uu 32 – ostensible soldiers

backmost window

10 March 2016 – Mother came out of her cupboard this morning. To paraphrase dad, “I was on the phone in my office. Legs up on the window sill. Admiring the sunshine. When I felt a presence behind me. Turned around and there she was. Standing at the door. I wondered if I was seeing things. She held up an envelop, widened her eyes. I reeled in my legs, swivelled my chair, got off the phone, and sat upright. She put the envelop on my desk. ‘Divorce papers,’ she said. I didn’t know what to say so busied my fingers at the upper edge of the envelop. She stepped to the window and drew a deep breath. Like she was outside. The moment froze. Her standing, me sitting. For I don’t know how long. Then I felt her hand on my shoulder. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘It’s signed.’”

He said that she said she was leaving. “As in, you know, the bigger sense of leaving.” He said that she didn’t say where she was going. And that he didn’t think to ask. He also told me that he still didn’t know if he said anything while she was there.

I thought of calling her. Then thought otherwise.

12 March 2016 – Poignant afternoon making muffins with Dot. I was a little inwardly scatterbrained when I got there (another morning writing and scrapping Delilah scenes). Dot noticed straight away, of course, but left it alone until our batter was in the trays. While we waited for the oven to heat up she asked what was on my mind. Actually, what she said was, “Honey, what’s with the hairshirt?” I didn’t know what a hairshirt was. She described it as bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders.

That cleared the air some and got us to our more customary mode of talkativeness. I mentioned that I had been contacted about interviewing for a job I wasn’t sure I wanted. She asked why. I said it was the same job I’d had before I went back to look after dad. She nodded and said she understood. I told her about mom. She asked how I felt. I said I didn’t know what to make of it but that, if anything, it brought a kind of comical closure to things. Dot looked me up and down, as if to verify that my body language was in agreement with what I had said. There were question marks in her eyes but they quickly brightened to butterflies when the oven alerted us that it was ready.

We put the muffins in to bake and headed outside for a walk. I asked about the trip. She said Melville and California got on famously. Like he’d forgotten his dementia on the bedside table here at home. It warmed her heart to see how much life he still had in him. I asked how he was doing since their return. She said he had his ups and downs. There was a pause there. Like she wanted to say more. Instead of pressing for details I put my arm around her. She leaned into me and everso quietly said, “Ostensible soldiers.”

Not certain I’d heard her correctly I repeated the words to her as a question. She smiled. “Don’t imagine you’d have heard that before.” She explained that it was one of Melville’s expressions. Used as an alternative to ‘stiff upper lip’.

That out of the way, the rest of our afternoon went to script. We finished our walk. Had tea with fresh muffins and gossiped til the boys got back from their movie.

On the way home I asked G if he’d ever heard his dad say ostensible soldiers. He smiled but said no.

16 March 2016 – Interviewed for my old job.

18 March 2016 – Job is mine if I want it. Have until Monday to decide.

20 March 2016 – While I made us a late lunch G wrote this about our day:

15 x 15

Above along below the ground. So much track, so many wheels.
What we saw speeding through the drab curves of downtown corridors.
With our covered elbows crowded there at the backmost window.

Disembarking, both of us taking the stairs two at a time.
Even spits of rain could do nothing to dampen our spirits.
Twas as if, holding hands, no one else knew where we were going.
And neither did we, bold pedestrians, until we got there.

A short bridge with cherry-red rails over a small round pond.
Sharing the barest thoughts like that she liked her navels fuzzy.
Or that the pine tree had a large number of middle fingers.
That we play god every time we turn on or off a light.

Hungry koi gathered and called dibs on whatever we might throw.
But all we had to give was the special nourishment of words.

Is there anything more inspiring than a moment in bloom?
The thunder in our hearts tells us our knees are wet for bending.

Kills me how simple it seems to be for him. Took him all of half an hour. Fucker.

uu 31 – other things less consuming

stairs

 

03 March 2016 – Late this morning running errands downtown. Up out of the underground and onto the street. The incessant noise and bustle, the diversity of people, the chill wind, the facelifted buildings, the unrelenting traffic, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary yet, for a little while there, the assault of it all together seemed totally unreal. A sudden vertigo hit me. Like a bad dream where the sky is falling. Didn’t know what to think and couldn’t move. Not straight away. Had to stand aside and catch my breath. Which is about when I wondered if this was what an ending felt like.

G figures I was experiencing sensory overload—from having spent too much time in my head.

 

05 March 2016 – You make deals with yourself. Tell yourself you won’t do this til that’s done. Motivation by increment. A tidy technique. So long as you don’t get in your own way. Then funny things can start to happen. Time passes. Pressure mounts. Excuses pile up. A minor obstacle soon becomes a major blockade. Signal the eye of a storm on a raven black night. Summon the sirens, cue the riot police, hear an invisible bullhorn demand an end to this insufferable impasse.

The deal I made was I wouldn’t come back in here til I’d hammered out a couple of Delilah’s scenes. Went all kinds of sideways with the night before scene. Just couldn’t seem to get it right. Then, out of the blue, it came together. Yesterday. The day after I broke my deal.

What a difference a day makes!

How good the pen feels in my hand today. Light and free. It wants to explore. Things less demanding than me or Delilah.

Like the feeble gargle of young eagles spanning their wings.

Like that first r in turmeric.

Like Dot and Melville returning from California. All tanned and hale.

Like going for pho with G. The picture on the wall over our table. A strangely beautiful geography of vertical islets. Lush vegetation spilling the cliffs. On the turquoise water boats with orange sails and a village of floating homes. Another world, another world. Exotic, mysterious, spellbinding. I don’t know why but it surprised me that G, man of many surprise, knew the place was Ha Long Bay, North Vietnam.

Like a set of stairs that goes somewhere you’ve never been.

Like a girl who sits on a pipe fence one night with a boy. She wants to talk about her friends and enemies and shoes. He wants to talk about sex and songs and skateboards. They start off talking about drugs and alcohol and celebrities. Just the thing. They don’t know yet that they’re going to be together for a time to come. A time that passes in years and sees them grow together and then apart and eventually sees them part ways in a flurry of words neither wants to say but can’t seem to prevent. A few years down the road they will see each other once more. When they have other partners, and maybe children. A future that becomes the present. The setting: a large home improvement store. From different directions they and their families converge on a display of panelled prefab fencing. They see one another but pretend they don’t. Neither family buys a fence that day but both the girl who is now a woman and the boy who is now a man submit to the memory of that long distant night on a pipe fence and then, without a word, let it disappear.

Like an author writing a preface to a collection of stories called ‘Nights I Can’t Sleep’. Something along the lines of:

‘I’ve always been a dreamer. Even when not asleep.

‘When I was young I stayed up in bed waiting for dreams to come so that I could be awake when they did. One of two things happened. I either fell asleep or found myself following my wandering mind. A kind of active dreaming that was no less an adventure for being awake.

‘At some point I picked up a pen, or a crayon, and started writing down my adventures. As I was supposed to be asleep, and my father seemed ever on the lookout for light under my door, I used a flashlight and wrote with the blankets over my head.

‘I didn’t think too hard about what I wrote. Nor was I overly concerned about whether or not it made sense. I just wrote and when I was done, and only when I was done, I’d turn off the flashlight and go to sleep.

‘All these many years later not much has changed. I still write in bed. And the stories of mine I like best, the ones in this collection, had their inception on nights I couldn’t sleep.’

And a slew of other things less consuming.

uu 30 – the night before

the night before

It was getting dark by the time Delilah pulled to the curb out front of Bill’s apartment. A shoddy ground floor on a side street tenement that had seen better days.

As ever his door was wide open. Leaking an apron of light onto the uneven pavement. On either side of the door a square window, both broken and barred and dark. Between door and window on the right a folding chair and a coffee tin ashtray. The wall a muddy sea of layers of paint doing little to hide the blurred trace of past taggings.

Delilah closed her eyes in visible relief. She had arrived. A long tense day was behind her.

She drew a sharp breath and shook her arms. Turned on the interior light. Looked at herself in the rearview. Pulled straggled hair from forehead, rolled lips together, nodded.

On the passenger seat her purse, a bag of groceries, and bottle of cheap whisky. She bagged the bottle. Sashed her purse. Turned out the light.

Darkness carried her to the door.

Bill was in the back corner of the room, hunched over his desk, fastidiously scribbling away. He wore a night blue bathrobe and a grey knit skullcap, loose above big ears with foam earplugs in them.

Delilah didn’t announce her arrival. Instead she put the bag of groceries on the bed and stood there in the doorway. Looking at the oddity of the space. Like she wanted to etch it into her memory. How the bed, right at her feet, took up the majority of the room and was neatly made. To her right his prized wall of books. Hundreds upon hundreds. Shelf after shelf. An organized chaos. From floor to ceiling. The dodgy narrows between books and bed. Bill at his desk. A lonely figure scratching the remnants of his sanity onto unlined pieces of loose paper, piles of which threatened to overwhelm his corner sanctuary. Straight ahead the cluttered hallway to the hallway of a kitchen. The recliner on the other side of the bed. Within arm’s reach of small bedside table holding a pullchain lamp and dozens of empty bottles. And finally the wall to her left. Papered in a mesmerizing pattern of vaguely diamond-shaped velvety flourishes.

She might’ve stayed lost in those velvet diamonds had Bill not rustled from his scribbling. He used the desk now to help him to his feet.

Once standing, he patted at the pockets of his robe. His small hands feverishly darting and noticeably quivering. Until they suddenly stopped. He shifted his stooped stance. His head slowly came around. Then stopped. His hands flustered among the papers on his desk. Came up with a pair of glasses he put on with both hands. Finally he removed his earplugs and turned to face her.

Ah. My dulcet delight. Too rare a treat. Too rare.

Delilah smiled.

He was not a pleasant man to look at—short and pudgy, soft, grizzled, ungainly. Beneath his robe a stained undershirt and oversized sweatpants.

I trust you didn’t come to quiet the urges.

No. Those are well past. Well and truly. Thanks to you.

He smiled and looked down thoughtfully. Then over to the bag of groceries.

What you got there?

Fixins for dinner. And—

She pulled the bottle of whisky from the bag.

I do indeed like your visits.

Bill pocketed his glasses and shuffled outside for smoke.

Delilah made them dinner. They ate in the kitchen, standing. There was little conversation, though she did mention that she didn’t want to be leaving without seeing him.

Beyond that there was nothing to say. They had a tacit understanding that she would spend the night. He would wait until she was asleep before opening his bottle. She would wake early, alone in the big bed. The door would be closed. Light would be coming from the kitchen. Bill would be passed out on his recliner, wrapped in a thin blanket, clutching what was left of the whisky. Her clothes would be folded at the foot of the bed. On her clothes would be an envelop. She would think twice about taking it.

But this time she wouldn’t need his money. The long part of yesterday had taken care of that.

So it was that at first light Delilah started out for Bridge Farm. Tomorrow had come. Clean and fresh.