until I met you. It was how I met you.
This is what I remember.
Do not forget.
For three days I have waited in this train station. Always returning at
the appointed hour. The schedule we fixed. The schedule youve broken.
You have your reasons, Im sure. Still, I wait. Until my flesh forgets
and my mind grows blurry, until they usher me out for another night. Until
then I must wait.
This is my holiday. The weather here has been variable, mostly
cold and damp, mist surrounding the city with an occasional break of sunlight
through the clouds. The ticket was cheap. A draft runs through the station
concourse, probably as it has for the hundred years it has stood here.
The ceiling is impossibly high, built to commemorate the triumph of ever
greater connections, with huge cathedral like windows adorning its sides
to allow long shafts of light to fall onto the concourse floor. Matching
clocks, at least thirty feet in diameter, with slate faces, black numbers,
and steel blue hands, stare at each other across the concourse above the
pedestrian entrances; they disagree on the correct time by four minutes.
(I suggest you use the one that is four minutes ahead.) This station is
a giant heart of the city, with arteries and ventricles laced with silver
tracks, pumping people in and out. But there are no deafening whistles
warning of the immanent arrivals and subsequent departures as there were
a hundred years ago. Now the trains are electric and you hear the pneumatic
hisses of train doors sliding open then closed. The sound of steel wheels
on steel tracks. The echoes of thousands of individual footfalls against
the high ceiling, merging, becoming one indistinct sound of motion, of
the promise of progress. Combined, all this forms a pattern: first the
unfamiliar syllables in this foreign tongue over the stations scratchy
speakers, then the clack and patter of footfalls, followed by the hissing
of dozens of train doors absorbing all the travelers. Steel wheels rolling
away on steel tracks signal the completion of the stations heartbeat.
I wait for it to beat again. I wait for you.
This is my holiday. I cannot read the words on the advertisements
that adorn the walls or even the stations timetable. I am here on
holiday, a foreign place where I dont speak the language and where
I rely on a map book purchased before I arrived, maps created before the
revolution. Before the people, in their enthusiasm and zest, renamed the
streets and the buildings. The monuments, stained by decades of pigeon
droppings, kept their names, if not their meaning. The internal security
forces, gray men in dark suits, still lurk in the shadows, still stand
on the corners, still watch everyone, though they are unsure now of which
transgressions they are to stop. Now, with democracy and capitalism roaring
through the country like a virus, the people appear fatigued. They seem
taciturn and sullen, feverish, desperate simply to survive. The editorialists
in the English-language newspaper seem shocked to discover that you dont
get a VCR and a microwave just for knocking at the back door of the Community
of Free and Smug Nations. As a consolation, the new street signs are still
shiny. Too new and shiny for the map book I have. The book was poorly
bound and several signatures have fallen out and been lost during my days
here. Now I cant even connect the streets I know to the page they
appear next upon. As a result, I have been almost totally lost since my
arrival here, relying on any landmarks I am able to find. Lost, until
I met you. It was how I met you.
This is my holiday.
Start with the premise that there are only two things worth having: things
of great utility and things of great beauty.
Then what am I to do with me?
While you are a thing of great beauty.
The tragedy is in the having. The pathos is in the needing.
It was during one of those unexpected breaks of sunlight through the clouds
that I first saw you. You were at a cafe a few blocks from my hotel, sitting
at a tiny black table under the shade of a blue awning, sipping coffee.
Your white raincoat hung over the chair next to you. At another table,
I was struggling to order lunch from a waiter who either couldnt
or wouldnt speak to me in English. The language seems to be resented,
as if it is a skill practiced only by thieves and liars. You decided to
help me. You introduced yourself, helped me understand the menu, and translated
The waiter brought us an unlabelled bottle of white wine from a local
vineyard. I thanked you for your help and asked about your English. You
told me that you owned an import/export firm and that despite the ridiculous
exchange rate between our two countries, you still had a soft spot in
your heart for Americans with language deficiencies. You asked me about
the sketchpad I carried, if I was an artist? No, I answered, just a student
of sorts, a student of the reification of dreams. You laughed, then smiled
in response, and our gazes held each other in an easy contemplation, a
willingness to be more open than strangers really should be. I showed
you my sketches of the places I had already visited: the abbey, the opera
house, the fountain with its beautiful statues in the square. I listened
to you tell me about each of the places, with words vivid and smart. I
told you how lost I was here with all the name changes and my wretched
map of the city. Tourists were always getting lost here, you said, even
before the changes. As you spoke, I began to sketch you, altering my gaze
so that I could simply see the lines of your face.
