cover
art & g.narrative
fiction & poetry
article & interview
cover
art &
g.narrative
fiction & poetry
article & interview
about
archives
current html
submissions
vol iv, issue 6 < ToC
Melancholy Echo
by Robert Alexander Wray
previous next

FugueSuper
Volcano
Melancholy Echo
by Robert Alexander Wray
previous

Fugue




next

Super
Volcano
Melancholy Echo
by Robert Alexander Wray
previous
Fugue


next
Super
Volcano
previous next

Fugue Super
Volcano
previous

Fugue




next

Super
Volcano
previous
Fugue


next
Super
Volcano
Melancholy Echo  by Robert Alexander Wray
Melancholy Echo
 by Robert Alexander Wray
For Marty Moore,
       a rare muse of both beauty and grace


"Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say" --William Shakespeare


Sacred Radiance

     I

A clergyman reads a tattered leather-bound notebook.

He scribbles something in the margins, turns a few pages.

He looks up, smiles.

He returns to the book, continues reading.

In the margins, he writes: "Wow, comma, my God."

He looks up again.

In the distance, at the edges of shadow,
a tree transforms itself into a fabulous bird,
ascending from the cinders of its own destruction.

Eternal Truth and Beauty made visible.

Cool.


     II

I've been a pastor for most of my life,
always going where the church sent me,
wherever God called me.

Not so different, I suppose, from being an actor;
insofar as acting is self-surrender, not self-expression.

"He'll shape his old course in a country new."

These words from Shakespeare have
echoed in my head since this morning,
since I decided, at quite a brutal cost,
to resign from my job as pastor

at the church.

"He'll shape his old course in a country new."


     III

It was a dark time, a cynical time, a time of plague,
a time when life seemed to continually confound itself,
and Phoenix and Dove were as one and inseparable.

In Dove's eyes, Phoenix was definitely hip and cool,
knew a lot of things, and could rock a crude joke.
She'd ignite urges as she passed by, and say things like,
"I'm too young to live my life without romance and glitter."
In short, he was madly in love with her.

In Phoenix's eyes, Dove was one of the last cowboys,
a true real rebel, and she'd often touch herself while
imagining him driving a motorcycle through a war zone,
shooting at enemy targets while he yelled repeatedly,
"You'll never take me alive!" And then he'd get shot.

And die                    in a blaze of glory.

One day, Phoenix decided that Dove needed a haircut.
So she draped a blanket over him, snipped and combed
his silvery gray hair.

I love your ears, she says.
Snip and comb, snip and comb.
They're beautiful. I think ears are erotic.
Snip and comb, snip and comb.
I'm going to cut the hair around the ears
so we can see them in their full majesty.

Make sure you get the back, he says. Those curls.

She thinks about the night they first met,
at a friend's place. Snip and comb, snip and comb.
She bummed a cigarette from him, and he said,
"I came here to get high, eat, and get laid.
No one has any pot, I don't eat seafood,
mussels, clam stew, smoked fish, none of that shit,
and you just want to bum cigarettes off me.
There's no fucking point in being here!"

Phoenix laughed. "Well," she said,
"we could fuck, I guess."

Snip and comb, snip and comb.

There, she says, holding up a mirror.
What do you think?

That's a great fucking haircut.

A light emanating from the mirror flashes on them both.


     IV

After unpacking the contents of my church office at home,
I went for a long walk, still wearing my cassock and collar.

My resignation as pastor wasn't a decision I had planned,
and it certainly wasn't an easy one. But after much grieving,
(How on earth am I ever going to rise from the ashes of this?),
I felt a kind of freedom               for a brief while.

Day turned into night as I continued walking,
wanting to avoid as many people as possible.

I stop in front of a twenty-four-hour gas station
and stare at a tall tree across the way which is
faintly lit by the nearby neon.

The trunk thrusts upwards, (light golden blond wood),
stopping midway for a series of arterial branches, then
continues upwards, getting thinner, splitting in two
directions at the top. It looks like the last tree on earth.

A collection of blackbirds noisily gathers after flying
from who-knows-where, alighting on its dead limbs.

Looking at it from a distance, it seems like the proper foliage
has been brushed black, or sketched quickly in charcoal by God,
as if He decided that the only true things growing on a tree of
apocalypse would be dark and swift and deafening.

Some of the birds take off into the gray marbled sky,
flying together with the force of doomsayers. So eerie.

Thinking back on Shakespeare, which I do ad nauseam,
I ask myself what he'd make of these strange surreal times?

What play, what three-dimensional mirror would he create to
show us ourselves? To induce wonder, praise, faith, healing?


     V

We look so cute in the mirror, says Phoenix.

Dove looks at their reflection, and is shocked
at how grizzled, how gray, how OLD he seems
compared to the fresh vision standing next to him.
He hides his surprise under a series of alternating
facial expressions of whimsy and pseudo-sadness.

I do look sad, he says at one point.
She answers, Let's look sad together.
They pout at the mirror in unison.

Later, he has an overall realization:
I'm too fucking old for you, Phoenix.
Not old in the ooooollllllddddddd sense,
but in the life-worn, gray on the inside,
forlornly stumbling through sense of it.

Help.


     VI

"Croak not, black angel, I have no food for thee."

The last of the cackling blackbirds take flight,
and I go into the twenty-four-hour gas station.

The store, in its full-fluorescent voice, stands empty.
Nobody, not even the cashier, is anywhere to be found.

Nevertheless, I comb the place for ice cream.

Lo and behold, a surprising sight:
a big multi-layered yellow flower sits
in between the gelato and sorbet.

It's so lovely and anomalous there,
and I feel, somehow, immediately
relieved and happy for a minute or so
at someone's odd but beautiful act.

I open the freezer door just to make
contact with this miracle of momentary
proportions, and it feels stiff to the touch.
I think, Oh no, it's fake. Then my hand's
warmth softens a few of the petals, and
once more, elation lights up my being at
this gorgeous gesture of yellowy delight.

It's real, and it smells like heaven, and
I want to cry for some reason,

even now.


     VII

The next morning, Phoenix, worried by
Dove's gloom and that look he gets when
he's trudging his familiar steps to that
all-too-familiar pit of resistless despair,
decides they should write a story together.

We should write a story together, she says.

He locks into her eyes with game-defying
intensity, wondering why she's so suddenly
enthralled with the idea of writing a story.

We should write a Western. It'd be great.
A Western about a badass rebel cowboy.

Been done to death, he responds.

Well, let's write a Jewish Western. "I'm the new
sheriff in town and I'm eating all the gefilte fish."

Dove smiles.

"Does a Jew not have spurs? Do we not hurt when we get lassoed?"

An air of warmth and soft-connectedness encircles them.

Nah, he says, let's make it about an outlaw priest. An
aging outlaw priest cowboy who's given up religion.

Why's he given up religion, she asks.

It's irrelevant. He just knows he needs to leave the church.

Maybe he got kicked out of the church 'cause he's one of those--

No no no, he's not a kiddie-fiddler. Not every priest is a fucking kiddie-fiddler.

So, no kiddie-fiddler, he.

No, he just wakes up one morning, thinks to
himself, Is that all there is? And walks away.

But why? Why does he walk away?

Because he's searching for something.
Something the church couldn't provide.
He's on a search for

A story?

Yeah. But the search for a story IS the story.

And so, when the story finally ends, he finds

Salvation.

A large yellow flower petal,
fragile like a layer of delicate skin,
drifts down from above.

They both stare at it:          That's weird.


     VIII

I pause in sad remembrance of the church I left behind,
of the people there, of my congregants, that needed me.

At the risk of a few coughs, Shakespeare again:
"So out went the candle, and we were left darkling."

Night's turned back into day, the days have turned into
weeks, and still I walk and wander on.

At some point, I peer into a small brick church which
feels more like a large toolshed or storage facility. An
altar with flowers and a large thick cross dominate the
space. A modest gathering of parishioners, together yet
far apart, are there. The preacher doesn't see me enter.

He's talking about how everyone's on something: sex,
booze, drugs, pot in particular. He asks his audience,
Do you consider your spirituality low, middle, or high?
After his pot reference, I wonder if he's being funny.

Then he notices me, and his tone shifts. He walks up
and down the aisle, a long red scarf in his hand, wipes
the sweat off his brow with it as he takes and analyzes
four words which, in their singular double meaning of
both comfort and caution, are enduring and unequalled:
"This too shall pass."

I ask him later what inspired him so much. He said, "I saw
a brother of the cloth looking hopeless and sad, and I knew
then I needed to do something special and get off my butt."

I thank him, walk out of the church, and into a lovely vision:
A field of blinking fireflies, like silent firecrackers going off.


     IX

Dove picks up and sniffs the yellow flower petal.
It smells sweet, almost perfumed, he says.

Phoenix suddenly remembers something:
Oh, she exclaims, you'll never believe it!

What.

I was talking to my drag queen friend, CrayCray,
and               Did I tell you this story?

Yeah.

Sorry. I forget what I tell you.

                    The flower petal's already browning in my hand.


     X

Damn. Walking still, a month after I began this journey.
I'm traveling through a city, thinking the world's asleep.

As I pass by an antique shop, I see a girl perched on a bench,
drinking a large bottle of water. She looks out into the night,
and then at me as I go by, with an air of some sexual longing.

She whispers in my direction, I want to see you naked, Father.

I stop, aware of her arousal by something doubly forbidden.

Actually, she adds, I'd like to see ANYONE naked. Anyone.

Normally, I avoid these situations like a deranged magnet in
reverse. But instead I nod with a quiet, "Okay," and move on.

As I walk away, I turn back and see her suck down the bottle,
looking out as if she expected someone else to pass by for a
moment of erotic heat. I feel so bad for her. Unbridled desire
exposes its downsides when locked up. It can drive one mad.


     XI

Okay, says Dove, let's get back to the fucking story.

And so, says Phoenix, what happens next is

Well, the event.

The event is: Our outlaw priest, having divided himself
from the church, visits a beautiful filthy lovable whore.

Yes, he's pent-up with lust and visits a filthy dirty whore.

In a bordello. A cutecutecute bordello with a pink façade
and ornate white latticework, as romantic as one can find.

Nah, then

Oh wait, says Phoenix, interrupting their growing tale, I
didn't tell you the ending of my drag queen friend story.

You mean CrayCray? You did.

I didn't. After she got arrested for prostitution, the officer
made her do community service. Like, you know, picking
up garbage. He wouldn't let her just pay the bail. She told
him, "You're going to make a whore work? Make a whore
do community service? I make my living by sucking people
off in a park nightly. The community, is being SERVED."

Phoenix roars with laughter.

Dove smirks. They don't call her CrayCray for nothing.

Nope, she says, laughing through tears, not for nothing.

SPEAKING of nothing: So our priest visits a bordello.

Wait, hush. What does that have to do with nothing?

Nothing.

Then why'd you go speaking of nothing?

I'm just making use of nothing to get back to our
FUCKING STORY!

Okay, okay, let's not quarrel          over nothing.

Sweet heaven, you're driving me crazy.

Back to our story then, Phoenix asserts.

Thank you. The priest enters the bordello, and looks
for the girl who'll break his lifelong spell of chastity.

Chastity: No sex, no nookie, no nada.

Yes. And alas

Hold on, we should give the priest a name.

Tom.

Tom? How 'bout Thomas? Sounds more holy-like.

And alas, Thomas spies a wondrous girl who's

in an atomic orange dress and has a perfect smile
and eyes that can entrance and clearly allure.

Yes. So he walks up to her, still in his clerical
clothes, and she says, in a quiet seductive tone,

"This is SO not right."

They quickly turn to sexual subject matter:
"It'll cost you a thousand."

Wait, she needs a name too.

Snowball Sandy.

What? No. Call her Raven.

Raven sounds ominous, too resonant with doom.

Aspen then.

Aspen and Thomas soon head upstairs, into her
room. Thomas, beside himself with nervousness,
keeps complimenting her and asking questions.
"You're so pretty. Do you work here often?"

Aspen cuts him off: "I don't do interviews, just
blowjobs."

She plays with his crotch a bit, getting warmed-up.

"Do you mind if I unbutton you," she asks, while
she's unbuttoning him. "Take it out and sit back."

At his age, after so many years of zero sex, Thomas
wonders if he can survive such a tumult. "What am
I doing?"

She pulls out his cock and smiles: "You're ready."

"Stop," he says. "I can't do this act of darkness with you."

Feeling pity, she offers to fuck him at no extra charge. He
feels, for some reason, comforted by this. They have sex.

Sweating, sweating, their clothes on throughout, him inside
her with her black panties scrunched aside, wanting to feel a
maximum joy of release. Which he does. After two seconds.

He comes quickly. But the spell of a loveless life has been
broken and broken with full on magical star-blasting bliss.

Dove and Phoenix look at each other with love-filled eyes.
And horniness.

You're a bad boy, she says. I don't deny that, he replies.


     XII

I have walked and traveled hard, sleeping in
parks, barely eating. My cassock's looser now.

It's a hellishly humid night, almost too hot to
sleep out. It feels as if the sun's still ablaze.

Odd thoughts strike when you're isolated in
your own brain on a long solitary adventure.

Take, for instance, the letter O, that circular
letter meaning eternity, perfection. A tragic
scream of realization of Greek proportions, a
sound of recognition, the shape of choice for
so much that is holy, artistic, utilitarian. The
most powerful words feature it: God, world,
love, gone, soul, home, orgasm,          Oreo.

It's the shape of the world, of the eye. They
all have this "O" in common. The fool's O,
when he lays it all out to King Lear, saying,
"Thou wast a pretty fellow when thou hadst
no need to care for her frowning, now thou
art an O without a figure...thou art nothing."

I might be losing my mind.

Really.

I'm just a weary little pastor. I think I'll just
lay here by this tree, and look at that stunning
moon, shimmering like it's engulfed in flame.

"Fortune, good night; smile once more, turn thy wheel."


     XIII

A spider slowly lets itself down from a ceiling
on an unseen thread while unseen birds sing and
whistle, and an unseen sun illuminates.

Dove and Phoenix, in the upstairs room right
above the spider, are making love. The ceiling
from which the spider descends slightly shakes,
creaking continually from their squeaking bed.

The squeaks start off normal (clichéd rhythms
of lovemaking), then slow to a halt. Then boom,
forceful as loud thunder, a moan and a sigh, then
silence, then a slow build back to normal tempo,
then a crazy patterned series of squeaks, almost
surreal, then a far different sounding squeak, as if
they were no longer on the bed but on the floor.
Then the sound of a loud drop, silence, humping
squeaks resumed, then the sound of footsteps.

All of this registers on and is felt by the spider,
making for quite the jerky ride down.


     XIV

I dreamed of walking into an abandoned theatre
for some reason. Saw plaster everywhere, broken
railings, dust, a lot of things in shambles. And out
of nowhere, I hear a voice, this ethereal voice that
just stops me in my tracks. And I wonder, who is
that? Where's that coming from? So pure, and so
sorrowful. And mysterious 'cause I can't figure it
out. It's just this voice that makes me want to weep.
I look around, and lo and behold, standing far off
with her back to me, is a girl dressed up in a dishy
glittery cloak. I ask her who she is, and she says,
Hush, and flies away into the misty-mooned night.

What does that young glitter girl dream mean?

What's that about?

A tattered leather-bound notebook appears,
seemingly lit up from within.

Oh.


     XV

Dove is slightly annoyed at Phoenix, who keeps
asking him, while he's in the bathroom, for tissue
or paper towels or anything. He tells her, Wait.

He finally comes out, gives her some toilet paper.
She's grateful, profusely so.

Later on, he sees the same tissues of toilet paper,
lined up like a row of white lilies, wet with tears.


     XVI

I'm grateful. I'm still grieving, and still wandering,
but thankful for the varied blessings I've received.

Like this strange but miraculous notebook which I
found, or should I say, found me.

Half of it's filled with writing: miscellaneous sketches
for a story about, of all things, an older renegade priest
who's on a quest of some sort. What are the odds? And
the other half of the notebook's filled with     nothing.

See? Just blank pages.

I'm curious why the writer didn't finish the story. As
stories go, it's rather crude in places, but it does have
an innocent exuberance that's          heartbreaking.

Three fiery red lipstick kisses are smudged on the last
entry. I guess someone loved the passage. I'll read it:

"The Federales surrounded him, yelling, 'Surrender!
Surrender!' But Tommy Boy Bedlam stayed true to
his word, and said, 'You'll never take me alive!' He
shot six of them dead, and fought it out with the rest.
Our hero could've run and saved his life, but instead
he chose to go down in glory, and of course Aspen..."

And that's how it ends. Does Tommy Boy Bedlam
get killed or not? And what was he on a quest for?
And if Aspen's alone, well     How now, Aspen?

One of the powerful observations in Shakespeare is:
People are places. (To visit, to trash, to leave.) I'd like
to keep visiting these people: Tommy Boy Bedlam
and his true of heart whore Aspen.

So many questions dwell in this all-or-nothing tale.

I will continue writing it myself.


     XVII

Dove looks over at Phoenix, who's crying hard. A
tear trails her cheek like a snail's track in moonlight.

What's wrong, he asks.

She turns her face, wet and splotchy, towards him,
and says, They arrested the Tiger King.

Dove, at a loss, wants to alleviate her saddened state,
but all he can come up with is, That's all?

She nods.

You're crying over a locked-up lunatic on TV? I
thought you were leveled by something truly sad.

Well, she says, I've had this, as a     child, since
childhood. I've always hated it when people I start
caring about get taken away or leave. I guess I get
so attached so quickly that it's hard for me.     I cry.

He puts his hand on her knee, thinking thoughts of:
It's okay, I love you.

She rubs her eyes behind her thick but cool glasses.

Dove watches the tiny teardrops still on the lenses.

You do know that he's a bad guy, right? I mean, he
abused animals, did wretched things to people. You
can tell by looking at him that he's a sick bastard.

She responds, I think the healthier one looks, after
doing something wretched, the sicker one really is.

I think the crying's crazed your wits.     Don't frown.

He hugs her, trying to transmit a feeling of lightness
forever.

The moon itself silhouettes them, glowing with a
god's brilliance upon it.

As Pearls from Diamonds Dropp'd

     I

So, after several months of traveling and enduring
the elements, and wanting to focus on writing this
story, I stop to rent a cheap room: Smudge-specked
walls, an appalling bed, and a textured glass window
which alters the outside world (a noiseless land of
empty storefronts), into a desolate cubistic vision.

I'm reminded of a line of Shakespeare's that rings
clear for my sorry and lonely self: "the worst is not
so long as we can say, 'This is the worst.'"

Dear God, please keep me from going under and
insane. Please help me to see clearly, truthfully.

A mist forms on the textured glass window, then
fades, revealing a previously invisible handprint.


     II

Phoenix and Dove play poker using bottle caps
for chips. He grabs his winnings, shuffles cards.

Wait, she says, what'd you have, a full house?

No, a flush. Two, three, ten, queen, ace of diamonds.

No you didn't. You had two pairs. Two pairs! Two
deuces, two queens. I had three of a kind. I beat you.

I had five diamonds in a row. I showed you my hand.

You're sure?

               No.     Maybe I'm losing it.

Are you really?

Please, stop.

I saw CrayCray lose it once. She was talking to the
air. A whole conversation, or argument rather. "Hey,
so, what are you doing?" "What's that?" "I told you
before, don't do that!" "Don't do what?" "Lurk, lurk!"
Afterwards, I thought, I need someone similar. I need
someone to lash out at. I want an imaginary friend too.

We all have imaginary friends, says Dove as he puts
the cards away. We just forget to acknowledge them.

So, wonders Phoenix, what should we do now? Nothing,
followed by more nothing? Or we can do          nothing?

Let's continue working on our story, he says.

What's the point? We never write any of it down.

I do.

You do?

Yes. After you go to sleep, I get a notebook and write
down everything I remember from what we created.

Really? Why'd you keep it secret?

I wanted it to be a surprise. Give it to you as a gift after.

Oh, well               let's work on our story!

Okay then. By the way, I changed his name to Tommy
Boy Bedlam. Thought he needed something cooler, hip.

I like that. Maybe Tommy's actually Jesus. You don't
know he's Jesus though 'cause he wears a cowboy hat,
black shirt with pearl snap buttons, and skintight chaps.
And riding boots. But he can drop a parable like a gun
spinning back into its holster.

Can I be honest, Dove asks. It's a beautiful and lovely
notion, but,                    yeah, no.


     III

Envision this: A young man, just out of seminary school,
has his first official day preaching. He walks in the church,
sees half the pews already filled. Families mostly. Contrary
to his grand lofty intentions, when he makes it to the pulpit,
he looks around and simply says, "Hi." He then cracks a few
jokes for no discernible reason except that he's nervous and
finds himself at a loss as to what to say or do. Wondering if
everyone thinks it odd, he starts getting through his sermon.

It's a lecture about Jesus being led out into the wilderness,
and his dealings with temptation. He clarifies the lesson by
tying it into that double-headed question of Shakespeare's
which permeates all his work: What is true?/What is false?

After he ends his message with a prayer, the young preacher
silently thanks God for the mix of kind polite smiling people
in the church. They seemed to like him. What a feeling when
it was over, stumblings and all. He felt high, like perhaps he
accomplished something. Like maybe he could really do this.

In case you're wondering, I'm trying to use this slice of my
life passage as a backstory for Tommy Boy Bedlam. I can't
decide though where to place it. I also can't seem to match
the rhythm of my words to that of the writer's. It's difficult
to collapse the distance between us so that no space is seen.

Writing is fucking hard.


     IV

Dove recaps their burgeoning story: Tommy Boy Bedlam,
having burned his old religious clothes and now sporting a
black cowboy outfit, roams through the ghostly halls of a
seemingly abandoned building, looking for his girl Aspen.

She's been taken there by the Federales and held in one of
the rooms and is probably being tortured, interjects Phoenix
with a surprising amount of gleeful pleasure.

Yes, probably, Dove responds. As Tommy rushes up the
musty dark stairwell, he periodically catches the sound of
her screams which help lead him to where he needs to go.

Finding the floor where her quavering voice seems to be
the loudest, he exits the stairwell and his heart quickens
as he hears the unmistakable notes of her unearthly cries.

He missions down the hall, hearing his way to the Aspen
savvy door. Listening and listening, he kicks it wide open.

Once inside, he spots a large rogue-faced man with kingly
eyebrows, and eyes that radiate a been-there-done-that kind
of quality. He's standing next to Aspen, who's also standing.
But her head hangs down, as if she's staring at her shoes.

"Let her go," says Tommy, in a voice painfully held in and
scratched, like someone tiptoeing on gravel.

The man laughs. "Mr. Bedlam, I've been expecting you. I
saw you pull up on your motorcycle. A great bike, by the
way. I have one just like it. I'm sure, however, you're not
here for a pissing contest over the size of our camshafts."

"Let her go or else" Tommy retorts.

"Or else what, you foolish but fond old man."

"Or else I'll do such things--what they are I know not yet,
but they'll be quick, potent, and classic."

Aspen looks up at Tommy briefly, her expression reading
as "I'm sorry," but with an aching tenderness that drives a
nail through his heart, causing him to want to comfort her.

Tommy Boy Bedlam's hand grips his trusty revolver.

"If you try to shoot me, Mr. Bedlam, I'll take Aspen here
and break her neck. Just snap her neck. Don't think I won't
do it. I'd love the struggle before I hear it crack. And as the
Tiger King says, 'It makes the meat taste better.'"

Dove gives Phoenix a quizzical look. Just go with it, she declares,
I'm on storytelling fire.

Dove goes with it: And right then and there, Aspen begins to cry.
Her small cherubic face and bright eyes, usually glowingly clear,
now redden with tears. Tommy, in a mutual state of sadness, tells
her as he wells up, "I love you."

The toughness of the rogue-faced man, trying to stay mean, gets a
whopping smack of the poignant when he observes the two lovers
crying. The sounds of their weeping are like sharp, spiritual blades
coming at his soul. He suddenly has tears himself, and yells, "Oh,
darkness and devils! Okay, get the fuck out! Both of you! Go, go!"

Tommy grabs her by the hand and leads her towards the door.

"But hurry," the man calls out after them. "The other Federales
are already on their way, now in the night, and in great haste!"

They dash off and race down the hallway. "Stop," Tommy says.
"I hear them coming."

Reversing course, they head into the stairwell, and look down
the many flights of stairs. "Shit, they're coming this way too,"
mutters Aspen, almost out of breath. "Go up, go up."

Both of them fly upwards, all the way to the highest level. Once
there, they open the door to the rooftop, climb out, jam the door
shut behind them, and dart their way to the edge of the building.

Tommy and Aspen look out over the city lights, gleaming from lit
skyscrapers. Beyond that, a blackboard sky, smeared with electric
chalk clouds.

"Well, there's nothing else we can do except leap," he says. "I
won't let them take me alive."

"That's a long drop down, Tommy. I say we shoot our way out."

He looks at her, his throat catching. "I say you're right as rain."

Sparkling drops of water coming from above put them in a
hypnotic state of sorts. And then it all comes pouring down.

Her hair comes down, over her mouth,

their lips barely touching,

their tongues barely touching,

and the crashing rain sounds like the eruption in them both

that's about to take place.


     V

Wow, my God. Such a thunderstorm! The sounds and sights
of a Day of Judgement rehearsal. I got stranded outside, and
silently invoked the Lord's help, then the Holy Spirit's, then
Christ's, then all three together in order to keep the lightning
off me. Constant rain, steady thunder, flashes of firebolts that
briefly scarred the sky. So scary, terrifying even. But thrilling.

Speaking of thrilling, the storm enkindled a spark of inspiration
and I wrote and finished the story. Well, almost. I still can't find
the proper ending for Aspen and Tommy Boy Bedlam. Maybe I
should leave it without an end, like how I found it to begin with.

"Striving to better, oft we mar what's well."

Nevertheless, I'll strive to come up with some possible scenarios.


     VI

Sergei Trofanov's version of Deux Guitares plays as Dove and
Phoenix dance a passionate tango--sometimes fast, sometimes
slow and deliberate--under a canopy of sky bursting with stars.

The tattered leather-bound notebook materializes,
billowing smoke.


     VII

Well, it's now been a whole week since that apocalyptic storm,
and the notebook, left on my bed I believe, is gone. I checked
everywhere, asked around, and so forth. Nothing. But seeing it
gone, disappeared as it were, missing: it's like someone ripped
a piece of me off and discarded it. Hope it's got a good owner.

Still, this feeling of something precious lost, of a dearly loved
object being torn from its rightful place (with me), won't ease.
I know it doesn't compare to others who've lost so much more,
in a war, in the streets, in a pandemic. But I feel that horror. My
poor notebook. And my poor hope that I'll see it again somehow.

Thinking there might be a lesson to all this, I take it as a message:
Let yourself jump back into the craziness of everyday life--of joy,
of passion, and grief--and resume the shape you had once cast off.

So I'm resuming the journey, my emotional quest calling me. I
head north, with the weight of this unfinished story still bearing
down. This story of two lovers, hearts separate, breaking as one.


     VIII

Dove helps Phoenix alphabetize her books. They sort them out
in stacks, by author's last name, and shelve them accordingly.

You and your books, he says.

She smiles shyly. I know. I eat books for breakfast.

You take them in like a six-year-old eats candy: ravenously and
with abandon. "Krapp's Last Tape" by Samuel Beckett. Odd title.

That's a beautiful play, beautiful writing. Always makes me cry.

EVERYTHING makes you cry.

Yeah, but that one in particular REALLY does. There's a passage
in it where this old man plays a tape of his younger self describing
a girl he once loved and how he shielded her from the blazing sun.

What about it is so cry-inducing?

I don't know. I guess the aching sadness of what might have been
that hangs over it hangs over me too. The loss of delight and laughs
over events, discoveries, moments that never were or will be. Brief
looks at someone you love, no longer yours to enjoy in an intimate
way. Someone who supported, admired you even. A precious thing
to have in one's life, someone who believes in you. All of that let go.
But it's only when you've lost it that you realize it's its true value. The
only thing you can do is just bathe yourself in its crazy vapors. Some
losses are so extreme that giving in to surrender is the only option.

I WILL NOT BE SURRENDERED, jokes Dove.

She points at a nearby bookstack. Can you pass the Bukowski?

He slides the stack in her direction, looks at one of the titles: "Burning
in Water, Drowning in Flame." Yay, more light reading.

You'd like Charles Bukowski, she says. He's a dirty old man like you.

So of all the people you could have been with, why'd you settle for a
dirty decrepit old man like myself?

You're not decrepit. Dirty, yes, decrepit, no.

Feeling an unexpected tug of emotion, he asks her, You don't find my
dirty old man ways annoying?

No. You make it work. It's one of the best things about you. I think it
was your gratefulness and wonder that I even agreed to go out with a
dirty old man such as yourself that truly charmed me.

Charmed you with my own brand of wonder, eh?

Yeah, your sense of being, as you called it, "beyond blessed." It got me.

And much to my surprise, you stayed.

She kisses him. Yes, I stayed.          Can I ask you something, Dove?

He looks at her with a bit of uncertainty, and says, Will it break my heart?

Her attention suddenly shifts to the window. Oh, it's snowing!

Oh wow, he responds as they both cross the room to look at the falling snow.

It's coming down in big flakes. So magical. And at this time of year!

I know, it's already piling up on the ground. How'd we miss this?

We should go have a big snowball fight and make snow monsters.

He offers his arm for her to hold: Do thy worst, Miss Phoenix.


     IX

I cannot say how long I've travelled. Time means nothing now. But
I'm walking along a snowy day's path, sides of the freshly cut banks
of snow making the land look frosted by an expert baker. Blue, light
blue hues outlining, shadowing over the luscious layers of white.

As I walk further, I see a bird, silent and majestic, limply lying on the
frozen ground. I move towards it, and can see its small heart pounding
quickly through its chest. Its epic wings, folded up at quiet angles, are
helpless. I wonder about its former power and grace. Now though, it's
weak, and needs love. I send it waves and waves of healing light and
energy, and then continue on in the cold, so cold, blue-outlined world.

The bird flies swiftly off, with full forward momentum and strength.


     X

Phoenix, in a glittery cloak, sings a melodic song:

"I wish we were free, my love, I wish we were free
I wish the sounds of makeshift choirs would sing of
what used to be, and the world we once knew would
again return, and the birds and the angels will laugh,
while market noises and café tunes will greet us with
'At last.'"


     XI

I'm now passing through another city, sparkling with the sheer
magnitude of a magical wintry evening. I see the remnants of
two snow angels, alone together in a voluminous mass of snow.
They both seem to have the same quiet intensity, the deep made
shadowy contours defining the invisible swirling arms and legs.
For some reason, I feel a tinge of nostalgia, of a sweet moment
being played out in which I wasn't a part. Simple, slightly sad.
Almost seeing life from the vantage point of death, of a ghost.

I make a turn at the next city block, and screaming voices make
me aware of something potentially horrible and tragic occurring.
A cascading sense of catastrophe grows as I see the multitudinous
lights of fire engines and an ambulance. There's a group of people
looking up at the top floor of a three-story brownstone, destroyed
by flame and smoke. I talk to a man, who's crying and in women's
clothes, to see if he needs help. But he just keeps pointing at the
third floor, and saying, "My friends. Great great people. So kind."
I ask him what their names are, which I always do when I want to
pray for those who've died, and after he tells me, I'm struck with
an immediate desire to fall to my knees, and ask God to exchange
my life, as worthless as it is, for theirs. A proper prayer is in order.


     XII

Dove and Phoenix are sitting up in bed. Dove, with the notebook
open on his lap, is holding a pen, trying to finish their story about
Tommy Boy Bedlam and Aspen. Phoenix is writing a long letter.

She stops, looks up, and asks, What would you want to be if you
could shapeshift?

He thinks and finally answers, I'd be a burning hot sun. That way,
people would back off and leave me alone. What would YOU be?

Without hesitating a second, she says, I'd be a sun too. But I'd be
in the shape of a pretty honey-colored heart, with pink at the edges,
and I'd melt into your soft hot center and we'd both shine golden.

He grins, and she resumes writing her letter while he looks on.

What are you writing there?

Oh, I'm writing a letter to CrayCray to tell her what a neat person she is.

Why?

I just think sometimes people need to be told that. Especially if it's true.
And she's really a neat person and I want her to know it.

He nods, goes back to his notebook, and writes something down. She leans
over, reads what he wrote. She then applies lipstick, and says, Give it here.

Dove passes the notebook to her, whereupon she plants three kisses on the
half-filled page.

Way to leave your mark, he states.

She smiles. I try.

He takes the notebook back, lights up a cigarette, and tries to remember what
they worked out earlier vis-à-vis the ending. A few minutes go by. He reads:
"Our hero could've run and saved his life, but instead he chose to go down in
glory, and of course Aspen..." Hey, what was that speech you gave Aspen at
the end? She's holding Tommy's body and she says a prayer of some sort. I
think it goes,          "Lord God of all lovely                    sound?"

He looks over at Phoenix, who's collapsed in sweet tiredness and asleep. He
covers her with a blanket, and brushes a few wisps of hair from her face. He
kisses her, and wonders to himself if it's even possible to love someone more
than he does Phoenix, who he loves, and always will, to utter bits and pieces.

He keeps wondering this as he too falls asleep, the lit cigarette still in his hand.


Co-Supremes and Stars of Love



(The pastor, wearing a velvety light blue cassock, is kneeling in prayer)

Lord God of all lovely sound, who makes the universe hum,
Dealer of thunder that blasts the world, countries rumbling,
Blower of winds that sway trees to the tune of ocean waves,
Giver of music which fills all with the bliss of being alive.
Please hear me.

Great spirit, who truly is everywhere, in children playing,
In the hugging of old friends, in outspread arms of loved
Ones while hero workers applaud. Pattern of all Patience,
Spitting karmic justice in the faces of scurvy politicians.
Please hear me.

Eternal Being, who sees where the holy moon sits in a
Darkening blue sky, who blooms the yellow sunflower
In a field of fireflies, aglow and sparkling like airy stars.
Please hear me and grant mercy to the souls of those two
People who lived in that brownstone on Carlton Avenue.

I ache for Phoenix and Dove. Please watch over them and
Receive them with Your mercy and everlasting holy light.

Please grant mercy to all the Phoenixes and Doves of this
World. Please have mercy on all the souls of those creatures,
Whether human, animal, or otherwise, living or dead, wherever
They are in Your creation, who are suffering or have suffered,
In any way, shape or form, and give them Your healing love.

I ask this in Your name,

(Somewhere, a tree transforms itself into Phoenix, who's in an atomic orange dress
and holding an open leather-bound notebook which casts a magic glow on her face)

(Another tree transforms itself into Dove, dressed in a black cowboy outfit, who also
is holding an open leather-bound notebook which casts a matching glow on his face)

(Both Phoenix and Dove transform and melt into a single beautiful majestic creature,
beating its wings and rising above smoldering rubble as beams of light shine golden)

Amen


previous
Fugue