Publication Notice: Aphelion Webzine Features “The Minotaur”

I’m honored today that Aphelion Webzine has published my poem, “The Minotaur,” in its April issue.  Because this terrific publication of science fiction and fantasy is free, you can read it right here:

http://www.aphelion-webzine.com/poetry/2015/04/Minotaur.html

Aphelion is a great and creative source of free fiction, poetry and features for those who like to read or write about other worlds.  It’s pure fun.  Be sure to check it out.

Thank you, Aphelion Webzine!

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Apparently I have two Pinterest accounts … ?

In the same manner that I also apparently have multiple Goodreads accounts?

I have either hysterical dissociative disorder or computer illiteracy … I am not sure which.  Actually, I am probably a diverse enough guy to have both of those covered.   (Just be glad you’ve got the “good twin” addressing you right now.)

Anyway, if anyone wants to reach me or follow me online (as is the fondest hope of the narcissist in me), you can best do so just by using the links in the “Contact” section of this site.

 

“Iridescent Green Sharks,” by Eric Robert Nolan

When we were nine, we spied sharks across the street from your bedroom window.  Maryanne, those were the days.

The sharks inhabited the low lying fog that was like a soft leaden sea flowing over the car lot; their bright dorsal fins were colored metal –iridescent, glittering, greens; high blues like polished aluminum; deep, bold, scarlets like reddening platinum; vibrant violets with silver trim.

They were the fins and shapes of classic cars, of course – Chevys and Fords from the 50’s and 60’s.  They were “Carl’s Classics,” as the ostentatious yet faded red lettering of the lot’s sign proclaimed.

But to you and me, they were sharks in the fog sea.  The angular metal shapes of their bodies, mostly concealed by the daily morning mists of that West Virginia mountain town, made them great dangerous fish.  We told stories about them – bright, hard predators in distant warm seas, where pirates and buccaneers were forced to do battle with them.  Your stories were always better.  I can still so easily picture you on your daisy bedspread, one small knee drawn up and hugged to your chest, your dirty blonde hair draped around your ears, gazing at that lot across the street.  You had a way with words that vastly outshined my own.  I still remember your tales of tall ships, and the deep sea monsters that troubled them.

Beyond the car lot, the West Virginia Mountains vaulted to the sky like immense, irregular, angular titans.  They were so vast that they swallowed and almost monopolized all that the eye could see.  The morning fogs and the dawn half-light made them ethereal, as well.  Their thousand shades of gray were laced with the deepening violets and rich dark blues that dawn somehow brought to them.

Our sleepovers were frequent.  We were next-door neighbors in the town of Peril’s Path, and our families were the best of friends.  You were enough of a tomboy that I felt more at home with you than with most of the other boys in the neighborhood.  And we were both storytellers, of course. Your specialty was your unique nautical adventures.  Mine was ghost stories.

We were so close, and we spent so much time together, that we might as well have been brother and sister.  There were so many sleepovers at your house that I’d often almost felt that it was mine as well.  (My family’s humble little house was so tiny that my room was hardly larger than a walk-in closet, so our time together was spent at your home.)  The smell of your mother’s blueberry pancakes blesses my memory to this very day.  And of course I remember your mangy brown mutt, Jordan, who’d once lightly bitten me after I’d volunteered to change his water dish out back.

Most of all, though, Maryanne, I remember you perched on your bed and telling your stories, so early in the morning, long before your mother rose to make her famous pancakes.  As the daily fog made that car lot turn ethereal, you told me of captive princesses and noble pirates.  You told me about the iridescent green sharks that tried to ram their tall, black-sailed ships.

“Listen closely, Sean,” you would always begin.  Your bright blue eyes danced as you spoke, and your tales were filled with vivid imagery.  As your gaze trailed off, it seemed that you actually saw the sea battles that you were describing for me – not to mention the brightly colored monsters whose tentacles wrapped around the hulls of unfortunate vessels.  I envied you that.  As a boy, I had a pretty good grasp of the basic elements of a story – conflict, tension, climax, resolution.  But I simply could not …. see the way that you did.   Your tales seemed rather like Technicolor films that played freely in your mind.  My tales were more … scripted – necessary elements connected logically together.  Here we had a requisite young couple, and a necessary car breakdown, an obligatory graveyard beside the immobilized car.  And of course there was a ghost – my best invention was a shrouded woman who moved briskly from grave to grave, seeking the cemetery’s entrance for unfortunate passersby who might be stranded near there.

And so, we were best friends in the economically depressed, rundown town of Peril’s Path.  “Peril’s Path” … what kind of name was that, we wondered?  We were wordsmiths, you and I, and unlike any other children in town, we wondered about its name’s etymology.  Wouldn’t “Perilous Path” have made more sense?  Or had the town’s founder had the unlikely surname of “Peril?”  It was a mystery to us, and one that we never solved, though it still entertained us.

 

Yes, we both had a love of words.  We knew what similes and metaphors were before our fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Pearson, explained their differences to us.  We were both bored by our reading lessons, because they were redundant with our childhood avocations.  I had already discovered Edgar Allen Poe and Ray Bradbury around the age of 12 or 13.  Your own adolescence had brought you along a different path, leading you to Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson.  You discovered poetry earlier than I did – doubtlessly because its fewer words were more precisely employed to plant images in the mind’s eye.  Again, you could see things in your mind in a way that I could not.

 

By 14, we had both resolved to become career writers.  We’d grown tired of the dead end town of Peril’s Path, despite the incredible beauty of those enormous morning mountains, so rich with their varied violets.  I thought that they were really the only perk for the artistic temperament in that faded community, with its defunct lumber mill and vacant downtown stores.

You taught me otherwise.  Learning from your favorite poets, you found magic in the mundane.  I remember you sitting me down in front of the dormant Stanford Windows Warehouse.  You pointed to the building’s own broken windows, and asked me if I’d found that ironic.  Then you pointed to the loose boarding, the faded blue sign, which had once made the name “Stanford” bright and royal blue.  But no more.

You asked me to write a poem about it.  You asked me to look at it closely, to describe its details, and to ask questions about it past owners and how it came to arrive at its current condition.

I did my best.  The result, I thought, was lackluster.  But you encouraged me.  You told me that my attention to the “Stanford” name was creative, and that the language was well crafted.  And although my grasp of alliteration was easy, you showed me how well assonance worked as well.  And it was there, I think, in front of that decrepit abandoned building, that you first taught me to truly love poetry.

You showed me how poetry could be found in the ordinary.  You mentored me, Maryanne.  And I knew it.  In you, I had not only a best friend, but also a fellow lover of language, and one whose talents exceeded mine.  As a mere teenager, I was learning from you.  And I certainly learned more from you than I learned from Mrs. Spaulding at school.

But, more importantly, you inspired me.  You showed me that writing – and my own imagination — was an escape.  It was an escape from boredom, an escape from a humdrum existence, and escape from Peril’s Path.  The confusion (and perhaps even an undiagnosed depression) of adolescence was no stranger to me.  Writing, and using my imagination, was an escape, as well.  You were my savior, after a fashion, Maryanne.  You saved me from an existentially empty life that I can scarcely imagine, had you not been there.

So, again, we resolved that we would become writers, and that we would leave Peril’s Path.  Prose and eager publishers fueled our young imaginations, promising us new and far richer lives beyond rural West Virginia.  We imagined ourselves in New York, or Charleston, South Carolina.  (You had also developed an affection for Washington, DC, a predilection I’d never quite understood.)

 

By the age of 16, I’d fallen in love with science fiction.  Arthur C. Clarke was my first taste; I both loved and feared the HAL 9000.  Asimov piqued my interest, though not quite as much as the countless other lovers of his work.  And Harry Harrison’s antiheroes were pure fun.

 

By the age of 17, Maryanne, I’d fallen in love with you.

Inwardly, you hadn’t changed much since our childhoods.  You were more mature, of course, and were quintessentially an “early adult.”  And your capacity for your art advanced in leaps and bounds.  We had both been promoted a class ahead, and were seniors at the high school now.  But even then, you outshined me.  Your poetry was so inspired that it even attracted a modest following in our blue-collar small town.  You’d been invited to do occasional readings of your work at Perils’s Path’s humble little library.  And people came to hear you.  I attended all of them, and always had to stifle a laugh at seeing both Mrs. Pearson and Mrs. Spaulding in the audience.

You loved your work.  Here is where you illustrated for me the power of “performance poetry.”  You enunciated in the library’s little reading room … you acted out the words and the images of your verses.  I loved it, and I loved you.

But, again, you hadn’t changed since our childhoods.  You were my guide, in our life-affirming avocation.  You were my teacher.  And you were my muse.

But 17 had made you even more beautiful.  Your dirty blonde hair was now radiant, with its dark highlights.  Your figure was slim and winding, and you’d grown taller than me.  You had become a buxom girl, as well.  You were too kind, or shy, to point it out to me when my eyes occasionally fell to your sweater or shirt.  And your eyes were inhabited by a rich, deep blue that was intoxicating to me. I could no longer view you as a de facto sister, Maryanne.  Yet it was surprisingly easy to view you as the love of my life.

We still dreamed of New York and Charleston.  We chatted about it, and our dreams had grown in detail as the years had gone by.  We now fully pictured the coffee shops where we would meet, the parties we would attend, the book signings, the poetry readings at New York’s “The Bowery.”  At this point, it almost seemed as though we were remembering things that had already happened, so clear were these images in our minds.

Our favorite times to “reminisce about the future” were the walks home after one of your performances at the library.  One night, as a late June dusk found us before the classic car lot, we actually stopped right before the green’ 57 Chevy that had enchanted us as children.  In the clear dusk, it was no longer an iridescent green shark.   It was merely a well maintained antique vehicle, prosaic in the ordinary light.

Just before your house, I drew you into my arms.  You met my embrace fully, naturally, as though it had been something that occurred countless times before.  My eyes met your rich, pure, blue.  The look that they held there was expectant, and perfectly understanding.

“Maryanne, I …” And here words failed me.  How could they?  My lifelong love affair with you was inextricably connected with the love affair that you taught me for words.   How could they so ironically, so tragically, fail me now?

“Sean,” you gently laid one slim finger upon my lips.  Your rich blue eyes seemed to grow and light up in the gathering dusk.  “You don’t have to say anything.”

And then you brought you lips to my own.  Your kiss was warm, and as gentle as you were, and I felt as though tiny sparrows in my belly had suddenly taken flight.  And again, you guided me.  Your lips pressed at my own, and nibbled slightly at my lower lip.  That emerald-metal ’57 Chevy, so formidable at the mornings of our youth, was now a neutral witness to first love.

Things changed after that, wonderfully, of course.  Our dreams for the future were now those of two people in love.  Romance filled our imaginations of faraway cities.  We saw ourselves in our combined future in an entirely new way – not only as literati and mutual muses, but as lovers as well.

 

The age of 18, however, found us at a divergence in our lives.  It was at once surprising, exciting, and terribly unfair.

I received a full Creative Writing English Scholarship in May of 1990 that would allow me to attend The University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  When the news was delivered to me by my beaming high school guidance counselor, I could scarcely believe it.  I’d worked hard at my essays and compositions for my advanced placement English class (where you sat one row over beside me, of course.)  I’d also worked hard at my science fiction stories for the high school literary magazine.  My tales were a bit derivative of Clarke’s; rogue computers and malfunctioning robots constantly made mayhem for hapless humans.

My guidance counselor, Mr. Jeremiah, was a man who loved his job and loved the kids who had been placed under his stewardship.  He’d exhorted me enthusiastically to complete a number of scholarship applications, even though my family (like yours) could hardly afford to send me to any university.  And I followed his lead, despite being somewhat halfhearted and cynical about my chances.

Despite your incredible talents, you hadn’t had the same luck.  I still think to this day that it was the fault of your own guidance counselor, Ms. Stillson, who lacked Jeremiah’s drive and sheer pluck. Perhaps, knowing your family’s limited means, she’d simply resigned herself to the supposition that you, like so many other students, would remain always in Peril’s Path.

So I had a ticket out, while you had not.  You were sublimely gracious about it.  You curled up to me at the park outside Peril’s Path High School – the one where the elms cast their long shadows, even after school let out at 3 PM.

“You deserve it, Sean,” you told me, your soft round shoulder nestling up against my chest.  “You deserve it for your words.  Your words are wonderful.”

“You are the one who deserves it.”  I nuzzled the cascade of your dirty blonde hair, not caring whether any other students might have seen on their way out of school.  “We both know that.  You’ve always been the better of us.  You’ve done more, you’ve done better.  You’re my muse, Maryanne.  If anyone deserves to get out of this god damned town, it’s you.  Not me.”

You kissed me.  Again, your kisses were always so gentle.  “That’s nonsense.  You’ve earned this.  Your writing is wonderful.  Your stories are wonderful.  And you are wonderful.”  She kissed me again.  “Just make sure, Sean, that if you reach New York ahead of me, you wait for me there.”

We sat there, under the shadows of the great elms, and our future before us seemed as concrete as ever.

 

College was The Land of Expectations.  I loved The University of Virginia – “Jefferson’s Academic Village” – and all of the rich experiences and opportunities that it had to offer me.  But never in my life had so much been demanded of me.

Expectations lay everywhere.  For one, I was on my own for the first time.  My roommates, though exceedingly bright and friendly, were new to me.  I never in my wildest dreams had thought that I would miss the one-horse town of Peril’s Path – and yet I had found myself suddenly homesick.

I missed you, most of all, Maryanne.  I missed your smile, I missed your warmth against me, I missed nuzzling your blonde hair, which smelled so often of that berry shampoo that you favored.  I missed your kiss.  I missed sitting beside you in English class, and trading smiles and jokes when the teacher’s back was turned.  I missed our mutual friends, who chided us, with a small touch of jealousy, that we were “the cutest couple.”  And I believe what I missed most was the sound of your voice.

