There is no time, only what needs to be said.
That fall, at the beach, I saw a man walking an anteater on a brown leash. I had never been to a beach. The sand was a new grit. I was fascinated. A smear of purple sand, like a rash, as I looked behind me at a great house on a hill, an estate known locally as ‘The Castle.’
The universe and its little details, here we are.
A story of falling in love that is indirect because I am, and he can’t. It will not start, nor will it end the way I want it to.
His foot was out the door when I noted the paperback novel in his hand that his love interest, a woman with flowing blond hair whom we met at a soup kitchen, had written. This obviously did not seem like real life, though commonly two writers living together come to know other writers.
I’d never been to the beach. Ruffles of waves and a few coins of sunlight spread into a gleeful, if poisonous sheen.
He had left, and I had, and we had left each other, to go to the place of separation. The question we were left with was, what would we find in that place?
He had left the night before. The night perched high was not as dark as my heart being left, yet it was dark enough to retain our mysteries. A quantity of blue-black velvet pierced with stars.
The anteater turned the corner, but there were not corners to speak of, and then I saw its greenish torso and curious finger- and toenails.
Her novel in his hand was among the details I noticed. Others—the kitchen light was flickering.
In general, I thought, we kept ourselves amused. When I wanted a dog, he wrapped up a piece of cotton. He said, Here, while you are waiting—it’s a pet cloud.
Can I borrow the car that I own?
Now, I’m afraid to tell people the story unfolding. My heart in its packaging. I think the people we know know, but not because I’ve told them, which is maybe what I didn’t say.
There aren’t secrets such as these.
You will always write a letter, he said, of the kind they call love.
At the beach, I walked my heart in small circles, unknowing that my husband would leave me for someone else and my pride would crumble to a pitiful brown ball. I had never had so much pride, nor had I been rejected in so single and clear a motion. I forgot, of course, that I had, have, will again be rejected, and what it means.
I thought I didn’t have time for the man leading the anteater, to look at and appreciate him, as I like to do, believing we are all for reasons. I was still aware that he was someone to know. It was the time and not the time to meet someone new, and one doesn’t and can’t, I think, choose. He had a certain intensity, which I felt in my lower back and in my groins.
Into a space carved from suffering appears the someone whose entrance can only mean he will change your life. It seems he exists to enable this. The feeling of a circle of possibilities—a sensation, aloft, hovering. A constellation, but close.
When I saw the man, the eggshell of my life cracked.
This is one way I can think of to say how life is, how love, which is life, also is.
Is this all? was what he said as he walked out the door. Confusing, as he was doing the walking out, wearing his tight clothes, the same he’d worn since his ninth grade year in high school, he mentioned once, with cuffs rolled just so, and all of him, now, crisp as an apple. His look, a twitching in both eyes, maybe mad. Mad angry, also mad free.
I reached into myself and recalled the time he fell off the car roof in Maine, and an hour in Florida when we raced each other down a short pool as his now deceased father was watching us. Also weeping as we planted an oak tree, but in gratitude.
Friends were coming for dinner. On both occasions. After he walked out and after I saw the anteater. I felt relieved to have a story to tell them, hoped it was story enough. I knew I would have amused myself for hours at many airports with nothing more. I felt renewal, a surge of energy. Intrinsic paradoxical comfort of possibility.
Words circle around, too, like hawks.
Funny how I almost can’t see the “scene” without also envisioning a camera, closing in for its own pleasure. The snout of the anteater meets the snout of the camera. The anteater snout mocks the camera snout, snout to snout, a face-off. I don’t trust words?
He wore argyle socks, was remarkably uptight about almost everything. He was very good at lighting fires. His voice was most resonant when we met, on that night. When he was upset, he would buy new underwear, which I later learned is not so uncommon in a man.
Cameras everywhere around us, like little gnats.
One more thing I would like to mention is that I was young and full of passion. Years later, I met someone else. He saw his anteater on a hanging boardwalk below which lay a corpse, gored, which was not the point of his story. His story, too, had story to spare.
In a bar, beer flowed, which we directed onto our stories, which grew, climbed the sky like Jack and the Beanstock’s beanstock. Then we lay under a table with a child who had been stung by something in the ocean, whose face was touching us with light.
That night, we who were not weeping for anyone other than those we had lost were laughing a lot while telling each other’s vibrating bodies, Hold on. Like this, or like this?
My twin, fellow spotter of an anteater, was green-eyed. A ranger. Who knows who will stride over to one’s flapping heart? He was home from seeing the cheetah of his life, after which everything was downhill, but we didn’t know it yet, as he was still so full of the cheetah, and brandishing a few beginnings per hour—no gravy of end for him. I was a little less me than I am now, skeptically intoxicated by beginnings, and in particular, perhaps, the feverish beginning called bed.
I have always liked sex.
But he didn’t mean it.
He was very sensitive to animals, the man who left, I mean, and not the ranger, who was, really, insignificant. Once a deer jumped into the swimming pool and he jumped in after and saved it, swimming with it to the pool’s edge.
The ranger and I only gave birth to a beetle, which crawled from between our nonplussed sheets, as we felt the corners of our mouths turn down.
Sunrise comes, reflects our true feelings, stemming from our small love. Out flies a ruthless question. Does anything last, ever?
What have I done with my life, my gifts, my supply of self, volumes of which I seem to carry around always, like a child prepared for rain and abandonment. The question doesn’t end. Its permutations drift over me like ash.
He didn’t judge people, I think. Except himself. That’s obvious, and was obvious as he left the door flung wide. But he didn’t judge anyone’s progress, even mine.
The sofa afloat in the middle of the living room until along comes a fantasy of lying in a man’s arms. A new, barrel-chested man, who is watching tennis. It’s just that someone has marched into the empty space that isn’t really empty, but I think it is.
I am tempted to speak of space-eaters.
I’ve tried to talk about why things twisted the way they did, and did I manipulate the situation from the start because I adopted a certain tone when I asked for help. In change, I think, there is always the chance for renewal.
I do not believe that I am wrapping up business from a previous life.
I sometimes spiraled into new darkness, especially if this person, whose understanding I reached for, said nothing.
I have tried not to be coy or even light-hearted, neither do I want to be a bore.
Something else I’m learning from performing, something that I know to be unequivocably true, is that I shouldn’t make demands on the audience. Thank God there are sometimes some ground rules for relationships.
I said good-bye, too.
I am also afraid of the lyrical.
Now, if there were a chorus, would it be, how do I lose myself when there is so much to be gained? How do I lose him? After he left and I was alone, after that time, to extricate myself from what I didn’t know.
I took the train to Rouen. He was a professor there. We sat on the lower bunk with the Wallace Stevens, pouring over the table of contents, speaking a hybrid of English and French with Stevens in the middle, translating.
I imagined Stevens wearing a brown uncomfortable suit and walking along the train’s flank, for miles. Walking along with us.
He was ahead, mentally, the professor, I felt. Then he said,
When I think of Wallace Stevens, my whole body begins to twitch. I feel a great expansion in my chest. I feel a superior sense of height but an inferior sense of mind. This all feels most hilarious, as it would to Stevens. Like Stevens, I add figures competently, but then I set my dull mind loose. I do not write from my mind, but from my height. My stride. I am only walking-
With this remark, I knew that I was not alone. There were others who thought as I did, merrily calling on the elements, of which Stevens, and others, were one.
We were having, I imagined, a good time in the slight misses, like mind vacancies, where Stevens lives.
He did not return, the professor, from Rouen.
I knew a magician who always said, after he had said something, And then I will show you something really amazing, and always did.
Before we met, I was happy. Happier than a green planet, or mice in a mitten. The happiness was pliable, soft. Each morning, happiness cupped me in sweet breath. At night, the cup turned upside-down, protecting me.
I had a room to live in, but hadn’t always had one. We were always moving. I would leave my feelings in the different houses: the house of sadness, the house of anger, and the house of frustration.
The House of Bitterness.
The feelings were always there, but at a given time, one or two would dominate. The houses were built by other people, parental figures—and then I crawled inside, where I would wonder, Can I find myself, or maybe just rest here?
Upstairs, on the top floor of our building, lived a woman with a leg-brace and acne. I had dreams that the leg-brace was the architecture of our building. Her acne seemed to move across her face, in transit, like a zodiac.
This is how it’s always been with me and other people’s lives.
This woman wrote mysteries, and one about all of us living together in the building, and it was fun to be in, though I had no idea what the mystery was. Maybe he, she, or someone would fall “accidentally” into the elevator shaft.
Now, I am the one who is telling this story.
I asked her when and how love would come to me. She knew him, and also knew that I knew she knew what had befallen us, in some way, which maybe caused her to confront me when we were buying the apartment where I would later—and now this is—live. We were in my future, it seemed to me, when she said calmly, intuitively, somewhat darkly, Do you have a dog?, causing him, sitting beside me on the sofa, to tightly squeeze my hand, thinking perhaps that she had executed our dog with her rogue intuition.
Does the psychic woman from upstairs notice this?
I was reminded how he and the dog were attached, even more than we were, who would no longer live together, it was suddenly clear.
How, I said, will I be able to drop my mental preoccupations, the ones that have always confounded me, like what is most necessary to support the creation of new forms—these vortexes in the air, these craters filled with mind jelly, releasing mist?
Can I still drop what I haven’t dropped?
This isn’t a love that’s easy to acquire, not a flight away from ourselves. It’s not like chess.
The writer of mysteries smiles in curves of feeling that sift, like broken snowflakes, to the floor.
I’ll have to go on imagining him, I thought, on my own—a new improvement on the old him, the old him crossed with someone better, a person who the old him couldn’t have been though the idea of this other person would have eluded him, too, teasing, like a shadow. That theatrical dark blob that drew me to him in the first place.
In my mind, a date, in which we went to a movie, and then went to another movie. After, we went to a place that sells knishes. It was in an alley, underneath a yellow awning. Never mind, I said to myself, that I don’t feel like a knish. I’ll have an ice cream sandwich from the freezer instead. Maybe it is the oldest ice cream sandwich ever, we said, a kind of Neanderthal of ice cream. His eyes sparkle, he seems happy. We sit on stools. We keep our coats and scarves and hats on. We sit there for awhile.
At dinner parties, the neighbor, who was perhaps a psychic amusing herself writing mystery stories—and we are all, not to scare you, much more psychic now—would bring out that old theater game, “The Blind Leading the Blind.” As we were playing it, the cliché came to life, radical as snow.
I made the mistake of wishing for a wealthy one, and along he came. His white trouser cuffs rolled, holding a purple bouquet, purple unfolding onto other purple, I remember. And he had been smoking a cigar.
He loved tomatoes, but hated golf, and was generous to those he loved, not speaking to that friend for over a year. It happened suddenly.
Now he is becoming, I think, my best friend, and who knows really what role his wealth played? This is not the rape of Danaë I’m talking about. Danaë, who was locked up in a bronze tower, and still Zeus finds her.
Zeus, that day, a terror of coins. A violator.
Into a space carved from suffering comes the someone whose entrance can only mean that your life, which you believed was yours, and so you carried it with you, tending to it like a helpless little animal, isn’t that.
I think we have to lose everything. We can’t keep anything for ourselves.
I keep my life in a small jar, the mystery-writing woman said. She said it with her same smile, won me to her.
One afternoon, a man called across the aisle at the supermarket, Who are you? It made me wonder. In my hand, a ripe yellow peach. He remarked on this. The extension of an arm through space, as if in tune with the planets, he said, or something, then seeing how this arm attached to the rest of me. And he was an Italian sculptor, who followed me out of the grocery store, his arms full of peaches.
This is not a laundry list of love. I don’t think of it this way. This is not my experience. I am trying to learn, and how it happens, to what degree one’s heart, which was once a tiny constricted space, nest, point of departure, spins into ether, the buzz and field of flying.
Contrary to what we’ve been told, quantum leaps are small leaps, and we should not settle for just another relationship. Still, the electron jumps from one energy level to another very quickly, after existing briefly in a state of superposition, a phenomenon that contradicts classical theories, which demand energy levels to be continuous.
We are not special except insofar as we are each special.
For this reason, I stayed up late, knowing I would have to drop more ideas. On certain nights, the idea that he and I should fill each other with our whole selves, like the rush of water into crevices.
I began writing little notes and sticking them to my relationships, a bulletin board that got smaller and smaller. The river says hi! Bob Dylan says hi! The apricot-colored full moon says hello! This sharpened pencil says hi! hi! hi! I was playing, lost, in my vowel sounds.
We need to be born again, and I still had this to handle in my own heart.
And now I live in this apartment that he furnished with standing lamps and museum chairs. Lighting is so important. A watercolor of a wedding ring, over the mantel. An oil painting of a house. The others are abstract. We have dances to say what we wouldn’t say out loud. It’s the language we talk in at night, when we are lonely and bored.
He came by to pick up the bedside lamp, having intuited from four point two miles away—which is now the distance of our apart—that it needed to be repaired. He brought a replacement lamp, and some magazines.
He calls to say it’s going to rain and don’t forget your raincoat.
This is the kind of relationship we were having. The feeling of our separation spiraling.
We have to write our separation if it kills us, if this is what we want, but it won’t, of course, said a friend. She and I were walking in Little Italy—I’d been telling her the story. We were both frightened by a bell that began to toll ominously. We looked up. A church tower was giving away the sound of pure cosmic chance, a hundred roulette wheels spinning. She said, Why would you look for more ways to trivialize your life?
Next time I saw the mystery writer, I was sorting mail in the lobby of our building, thinking about it. When will I meet him? What is to be gained?
This is how it’s always been with me and other people’s lives.
She told me to expect him, not soon.
On the train to Rouen, with the professor. The subject shifts to Joyce.
I know nothing. That book, Finnegan’s Wake, I know nothing about it.
At which point the professor, who leans his elbows on the window, which one isn’t supposed to open, but nor should one erase those cows and horses, he thinks, yawns and stretches. Fiddles a buttons on his coat.
That’s window-pane plaid, I say, of the blue-green stuff, admiring.
I suppose, now, he’s becoming Joyce.
It’s a dream, says Mr. Joyce. The conception is, was, will be dream, purely, Mr. Joyce says.
A book that dreams?
Indeed. We are dreams, also. Mr. Joyce feeds his voice through the train’s calm lathering.
The train rattles on, brushing the smoky, hayseed-scented air.
It’s strange how you use the word ‘delicious’ metaphorically, says a woman in the passageway outside our compartment. She and her partner have no picnic.
As for the execution, Mr. Joyce says, it was forged in another room.
Are you saying, Mr. Joyce, you were awake for it?
I’m saying that executions are beheadings. That’s that!
Did you chop off your head?
Not exactly, Mr. Joyce says. The book is like a gathering of all the chopped heads, though. That’s what I imagined.
We are silent, dozing, as the train pokes into a tunnel, then out, emerging like a shark’s fin, into a gold meadow.
I’ll tell you something else, says Mr. Joyce, waking. His eyes are little stars, twinkling. That book is my pipe dream.
But that is too literal!
I watch him draw on his stubby pipe. The pipe releases white wobbly balls of smoke into our compartment.
Do you mean to be so literal, Mr. Joyce?
The literal interests me, he says. His eyes half-close. To try to illustrate exactly my senses. Mr. Joyce waves left hand, then right hand through his dimmed, inspired gaze. Literal as wave stuff, he says.
Is wave stuff your word, Mr. Joyce? Tell me what page it’s on. Is it page 334?
That depends on the edition.
Mr. Joyce lets his smile run its course, over his suit, and out the air holes of his little pipe.
The train, too, puffs short stacks of dreams.
Now, here is the epilogue to this section.
I wonder, Mr. Joyce, do you think he would want to overhear this? Because I think of him at all times, in all places.
Depends, says Mr. Joyce.
Mood. That is the fuller form of moo. As in moo-cow. Shortened, it is: mm, and reversed, maybe, om. Omphalos. Mr. Joyce yawns, happy.
If you were drawing the train in profile, you might take pleasure in the formation of those swags the turning axels make, which amount to a train’s thinking. You, too, could bestow consciousness to the train. The train understands all languages, but translates everything into its steady downbeat, its smooth mechanical pull. Compared to your own, its innermost thoughts seem logical.
This scene happened outside of Paris. The sun would soon set. May it set on reason.
The upstairs woman says that fairies sometimes find us in the dark. She says we know when they hold clues, and are hovering.
I had woken up, was drinking piping black hot coffee on the porch. I sometimes find myself in the middle of my activities, with options to consider like place settings—here or here. I gather things that I have missed, and paper, pens. To put them all together.
My desk is a passageway connecting all the people I have ever known, or will know, to all my experience. My brother’s children walk by my workplace in dappled light.
After the truck driver from the South of France came the percussionist from Haiti, whom I met stacking wood. There was nothing to say, only here is another log, which I am picking up from the ground using the strength of my legs and the aid of the flexible joints of my knees. Why should I have been captivated by this game? The memory distracts me, the flow of sexual tension as a man and I stack wood, and mostly he was taking logs away from me, in Millbrook, New York.
I am not now reminded of anyone except the Irish architect who said, rolling apart from me on a friend’s living room floor, Allons, suddenly confusing
me, as I withdrew an arm from under my back, or was it his? Confused by the man’s good looks and humor and Catholic upbringing combined. Why?
This isn’t a laundry list of love, yet I’m reminded of the Texan playwright whose daughter was only a year younger than me, and how I felt like her mother, saying to her as I changed a light bulb, And now?
The war veteran I met at the side of a road who brought a record player to the house, played the Rachmaninov, then took it all away again, pulling it, in a red wagon, to his home. If he had one.
Professors come and say things and, in the beginning, I also do. How does the world show up for us? Is it what you feel? Why is the end of consciousness?
In this chapter, I stand up and wave at the tax collector, but in the next I will be sitting and writing thank you’s.
This zone of knowing can be reached by many passageways.
One morning, a woman with cancer knocked on my door. I appeared to be doing nothing but was half-way through a lesson in happiness. When I heard the sound of her knocking, parts of me fell to either side. To my left, the part of happiness. To my right, whatever’s left of my integrity.
I didn’t know that I wasn’t divisible, that there isn’t a me and a not me. I was busy being happy in the safety of my apartment, wondering, how does happiness hold? Does it fall away to reveal a true, truer, or at least another happiness?
I walked to the door. Is the movement of the mind less valuable than the movement of the body?
I did not have such questions as I was stacking wood.
I think it will be clearer with time how we can help. Continuous breakthroughs will reveal to everyone the unlimited possibilities for healing, and one of the main ones is, there is nothing to heal.
The best medicine is only human.
The woman with cancer is an opportunity. I open the door and feel her confusion. I have dreamt our meeting. We were on a bus, on our way to the catacombs in Rome. I lost my ticket. I tried getting off the bus. Half of a statue of a lamb jutted out from some rocks. Are we here?
One night, in my neighborhood, I saw a person bleeding from his head and I didn’t help. I ignored him, continuing to hold six tacos to my breast like small sleeping children. I was crossing the neighborhood in the belief that I was needed elsewhere.
When I think of him, I hear cello music. I see him wrapped in a glorious robe of light.
Why do you sit over piping hot black coffee? say the children. Of course they say it with their eyes. It is morning, they are hopeful. Children are everything to me. They are in everything, and I hear things.
She, the cancer woman, stands at the door. Twice, in the last week, she cried in her sleep. Her disease is upon her. It is gesturing. Her sister had it too, her brother died from it. They were diagnosed within weeks, or maybe months of each other, and who knows what the cancer thinks—am I staying or going, and really, what am I?
I believed that I could help, while still fearing I would catch the same disease. Or maybe I would catch a different one. We make them up, our diseases, not to imply that it isn’t more complicated.
I have meltdowns, too, and mostly when I’m distracted by a sound outside, pouring through the neighborhood, assaulting me. When I’m not sure of my work.
Pathos has a green heart. It goes out, hoping to meet more pathos. The appeal of emotions can be achieved in numbers of ways.
A woman lies on the table in my living room. She comes from Barcelona. She is blond. She makes fish stew on Saturdays.
Healing the rift between you and me is no easy task.
An hour later, she sprang off the table looking like herself. I have become myself, she said, and walked out the door. I won’t imply that it isn’t more complicated.
I don’t mean to be coy, or even light-hearted. I like drinking milk while paying bills. I enjoy playing games in the yard, particularly if it is sunny. I remember going sailing with our friends. I would contact certain people, if they were alive.
I set out, in this section, to write about my work, yet also to show how I make divisions, and my body takes the cut. It seems, suddenly, there is work and not work. Love and not love.
I think there’s a connection between the work we do and our relationships, and especially when the membrane of you and me—when he left, he carried only that briefcase he bought in Paris, which had a cheerful striped flap—like day and night, is thin.
SARAH FRENCH lives in Brooklyn, NY. Her fiction has appeared in BOMB Magazine, The New Review of Literature, and The Massachusetts Review. She is the contributing editor of Immediate Experience, a monograph of artist David Salle. She has completed a collection of stories and is working on a novel.