Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Past Comes Calling

Behind his cluttered towers of books and old fashioned type writer he could be as eccentric as he liked. This was his fortress. Within it he could let his hair rise in an electrified bride of Frankenstein way without feeling the need to tame it with a comb. In here, behind these impregnable walls of dusty books, he could wear his thermal underwear coupled with just a pair of jeans and fear no reprimand. He was the prince in this kingdom of fiction and nonfiction and coffee table conversational items and references. Letting his appearance blend with the general clutter, his mind could wander down forbidden corridors poking into thoughts left undisturbed by most. He could be David the Heretic, David the pervert, David the mad, or David the meek and no one would know.
Unless he wrote it, which he often did, and sometimes shared it at the weekly writer’s workshops or poetry jams hosted in the back of the shop. Even in this case he was still safe within his kingdom and those delirious poets and various unloved writers either appreciated his own breed of madness or else were too self absorbed to notice him at all.
He could remember too well the days when he had written in spiral bound notebooks in his bedroom and had feared discovery, the time when his sister accidentally carried one of his notebooks away mistaking it for her own, her horrified reaction, the subsequent beating from his father, his mother’s weeping and begging to know where they had gone wrong.
He could remember and the remembrance made this new phase of life all the more precious for its spacious anonymity and freedom of mind and word. They were, after all, only words and held no power of their own. Their power was lodged in the myriad of associations evoked in the reader or listener rather than in the words themselves. He was one of a rare breed that appreciated this truth and thus had no fear of them and twisted them every which way and used them to penetrate the carefully guarded darkness secreted away in the hearts of others, even and especially at the risk of calling forth their wrath and terrible sorrow.
Hunkered over a single serving of raspberry yogurt one afternoon he heard the bells hung over the front door jingle as someone entered. He finished spooning a portion into his mouth before looking up to greet the patron. Raising his eyes and wiping his mouth he beheld with astonishment the sparkling blue eyes of his sister. Her blond hair hung in a short bob around her face and her mouth was creased with lines that betrayed years spent frowning.
“Reina.” He uttered her name in shock, wondering what she was doing in this city, how had she found him, why she was here breaching his defenses.
She smiled a little.
“Hello David.”
Then he only stared at her. All that he wanted to know was what she wanted but it seemed callused to ask after 10 years of estrangement. He couldn’t think of what else he should say so he stared.
“Daddy’s sick David.” She said after a few moments, and big tears welled up in her eyes. “He’s dying.”
Again he could think of nothing to say so he merely watched the tears form in her big eyes and splash down upon her cheeks. She dried them with the back of a gloved hand and said,
“I’ve come to bring you home to see him.” She sniffed and looked at him waiting.
He thought for a moment that he might be dreaming so he leaned forward to the antique type writer and began to type an account of what was happening so that he would remember it better when he woke up.
His fingers clacked away at the keys and Reina said softly,
“David.” But he kept typing and then she cried hysterically: “David! Did you hear me? Daddy’s dying.”
He stopped typing and looked up at her .
“I heard you.” He said and leaned back in the chair rubbing his eyes with both palms.
“We should go as soon as possible. Before it’s too late.” She said “The flight will take about eight hours.”
As she spoke, she adjusted her hand bag.
“I’m not going.” David said simply.
“What?” her voice was high and demanding, “He’s dying. Don’t you understand?”
“I understand, and I’m not going.” He answered nonchalantly. Then he stood up. “Thank you Reina, for coming, for uh, finding me and giving me the choice. I… appreciate that. But I won’t go. I don’t want to see him. Even if he is dying. I don’t want to. You could have just called me, you didn’t have to come all the way here.”
“I know,” she said bleakly. “But I knew that if I called, you wouldn’t come. I thought that if I came to get you, you might.”
“I won’t” he told her with a small shake of his head.
She leaned forward and took a pen from his desk and wrote a phone number on the corner of a sheet of paper.
“My cell number.” She explained. “I’m leaving on the 4:30 flight out of SFO. I already bought your ticket, if you change your mind.”
“I won’t.” he repeated softly.
She sniffed again and this time he offered her a tissue from a dusty Kleenex box. She dabbed her eyes and blew her nose and pocketed the tissue. Then she waved the tips of her gloved fingers and walked back out of the door, the little bells overhead tolling her departure.
David sat back down and brushed the keys of the typewriter absently with his finger tips. His fortress had been compromised. The same piles of dog eared brittle paged books still towered all about him, but suddenly they were an ineffective sanctuary. He no longer felt strong or safe, but rather small and weak, as though he were a twelve year old boy hiding in his bedroom, waiting for his father to come and dole out the punishment he didn’t deserve.
He realized that his hands were trembling so he folded them in his lap and gazed at the door. Breathing slowly, he let the phantoms of his childhood evaporate under the radiance of the present. He was a man now, and the body of his father would soon be returned to the earth, and Reina would be gone before morning. When their mother died perhaps she would only call, and that would be even easier than this.
After a moment the trembling subsided and his battlements felt once again secure. He picked up his yogurt and finished it, licking the spoon clean when it was all gone.

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