We wrote, back and forth.  (You could not afford a personal computer, so e-mail was not an option.)  It was easy, at first.  There was a brief orientation period before classes began, where I would find myself at my tiny wood desk, describing my exciting new world.  You responded with spirited accounts of your library readings, your “performance poetry,” and the way that it affected your small audience and even invited them to participate.

But our correspondence grew more difficult with time.  Roommate interruptions, group visits to the dining hall, dormitory floor meetings – all conspired to disrupt my writing and take away the time that I had meant to devote to you.

Other expectations were academic.  The University of Virginia was one of the nation’s best schools, and its various courses of study – even at the freshman level – reflected that.  My marks at Peril’s Path High School were consistently high, something that no doubt helped my admission here.  But it was a small town high school, and its standards were modest indeed compared with my new alma mater.  Subjects like geography and calculus, which interested me little, were damned difficult.  For the first time ever, I found it necessary to study every night just to keep up, at the tiny little brown desk in my three-man dorm room.

How different that had been from our school days together!  How often I had wished to simply conclude a school day and walk or sit with you.  There was no time for poetry.  Term papers took up all of my writing time – and exhausted my energy for words.  Worst of all was that I was so overwhelmed with academics that I was slow in responding to your letters.  I wanted to, Maryanne – desperately.  It just seemed that every day my professors placed new and expanding demands upon me – quizzes, essays, assignments.  You know that I have an obsessive quality about me. Focused as I was on the demands of my new world, our correspondence simply had to be neglected somewhat.

Other expectations were social.  One of my roommates was a big, bearish rugby player named Blair Browning.  “Blair the Bear,” they called him.  His intimidating figure (and somewhat bullish face) hid a deep-seated congeniality and solicitude toward others.  He knew that I was solitary by nature, and he liked me a great deal (as he seemed to like everybody).  It was Blair who sat beside me on my lower bunk one day, and with the manner of a caring counselor, asked me if I were ready for “Rush Week.”

Maryanne, the “Greek System” at UVA might have been the most alien aspect of college life for me. It was regarded by nearly all the students as something overwhelmingly positive – the fraternities and sororities were seen as one of the most fun and enriching parts of college life.

To me, it was all so terribly new.  At Peril’s Path, the student body was so small and closely connected that it was hard for any real cliques to form.  At UVA, like so many other American colleges, the thousands of students had enthusiastically entered into a highly formalized social structure, steeped in tradition.

“You are going to make friends,” Blair told me, “that will last you for your entire life.  Joining a fraternity is one of the coolest parts of college.  It’s a whole new world, man – it’s going to open up all sorts of doors for you.  You need to do it.”

I trusted Blair, and I also trusted Jerry, my other roommate, who was also excited about joining a fraternity.

“It’s like having 50 or so brothers,” Jerry told me.  “Brothers,” he emphasized.  “Everyone looks after one another.  You’ll have a whole new family.”

And so, it was with some trepidation that I approached “Rush Week.”  It’s a little hard to describe to someone who isn’t attending university.  The various fraternities (we were admonished never to call them “frats”) had elaborate week-long tryout and vetting processes.  Pledges (like Blair, Jerry and me) were asked to perform all sorts of tasks, and then evaluated by fraternity brothers for admission.

I think we were wise about the fraternity we chose.  It was service-oriented, and it had a reputation for its members being academically focused.  This distinguished it from the “party frats” (again, that word was a no-no), which were known to drink heavily and maintain sloppy and disheveled fraternity houses.   Jerry and I weren’t really “part types” (though Blair the Bear seemed to be), and together we chose one of the “saner” organizations.

It was so unlike our little town.  The fewer students there weren’t organized in the least.  There was no formalization.  The students were a loosely interconnected, single group – a small community of young people for a small town.  I remember you and me being our school’s most unique couple.  (“Romeo and Juliet,” they chided us, with maybe some friendly envy, for our well known love of literature.)  And the periphery of our friends was casual and unceremonious.

Here, everything was different.  “Rushing” was a ritualized tryout process that differed from fraternity to fraternity.  For some pledges, it was humiliating.  Certain fraternities had a kind of Draconian selection process – applicants were made to perform chores for the current “brothers.”  Or, even worse, they were obligated to perform humiliating tasks – walking down campus walk in their pajamas, or wearing ridiculous “beanie caps” all day long, including at classes.

Jerry, Blair and I fared far better.  The lot we’d chosen was a far more adult bunch, and the demands of Rush Week were minor.  We were welcomed into a community of young men who were more mature and responsible, and gracious to us.  We felt embraced, and looked after.  And in a very gratifying way, we felt that were now part of something that was far larger than ourselves. These young men truly seemed like our “brothers.”

There was only one problem.  This was an “academic fraternity,” whose members all more or less leaned toward majors such as international relations or political science.  There wasn’t a poet in the bunch.

Maryanne, I still missed you.  The University of Virginia was a feast for the mind and the heart.  I loved the great lawn, ornamented by young scholars and circles of chatting friends, and I loved the antiquated architecture.  I loved the people I met – intellectual equals and (perhaps more often) superiors. They inspired me (though never, of course, the way you did), and they prompted me to set standards for myself in a way that I never had before.

Yet still I missed the gray and violet-shaded great mountains of West Virginia.  Still I missed our little park bench outside the school, wehere you nuzzled your little shoulder against my chest, and I smelled your hair.  Is it odd, Maryanne, that I also missed the smell of your mother’s blueberry pancakes, from so many, many years ago?

The divisions that grew between us were subtle, at first.  They weren’t merely an aspect of geography (though that was significant, since neither of us owned a car).  It was the pace and style and demands of our different lives.  I inhabited a world now where it seemed that every second was occupied, whether with classes or fraternity activities.  You inhabited a world of wandering our small town and finding poetry, of park benches, and of composing beneath elm trees.  You inhabited a world where Carl’s Classics turned prosaic old automobiles into iridescent green sharks in the fog.

The irony, for me, is that I never would have found myself at UVA if you hadn’t been there for me growing up.  It was never the tired English classes at school, or the humdrum teachers, that ultimately led to my creative writing scholarship.  It was you – my muse.  It was your eye, your heart and your love of words, and your ability to share those things with me.  That was why I found myself in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the age of 19.

I first became fully cognizant of the gap between us with a brief and simple letter that you’d written to me.  You always had an economy with words; you could say so much with so few of them.

“Have you reached New York yet?” you queried me simply with a short note.  “I only ask because my last two letters to Charlottesville have gone unanswered.”

How could I make you understand, Maryanne?  How could I explain to you that my life now was cramming, all-nighters, and surprise quizzes?  How could I tell you that the homework that my classmates found so manageable took twice as long for me?  At your bench in Peril’s Path, could you appreciate the sheer memorization required to know the cities and towns and industries of Nova Scotia?  I never resented you for not knowing these things.  But there was a certain frustration.  I knew now that there were tremendous aspects of my life that you couldn’t fully appreciate, even if I had tried to explain them to you.

