Saturday, July 4, 2009

From a Novel

A Brief Missive, 7.4.09
Dear Momma,
Do you remember who held my hand when I got stitches in Spring Lake? Was it you or Grandma? I can't remember... A bothersome bought of insomnia is keeping me up. After reading two stories by Nabakov I decided I should write myself. Somehow I wound my way to this memory. It was a metaphor, certainly, but still the question is picking at me.
The sun is beginning to rise: my blinds are a lush lavender. J. is sleeping in the other room. I can hear him move about or make a faint noise and it is reassuring. I don't know why I'm still awake. Hastead was too alive maybe, or perhaps not having the chance to settle into my own space meant this need was displaced until after he was asleep. (He met me directly after work.)
I'll share the story once I have it typed, though it isn't really a story as much as a poem: it shares a mood, a tone: the sky on a particular day at a particular hour in a particular month. It doesn't really have a meaning proper, except that it is supposed to suck you into the feel of the space it opens. At least, that's how I felt writing it, so perhaps language such as "supposed to..." isn't fitting.
Regardless, I'm going to--for the third time--rejoin J. in bed, this time the promise of sleep seems trustworthy, and so I shall give myself over to it.
With love-

"The staircase sheltered him from the gyrations of the wind, and also afforded a sweeping view of the quad while he rolled a cigarette. As if perched in a tree with sturdy, low-lying branches that are easily climbed, he sat hidden from view, watching the clamor of students laden with satchels pass by, mechanically shaping the moist tobacco into a slender tube as he peered out, unnoticeable unless one knew to glance up in his direction. The peel of a just eaten banana lay beside him, as did an open paper cup of coffee he was letting the chilled autumn air cool before daring to sip. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun was casting strange shadows as it threw light on the crippled leaves that defiantly clung to the trees. Their bent and curved silhouettes seemed to haunt the cobblestone so many shoes tread upon unawares. Close to the lake the wind stirred hair and the occasional scarf , tossing intentionally placed strands of hair askew, into eyes and left in the corners of wet, chapped lips. He struck a match and cradled its flame in his palm as he nursed his cigarette to life. Class would begin shortly, or had just ended--he couldn't remember. He was enthralled by the sweeps of bodies that paraded before him. Some, nearly bent double into the wind, or against its assaults, and others moving gaily through it, almost as if with it. Whenever he walked the weight of his satchel compelled one leg to thrust out before the other, as if dragging the rest of his body along. He tried to hold his head aloft, with his chin angled slightly higher than parallel to the ground, but this was more his fear of being recognized as an impostor than his posture. "Chin up," they say in old black and white films, especially war dramas, so he went to war against the imposing majesty of the buildings themselves, with his chin up. A bluff, to be sure, but also a sincere defiance he would once in a while feel himself worthy of donning. The only real wound he ever suffered, which required medical attention, is sported on his chin. His arms gave out, or the deck of the pool was too slick to gain traction on, and his head had come crashing down with all the weight and force of his ten year old body, bursting open the skin. His mother noted after the stitches were woven through his broken flesh that he looked like Frankenstein, and then affectionately showed him her own scar in precisely the same spot. He felt both like a monster and his mother's true flesh and blood in that moment, and it was euphoric. The terror of the combination would only occur to him years later, around the time he was smoking a cigarette in a secluded shelter overlooking the quad. He couldn't remember whether it was his mother or his grandmother who held his hand while the doctor injected the anesthetic. Probably his mother, who, like her mother, hated the sight of blood and became nauseous, but still was able to swallow down that bile to care for her son. From one of these women he inherited his queasy stomach, and from one of them, too, he learned to overcome his own weakness. He wanted to know which one to thank, but he could only remember the rhythmic rise and fall of the glinting needle as it pulled black thread through the torn fiber of his face. For so long he had struggled so hard to erase from his memory the deeds that composed his past. At the time they seemed only to be a montage that grew and grew until a terrible crescendo of embarrassment left his ears burning and his skin too tightly wrapped around his frail frame. Now, whether because of the wind or the churning bodies, he felt rootless and abandoned by these memories he had so scrupulously exorcised. He yearned for them, like a jumper blindly kicking a timid but desperate foot out, searching for the familiarity of the windowsill. As he pulled on his cigarette his hand mindlessly ran along the underside of his chin, feeling the sliver of flesh where his beard would not grow. As if waking suddenly, he remembered the no longer steaming cup of coffee beside him and without caution brought his lips to embrace the bitter, sticky thickness of its contents, and then dropped the remains of his cigarette and crushed it under the toe of his suede shoe. He would go home, unless he saw the face of a classmate on the way to his bicycle. Now it bothered him that he could not remember his course schedule and he tried to recreate the days of the week as he walked, but he couldn't. The battery of his watch had died and it still read "7.12, the 4th". He kept strapping it to his wrist as a matter of habit, and to as a reminder to buy a new battery, but that had been days ago, though how many he could not recall."

No comments: