Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Deeper Into a Murakami Novel

After four martinis the kid finished his set and with a sheepish if not outright furtive glance up at the all but empty room stalked to the bar like a wounded cat. The first two martinis had gone right to my head but I kept drinking out of spite. The bartender, noticing me waver my way back to my table had taken it upon himself to offer table service and I was more than happy to keep downing the chilled, metallic gin. Though now I couldn't taste anything anyway and my vision was on a time delay. Beads of sweat salted my upper lip and I could barely sit up right.
The silence in the room was suddenly very heavy. And dark, like being at the bottom of a well. I looked up as if to peer at the perfect circle of sky the lip of the well would shape like a cookie cutter and stars flooded my vision.
"Hey, are you alright?"
It was the black piano player. He smelled of a cat litter box. His face showed concern. His hands trembled at his sides.
I nodded. Yeah, I said, I'm just drunk.
"Would you like a glass of water?"
I nodded again, now painfully aware of the weight of my own head. He said something indistinct to the bartender and then I felt a cold glass slide into my cupped hands. The smooth iciness of the glass caught my breath and I almost got sick.
"You should really lie down," the kid said. Still, his hands trembled by the seams of his blue jeans. "Do you live around here? I could call you a cab."
For the concern on his face his voice was strangely neutral, not a tint of worry or contempt. These are the facts, his voice cooed: you are drunk and need to go home. It was like a banister that wrapped around a spiral staircase. I reached out for it, to rest against while my head was whirling.
I felt his hand grasp mine. I was standing, his other hand on my hip, like we were dancing the tango.
Face to face with this boy I saw his eyes were green. Two olives.

When I woke the taste of bile assaulted my senses. I groaned and this utterance caused a stir of movement to my left. I looked over and there, in my bed, was the black piano player. Roused by my noise he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and seemed to take a moment before recognizing me.
Hello, I said, not knowing how else to greet this stranger.
He smiled and said, "Hello." I noticed, again, his eyes: two olives.
I was home, in my bed, in the clothes I wore the day before. He was half naked, wearing only a tee-shirt and boxer shorts. Seeing my eyes range his body he self-consciously curled the comforter around his slender figure and seemed to blush, though through the deepness of his skin I could not see any discernible flush. But his eyes, like at the bar, gave me a guilty glance.
I shifted my gaze in embarrassment.
"I-," he started to say but he didn't know how to continue. His voice dropped off just as his head, which had perked-up as he started to speak lowered, his eyes studying the paisley pattern of the comforter.
I looked around my room. It was still my room. Everything was still in place. Books ordered neatly, each spine abreast and presented proudly like a battalion of troops under review. The ceiling fan indifferently clicked its monotonous revolutions. It was one-twelve in the afternoon.
"The alarm started to go off," the piano player said, seeing me register the time, "but I turned it off when you didn't wake up. I figured you needed sleep."
Thanks, I said and yawned wide and deep. The skin at one corner of my mouth split and I winced. I must have had a lot to drink.
As if sensing my thoughts the kid said, "You had a lot to drink last night." His hands were trembling in his lap. "You asked me to walk you home and then wouldn't let me leave you alone once we got here." He said this as though trying to expiate any guilt, as if to say: none of this is my fault, my being here, our not knowing what to say--you did this.
I nodded just to get the desperate pleading tone out of the air. I groaned again, but this time I was starting to shed the misty remnants to sleep.
Well, Mogers' is still serving brunch. Are you hungry? I said this with an artificial air of cheerfulness.
Whether or not he was hungry he was grateful for the change of subject and greedily devoured the chance to get out of the present feel of things, of my bed, of my apartment.
He asked where he could freshen up and I pointed the way to the bathroom.
I could hear the splashing of water while I changed my clothes. I looked into the mirror in the closet. My face was haggard, tired, old. Deep purple semi-circles sat underneath my eyes, my cheeks a pallid grey. What the hell happened yesterday? I'm lost, and it's all here on my face, these wrinkles, these blood-shot eyes.
J. is gone. And in his place appeared the piano player from the jazz bar he used to go to. Did I go there looking for him? As if it would be so easy to find him. No, he was gone, and to some place I didn't know to look in. There was always that deep recess he never let me cast light onto. He was there, I knew it. I opened the drawers to our shared dresser as if a clue lay upon the neatly folded columns of socks and underpants.
He's somewhere, I said to the cotton fibers. Maybe he couldn't show me the place he goes to, but there is a place. Not these drawers, not these halls or their corners, maybe not even the jazz bar. But he is somewhere. That space in his soul is real. It has a parallel home out here, I said out loud, I just need to find it.
"Find what?" the piano player asked.
I wheeled about to see him fully clothed again. Hands trembling. Eyes olive.
Let's go eat.

Before Mogers' was Mogers' it was called the Gargoyle Cafe. Two garish concrete gargoyles sat on either side of the entrance grimacing at everyone who passed. I used to take the nameless men I woke next to to the cafe and became, after a few consistent visits, a regular. I had a preferred booth, waiter, and breakfast dish. Lorrie, my waiter, knew to play it cool, pretending each time that I was actually passing by those hideous gargoyles for the first time.
"Might I suggest the avocado omelette panini?" he would say to me and I would feign excited interest and eagerly assent to his recommendation.
Around the time I met J. the Gargoyle Cafe lost its imposing statues and changed its name to Mogers', the name of the owner's just deceased tabby cat. Everything stayed the same except the layout of the menu, but he said he needed a change, Lorrie explained.
The third time I showed up with J. Lorrie dropped the act and I was grateful for it.
"Your usual?" he would ask and I would solemnly nod as he politely turned his attention to J., who never ordered the same thing twice in a row.
This was one of the many moments at that time that signaled my like was changing. The facade of spontaneity I relied on Lorrie to participate in had begun to slowly dissolve to reveal the pristinely ordered system of my life. Like my bookcases, my nights, too, had been exactly scripted. Each boyish body simply a book to read and consume and jot down a few notes about before shelving.
J. was the book I could never finish.
"This time I think I'll try the salmon crepe," and Lorrie would say something like "good choice" before turning on his heels and retreating to the kitchen.
J. would never offer to share the dish he would order and after tasting my avocado omelette panini the first morning I brought him would decline my offer, even though I meant this as a means of soliciting a reciprocal offer. Still, when I would ask to sample whatever he had ordered he never hesitated to gather a generous fork-full for me to taste.
Whenever I discovered a new layer of J.'s hidden self it was like this. He never offered up his secrets but he never flinched before answering my questions. Our relationship was like this: a puzzle. If I got the right piece in the right place he never withheld the sliver of panorama it showed. Our life together became like this. I would guess at the solution to the riddle he slowly unfolded and if I was right our puzzle knitted closer together.
Did he leave because the puzzle was too close to filling in and making visible the shadowy blank space he dared not show me?

Lorrie was startled when he saw the piano player and looked at me long and hard before finally asking me, "The usual?"
It was clear he was relieved when I nodded, a heavy nod but one that let him off the hook: he had guessed right. The piano player ordered and Lorrie, with another elongated stare, departed.
"You come here often?" the piano player asked.
Yes, I said, this place and I have a very long history.
"It's nice to be a regular somewhere," he said. "I'm new to the city so I don't have that yet."

I love you, I once said to J., but I never know what you expect of me. Please, tell me what you want. I'll do my best. I promise.
He had said nothing to this. My tears, the catching in my throat that made my voice warble--all of this kept him far away. Sitting inches from me, he was no place I could join him. In that secret abyss he never let me see. I wept more, wanting to be there with him, wanting to pull him out of whatever loneliness he thought I could never have the strength to occupy. I grabbed him, clutching him to my body as hard as possible, crying even harder knowing I was holding a shell. The harder I squeezed him the further he was swept from me. His hands touched me, folded my hair out of my eyes in an effort to comfort me, but they could have been anyone's hands. This loneliness, and my powerlessness in the face of this yawing black-hole that drew him away. I wished for a god to denounce, a father to blame, a bully to slaughter in ritual fashion. But there was only this extreme nothingness responsible for the gulf between us, the absence of responsibility itself. My body felt so small and meaningless as I lay against the hard contour of his neck.
Please, I begged of nothingness itself, give me something.

Yes, I'm a regular here, and we waited in silence for the food to arrive.

No comments: