On the one hand I couldn't help myself past the fact that someone somehow thought of as hipper was going to get physical credit for the ideas I'd already given away. It was all over the trades that management had hired a collaborator to help save the already-limping fourth album. On the other, I was a willing fool for this cause.
I crack open an eye at the sound of him, my room is dark but I'm convinced it's close to noon. My stomach growls and I have an odd desire for dry toast, but there's no bread in the house. There's plenty of coffee, but I wondered how long you could re-use the same filter.
I'd been taking too much time off. My splintering mail slot at the Historical Society was already crammed with research requests, its population a siren that I couldn't be trusted to keep my own hours. I was sure this very thing would be addressed at the next executive board meeting. I'd meant to empty it of all the frayed envelopes with pedestrian curiosities folded neatly inside. Only once in a great while would I get a substantive request which might then lead to a small italicized notation of recognition somewhere. Early last week I went to cram them into a used sack from a Korean market but I couldn't find one lying around anywhere. Instead I just picked out a few notes off the top, stuffed them into my coat pocket, and took off.
At the pay phone on the corner I stopped to retrieve my messages. I listened to him cooing to the gate keeper; something in the beep tone must have provoked him. I let escape an evil little snort that he had not hung up. I knew that he did, habitually--this ringing phone and lone, monotonous hang-up tone on the answering machine which was Christian's impetuous way of exacting attention. I listened to him do it all the time. There was something to his voice that I recognized as the result of his struggling beneath a blanket of personal urgency. Even before he could tell me--he would never leave a specific request on tape--I knew why he was calling.
Yesterday I'd only viewed a flash of it on my laptop's screen. I'd been left to mind the store, as it were. The Director and his assistant were attending a meeting with the Parks Department at the Borough President's office, something to do with the ailing health of the landmark Weeping Beech whose boughs once playfully scraped the quartered panes of the second- story library window. I had noticed this season it no longer reached. I carelessly clopped down the 17th Century front staircase, familiar with its dangerous dips and smooth corners, to answer the doorbell which throughout the farmhouse sounded like the ringing of a child's bicycle bell. UPS. I needed only to struggle with the top half of the warped Dutch door. All this took me away from my laptop for only a moment. I returned to the surprise of a narrow ribbon of notification: you have one fax. I rubbed the dormant track ball like a tarnished genie's lamp and watched Christian's lyrics fill the small screen. Anxiously I untangled wires so that I could connect to the printer and hold them in my hands to read.
Earlier we'd talked on the phone. My meticulously ordered files went skidding across the polished table and fluttered to the floor when I struggled to reach the black rotary phone. They stayed flayed about my feet as he narrated his triumphant sextet of new lines. I'm typing too, I thought. I'm keeping up with you, rat-a-tat-tat, too cushioned and state-of-the-art for you to hear.
"Keep going," I prodded when he slowed. "Keep going," I urged as he was about to hang up, spent for accomplishing so much. And then it was alone with me, his verse, a springboard. I called him back when my own surge ebbed. "How far have you gotten?"
"No further." He did not apologize. I could hear canned laughter from his TV.
"I'm into my fourth paragraph," I told him.
"Yours is different. Song writing's not the same."
"I know. I can't confine myself to what fits perfectly in the mouth."
"Really?" he said slowly. "But, were you writing it down?"
"No! I didn't write it. You really find me that sneaky?" I was naked in my lie.
"No," he laughed, proudly wearing his own. "Give me something."
I tapped the up and down arrows like an arcade game, looking: "Here, 'nothing could begin until they could close the door behind them . . .' "
"'Nothing could begin,' wait, what was the rest?"
"'Nothing could begin until they could close the door behind them.' "
Humming, he found the right key. "Can I shift it around a little?"
"Go'head." I heard the squeak and thrum of his guitar and then heard his apartment fill--I could hear the walls swell with his song.
"That's good. I could use that." It had been a statement--not a question.
I read again what I'd printed out on the Society's donated dot-matrix printer. And read it again, somehow at the same time aware of the sounds of the arriving office staff that were seeping through the gaps in the floorboards. Without thinking, I skipped the section which didn't follow quietly behind the opening phrase and attached top to bottom with a broad pencil mark. But of course there were moments: smoky rain falling; three mismatched words that strung together only he could make glitter like jewels. My eyes made yet another pass, my chest inflated with longing, jealousy, compunction. I dialed the number at the top of the page but there was no answer, not even a machine, he was already gone.
Today he was anxious, at nine a.m., for a thesis. When at last I managed a pre-caffeine hello, Christian, clearly perturbed, insisted "Are you awake?!"
>From the two opening lines on which he'd been unwaveringly decided, he'd taken off in an entirely odd direction. He'd chosen not to go forward but to instead select a title and move on from there, a creative exercise I am in complete disagreement with. I'd left him perfectly exciting ideas. Sturdy, dependable ideas. I'd repeated them so that he could write them down. So, what had discolored them overnight? What was the point of drawing a map only to have him sacrifice it to an unruly gust of wind? And so after his having made a mess, there I was, now fully awake and knee-deep in the many and varied thesauruses, word origin and archaic terms reference books that I own. Both my unabridged and collegiate lexicons were across my lap, so ridiculously littered with post-its marking the suggestions that he'd already rejected weeks and months before. And to what end?
So fragile were the threads. Even after all of our thunder and lightning and after our having settled into the illusory rainbow of some kind of friable camaraderie, he still could not guess what it was I really wanted. Still had not offered it as a whole. I baited myself forward with the thought that there was always the chance, but only if I continued each step with care through the land mine of knowing him.
I sighed, interrupting his how `bout this, or how `bout that. "Do you realize that it is by the magic of the telephone that you remain unaware of how little I'm wearing at the moment?"
"What kind of lyric is that?" Christian asked.
"In the dictionary *lumpy jaw* comes just before *lunacy*, but in life there are no such clues." --Lorrie Moore, Anagrams
RoseMarie London has begun accumulating her snap fictions for a collection called HE LIKES POMEGRANATES, EXCEPT WHEN HE DOESN'T. Many of the stories have been published in literary journals both in print and on-line. Early this year her work was chosen for Sparks Best of 1997 issue. RoseMarie divides her time between rest and restlessness.
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