House Of Clouds | Leah Erickson

House of Clouds

 
 
 
A quickening, so delicate that it could only be picked up by the machines, those electronic murmurs and whirs and beeps that measured the faint whispers of her heart, her breath, and her brain. In that moment the reanimation of her life was as delicate as a puff of dandelion seed on the wind. Would she hold aloft?

Stronger then; a momentum was gathering. The room was dim and very warm. The doctors, gathered around and watching her raptly, conferred in hushed, excited voices. Technical terms that Howard didn’t understand.

“Is…is it happening?” he at last asked, breathlessly. A childish question. His hands were quaking.

The doctors turned and stared at him for a moment as though they had forgotten he was there. Howard, their great benefactor, the one who had bankrolled their non-profit research project for years. Howard, husband to the young girl who lay on the table before them.

At last, the young resident with the mussed up hair suddenly smiled at him, a wild look in his eyes. “Yes. It is happening.”

Beep beep beep. A tremble of her eyelids, as though underneath her eyes were moving back and forth rapidly. And, could it be, her lips had parted slightly! The lips were purplish blue, but still full and cushiony. All of her was tinted a purplish blue, but she was still beautiful. Still a fresh young girl of twenty-three, after all of these decades. Vulnerable and naked beneath a white sheet, wires attached to her chest and to her scalp.

The fingers of one hand started to move slightly, and in spite of himself Howard emitted a strangled little cry. It reminded him of the way he felt watching his children being born; they had had the same bluish skin, glistening wet, the same slow, uncoiling movements as they became acclimated to life. His three children, now adults, born to his other wives. The ones who came after her. But he had never loved another woman the same way.

Love, my love. A miracle; her eyes opened, and they were still a breathtaking pale green, and they looked around the room, startled. They seemed not to quite focus. Her eyes slid over the doctors, the instruments, him, and then her gaze settled on the soft recessed lighting overhead. She took one deep, shuddering breath, and seemed almost to glow with incandescence. She was like sunlight. Her beauty had always stunned him, he had forgotten how much. Her face. It opened up worlds to him. In the background of the high-tech noise, those whirs and beeps of machinery, he thought he could hear the soft roar of waves, the cries of gulls. In his mind he suddenly saw an image of her in bright floral bikini, stepping into the surf with her hair blowing back on a late summer day in 1973.

“Patty, oh Patty,” he said, but it came out as a croak. An old man’s feeble plea.

 

*

After a long period of observation, when she was deemed to be stable, he flew her across the country to his house in Maine, a rambling, shingle-sided mansion on a wooded lot, with views of the rocky coast. Their first day home he dressed her carefully, in layers, to protect her from the gray gusts of wind that sometime blew in from the sea, and showed her his late summer garden. The bleeding hearts were turning brown, but the black-eyed susans still blazed tall. The pinkish-white hydrangea was lovely to see. But already there was a crunch as they trod on the very first green acorns.

They had to move very slowly together, with Patty so weak from her recovery, and Howard moving gingerly since his hip replacement last spring.

He also spoke to her slowly, soothingly, careful not to overload her. “Darling, do you remember anything yet?” he asked for the first time, “Anything at all?” He tried to quell his pathetic hope, that mostly she would remember him.

Her lips parted again in that lovely way she had when she was deep in thought. She coughed a bit. Sometimes it was hard for her to draw the breath to speak. She was still so fragile.

“I….I…”

“Yes, darling. Take it slow.”

“I remember….going to an art exhibit. With my friends…” She rasped out her s’s. “Everything in the exhibit was painted white….” She spoke so quietly he could barely hear.

“Yes? How interesting.” And was I there?

But she said no more. Since speech had returned, she often spoke in fragments, beguiling puzzle pieces that he couldn’t yet put together. He reminded himself of what the doctors had said: there had been fracturing. She had been literally shattered. Her memories, too, were like delicate crystalline shards. I remember…walking through the alley after school, running my lunch pail along the metal fence, and the smell of ash in the air…my pink chiffon dress printed with red cherries I wore to the Sadie Hawkins dance…my Miss Revlon doll with her trunk full of clothes. The dove that cried near my bedroom window…

The technology, new technology, had allowed them to repair her damaged tissue. (She was all mush inside, imagine! The young intern had told him, goggle-eyed. Now she’s good as new!) Her brain had been scanned, uploaded, and rebooted—a computer, essentially. But still, she was so fragile. Even the irises of her lovely eyes seemed cracked, like broken glass.

Most of the memories seemed to be from her girlhood, before he had known her. Nothing about their years in Laurel Canyon in the late sixties and early seventies. Nothing about her years in show business. Would she remember that it was he, Howard, who was the love of her life? That it was he who had believed in her more than anyone else, and had wished all these years, more than anything, to make things up to her? And he would, until his dying breath. He would make things right. Of that he was sure.

But when he helped her dress for bed, he couldn’t help but flinch when he ran his wrinkled hand lightly across her bare arm. The tracks were still there after all those years, where she had plunged the needle into the tender young veins. Barely visible like stars in the early morning sky. Bad decisions will leave their mark, always.

 

*

Howard had fled the west coast years ago. The excesses of the past made him too queasy to think of them, even now. But still a certain jangling guitar tune, a certain slant of golden light, could bring him right back to that time and place. That house in the hills they had, with its bright Spanish tile, its high-beamed ceilings. The all-weather cabanas where their guests would lounge by the pool, drinking, laughing, their soft laughter carried away in the early evening breeze.

Jack Nicholson. Peter Fonda. Carol King and Harry Nilsson. They were all there, unreal looking, in the old photographs. Friends, friends of friends. Something had pulled them all into the orbit of the Canyon. Some hot, wavering energy that made them feel reckless and immortal. When he saw his own face among them, Howard Bennet the magnanimous host, benevolently stoned, he could hardly recognize himself. He looked so self assured, so placid, as though looking into his own future as something warm and kind and welcoming.

Howard Bennet was one of his era’s most influential filmmakers pioneering the cinema of the anti-war counter-culture movement. Bennet was a master of portraying a generation’s loss of innocence and ennui of disillusionment. Made on a low budget, influenced by European arthouse movies, his hard-edged portrayal of outlaws and antiheros brought in millions at the box office and changed the Hollywood system for good.

These scraps of his own biography, he found immensely difficult to read. He just didn’t believe in them, any of them. Though he still couldn’t resist skimming them on the Internet.

Though Mr. Bennet continues to put out a film two times a decade, he remains a mysterious figure. Now aged into his late seventies, he refuses all interviews and lives a reclusive life on the rocky coast of Maine, a far cry from when he was a fixture of the heady LA party scene of the sixties and early seventies. He has shunned the spotlight since the death of his first wife, Patty Hunter, of a heroin overdose at one of Bennet’s infamous weekend-long parties…

Young people sometimes hunted him down still, coming boldly right up onto his property. Knocking at his front door in the middle of the night. Or surprising him in his garden, an old man who still dressed in black jeans and pointy boots, on his hands and knees pulling the weeds out. Excuse us, Mr. Bennet? He would look up, dazed, the hairy roots of wild morning glory dangling from his hand, still throbbing with life. We just wanted you to know we’re big fans. It’s like, you understand what it’s like to be alienated. He would close his eyes and turn away. Their youth was unbearably bright and earnest and painful to look at as the sun. Fuck off, he always muttered.

But they even loved it when he told them to fuck off! That, too, became part of his legend. It cemented their idea of him as some kind of surly rock star. He couldn’t win. Idiots!

He craved solitude. He had been alone for so long, that now it was the only way he felt natural. It enabled him to live as though in a soft cloud of ether. Not thinking much about the past. Not thinking much about the future. Feeling neither hope nor despair. It was merely existence. Unchanging, unwavering. He could have gone on the rest of his life that way.

Until the day the lead researcher called him to say there was an outside chance of being able to bring Patty back. And in spite of himself he began to feel hope for the future. To dream of his own redemption.

 

*

She was having a hard time, still, with swallowing. The muscles of her throat were slack and disordered. He helped her to eat, mostly pureed foods. But at least her appetite had begun increasing. She was becoming stronger. One day he decided to attempt feeding her a wedge of avocado with a small spoon of caviar on top, an old favorite of hers from the old days. He held it up to her lips, and after a beat of confused hesitation, she took a small bite. And in that one glorious moment that made his heart stop, true pleasure slowly spread across her face at the taste of it. He could almost see the synapses in her brain lighting up like firecrackers; she licked her lips like a cat, and looked at him with a devilish sparkle in her eye. There you are, my love!

That look in her eye. He recognized it from elsewhere. What was it reminding him of, from their past? With a shock of sick guilt, he all at once remembered: what it had been like when he had tied her arm off and plunged the needle in for her, to save her from squeamishness. She had looked at him in just that way, lips parted in wonder. A gasp, and that lovely, wicked grin, and he, already surging from his own high, knew only paradise, sparkles of light, searing joy that would last forever.

He cut her another sliver of avocado, heaped the caviar on the tip with the tiny silver spoon. She ate this one greedily, smiled again, then said in a faint husky voice, “Ca…Casa. Casa las Nubes?”

Oh…House of Clouds…yes. Mazatlan. 1972! They had stayed there, in that grand eight bedroom colonial on the beach. A huge group of them. Friends. Friends of friends. Howard footing the bill, when he didn’t even know half the people. Those three weeks that stretched on forever. A lifetime of its own. Sex and drugs. Madness. It didn’t even seem real, now. It was all a dream.

“Yes, darling. You ate avocado and caviar for breakfast there, out on the patio.” He stroked her hair, he wanted to bring forth more. “Remember how beautiful it was? The clear waves and the green islands…” Patty barefoot in a long printed sarong, cutting her eyes at Gerard, his assistant. Howard’s simmering jealousy. Well. Of course, he had had his things, too. Mistakes. Best left unmentioned. “Remember the brick courtyard in the center? We were so happy there.”

She was silent a moment, looking straight ahead, lost in thought. At last her gaze settled back on his. “Spider,” she said, flatly, in a clear voice.

“Spider?” Was she confused? He didn’t know what she meant. But then suddenly he did. Patty had gotten a spider bite in that brick courtyard. The bite had given her a reaction and made her young arm swell up grotesquely. And she had behaved so oddly, like a different person. Cursing him, even spitting at him once. She had spent the last part of that trip ill in bed, with the blinds drawn, under the slow-turning ceiling fan. The doctor, an alarmingly young man, gave her a shot and Howard sat with her and fed her ice chips.

He had forgotten all about the incident, until now. Funny how a thing could vanish from memory, only to appear again, unannounced and startling in its wholeness. To think it must have been there, deep in his brain all this time. Like a secret corridor.

Without even realizing it, he heaped the spoon with caviar and brought it to his own lips, eating but hardly tasting it. Staring into space.

 

*

Silent screen test. She was luminous, even in black and white. Minidress with full, poet sleeves, hair piled up high on top, tendrils below. Double false eyelashes made her already large eyes seem to consume her small face. She held up her own clapperboard Screen Test. 3/69. Director: H Bennet. She could always, she told him later, find the key light by its heat. She smiled at the camera bravely, but with a little tremble about the lips. A little vulnerability in those large dark kohled eyes. Lips silvery pale and waxen. Just a girl, really, with a girl’s clear-eyed curiosity. Such a lack of cunning. Howard knew immediately that he not only wanted her for the role, but that he could love this girl. That she could save him from his darkness. Alone, in the shadows of the screening room, he watched those silent lips moving, and she seemed to be speaking directly to him, to his soul. What she was saying, he did not yet know.

 

*

But will it truly be her again? He had asked this of the doctors on the panel. They had been sitting at a table with him in an empty conference room, showing Howard pages of data that he didn’t understand. Truthfully, he felt stupid. His questions sounded so naïve and clumsy. And yet these educated men were so reverent of him, their financial benefactor. He felt like a boy king.

The leader, the tall intense one with the rimless glasses, smiled mirthlessly, eyes steady on his, like two blue gas jets. Her long-term memory, all the things that make her her, are still there. Locked in, and able to be revived. She will be an upload, in a sense, of your wife. If you are able to accept such a term, Mr. Bennet.

 

*

Until Patty, he had been dead inside, scoured by ambition and free floating anxiety and the jeering voices always attacking him in his head. He had gotten his start in television, had always wanted to make films, and now he was, through his own sheer force of will and years of relentless work and perfectionism. He had achieved everything he ever wanted, but it wasn’t enough. Only Patty assuaged his fears and doubts. No more night sweats or bad dreams. She made him feel safe, yet free and easy at the same time. She even smelled fresh, like an open door on the first day of spring. She embodied joy.

At the end of their first long, amphetamine fueled night of listening to opera and speed-reading Kierkegaard together, Patty insisted on going for a night walk on the beach. She did not want the night to end, she said. It was so beautiful. She pulled him outside. There was a black wind, and long thin clouds raced past the light of the moon.

She stretched her arms up, and she seemed to be encompassing everything when she said, “I want to consume this night, and make it a part of me forever.” She turned and looked at him, with a smile of such delighted amazement at the possibilities of the world, that she transferred the feeling to him, too. Then she pulled him down with her into the sand.

Did he even know his good fortune, back then?

 

*

Patty continued to grow stronger two weeks after leaving the hospital. Her eyes were brighter and she could walk unassisted, without having to pause to catch her breath. In fact, it was hard now for Howard to keep up with her. His old man’s body was a burden that slowed him down. Though he was still slim and fit in his black jeans, he feared his body was finally giving out on him.

But his young wife was like a chrysalis, ready to bloom wings. Earlier he had gone shopping on his own to buy her new clothes, wandering through the boutiques in the quaint village square, trying to guess what she would like. What did she used to like, when she was alive the first time? Don’t put it that way, he reprimanded himself. But soon he lost himself in his task. Bright lovely dresses with a generous sweep, a flowing cut, that’s what he remembered her wearing. It made his fingers tremble to touch the clothes on the rack, but he heaped piles of lovelies into his arms. He fumbled, overcome, as he passed over the credit card…

And she did seem to like them, later, looking into the mirror at herself with a soft smile of dawning recognition. She chose a crimson dress, cut on the bias, and a crocheted sweater. Howard insisted on a wide brimmed hat, (she was still sensitive to the sun) and out they went, on their first public outing: to the autumn festival in town.

It was a gorgeous day, with a soft golden light in the air. The streets of the harbor-side town were shut down so that pedestrians could fill the streets that were lined with stalls. People sold paintings of the local coastline. Hammered silver jewelry. Hand-poured candles and jars of dark, golden honey. There was a smell of fried dough and cotton candy in the air. There were shuddering inflatable bouncy houses filled with the delighted screams of children.

His wife walked ahead of him, tall and beautiful in her new leather boots with stacked wooden heels. The sea breeze stirred her hair, the silk of her long dress. She paused here and there to look at a tin garden sculpture, a tray of glistening glass rings. Usually in public, Howard would be recognized and occasionally approached by fans. But this time it seemed people were looking more at her. It occurred to Howard that people might think he was her father. Her grandfather.

But that did not dampen his love. It looked as though she were really enjoying herself, and it made him happy.

A gaggle of girls her own age were up ahead, at a rack full of velvet hats. Chattering, laughing lightly, trying things on before a full length mirror. He saw his wife approach the group hesitantly, watching them with a shy, hopeful smile. Anxiety tugged at his heart, to see her this way. She belonged with them, she was more beautiful and sweet than any of those others. After such a long period of darkness, didn’t she deserve some light? Some fun?

Please, let her in, Howard tried to will the girls with his thoughts.

But as Patty’s reflection appeared wanly behind their own in the mirror, a ripple of unease seemed to pass through the group. Patty lifted up a shawl of patchwork velvet and draped it over her shoulder, lifting it to her cheek and smiling with pleasure at the soft touch of it. She said nothing, but smiled at the girls in such an appealing, dreamy way.

But it was as though Patty carried a cold chill around her that cast a pall over the group like a cloud passing over the sun. The energy changed. It was as though those girls could sense death in their midst, and things grew quiet and strange. They put back the hats and moved on.

It all happened in just a small moment, a fraction of time. As Patty looked longingly after them, Howard quickly strode over, paid the exorbitant price of the shawl, wrapped it lovingly around her, and said, “Here, here, darling. Never mind. I love you.”

But his jaw was clenched, his face flushed red with anger at the unfairness of it all.

 

*

People had thought, way back then, that it had been he who saved her. From bland obscurity. From the endless ocean of girls desperate to be starlets.

It was different than that. It was she who discerned him. Saved him from his own circumscribed life. He had always been living in the shadows, and didn’t even know it. He had still been the dark-eyed boy who lived alone with his mother in the old walk-up tenement in Brooklyn. Patty saved him from that crampeness, that shame of fatherlessness, of poverty, of beans in the pot and sad yellowed sheets flapping on the line.

Howard was able to escape this inner prison once and for all. He no longer felt the heedless drive of ambition at all times. She was such an elemental being, as though she were made of sunlight or flame. She taught him to live.

He had never been a true celebrity, with his picture in the magazines, until her. Never truly had friends. But then, the beautiful people flocked to them. Deep inside, he knew it wasn’t about him. It was because they saw something in Patty. Her brilliance and beatitude. It rubbed off on him. And then theirs was the exalted life. And why shouldn’t he feel this ecstasy all the time? He deserved it! Had been starving for it all along.

A new kind of life, never lived before, was what they thought they would have. They wanted to go always further. There was a kind of beautiful momentum. They wanted more. More beauty. More love. More of everything.

Was it she or he who started shooting smack first? He truly didn’t know anymore. At the time it felt like a spiritual ascension. A cosmic yes. Together they experienced love in its most brilliant, crystalline form as it filled their veins with light. Together they embarked on an ocean of bliss, and their hearts, minds and bloodstreams felt as one.

Other people, their friends, tried to intervene. Told them it wasn’t good to be locked up together in the bedroom for weeks at a time, wasted out of their minds. That it was going too far.

But going too far was the whole point! The life they had together was a beautiful garden they never wanted to leave. And other people, especially friends with their righteous “good intentions,” were increasingly unwelcome.

He could not bring himself to think of Patty’s death. Sometimes involuntarily, in his mind’s eye, he saw a flash of his dead young wife: the blue skin and the scrimmed-over eyes, the needle still hanging from her arm. Just as quickly his mind would go blank, so there was nothing anymore, just a dull numbness (though how his hands shook!) Only the dimmest recollection of the party that was going on, strident glam rock on the stereo, insistent and throbbing. Screams and panic as the girl was pulled out of the bathroom and laid on the living room floor.

It wasn’t your fault, Howard. She did it to herself. You aren’t responsible for her bad luck. We each have our own fate, man.

He could hardly say now why he made the string of decisions that he had. All he could say was at the time he wasn’t feeling or thinking anything. But he was surrounded by many people, only too eager to advise and guide him. And strange people they were, the denizens of Laurel Canyon, 1973. Doctors, gurus and mystics. Mad poets and disillusioned screenwriters. And singers with voices of angels. Who was it, in the immediate crazed aftermath, who had whispered to him of cryonic suspension? Who had urged him to this insane, sci-fi dream of suspended animation? Who had convinced him to hope for salvation, a second chance, some day in the future?

It could have been any number of those nutjobs, he often thought with a grimace. Nutjobs, all of them. Thank god he got away.

He got clean through those desperate, terrible weeks at the methadone clinic. He sweated through his sheets and shook and dreamed that his darling floated above his bed, hair sparkling with ice crystals, and she gave him a kiss that tingled blue and painful as frostbite.

I’m sorry, Patty, that it was you and not me.

It was he that got a second chance, and went on to live his life, and make more movies, and win more awards. To remarry and have children, and grandchildren, while poor Patty slept like a doomed princess in a fairy tale.

And meanwhile, all that time, the technology was developing, growing richer and stranger and more unfathomable. The scientists and doctors grew stronger in their knowledge until they were like gods, rumpled young gods. Most had not even been born when Patty had died! Now these brilliant children in lab coats decided her fate. Because of them, what was once unimaginable was now real.

 

*

“Patty? Do you think you would ever…want a baby?”

He asked this shyly as they sat on the bedroom balcony in the afternoon, looking out over the crashing Maine coast in the distance. He had been planning to ask this for a while. Not because he wanted it. He just wanted to give her whatever she wanted. Of all the experiences she had been cheated of.

But she just looked at him, uncomprehending. “A baby?” she asked, brow puckered. She had a book face down in her lap. Poetry. Adrienne Rich. Patty enjoyed reading again, the forgotten rhythms of the poetry that she loved (when she was alive the first time.) Television seemed to over stimulate her, so it was avoided. Just as well, because Howard had never fully discussed the whole truth of her situation. It was advised that she go into therapy first, but Howard didn’t want to. He wanted it to be only the two of them, no one else. No intruders in their garden this time.

“Why would I want a baby?”

“Well, honey, I just wondered if you would want one. Of your own.” She still didn’t know of his adult children, nor they of her. “Well, what would you like to do? Travel together somewhere? We could go back to Mexico. See if Casa las Lubes is still there. We could buy a motorcycle. We could live on an ashram. We can do anything that you wish, the possibilities are endless…”

Lately, her mind had been quickening considerably. No more vagueness or staring spells. It was as though she was in sharp focus now. And sometimes, now that she was really looking at him, it gave Howard the disconcerting feeling that she was a stranger. Who was this girl? It wasn’t quite the young woman that he remembered. Something about dying had changed her irrevocably.

It was something new, the way she was looking at him at that moment. Thoughtful, but alert. Considering. She was so sober and deliberate now. It was almost as though she had aged, after all. Sometimes her right arm pained her, stiffness in the ligaments having to do with her ordeal. It seemed to spread from one limb to another at random. It made her walk stiffly, like an older person.

At last, she answered. “Howard, honey. I just need time. Please give me that. And space. I think I need to be still. And think about things.”

Pity. It was pity, making her eyes go soft and liquid! Pity that made anger flare inside him, and drove him limping from the room, so he would not have to look at her.

 

*

She enrolled in adult education classes at the local liberal arts college. There was such an acceleration of her synapses (the doctors told them that this was to be expected, and not unusual, in a downloaded mind) that she craved ever increasing intellectual stimulation.

“But Patty, why don’t you enroll in regular daytime classes? With people your own age?”

“That’s okay. I prefer staying where I’m at.” She was taking night courses. One in poetry and one in biology. She had even quickly made some friends, a trio of women in their fifties. They went out for coffee together, sometimes to movies. What did they talk about? Howard couldn’t wrap his mind around her new life. It was all happening too quickly.

He tried to laugh it off. “You’re so mellow now, darling. You used to be so fiery, when you were a young actress. You would try anything once. Don’t you ever…miss being that way?” He had started off with a jocular tone, but somehow he had ended sounding accusatory. He tried to smile, but it felt false.

It didn’t bother Patty, though. She remained placid, even smiled a bit wryly. “Maybe I learned a few things in life, the first time around.” She patted his hand, comforting, like a mother.

 

*

He came home in the early dusk. He knew where she was; he could hear her in the study, writing a paper on the computer and listening to music. Funny, it seemed to have taken her no time at all to master current technology. (Maybe it is because she is the latest technology, a voice in his head said to him before he shushed it.)

Howard had made a special play list for her of songs of the time and place when they were married. The musicians that, once upon a time, he had known personally, like Carole King and Harry Nilsson.

But for some reason those songs didn’t seem to resonate with her, not at all. She seemed to enjoy more the songs she remembered from her girlhood in the fifties; she was at that moment listening to Blue Moon on repeat. Her face, moonlike itself, glowed softly in the computer light, makeup free, and with her hair plaited in that way that made her look like a peasant girl or a young nun. He had to rap on the doorway to get her to look up at him.

“Hello, remember me? Your old husband?” he joked.

“Hello,” she said softly, fondly, as if he, too, were an apparition of her past.

But she did not ask him where he had been all day.

One thing he couldn’t get used to, this second time around, was her absolute stillness. Her absolute calm presence in a room. It made him feel, for some reason, panicky. Apt to do or say reckless things.

“How was your day, darling?” he asked, heart racing.

“Not bad. Just finishing this paper, mostly. I’ll be working at the soup kitchen tomorrow, though.” Patty had joined a group of Buddhists, people he didn’t know. They had meditation sessions and worked in service groups. “How about you?”

Howard went blank for just a moment. He didn’t know what to say. How could he describe what forces had compelled him that day? He had driven an hour away, to an impoverished little town inland. Factory town. He had driven aimlessly along those gray streets of shuttered up buildings and graffitied storefronts. An old man looking beseechingly among the street’s shadowy denizens.

“I was just out for a drive.”

“Where?” She was pausing to look at the screen, at a sentence she had just typed.

Where? He had searched for something. Patty’s calm, Patty’s spiritual awakening had driven him to despair, as though he himself had been gypped. She had found God in a tree, a leaf, a cloud. All these years he thought he would find God in her. But she had left him behind. He had no past. He didn’t know the future. He alone was lost in the great uncertain present, driving those one-way streets, until he found what he was searching for; the two hooded figures huddled against the brick wall. Eye contact. One walked forward with a hopping lope, hands in pockets, the guy was just a kid but he sure had the indifferent eyes of death, hadn’t he?

“Nowhere, really.” But he’d got what he wanted, a brick of packets. The packets were stamped crudely in red, Murder#1. Almost made him laugh. He had them in his pocket. He liked to feel them. He didn’t know if he had the guts to use them. But having them was somehow calming to his soul. “Patty?” He asked, teasing the crystalline contents with his fingers.

“Yes?”

“Do you love me? Really?”

She frowned at him, with concern. Compassion. That was what he wanted, right? To bask in the warm glow of her sympathy.

She stood up, shaking her head. “Howard? Why do you even need to ask?”

And she came to him, put her arms around him. He leaned heavily on his young wife, feeling her warmth, but his eyes stared straight ahead.

You love me, but would you save me, if you had to?

Because as he was driving those slum streets that day, lost and trying to get back to the freeway, he didn’t know who he was anymore. His life was breaking up into fragments of images that he alone had to piece together into a story. His own story.

A California sunset. The lazy strum of an acoustic guitar. Soft laughter.

On a private movie screen, a luminous girl speaking to him in silence. Close up. Closer, and she becomes a being of all shadow and light.

Quiet on the set!

Sounds of time. Bells, clocks, and whistles.

Snowflakes melting on a steamy classroom window.

A girl’s voice whispers: I saw the void. It was white. Everything was white.

Walking up the dark narrow stairway to a dank smelling railroad apartment, where his mother’s voice calls, Howie? Is that you?

The whir of a projector wheel in the dark.

Spider.

 
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Leah Erickson

Leah Erickson has had her work published in a wide array of literary magazines and journals, including The Saint Ann’s Review, The Fabulist, The Summerset Review, Forge Journal, Eclectica, and The Coachella Review. She lives near Newport, Rhode Island with her husband and daughter> Her novel, “The Gilded Lynx.” will be published in the fall by Kraken Press.

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