A LILI BOULANGER MOMENT
“No, we can’t stay here any longer. Money, and the ‘pressure,’ time for me to retire someplace retired, if you know what I mean,” he said, golfclub in hand, his fifteenth day of retirement and he couldn’t take Sunnyvale any more, a thousand in-spite-ofs, the ocean, palms, snowless winters, closeness to Santa Cruz and everywhere else (except L.A.), a million or a couple of million for a house, and the taxes and traffic and his sense of being surrounded by....how had he dreamt it in his dream, the night before....the Home of the Gods in spite of its Siliconvalleyness....
“I wouldn’t mind going back to Montana,” she said, the town of Shiversleeve where she’d been born and raised, “only there’s hardly anyone left. I mean it’s only a couple of hundred people, and everyone my age is gone...”
“Your age,” he smiled, “Look at you, stand under any streetlight in the Bois du Bologne and you could make a million bucks...”
“Maybe we should go to Paris, now that we’re both retired.You’ve been retired ever since my menarche. I feel like singing, turning into an opera,” starting to improvise, a nicely clear alto, lifting her black leather skirt and showing her sleekly black-nyloned legs, “Je voudrais echapper d’ici, retourner a ma infance, voir les morts naitre de nouveaux.../I’d like to escape from here, return to my childhood, see the dead reborn....”
“Nice translation Ms. Ballet Legs, even if black tights are a little out of fashion these days.....”
“Look at you, Mr. Out of Date Executive. You and your morning golf.”
“Your afternoon massage...”
“More massage than I get from you.”
“Not that it would make any difference if I did massage you in the glory of all your post-menopausalness...”
She goes over to him and puts her arms around him, hugs him with spectacular, unexpected almost smackdown wrestling power, her eyes, bright, reborn.
“Let’s stop right now, all this nursing home, end-of-the-line bickering. Stop, OK? I have a plan.”
“I hate to hear....”
And she starts walking out of the room, very serious-solemn now, as if she were going to keep walking right out of his life, like his first wife, Claire....
He runs in front of her, the fastest she’s seen him move in twenty yers, more like his old tennis-self than his moribund, meditative golf-self, Suddenly turning into a Roman/Romanesque proclamation proclaimer:
“OK, we won’t sell the house, just let it sit here, start driving east, away from the Gold Coast into the Copper, Lead, Tin Hinterlands, see what place speaks to us, who knows, it might be the Rocky mountains or the Kansas prairies, some hill in Iowa...I have no idea what’s really OUT THERE...”
“Montana, where I grew up, is so deserted....”
“WE’RE NOT GOING TO MONTANA. I HAVE SPOKEN. WHAT SAYEST THOU TO MY PROCLAMATION?”
“The question I keep asking myself is why the hell, how the hell, did we ever end up here?” laughed Bob as he ate his blackened alligator and sweet-potato fries, “In fact I never heard of either ‘blackened’ alligator or sweet-potato fries,” looking down at the river below them, the bridges, the new houses on the opposite shore, and the forests, forests, forests, as if their little restaurant-spot were just a happenstance oasis in a vast wilderness.
The waittress coming back to them.
“Plus anything else? And how’s it going?”
“Maybe a little more wine,” Bob smiling at her, youngish, very française beauty..., “for both of us...and , incidentally, if you don’t mind my asking, what do you do when you’re not working here?”
“You expect me to say ‘make love,’ right? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m just finishing Cooley law school, and I’m studying for the bar,” she laughed, twirling around in a circle, the bartender smiling, not suprised, but smiling like it was a daring event, “Are you suprised?”
“Not really, just pleased....impressed...”
“Everything about this town impresses me. I don’t know if its the two rivers..the light...the forests....”
“Toute ensemble!” she answered and went and got the wine, another glass for Ellaraine.
“But I didn’t ask for more wine,” Ellaraine getting all prickley-pear nervous, always trying to keep the budget down, never an ounce over the pre-planned.
“On the house,” smiled/almost sang the waitress, “On me...on whatever, the important thing is just that it’s ON....like the sun and moon....”
“Many thanks,” Ellaraine almost ashamed, but the waitress wasn’t laying guilt on her, was just being Sata Claus-ish a couple of months before Christmas, “how is it around here at Christmas?”
The waitress getting pensively meditative, “We have four seasons, of course, but essentially it’s always the same, as if the city had a motto...a theme....NOW, NOW, NOW, always live in the NOW....ENJOY, ENJOY, ENJOY....”
“Where does all that come from, your church, something evangelical in the air, or....?”
“That too, but mainly from the peasants, the Germans, Irish, Dutch, English escaping from all the warlords and emperors...you know...the Austro-Hungarian empire...which is just the beginning....”
Stopping, smiling, Bob for a moment filled with a thousand images from Debussy, Renoir, Les Demoilselles d’Avignon, La Petite Filled Avec Les Chevaux de Lin....hearing the music of Lily Boulanger, back in Paris again feeling his own ecstatic Here and Nowness...the waitress blowing them both a kiss and then “I’d better get back to work....”
Turning to Ellaraine, tears in her eyes....
“Sometimes you cry when it’s all just too right. I want to stay here, that’s all...maybe I’ve finally found the Holy Grail.”
“The holy what?”
“Come on, you know.....”
“Silicon Valley, ask me something about siliconitis....,” smiling too. He didn’t know or ever want to know anything about holy anythings, was Mr. Secular out in the cold...solar heating...the stock market ups and downs in the daily NY Times.
“But, listen, we just can’t grab at the first place we like, it’s not...”
“I don’t want to be scientific, just intuitive.”
“After....hmmmm...Boston, waddaya say....after Boston?”
And then she really began to cry.
“I’ve never been to Boston, why Boston?”
“Harvard....low unemployment...all the other colleges, Simmons, Northeastern, Tufts, you know...”
“But we’re not going to college there.”
“It has to do with an intellectual ambience...class, classiness....”
“But I don’t care....”
Getting up, looking down at the clear river below them, all kinds of fish, and then beyond the river the forests and the clouds, the houses, young kids playing, oldsters walking, more oldsters surrounding them guzzling their beer and eating their blackened alligator and sweet potato fries, all, all, all the faces saying the same thing -- GLORY BE TO GOD FOR....for just being...no beyonds or befores, just the imperfect, smudged, battered, very mortal NOW.
Coming out of the subway station into Harvard Square, all these wierd-looking young and old guys, all ski-capped and baseball-capped, sitting around or standing around intoning “I’m homeless, help me out, homeless, can you spare some change,” other homeless types selling newspapers, obviously survival tactics, past the Harvard Coop bookstore, down J.F. Kennedy street.
“Where are you going?’
“Who knows? I just wanna get the picture,” he answered, wanting to get a feel for the streets and the subway system, although everyone on the subway looked so, as she had put it, “down in the dumps, wierd, depressed, pissed-off, desperate....,” him agreeing with her.
“You’re right, I just wonder why everyone looks so....almost suicidal?”
“Well, we’re in a kind of depression. No decent jobs, everyone closing down, GM, you know, outsourcing...”
“Look, there’s like a little ‘park’ here. Not a park...square....”
A couple of benches, trees, pigeons, a bar-restaurant behind them, a Hindu restaurant over to the right above a Staples. Familiar stuff.
She sits down, finds a newspaper, it’s open to houses, real-estate.
“Not bad here,” he says, “almost like Portland. All we need is a river.”
“Look at the prices of the houses,” she says, suddenly totally absorbed in the newspaper, “all the houses are a million, a million and a half.”
“How much are they in Michigan?”
“I can find out..,” and she pulls out her cellphone, dials information, starts getting the numbers of real estate agents, asking all kinds of questions.
He tunes her out.
Not interested. For him it’s like a visit to the Louvre. He wants to see the paintings, not discuss art theory or history.
Five minutes and she’s finished.
“Houses a million dollars plus here. Hardly anything like anything less. So you go to Harvard for fifty thousand a year tuition, end up after four years owing half a million....”
“Five times less.....”
“Well, I don’t know, the whole country’s in trouble, outsourcing, you know, you can’t buy a pair of made-in-America shoes any more, a towel, a tea kettle, air conditioner...the whole country was based on factories...Made in the U.S. of A....”
A very pretty blondie walking by with a little boy in a stroller, strolling , then suddenly this Irisher-looking guy with long hair hair, wearing a baseball cap and white basketball shoes appears on the scene carrying a bag of...bread, no less. He starts taking the bread out, tearing the pieces up and tossing them to the birds. They go crazy and he’s happy.
Then the young mother and her maybe five year old kid wheeling down the sidewalk stops and the kid jumps out of his stroller and starts chasing the birds and they go still crazier, up into the trees and on the roofs, then coming down again as he goes after them again, off they go, he waits, here they come again. It goes on and on, a minute, five minutes....
“Let’s get outta here,” Bob bitches.
“It’s cute,” Bea smiles.
He gets up, grabs her by the hand and practically dragging her along, walks to Harvard Square.
More “You got any change?,”I’m homeless, man..,” right into Au Bonne Pain, this super-fancy restaurant that seems like another planet, grabs a couple of rolls, orders coffees.
They sit down.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
“I’ve never seen anything goofier in my life. Let’s get out of here.”
“I thought you wanted to ‘savor’ the ambience.”
“I’ve savored enough...,” then softened a little, “delicious muffins, gotta give um credit for that.”
“I want some Boston clam chowder.”
“OK,” and he half drinks his coffee, gets a couple of bites of his
cherryish muffin, she puts hers (bran) in her purse, and they go out and find a taxi, he asks where they can find good clam chodder.
The taxi takes them to Copley Square and the driver says, after getting a nice solid tip, “Lemme just let the cab here a few minutes, red lights blinking, maybe I’ll get a ticket, probably not, and I’ll take you into the food court. It’s easy to get confused here.”
“You needn’t,” she starts to say, but the driver, black, strong accent,is already out, waves for them to follow him and in they go, this huge, opulent mall.
“It reminds me of London,” she says, “Or the Santa Monica Mall in Caifornia,” she says.
“Pretty impressive,” Bob agrees, asks the taxi-driver-turned-tourist-guide, “So where are you from?”
“Alors, nous pouvons parlez le Française.../ So we can talk French.”
“Nous pouvons/ we can,” the driver answers, “but I prefer English. Less confusing.”
“Whatever you say...”
Ending up in this huge food court.
“Very nice!” she understates her feeling, wanting to really jump up and down like a kid, screaming “This is great, great, great!”
“Not bad,” Bob cynically agrees, pulling out another five dollar bill and trying to hand it to the driver.
“Too much,” the driver complains, “Beaucoup...je suis tres....tres...j’ai oublié le mot...tres/ Too much, I’m very, very, I’ve forgotten the word...very...conservative, straight-laced, super-conscientious “
“Some English!,” she says, sighting the Boston clam chowder place, Bob offering the driver a couple of bucks.
And with a wave he’s gone and they go over and order clam chowder and decafe coffee, sit down and all they could manage to say, the two of them, was “Yummmmmm, yummmm, yummmmmm.”
“We could come here every night for dinner.”
“We can change our minds. We don’t have to end up in Portland.”
“Don’t have to, but....”
“We can change our minds.”
“For clam chowder?” He pats his belly, “too many calories. Besides, it’s only a mall. There must be malls in Michigan.”
“Nothing like this, I’m sure.”
“You convinced me, now I’m convinced. Don’t forget the Portland faces..the esprit....”
She stops and lets esprit sink in, thinks, thinks, thinks...goes into a few moments of deep all-inclusive meditation, pushes her remaining clam chowder and coffee away from her, gets up.
“Allons nous! Let’s go!”
“How about Aix en Provence....the Auvergne...?” he laughs,
obviously deep-down satisfied with her decision.
And off they go, out into the street where the same cabbie is still waiting for them.
“Sometimes I drive around for hours, you know....”
And they’re off to visit their two grandkids in Cambridge, Alexander a meditative, snorting, big-word-playing-with five, Rebecca a balletic gazelle nymph intellectual at eleven. Their daughter, Maggie, had married a Frenchman who taught French at Harvard....and she taught theoretical physics at MIT. It showed. But no tenure, either of them, their time in Boston-Cambridge very, very limited.....and then....?
“It could use a little work on the floor,” he said the day after they’ve moved into the “new” house.
“I like it just as is. Nineteen centuryish, the windows, the staircases, the chandeliers...a lot of work has been put in it,” looking out the back windows at the backyard and then the river just a little beyond, “the oldest house on the block...”
“Getting too dark too early.”
“We can look foreward to the spring resurrection...imagine the kids here from Boston this summer.”
“We need to put a higher fence in the backyard so they can’t jump into the river.”
“They’re not that dumb.”
“They’re super-geniuses, given! But they get very ‘enthusiastic’ if you know what I mean. Carried away.”
“Cliffs and rivers are always tempting...even for me.”
“Time to eat!”
“We still have to get the beds ready, there’s so much to unpack.”
“TIME TO EAT!”
“That restaurant where we went before?”
Out into the gently cold moving-into-Fall night, all kinds of Halloween stuff up, lights all over the place, huge trees, all the old houses.
“It’s like time-travel.”
“All the churchs!,” she said, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans..all the churchs old and “historical,” that’s what both of them felt, as if the whole walk downtown was a kind of time-travel.
Up ahead an old woman out walking her dog in the last moments of the shortening dusk.
“Not long now,” he laughed, “Halloween...”
“All Souls Day, All Souls, All Saints, then Advent as in Advenir...the coming of our Solstice Savior...,” she smiled back, “you just moved into the old Metzger house, didn’t you”
“That’s the one,” Beatrice smiled back
“I’m Maria Moriarty, mine is the Gothic monster down on the corner.”
“I’m Bob Webb, and this is my wife, Beatrice.”
“So welcome to town, maybe we can have a little Schnapps together some night, get to know each other....”
“Sounds good to me,” says Bob, beaming.
“Enjoy!” adds Beatrice and the woman with the dog answers as softly seductive as possible, “You too,” and off she goes with her Russian wolfhound that seems the most docile, obedient, thankful dog in the world.
Some teen-agers coming by, waving hello, Bob telling them “Enjoy the weather, it won’t be good for long,” one long-haired blonde answering almost defensively, “It’s always good, that’s what my grandma says.”
“She’s right,” says Beatrice, “it’s just like different clothes, food, TV shows,” one hardly-looking skinny guy laughing, “Well said, except for the TV shows,” and off they go down the other side of the hill.
“Like we were family,” says Bob softly.
“Like some little stethl in 1855 in Lithuania.”
“I suppose...I guess we’re all cut out of the same cloth here.”
“Don’t ask me why, but I’m not going to complain...”
Then across the street to Duke’s Cajun Grill no less.
A young black-haired waitress, still in high school, Bob would guess. No, wasn’t she the one who had waited on them earlier in the summer?
“Isn’t that a face I remember?’
Smiling, getting them seated.
“It’s nice to be remembered,” handing them huge, plastic-bound menus, “should I start you out with a little black beer?”
“Like we had last summer?” Beatrice laughed, “I’m amazed you remembered.”
“You’re studying child psychology at MSU, right?” Bob suddenly thinking he remembered
“Cooley Law School, but you’re close!”
“Bring on the beer!” Both of them relaxing into their chairs like they were sitting on a plush sofa, looking at the menu, Bob, as always, pushing to dictate what they were going to eat.
“How about sharing some grilled salmon?”
“Sweet potato fries? And maybe some smashed, garlicked potatoes?”
Telling the waitress when she brought the almost Nubian-colored beer, “We’re going to share the salmon, sweet potato fries, some smashed garlic potatoes...so you might want to bring an extra plate”
“We can’t allow sharing dishes,” she said superseriously, like she was making pronouncements over someone’s grave.
“But, you know....calories....” said Bob, pointing to his somewhat recent belly.
The waitress laughing.
“I was just kidding. And I gotcha!”
“And don’t forget the brownies and icecream. Two separate orders,” laughed Beatrice.
“I can’t allow that either,” the waitress still smiling gorgeously as she slid into the kitchen.
The meal itself totally scrumptious, Bob especially dwelling on the sweet potato fries, “I’m tempted to get more.”
“Ça sufit! That’s enough. You know....calories,” Beatrice cautioned him, Mr. Bigger-and-Bigger Belly. She never let him forget that.
So he dug into the smashed potatoes.
“I wouldn’t mind a second order to these too.”
“Half-and-halfing isn’t easy, is it?”
The salmon perfect. She halved it, only not quite perfectly, gave him just a few more millimeters of it. Both of them smiling, the whole ambience of the place UP, the world out there that was falling down to its knees, totally anihilated for them here.
“It’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist!” she said when the dessert came nd they dug into the chocolate.
“I feel like I’m in Paris too....”
Going slowly through the brownies and icecream all tumbled together, as if they never wanted to finish it, but eventually sadly did.
Left a huge tip and the waitress thanked them with enormous graciousness, tears in her eyes.
“I’m just starting Cooley Law School next term and everything
HUGH FOX 16.
helps...you’re like family, really,” giving them both a little hug as they went out into the dark . Although everything was all lit up holidayishly, a guy on the corner just standing there.
“Look, one of those ‘Gimme some change’ guys,” said Bob, starting to go across the street in mid-block in order to avoid him, Beatrice pulling him back.
“That’s almost a highway...besides, give him some money, beggars are just the beginning...”
Bob tries to give the guy five bucks, but he refuses them, smiles.
“Man on this earth, read the bible, the bibles, all it’s ever been is Tribe A against Tribe B, Language Z against Language B, control this, control that, while the rains rain and the droughts drought, the lilacs and the grapes come, how about some parsnips and guava, chirimoyas and pecans, wind, sun, stars...not TO BE or NOT to be, but just BE...be a BEE...,” turning and walking away, across the bridge, turning right out toward where the hills rose above the deep, deep valleys, limping a little, white hair and beard in the moonlight....then across another bridge into the forest.
She reached up and almost timidly pulled Bob down to her, “I always said you were too tall for the likes of me...,” kissing him tenderly, unpassionately, more like a mom kissing her baby goodnight, then hand in hand walking home.
“I wonder who that guy was. He was to unreal,” he said.
“I’ve lost track,” she smiled, “are we really here,”
looking around at the fingerish tree limbs in the streelight light,
the old houses, a few lights on here and there inside, once in a
while a rare car, a bat just beyond the streetlights, there for a
moment in front of the moon emerging from clouds, wondering what
came next, and then deciding she didn’t want to know, the trenchant,
impressionistic Lili Boulanger moment...ça sufit.....
It was only mid-February, but it was one of those days, you know, temp up to forty-five and the birds and squirrels knew it, bustle-tree, sky-fill day, and knotty little aging Clarissa kind of beggingly crouched after their chicken-wrap with sweet German mustard lunch and a little siesta, “Let’s take a little, you know....ride...the backroads are all cleaned off, melted, salted, you know....Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten das Ich so traurig bin/I don’t know why I’m so sad....”
“You’ll be an aging tomato sixty-one in two weeks!” her wearily wizened eightyish husband smiled back at her, started pulling on his sweaters and coats, Mr. Tweed, like he always used to say, “If I’m not 1835 no one is...”
Out into their old black Buick, with her smiling and all, in the bright sun whose power was stupendously multiplied by the everywhere-snow, for a moment looking very weisswurstily /white-sausagely young, overjoyed to get away from the Sunday afternoon TV and phone-gibberish with their kiddies in Boston, L.A., Tokyo, “Why don’t they just live here, here, here?,” she always croaked, especially on Sunday afternoons, missing little Roberta, big-shot teen-gonna-be-a-lawyer-like her, Heinrich, Sammy Piano and Les Legs balletic Emily and all the rest of the kiddies and their parents too, never quite getting used to her and Fred’s kids actually growing up, up, up and not staying close, close, close.....Why, at least, didn’t their live in Frankenmuth Michigan-Bavaria instead of in the farmlands west of Lansing, both of them lawyers working for the State of Michigan, a good enough reason, she guessed, but.....she loved Boston, L.A., even Tokyo, where the kids and their kids lived, but.....
“How about Hart Road? Diamondale?”
“Fine with me. Just to get out a little. I get so tired of The Big Screen.”
“Screen! Same thing!”
And off they went, the local town-roads horrible, full of killer-holes, but once they got into the country-country it was miraculously clean, cleared, just a little snow-blow off the cornfields, but easy to slow down and pass right through it with 96.5% safety. Her head always turning everything into numbers, unemployment, murders, tax increases, houses foreclosed, stimulus package money going into bankers’ pockets......
“The sun, the sun....look at that....”
“Look! I can’t believe it!”
Seven deer out on the hills eating grass that had been uncovered by the snow-melt.
“All that stuff about reducing the deer population!”
“Let um BE!”
“The bees’ll be here soon enough....”
“It’s just like Bohemia, Bavaria, parts of England....you remember, in the south.....”
“I’ll be honest with you,” slowing down, no cars behind or in front of them, some farm houses close to the road that looked like they’d been deserted for a hundred years, “I would have loved, would still love to be Lord Buchanan in Devonshire, Corinthian columns and an Art Institute in Chicago stairway leading up to the second floor and my /our bedroom....”
“We could never sleep in the same bedroom. My snoring, and your getting up ten times a night...all that water-retention since your radiation....”
Him reaching down and turning on the radio. Ça sufit. You don’t talk about death-slopes, just survival summits. WKAR. For a moment not recognizing the music, and then his inner voices speaking, “Debussy’s String Quartet Number One in G. Minor, Opus 10,” and he said it outloud, “Debussy’s String Quartet Number One in G. Minor, Opus Ten, last movement, ‘Trés Moderé...”
A few more beautiful moments and then fini, the announcer annoucing just what he’d said it was.
“I never get unamazed with you. How can you.....?”
“That’s the way I was raised. While everyone else was out playing baseball and basketball and football, there I was with my violin and my concert tickets,records, radio....Hart Road. Here it is!”
“Great. I love this road!”
West now. The sun so far south still, in the summer actually getting northwest.
The road lined with all sorts of beautiful houses way off the road, curved entrance roads, lagoons, little rivers, some Tudor mansions, lots of Frank Lloyd Wrightish big square specialties, some old ranch houses, even now and then a farm house with a barn....
“Imagine how it must have been in 1860 out here. No super markets. Dirt roads. Horses and carriages. No TV, no radio, no electricity, no gas heat, just fireplaces, no refrigerators, no purified water, no pipes...”
“Oh, they had pipes...I suppose....”
“All of a sudden a picture just came into my head. Me and my long dress and bonnet and my girlfriends, perhaps my boyfriend, Lord Lancaster...or take the ‘Lord’ away, Sam Lancaster, the guy who ran the town of Diamondale and had a factory that made carriages and built fireplaces....”
“As if I’m...”
“Well...you are...especially since you retired.....”
More and more hills, another Frank Lloyd Wrightish house now and then, or Alden Dowish, Henry VIII-ish, ancient Corinthian columnish, or, perhaps best of all, a solid concrete block ranch house with an elevated, peaked roof that dismissed the snow as if it didn’t exist, a huge out-back porch, in-the-back window-/sit-room.....
Imagining how it would be in a couple more sprouting, rebirth months, then full summer, then the glorious multicolored magic of Fall before it all fell.
Finally getting to the end of Hart Road, reaching Creyts Road.
“Mmmmmmm,” she moaned, “I wished /wish it would never end....”
Turning down Creyts toward Diamondale.
“I’ve got an idea, let’s call Sam Gunderson, my old
boss. A widower now. Retired. Mid-80’s....no kids or grandkids.....”
Shrugging his shoulders, pulling out his cellphone and dialling 517-555-1212, “Diamondale, Michigan, Sam Gunderson....,” and , bang, the phone started ringing. 5 rings. And on the sixth.
“Hello, who is this?”
“You don’t have caller-ID?”
“This is Harry, you know, Harry Harcroft....how about meeting us for coffee someplace in town....?”
“Nothin’ open on Sunday. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. We’d have to go to Mason or something...twenty minute ride....why don’t you just come over here. 8943 View Street, just off of Cretys Road. Where are you now?”
“Come south...you can’t miss it. A big sign, Oldsters Haven, lots of rocks, and there’s usually some oldsters walkin’ around with canes.....”
“View of what?”
“Keep your eyes open!” he told Clarissa.
“I usually do, except when I’m looking at you.....”
Ha, ha, ha, ha, but he didn’t laugh. Her always talking about Bavariaing back to sanity. Still a couple of brothers, one sister, loads of cousins and grand-cousins left just waiting to dumpling her back into sanity.
But almost primitive here too.
He liked it more-more-more in summer, but on a winter day like this with bright announcing-that-spring-is-about-to-jump-you sun, it was like reborn eyes, every little fragment of grass that was left there in its about-to-rebound splendour, the trees whispering “Soon, soon, soon/ bald, bald, bald,” new houses along the route but lots of antique farmhouses too, some even built out of local boulders/stones, like the first time she’d ever seen them, although they’d been touristing around out here and everywhere else for the last forty years, ever since he first met her in Vienna during a DAS LIED VON DER ERDE concert and had exchanged names and addresses. Her downfall....or upfall? She wasn’t ever really sure, sure, sure.....
Just few minutes down the road and she saw it: OLDSTERS HAVEN. Just like he’d said, a huge sign surrounded by Michigander boulders, remembering the books she’d read when she’d first gotten here, all about the ancient eskers, everything covered with mountains of snow, then rivers carrying boulders, before Man was even thought about.....
“There it is!”
A quick, almost-scarey swerve and down the street to the end, a turn, eins, zwei, drei, a few houses down and they were there.....
Beautiful hill-street, and between the houses she could see, what, a huge river, huger than usual what with all the snowfalls and meltdowns they’d been experiencing as Spring started to spring up and wave Her immortal arms. What she would have loved to do was to time-travel back, back, back to essential times, like all those novels she’d been reading for the last few years, Portrait of a Lady, Sense and Sensibility, Far From the Madding Crowd, back to ME IN A LET’S DO IT CONTEXT, THE MAN, THE HOUSE, THE LAWNS, THE TREES, MOUNTAINS, THE LOVE....kind of like the way she was with Harry, but TV-less, pre-capitalist, just The Land, the Lords, the Peasants, and let the rain rain, the snow snow, life come, death come....not always pretending there were bailouts for economic structures that were (free-trade) inherently blah-blah......
“There it is.”
An old stone-house with a big front porch, one of the older houses on the street.
“You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”
“Once....centuries back....Christmasy something, but....”
“You can hardly remember your own name these days.”
“Let’s not cemetery the day again, OK?”
Getting out. Not zipping up her coat. Just a few seconds of contact with Father Winter. Father Winter. Mother Summer. That’s the way she really saw it, wasn’t it? Almost laughing at what an effort Harry had to make to get out of the car at all, wanted to say “You ought to stick a spring up your you-know-what, just spring out of the car,” but he didn’t appreciate any references to decadence, decline, Request in Paces.....
Pace. Peace. Not Piece but PEACE.....
Up the old stone stairs, he rang the bell. An old clanger bell, the kind she hated. She liked a bell that played Debussy’s “The Maid with the Flaxen Hair.” Loved Debussy even more than Harry did. All the freshness.....wishing there was a post-mortem paradise up there somewhere where they could sit and listen to celestial pianos all day and night, no need to sleep, n’est pas....spirits don’t need rejuvenation.
One ring, two, three, and on the fourth the door opened and there he was.
“Hey, you guys!! Great to have an unexpected visit.”All bent over, a cane in his right hand, as pale as vanilla frosting on a deathday...oops, birthday....cake. Thick glasses, but still squinting like his life depended on it. Maybe it did, “Come on in...”
No lights on. OK. The sun did it.
Leading them down a dark corridor into the living room that looked out on the river.
“What a view. What is it that I love so much about rivers?”
“Escape route!” laughed Sam as he directed them to an old leather sofa and as they sat down, “How about a little plum wine? Japanese, of course.....”
“Of course! You spent a lot of time in Japan, right?”
And as he walked into the dining room and got the wine out of an old, antiquish wood cupboard, suddenly she saw what was everywhere around her. Buddhas. On multi-level tables, on room dividers, hanging from the ceiling, from the walls. And all the way down the halls, little thing-holders hanging on the walls full of statues, pots......
“Wow! Buddha all over....but there are some things I don’t....”
Forgetting about the wine for a moment, coming in and picking a huge stone footprint off the stand in front of them.
“Fifth century to first century BCE, an aniconic phase Buddha footPRINT!”
“Before the Common Era....and aniconic....non-representational....no idol-worship....”
Harry laughing. He never gutteral-gut laughed, but....
“You sound like a Buddha professor!”
“Well.....,” putting the stone footprint back in its place, going back and pouring the wine, handing them the delicate, obviously antique glasses.
“And the glasses?”
Sipping on the wine. She’d never tasted anything so temptingly habit-forming, the words Früstück, Mittagessen and Abbendessen , Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner popping automatically into her head, immer, immer, immer...always, always, always...non-stop.
“This is dangerous stuff. Toooooooo good!”
“My arteries love it!” laughed Sam.
“But how did you get such a collection? How many pieces do you have altogether? And their antiquity.....?” Harry always interested in museumish anything, always seeking out the most antique possible in any museum (Prague, New York, Lima, Paris, London, Chicago) he’d ever been in, an archaeologist somewhere inside him who had never been given a chance to be born.
