She was out there again, pounding her cane and yelling for some seldom-seen cat to get back in the house. I had never lain eyes on her…except once, maybe. I was walking past her house and I thought I could make out a shawl-clad, hump-backed figure lurking
in the back shadows of the screened-in porch; the gleam of her one good (possibly glass) eye peering out at me and filled with all the maledictions she could wordlessly pour into a half-remembered gypsy curse that she’d probably brought over with her on the boat.
I listened as she clamored away, pounding her cane and calling the name of the truant cat out into the darkling night.
I stayed on the stoop.
I needed a distraction…and, luckily, I had one.
I pulled an unopened letter from my pocket and looked at the postmark in the dim glow of the porch light. I had found it again, after all this time, and I figured this was as good a place as any to tear into it and find out what he had to say. I had been saving this letter, as I do all of them, for just the Right Circumstances before I read it. I hoped it was going to be good. After all, he’d never let me down yet…why should today be any different?
I tore it open and he started, just like always; no greeting, no salutation, no header: Just Words.
“We drank bitter whiskey in the morning and sweet wine in the night and we made love like tomorrow wasn’t coming and we'd never feel the touch of another sunset.
We got high on the cheap stuff at home and saved the best for the road…when we really had some place to get to and maybe some people to meet along the way who could tell us about the things we wanted to know and maybe point us in all the Right Directions.
“But people will let you down so we trusted to Luck and never looked back…except one time in
I always tried to picture these adventures and I ended up seeing myself as the protagonist, living way out in the country among rolling hills, lonely gas station outposts and green farmlands; lost in True America, and She was always with me while we acted as Stand-Ins for all the crazy stunts.
I read on.
“We got sunburned last summer and stayed inside in the cool of the shade for sixteen days straight and never saw the sun. We emerged like Super-Sonic Vampires and took on all comers in a no-holds-barred-Texas-Tornado-Steel-Cage-Grudge-Match and we walked away with the Title and a big, heavy, golden belt and the losers were unmasked in the ring and humiliated in front of all the people they knew…and many that they didn’t.
But they ran us out of that town on a rail and we swore to get Earthly Revenge on all the Town Fathers and their subsequent progeny. Only time will tell.”
I could see it all now.
“She walked along the roadside sometimes in the heat of the day and watched things and listened to the grass and people thought she was crazy and threw garbage at her. But once, a big stalk of bananas fell off a truck and she hauled it back to our place and we ate four of them before we found the dried-out, dead tarantula crushed in the bunch. We haven’t had bananas since.”
I began to suspect that my own potassium levels were probably dangerously low, now that he had mentioned it.
“We sit out on the porch at night and sing quiet songs of sorrow and loss for the fist hour and songs of hope and discovery for the second and then we sing songs of Sex and Death for the last; because these are the things that matter most…when you’re singing anyway.”
I really got into this bit.
“I started waking up in cold sweats from nightmares about the old auditorium where I went to school. She asked if I was in a play and didn’t know my lines. I told her yes.
She made me go back there and we crawled in through a busted window and acted out the first half of the first act of True West before they caught us and put us in the lock-up for three nights. And four days. But we ate good then, even though they only fed twice a day. Next time, she said, we’d write our own play and then we wouldn’t get caught so easily.”
I always wanted to know a girl like that; wild but level-headed in a strange, left-handed kind of way. She would lure you into danger but always with a crooked smile and while assuring you that it was for your own good and ultimate redemption.
And it brought to my mind a memory that I had filed away and not considered at all since my rapid and radical Domestication, such as it is. It was back when I was out in the bars, enjoying the faded flavor of the local nightlife.
I met a girl one night who told me she was an exotic dancer from out West and that she was running away from Bad Times and Love Gone Wrong and she wanted to know would I buy her a drink. I said, “Sure.”
It turned out that her name was Skinny Memphis and it took me two rounds of rum to fall hopelessly in love with her.
We went from one bar to the next all night while I paid the tabs and she did all the dancing. She moved like a Wet Dream on Wheels and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her as she swam through the waves of her own secret undulations and hinted at levels of private ecstasy within her that were yet to be plumbed. And we held that manic pace through an endless midnight as we drank round after round and she fed me the citrus slices, all hewn at tangy angles, from the edge of her glass.
She wore a fiery-silver necklace that she swung out wide when she danced and I recalled how it snapped on the dance floor at the last bar we found. I watched as each link of that chain spun out into the air and, as she frantically scrambled to collect them, I thought that each one was a symbol of one more Broken Promise in her life. She never found all of them and she had lost the Precious Talisman, a jingle-jangle, silvery Jesus that had hung at her throat. She went all sad after that and sort of wandered off the dance floor.
I finally lost track of her in the wild surge of that night and she slipped through my hands just at closing time, leaving only the fading scent of her skin on my fingers; lingering right up until Last Call. I never saw her or heard of her again.
But, when she danced, she was a full-on Whiskey Miracle and I knew that I’d never see the likes of her again.
I asked myself how I could have forgotten a thing like that. But I didn’t get any kind of real answer.
I shook off this reverie and went back to the letter.
“We spent a part of the next summer up at Uncle Bodie’s melon farm where he sat in the cool of the evening and carved little totems out of cedar wood. Each one got smooth and slick with the oil from his hands and he rubbed extra dirt into them to give them the Power of the Earth he said. He meant to sell them for extra money but he always ended up giving them away to people he knew who he thought might need a little luck.
And we’d wander off at night after the lamps got turned low and we’d shuck down and go skinny dipping in the branch by the dirt road where the snakes would all stay in the ditches when they heard us coming and the owls would watch us like they really knew what was happening.
One night we slipped up and the Seed took hold and we knew that our days were numbered then.
We went back home and took to spending quiet nights indoors…away from the madness and the darkness of the streets and the lights in town. And we knew we’d never be the same again…but it was okay.
Nothing should stay the same.”
I’ve never given much credence to things like Synchronicity, but I had to shake my head over this one. It was a parallel that was mighty hard to ignore.
“I guess we started to realize that life is, after all, a series of stolen moments bound together only by the company we keep and maybe, just maybe, we began to see that, sometimes, a whisper came tame the world quicker than a shout.”
Well…I folded up the letter and put it back in my pocket, thinking again over the sudden loneliness I felt and I wondered if I’d ever manage to come to a realization like that in my life. And I thought of Skinny Memphis and wondered what had ever happened to her after all this time. But I just went on inside.
I knew She was in there, in bed, asleep and I knew too that I would never tell her about the letter or my imaginings or Skinny Memphis; so I just went ahead and settled on the couch….which is where I figured I probably belonged.