Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Late April

The time, the rainy Northern California winter-time, had passed so slowly. I couldn't bring myself to visit this apartment through the whole of it. It has been nearly seven months. The place is still here, obviously. The gate from Day Lily Street to the garden still creaks. Mr. McLeod still peeks out from his back kitchen window to see who is crossing the narrow path. I think I surprised him with my sudden appearance after so much time.

I had, in September, spoken with him on the phone to tell him something vague like "I'd be away and no one would be coming" in a voice that I wanted to sound bereaved and theatrical. I wanted to convey without a doubt he should not ask any questions. He must allow me to be with some undefined loss and pain. He had grumbled. I assured him the rent would be paid like clockwork. He grumbled less. I added if there were any problems he could call and leave a message at my office. He said, "Ah!" and that was that. I had the bills forwarded, too, so the studio could have heat and light, just in case you returned.

The “going away” was an illusion. I went nowhere. Physically and emotionally I stayed away from that neighborhood, keeping to my work and my side of town, pretending our liaison had been in another country and long ago, rather than in shady, Victorian San Francisco streets ten minutes away. It was hard.

I lived in an adrenalin fueled fantasy you might appear, or phone, or write. There were moments when I thought I saw you at some place in the city, a glimpse only: a certain line of a figure, your distinctive profile, long dark hair. But then it went all wrong, she, whoever she was, would make a gesture that was completely foreign to you, or walk in an an inelegant ambling gait, or turn and reveal a face that bore no resemblance. I spent days wishing and hoping so hard, as if pure desire could manifest you.

Still, I kept this apartment. Why? And then something about this month caught up with me. I started feeling foolish. Seven months has been too long. It was time to exorcise the ghosts. Spring is good for that kind of expedition. I walked the entire way from my house to Hayes Valley. Every change in the mix of fog and sun was significant. Every person I passed carried an omen. I turned on Laguna, and approached the tiny block long pocket of Day Lily street from the far side of the road, like a spy checking for a tail or one of the principals from Spade and Archer, private dicks, casing a joint. Enough was enough, already! I think I made the last few yards of the journey with some sense of normalcy.

I pulled the sadly optimistic note down off the door knocker, the note I had left on that first day, before it truly sunk in that this was over. The paper was brittle and yellow. You have not been here. If the still hanging note wasn't enough to prove abandonment, it was clear from the moment I opened the door. The plants were dead. The scraps of food from the mini fridge and cupboard had to be disposed of double wrapped in plastic bags and at arm's length. Amazingly, no mice had gotten to the remains of the baguette. The apples that we had sliced that day back in September had desiccated and grown some faint white moss. The wine was hard vinegar (took a masochistic sniff) with an algae skin. Even the fruit flies were long gone from it. Scores of dead tiny winged specks littered the countertop by the sink where the bottle stood uncorked. There were our glasses, yours on the table, my own on the counter. I held yours for a moment. Your lips had left their trace.

Everything stood where it was the evening of the day we parted, just more stale, dusty and wasted. I expected Miss Havisham to glide in, but this tiny studio hardly has the mouldering weight of a Satis House, just the stasis. These are things that occupied my mind after these seven months! I cleaned up while fretting about whether the best analogy was Dickens or the Marie Celeste- abandoned and adrift, ergot on the baguette and one lifeboat gone. It was an exercise in reductio ad absurdum. I guess that is good. I'm turning the whole experience into an overwrought comic story - the facts dressed up.

Once I had cleared away the mummified remains of that last evening, I opened the windows to alleviate the stuffiness and stink. I had forgotten about the lilac bushes and bougainvillea in front of the windows of the studio. They seemed to burst in with the air and the light from the narrow garden. It is strange I didn't notice them on the way in today. Perhaps I was over-anticipating something like your presence, a sight or at least a stronger reminder of you, or perhaps a dead body of a mysterious stranger on the floor or a family of gypsies encamped. My vision on the way in must have been focused down a tunnel of desire and apprehension, key out and held at the ready, pace quick. I hadn't even caught the fragrance of the lilacs and I had just walked right past them.

The lilacs had been the first thing that I noticed when I viewed the garden apartment studio last year, immediately predisposing me to let it. They are just blooming again. There is a marker of time. It has been a year since we first entered our arrangement, and seven months since it ended. The lilacs reminded me of a happier, perhaps deluded, time. I found the old scissors in the kitchen drawer and snipped a few blooms. They sit in front of me now at our small table in one of those heavy French glass tumblers filled with water.

Our small table, our French tumblers. Only two tumblers. Only two chairs. One bed. One desk, but two pens. This was all we ever thought we'd need here. This was our sequestered space. All was simplicity by decree. A space to be alone, away in secret, and focused on our art as we used to joke, since the art was overwhelmingly the art of sex, at first. I had my sketchbooks and you had your writing. There were to be no things, just the two of us and the barest of necessities. Necessity proved the problem. Necessity grows.

I'm looking at the pairs and the singularities - forks, plates and spoons in the cupboards, the old sweaters and slippers in the sleeping nook for cold evenings, towels and toiletries in the bathroom, potting soil and a watering can under the sink. In short order last summer we had to designate a junk drawer in the kitchen for aluminum foil, sponges, match books, can opener . . . the secrecy of the place only worked if you could emerge looking, smelling, feeling exactly as if you had never taken the detour out of the life you had. The illusion of continuity had to be in place before we clicked the gate shut on our way back to Laguna Street, to the world. You need things for the illusion of ordinariness, for the resumption of your steps. You must be fed, cleansed, immaculate, unimpeachable.

I remember, after the secret became somewhat open, when Pamin came to visit to talk about the dilemma of our exposure, we faltered around the place in courtesy on who should have the two chairs. Finally, we three sat on the floor. Remember that elegant solution? It was a meeting of chieftains, cross-legged and serious, a tribunal. It was also my first time on the floor not in an embrace with you. As we spoke, and I began to feel pangs of guilt and worry, I looked away, down, around. I noticed the accumulation of dust in the corners and under things, as with any household. I noticed how much of a home it had become. I realized we were a couple like any other, except we weren't. That was the moment I truly knew how it would hurt to lose you and how close that loss was to occuring. This had become a superfluous duplicate of a life you already inhabited somewhere else, but which for me was new and unique. It was inevitable you would go back.

I am sitting now in this white and tiny space and my mind confuses the presences of the past. I could see us for a moment, here for an overnight on a hot midsummer during one of your husband's business trips - candlelight, your eyes gray and jeweled with reflections, like you were about to cry.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Note pinned to door


Leave key under the round stone in the garden
extra paper in the left-hand desk drawer
plums in the icebox
lock-up when you go