Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino
(beauty or anarchy)
a short novel
Methinks it strange enough to loathe for it be not my wont: To rise from beside the sleeping Linda, to gather my possessions—so far I retrieve a scarf from her steamer chest—and find myself, in not one hour’s time, beside the calmly awakening Lydia.
Did I still wear Linda’s perfume?
If I did, it mattered not. For Lydia’s subtle address is farseeing.
We made love immediately.
Unto my rousal came a damp, chilly wind. Minute drops of rain—dampened Lydia’s curtain—were brought to touch my face and shoulder.
I turn to Lydia.... She lay sleeping.
I rose to lower the window....
A graduate, Lydia sought secondary degrees in metaphysics. I, having yet to receive the first, notwithstandingly completed the undergraduate and was permitted graduate instruction.
I paid Lydia nothing save the glance one lends a woman passing to or from his chair....
Midterm, Lydia passes a message:
Bored? It read.
Categorically, I returned.
After class, we walked....
“These insipid fellows...” she began. “They are not philosophers, but careerists. You’re brighter than they. You can best them all in a dialectic. You ought to speak more frequently....”
I thanked her.
“Often,” she continued, “I find myself preferring your thought over theirs....”
I thanked her. We parted....
Into evening, I found myself conversing with an imaginary Lydia.... Exchanging bons mots.
Bold and characteristic Lydia.
A constant guard for her—a fox I moved class to class, expecting Lydia. A pattern, her routine, but weekly it seemed did our schedules cross.
After class, we spoke of politics....
“Converge...” she began. “Forces do—they must or be dispersed. Politics! Dictatorships! Religious authoritarians! Fanaticals! Torture! Wherever the torturing of human beings occurs...nauseating! What solution? Angels of God coupled with Uzi submachine guns?”
It was Lydia’s manner of launching her words...catapulting finality.
I withheld interlocution....
She offers an address, an occasion to speak at length. I took it.
Forecasted freezing snow. Icy streets.
I, dressed for utmost comfort.
There is Lydia: besweatered in black, black pleated woolen skirt, and stockings...awaits before a tenement stoop.
I follow into bookish quarters....
She takes my coat. Tea is waiting. But first a toast with brandy....
“Friendship!” saluted she.
“To friendship, then....”
To folding chairs.
I told of a professor whose instruction, one afternoon, was muddled by his lacking sobriety....
“One cannot speak,” I moralized, “philosophy und psychoanalysis whilst drunk.”
“Am I?” letting brandy to my lips.
“So tell me: Why’ve you chosen philosophy?”
“Alas, are days my time be better pent, methinks, accruing wages.”
“It came naturally—”
“The philosophy. I studied music. Lieder. Then Romantic literature. I was led by the verses of Goethe and Heine to Romantic philosophy. This proved an appeasing influence upon my temperament. I began to view philosophy as yet another literature...a rather poetic literature, too.... Schopenhauer. Nietzsche.... Descartes—now there, his Meditations! Truly a poetic masterpiece!”
“I admit I’ve never read it as such. My tendency has been to concentrate upon the concepts.”
“Indeed,” I continued. “What of the trouble Monsieur Descartes with his most convincing style—”
“And therefore,” she enthused, “the problems begun by the father of Modern philosophy are to be resolved—”
“But in a sense only!” I claimed, amused by her quick logic.
“By analysis of his prose style....”
“Yes. That double I. And by analysis of his terminology. And by analysis of his sense of value and interpretation....”
We shared an easy smile. A moment of communion moved between us. The unexpected occurred: How awkward my speech ’til that evening...I arrived expecting to sit most docile a creature whilst she spoke and impressed me no end...but it was I, began to speak and impress no end! An ease, a comfortableness issued forth of her presence...she unlocked my character, engaged my mind as no woman ever could, or attempted, before.... I spoke on, most philosophical.... This one listening, repeating, contributing. What an audience, this Lydia...smiling, clapping, thoroughly entertained!
When, nearing midnight, as I rose to depart, lifting my coat I uncovered a rare recording and mentioned my esteem for the composer, Lydia, with enthusiasm yet unwaning, removed the disc from its box and set it spinning. In voice at once imploring and susceptible, she requested my remain to learn which movement she regarded most....
“Yes,” I said. “Of course. It is my favorite, too.”
And next I knew we held and kissed and soon...side by side we lay. New lovers.
Waking together, our eyes met with morning. A shaft of sunlight infiltrated our peace via seams in her curtain. Together we espied the motes an unbroken dance in the sunbeam.
Prior plans abandoned, we found that weekend ours. We bathed...and guessed each other’s horoscope and fortune.
How dissimilar, our pasts: she, a country life, and I a city one since birth. Lydia spoke no foreign language. I teased her with German, and French and Italian phrases....
We conversed. We loved.
“Still, there remains the initial consideration,” she began after a time, referring us again to our prior concern....
Increased in admiring her inquisitiveness, I withheld interlocution...inciting solo inquiry....
“There remains the initial thoughts...” once again, “initial doubts, uncertainties...the curiosity motivating someone to philosophize,” came her restatement, except that unbeatable manner was diminished...her voice modified with impatience....
“Well, yes,” I replied, “there is that initial and utterly human curiosity.... Language, or more explicitly the act of composing a question—which in itself is a philosophical activity—is the imposition of intellectual or logical architecture...a framework of sorts...on that rather unprecise and fluctuating curiosity. Language is the articulation of such...and as such.... Now this curiosity—generally speaking, the desire to investigate, to gratify with knowledge or information—is made palpable, palatable, or manifest, by the act of transforming it into a question or linguistic entity...albeit one whose genealogy begins at desire.... Now,” I continued in decisive tones, “we have a question...and ipso facto are once removed from reality.... One form of life—the question or linguistic entity—representing, surrogating, another.... That other being desire....”
“Are you somehow saying that philosophy is anti-life?”
“Not exactly.... Rather would I say it is a retreat from life.... A sort of bracketing of life....”
“Well then.... Is Descartes’ Meditations a work of art...is it poetry or philosophy? And if it is a work of art, then what’s the difference between poetry and philosophy?”
“Both art and philosophy are alternative forms of life. And both are reflections of man’s estimation of himself. Or else: Consider Poe’s Eureka, is it a metaphysical treatise, or is it but a poem in prose? Consider Lucretius, On Nature, is it a treatise on Epicurean physics and ethics, or is it poetry? I think what matters in the long run are the ends to which the work is put.... Consider the political efficaciousness of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault...and Thomas Szasz.... Consider Karl Marx.... Consider the Sermon on the Mount, is it a speech on religious instruction...is it a political manifesto...is it a poem? Both art and philosophy are reflections of man’s estimation of himself.... That is indisputable. Then again, in all philosophies there is an element of wishful thinking....”
Her eyes were lowered. Had I, somehow, with my taut impromptu lecture, been abusive? Her fecundity had fled. I had hit a vulnerability....
We had ’til then divulged so little of ourselves....
“Lydia,” I began, somewhat awkwardly pressing my palm to my heart, “I ought to tell you now...I’m involved with someone else....”
And indeed, prior to Lydia’s touch I had believed myself to be in love.... But she had made illusion of all that.
“And she’s a student at our school,” I continued. “But I know that I want you, now,” I told. “I know that with you—”
“And with you...I too know something special,” she told taking my palm in her hand.
“But I must not hurt this other,” I told.
“You could have left last night,” she told. “You had your coat on...you were about to leave.... Why didn’t you?”
“You know I couldn’t leave....”
“And I did not wish for you to leave....”
“This other I’ve been seeing, she studies pharmacology. Right now she’s at home with her parents. I’m supposed to be with her tomorrow evening.... But I don’t want to. I want to be with you. I feel so wonderful with you. Do you feel it? Tell me what you’re feeling....”
“Yes.... I will....”
And she kissed my palm....
“I know what’s happened,” she began. “Listen, and I’ll tell you.... I’ve come across it so often in my readings...and I’ve always been in wonder by its legends.... It’s so rare...and so often talked about...but in its genuine form so rare.... You and I, together, are special,” she told. “It’s called affinity. It’s an affinity, the attraction we share....”
She paused to wipe her lips...there was rouge on her napkin. That characteristic manner was returned in full expression....
“Plato contains a recountal,” she continued, “wherein Socrates hears telling of a theory by which lovers are in search of their complementary others—”
“Yes. The Symposium.”
“Correct. And you know of Paracelsus’ use of the principle of like to like, which is a doctrine derived in part from the alchemical identification of planetary spheres with metals.... The belief in an affinity existing between a certain metal and a certain planet, for example iron shares an affinity with Mars.... Well it came to be theorized that affinities exist within human beings as part of our general constitutions, and these affinities connect us, in an essential way, to the cosmos. In each one of us our affinities are distinct. They are distinct in two ways: such as how our fingerprints are distinct, and then, but most importantly, they are distinct in the manner by which they correspond to the cosmos. If you could literally see my affinities, you would recognize a cosmic pattern that is Lydia in connection to the cosmos.... Each one of us is thus equipped to complement—that is, to make complete, in a sense—a corresponding pattern of affinities existing within another human being.... This accounts for the feeling we share.... The odds were astronomical—and against us!—that we should ever have known each other.”
“I want to be with you always, now. I want to learn and grow beside you.... But again, I must not hurt this other girl. She has been kind and generous to me, and while I now understand that I have never been in love with her...still.... We have experienced so much together...we have always been there to console and encourage each other.... I am her only intimate friend...indeed I am her only friend.... She is solitary and delicate. And she is troubled, emotionally. She has come to depend upon my promise....”
“Do you have any classes together?”
“No. None.... In fact lately we’ve both been so busy preparing for exams tomorrow evening would be our first get-together in weeks.... I have to be there.... You understand? I have to....”
“You know where I’ll be....”
“I’ll be waiting for you....”
“And I’ll be wanting you....”
Exams passed with little affect. For so compressed was I...to see Lydia, she for whom I be alive! No exam, no duty dare dilute my fervor.... So charged, finely tuned was I body and mind. Acute: my virtues...my powers of apprehension.... I would seize upon all puzzle of logic, therapeutically scanning my text—and not without a certain indignation for where once I was given to pause.... Acute too, my associative virtues. For while the idea of Lydia so filled my time so too did the ideas of philosophy come together, meld, and synthesize for me into new and advantageous comprehensions.... And yet, alas, my reader...you for whom I leave this text...an utmost quandary was born.... For a qualitatively greater apprehension admits a greater cross withal its greater joy....
Christmas week. And all about us—what seems to hover, as though hesitant, sparkling diamond point, trailing varied color as they catch the light...the immaculate symmetry of snowflakes.... The city thus caught withdrew, and in its place...a town.... Taxi’s whir was wrapped, its tracks vanishing wakes....
A theory, recorded long before, how certain snow, lighting, makes friction in the air...and warmth....
“A child’s theory,” she esteemed. “But is it so?”
“Does not this night’s air welcome us our open coats? Yet see, what’s in our hair stays its perfect crystal.”
“I want to see this city halted under snow!”
“The sound of chains on snowplows....”
We shared flavored brandy via flask. Her warm, sweet and supple lips....
“The snow is ending,” she said, turning from my arms and walking into the street.... “And now the sky will clear and open up, and maybe...we’ll see stars. Stars make a miracle of snow....”
“I do not know too many stars,” I said, coming to her side. “Skyscrapers.... Skyscrapers.... And scattered light....”
“I want to show you stars.... I want to teach you how to trace the constellations.... You’ll see.... I’ll give you stars....”
She took my hands and held me close....
“That’ll be my gift for you....”
Morning had Lydia northwards for the Berkshires, to her home for Christmas gathering. I too would return home for the holiday....
I arrived late afternoon. No one was home. I was resting in the kitchen, listening for that old-house timbre, creaks and knocks, settling in...a twittering, it might be on the fritz, the freezer’s motor kicking in.... In an alcove of the kitchen stands a cedar hutch, here mother stores her preserves. This fruit, so brown and often tart.... Though mother would distribute fair amounts of her fruit, hers could not compare with our neighbors’...theirs being soft, sweet candy, hers always stubbornly chewy and tart.... She has never won awards for her preserves. One summer she decreed to let the squirrels have the fruit...to hell with the awards.... And here’s her favorite photograph, it is brother in his football uniform. And here’s her antique piggy bank, it is filled with Indian-head pennies. Here are her cookbooks. And here are her books. The Country Wife. The Colossus. The Outermost House. A folded, years-old Audubon datebook...each turn presents anew a goose or common loon, a shoveler duck, a ruddy duck....
Trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves....
I made for my room. I prepared a chore of laundry. I drew the covers to my chin....
I must have slept, for next I knew was mother there talking me awake....
What time did you get in? Did you eat? Did your brother call? What time is Linda coming?
“What’s up with the freezer...making strange noises?”
“Oh, that.... Your father thinks my parakeet’s returned.”
“Chuckles has returned to haunt the freezer?”
“I guess it’s on the fritz. What time is Linda coming?”
She’s gathering my laundry to her chest....
“I was gonna do that....”
“You can put them in the dryer. Did you shower?”
“Is it snowing?”
She sent a postcard. Der Seefahrer. Mother left it on my desk. Postdated the third, come at four to this address, it began. Possibly good lecture we’ll attend and miss you much, it closed.
I conjectured the address her employment place. Though but once was it mentioned and at that a passing slight, Lydia told herself a governess of sort. I thought, how little is surely known of her.... It was I who waxed autographical, and at this she heard attentively...nodding asmile for some description or fact as recognizing points in common, points of affinity, she told.... These points regarded taste, aesthetic sensibility—though not as pertains to food and dress but to beauty and psychology....
City bound, aboard the train, I read again her postcard. I made a bookmark of it.
Fit and starting, rocking car...the forms of houses, stores and trees as passed were hypnotizing. Was ceased long fore to midtown, a dry, swift flurry.
Twenty of four as at First at Forty-one aboard a bus for uptown, I.
Weather-ridden townhouse. Wrought steel knocker to slam. Meed enough, Lydia’s greeting....
“Of course I’d come,” I said.
“I missed your smell,” says she hiding her face inside my coat.... “Your nose is cold. I like it.... Look! For us!”
She revealed a bottle of champagne.
I followed a long corridor, down stairs to where her chore was yet unfinished....
“I just have to pull from the dryer,” she said. “But first...a toast! To us!”
She kneeled before the dryer. I kneeled at her side....
“These are their clothes?”
“Yep. These are their clothes all right....”
“We may find this city halted under snow, tonight....”
“And the lecture’s in The Bronx.... The Rose Hill campus....”
“They sure have a lot of underwear.”
“Don’t they? It makes me sick....”
“So what’s he like...the man of this house?”
She raised her head, thinking through a wry expression....
“He’s a boy.... A big boy. Emotionally he’s exactly where you’d expect a banker’s lawyer to be. Damn lacking the slightest trace of empathy. Like a landlord.... See these?”
She held up a pair of white boxers....
“Not the slightest trace of a stain. First trace of a stain and he trashes them.... But see these?”
And now she held a pair of cotton panties....
“See the holes?”
Indeed, they may very well be replaced, I thought.
“Himself,” she continued, “he likes spotless.... But he likes these...” and she held the garment so, tilting it so, “he likes these on his wife. For with these upon her hips she appears to him to be whorish...low.... That’s his idea of female sexuality. For in that normal little psychology of his, sex is dirty...unforgivable.... Just look at all this underwear!”
Then occurred another voice, behind us. At once I thought it the woman of the house.
“I’m Lydia’s roommate.”
She reached her hand for mine. She had gathered to her chest her laundry, which she next placed atop the washer....
“Sifting through their laundry?” she observed. “Telling factors, therein that laundry pile.... I myself prefer a well-worn bra and pantie, but this...” as she reached for her pile, at which point Lydia intervened, chose a garment from that for her and brought it to her hand, “but this...” as she spun the garment round, “this pertains I assure you to my poverty, and not my psychosexual disposition....”
She turned her eyes toward Lydia....
“Whereas Lydia, here...” she continued, and at this my Lydia smiled, “of course forgoes the expenditure entirely.”
And with this the garment, still spinning ’round, was propelled back onto the pile. Whereupon my Lydia rose and unbuttoned her chinos, extolling her broad blond pubis.
We then made for the lengths of three dark stair, the last of which was spiral and uncurled unto a narrow corridor.... Upon some scattered rugs we convened....
The roommate asked if I had ever believed in ghosts.... I suggested Turn of the Screw.
“That’s not what I want to know,” she persisted.
“But I don’t study the occult.”
“Well...then I could be a ghost.... And you wouldn’t know from Adam!”
It was then did I notice her pallor...only not a pallor as such, but her face bepattered with actor’s makeup!
“Granted you are enigma,” I told. “All beauty’s enigma to me.... You are an actor?”
“Artiste!” she told. “I do not act. I simply am.”
“Well I can appreciate that. Artaud?”
“Artaud.... Lydia says you’re a poet.”
“Recite like you do for me,” bid Lydia. “Brief ones, at least....”
“New moon, learn the hearted sky. Stars—eyes of God—too seek vision of Heaven.”
And now the roommate sang my verse, but with expression such as I could not achieve. In response I uttered...not a word...for I knew no word to relate my impression, but a sound...a tone of voice....
“You’ve another...” she posed. “Will you let me in on it?”
How susceptible I fell. I had no choice....
“How might a wish unuttered its author receive? Methinks in certain ways. Inwardly expressed, all is kept unfore. I close my lips and utter a boldest vocable.”
Again she sang my verse—with expression such as I could not achieve!
Lydia was reclining, her arms around my waist. The roommate came close and gave a kiss upon my lips.... She sipped of my champagne. Then she was gone...and returned with a clay pipe.
Is your mouth dry.... Yes...it’s the air.... What’s up with the air in here.... It tastes like a museum.... Only in this museum the fixtures eat.... The stuff of which the decor about us was built seemed of age one hundred years.... This campus dates back to 1841...it’s said the ghost of Poe haunts the library...early in 1849 he had a vision there...Virginia came to him and she forgave him...he then began the process of converting to Catholicism...right at that church out there through that courtyard...but he abandoned the idea.... We shouldn’t be here.... That is exactly why we are.... These are Jesuits.... It’s just the air...I think it’s rarefied or something.... I need water.... Relax...they’ll think we’re someone’s relatives...you know I read somewhere how priests used to be mystics.... A company of elder Jesuits appeared and took their places at the dais.... Someone’s getting an award.... Commemoration...then someone will expound a metaphysics.... My God.... Hush...what’s up.... I don’t believe who’s here...I swear it’s downright tribal.... Will you lower your voice...where.... Wait...he’s coming toward us...don’t turn...he’s seating himself some rows behind us.... Oh boy you’re really doing it...who is he.... He saw me...he looked right at me and didn’t even smile...or flinch...he ignored me.... Lower your voice.... It’s that instructor I told you about...the one who’s always drunk...the one who needs a beer before class.... She pretended adjusting her coat so as to notice him.... He looks more like a goatherd than a philosopher.... But what guile his disguise.... Let’s sit with him...he’s all alone.... No way...the man can’t stand me.... Well you’re very assertive and you always know the work...you’re a prodigy...and he’s just making a living.... He’s drunk...take a closer look.... Herder’s Kant he’s not.....
City bound, aboard the train...I read again her postcard. The ride, rather disquieting it was.... My belly, growling so.... I sat staring for the window opposite. Up to the moment when her reflection became apparent, I sat as though alone....
“I think I understand the Father’s metaphysics,” she began, at last. “It is moralistic, finally.... No?”
“Moralistic edification. But is that not his calling?”
“The moral interpretation....”
“The ordering of a seemingly disordered and tyrannical nature.... Yet is it not in itself a tyranny...a tyranny against nature? A tyranny inflicted on this indomitable nature?”
“What is it nature thirsts after?”
“Dominance. Influence. Power.”
She reached forward to a seat opposite and took up a discarded newspaper....
CONTINENTAL ALLIANCE SOUGHT
AMERICAN COMMONWEALTH INEVITABLE?
Converge...forces do, I thought.
“You see,” she began with gloved finger to the headline, “forces converge—if only to draw new strength from one another....”
“Mexico is ravaged,” I said. “Mexico. Cuba. Panama. Southern California.”
I sat, car sick, staring through the window opposite. The silhouettes of houses, stores and trees as passed were hypnotizing.... She loosened my scarf and held me close.
“We’ll get you something to eat,” she whispered.
I closed my eyes....
Extant a germ of tension, to that tenement, we.... Lydia’s hands, a fumbling with the key....
“It’s empty!” I remarked. “The place is empty.... Where’s all your stuff?”
“All that stuff wasn’t mine,” she said, now making way for the kitchen.
I noticed a mattress—the mattress—remained.
“The freezer’s empty,” she said. “I’ll go out for some Chinese. I’ll explain when I get back....”
“At least it’s warm. What’s up?”
“I’ll explain when I get back. Don’t answer the phone.”
The place seemed to have been vacated. But sure enough there remained a phone, and some books were gathered—thrown?—upon the mattress.... I made my way for the freezer. Are you with me, bird?
I remembered there had been an ivy on the sill. Hedera Helix. The Irish Lace. Hedera Helix, I recalled from botany. Botany class with Linda.... Sharing notes and crib with Linda.... Chemurgic formulae, she words. Provincial remedials. Ameliorates. These words drip off her lips like candy...potion, poison, candy.... Then through that kitchen window, above the street below...I spy my Lydia...at a phonecove....
I moved from the window. I let my body keel onto the mattress. I drew my coat to my chin....
That evening passed.... We didn’t speak.... Side by side we lay, withdrawn into our helplessnesses....
“Why such pessimistic air?” she asks. “Our affinity is obvious!”
Her lips came close to mine....
“Pessimistic?” I asked. “Or clairvoyant!”
Vide I. No place to be. Southwards, I, on First as Lydia taxis north. I turn to see again: she is traffic. At Forty-two, I am westward. GCT.
“If you hurry,” she says, slurring, “you can catch the ten-o’clock.”
“But Linda...” I moan....
We were standing at her door. She would not invite me in.
“I need to see you,” I told.
“So? You can see.... Fulfill your need and go. It’s more than you deserve.”
“Things happen. People do things.”
She was rolling her eyes....
“What’s that mean?” I moan....
“What do you mean?” she sallied. “What.... What does your being here mean?”
But then I altered my tone, from one of pathos to the clinic, applying the tactic whereby a change of tone initiates a change of tenor....
“How’re you doing?” I asked.
“Oh boy,” she receded, rolling her eyes.... “You really don’t get it, do you?”
“I get it! I get it or I wouldn’t be here!”
“No. You don’t get anything. You have no right to ask me how I’m doing. And no one invited you here.”
“I can suffer all your nonsense, but you can’t suffer mine?”
“You abandoned me, pal. I opened my eyes and you were gone. What happened? Did I scare you away?”
And what did she expect I would answer? Yes! Yes! You frightened me off?
“Did I scare you away?” she asked.
And there it was.... It pushed me into numbness....
“You know,” she began, “you would have stayed to help a friend.... A friend would’ve helped a friend.... And I wasn’t just your friend.... I was your pal. And I loved you.... Did you really think I’d go through with it?”
She was sobbing now, and deeply....
“This is what I am!” she cried, choking on her words.
“No Linda! I don’t believe that. This is what you’ve become!”
And oh...did she not know the degree to which I’d come to share her suffering? The degree to which she had convinced me of my own suppressed pain? And disillusioned me? And disheartened me?
“Why don’t you get a coat,” I said. “Or here, take mine—”
“No.... You keep it on.... You look terrible.... Where’d you sleep last night...on a cardboard box?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Wondering if I was gonna kill myself?”
“No. Wondering if you were gonna find yourself....”
“I’m getting impatient.”
And now at last she allowed me to her eyes.... She didn’t turn away....
“I’m sorry,” she began.
“What for? I don’t want an apology—”
“I lost it. I let it go.... I don’t love you any more....”
I know my face was cringing. My whole body was contorting...inwardly.... It had to be showing on my face. I had lost it too, but I was unable to tell her so. I knew our involvement was over—it was spent, played out, poisoned. But I was unable to say so. Anyhow it didn’t matter to me who said it, so it might just as well be her. She could use a little heroism....
“There are things I’ll always love about you,” she said.
I couldn’t talk any more. She came forward and kissed my lips. She stayed close for a while and there was passion in her way. I was feeling aroused, and despite it all I wanted to make love.... I even wondered if anyone was home inside...and if she wanted to make love to me.
I opened my coat and pulled her close for my warmth. I tried to embrace her....
“You can love me this way?” she said pulling back.
Her face seemed so small...and so wrung with confusion.... But what remained was the impression of her body...how thin and, oh...how unwell it was. I reached for her wrist. It was thin like a child’s wrist. She pulled it away from me....
“You’re sick too! You’re no good for me!” she cried.
I was thinking all sorts of things, but I was unable to say them. I didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t make any decisions.... Her mother came to the door. My eyes started burning.
“Can I drive you to the station?” the woman asked.
“I don’t understand,” I said. I was sobbing. “I don’t understand this,” I said.
“We don’t understand it either,” she said....
I was sobbing pretty deeply. I sort of shrugged. Linda was gone into the house by now. I think I heard her crying....
“Ho boy,” I said. “I don’t know....”
“We don’t know either....”
I turned and started on my way. I stopped at the edge of their lawn and put my hands into my pockets.... Her mother was still watching me. I don’t know how long I stood there, watching her and she still watching me....
I don’t know why I boarded the north-bound train except that it was there, and I was cold.... For some reason, maybe instinct...I can’t say, my legs were moving on their own...I made my way into the final car.... Maybe I was fleeing the diesel smoke.... I was standing at the door, staring down onto the ties, counting the ties as they slipped away from under us...so many of us, so many of us.... The snow was swept up and blown ’round in our wake...swept up and blown ’round in a vortex...so many of us, so many of us.... I had no destination. Station after station after station gone by.... I was hypnotized. My will to judgment was gone. I was lulled by the rocking movement of the car, swept up and ’round and released, slipping away and out from under us, swept up and ’round and released, slipping away and out from under us, swept up and ’round and released.... We were traveling a while, now, and I still hadn’t seen a conductor. I pulled open the door, holding fast to the handle, my hair was whipped into my eyes...my neck was wet...and I was trembling...but the air, the cold, dry air.... Then there, swept up and blown ’round over the ties, but keeping up with us.... Down there, swept up and blowing ’round over the ties, still it kept up with us.... What was it, tumbling, swirling in our wake, hurrying along behind us.... What was it, captured in our wake, caught up in the swirling after-us.... Ho! It is rising...’round and ’round, ’round and ’round.... Ho! Ho! As though it had a will of its own, the object swooped into the car and lit against my legs, flapping in the draft.... Why, ’tis someone’s bill! Ho! With an announcement.... The Blackwoods Welcome You To Restful Pine Knoll Inn.... The Blackwoods Welcome You To Restful Pine Knoll Inn....
Soon, before the early sundown, I was arrived at Pine Knoll Inn.
Greeted by a genteel miss, soon was I to learn it is not she who keeps the inn....
“Lorelei,” says she raising a finger to her lips. “Quiet. Verily so....”
“Fraulein,” says I, dipping my head.
“Mrs. Blackwood,” came another, with hand reaching for mine. “You’re in time for dinner. I can bring it up if you wish....”
Frau Blackwood has returned with a tray....
“Or would you prefer it on your lap?”
Tireless I lay, rusticated I...then icon trailing after icon.... Thought or feeling, rush the fore, then fled less all resolve.... With all seeming to linger, and all seeming beyond, if I but catch you, one, I say, I’ll snuff you out but good!
By early light I see my tidy bide....
Bergstock. And booties!
Just outside my window...bands, ribbons, stripes through azure sky...barn swallows, none too tame a darting, dive....
Sitting up from my warm pillow, tips of reaching pine rise tall above my sill. Lost, lost amid that handsome pine, my step lets new impressing.... Bitter pine leaf echo a welcoming.... Bitter cone, I pause to hear the state of heart whose tear I cannot conceal....
Then something not expertly known attracts me.... Approaches, I—the bowman—to explore....
Red rose.... Collared in a snow-white, Rose....
But what arresting wisdom cautions with a halt.... Terrorizing, too....
Cruel trick, some niggard spirit placed it here....
Frau Blackwood, then, a breakfast setting. She graced my plate with muffins and berries, my cup with steaming coffee....
“I can pack a box for you. You’ll be hungry out there.”
Her cup is full.
“My mind was not with Lydia exclusively, Linda entered daily to arrest my occupation. A thought of her invariably effected reflective pause.... I, yet, reflected not to Linda, but to functions revealed her so keenly in my thoughts and feelings. For regardless of to what extent a physical break existed, I knew myself emotionally and imaginatively yet adhered to her.”
I am paused for of some muffin.
“Merci. Parlez vous français?”
“No, no, it’s been too long—”
“Not any more, I’m afraid, but my daughter does. She’ll be home this morning. Did you study French?”
“This is delicious. The swallows are beautiful.”
“The swallows live in the barns. They nest in the rafters. Don’t be surprised if they follow you into the woods. They think you have food for them. And don’t be alarmed if they swoop over your head. They’ll keep their distance.”
“This is delicious.”
“Help yourself. You’re welcome to bring some along with you. All the young men and women go for walks in the woods. There’s a walking stick in your room. Take it with you.”
“Thank you. Thank you for everything. Where was I? So...thereupon my object, since I could not banish all relevant stimuli—potential reminders, that is—was, rather, to mind the processes by virtue of which the thought of Linda recurred. That I might control its affects, of course.... I soberly pursued this practice. Leastwise for the distraction it produced. Along these lines I would endeavor: What we own of reality is nothing save the ideas we have managed to form about it. Sentiments are embellishments with which we augment these ideas. I would adjust reflection so as to avoid augmenting the idea—not to augment with sentiments which are as embellishments becleaved to the bland idea! I would, rather eclectically, invoke a system on demand.”
I paused for of some coffee.
“This is Columbian? No...” I say.
“No. It is African.”
“My daughter’s choice—”
“Yes, my daughter’s—”
“Thank you. Help yourself.”
“Thank you. Where was I?”
“Yes. My conversion. Those sentiments—they were the culprit! Promptly I deemed them invalid. It is in this sense,” I concluded, raising my brow as I so often do, “it is in this sense that persons who’ve once been in contact with each other continue to act upon each other at a distance, after the physical contact has been severed.”
Climbing the stair, I then paused and turned to Frau Blackwood. She was clearing the table.
I wanted just to see her face.
“I’ll pack a box for you,” she said.
Back inside my room I stood before the open window. My view was of gray stables and old, nearly dilapidated ruddy barns.... On the roofs the snow was glistening and melting, and just beneath the roofs, darting from the eaves, the magic swallows appeared. Beyond this, I saw cleared tracts of land where I could make out symmetrical furrows, on some parts the sun shone so brilliantly I was made to turn away. When I looked again, it was beyond this and out to the distance, to what appeared to be a fortress wall of dark and serried pine. This fortress wall was so far off, at times it seemed a surge of dark lake water.
I heard voices down below, one the voice of someone new—it was Frau Blackwood’s daughter.
“Does he ride?” the daughter asked—as at last both mother and daughter appeared into the sunlight, and continued for the stables....
And although I do not observe an entirety, a prominent cheek and wheat-blond hair are striking, and for the instant I perceive my Lydia. Seconds later, saddleless and clutching the mane, this other gaits out and is headed for the woods.... But how she seemed of a different universe than I—of a different social element, certainly.... I thought to know that face entirely...but no.... That moment I resolved to abandon the inn. I was overcome with longing—and panic.... To breathe again the atmosphere of Lydia....
I called for a car. When it arrived I hurried into it. The driver shifted gear. Frau Blackwood appeared drawing for my open window....
“I packed a box for you!”
She reached into the car and dropped it on my lap. I watched her face as the car took me away. She was nodding, Yes....
Tremulous agitation...impound my belly so.... These lips...parched and cracking each I speak.... Southward...aboard that train...my illness peaked...my belly convulsed.... There...within that compartment...and for first it seemed in centuries...I stupefied myself with prayer.... But oh...obscure emotion.... What onslaught of image these hours gave to fore.... I saw...again...and again but in part...how everywhere...how everything came sufficient for the association.... I saw...again...Frau Blackwood’s daughter...and unto partial image construed entire face...entire personage...my Lydia.... To ride with her a gallop...arms about her waist...ride for serried mountain pines ahead.... So eager is the burst...but for instants do I sense a hoof impact the earth...and yet it was of this earth did I see.... How then within that archa’ pine shafts of sun stand sheer saints drawn in space through which our gait...then quick...delay.... No word but our breathing as is heard the horse’s cant for air.... Mossy slope...huge mossy boulder during which I fear the hoofstep slide of sudden...no.... Her fix to mane abandoned...her hands clasp over mine.... Come to open space and stream.... All trees felled and cleared save for stumps.... Stream narrow...thicken...wide.... Stream gone...gone hidden into earth.... My maenad dismounts.... A maenad she’s become...a frenzy...grotesque...and beautiful...with thyrsus and illumined belly....
Phoebus. After-cloud! Ruly bode....
Je suis impure.
I am deceased!
J’habite immobile cette épine délicieux.
Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino 2008
Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino is the author, most recently, of a volume of poetry entitled, The Valise, (Dead Academics Press, 2012). In his spare time he writes at his blog, The Postmodern Romantic, and edits the online poetry journal, Eratio.