“The armed forces! Something I don’t talk much about...but when I was younger I served for years in the orient, eastern Europe....,” taking his own glass of wine and sitting down in the chair facing them, lowering his voice, as if he didn’t want the Aerial Powers to hear him, “Buddhism hasn’t just always ‘interested’ me, but has been the basis of my survival, the Silk road breathing-exercises,” slouching down on the floor with difficulty, Harry almost getting up to help him, but deciding he knew what he was doing, must be doing it all the time, “breathe in, breathe out, throw a bucket of water over you and go out into the snow and start vaporizing so you look like a tea kettle, slide into night-sense, day-sense....we are here to breathe, breathe, breathe, unconcentrate-concentrate, BE, undogmatic ourselves, no burnOUT but burnIN....too bad Molly didn’t play the game, always ridiculed me and Buddhism, from Xinijang to Silla, Goguryeo to Kamakura. She’s been gone for three years now....,” reaching behind a Buddha statue and getting a little framed photo, handing it to them, “This is from fifty years back. Not a bad Bob Hope-Dorothy Lamour pair-up, huh?”
Clarissa’s eyes tearing up, not wanting to, but.....
Harry putting his glass out, Clarissa and Sam touching theirs to his.
Three lach heims......
Clarissa’s head suddenly filling with all her long lost family, her mother and aunts, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandma-ma.....grossmutter, although she wasn’t gross at all, but the essence of lilies and watercress, wishing she’d ascend into some sort of water-world Bavarian heaven of long dresses and tresses and all wishes fulfilled without even wishing them.
“And your children?”
“We never had any. Medical problems. Who knows, maybe the same medical problems that.....,” getting up and looking out at the winter-wind river, “It’s true, I miss working....Church on Sundays...not much else....it’s so nice to have your visit.....”
Clarissa drinking the wine and instantly feeling its effects, like a reverse-time machine, feeling her legs slim and doe-ish again, her face as flawless as new-fallen snow.
“We should get together more often!”
“Should! Sometimes I feel I ought to go back to Thailand. Wat Phra Sri Ratanamahatat Phitsanulok...really something to see, the gold Buddha-statue, the columns, lights, ceilings.....it makes the Vatican look modest...”
Classisa getting up and standing next to Sam, if Harry got jealous let him get what he got.....she was buddhistically behond that herself, wanting to learn from Sam, learn how to overcome her selfness and move into an anotherness that would last Sru Lankaishly forever.....ewigkeit...eternity...time just an introduction to beginning.....
“Let me show you something!,” Sam putting down his glass, opening up his shirt, pulling it open, pulling up his underwear top. A huge cross-shaped scar all across his chest.
“Heart surgery! As you can see....recently...”The scar still eerily red around the edges. “They say they got it all, but.....”
As Harry’s cell-phone rang as if just given the go-ahead. Zingady zing, zing, zing....him reaching into the deep-down top front pocket of his Harris tweed suitcoat, struggling to get it out, then opening it up.
“Hello!.....where.....today.....OK....we’ll be there as soon as....pronto....”Hanging up, all worsened by the call, as if he’d just undergone surgery himself. “My God, I didn’t check my calender this morning. Marcella’s waiting for us at the Red Lobster in East Lansing, with Carmen and Mason, his eighty-fourth birthday....I totally forgot it....”
“Ooooooooh,” Sam lurching down the last drops of his wine, pouring some more, “That’s too quick....,” the thousand Buddhas in the house hmmmmmming a wordless WAIT, BEYOND-TIME, RELEASE THE INNER YOU, DON’T HEAR BEEPS OR CREEPS, “I was just thinking of Khao Pod, Kho Soi, Gai Pod Grapao....lots of frozen food just waiting to be....”
Tears in his eyes, leaning heavily, heavily, heavily on his cane.
As Clarissa gave him a hug lasting just a little longer than it should have, and Sam the same. Sam’s first wife’s husband’s birthday, their computer-whiz daughter from Ann Arbor. For Clarissa all of it seeming so remote and distant.“Wiedersehen....” Wanting to stay here, to river it here, flood it, snow it, spring it, wishing that people lived ten thousand years, ten thousand years of beer and purple kraut.
One last stop and turn around, Sam still in the doorway, screaming “Come back soon!”
Define soon...bald....breathing deeply as they got in the car, the sun still out, obliquely defining the world around them, as if this were her first day with new eyes, Sam inside, wishing the house itself would wave a (final) goodbye.
Copyright © Hugh Fox 2010