My art suffered.  It wasn’t only that the demands of rigorous academia left no time.  It was you, my muse, that was gone.  There were other writers in my English classes, talented young people from all over the country.  Yet not one of them had your eye, your mind, or your heart.  Not one of them was my best friend.  Not one of them was my lover.

One day, Paul Hautern, my professor for Poetry 101, asked me to stay after class, and called me into his office.  He was a good teacher, affable and approachable.  He was informal enough to allow students to address him by his first name.

Like a skilled diplomat, he began with praise.  He smiled broadly at me, and told me that I had great skill with measured alliteration, assonance, meter and rhythm.  It was imagery, he told me, where he believed that my writing could really improve.  I had potential, he told me – genuine talent. He just wanted me to better “see” the images about which I wrote, to describe them, to better render them upon the page.  I smiled humbly and nodded.  (He had been quite gracious in delivering his criticism, after all.)  But throughout the conversation, I pictured you.  I pictured you bouncing with enthusiasm on your daisy bedspread at nine, your eyes dancing with visions in your head.  I pictured you detailing the facets of sea monsters across the street at Carl’s Classics, illustrating squids’ red beaks and blue suction cups.

That night, I dreamed of tall ships.  They had vast black sails, because they were pirate ships, but their buccaneers were more noble then predatory.  Iridescent green sharks rammed the ships, their blunted metal snouts like emerald bullets.  But unlike all your old stories, the fearless pirates failed to prevail.  The hulls opened, beneath the warm waves.  The ships sank.

 

Fraternity life swallowed me up.  It was an embrace, and a warm one, but at times it could be rigid. The formal social structure was reassuring, even nourishing, to the new “brothers.”  It also fit well into my schema of college as The Land of Expectations.

So much was orchestrated.  The Greek Life, even more than its cheerful participants realized, stood largely on ceremony.  Where you and I were concerned, the most significant aspect of this was the “mixers.”

They were pre-planned parties, after a fashion, most of them a bit more low key due to the nature of my more conservative fraternity.  These “mixers” were organized events in which the members of one fraternity met to socialize with the members of one sorority.  The subtext was clear and hardly hidden.  These were events to introduce men and women.

I was lost.  There were expectations of me – peer pressure – to fraternize closely with women.  I met none who could rival you.  There were pretty women, yes.  And there were women who were exceedingly bright.  But not one of them could make me forget that bench outside our old high school, dreaming of faraway cities and bestselling books.  Not one of them could make me forget the sound of your soft voice.

 

You sent me a poem one day.  It was about the mountains beyond our town.  It was expertly constructed, easily on par with anything my English classmates might produce, with their top-flight professors and formal instruction.  And yet it was even better.  Maryanne, you always wrote from the heart, as cliché as that sounds.  Your verses were perfect, yet they were also natural and uniquely yours.  You spoke with your own voice, not with affected emulation of a Plath or a Wordsworth or a Matthew Arnold.  What you wrote – what emanated from your heart – was more human than the structured, overreaching student pieces that we reviewed at school.  They were more genuine and discovered, and therefore more poetic.

Your poem spoke of varying shades of violet – how the vast iron gray vaults of the West Virginia Mountains were blessed with incongruent purples every dawn.  It spoke of dawn half-light sneaking over craggy features, and immense, sky filling peaks.  It spoke of royal violets glowing like surprise banners, draped in the shadows of the rocks.

You asked me if I had written anything that I wanted to share.  I answered in my own letter that I had not.  The poetry I produced at The University of Virginia was so very different than what we had once shared together.  They were objects of conscious emulation – inundated as I was by the classics in my daily classes.  I felt that I could not learn so well from Shakespeare and Algernon Swinburne.  I felt, as always, that I learned better from you.

It felt odd for me to return a letter to you that did not contain a poem.

 

“Formals” soon made the gap seem almost dauntless.  Especially within the confines of Greek life, the social importance of formals was paramount.  It is yet another thing that is difficult to fully describe to an outsider.  There was a tacit – but quite strong – expectation that every fraternity brother attend, and one could not attend without a date.  As luck would have it, my date found me.  She was a forward girl, a liberated woman in the truest sense, and she had no qualms about asking a man out.

Her name was Tracy, and she was an average looking girl, with short dark hair and a slight stature. She was the confident type, and quite direct, and she asked me rather prosaically in the dorm lounge whether I had a date to the Fall Formal.

“Would you like to go with me?” she asked brightly.  She wasn’t an overly forward girl; she was polite and simply was not shy.  Cornered, in a way, I thanked her and agreed.

I didn’t have a good time.  I wasn’t at all attracted to Tracy.  There was nothing wrong with her, exactly. She was simply an average girl, and could match none of the magic that I had felt from you.  The dance, which required me to rent a tuxedo, was housed in the vast and resplendent Almer’s Hall at UVA.   The punch tasted funny; I drank little.   I remember looking at the staid black and white banners that hung along the tall, ornate architecture of the hall’s interior.  And I remember finding more interest in them than I found in Tracy.

 

Holiday Formal was something different altogether.  Again, it was expected that I attend, and it was expected that I have a date.  Blair the Bear burst happily into our crowded dorm room one week prior, bubbling to me that he had “fantastic news.”  I wasn’t so sure at what I heard.  Blair was a big-hearted young man, but boisterous and impulsive, and I wasn’t so sure that his version of “fantastic news” matched my own.

“You like art, right?” he asked me.  Well, that was … sort of right.  What I had an affinity for was poetry.  And I didn’t like it; I loved it.

“Well,” Blair told me, towering over me in his friendly-giant fashion, “have I got the prefect girl for you!  Her name is Anastasia Gray, and she’s on her way to becoming an art major, and she’s in my economics class.  And she’s beautiful.  I mean beautiful.  And she’s a friend of Sharon!”  (Sharon was Blair’s girl.)  “And she needs a date for Holiday Formal!  And both Sharon and I agree that she’s perfect for you!  And the best part is … you get to double-date with us!”

“I don’t know, Blair.”

Maryanne, you were the one that I wanted to accompany to dances.  You.  No one else.  But Peril’s Path was a home to people of very limited means.  Neither of us had a car, and I was stretching my budget even to rent another tuxedo.  Resignedly, I agreed with Blair, and his enthusiastic plan.  And again, it was what was expected of me.

I decided not to tell you about the Holiday Formal, in our increasingly infrequent letters.  I’m not sure why.  I’d told you about Fall Formal, and I believe that had been easy, because I was so disenchanted at the start with Tracy.  Some instinct in me told me that it was unnecessary – perhaps even imprudent –to tell you about yet another date.  What could I expect you to do with such information?  How could I expect you to react?

 

Anastasia was not Tracy.  I met her for the very first time the night of the dance, at her dorm room where Blair and Sharon and I picked her up.  Blair the Bear had already had a few beers in him.  (It was a tradition that some guys referred to as “the pre-party party.”)  He smelled of it, vaguely, though Sharon didn’t seem to mind.  We arrived at the massive oak door of Anastasia’s dorm room, in one of the older and more massive buildings on campus.

Blair knocked briskly.  The door opened.

Maryanne, you must understand that Anastasia immediately reminded me of you.  She was a tall, slim, redhead, with large eyes and an open, unaffected expression.  Instead of the impeccably coifed and ordered hair of the other girls who attended the formal, she braided her long red hair on either side.  It was girlish and natural, and a somewhat eccentric way of presenting herself.  It spoke of a kind of disregard for how others perceived her.  Anastasia wore a somewhat simple red dress that matched her auburn hair.

She greeted me warmly, as though I were an old friend.  Her vast dorm room had high ceilings (again, it was an older building), and the high walls were adorned everywhere with her paintings.  There were none of the purely abstract artworks that I couldn’t understand and thus despised.   They were representative pieces – many were of the staid buildings around campus, one was of the vast lawn, one was of her roommate, who was absent tonight.  One was of the sea – whitecaps rode azure waves before a deepening violet sky.

Blair was ever the social butterfly.  He strode into the room and rose to the task of getting me and Anastasia acquainted.  “Isn’t she talented?” he boomed.  “Isn’t she creative?”  He pointed to the painting of the sea.  “It looks just like you’re there, doesn’t it?  Doesn’t it?  It looks just like you’re there on that beach.”

Anastasia, for her part, was both gracious but openly pleased with the praise.  She shrugged and smiled, and thanked Blair for his compliments.  She wasn’t the least bit pretentious about her work, but neither did she shy from his praise.  There was a quiet confidence about her, borne perhaps of an aesthete who knew her art, and just wasn’t bashful about it.

And Anastasia smiled at me.  Her gaze was direct and honest.  She was an unabashed person – again, perhaps because she was so open.  And she made clear that she was pleased in what she saw in me, and was happy to be in my company for the evening.

And what an evening it was.  We met Jerry and his date, Anne, at Almer’s Hall. Jerry cut a slim figure in his own tux; he looked almost regal.  Anne’s dress was lavender and full of frills.

Blair the Bear was even more boisterous that night thanks to the putative benefit of the alcohol already in his system.  He had more or less appointed himself as the master of ceremonies for our little trio of couples.  And none of us minded.  He was the most fun out of all of us, and the most gregarious, and the most eager to see everybody have a good time.

He went straight to the drinks being offered at the long, white-draped tables, bee-lining through the various dancing couples as though they were not there.  He poured us all drinks from the punch bowls, one by one, without being asked.  This time, it wasn’t that odd, berry-flavored punch that I had disliked so much at Fall Formal.  It was sangria, rich and sweet, and it felt warm when it met my lips and tongue.

Jerry and Anne began to sip immediately.  Anastasia only took a single polite sip of hers, and then placed the glass gently down at the table when Blair’s attention was elsewhere.  I quickly got the sense that she was a teetotaler.  Her long braided red hair, draped girlishly down the sides of her head, were in contrast with stylized hair of the other women at the formal, but she didn’t seem the slightest bit self-conscious.  And besides, it matched her red dress well.

The deejay played current popular music – some fast-paced 90’s rap-pop fusion that had caught on quite well with all the radio stations.  Blair complained, slightly boorishly, but was as affable as always.

“What is this, high school again?” he asked the deejay, who was across the long hall and who of course could not hear him. “Gimme that ol’ time rock and roll!”  Anastasia smiled genuinely at this, pleased with the eccentricity of Blair’s behavior.

And she smiled at me.  I think it was that openness about her, that guileless sincerity and lack of shyness, that drew me to her so strongly at first.

Then the sporadic ballads began playing, after at least two classic rock numbers that pleased Blair. (Had the deejay magically heard him somehow?)  They were slow songs – the kind that drew young men and women to dance closely throughout the hall.

Anastasia took my hand invitingly, cocked her head slightly, and nodded toward the dance floor.  To this day, I cannot remember what song was playing.  But I remember how easily she drew my arm up against the back of her waist, and laid her own left arm across my shoulder.  She didn’t press too closely against me.  She was merely … easy and familiar in the way that she moved with me. She alternately glanced around the hall, then met my gaze easily here and there and smiled.

Blair the Bear got drunker as the night moved on.  At one point, during a fast dance beat number, he actually stumbled backwards and fell over.  Sharon was only marginally embarrassed – this had turned into a rowdier celebration across the vast hall, and he wasn’t the only one who had done so. Jerry found it absolutely hilarious, and nearly fell over himself with laughter.

The mood throughout the formal was joyous.  College really is a special place in any young person’s life – there is a reason why it is often called “the best years of your life.”  Not only are you among countless peers who are your intellectual equals, you also laugh and dance and fall in love alongside them. They become an entire, broad community of brothers and sisters.

I wish you could have been there, Maryanne.  I truly do.  You were my first de facto “sister,” after all.

 

By the time we returned to Anastasia’s dorm room, Blair’s vocally anticipated “after-party party” simply couldn’t take shape.  He was too drunk.  He had passed out on the lower bunk – Anastasia’s roommate’s bed – and for the first time of the evening, Sharon seemed chagrined at his behavior.

“Blair?   Blair?”  She slapped him very gently on the cheek.  “It’s time to go home.”

It took a long time to wake him.  When he was finally aroused, he seemed to rise from a stupor that was quite deep.  He looked around, seemed to remember where he was, and suddenly arrived at the bleary-eyed realization that this was not our dorm room.

I was drunk too.  That sangria seemed to have a spell about it.  You could hardly taste the alcohol, and it was oh so sweet.

“Where will you take him?”  I slurred a bit myself with the question.

“To my room,” Sharon told me.  “He’ll need looking after.”  And then, quite surprisingly, in my opinion, she pulled one of his great arms across her shoulders and lifted him up from the bed.  She looked comical, leading him out.  She wasn’t a large girl, yet she seemed to shoulder his massive frame easily and lead him out the door.  Perhaps it was practice.  Perhaps it wasn’t the first time she had done this.

And Anastasia and I were alone.  We sat on the lower bunk, a discreet distance from each other, and the silence between us was an easy one.  I eyed all of the paintings that covered her room’s high walls.  Her gaze followed mine, and I could tell that she was pleased with my interest.

I rose from the bed, walked to one, and examined it, with genuine curiosity.  It was the portrait.

“This is your roommate?” I asked.

“Yes.  That’s Patricia.”

“Does it look like her?”  It was a genuinely stupid question.  Again, I was drunk.

“Well,” she smiled amusedly, “I sort of hope that it does.”

“She’s pretty,” I tried to recover.  “Is she nice?”

“Yes.  Patricia is very nice.”

One painting was different from the others – it seemed somehow out of place.  It was a snowy mountaintop vista; bare, dark leaveless trees scattered the landscape like black stilts.  A line of timber wolves, moving single file, was traversing the deep snow.  The lead wolf’s eyes were rich with expression.  There was brightness and determination there … and purpose.

“I don’t know why I painted that one,” my date shrugged from her seat at the bed.  “It just … came to me.  I was having a bad day when I painted it.  I was in a weird mood.  Funny how it turned out nicely.”

“It’s perfect,” I told her.  The lead wolf’s eyes were a hard, dark, flint grey, fixed on some indeterminate destination that lay beyond the vista of the picture.

Then Anastasia rose and joined me, examining her work herself.  Her manner was unique.  There was no arrogance or pretense about her, yet there was also none of the false modesty that is more cloying and annoying than many people realize.

“This,” she told me, “is my favorite.”  She pointed to the magnificent seascape, with its rich blue waves, and the stark, deep shades of violet in the dusk sky above.

And then Anastasia quoted Algernon Swinburne:

 

“Here begins the sea that ends not until the world ends.

“Where we stand, could we know

“The next high-sea mark set beyond these waves that gleam,

“We would know what never man hath known,

“Nor eye of man hath scanned,

“From the shore that hath no shore beyond it,

“Set in all the Sea.”

 

I was astounded.

“You like poetry?!”  I was still slurring.

“Some,” she offered candidly.  “I’m a painter and not a writer.  I don’t really have an ear for it.  Not like you.”  She saw my confusion at her last comment.  “Oh, I’ve read yours,” she smiled.  “I pick up the lit mag at The English Department every Thursday.  My American Lit class is there.  There’s always a stack of them at that circular table at the entrance.  I enjoy your work.  You’re very talented.”

Her braided red hair looked like spun red gold.  Her eyes were green and wide and direct.

The kiss seemed to come from both of us at once.  It happened right before that seascape with its stark violets.  We were standing close, I leaned forward, she leaned forward, and it happened.  Her lips were soft, and tasted vaguely of sangria.  (Maybe she’d had more than I realized?)  I imagined that mine tasted the same, only very much the more so.

It was the first kiss I had shared with any woman since you, Maryanne.

Wordlessly, gently, Anastasia led me to the bunk bed.  Her gaze never left mine; it was maybe the most direct and open gaze I have ever seen in my life.  She alighted the ladder and moved slimly up it to her bed, knowing that I would follow.

There, on her bed, her red dress unfurled from her like the petals of a flower at dawn.  I was soon undressed as well, and over her, her stomach against mine, her firm breasts against my chest. Her braided red hair brushed against my cheeks like soft velvet rope.  Her kiss was deep and warm and dark.

 

Christmas Break, and my month-long return to Peril’s Path, loomed like a great black hole in my consciousness.  I had imagined, before my encounter with Anastasia, that my biggest worry that December would be the sight of my father’s beat-up blue pickup truck pulling up to my dorm.  The parents’ cars of the far more affluent students would certainly make it seem it seem like dirty, moving shack.

But as I saw my father pull up, his eager smile ready for me, I saw that truck differently.  It was the vehicle that would take me back to Peril’s Path, and to you.  It was the vehicle that would bring me to a great and dreaded and sad uncertainty.  It would bring me to a juncture in my life that I felt unequipped to handle.

My father can be a bit of a dull man when it comes to reading people, even his own son.  I didn’t know what he might have thought of my silence during the long ride back to West Virginia.  But he certainly could not have guessed at the fear and confusion in my heart.

As we approached those mountains, they loomed larger and larger as the roads grew winding around them.  Finally they were massive again, those impossibly great, gray, angled giants that challenged the sky itself in terms of sheer enormity.  It was here, among these strident and unabashed giants, that I would find you again – that I would see you for the very first time since leaving the town where we grew up together.

 

The ride back home had been long.  Dad and I arrived around 6:30 PM at our small, humble home. I was met with a hug from my mother that felt like a hug from a bear, and by the distinct smell of quiche.  She’d prepared plates of it – my favorite dinner – to welcome me home.

My mother is a somewhat more perceptive person than my father, and she noticed my reticence early on.

“Is something wrong?”  She asked.  “Are you okay with being back home?”  She studied me with compassionate eyes that were quite searching.

“I’m fine.  It’s just the stress of school – the exams before I left.  They really take a lot out of you, even after they’re over.  But it’ll wear off, as soon as I settle in.  It feels so good to be home, I swear, Mom.”

“No swearing, Honey.”  Same old Mom.

The quiche, rich with spinach and mushrooms, was delicious – better than anything that I had been served at school.  I savored it, and it was yet another reminder of how much I loved my mother.  I hoped it might take my mind off of you, Maryanne, however briefly.  It didn’t.

“She’s been waiting for you, you know,” my mother said coyly toward the end of dinner.

“Who?”  I feigned, not quite knowing why.

“Oh, you know who,” she said.  “She’s been waiting for you ever since the day you left.  She’s become something of a literary celebrity herself in this town.  I’m sure you know that.”

I thought of the increasingly infrequent letters between us, and a dispiritedness settled in my heart. I think my mother noticed.  She continued anyway.

“She draws quite a little crowd these nights with her readings at the library.  You should see them!  I think Peril’s Path has a literary scene all its own now, and maybe it rivals UVA’s,” she winked.

I wanted to hear no comparisons whatsoever between Peril’s Path and UVA.

 

The library is a rather unique looking edifice in our town.  It looks new, even though it is not.  It is a small building, erected sometime in the 1950’s, but its trim tan bricks in perfect symmetry somehow make it look recently constructed.  Adding to this effect are its impeccably kept grounds. The neat lines of its bordering shrubs are always well trimmed, and the lawn before it is maintained perfectly.  It stands in stark contrast to so many other buildings in Peril’s Path, which have turned ramshackle and slipshod, the sad emblems of a town that has long been in economic decline.

Just like any building in Peril’s Path, if often stands in shadow.  This is a mountain town, after all. There is one peak in particular named Nag’s Mountain, and its shadow usually darkens all of Library Street beginning around 3:15 PM every day, during the winters.

Tonight it was entirely dark, of course.  I reached the library at 9 PM, just as one of your performance poetry sessions had let out.  The crowd filtering out of the library’s neat, double-glass doors was impressive, just as my mother had suggested to me.

The first person in that outgoing stream of people who realized I had returned was our 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Spaulding.  I had always harbored a vague suspicion that she disliked me, but her greeting tonight showed no evidence of that.  As soon as she saw me, her eyes and her smile widened.

“Sean!” she ginned evenly and sincerely.  “You’re back!  Tell us!  Tell us about how it’s been at UVA!!”

I stammered a bit, my mind struggling to try to encapsulate the university experience for the benefit of a somewhat distant high school teacher.  But this conversation was cut short.

You raced past her, a sky blue blur in your thick wool sweater, and your arms were around me at once.  You were unabashed.  Your kiss was warm and deep, and passionate.  You were oblivious to your departing audience and their amused, half-hidden smiles at the sight of lovers reunited.

I am ashamed, Maryanne – so horribly, horribly ashamed – that an involuntary part of my mind actually compared your kiss to that of Anastasia’s.  And yet at once I loved you, completely, so much, so hard, that I felt that the space within your warm arms was heaven itself.  The human mind is an incredible thing, the way it can juggle contradictory emotions and memories and desires, all at once.

“Sean,” you breathed deeply, after coming up for air.  Your bright blue eyes were great and soft as we drank in each other’s gaze.   I had the urge then to draw your dirty blonde hair across my face.  I wanted to feel it against my cheek.  “Sean,” you simply said again, and you began almost imperceptibly to cry.

I led you quickly away from the crowd and their attention.  I knew that I had changed in many subtle ways since school.  Was some new and vague sense of decorum an example of that?

We walked down Library Street, hurried, anxious to be alone at long last.  We walked with our arms around each other’s waists; it seemed that your eyes never left me.  Your tears came more easily with our distance from the library.  It seemed to me that they were not only tears of happiness that I had returned.  They also seemed like tears of sadness that I had ever departed in the first place.

There was wordlessness between us.  But our silences together were always easy ones, ever since we were children.  You were untroubled by it.

I noticed for the first time that you carried a large, elegant, black velvet binder.  And I knew at once it contained your poetry.

We reached the block where our little houses stood, side by side.

“Maryanne, I …”

“No,” you told me, and placed a gentle finger over my lips.  I saw idly that you had pink nail polish; makeup was something you’d usually eschewed, and I wondered idly why that had changed.  “Don’t talk.  Please.  Not yet.  Just hold me first.   Hold me for a little while.”

There was another, worn, bench outside “Carl’s Classics;” you led me there and sat me down and nestled up against me as a robin might nestle against its mate in its nest during a heavy rain.  The street light was out.  Our road was dark.  The car lot was obscured entirely by a blanket of blackness.  The massive angles of the mountains behind us stood in enormous silhouette to the starry skies above them.

My mind, for some reason, searched out minutiae.  I could see the lights in my father’s study across the street – perhaps he was busy with his Ellery Queen mystery novels again.

Your first words to me to me on that bench that night were as deep and as heartfelt as they were obvious.

“I’ve missed you.”

I could see your great blue eyes, softening with tears again, in the starlight to which my eyes were gradually adjusting.  Why, I wondered, had I returned to find you weeping so?

You kissed me again, long and hungrily.  This time your hair did fall across my face.

You turned.  Your eyes fell on our neighboring houses across the street and rested there.

“When we were growing up, Sean, you …. always sort of told me that I led you.  You called me your guide, your muse.  You must have told me that a million times.  And I loved it every time.  But … it was only half of the story.  You were my guide, too, Sean – my muse.  I just don’t think either of us realized it so much back then.”

Your gaze fixed on mine again.  In the reflected starlight, they looked like the eyes of a little girl who was lost, but then found again.  “I never understood how much I needed you.  You didn’t, either.  I just … underestimated how much I needed you.  And I don’t think you ever really knew at all.”

You gestured at our street, the gap-toothed row of houses and vacant wood lots, and the faint glow beyond of the other houses, elsewhere in our little town in the shadow of the mountains.  And you continued.

“Perils’ Path.  It was a different place without you.  You have no idea.  It was so different.  It was … empty in a way.  I felt lost without you.  I was alone.  In a way that’s hard to describe.”

I tried to muster a smile for you.  “My mother told me you’ve been doing well … that you’re something of a town celebrity now.  That was a nice little crowd coming out of the library.  You’re the literati!”

Your hand trailed over the elegant black binder in your lap.  It looked expensive – not something that could be purchased in Peril’s Path – and I wondered vaguely where you’d gotten it.  Your work, was in there, I knew.  There were the poems you’d read – or performed – at the library.  And there were doubtless poems there that you had not yet shared with me.

“It isn’t just that we’re lovers, Sean.  It isn’t just that we’re boyfriend and girlfriend.  It isn’t even that we’ve been best friends since we were kids.  It’s more than that.

“We’re storytellers, you and I.  Aesthetes.   In a way that other people aren’t.  Because … they just can’t be.  I know it’s a goddam cliché, Love, but I’ll go ahead and say it, anyway – we’re kindred spirits.

“I love writing.  I love reading it aloud and performing.  But I don’t do it for the crowds at the library. What I write and recite isn’t for a single person in that room.  I’m grateful that they come, honestly. And I’m flattered by it.  But they’re not the reason that I write at all.

“I write because it’s a way in which we love each other.  I write because it makes me feel closer to you.”

I think it was then, Maryanne, that you first seemed to notice my reticence.  You turned to me, and looked at me directly, and awaited a response.

The human mind can do very funny things when faced with confusion and stress.  Mine moves to avoidance, by turning my attention away from pain to minutiae.  Instead of returning your direct gaze, I again fixed mine on my father’s study window.  The light was still on.  Was he still reading?

And then I rose.  I turned away from you where you sat on that worn bench, and I faced the darkness of the “Carl’s Classics” car lot.  My back was to you.

“Sean?”  You called after me.  With the tone with which you called me, I knew that you were asking me what was wrong.  Might you have wondered, at that moment, that you’d inadvertently said something that upset me?

My eyes strained in the dark, and once more further adjusted with the starlight to see into the blackness.

The car lot was empty.  There wasn’t a single vehicle there.  There were no classic automobiles with their fins and ornate grills and fancy angles.  There were no more metal shapes that our childhoods had made into sea monsters.  There was no more green ’57 Chevy.  There was no iridescent green shark.

What was it that F. Scott Fitzgerald symbolized with the color green, in “The Great Gatsby?”  That it symbolized hope?  False hope?  A shining, but ultimately empty promise of a past to which one could never truly return?

“The cars, Maryanne.  Where are they?”

You sounded confused.  “The cars?”

“Yes,” I said tightly, and my voice actually sounded cross.  “Where are all the cars?”

I actually felt neurotic, inexplicable anger rising in my chest.  To return home, I thought, to find the cars missing!  Part of my childhood!  Part of my past!  Whisked away from me, stolen in my absence, while I was away working and studying!  I understand now that this was an example of Freudian transference.  I was angry – furious – with myself.  Yet unwilling to face this new and darkened aspect in my heart, I instead externalized it onto the missing vehicles.

I nearly spun around to face you.  “Where did they all go?”

You were too confused to be saddened or even troubled.  You rose from the bench, shrugged at me, and told me, “Carl moved off.  He moved to Bridgetown.  He thought business would be better there I guess – it’s a bigger town than this one.”

I stared.  I believe in my grief for us, and in my rage at myself, my rationality began to slip.

“The sign,” I pointed overhead, “says ‘Carl’s Classics.’”

You were visibly worried now, and confused.  You spoke slowly and clearly and with trepidation.

“Sean, he took the cars with him.”

I faced the lot again.  Beneath the blackness, corroded and uneven asphalt held not a single occupant.  All of your sea monsters were gone.

My tears came in a cold rush – a quick bolt to my eyes.  I fell to my knees before the empty lot.  They stung with the impact.  I sobbed.

Your lithe, warm hands were upon me at once.  I heard a light slap as your black binder of poetry hit the ground.

“Sean.  Baby.  Tell me.  Tell me what’s wrong.  Whatever it is, you can tell me.  Please.  It will be okay, I promise.”

You had no idea.

“At college …” I began, but couldn’t continue.

Your hands drew down from their caress at the back of my neck, and found my shoulders.  You kneaded the tenseness there.  Then you knelt behind me, and placed a gentle kiss on the back of my neck.  There were no passersby, but if there had been, how strange we might have looked.  Two of the pious of some strange nocturnal parish, kneeling in worship before an empty used car lot at night.

“At college, there were dances, and parties.”

“Yes?”  You still had no idea at what I was building toward.

I turned around, still kneeling, and engaged your soft blue eyes directly.

“Maryanne, there was a girl.”

At first you simply didn’t react.  You didn’t understand.  Of course there was a girl.  There was not only one, but countless girls at the University of Virginia.  So?

And then, at long last, we communicated – wordlessly.  There had been a lifetime of words between us, uniting us, entertaining us, building the foundation for our love.  But on this night, we communicated in silence.  The guilt, the remorse on my face told you everything you needed to know.  Without a single sentence, you knew all you needed to know about Anastasia and my night with her.

You rose before me, while I still knelt.  Your eyes were downcast, but they did not fall on me.

I searched those eyes.  To this day, I am still surprised at what I did not find there.

There wasn’t a hint of anger.  There wasn’t a trace of accusation, or reproach.

There was merely emptiness.  And incredulity.

There was the unique, empty desperation that can only result from loss.  This, and disbelief.

You bent over, and picked up your binder from the sidewalk.  Somehow I knew that there were poems in there that you had shared with no one – poems that were meant especially – and only – for me.  And I knew that I would never read them.

And you turned and walked away.  Your head hung low.  Your pace was ordinary.  You didn’t say a word.  There had been a lifetime of words between us, but now there wasn’t even a “goodbye.”

You simply walked away, and went to your house, and entered the soft rectangle of light of the doorway, and closed the door behind you.

 

I never want to see the mountains of West Virginia again.

I am a New Yorker now.  I work in Manhattan, and I live in somewhat gentrified part of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I am an insurance agent.

Every day on my way to work, after departing the subway into Manhattan, I ascend discolored urban steps into a landscape utterly unlike that of my childhood.  Omnipresent skyscrapers assault the sky; endless, ordered rows of giant soldiers.  I know that there are better poetic comparisons that might be made here, perhaps to the mountains around our small town.  But I cannot articulate them.

I do not write at all.

The buildings make me think of you, Maryanne, because I know that you could find some manner of describing the parallel my mind can only grasp at in vain.  Again, you could always “see” things in a way that I could not.  And with your imagination, you could look at any of those tens of thousands of windows, and invent a story about what took place behind them.

I have not spoken to you for 20 years.

My mother tells me that you teach 9th grade English now, following the retirement of Mrs. Spaulding.  You married a man from Bridgetown, West Virginia, the very same place to which “Carl” had once emigrated with his wares.  Your husband is in construction.

If you continue to write, I am unaware of it.  You either do not publish your work, or employ a nom de plume.

And again, I do not write at all.  I cannot.

I’ve tried, Maryanne – first at my expensive laptop.  Its single, square, empty, cyclopean eye simply stared back at me, bored.

Then I tried with a blank sheet of paper, as you and I used to do.  The words do not come, and the white page looks to me like a blank white sea.  Perhaps there were brave buccaneers on that white sea once, on ships with great black sails.  But if there had been, sea monsters there must have chased them into farther oceans, beyond the square confines of the white page.

I am desperate to write again.  You once told me that writing made you feel close to me.  I want to write so that, in some small, oblique way, I might once again feel close to you.

I went through a phase in which I tried to begin drinking heavily, in order to forget you.  I actually believe that some small part of me wanted to become an alcoholic.

It did not take.  Now, in my adulthood, I do not like the hazy, listless feeling that alcohol gives to me, and it tends to make me quickly fall asleep.  I cannot fully understand how so many can become addicted to it.

Besides, drunkenness gives me strange dreams.  Occasionally I will dream of great gray timber wolves, walking single file on a snowy vista, as I once saw in Anastasia’s painting.  Their eyes are flint gray, and determined.

More often, however, I dream of fog-colored seas.  They are the seas of our childhood stories, where we visited when we were nine.

There are iridescent green sharks there, Maryanne.  Their dorsal fins slice the water like shining aluminum blades.  Their blunt snouts are emerald-tinted platinum.

They pursue black-sailed ships with pirates and ladies, and the ships always outpace them.  The ships race off in various divergent paths, toward different and indeterminate futures, and the sharks are left far behind.

What the seafarers cannot know is that the sharks are magical.  They are the antagonists of the seas’ stories, but they create and drive those stories, nonetheless.

And once they are finally evaded, they are in the past, and can never be found again.

© Eric Robert Nolan, 2013

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I am thinking of renaming this website. Whaddya think of these?

1)  Portrait of the Artist as a Jung Man

2)  The Po’ Man’s Poe

3)  Pay No Attention to the Nerd Behind the Curtain

4)  All Auden, All the Time

5)  Eric Robert Nolan: Sleep With Me and I’ll Write a Poem About It

6)  The Boy Who Cried Wolf

7)   Eric Robert Nolan: Slow In Writing Sequels

8)  The Poetry of Andy Kaufman (I’m Still Alive and This Is My Nom de Plume)

9)  Nolan Country For Old Men

10)  Nolan Ventured, Nolan Gained

11)   Eric Nolan: Preternaturally Garrulous (I’ve been told that I overuse both words.)

12)  The Writing of Eric Nolan: More Wolves and Birds than a God Damn National Forest

13)  Wait … That Guy Who’s Always On Facebook ALSO HAS A BLOG?!

14)  Just Say Nolan

15)  That 90’s Guy

16)  British People Are Mean To Me

17)  Nerdiopathy

18)  I Know Why The Caged Nerd Sings

 

 

Mo’ Nolan, mo’ problems.

So you’ve taken advantage of Dagda Publishing’s free e-book promotion, and you fell in love with my prose.  (Humor me a little here, okay?)  Want a little more Eric Robert Nolan?  Feel free to peruse the short story section at my website here: https://ericrobertnolan.wordpress.com/stories/

Most of the tales are free at the sites where they were published.  So if you’ve enjoyed my stories about super-intelligent wolf armies and world-ending technologies, then check out my take on zombies, terrorists, missing children, childhood sweethearts and lost loves.  Oh — also, those … things in “The Song of the Wheat.”  Don’t ask me exactly what they are, because I’m as puzzled as you are.