Late that night I read another excerpt from Pappy’s notebook.
The haze of the cabaret hovered around her, rising like fog in a swamp, stinging her eyes in a blue mist of cigarette smoke, evaporating alcohol, wisps of pungent perfume, and human perspiration. A red neon light reflected through the film, and sound and sight blended as the murmuring voices and the mingling figures of the faceless guests became one and the same. Another cocktail and they weren’t there at all. Alone on a desert island, lost on a vast stretch of desert, unknown, unwanted, unloved. Or at least it seemed to Clare...
Kristin was a striking woman. Her beauty glowed with an aura of the erotic, and overflowed with a mystifying inner charm. I could not stop looking at her. I detected a furtive sadness, however. She sat in a booth across from the bar with a well-dressed man with a nondescript face. I poured beverages, operated the register, served food, and socialized with folks – all the time stealing glance after glance at Kristin. I became unusually nervous, as if I were about to cross a great and difficult bridge in flames. Cindy, my waitress, agreed to my delivering a round of drinks to their table. First eye contact with this magnetic woman was critical. I stood dumbfounded, mesmerized by the shiny lure, or the worm on a hook that swayed before me. I bit. I first glanced at the man across from her, and then looked back at her.
“Please excuse my audacity, but I must tell you that you are extraordinarily lovely.” I said quite awkwardly.
The man glared sternly at me, but said nothing. Kristin returned eye contact, and reeled me in. She smiled sadly, thanked me, and then hypnotized me with a single, penetrating look. I returned to the bar with my heart pounding like a primordial drum, declaring to the entire jungle – I think I am in love.
… The man took her hand and whispered words of love, and need, and desire. She leaned back against the booth and pretended to listen as she drank her highball, and smiled assent to another. She had heard it before, the same words – different in the technique, but the same content. The whispered urgency against the small of her ear, the squeezing fingers, the roving hands. It was always tonight, or a weekend – so important that time couldn’t wait, moments lost, never to be reclaimed again. She sat, and listened, and drank her drink, and waited for another…
Several nights later Kristin returned with another dapper gentleman. Again, my heart drummed. My knees became weak. What was it about this woman?
… Night proceeded night, all different yet the same. Nothing mattered. Somewhere, in the dead past, emotion had died, drank away in the martinis and the whiskey sours and the straight scotch over the rocks. Clare wondered, vaguely, where she was. She attempted to look around, but it did little good. She didn’t recognize her surroundings, yet it looked like every place she had been in the last months, all of the bars and the cabarets, and the nightclubs and after hour joints. Each of them massed together into one giant amphitheater. She turned it off, and turned to her escort…
She recognized my presence with occasional visual links that confirmed my existence. Kristin drank Campari and soda, tall, with a twist. I found myself making each cocktail with personalized care. I would strip the lemon peel and rub it vicariously across the edge of her glass. I wondered how I could get to know more about this beautiful, alluring lady.
…Who is he, she wondered as she looked at the man sitting next to her. I don’t recognize him. Where did I meet him? That didn’t matter either. She was on the town, the night was gay, and she forgot yesterday and rejected tomorrow. Tonight was only as real as a dream, and every bit as unimportant. The drink stung her lips, but she drank it and wanted another one. The man held her hand, brushing his lips against her fingers. She giggled, and he supposed it was because he had flattered her, but all he had done was look ridiculous to her, and made her laugh.
“Just tonight, honey.” What’s-his-name was saying, as she forgot to listen.
The waitress took away the empty glasses and returned with fresh drinks, and smiled cordially. Her skin was pail, and she was tired. Clare felt sorry for her and decided to leave a sizable tip. She noted, too, that the girl wore a small wedding band, and Clare wondered if she had children at home.
“If Arthur and I had had a baby,” she thought, “maybe we would still be together. Maybe Arthur would still love me, like I love him…”
As Kristin and her friend were about to leave, she approached the bar.
“Thank you, Mark.” she looked into me, then turned and left.
I detected an accent, though I was uncertain of from what country. European I guessed. Kristin was tall and slender, with dark blond hair. Her voice was deep and throaty, and mysteriously sexy. I watched every motion of her body as she walked away.
“You like her, don’t you?” Cindy declared. “Her name is Kristin. She asked me your name, and if you were single.”
“I’m enamored. She comes in with presumably well to do gentlemen.” I responded. “Where do you think she is from? What do you suppose is happening?”
“Scandinavian, Danish, I think. I overheard some brief moments of their conversation as I waited on them. Sounded like they were discussing another man, and perhaps a work situation. I think that she is going through a divorce.” Cindy nudged me with her elbow, and winked.
… The man’s voice drummed in her ear. It irritated her, but she pretended to listen. She knew all the expressions, the look of interest, the half-closed eyes of anticipation. She could turn them on and off like movie film on a projector. She smiled now, and looked up at the man. He kissed her lips, lightly at first, then became more fervent in his advance. She held his hand tightly, her fingers digging into his flesh as she took a stiff drink….
Again, several nights later, Kristin came into the King Street Pub. This night with the man from the first time that I had noticed her, still with a stern look upon his face. They choose the same booth, across from the bar. She smiled at me and acknowledged my gaze, as I lovingly built a tall Campari and soda. Then she and her companion resumed their intent conversation. Cindy delivered their cocktails and said hello to her by name.
…“I wonder if she has a canary,” Clare thought to herself, wondering about the waitress. “A nice little canary that sings its heart out? Everyone should have a canary, to make them happy.”
The man moved away from her and lit a cigarette. She searched his face and realized that he was angry. Clare shifted her body next to him, and her hand reached for the nape of his neck. She brushed his closely cropped hair, and laughed a gay, tinkling laugh. He turned to her, interested and urgent again.
“It’s so easy to hold on to them.” Clare observed. “Just a look, a word, a movement, and they are yours, want them or not.”
She didn’t want them, but she couldn’t do without them.
“Only Arthur,” she lamented within. “I want Arthur…”
“They are discussing her divorce. I think that the man with her is an attorney.” Cindy explained that she had caught a portion of their conversation.
I glanced at Kristin, but she was not looking my way. I walked conspicuously to the front door of the Pub, looked out for a moment, then returned to the bar, accepting a faint smile from her.
… The well of loneliness deep inside her ruptured, and her emotions flowed over into her conscious mind. She wanted to cry, but there were no tears, only fragments of regrets. Her mind dulled to the reality of the moment, curtained by the black midnight of despair. She held the stranger’s hand, looked at him, nodded and smiled, but neither saw nor heard him, as the moment became another yesterday in her memory…
Several weeks passed before I saw Kristin again. This time she came in alone and sat at the bar. Nervous tension made it difficult to work at first. She had always been so distant, sitting in a booth with a commanding gentleman. Now she was here, and wanted to chat with me. I shook as I built her a Campari and soda.
“I want to celebrate my divorce tonight.” Kristin declared.
Cindy was watching and listening. She came behind the bar and poured a couple of schnapps, and brought them over.
“I couldn’t help but overhear. I was married once.” Cindy handed me one of the shots, and raised hers in salute. “Here’s to d-i-v-o-r-c-e!”
“Thanks, I needed that.” I whispered to Cindy a moment later.
“I know you did.” She chuckled.
Kristin stayed until after closing, and we talked extensively. She told me a little about her life. I told her more about mine. She was intrigued to hear that I was an artist, and wanted to see some of my work. I was off the next evening, and we made a date for dinner, and a private showing of my paintings.
Over the next several months one thing led to another. I will spare you the intricate details, but I must say that the intensity of our passion escalated rapidly, and I felt myself becoming obsessed with everything about Kristin. She introduced me to her parrot; a large blue and gold macaw named Alfonso, to her malamute named Gandolf, and to her blue Persian cat, Belle. I introduced her to Ankh, my cat. Although her ostensive adoration of animals, I observed that Ankh was skeptical of her from the very beginning.
Kristin and I became quite an “item” about town. We were seen together at restaurants and social events, dapper and elegant, often with Alfonso on her shoulder. I was becoming possessed by her elaborate, flamboyant lifestyle, and blinded to the fact that I was merely a pet – an enthusiastic lad on her arm, and an obsessive, eager lover in her bed. But I was not her only toy. The atrocious beast of jealousy began to awaken, and growl like an evil genie that had been bottled up inside me for my entire life, waiting to be fondled by the sorceress’s fickle hands. I discovered that I was not her only jealous lover, and I became more and more possessive. As the beast struggled to free itself from my inner sanctum, I responded by trying to crawl into bottle after bottle of vodka. One drunken night I asked Kristin to become my beloved bride.
“… Arthur!” She had sobbed into his chest when he had asked her to marry him.
She had wanted him so very much, and was afraid he would never ask her. Their affair had been aimless, to no point, except that they loved each other – or at least she loved him. It was passionate and possessive. There were times when she wanted to crawl inside him, to know what he felt, to see with his eyes, to feel with his feelings. She wanted to fold herself around him, and hold him until they were one and the same, to never let him go…
“You are drunk, Mark.” Kristin said smugly.
“…There, there,” he had said, brushing her hair with his hand. “I love you Clare. You are a part of me. I want and need you darling, truly. I love you.”
Their mouths compressed, holding to each other, unwilling to yield to the liberty of the air. He kissed her again and again, and she cried in a joy she had never known before. She held on to him with a clutch that was later revealed to have bruised his arm…
“We can leave here. We can move somewhere else. We can start a new life… Alaska, California, Florida, Denmark.” I slobbered.
“Ask me again when you are sober!” She insisted.
“…We’ll go away.” She suggested. “Just the two of us, and time will not exist. It’ll be only each other. I want to loose myself in you darling. I don’t ever want to let you go! My Love! My darling!”
“Sweetheart,” Arthur had said, “My beautiful little dove, so frail, I do want to take care of you forever. Oh, darling, I need you!”
That first year he did need her. He was a young lawyer just starting his practice. She had cooked, washed his clothes, and ironed his shirts until they looked new. She was working also, maintaining a position as a secretary in an insurance office. Nights they were together, and Clara abandoned herself in the magic of their love…
I did not ask Kristin again. But I lingered in my obsessive behavior for a couple of years, continuing to sniff after her like a pitiful hound, salivating at the very sight of her. She entertained me a night or two every week or so – just enough raw meat to feed my neurotic needs and to keep me close by. I would sit up, roll over, jump through hoops, and even play dead for a little treat. While Gandolf, Alfonso, and Belle were treated like royalty, I slept in the pits with the other jealous beasts.
… But was it magic? It didn’t last. It didn’t keep them together. Arthur had left her, more lonely than she had ever been in her life. He had left her, and gone away, and she didn’t really know why.
“Clare, you have to let up.” Arthur had said. “ I can’t breath. You are strangling me! We have to get out, do things. There’s more to life than just being with each other!”
“All I need is you.” she had replied, wondering at the way he had said it, so stereotyped, and melodramatic…
It was a difficult time in my life, as I drank a bitter cup of spell brew. I had begun to drink heavily. Eventually I tired. One day I stood up off my knees and walked away. I settled into a few quiet weeks of drinking, sleeping, and working, but I did not look back.
… Later Clare would come to accept that most of life’s important moments were stereotyped and melodramatic. Arthur’s words sounded hollow, unreal, something out of bad literature. They couldn’t be true. He couldn’t be saying this to her. He was joking. Arthur was not a humorous person, and he was just putting it badly, she laughed.
“Darling Clare,” He had once told her as she lay beside him in the darkened bedroom. “I love you. I will always love you. Please, darling, try to understand that I need to be alone to collect my thoughts. I need time to find out who I am. All day I am at the office, and all night I am with you. Let’s get out more, make friends, and entertain clients. I do love you so!”
Clare said that she understood, but deep within she had begun to search for a way to hold him, to keep him to herself. She was afraid to share him. She held him tight, hoping that his detachment was only a moment that would dissipate with the dawn…
I was indeed crossing a great span of emotional, neurotic weakness during this time of my life, and I was only part way over the flaming bridge. Rather than move on, I stepped into the fire.
Glena was plain. She was tolerably pretty but not a beautiful woman – without or within. Glena possessed a spellbinding element about her that was imperceptibly wicked, and attracted men as moths to a flame, or more accurately, as moths to the spider’s web. I flew blindly into that web, and became glued to her enigmatic, adhesive, charm. I wanted to be with her, although I knew not why.
“…Sweetheart,” Arthur had telephoned her, “I will meet you at Andre’s tonight for dinner. Sam Parker and his wife invited us. It could be that he needs some legal advice, and you know that would be a great fee!”
“Again…tonight.” Clare complained. “Darling, we haven’t eaten at home all week, and I was preparing shrimp Creole. Do we have to go?”
The line was silent.
“Arthur,” she asked, “do we?”
“We have to go!” Arthur answered stiffly…
Glena was intelligent, but not enough so that she understood her ignorance. She was an advanced student in engineering, and understood elements of structure and design, but she was rigidly over demanding of others. I found myself in a situation in which I was inevitably in error about everything. When I spoke, I was censured. If I remained silent, I was admonished. Yet, I adhered to her company, subserviently, like a dog that was not permitted to be a dog.
… Clare didn’t like Sam Parker, and she felt sorry for his wife. Sam was a bore, a little loud when he drank too much, and rather uncouth. She knew that his wife was often embarrassed for him. Clare wished that Arthur would tell Sam to be quiet, or inform him that there were ladies present. Instead, Arthur laughed at his jokes, and encouraged him. She was always somewhat angry with Arthur whenever they went out for an evening with the Parkers.
Sam was one of Arthur’s best clients. Clare couldn’t insult him, but she wished that Arthur would not make those evenings a family affair, and expect her to accept the time lost from precious moments with him, as some kind of a bonus.
“You were rather rude tonight.” Arthur reprimanded her on their way home.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t notice. I thought I was being very lady like.”
“That’s what I mean,” Arthur cried out, “You’re stiff as hell. Why don’t you laugh once in a while? Sam tells some pretty funny stories. It wouldn’t hurt if you laughed at a few of them.”
Her tongue was dry in her mouth, and she could say nothing. She didn’t like Sam Parker. She found him vulgar and boring, and she did not like his stories. She wanted Arthur, and the nights to be as they used to be, not these hollow evenings over cocktails with people she could hardly stand, and did not want to know…
Glenna and my love life was inadequate. My performance was often ineffectual, and I was always at fault. We began to argue relentlessly. I knew in my heart that I would never be able to fulfill her requirements. Her grail was bottomless. I knew it, and I told myself so. I knew that I must let go of this manic obsession.
Our relationship lasted for a couple of exhausting years, and it was a fiasco. There were times that as we lay in bed, we would be awakened in the early hours of the morning by a “friend” of hers from school. Glena would insist that I lay quietly, so that he assumed that no one was there, and would leave. We would be together socially, and as Glena would encounter friends and acquaintances, she would blatantly not introduce me, as if I were not with her. They would look at me inquisitively until I introduced myself – for which I was rebuked as having been insecure. I was constantly being informed that she had been seen around town amorously juxtaposed with other men. When asked, she would lie and lecture me about my jealousy and insecurities. Trials and tribulations like these, or even more convoluted and thorny, were a daily part of our affair.
Yet, I clung even tighter to the possibility that love would abide, and that I would stand victorious over all. I told her time and time again that I loved her. I didn’t understand then, but there was no love there. I cannot identify her motives, but I was acting out of a neurotic fantasy to conquer a mighty, diabolical, beast of displacement. I did not belong with this woman. But, Sir Uck Uck, the Golden Knight, was not going to be defeated, and would battle all windmills in the name of Love. My weapon of choice was once again a bottle of vodka, and as I brandished it in impotent defiance, our arguments intensified. I was not a brave knight, rather a weak fool returning again and again to the parlor for another poisonous kiss from the spider’s lips.
“… For our anniversary.” Arthur had announced, in honor of their third year of marriage. He handed her a birdcage with a beautiful, yellow canary within.
“It reminded me of you, so small and frail. Just like you. She sings beautifully!”
The delicate little bird sat on its swing and peered out at Clare. She looked at it, laughed, and felt warmed. He was right, she thought, such an appropriate choice. It was a beautiful, gay, romantic thought. He loved her! He loved her! And, she loved the yellow bird.
In the mornings she was awakened to its sweet singing, and it gladdened her. She hummed along with it as she fixed breakfast, and she sang with it as she served Arthur. The two of them sat at the kitchenette table, alone together, and she had him to herself. It was just she, he, and the yellow bird. The frail bird was an extension of their love.
Clare stared at Arthur over her cup of coffee and dreamed of being within him. She would imagine herself snug and warm beside him, never to be away from him. She wanted him so much, all the time.
“I love you.” she would declare again, and again, and again, and wondered if he had heard her.
She would devotedly fill the bird’s seed tray and water dish each morning before leaving for work. On Sundays she would clean his cage and put in his bath tray. She loved the little yellow bird that Arthur had given her, and she wanted to care for it as she did Arthur.
“You fussing with that damn bird again?” He exploded one Sunday.
“I always clean his cage on Sunday mornings.” She defended herself.
“Everything has to be just so, doesn’t it Clare.” He retorted. “Nothing can spoil your picture, or change your schedule. It couldn’t be Saturday morning, or Monday night! Always Sunday morning!”
“Arthur.” she cried. “What is it? I always clean the canary’s cage on Sunday”
“I know. I know.” He despaired. “Clare, what’s wrong between us? Everything you do recently irritates me. What is it with us?”
“Oh darling.” She tried to make is sound so right as she rushed to him. “My love! There is nothing wrong! I love you, sweetheart, I love you!”
“It isn’t working.” Arthur announced. All were doing is tearing each other to pieces. I can’t stand your possessiveness, Clare. You never let go. I am never relaxed with you, not a moment since I’ve known you. It’s too intense, too important to you. I loved you, Clare, oh, I loved you, but you frighten me. I feel that you want to devour me!”
“Arthur, don’t say that.” She wept. “I love you. I love you more than life itself!”
“Don’t say it again!” He interrupted her. Maybe you do love me, I don’t know. It isn’t important anymore. I don’t love you! Maybe I never did. I can’t live with you. I’m leaving!”
“Oh God, Arthur! I love you. I love you so much.”
“Clare!” He had shouted. “Shut up! Please, shut up! Love – it doesn’t solve everything. I wish to God sometimes that you didn’t love me. Maybe I wouldn’t find it so hard to live with you!”
His words struck her like a slap across the face. Arthur had gotten dressed and left, saying nothing more. She stood there alone, with only the yellow canary singing in the great wilderness of her surprise…
Once again, I had to struggle against the hostile gravity of my ill-fated quest for love. My vision of the ubiquitous illumination that is Love was still greatly limited by my naive human chronicle. I was still searching for love in the cold, dark alleys of my human existence. While I had experienced great sensual pleasures, intense corporeal disappointments, moments of emotional ecstasy, and periods of neurotic depression, I had not yet allowed the light of my dear Savior in. To this day I continue to seek the strength to hold open that door against the fierce, malevolent winds of the tyrannical abuse of human experience.
I arose tired and weak, brushed off my armor, mounted Charlie Horse, and rode further across the bridge of fire, away from Glena – but not away from Love.
…Clare did not see Arthur again until their brief encounter in the attorney’s office, where they finalized their divorce. She had prayed that he would call and tell her that he wanted her back, and would be coming home. But every morning his pillow was vacant, as was her heart and soul.
She ate breakfast alone while the little bird sang, but it no longer gave her pleasure. His little songs seemed lonely and full of despair.
The interlocutory decree had, as a stone-faced judge had said to her, set her free. She would never be free, she thought. Arthur was not with her. Her apartment had never been so lonely. She was not free, but confined by her grief. The yellow bird sang while Clare stood before its cage with tears running unashamedly down her face.
She opened the window above the sink, reached into the canary’s cage, and it immediately flew to her hand. She removed her hand from the cage, situated it before the open window, and pushed the bird forward into the air. Confused at first, the little bird winged, and then took flight until it landed on a branch of the nearby apple tree. It hopped up and down the branch for a while still confused, then flew upward and was gone.
Arthur never called. She never saw him again. She had heard that he was seeing another woman. Clare could not imagine it. He will come back, she told herself, and she lived on that hope. She worked, came home, spent lonely nights reading, and listening to the silent telephone that did not ring.
When she read of Arthur’s marriage in the papers it didn’t register at first. It was not Arthur. It was somebody else. But it was Arthur. When she finally accepted the reality of what she had read over and over, she went to the kitchen window, opened it, and stood there dazed as she stared at the blue sky and the apple tree. Eventually she closed the window, and locked it.
That night Clare accepted a date with one of the salesmen at her office. When he brought her home, she didn’t think that she could go into that empty apartment alone, and he stayed.
Nights became unbearable. She moved to another apartment, but the rooms were still big and filled with intolerable loneliness. Clare began to drink, to go out often, and often did not return alone. Whenever she thought of Arthur she would go out. There was always a cocktail waiting, and willing arms. It no longer mattered. She was alone and it wasn’t going to change, and it didn’t matter. The night covered and hid her. She didn’t want to be alone, no matter how lonely she was.
“Just tonight, honey.” What’s-his-name was saying again as he sat close to her in the corner booth.
The man kissed her ear, and grasped her hand savagely. Clare shook her head, and her eyes fluttered as reality returned.
“Let’s get out of here.” The man said huskily.
Sure, why not, she thought. We’ll go home and I’ll make coffee, and we’ll talk until dawn.
“Sweetheart, please, let’s go.” He pleaded.
She turned to him smiling. She didn’t know him. Who was he? She tried to remember, but couldn’t. That didn’t matter now, though. They got up and eased their way through the crowded cabaret. She wondered who they all were. Who were they? Why was she there? Outside, the man hailed a taxi.
She would take the man home, and they would talk, and she would not be lonely. Never lonely again, Clare thought, as she looked back from the taxi window into the night. A brilliant neon light flashed on and off. “BAR” – it announced. Below it was a life-sized poster of a woman. “Sandra Ames, Songbird.” the legend read.
Clare read the words out loud. The man in the back tried to kiss her.
“I wonder what ever happened to that damn canary?” She suddenly declared loudly.
“What?” The man huffed in bewilderment.
“Nothing.” Clare touched his lips, then allowed his advance.
The taxi disappeared into the canyons of the city. Once again, Clare gave herself to the night.
Late in the night I received a telephone call from Trevor. He had gotten married and he and his bride were in Reno. