Light, Time, and Gravity (IV)
You only scrub viruses from your skin.
Dishevelled. That is how I feel. That is how I am.
“So… Who next?”
“What about this one?”
I can barely remember what it’s like, living in an environment that enabled. Being in love.
“Simmons? I don’t know… What’s she doing again?”
Disapproval is a funny thing. We’re always checking, always calibrating, between the frames of what we call awareness. What you see looks good enough, workable, but it really doesn’t matter, so long as the subtext continually condemns and repudiates. So you blunder forward oblivious, and the frame of what you are shrinks, withdraws.
“Umm… Post-feminist critiques of Marxist body art.”
“I think she’s brilliant.”
[Reading]. “Ah… The Benjamin messianic thing… with the… What does she call it?”
“Spiked heel. It’s a fascinating concept, believe it or not.”
You want to ‘pull it together.’ But what do you do? Apart is what you are, what you’ve always been. Pull who together? What I am? Pull what I am together? But then who would I be?
“I know you like it.”
“What’s not to like?”
She’s always angry, now. You know all the mechanisms, how it works. You’ve become the topic of a college essay, and she’s been trained to cherry-pick what she needs from the mixed bag of your life, how to select the most sympathetic jurors, bribe the judge. She only sees what she needs to convict you now. You used to share the same skull, understand and appreciate the common will that once bound you. But you’re a stranger to her now. All you have are your actions to redeem you, and she can only see the fault in what you do.
“For my part? Nothing. But this is SHHRC we’re talking about.”
The fix is in. And this, you begin to realize, is the most pernicious fact of all. The fucking fix.
“Patrice told me that ‘conservative’ is the wor–”
You know the feeling. The taste. The heft of your head. The weight of your hands. You understand how the whole world can become a chore, the make-work sadism of petty fathers and heartless governments.
“Patrice? Your buddy in Ottawa?”
How even a soul’s resting position can become labourious.
“He just said that, um, optics will be important.”
This is what the fix does to you. The exhausting immobility. The waiting for a second wind that only seems to come. This is what the fix does to you.
“He literally told you that?”
When I was that age when the colour of the Smartie trumped the taste, strings connected me to my father’s anger. Hooks through the armpits. The throat.
“What does it matter? We knew as much going in. It’s human nature. They’re going to shy from projects that can be… what? [Laughs]. What’s the word I’m looking for?”
My mother had this way of crying, my way, that I found unforgivable. Crying reveals so much–too much–about the worm that is our nature.
Sometimes Dad would pound the dinner table for emphasis. His version of italics. It was like poking a fork into an outlet, the jolt of alarm. Strange the way everything jumps: forks, plates, glasses, limbs, hearts. You always pound two tables, when your family is gathered around you: one in the room and one in the head.
My flinch would taste like copper.
“Oh well. Sorry, Simmons.”
My mother had this way of crying, like I said. She understood the fix we were in.
“Okay… One down. What about this Took, guy?”
Sooner or later me and Johnny would start crying too.
“He’s the one who even looks like a hobbit, isn’t he?”
Dad would pretend to be dumbfounded. “Guys… Aw… c’mon, guys. There’s no need for you–”
“You’re scaring them, Frank!”
“It’s the eyes. He has the most beautiful eyes–have you ever noticed that?”
“Guys?” he would exclaim, his head wobbling, a kind of you-got-me-all-wrong smile on his face.
“What’s his project again?”
Whiskey or beer. It always smelled the same. Like phoney smiles.
“Something about Schelling…”
Sudden Old Testament indignation. “So I’m the bad guy, huh?”
“German Idealism and mass media portrayals nature… He’s the one who published that essay on Avatar.”
This would send a different kind of jolt through me. You become a connoisseur of self-pity when you live in captivity, all the modes and variations, and the kinds of consequences that flowed from each.
“Yeah-yeah. I remember… He actually got that in the CJFS, right?”
“I’m the Big. Fucking. Loser, eh?”
There was always this moment of transition, expressions crawling from mire to mire.
“I’m sure they’ll approve of ‘German’ in the title.”
“Huh? Huh? Who do you think! Put this fucking food! On this table!”
How do you ‘capture’ something like this? That feeling of inversion, the slow implosion of composure. Your mother wilting, becoming another abused child. The sobbing interior peeling outward, sheathing you in gleaming shame. Your father a bastion of shadow and fury. Teeth of flint. Fists of stone. And your heroic little brother spitting outrage through snot, daring what you could never do, bawling defiance, shrieking I-hate-you-I-hate-you-I-hate-you. And all you want to do is shut him up, because you know the animal now staggering to its feet. The existential bellow. The rude outrage. The musk of domination.
“So we’re agreed, then?”
He stands, a teetering Dark Lord.
“I think so… Dylan?”
You know the irrelevance of justice. The only thing that matters about vengeance is visibility.
So your little brother shrieks hatred, and you shield your face behind your arms. You don’t have to commit any crime to be the least innocent.
I am the Law. This is the message he holds in his strangling grip.
“You liked Took, didn’t you? This stuff is right up your alley.”
And there is beauty even in this. A glimpse through the window of a rural hovel, sweat-stain gold and the gleam of second-hand things, the great father standing in judgement, the mother and children cringing below. The upraised hand–
A little boy struck, so hard his chair tips backward. And you glimpse his face, distorted for a warble in the window pane. You see him vanish into the fog of your exhalation.
“Good, Hobbit genes, huh? What do you call them?”
The one too terrified to break the Law.
There is beauty even in this.
The Dodge was gone when Dylan pulled up to the house. The windows were dark save for blue pins of light creasing the livingroom curtains. Somebody watching TV.
He tried hard not to think what he was thinking, went to the side door off the kitchen, rapped his distorted reflection across the screen door. Moths spiraled into the bare bulb hanging above. Even though the night was cool, it smelled of dust and vegetation wilting in the sun.
He waited, listened to the moth tink-tink-tink through the whine of nocturnal insects. He sensed movement in his house. He knocked again, watched his reflection blur with each impact.
He glimpsed Harley’s silhouette pass across the white counter-top light.
“He’s gone,” she said as she pulled open the door. The smell of her steamed into the cooler outdoor air. “And he didn’t leave you a cheque, I’m afraid.”
“Oof,” Dylan replied. “Cutter’s not going to be happy.”
She studied him for a moment. “Who do you think he’s out drinking with?”
Dylan smiled ruefully–or tried to. “No way.”
He had expected some kind of in-spite-of-herself laugh, but instead she cocked her head and peered at him. Something was wrong–he knew this instantly, but the fact of her presence had struck him too vividly. Her mussed hair. Her cotton dress, which seemed lay across her as lightly as a doily on polished wood.
“Why do you like him?” she asked.
Dylan shrugged. “He makes me laugh. He’s a character.”
A strange softness mellowed her eyes. For the first time Dylan noticed that her mascara had smeared, charcoal against freckled white. A shudder passed through him when he realized she’d been crying.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Sure. I’m watching a creepy movie. Little Girl who Lived Down the Lane…” She trailed, waved a dismissive hand at her own stupidity. “Something like that. The neighbour just threw her hamster into the fireplace.”
“Sounds more crispy than creepy.”
She made a face, batted her eyes as she laughed. Somehow the time they had spent on the couch weeks earlier had managed to creep into the empty space between them. A thickness of some kind, like promise or sin.
“Would you like to watch the rest of it with me?”
He said, “Sure,” over a tripping heart.
She led him into the dark kitchen, asked him if he wanted a drink.
“Sure,” he said, trying to sound relaxed and lighthearted. He watched her root through the fridge. People are never the same size in there homes. Sometimes they fill them to the point where rooms seem little more than baggy clothes, extensions of their character. But other times, especially at night, the spaces grow as long as shadows, and people find themselves dwarfed. The shelter leaks out of the walls. Homes become houses, shells.
Harley seemed small and naked in this place, like a little girl in a dead mother’s clothes. It was the kind of kitchen you might find in any rural rental at the time. Linoleum floor cracked and gnawed around the door. Old boots and shoes and sandals assembled along a section of old carpet. Plain cupboards beaded with yellowing paint. A table with a brushed aluminum rim. Five warped chairs. A dozen empty cases of Labatt Blue piled next to the fridge–which of course was harvest green.
There was something about it all–an impoverished utility perhaps–that promised to swallow any ornament, to make a sham of any attempt to decorate. It seemed Harley should be covered with bruises.
She poured him a Coke with ice-cubes, then led him smiling into the livingroom. There was a dank odour, the smell of beaten sofas and walls that had outlived the fragrance of plaster and wood. The TV flashed and glittered soundlessly.
The pillows and tangled blanket told him she had been laying on the couch to the left, so he took the one to the right, with the yellow foam bulging from the centre cushion.
“No.” She said with faux off-hand resolution. “Let’s sit like we did the other night… I liked that.”
The fact that neither of them needed clarification–”Which night was that? How was it we sat again?”–said it all. They effortlessly recreated their earlier pose, Dylan at the sofa’s right arm, Harley leaning against him facing the fish-tank light of the TV. For some reason, the only thing that made it seem strange–illicit–was the absence of Johnny Carson on the screen. If they could only recreate the circumstances perfectly, it seemed, they could recapture the innocence. They needed an accident and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, accidental here.
Her head felt warm against his shoulder, like that of a drowsy niece or nephew. Her dark hair tangled down about his arm, tingling more than tickling.
“Oops, commercial,” she said girlishly. She bounced to her feet saying, “Pee break…”
He sat staring at the television, anxious, soaking in the details of the room. Three empty beer bottles conferred by the far leg of the other coffee table. A lighter and a pack of Cameos sat next to a black glass astray on the table at his knees, as well as half a KitKat, a silver bracelet and gold ring. It seemed he could see her watching these things during muted commercial breaks, the little landmarks that testified to her existence, the kinds of clues police investigators could use to reconstruct the final moments of her life.
Then she was back, hurrying as if evading his gaze.
She curled her feet beneath her, reached forward to retrieve the remote, then leaned her head against his shoulder. Her movements were brisk, offhand in a pretend way. They sat breathing, staring at the still-muted screen. And just like before, he was arched and aching-hard, the head of his prick thumbing past the band of his briefs, partially pressing his left jeans pocket inside out.
She finally hit the volume. A Ford commercial tumbled across the screen. Giant loads mastered. Big wheels snacking on mud.
“I got a chill,” she said. He looked at her, bewildered and dismayed, certain that she was fishing for reasons to back out of whatever it was they were pretending not to do.
“Here,” she said, standing before the TV screen. He glimpsed the slender outline of her hips and thighs through the cotton of her dress, quickly looked up into her eyes. “You stretch out against the back of the couch,” she said. Dylan obliged, could not help but notice her eyes briefly follow his tented groin.
She lowered a single knee to the centre cushion, hesitated, her eyes searching his.
“Do you mind if we cuddle?” she asked.
Her voice was so small, so far from the smokey brashness that was her daylight voice, that Dylan almost thought she was mimicking some comedy thing. When she blinked, two tears slipped down her cheeks. She smiled in embarrassment, sniffled and wiped at her face and nose with her wrist. “Sorry,” she said, her voice meek with self-condemnation.
Dylan smiled from a spark of confidence he never knew he had, a small fire of masculine assurance that would gutter out in my late thirties. “It’s okay,” he said. “We’re friends, right?”
She smiled in turn. “Friends,” she repeated, finding courage in him. She sat on the centre cushion, grabbed the blanket from where it had been bunched near Dylan’s feet, then stretched across her narrow half of the couch. Contact was unavoidable, but several slow-thumping heartbeats passed before she finally leaned into him.
She gasped, swallowed, pretended to cough. His hard-on crossed the cleft of her buttocks at an angle. Even through denim, it seemed he could feel her every pore, everything down to the aura of fine hairs.
They lay like this for several minutes.
Her hands were shaking when she reached beneath the blankets, then back to undo his button and unzip his fly. Both of them kept their eyes fixed on the floating TV screen the entire time. She fumbled several times, but when she got it, the action was effortless. He instinctively leaned into her plying fingers, but instead of grabbing him, she hooked the band of his underwear and, squirming for leverage, yanked it down to his scrotum.
The sudden lack of constraint, the douse of cool air. Empty space had become the labial deep.
“Friends,” she murmured thickly, hoisting her skirt to her waist beneath the blanket. Somehow he already knew she wasn’t wearing any panties.
Skin against electric skin.
She clutched him at the root, pulled him away from his abdomen while opening her knees. A soft slap, and he was curved between her legs, along the fiery length of her wetness to the soft fur of her pubis.
She sobbed, once–twice.
They lay like this for several minutes.
Breathing had become difficult, pained and laboured. The figures on the blue screen were a blur, but the miniature voices seemed painfully distinct. He could feel their sweat soaking, meeting in the interstices between skin and clothes.
He wasn’t sure when it happened, or who was even responsible, but somehow the angle of his hips to her buttocks shifted, his glans sunk across a moist track of hair, and he seemed to simply rise up into her.
A blessed accident.
She was gasping and grinding Now. Small cries. Curious little grunts. With his left hand he seized her hip, tried to pin her motionless against him. With his right hand he reached under her and around, reached into her dress to grab her left breast. She choked and bucked at this, and somehow the movement put him beneath her. Her hair tumbled against the side of his face. He watched her raise her swaying knees, felt her socked heels drag along his shins to his knees. The blue blanket slid down her blue thighs, became a crumpled mini, an emanating line falling just short. He reached over her waist with his left arm, trying in vain to clamp her still. At the same time he pinched her left nipple.
She cried out.
This entire time his cock had been an exquisite vessel, precariously balanced, brimming with the ache to spill. It seemed all the world buzzed and squeezed about the hook of him, that here was the one place where it all plugged in.
“Ima gunna…” she rasped, writhing and writhing against him. “Ima… Ima… Ooooh jesus-fuck…”
Voice. Spoken words. Strangely, absurdly, he realized he was fucking Harley–Harley!
He released her breast with his right hand, reached down over the blanket hem, down into the humming space between her inner thighs. He pressed shuddering fingers against the slickness he found there, felt one of his fingernails nip the shaft of his cock.
She began howling, “Oooo! Oooo! Ooooh!”
And the delirium–aching, strangling–that arched within him blurred into her, into her pussy, into her squirming torso, her rigid legs, the hand she had thrown back to palm his cheek.
Into her keening.
Into the anguished spasm that was her breath.
All of it was there, all of her, stamped into the hot clay of his bliss.
She was his. He was fucking Harley and she was his.
What is this that reaches within us? What is this decadent limb?
A beautiful morning. Children trudging down the sidewalk, the strong, the weak. Some eyes up, voices warbling, shimming along the edge of laughter. Some eyes down, filing their soles on concrete, silent.
Which one was me?
Even then they were telling me. But instead of Homer or trickster tales, they told that I was special, that I could be whatever I wanted to be if only I tried hard enough. They said there was a hero within me, that I could be Achilles, that I need only work to set him free–and work, and work, and work.
I was a point, they said, on the cusp of innumerable trajectories. My every decision, my every effort, collapsed clouds of probabilities (only Deleuzean virtualities would set me free!).
They told me nothing of path dependency. I had to discover that for myself when he was 14.
They taught me nothing of critical thinking. Asking questions willy-nilly, they said, was more than enough.
They told me to aspire. (Breathe-godamn-you-breathe!)
And here I am, reaching, my fingers numb for the cold, my tendons crooked for the lack of grasping.
What is this that reaches through us?
She fell motionless, began softly crying. As gently as he could, he rolled her to his right so that they could resume their previous positions.
He breathed deep the scent of her hair-conditioner. He found himself nuzzling her hair, kissing her shoulder where the strap of her dress indented her skin. She tasted of salt. “Shhh,” he murmured. “We’re just friends, watching TV.”
He could feel her body shake for a little while longer, against his chest, but mostly through his engorged centre. He whispered, “Shhh…” through the course of her calming, and it seemed that even in this her body answered him.
After a time she bent her head around to look at him askance. The memory of her face–her hair a tangled picture frame, her eyes ringed in mascara bruises, her lips swollen about the edges of glistening teeth, her cheek soft and blue and close enough to make his lips tingle–that memory shines within me still.
A small, cold cube.
“Did you?” she asked with little girl shyness.
“Shhh. I’m trying to watch TV.”
He had no clue what was even on.
“I just want to lay like this for a bit.”
She pivoted back to the TV–a Colgate commercial. After a moment of indecision, she snuggled backward, smearing the hot puddle between them, firmly enough to remind them both of how hard he was hooked through her. His cock had become a totem it seemed, a charm against the real. Somewhere he was aware that his car was clearly visible in the driveway, that at any moment someone might decide to “pop by” to see what “Harl and Jerry” were up to. At some level he understood that Harley was more than a shining form about a burning nucleus. He knew that she was more than her body or her cries. She was a wife…
But none of this mattered, it seemed, so long as he stayed plugged in. They had found stasis, two brains locked in the parallel flare of pleasure centres.
Centres encompassing centres–moving as slow as bubbles in oil–or mud.
The long ache of his cock sustained them through an entire rerun of Gilligan’s Island. The trivial talk about who was funnier than who, the impressions of Thurston Howell III, the gut-kicking laughter–everything found itself reflected across the fact of her parsed vulva and his parsing erection. The pretense of television friendship became a kind of petting, a stationary thrust and grind, tantric for its duration. Pleasure soaked up all motion, every little scratch and fidget, every sound and glimpse and smell. The world came to them strained.
She lay spooned against him on a shabby couch. In the humid murk beneath blankets, his cock reached out from the sodden wrinkles of his fly up between her buttocks and into her–deep into her.
And instead of moving, they pretended. They made believe…
Interlocked. A mingling of earthen lights.
Her voice thickened, and the tempo of the game slowed. She started cheating.
It began during the commercials, the accidental shifts and squirms. Soon the talk became excuses to exhale. Then he was gripping her naked hip once again, fighting to hold her still.
This time she kicked up on top of him, and he gave up fighting altogether, content to let her thrust and ride. He threw off the blanket, bunched her dress up around her throat, ran his fingers along the swallow curve of her tits, pinched her pink nipples.
Her second climax was longer in coming, but more intense.
This time she did not cry, but simply lay heaving, naked in his clothed embrace.
“Ooooh my fucking Gaaaawd,” she finally moaned. She squeezed her legs, testing his hardness. She gazed at him with eyes that blurted disbelief. “You still haven’t, have you?” she said.
“No,” he murmured, still stuck in her, a rod holding its breath, stubborn and gluttonous. It seemed the most natural thing in the world holding her inside and out, as if she had been born in his captivity. “I don’t want to,” he said thickly.
“Please. I want you to. I need you to…”
He cleared his throat. Watched her, his eyes aglow with anxious pride–and far too many things aside. “I can,” he said raggedly. “It’s like I’ve been standing on the edge of a cliff. Like… all I have to do is say, ‘Yes,’ and… step… and it’ll just… happen.”
“Say it,” she said, once again thrusting against him. A lazy flutter seized her eyes.
He swallowed. “No… no. Be still. Still. Very still.”
She stopped. “Good grief you’re so hard,” she gasped. She bit her lip and said, “I can feel your pulse. I can actually… feel it. Jeeesus.”
They lay breathing, one powerful heart thumping between them. Dylan heard himself moan. She began keening under her breath. “Touch me,” she whispered. “Touch…”
He touched, wondered that he could carry her passion in a trembling left hand.
He kissed her, and it seemed that some circuit had been closed between lips and genitals and fluttering fingertips, that the last of the lightening had been bottled, and they could flare with greater light. They cried into each others mouths. Spasms rocked him. His boundaries reared within her, strained and strained, then burst…
Their writhing became twitches. Their cries trailed into winded gasps.
She almost burst out laughing in amazement. “I could feel it. I could really feel it!” Then she was kissing him, stroking his hair, whispering, “You’re so beautiful, soooo beautiful,” over and over.
He knew what she was afraid of.
She began with a friendly furiousness. At one point she even began pushing him into the kitchen.
He resisted with jokes. He wasn’t finished pretending.
Then she said things mildly. She flashed him a squinty smile, the kind you use to tell people they’ve squandered what’s left of your patience.
Eventually he found himself backing away from his reflection in the screen door, the gravel creaking beneath his heels. He could see her face, stripped of all pretense, watching him from the reflected apparition of his chest. His smile had become slippery, hard to hold. He lifted his cap and bowed like an idiot.
It should seem like a movie, he thought.
When he looked back up, she was gone.
Just like a movie… or even better, a book.
Affairs are the dragons of literature.
There was a truth to her face, as feminine as breasts or hips or scolding smiles. Something bigger than beauty, smaller than honesty.
Harley was a poor farm girl. She grew up with rattling windows, spiders on the ceiling, and dogshit in the backyard. Her doll clothes were dirt-stained, her knees were coltish and scabbed, and she continually ran out of clean underwear. She laid her cheek on the kitchen table when she wrote or drew. She bawled before school dances, felt more shame for her parents than for her sins, and was fingered in her uncle’s barn when she was fifteen.
She had been more eager than willing.
She partied through highschool, smoked dope, blew supers to boys she liked, puked at the side of gravel roads. She got conceited when drunk–she even intentionally started a fight by flirting with two boys, but only once. Afterward, she said, “Ohmigawd! I’m. Such. A bitch!” to her girlfriends, and they laughed so hard they cried.
None of this prevented her from making straight A’s. All she wanted to do was please her teachers, even the ones she hated. They all seemed to be real in a way she never felt.
University changed her life–or so she always told herself. At the very least, it gifted her with the sad smile she used to greet her mom and dad. She graduated with a literature degree, then moved back home to marry the boy who had fingered her–the star offensive tackle on the football team. Even though she would never admit it to herself, that, in the end, was precisely the kind of girl she was.
The one who marries the offensive tackle.
And here she had thought she was better…
Like everyone else you call yourself open–‘critical.’ But like everyone else you are anything but.
You have a statistical tendency to mistake agreement for intelligence. You have a statistical tendency to think anything that exceeds you comprehension is excessive. When a signal passes beyond your frequency range, your reflex is to blame the transmission.
Language is competition–it wouldn’t own the planet otherwise.
So before we reap what we have sown, let’s get this one thing straight…
We all read to win.