by William Doreski
Godiva and the Vampire
The castle I've inherited is shabby as the sprawl of homeless men and women in Grand Central Station. I have to shower and shave, but running water's a problem; the dark wooden shower stall with its dirt floor smells of mold. Some vampire with teeth hanging out must have lived (if you can call it that) here once, his native soil abundant. He surely found it moody enough, the various phantoms of his blood-ripened ego stirred by the long dark corridors, the open windows, blown curtains, and candles guttered out in sconces unpolished since the last century.
I have to shower and shave because in the study, the one fine room with leather chairs and fresh flowers and a view of sun-dappled sea, a woman waits. Her face is unfamiliar but her name is leaden in my groin. Why she has to trouble me, why I have to fuss before I see her, this strange world doesn't explain.
Finally after lost hours I open the green baize door and find her sprawled quite naked before the fireplace. The snicker of burning wood's the only voice small enough to frustrate our mutual fixed gaze. But she's only on display. Her face, now utterly familiar, rises above the cool expanse of her flesh.
With her I feel hopelessly alone. The haunted rooms of this castle listen as her nakedness absorbs me like ice absorbing a twig or leaf on the lip of a frozen pond, the lifeless form perfected, the quiet honored like stone.
I no longer have an office, so we'll met in a storage room where rusty surplus desks are stored and pretend we're plotting to bring this institution to its knees. I used to get intriguing mail from scholars all over the world, but now my secretary's dead, beheaded as she typed a memo, and scholarly journals refuse me, my prose as random as gunshots on a night of looting and fires. You, too, have witnessed the hanging of the deans. You, too, lost your office, your heavily penciled textbooks, and your files of useless notes for committees that never met.
Now the empty basement is almost as welcome as a glimpse of the Canadian border. But we can't abandon the students, all baggy pants and uncombed hair, though their ignorance festers like acne. I've just been named Dean of Faculty, and you're the new Dean of Students, so if we can stay in hiding long enough we can solve the curve of binary disintegration, the planetary motion that renders "yes" as "no," and "maybe" as "First I'll see you in hell."
The bodies of the previous deans still dangle from the gallows. Most of the other faculty have retired to the common life, but in the lampless silence we stir the dust, slightly, and map again the imposition of an order powerful enough to halt the fissionable decline of the stars.
The Rich Women
Our rented house on Lake Erie lacks a roof, and exposes us to the flights of ducks that represent the fleeting interstices of memory; or so we conjecture as we sip our painkilling lemony drinks. The famous critic who has haunted us for years has briefly visited. Her residue, a smell of newsprint, lingers in the damp.
Later we're enjoying a fireman's parade, the big pumpers glistening. Heads turn, and rich women arrive in a pearly cluster of minks. They know us, and slather us with wet but limpid kisses appropriate for either sex. They want to help us. Money is our weakness, money lacking the elasticity required the stretch the full width of our lives. No wonder our house is missing its roof--I'd neglected the symbol, but it's clear now that the ducks represent not memory but our flown fortune. The famous critic no doubt already knew that, but kept her insights to herself.
The fire engines groan past, the rich women pluck at our clothes and toss our hair like salads. They want to remake us in some image I haven't yet dreamed, the vacancy faintly threatening, their furs creeping with boneless curiosity, their jewels potent as gamma rays, focused to negate our brains and render us pliable and friendly as children again.
I'm always on the edge. Beech and hickory in windswept rows, then a strangled little brook, then the absence, abrupt and blue. The world ends on the tip of my tongue. Villages tumble in a shrug of clapboard, dented autos, unmown pastures that rant like unraveling wool. How can I step back from the brink of an autumn blue so permanent I'll carry it like ancestry beyond the failure of language into the sheer exuberance of a universe still expanding?
Columbus wasn't wrong; he merely failed to notice how the various flat earths sometimes lock together like cells in a honeycomb, sometimes reject each other and leave blue gaps some men and women can cross easily in a single stride, while others can't leap with a pole or even a bible in each hand. Donne said no man is an island, but every discernible footprint in the muck is an isolated human presence, factual and therefore singular, represented now by a sigh too mundane to move us like screams in the night or trees rasping in the brittle wind.
On the edge, I want to walk with fixed gaze and feel the stones give way to abstraction. I'll stride right through my ignorance till I cross another fumbling brook and the hills again rise about me. Then I'll fill with light as palpable as knowledge, but innocent of design.
All day on foot in the city, I feel the streets angle away from me, ashamed of their wooden tenements and junk cars slouched by the curb. Thaw beads like mercury and pools in potholes gouged by heavy trucks. The sidewalks heave and sway like the teakwood decks of yachts, but I'm alone on them this Sunday, everyone indoors watching hockey on the tube, or downtown prowling among drugged, sickly hookers.
I never go downtown anymore. Why face old friends in these dated clothes, this improvised haircut, these numb old shoes? Too late to quicken into the rhetoric I'd imagined would empower me in politics or high finance. Better to sprawl full-length in the street and embrace the grid pattern that like a coarse-grained fish-net keeps the earth from rising to erase the distinction between myself and the granite business blocks that pin the ego to the sidewalk and ground it forever.
Better to walk these outlying streets until the tenements collapse in a clap of wonder and the inhabitants stream forth and embrace me for the faith with which I've walked for entire lifetimes without ever betraying my name.
William Doreski's work has appeared in many other journals, and his recent book is Another Cice Age (AAS Publishers, 2007).