I have reached a moment in my life when my various mental functions seem to have gone south, or at least are heading in that direction. At going on seventy-seven years old, many of my old abilities of past celebration have indeed deserted me. As a member of a small writers group, I am faced once a month, with an “assignment” to fulfill. It has become something of a difficult task of late. It is, however nothing I find discouraging in any way. And so last December I decided to tempt fate and go where what remaining creativity would take me. The subject of the assignment was something like “Humphrey Bogart revisited.”
I couldn’t remember specific words. I knew, “inside,” what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t reach out deftly and put it down. Why, it seemed to be mostly descriptive words, I had no idea. It was frustrating. It was discouraging but not dispiriting. What I decided to do was challenge the failure face to face. I would try to write my piece “unconsciously.” I would allow my right hand to invent what it would without any sort of deliberate approach. What’s more, I would make every effort to use as many adjectives as possible, accurate or otherwise, not to mention other useful parts of speech.
The following is what that “hand” created. Warning! Do not try in any way to find profound or of any great “meaning” in it. Such a thing does not exist… probably. The story that seems to be about to begin never really does. Unfortunately my endurance also begins to stumble off into the nether worlds. So that’s my excuse for not filling out the original idea for the most part.
Anyway, here’s what … there is a word waiting somewhere and it won’t come to me. See what I mean? I’ll probably come back and put it in when I remember it later. Not yet. I go on anyway.
December 2012 Assignment
Stephen A. Gaines
Something out of Dashell Hammet – or Mickey Spillane I suppose, or, I don’t know, maybe one of many other favorites of my past.
(A search for adjectives and other parts of speech while adrift in an arbitrary mental vacuum and all within an Aristotelian subtext with everything begun but nothing ended.)
It was like living in a perpetual fog. The world was soft and almost impossible to discern. I had been somewhere without dimensions, and the story, off somewhere in that impossible dream, was keeping me strangely surprised. Who and where I might be escaped me…for the moment. I knew someone was coming into my space…some curious affectation on the air warned me of that. I had been here before and the old reasons were only just on the edge of my fading memory.
Was it a hangover, or was I just coming out of general anesthesia? Who could tell? Time began to seep in at the edges of my awareness and daylight finally got the upper hand. It was time to come to. A whole new beginning was there to be examined and be accounted for. And it was unlikely that anyone else would have the answers.
She came into the room in a shaft of light, a soft morning fog filling the space like a sensuous and careful cat, ignoring the obvious places to come to rest. Her languid expression leaving no question as to her intentions. The back light she stood in defined her moment like an unanswered question and the flickering of her dark, almost black eyes, kept me wondering, from where I rested, who had painted this picture? I lay, out of breath, against my high-backed chair and took it all in on the lingering silence.
The morning lapping against the far shore of my wakefulness. It was as much as I could take at such an hour. Her fragrance catching up with me half way across the room. Her steps quiet, almost in the total silence of a faultless dream. She was a ghost, a lingering echo of the night before. A quivering whisper from some long forgotten morning afloat on her hedonistic expression.
Well beyond my ability to define her in mere words, she carried me past my own disbelief. All along the path of inescapable yesterdays. Like a mystery of song, she stood out…alone! A grand and brand new wish. She was something out of DaVinci, something from a past I certainly had never lived, but something I might have invented as they say, in my wildest imagination. Never a part of my sad past however. She was more than a simple expression wavering in a mirage. An incendiary echo of the flame she brought with her like a dare, a totally new moment, an unexpected reality, or so I began to hope.
What it would all add up to was yet to be discovered. I could only let myself languish in the quiet smoldering of her expression. Only wait on what ever patient expectation of my surprise. And the morning, careful in its soft and ethereal beginning, sent me over the edge of that continued hope. There would likely be no repeat of this opportunity, but I had to hold on to that last wish should it evaporate, and leave me still wondering.
So there I waited, grasping at the impossible vision before me, aquiver in the quantum experience, and of the always unlikely lost chances. It all seemed beyond me. It all remained somehow just on the edge of belief, holding on in spite of all other impossible endings. And so I waited, and invented, in my sophomoric hope, a reasonable consummation, quietly waiting at my beck and call. Of course it would never happen, and I knew that in my secret lusting.
It came upon me first of all in my mouth. A taste like nothing I could imagine, a sour life gone bad over the past millennium. My head was spinning like the midway…only barely awake and not far along the path of clear understanding. It was a series of lights and shapes and soft explosions that somehow went along with the taste in my mouth. A fourth of July in curious and bizarre colors. Where was I? Nothing seemed real or sentient. Nothing at all predictable. I couldn’t put answers to any of it. Worlds colliding in the brilliance of my dizzying fall through space and time.
I was on a blind search for meaning. Where was I indeed? The spinning, the nausea, all of one, all in confusion and echoes. It was nowhere as any kind of …what? I couldn’t put a name to it; couldn’t reasonably understand the context. I tried to stand. That was a really bad idea. Over I went in a wild cascade of disconnected effort… over the edge of reality.
The floor was there to catch me and put me back into the soft yesterday and the dreams of that past new beginning, from that long ago incredible memory. It was nothing new I woke to however, rather a soft and curious succession of kisses, gently bringing me back to reality. I had been there before hadn’t I? But in the building picture, in the light of day, nothing but another disappointment. It was just the cat licking my face and softly purring.
It was another gentle reminder of the question mark and the silence of waking up, wishing for the old dream, where I was just enough awake to re-write the developing story. Obviously I was back among the living and all the questions beginning to gather, and with it, the soreness again. I knew there was more to the story than these aches and pains but I couldn’t really put it all together yet. I just let it steep there, in nowhere to speak of, and waited for the answers that would slowly make sense. Since my legs weren’t really working yet there seemed no particular hurry.
There was the end, just down the road. I couldn’t tell with any accuracy just what had happened. There was a cloud of dust that diminished my view. There was smoke coming off the event like a signal of something final taking place. The chase had taken the better part of forty-five minutes. It would go no further, that was obvious.
I felt not a little like Steve McQueen at the end of one of his perpetual car chases. As I pulled up to the scene of the mayhem the fuel tank let go, not unlike those movies. And the bad guys were caught up in the inferno. At least I assumed as much. I knew that in the movies they would walk away after the director shouted “cut!” But there would be no walking away here.
Anyway, justice was done in no small degree. Not that I was the proper tool of justice. I was just hoping there were no collateral damages. It was no small miracle that in the movies all the innocent motorists were spared. In real life things aren’t so even-handed I thought. It was a bad dream that had started simply and had escalated out of my control. I would make a public apology once things were sorted out. But for now I would keep my distance and hope for the best. I would just let the victory ride in its ups downs like a celebration just ever so little premature. The final page in this noisy book was closing around me.
The afternoon quieted down, and the long past morning dream that had started it all becoming once more a lovely memory, and something to dwell on. It would be a long time forgetting this day I was sure. Trying to recapture the past few days an exercise in wishful thinking and impossible expectation, if nothing else. The world would go spinning on and the answers would quietly and more clearly coalesce. Things would return to some kind of normal I supposed, and those reluctant rationale would be found in the floating confusion of violence and inevitability. It was an exercise I would try to avoid in the future… if there was to be a future.
It had been an interesting experience. Things had happened outside my normal pursuits and my life would never be the same. I was sure of that. How would life go on I thought. It might be easy to blame the mistakes on fate I suppose. But of course that would be a fools answer. I had been through it all. I had been there to orchestrate everything, whether on purpose or not. All the events, deliberate or accidental had my name on it. Everything was still foggy, and would be from now on, I thought.
I couldn’t go on fooling myself. History was inevitable and I had “written” it hadn’t I? Somewhere in my wounded brain a chain of events had come up from the depths. I had lived every minute of it and that was undeniable. Did I want to follow it around the next corner? Did I have the strength and imagination. Would there ever be another reason to follow myself down such a curious trail? The best I could answer was, perhaps. It would have to come to me out of a new place. Out of another mistake I thought. And I would just have to sit back and let it wouldn’t I?
Thank you for sharing this horrible, but fascinating, story of losing yourself within yourself. You offer courage and insight to others who may not be as blessed as you are in expressing the terror and fear of living.
For as long as I have known you, you have been open and blunt about your human condition here in the blog. Your heart troubles have touched us for over a decade, and yet — Lear-like — you have survived, and persevered, and set the example of what it means to live a proper, honorable, moral, life.
I hope one day I an write as evocatively as that.
Wow — what a powerful story and a moving tale of your own condition. Thank you for sharing it.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I wish I could write as you do someday. There’s just something about your writing that brings out emotion when it is read and that is a truly amazing gift.
This is a very good article, Steve. You have a lot of ability to write so many good things. I have enjoyed reading all your poems over the years and you have been a good friend to us and I know David appreciates your hard work and wonderful talent.
I am just speechless. Hats off to you Steve. It takes a lot of will power and courage to be so open your condition…. hope to hear more from you. It’s an honor to know you.