When I sketch a face, all I want to see are the lines of the face rather
than the face itself. When I see the face I see too much: the lips and
the history of their kisses, the eyes and the paths their tears have traced.
All I want to see are the lines and shadows of the face, the relationships
between its curves, angles and lengths, and to abstract them from their
reality. Do that well and sometimes the history of the lips and the joy
of the eyes are transferred to paper. I have to stop sketching what I
know and simply focus on what can be seen. I explained to you how my life
had come to revolve around drawing, usually places rather than people,
and how I learned something I didnt expect with every sketch.
Well what, you asked, have you learned about me?
I havent finished sketching you yet, I answered. And, sometimes,
it takes more than one.
So you need more time, eh? You laughed and offered your help
as my guide during my stay.
Deciding to follow was easy.
We walked through the city in a meandering path. We talked about architecture:
The buildings that stood here from the 19th century; the towers and who
they were built for. How some of the facades of the buildings had been
allowed to wear away when funds were not provided for their maintenance.
How your great-grandfather had been one of the many stone masons who worked
for over fifty years on the cathedral. How the architect of another building
committed suicide when his patron ridiculed his efforts. How the walls
that had surrounded the city had been torn down when the citys population
seemed ready to burst its bounds. We wondered if the artists who finished
the great mural of the abbey shared the inspiration and passion of the
original artist, found dead in the chamber, brush in hand. We talked about
exchange: how the value of things were so much in flux that making any
kind of prediction about the future was almost impossible; how what you
had today might be worthless tomorrow; how the only moment that mattered
in making a deal was this one. We leaned over the stone balustrade of
the bridge, looking down into the dark river flowing below us. In the
distance, we could hear circus music gently floating over the soft sounds
of the river.
For an hour or more we stood there talking, less about the city and more
about the two of us. As the sun began to fall, I asked if you would have
dinner with me that night. You agreed.
You wrote your telephone number on paper with one of my pencils, filled
with soft lead. You were barely out of sight when I examined the paper
and saw the numbers in silver-gray clumps falling away from the paper,
taking even the impression with them. I resolved to carry a pen.
e met that night at the train station. I watched you walk into the station,
cloaked by the raincoat you had with you earlier, turning the heads of
many of the men waiting for trains, waiting to return to their wives.
As you approached me, I reconsidered my sketch of you; it didnt
do you justice. Id have to try again.
A little to my surprise, our dinner rendezvous was as amiable as our afternoon
had been. And, after dinner, we returned to my hotel.
The first kiss is always special; like a whispered invitation, it was
soft, tender, and in it I took a pleasant delight. It was a familiar enchantment,
a gentle treasure. But later, there was something more to our kisses,
something wonderfully ravenous in the joining of our mouths.
For the remainder of the week, you and I followed the same routine each
evening: a meeting in the concourse of the train station, your raincoat
always announcing your arrival; dinner in a small dark nightclub (our
tables single small candle illuminating your face) where we had
eclectic conversations, drank bottles of undistinguished red wine, and
listened to jazz, usually played by excessively earnest musicians. One
night, when the stars peeked through dark holes in the silver-black clouds,
we debated which Ursa should be Major or Minor, whether Cassiopeia should
be emotionally involved with Gemini or Orion. And each night we returned
to my room. Once there, we sat in front of the large French windows smoking
a joint or two, sometimes sharing ripe fruit, looking down at the lights
of the city, amber and white candles in the deep black space, sweeping
out in intersecting curves, ultimately tracing the course of the still
blacker river. Not very far away we could see the train station and the
glowing windows of the trains entering and departing it. Behind it, rotating
spotlights illuminated a cheery circus tent in peppermint colors and,
beside the tent, a Ferris wheel was spinning slowly through the dark,
lights golden ablaze at its extents. Like kids aloft on the Ferris wheel,
our kisses began shyly. They turned harder and hungrier and you allowed
me to lightly trace the soft, warm curves of your body with my hands.
Aroused, we sampled the varied flavors of our flesh with curious and persistent
tongues; found pleasures in the textures of our bodies with sharp teeth;
mapped our soft, smooth curves and harder ridges with fingers, palms,
and hands. At length, you yielded yourself to me and with your body beneath
mine, sometimes I would close my eyes and attempt to see you through my
flesh, to feel your lines beneath my arms, around my legs; to feel the
shadows of your curves, to understand the physics of your warmth and weight.
I listened to your sighs, I asked you of your desires, I watched your
responses, wanting this joy to be shared and complete. You were so physical
and vibrant that I found myself wondering if I had warmth or weight in
your presence? Or was I simply shadow without the defining benefit of
line? In time, we were expelled from the lush sensations we visited in
a rush of shudders and sighs. We lingered there, time graciously pausing
for the two of usand I was surprised by the intensity of what I
felthow much I still could feelwith you. Afterwards, you cradled
my face with your hands, warm and soft, and I rested in the fragrant scents
of your body, your sex. We laughed then relaxed, tangling our damp bodies
under the blanket for shared warmth. Sometimes we would take a warm shower
together, letting it drench us and we would begin again, the cold air
bracing our skin; sometimes we would fall asleep, the cool mist gently
slipping in through the window, carrying laughter, applause, and music
from the circussounds filled with kindness and joy, the audience
locked in the hope that the daring performers would succeed again, overcoming
the odds against them. Once, as we slept in each others embrace,
I dreamed I was sketching the two of us there in bed, trying to understand
through the drawing who we were, why we were together. Finally, early
in the mornings, in a quiet rapture Id watch you as you dressed
and left for home to prepare for work.
During the days, I would wander the streets and triedmostly unsuccessfullyto
avoid getting lost by following the routes you had shown me during the
evening. The streets were narrow and were bordered by low brick buildings,
most over a hundred years old in the city core, some of high craftsmanship,
most of indifferent design, construction, and maintenance, and painted
in wildly random hues. I dodged pedestrians, bicycles, noisy Volgas and
Fiats, and the occasional BMW driven by one of the nouveau riche, successful
navigators of the suddenly changed landscape.
Finally, Id find one of the buildings I wanted to study and Id
try to find a quiet place to sit to begin my drawing. It wasnt easyeverywhere
the visiting circus made its presence known with aerialists searching
for wires to walk, mimes and clowns, fools and their monkeys, even baby
bears in red collars on strong leashes, all trolling for visitors to the
circus for the evenings performance. Frequently, they would drift
in front of one of the gray men, attempting to irritate or amuse. Sometimes,
they would even succeed.
Sooner, rather than later, my thoughts would return to you, and Id
stop my illustration of the building and look in my sketchbook at my drawings
of you. Id think of our evenings and begin a new drawing, this time
from memory. In each sketch, I continued to look for what I still didnt
know about you. With each sketch, I remembered the touch of your hands
on my face, the scent of your hair, your voice, the taste of your flesh,
the sharp pleasure of your teeth. I was falling, each thought drifting
further and further away from the architecture of this place, from the
gray men watching everyone, from the foolish circus performers, from the
utter simplicity of being a tourist on holiday.
I began to think about how soon my holiday would be over. And that night,
I told you I loved youbut you knew me for a liar, even if I did
not know myself. As I have never known. It seems those words have always
been an expiring certificate, one that crumbles into dust even as I hand
it to you. These words it seems, arent worth the air they vibrate
through, nor the paper the state or church would bless and keep permanently
I protested your accusation, pleaded my case: How could it be a lie? I
knew my feelings and how they had been awakened by our time together.
The passion, the rush of sex and of mind, a chance to dream of the world
and the flesh together. Really, the chance to see the world through minds
ignited by the fleshhow could it be anything but love? No, the words
were not a lie; instead, like all truths, the words were bound by time,
bound in time, bound to dreams. Perhaps those dreams were too much made
of fabrics unavailable in this life. Too synthetic, better living through
chemistry, a house in the suburbs and a Volvo in the driveway. A dream
of safe harbor for mercurial hearts. Oxymoron? Perhaps. But love, for
me, has been an oxymoron in a single word; the single concept joins at
least two and makes them onebut they are never really one are they?
Long ago, I thought I put all this away. Gave up all this nonsense of
negotiating soft and fiery passions for the cold and concrete, line and
shadow. Reconciled myself to a placid aloofness and distance. And I threw
it all away here on holiday; perhaps, because it was a holiday. Return
ticket in hand, goodbyes spoken before our hellos, how hard could it be
to protect the heart even while satisfying the flesh? Hold each in isolation:
mind, heart, and flesh. Do this and be stablesad, perhaps, but stable.
Dead, perhaps, but stable. Failand you are in love, testing a faulty
arithmetic: 1 + 1 = 1. An arithmetic whose proof is only to be found in
dreams where it is simulated and tested in an unreal chamber. The same
chamber that gave rise to the abbey, the opera house, and the cathedralall
taken from dreams and made real, where, somehow, the geometry was true
and could be translated into this world. But love, for me, works in reverse:
it wants to take reality and turn it into a dream, wants me to inhale
you in the measure of a kiss, to take you and merge the two of us: 1 +
1 = 1. I thought I knew better than this, thought I was beyond it. So
do I love you? Yes, with all the impermanence, inconsistency, and incoherence
that are part of the definition, part of the peril of speaking with a
mouth filled with sharp teeth.
You waved your hands and laughed at me, You think too much. Dont
you know the difference between what you wish and what you believe?
I felt silly, without an answer for you. Tourists. Always too charmed
by the locals, too ready to believe everything they read in the travel
guide. I knew what I felt; I knew what I wanted to believe. And later,
I simply felt I was a fool: You are a thing of great beauty, while I am
not certain even of my own utility.
That night something was different. There seemed the same urgency and
passion in your kissesstill, something was different. Sometimes
its impossible to know when something has changed, when midnight
has come in the dark of night. Theres nothing that is said. It is
what is felt. What is heard in the voice.
There is nothing wrong with your voice. It is the same. You laugh,
you smile, you are still enchanting. I am the only thing that is not in
your voice. It is as if all the pronouns that might describe me, might
describe us, have fallen away from your vocabulary. My name off your lips
is simply a name, it is surrounded by a space, something you are distancing
yourself from. Worst still, I cant find you in your words; I no
longer know what you are feeling. Your words have changed from the subjective
and felt, to the objective and clinical. I wait for your voice to change.
It is all I think is right to do.
The trouble is always in the flesh. With the eyes, there is at least separation,
distance, space. A tempting yearning perhapsbut you learn to change
your focus; learn to only see line and shadow, abstract away from being,
find form without weight, without meaning. It is the flesh that allows
a casual touch to ignite the entire body. Ive come to fear my flesh,
fear the intensity of its desires, fear that I will be unable to measure
the reaction, know my own truths from mindless wanting, ceaseless needing.
There is safety in my sketches. The distance of an altered focus. I realize
my dreams on paper, where they can be redrawn, erased, or discarded if
they do not please me. Somehow, I have gone on holiday and have lost my
bearings, lost my way, signatures fallen from my heart. I forgot the simple
rule: do not touch.
But there is nothing to be felt in that life. And only the flesh can feel
I think about my friends. The happy ones, the satisfied ones, are
those who live in houses with their spouses and children. They have their
two cars in the driveway, sometimes three, counting the minivan for the
soccer runs. Their homes are safe and suburban, places where by dark everything
is asleep. Where I live there is never a time when everything is asleep.
I think about their happiness often. When I visit them I take note of
the treadmill they tell me they want to use but dont have time for.
I pay attention to how much brighter everything seemsthe lights,
the walls, the furniture. I listen for the sounds of the children on the
monitor as they play in the basement. And I feel like an alien, separated
from his own, unable to find a coherence in this place.
They invite me to buy the house that is for sale across the street.
But what would I do when everyone else is asleep?
I wait because I must. I wait because Im afraid. If I leave
I know time will pass and ravage me, flesh loosening from bone, aching
for what it will have forgotten. My eyes will cloud until I would not
know you even if you stood directly before me. No, I wait because I must.
I wait because I want you as my guide and destination.
In frustration, I walk to one of the train platforms. A rat, his eyes
too much like mine, boldly crosses the track in front of me. He stops
and turns toward me. Our eyes meet and hold each other for longer than
our relative status should permit. I consider him, wondering if we share
any of the same pains? In the dim light of the tracks, between their silver
ribbons and its stony bed, he seems in no hurry to avoid the light, to
return his dark hole. We could both avoid the light, cell phones with
batteries long dead, and soft leaded pencils whose words crumble away.
He will find his place, will wish to share his warmth, and his companion
will be there or she will not. She will be there or she will be flattened
by a train. She will be there or she will have gone away. In another night,
perhaps he will have forgotten her scent. In another, perhaps he will
mistake it for that of another. His head dips then rises, he turns and
runs away, tracing the path of the track toward his dark hole, where he
will find her there or he will not.
I am here and you are not.
You are. And I am not.
So you see, there is no plot to my life, no interesting circumstances,
no inevitable push to an epiphany at its conclusion. It is all a series
of moments, a fiction of connection, bound by cells, dividing and dying,
each whispering all they can remember, whats left, errors in the
cell division, errors in the DNA, an Alzheimers of the flesh, and
with each division, with each death, less is recalled than in the moment
before. The whispers, the cries, are always the same: This is what I remember.
Do not forget. Each time the message becomes less distinct. So, yesterday,
I could feel your hand, its warmth and weight on my face with just a thought.
Today, even if I close my eyes, I cannot warm my cheek with your memory;
the chill in the station air overwhelms it, the present kills the past.
This is what I have forgotten. Do not forget. So I wait. To find what
I have almost forgotten. A train arrives, a train departs; the heart contracts,
then releases. Sensation fades as the cellular whisper becomes indistinct
and confused. I stare at my sketches of you, line and shadow, not flesh.
In one, we are sitting on a bench in the shadow of the abbey. There are
lonely faces on the people who are walking through the plaza. There are
clowns and mimes, fools and monkeys, gargoyles and gray men. I am looking
at you while you are looking away. This is what I remember. This is what
I am forgetting. I look around at the entrances to the concourse and then
at each of the clocks at either end of the station. You are not here.
This station, built in a celebration of ceaseless motion, is really just
a place of endless waiting. People stand about waitingpatiently,
eagerly, desperately, hopelessly. Some wait for trains, some wait for
children, some wait for lovers. Some wait for death to free them from
the waiting. The gray men stand about watching the waiting, constantly
spying for signs of excessive hope. The clocks that should give hope,
the train is coming, the train is here, simply measure loss for me. Depending
on which of the stations clocks I choose, I can convince myself
that we had four minutes more or four minutes less together. Is that enough
time to change my feelings? But why measure at all? Of what use is any
moment except this one? The measure is always of the past, felt, past
tense, a rabbit racing away into the snow, gone. Why measure at all? Why
feel at all?
I look at my first drawing of you at our table in the cafe. This is what
I can remember, what I will not allow myself to forget. I take my return
ticket for home from my pocket, crumple it, and toss it into a trash can
filled to the rim with the debris of other travelers, other lives. I will
have to find you and convince you of my truth in a language of thieves
and liars. I will have to find you to remember the warmth of your hands
on my face.
A few feet away, one of the gray men observes me and slowly moves an unfiltered
cigarette to his lips. He inhales slowly, his expression unchanged, pulling
in a nicotine coat for an already black heart. The gray man approaches
me and removes my ticket from the trash. With so many watchers in this
place, I am certain to be breaking some law. He takes a moment to examine
it, exhales a cloud of smoke, and hands it back to me.
It is time for you to return home, he says flatly. In English,
The music of the calliope drifts merrily through the station.
flight in dimensions counted five
I have friends who have mastered the art of vomiting gracefully. They
are able to drink without concern and then when their body grows disgusted
with the alcohol, they calmly walk to the bathroom, position themselves
over the toilet, and quietly, with great dignity and reserve, heave. I
am neither quiet nor dignified. I awakened and lurched out of bed, knocking
over the bowl full of fresh fruit on the dresser, and ran naked to the
bathroom, falling to my knees, barely making the toilet. Each spasm was
tied to a sound like that of an animal being kicked. For the next five
or ten minutes, I knelt there, collapsed over the toilet, waiting for
the next retching, until all the liquor I consumed last night along with
other contents I didnt recognize had been purged from my body. Rolling
over, I sat on the cold tile floor, my back uncomfortable against the
still colder bathtub, eyes closed, sweating, and out of breath.
I dont remember how much I drank last night or even how I returned
to the hotel. But at least I am quiet now. After a while, I struggle to
my feet, flush the toilet, wash my face and rinse out my mouth.
I pick up the fruit and replace it in its bowl and walk to the French
windows. The gray mist still hangs over the city but the Ferris wheel
has been taken down and the circus tent is being removed from its posts.
The circus music is gone; the sound of traffic remains. The clowns, mimes,
fools and their monkeys will soon be leaving town.
And the daring aerialists toothe trapeze artists and the wire-walkers.
And maybe its the image of me in golden tights, but I lie back and
begin to laugh, naked on the bed.
I think about our time together and it becomes clear to me how much of
all this was my fantasy, my dream, not yours. What I wanted, you couldnt
give me. Because you were a thing of great beauty, I wanted you to show
me that I was worth having. If you could love me, I could be whole.
But thats wrong. To remember myself, I had to forget you, let go
of my dream of you. And if I can be a fool, a selective amnesiac of experience,
happy in the joy, forgetful of the pain, willing to try yet again, maybe
I will be able to give myself what I need.
I reach over and pick up my sketchpad, find a blank page, and draw two
straight lines, intersecting at a point. In two dimensional space, the
intersection is real and permanent. In three dimensional space, the two
lines may only appear to intersect, perhaps really being an infinite distance
apart along the z-axis. Add the dimension of time and you compress the
concept of these lines into two points swirling in space over time, a
mere coincidence if they should ever meet. Add loveand its unknown
geometryand even coincidence is an improbability, an accident, a
happy surprise in its occurrence.
Still, we try. Or, at least, now I can. You helped me remember what I
tried so hard to forget. So, we try. There must be, I think, a certain
thrill in the life of an aerialist, flying through the air, waiting, hoping,
for a pair of outstretched handsas long as there is a net. We chalk
our hands, smile at each other across the expanse, bow and preen to the
crowds below, where even the gray men pray for our success, grasp the
trapeze firmly and release from our towers simultaneously, soaring through
space. In flight, I release the bar, but Im too clumsy to spin,
and I pray you will be there to grasp my hands, to stop me from falling.
But even if you arent, there is always the net below. I will fall,
I will bounce, and it will probably hurt. Again. And, then, Ill
climb back up the pole and try again. This time, let me try to catch you;
trust me, when you reach for my hands. We are alive in our flight; everything
else is mere waiting.
Still, lets not make this a job; at some point, well want
to have lunch.
I take my luggage from the closet and begin gathering my clothes; my flight
is this evening. I reach into the fruit bowl, remove an apple and bite
down hard into its skin with sharp teeth, savoring the fruit and its juice.
I will probably be the last fool departing town tonight. Perhaps the only
fool in training to be a aerialist of great daring, even if I must start
with small dares.
But thenall shows must close, all holidays come to an end.
© D.M. Hendricks October 2002
More Fiction in Dreamscapes
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