounded like a broken jar, a shattered glass was a spilled tray, a dropped book a bomb. I exaggerate now, but it’s true that as our neighbours sensed our presence the way we had theirs, they sent their sounds to Coventry too, and the house was shortly filled – palpably stuffed – with silence like a stomach’s ache.
I began to suffer from insomnia. The dark boneless hollow of our bedroom seemed the menacing shape of my future, and I stared into it as if the energy of my eyes would act as a light. Maybe, less than a forearm away, another husband was doing the same – one whole half of his hopes discovered to be empty as a soldier’s sleeve. It was not the kind of commencement I had counted on. I thought of my career (it was the commonest cliché) as one great climb – stretches of superhuman effort spelled by brief stops for rest and acclimation. People and towns would assume their true size, dwindling like the past behind me, becoming merely part of the grand patterns of history. I knew I would have to strain every nerve (as it was uncomfortably put) to realize my ambitions. A simple inspection of the past was child’s play, but the composition of history was not a young man’s work; it was not an arena for the display of an ill-informed or immature mind; no inept cape, however flamboyant, could turn aside the charges of time; it was not everybody’s satisfying hobby or soothing Sunday scribble; for how many great ones were there in a century? When poets were as plentiful as pilchards and paintings bloomed like fields of fall weeds. I would have to climb beyond bias, become Olympian, part the clouds; and already I have resolved to work with material so racial and rednecked and cruel and costly (the extirpation of the Jews exceeded any subject), what tools or gloves or masks or prophylactic washing up would protect me from contamination? It was not like the commitment of the poet, whose projects were likely to last as long as his latest erection – whether for elegy, ode, or little lyric – or till the clit was rubbed like an angry correction.
I suddenly realized, considering this, that perhaps I spent so readily because I felt more secure in my future, while Martha conserved because she felt she hadn’t any.
Home life (ho hum life, my colleague, Culp, insisted) . . . the home . . . The orphanage in my home town was called The Home. The home was supposed to be a help: a place of rest and solace you returned to at night and went forth from refreshed like a watered plant. Despite the fact that my childhood home had been nothing like that, and although I had the satisfying cynicism of a young man who has read about more evil than he’s seen, and even though I already had the deepest misgivings about every form of human relation; nevertheless, I hadn’t married to be miserable, to be picked apart by fury and malice, crushed by common chores; I fully expected to inhabit such a place of peace and pleasure: a castle, a home, and Eden.
. . . within which the body of one’s wife warmed and restored, as it had the elders of Israel from the beginning. The magic of her scented flesh made you the man you need to be ‘out there’ where the war was (didn’t the magazines and movies say so? the daily papers and the pulpit?); but already it was my work which stood steady when the world rocked. I had scarcely picked up my pen when it began to replace my penis in everyone’s affections. It wasn’t fair. Culp, a man I at first found amusing, and brash as a bush on a hill of dung, claimed he went to work solely to summon the strength, simply to find the courage (he said), only to gain the time (he would insist) to close the clasp on his briefcase and go home. O to grow the guts! It’s like leaving a full glass, he would say, staring like a lover at his desk. Although (the l‘s rolled as though he were bowling) . . . although I am naturally capable of living without children or chatter or contretemps for long periods, I deliberately dull the memory, he always said; I put my mind’s eye out; I promise myself there’ll be peace, there’ll be plenty, at eleven twenty-two Liane Lane, my little mortgaged lean-to, my cottage at Lake Concrete; and by god such sanctimonious self-deceptions work until I see it sitting like sick chicken in a mud yard, till I hear my driveway gravel crunch like dry cereal under my wheels, till I put my key in that stiff marital lock again.
I understood Culp’s attitude. The office hound was a common enough creature. But like cancer, I wasn’t going to contract it. Like auto accidents, it was something which broke the legs of other people. At home (he sighs like a whistle) I sit in my easy and read the Wanteds. It’s my pornography. I dream of all the jobs I might be doing which would take me off, out, up and away; I’d be Peter Pan if they paid me peanuts; and when my hunger becomes overwhelming, I assuage it by chewing on cheque books till the bills taste paid.
It wasn’t fair. Martha slept like a plant, her senses all drawn in, at rest within her like a rug; while I marched into my sleeplessness as if it were a desert I was crossing (at the head of a column of sweaty and mutinous men); but the pain I felt was neither dry nor hot, but rather like a winter which will not release its grip – long grey rains raining coldly into May.
Our neighbours became our single subject. Their sounds composed a text we grew rabbinical about. From the slow sizzle of fat in a frying pan we inferred not the bacon but the pig, and their various treads upon the stairs drew a map of their marital emotions like those one gets from friends to find their cottage at the lake. (Deception. Lost ways. I knew that.) As for our own life: we cared only for concealment, nor could I burble at Marty’s breasts as in the old days, or let an erection chase her through the house like a toy spear; and since our quietness kept our movements hidden, we would inadvertently sneak up on one another (sometimes Marty would shriek – it was hide and seek – when I came upon her suddenly). There was time when our startles seemed funny. Then we would glare at the offending wall and grin at each other; but eventually the tide of attention turned, and we could only smirk at some empty corner of the ceiling and sneer at ourselves instead.
We were two pairs of turtledove – linked by leases not by flesh, thank god! – but they were our Siamese twin, nevertheless, the mocking shadow of our sensuality; and we had scarcely reached our car in the morning when the examination of their habits began: we were outraged, amused, we giggled like girls; we had nasty arguments on points of interpretation; we considered confusing them with a barrage of false sounds, by launching attacks of heavy breathing; I suggested some interesting scenarios, but Martha would not fall in with them. We tended to take sides, Martha preferring the trail the male left, naturally spores whose righteous quality escaped me altogether. My trust twisted to suspicion. Perhaps she was already their accomplice; perhaps she heard their passion more eagerly than she felt mine. Was the other side of the wall growing greener grass, I asked her, exasperation once more showing in my prose. Without receiving a squeak for an answer, I dropped Marty off at the local historical museum where she’d got a job minding tomahawks, propping stuffed squirrels in attitudes of life on branch-resembling sticks, and dusting flints.
The only plus was the pleasure we both took in discussing odd and often silly circumstances with the many acquaintances we were making at the university then; and we naturally lingered over the more scandalous details, describing the pressures of so public a private life on souls as newly glued by lust and law as we were. A little untoward heat (we said) might melt us down from one another like a custard from its coating; a sudden jar might shatter our fragile ties; an unexpected stress might stretch our sympathies to a point beyond elastic (so we went on, piling comparison up like fruit in a market window); we might weaken like moistened cardboard and our bottom pop. So our misery became entertainment like stories of the war, and from what had been a heap of jagged shards we shaped a graceful vase – something slightly salacious in the lush red-figured style. We guessed, and guessed again, and guessed some more, enlarging on our information like any secret service until facts were so larded with conjecture it became impossible to distinguish the marbling from the meat.
We were thought to be amusing – fresh, unique – (I do believe that) – and we certainly didn’t hesitate to extricate whatever criticism of my powerful employer – our poor absent landlord – was implicit in our histories, but held it up for view and comment like a hair found floating in the soup, comparing the ironies of our situation to the slice of lemon which lies beside the cup of life; and these gibes provided an additional pleasure for our listeners, as it turned out, since the university was thought to be composed of three strata at that time – deans, dissidents and dunces – with no one we met admitting to either ambition or stupidity; so we went wild; we put grotesques in every role as real as any real ones, bringing them forth as Dickens might have done – through tubas – each with traits as neatly cubed, distinct, and freshly baked, as cakes on a plate of cakes.
My student days kept step as I marched away into marriage, the military, and my profession. College had been a long and boring banquet whose food I’d somehow digested yet couldn’t excrete. There were those hierarchies and ordered rows around me still like the hedges of a labyrinth; a tropical torrent of judgments, of ranks and scores, fell without fertility; the division of days into periods of improvement, hours of regulated relaxation, a few moments of pleasure paid for by pitiless stretches of melancholy which ceased only in beery sleep, went on incessantly like the little clicks of a pedometer; for what was the distance from Martha to masturbation when you put an interior tape to it? . . . yes, there was, in particular, life at close quarters.
The memory of those makeshift apartments in Urbana followed me now like a homeless animal. I could see again the room which greed had eaten out of attics like moths, coal cellars covered in oil cloth like the inside of a cheap coffin, the panelled garages smelling of grease; I reoccupied those stools under dormers which made you double up to shit, closets where the clothes rod was a water pipe; and I remembered a friend who had an entry straddled by a shower stall, another whose bed backed against a boiler, but I particularly could not drive away the image of those tiny pre-used Polish toilets which were as close to the living room as a lamp to its chair, so that we couldn’t help hear the gush of the girls, always good for a giggle, and had to aim our stream against the quiet porcelain to be discreet ourselves, or pinch it painfully thin.
I saw that Martha suffered far more than I from our unaccustomed closeness. Women weren’t used to long lines of nakedness as soldiers are, or the sycamores in winter. Gaunt, bleached, bony, the trees seemed a cold growth of the snow itself, a solidification of melting air the way icicles were a congealed product of the sun.
I also recalled squatting in a cold hole once on perimeter patrol, listening with the same intensity for the enemy (and since I didn’t know what the enemy would sound like, I made it up out of movies: the crunch of a boot in the snow, a frightened wheeze, the unmistakable clink of metal), my ears like those dishes they tune to the stars. The world was cemetery still, and dark as the dead beneath the stones.
Now the silence was a great white field which Martha and I fled over like lines of running ink.
The trouble was, when I thought about it, that we were always the butts on the body of our anecdotes – the goats, the fall guys – the grotesques who were so amusing. And then it occurred to me to wonder whether they weren’t telling tales, too, over there in biology, among faculty members we never met; and the thought was terribly sobering somehow, as if our plight were a program like Fibber Magee’s that no one would want to miss; except there were two versions, two lines of listening, the right line and the left, like lobes of the brain of parties in politics; and which one was funnier, I had to speculate, which one’s butts were bigger, in which did the fall guys prat more convincingly, the goats smell raunchier?
And Martha, who was always so saving, wanted to go out all the time to bars and movies, to drop in on friends where, after the customary inquiries about health and children, the rigmarole would begin again. Since we had no privacy in private, we sought it out in public. The strategy didn’t succeed for either of us. Though alone in a movie with a grey screen dancing, she would throw my hand away, when it crept into hers, like a used up Kleenex, because we were married now and had, she said, no need to grope or fondle. In bars we would back ourselves in booths and speak, when we did, like conspirators. People will think we’re married, all right, she said; married – but to other people. Isn’t it getting to be that way (this was the general form of my reply); at home, don’t you listen more to that other guy?
The cash we were conserving slipped away like our affections, literally through our fingers, as our touch became callous and mechanical. Martha grew testy about the money because she was the one who was spending it; and she grew testy about the loss of affection, because she had stopped bringing me up and never would bother again, as if her own large beauty should henceforth be enough; and though it was enough, her attitude made me resent every erection, and dislike the effect her nakedness had on me. What if all the blood became noisy, I said. What if I whistled through them like their kettle? What if, she said. What if?
In the early fall I had already begun to go down to the river to see the face of winter in the water, the slow logs and dry shoals. Crickets and hoppers were still rising ahead of my feet like miniature quail, and the weeds which had bearded the banks during the long stand of summer were high and heavily in seed; but the water returned their image to a sky which was as quiet as the river. My own face, too, fell open in the middle like the habit of a book, and by looking down, I could watch myself staring up, eyes already a bit puffy, the coming winter in my face. It was a smooth look, like an oiled door.
Here it was, our first winter, and we should have been rolled around one another like rugs. We should have been able to overcome small obstacles such as walls which were too flimsy to hold up, hide, or impede anything – which were not obstacles at all – yet here we were, our love cut judiciously in two like the front yard. How thin the skin, yet how small the poor theory that gets through, I thought, a proverb showing in my prose, a pun in my proverb like a worm. This nonsense of ours was using up my life and there was nothing I could do about it. Then I wondered whether she wasn’t ashamed of me, ashamed to be heard with me in public, as though I whinnied. Would she lead a frank and noisy life with a brawny stud? Would she giggle and scream and writhe when they made love; compel that other couple to wish for pleasures they were inadequately equipped for and could not achieve even through instalment dreaming?
He was tall and very thin and very dark. She was petite. She skittered, but his tread was erratic as one might imagine a scarecrow’s to be – with unskilful and unfeeling feet. Mine was regular as metre ( I did believe that), and Martha’s was . . . Martha’s was that of a thousand pound thistle. She put on bras and slips and blouses and sweaters, then added blazers and heavy wraps on top of that – overclothes to cover my eyes. Do you want to disappear entirely, to be snowed under layers of skirts, smocks and mufflers? Instead, it was I who disappeared like a magician’s assistant. I knew she waited until I left the house to remove her diaphragm, a smelly elastic device that no longer went in as automatically as change in a purse or keys tossed in a drawer, and would never replace the ear as an organ. I said you’re making me into a stranger. Her nose peered between the tan slats of a Venetian blind she opened with scissored fingers. Our neighbour’s Plymouth, was, or was not, parked behind us. She felt grubby, she said. I received no requests to do her back. The museum, she complained. Dusty work. Scaly scalp. She washed always behind the bathroom door with washclothes moistened with mineral oil; dusted the davenport with damp rags; did the dishes at dawn; read in a dim light. She could slither from street dress to housecoat to nightgown without allowing a fellow a peek’s worth, as one always imagined the bride of a Bedouin to be able, or a girl scout under a blanket – a skill I hadn’t counted on. No one phoned. The brush man did not knock. She said it’s late. What you couldn’t see, perhaps you couldn’t hear. I could hear a fork strike an empty plate.
The first snowfall that year caught the trees with their leaves still clinging to them, and the weight of the wet snow did what the wind hadn’t – pulled them free to settle on the surface of the river. There, for a few moments at least, they resembled massive, slowly moving floes. It was a vagrant similarity, but it sucked me up from Indiana the way Dorothy was inhaled out of Kansas, placing me in an airplane near the pole where I could see below me the rocking grey water and great herds of icebergs seeking their death down the roll of the globe.
This sudden switch of vision was indeed like a light, and gave me some understanding of the actual causes of our absurd situation. We were living in an image, not in a flimsy wartime throw up. There was no longer any reality to the clatter of pans and dishes, shoefall, outburst, sigh of a cushion; there was no world around our weary ears, only meaning; we were being stifled by significance; everything was speech; and we listened as the house talked only in order to talk ourselves, to create a saving anecdote from our oppression, a Jewish character, a Jewish joke.
Walking along the edge of the river, I no longer saw those lovely pale leaves pass me like petals, as if some river flower were blooming oddly out of season (poetry appearing abruptly in my social prose) rather I took them to be elements of a threatening metaphor, because I had suddenly seen that the world was held together only by frost and by freezing, by contraction, that its bowels contained huge compressors and ice cold moulds; so the place where I stood looking over a trivial Indiana landscape – snow freshly falling upon an otherwise turgid, uninteresting stream – was actually a point on the hazardous brink of Being. Consequently there appeared before me an emblem of all that was – all that was like a frozen fog – exhaust from the engines of entropy; and I saw in the whitened leaves floating by me an honesty normally missing from Nature’s speech, because this adventitious coating threw open the heart of the Law: this scene of desolation – relieved only by the barren purity of the trees – this wedge was all there was; and then I understood that the soft lull of August water was but a blanket on a snow bank; the dust that a wave of wind would raise was merely the ash of a dry summer blizzard; the daffodils which would ring our Chinese elm were blooming spikes of ice, encased in green like a thug’s gloves; there was just one season; and when the cottonwoods released their seeds, I would see smoke from the soul of the cold cross the river on the wind to snag in the hawthorns and perish in their grip like every love.
Uninterpreted, our neighbour’s noises were harmless, and soon would have been as dim in our consciousness as the steady eeeeeen of an electric clock, or the slow glow of the nightlight; as it was, the creak of a spring signified a body on the bed; a body, a bed – that meant fornication, transports of passion as long as a line of lorries, the free use of another for the pleasure of the self, the power to produce forgetfulness, ease, peace, sleep; it meant a disturbing measure now lay alongside our own love like a metre bar – how long? how large? how full? how deep? how final and sufficient? how useful? wise? how cheap? – and in virtue of such steps our minds had moved the whole arc of the dial, from unpremeditated act to accidental sound, from accidental sound to signal, from signal to sense, from sense to system, from system to . . . the chaos implicit in any complete account.
For a month we fell toward the ice at the centre of hell (grandeur finally showing in my prose), and I think it was the weather which convinced us we were bored and beaten by surveillance; we were at last embarrassed by the bloated selves our stories had made of us; close quarters had become half dollars, although, in this small pocket, we jangled together without real change. But now the wind came up the river like a steamer. The windows iced over. Would pipes freeze? I called responsible people and received assurances which didn’t assure me. We told our friends of these fresh troubles, but I felt none of their former warm interest. We had worn the rug until I couldn’t read it’s welcome. The centre was gone. Only ‘we/me’ remained beneath the shuffle of our feet. So we struggled into English sweaters and wore wool socks; we went to movies to replace our feelings, and sat in bars to keep warm and lose touch. With malice in my symbolism, I drank boilermakers – to lose track, I said, without a smile to greet the pun – and on placemats which displayed a map of the campus the colour and shape of a spilled drink, I wrote to friends about positions in the south.
Culp was the only exception. He retold our stories for us, harbouring our grudges until they seemed the flagships of his own fleet. He became another kind of auditor, his intense interest hemming us in on what we might otherwise have thought was our free and open elbow – the out side. Perhaps it was Culp who had worn our welcome thin, for he would show up at parties, picnics and processions, to chortle and nudge, allude and remind, elaborating on our originals until they began to shrink within the convoluted enclosures he gave them the way paintings dwindle inside heavy ornate frames, or turtles hide. That predatory historian, Martha fumed, has kidnapped our life, and she was right, but not for ransom, as I still believe Culp holds whole booths of convention bars enthralled with reminiscences of those difficult early years of his marriage, when he lived in a hut on the banks of the Wabash (a double hovel he called it), encountering everywhere in his own air the image of another, as of course he said like finding someone else’s fart in your own pants.
How are you, I’d ask Martha with real worry. How are you feeling? Of course I was concerned for my own safety. I wanted to know if a storm was coming. It sometimes seemed to me I could see snow sliding out of the ceiling and melting on us as it melted on the river, though now the river was beginning to freeze, to disguise the flow of its feeling beneath a shell of ice. The sycamores were stoic, and there were deep crusted holes in the drifts where I’d walk. I found my tracks a comfort. Where I had been I would be again, returning to old holes, yet they were only the weather’s memory. I wondered whether this winter’s warfare would disappear in the spring, or would we be mired down in mud like the troops in Flanders?
We’ll look for another place, I promised. What’s in the fine print? Perhaps we can break our lease; maybe keep a big flea-barking dog. Martha’s enthusiasm was persuasively unconvincing. Perhaps she didn’t want to be alone with me again. Did she sense what was surfacing? Maybe she liked the protection. Say, I said, suppose I turned vicious, you’d be safe. One peep would be as good as calling police. Martha mimed a scream, her mouth so wide it would have swallowed a fist. O no, even if you were murdering me, they wouldn’t murmur, she said – would we murmur? We might shout ‘shut up!’ like they do in the big city movies: we might bang on pipes the way you do to call the super; we might return outcries like party invitations. Martha shrugged. Her cleavage was another cunt. Well, I might do any one of those things, I suppose, she said; I think they’re in my nature; but not you – oh no, not you, ever. It would be impolite and forward and beneath your blessed dignity. Then why am I staring at the floor like a schoolboy? The gods look down, don’t forget, she said. Our floors were made of that hard asphalt tile which broke your feet (I had dubbed the colour ‘abattoir brown’ when we’d first moved in), and that’s what I saw when I hung my head: the frozen bleeding feet of every piece of furniture which had stood there through the war, leaving their pitiful dents, as if the scars were records of wounds in the weight which made them; and of course that was it, the world was tipping toward the north, relations were in deep reverse, blooms invading their buds, snow rising like steam from the earth, as in this doubled house, where stoves seemed warmed by their pots and compliments were a curse; for now when I entered my pale, silent, snowed-over wife, given legally to me by family, god and social custom, it was through a cunt which lit up like an exit, and I was gone before I arrived.
The gods, I said. Marty? the gods? You speak of the gods to someone who was never a choirboy. I’m the sort of lonely little gid who looks into his shoes for a sight of the stars.
I had wanted to be put in charge of her body, not exactly as though she were a platoon, but as though my soul would wear her flesh for a change, and I would look out for her elbows as though they were my own, eat well and not take cold; but she wouldn’t play. I remembered kids like that when I was a kid. They wouldn’t be the baby or the pupil or the robber or the renegade; they wouldn’t lie still like the sick or the wounded; they would never fetch, seek out, or serve. They were too afraid. I’m not a train, Whiffie, and I don’t need a conductor. You mean you’re not a plane, and you don’t need a pilot. I’m not a boat and don’t need a skipper. I’m not a field that needs a tractor. I hate those images. I’m a daughter, but I have a father.
She could have had my body in exchange, but who wants to be the boss of a barnyard, the cock for such a nervous vane? Speaking of images, Marty, how’s the one you are living in presently; the one that’s made you the thunder sheet in the sound room, a roof in a heavy rain? But it was no use. She no longer cared for what I cared for. Henceforth she’d let her body burgeon like a lima bean in a Dixie cup, though there were no kids, yet, to instruct or entertain. If she had deeded it to me; if she . . . well, both of us would be as trim now as the moulding of a painted window.
Surely we haven’t gone so fast in these few weeks we’ve passed middle age in our marriage? Is it the sound barrier we’ve broken, and are they the boom, now, we’re supposed to hear? It makes no sense. It makes at least one, she always answered, even when we were courting, because the statement was a tic like mine, like that obnoxious nasal sniff I had, she said. As a matter of fact, Marty darling, we’ve grown as sluggish as a pair of snakes, and if any such barrier burst, it would have to happen from the slow side of swift, like your hymen, remember? I said, letting my prose grow un-shavenly toward scratch. In this house sound certainly departs for all points like the humans of Hiroshima, she said, serene and un-insulted. Sometimes I think that’s all they are over there – echoes of us – that whole half of the house is an echo, a later ring of our present life, and it’s me, then, I hear, going up their stairs.
On her feet? that scatter of pins?
Save your jokes for the next show, Whiff. She smiled with a meanness I hadn’t seen. And she had begun to braid her hair again, a bad sign, and write long letters to her mother – one a day, like pills. Oh no, Koh, not on her pins, on his needles, she said. Martha stared at our barely wrappered wall for a moment so pointedly I thought there might be a gap through which she saw a table or a teapot more substantial than the shadows of our own. What are his shoes, anyway, but the sound of my steps? You’ll find my feet fastened beneath those almost negligible legs and skinny trunk next time you meet.
No such luck, Marty. Clutching groceries or garbage like a pair of paper bellies, what else do we embrace? In any case, we never see a shoe.
You’ve heard that small black head of his, haven’t you? like a photographer’s box, go click? She laughed but I never understood the cause. The pleasure it implied seemed out of place. He’s a thorough look-see sort of man – complete – including that long lank hair which shuts out the light; and there’s his dark transparent face as well, like exposed film you can safely see the sun through at the noon of an eclipse.
Martha did nothing to erase the extravagance of her description. A luksi sort of man, I thought. Of the monkeys, that’s not the one I would have picked; but I must admit to receiving a chill from this news – a chill, a chill – though in a perverse way it restored my weakened self to life like a dead drink that’s suddenly got a plop of fresh ice.
The silences which came between us now were as regular as spaces on a page of type, and far more impervious to any message than our walls.
You called yourself a gid. That must be good. So what’s a gid? She hated to ask. She knew how I loved an answer.
A gid is a small god, Marty, the human kind, with more features than powers – the difference, you might say, between poetry and prose. With my fingers I made a meagre measure. Mayor Daily is a gid. And Franco. Fred Astaire. Lowell Thomas.
Then you’re not a gid. Do they come in smaller sizes like bras?
I hated her when she was smart-assing. A gid is as small as gods get. There’s no volume for a vowel deeper down or deeper in.
She wondered whether it came from ‘giddyup’ or ‘yid’ or simply ‘giddy,’ and then scornfully concluded it wasn’t a word, that I’d merely made it up. We argued wearily about whether a made-up word could be one, and whether making up words was a form of lying, though neither of us cared. Well, in any case, you’re not a gid, she said. I hated her when she was hard-boiling. I hated her when she crossed her arms across her chest like a prison matron in the movies. Her cleavage was another cunt. Hey, why don’t we? why don’t we invite them to dinner? Perhaps we can reach an understanding. Maybe we can work something out.
I don’t want to know him any better than I do already, Martha said, carrying a summer Vogue into the John.
I was resolutely bent on comedy. If we could trade one-liners maybe we could continue to live. I suggested we let our little throw-rugs grow so we could comb them across our cold bald floors.
It may be, Martha said distantly.
I began to wish I had the wind’s indifference to what it did. Shall I water them then? I tried to shout. Her first flush filled both houses like the bowl. There were always two. But she had begun to hide her habits from me. She kept the corners of the toast out of her coffee; she didn’t twist her table napkin, she no longer whistled while doing crosswords, or used toilet paper to blow her nose. She started rubbing toothpaste on her gums with her right forefinger, and thrusting pencils between her braids. She didn’t get dog-ear books; she kept caps firmly on her jars of cleansing cream; she stopped slapping around the house in scuffs. I was simply at a loss. She didn’t stick her lips anymore, but that might have been fashion. I waited for that second flush which didn’t come. She was disguising herself. Her voice would get gruff. Soon I could expect to see a stranger’s expression on her face and a mask on her muff.
With even these petty expectations taken from me, all I had left was a little inner determination, gid-greed, ambition like a stunted bud; but I silently resolved that what Ike is, and Cotton Mather was, Whiffie Koh would be.
We lit electric fires but no others. Except for them our house was a cold grate, and we were as alive as sifting ash. Peeled outside-in by Marty’s transformations – bewildered, shocked – I only professed to be surprised so she would believe I always knew. But knew what? Was my blond Martha taking on that little woman’s ways? The joke became our medium of exchange.
We would drive them out like demons. I made the sign of the cross – incorrectly – and muttered Latin imprecations. Let’s burn sulphur, I said. For a week I tried raising my voice and being rowdy. Martha read old Cosmos and did puzzles ripped from the Saturday Review. It’s like living in a waiting room, she said. And hearing you bawl about like someone calling trains.
That’s it, I said. If I took a snapshot of our life right now, what would it look like? yeah, a drawing, a cartoon. We’ve bound our own feelings like feet. Our cheeks have porked. My eyes are two dots. Everything we say belongs in a balloon. Listen to your own sweet voice: stars, contorted ampersands, and yellow lightning bolts. Marty, these last few weeks I’ve felt myself emptying into outline, as if beer could become its bottle, and because we’re posed here in pitchfork, arrowed tail, and red flesh, how can our misery be any more than lines? Hey, remember how we honeyed one another? Has so much changed we’ve gathered only ants and flies? Marty? listen –
Lis-sen, she said. That’s all I do. My left ear is as long and flat as this wall I’ve pressed it to so amorously, and I’ve kept the other to the ground as well, just as hard and down and often, so the right one here is wide and tired and dirty like the floor. My nose, Koh, in case you care, gets nothing up a nostril now but doorbell buzz and blender whirr.
So we turned up the radio to stifle our whispers and smother our shouts, as torturers did in the movies, but discovered that then we couldn’t hear anything they were up to either, and that wouldn’t do.
The entire house seemed to have shrunk. It had become a cheerless, shabby rented room, soon to be a bureau drawer. I had been about to suggest that we stop bugging one another, but a dreary cold light fell out of the kitchen to confound me, and my voice lay down in my throat.
The other day I saw a fire alarm – long yellow streaks like slaps across the face of the street. I’ve three bruises on my arm. It’s the vicious way he turns off taps. Notice that? They roll marbles across their kitchen floor. He leans over her like a lens.
Marty, come on. It’s our closeness in the crazy place – our closeness has kept us apart – but the natural, decent, and sensible thing to do would be to complain to the university together – club up, unionize, make common cause. We have a common cause, you know.
She acknowledged this by gestures, each Italian and obscene. Remember how those woppy Eytie kids would gun their Vespas through the streets? The noise came at you as though they were hurling the cobbles. Well, they loved it. They loved their loud cocks. They loved their ball-like wheels. They loved to stick it up those narrow Roman ways. A vigorous finger speared the air. She failed to strip skin from her teeth. Can’t you hear them next door, then? that continuous applause? the cheers? They love it – this noise we volley. They wouldn’t trade for Willie Mays.
I hated her when she was hard-assing. I hated her when her plump face resembled that of some mean and pouty child, as – so often – it resembled Charles Laughton’s. But, Marty, it can’t really be that only our half of the house is cold. Noise isn’t a trolley on a one-way Milano street. It can’t be that moisture is collecting on our sills and not theirs, or that just our drafts are so brisk the blinds rise and the drapes wave.
It may be, Martha said. What if?
You know, Whiff, sometimes, in a marriage, only one side hears the other cough.
Yeah? Well. What of it? Are we married to them, then? Is that the situation.
One side is cold, sometimes, in a marriage, she said. One eye does all the weeping.
Yeah. Right. Sure thing. But is our nose stuck in their mouldy jam pot? And who is the cold carrot around here anyhow? which side of our bed has a marble mattress?
Shush, she said. They’ve just come in.
Shit, I shouted, on the run; but no sound could give me satisfaction, nor the silence after my slam.
The bitterness of it. I had hoped her flesh might warm my life; but my body isn’t blubber for your burning, she had crudely said. Alas, one’s dreams are always a cliché, yet I had hoped she would fill what I felt was an emptiness; but I’m not going to let you wear me like a padded bra so you can seem complete, she said.
The wind was an acid eating at my face, my anger another sort of acid searing my insides. Soon they would be near enough to greet. There was a hint of starlight, as there often was during the many clear nights of this pitiless winter, the thin moon a menacing sickle, and the dark artery of the river ran through closing ice toward a heart far out of sight, I imagined, like a lurking troll beneath a bridge. I couldn’t drive her from her fantasies, however I tried. She was persistent as a bee. My boots went again where my boots had been, and I was aware, without pleasure, of the repetition. What was my passion for this ample woman but just that amplitude, that generous expanse of self? and now her hair was coiled, her thighs tense, her feelings like a tissue wadded in an anxious hand.
We went from apology to explanation to excuse like partners at a progressive dinner.
It bothers me to be an object in other people’s obscenities, she said – the dirt in a dirty joke – a filthy thought you can’t wash clean or even get a little soap near.
Even in my polite pornographies, I asked, with another attempt at gaiety which would burst before blowing up like a bad balloon.
In yours, especially, now I’ve been his leading lady. Her head wagged toward the wall in a gesture of such furious rejection I became immediately jealous. It bothers me to be all crotch. It bothers me.
And so I thoughtlessly said I wouldn’t mind being all prick, dropping my left like an amateur, exposing myself; and of course I received her swift, professional retort. Replies rose in my throat, but they had the quality of yesterday’s radish, so I did not return her pings with any pong of mine. I don’t see even a shadow to start at, let alone a reality to run from, I said; how can you know what either of them is thinking?
I know what I am thinking. I know what my thoughts watch. I know how he drinks his morning milk. I have the measure of his moustache, and how far along his lip his tongue creeps. I know what he sees in his wife. I know how he pees, and when he shits, how many squares of paper are pulled off. I hear the rattle of the roll. I know what he wants.
My anger would never leave me. I had contracted a malarial disease. Naturally I had to hear what she imagined our neighbour saw in his wife, and Martha answered, predictably: the same things you see in me – our sentences two halves of the same dull bell. A hammer, I said, is what I see. A pliers. God damn it, Marty, don’t cheat on the truth so transparently. Do you want a use? the least utility? Just what do you believe I see when I see inside you? the peep show follies?
Hair and heat and pink toes. You see a plate of steaming meat.
I wished right then there were a god I could invoke to damn her truly, but, the thought of her skin cracking open in some supreme heat gave me only a jack-offs relief. Of course I shouldn’t have felt as if my soul had left me, but her words – common enough, really – were like that winter wind which rushes by so fast you can’t get a bit of it for breathing.
Not quite, Marty, I said. When I look at you I see a stew congealing in its grease.
The bitch didn’t even weep.
The bitterness of it. I could remember her body in its beauty waiting for me with the calmness of the coverlet. I, too, had looked at her like a lens, and she had posed for me, opened as easily as eyes to my eyes; showed a boisterous bust, a frank and honest hip, a candid cunt, as one might hand round snapshots of a trip. Then it struck me. Perhaps she believed, in those handsome early days when our lust was in its clean beginnings and the politics of the penis had not yet confused and corrupted everything, that I was gazing past her smooth full cheeks and succulent lobes toward Martha the grandly scutcheoned Mulhenberg I’d married, or grazing quite beyond her meadowed chest to Marty the blond Amazonian lass, so she didn’t mind my meddling senses, my nosey fingers, my tireless tongue; whereas now she knew I was admiring nothing but her beauty right along; and though it might be, like wealth, of immense use, it remained an alien and external burden if you thought of adding it to the self, because – well – she believed she possessed her looks like one night a Pekinese or poodle, and who would want to incorporate a cold-nose, pissy–nervous, yapping one of those? yes, wasn’t that it? for hadn’t I always wondered that very thing about women, whom I had learned could be sensuous and passionate beyond my poor capacities; who would calculate faster than Clever Hans – cook, sing, farm, run households, wag ass and empire with equal ease and often with the same moves, betray causes, author novels, and learn French – but in whom I had never seen, for instance, what a sculptor must, namely how dirty the mind gets where it feeds like a root in the earth, or the extraordinary way the concrete is composed of numbers and relationships like sand, the fugal forms of feeling which outstrip all proof, or finally the snowy mountainous elevations, the clouded unsealed peaks, the cold remote passions of the purely physical sublime?
You don’t get it, do you, Martha said. You think I’m being cranky and perverse. You think I should be locked up like a dirty line in a limerick. Koh. You dear love. You runt. You dunce. She smiled to lower the line of her malice, but there was still enough to wet my hair. I went to the bathroom a moment ago, she said. First I heard my own feet, you know? I heard the click of the light switch, the snick of the latch, the rubbered settle of the seat. It shames me to think that someone else may hear what I just heard, what I just made – the splash of my pee, that lovely shush of bubbles like soda dying in its glass – because these are my sounds, almost internal to me, Koh, the minor music of my privacy, and to hear them is to put a hand on me in a very personal place.
I heard the same snick, I said. It signals your safety, doesn’t it? as if I might burst in behind you to piss between your legs myself.
Oh Koh. Please. It’s not simply that my noises might be embarrassing – a rumbling stomach or some raucous break of wind – or even that to hear them one would have to be a sneak – although such factors weigh . . . they weigh . . . but neither is the painful one, the last cruel twist which wrings me out.
Slowly seeping down like egg white on a wall: my depression was that desperate. A kitchen table grainy with crumbs, an ashtray heaped with butts like the burned-out bodies of our voided thoughts, a faded cushion and a shredded towel – companions for this exercise – then a light that rattled away off plates like a falling fork. And so I said: have you heard your legs lock, Marty? No snick there, no click, rather a sound like the settle of the seat.
Not O, I said. No. X. Have you seen your arms cross on your chest like a sign warning Railroad?
And when my hands fall on your bottom, I said, not to spank, because we never enjoyed that relation, but like a corn flake, a tree seed, ever so lightly, as air though an open doorway, surely you’ve felt those buttock muscles tighten?
Please, Whiff. Please be serious. Please.
Seriousness, I answered has all but overcome my prose.
I remember wanting to understand, to throw my sympathy like an arm around her shoulders (at one point I thought, ‘gee, she’s still my girl,’ as if we were pinned or going steady and I was selfishly rushing her responses); but I was also angry, disappointed, deeply affronted (I began to believe we wouldn’t last the year out), since here she was defending her bloomers before I’d fully got her skirt up, and I was bitter as though bereft, because the cause of her present sensitivity seemed just a case of damn bad luck like getting flashed by the cops while making out in Lovers’ Lane, and had nothing to do, inherently, with us as a couple. My outrage rapidly became metaphysical. I called down on all women the character of my mother like a plague, and then cursed them with her fate.
You know that passage in Middlemarch –
I knew no passage in Middlemarch, but I can recall insisting that it was every female’s favourite fiction.
– where she says about marriage that there’s something awful in the nearness it brings?
I was sitting in a sugar maple chair the sticky colour of its syrup. I was uncomfortably near the knobs on metal cabinets, size of my eyes. Martha was wearing a large floral print which made her look like a trellis. To my well-fed Marty, I was a bed and boarding party. Wisecracks, rhymes, lay discarded like the Sunday paper. At such close quarters, our war was now down to nickels and dimes.
I’ve been watching us together, Koh, and I’ve been thinking, too, of our twins over there like animals in a neighbouring cage, and I’m convinced now that we need to live in at least the illusion that a certain important portion of our life passes unobserved; that there are walks we take which leave no tracks; acts whose following sounds are not broadcast like the bark of dogs; events to which no one need or should respond; which have, in effect, no sensuous consequences.
I wished that this were one of them, but a metal kettle and a kitchen stool threatened immediate animation – to dance a la Disney to a tune by Dukas. The cute I couldn’t handle. The spout would say something like ‘Toot!’
I don’t want to hear all I do – every squeak in my works. I want a bit of oblivion, Koh. I want a little rest from awareness. You’ve made me so conscious of my chest, I’m counting breaths.
I was rolling like a spool. There’s no coughless cold, kiddo; no blow without a little snot, no ding without its answering ling, no –
How I hate it when you try to crack wise. You can’t break clean. You mash. Sure, sneer. Never mind. You can’t ride away on the back of a joke. That’s what I’d like to do myself, though: become deaf to what’s dumb. Grin. Go ahead. How I hate it when you put that smile on like a dirty sock. Whiff, I’m sick of the shimmy, jounce and rattle of staying alive. I want a world for a while without echoes and shadows and mirrors, without multiples of my presence. I could cut off my silhouette and not cry.
You’re a sweet one to want a smooth ride. I thought you liked life a little hump-woof-and-rumpy.
Well, Willie, at least you offer me a model, a measure, something to go by when I wonder in what way you love me: exactly like a marksman loves his bull’s eye. All you want to do is score.
She spread the slats to check for their car, facing her sweatered back to my dismay.
On our own, she said softly. Left alone . . . in time . . . to some things we can go mercifully blind, as our ears will grow swiftly indifferent, thank god, and all our other senses . . . indifferent to ourselves and the cells we calendar our days in.
Above the sink the lamp sang, and the small chain leaked from its harsh fluorescent light in little links like melting ice.
Remember when my mother had her asshole out, Marty said (she knew how I hated her coarseness, but she was an afficionado of my shame); remember how she had to shit in a sack? She got used to it. She got used to it because she had to to survive. She got used to it because nobody dared to remind her. The subject was delicately dropped.
Like those A-bombs under their umbrellas. Marty, you can’t cancel the fall-out on account of rain, when it’s the bloody rain itself.
What I want, Whiff – if it goes off – I want a chance to ignore the noise. Yeah, cover your ears like one of those monkeys to mock me, but I’m no longer lost in our love as I once was. I keep surfacing. I feel on film.
You don’t like the lead in our little blue movies? the star part? It can’t be that you’re bored with the graceless grunt and huffypuffy business?
You’ll laugh at me alone this time, lover. I can’t keep you company. You sprawl there with your little friend crawling down your trousers waiting for me to weep so you can take it out and put it in, because quarrelling makes it uncaring, hence stiff and amorous like die little toy soldier it is. Go on. Take it off somewhere on vacation. Run away to the river. Amuse the ice. The two of you can take a leak, have a good laugh with the snow and the weeds.
I did as I was told, throwing on my coat as though I were throwing off everything else. The sky was hard and brilliant with stars like a run of the right hand in a piece by Liszt. The cold air rinsed my lungs and gave them definition. All those hidden inner organs took my walk and lived no differently than I did. Even our porous duplex didn’t overstep its bounds. Beneath my weight, the cold snow crushed like crisp paper in a fist.
With Martha I loved what I’d always loved: an outline, a surface, a shape – yes – a nipple, a lip; yet I’d become an alien in her household, an unwanted presence, worse than roaches or the wind, because she thought she was more than a footfall, a weight, a slack wet mouth or sack of warm skin, when no one was other than their image, print, and circumcision – none of us – we were nothing but a few rips in the general stuff of things like rust on a nickel blade, and we were each running down like radium into rays.
So I was the thin dark man next door now, not the fair round pudge she’d married. I was the swivelling radar dish, the probe, the lens, the receiver of all her transmissions. Still, it would have been useless to remind her that a dog could smell the absence of her clothes, so she’d be naked to it, though they were walls away, since she was contemptuous of my philosophizing, which she’d called mental masturbation more than once; yet if we conceived the world properly we would realize the birds, ants, and insects also know us this way: as a shadow, a sound, a scent, a sudden intrusive substance, a cutting edge – never as a soul which (please god) does not exist except in a moist cold cloud like my present breath; and that, however quiet we were, however much we muffled our ears and stoppered our mouths, little could be kept from the earth and air around us, lion our lives upwind as we’d like, because it was alive as an antelope, all ear and apprehension, anticipation and alarm.
I was too much the whole of that wide world. Yes. I sniffed you out wherever you went like a hound. I would rush from another room to say; you coughed, is everything ok? but for you that was spying, not concern; so when I rubbed your rump I did so only to molest you; and when I offered to comb your hair you wondered what was up, and jeered when you saw what was. You wanted a love which would have been a lie – to lie beyond the nostril and the hip – an imaginary island like Atlantis or those happy beaches of the blessed it cost them nothing to enjoy beyond the payment of their death.
The mouth was refused first, before her back was turned like the last page. What are we, Marty, but sense and inference? and when I feel your smooth warm skin, your breasts like playful puddles; when I nuzzle your underarms or scent the ultimate nostos of your nest? what do I infer from what I sense? surely not the brittle stick you’ve thrown me. Be large, I begged. You will be less, my love, if you give me less.
The bitterness of it. But there was, as in everything, some recompense. It was true I enjoyed the way my feet distressed the snow; and I approved the sycamores who had no pretensions and wouldn’t have hid their bones from me on any account, or condemned my pleasures. I did not applaud the river for its beauty because along this stretch it had none. I loved it rather for its welcoming indifference, the way the cold was cold, and kept me together. What, of this world of memories, a young gent’s hopes, the pale ashes of desire, could I control, or oversee, or lie in wait for like the man next door I now would always be?
It was a winter so prolonged their crocus bloomed beneath the snow, and the sun dreamed.
Out of a frozen bottle would be forced the frozen cream; and I felt my heart expand against my chest, my chest, as though squeezed, to press against the tree trunks, push against the pointed stars, spread out upon a sterile land.
We’d remain married. I would see to that. One life would not be long enough for my revenge. The coarse baritone in which I made my vows came like an errant echo from another skull, an outcry left behind on the stage like an actor’s closing lines. My voice in my fist, I promised the wind, trampling underfoot my former prints, Iago now the new friend, blade, and ancient, of my prose.
Photograph courtesy of bambe1964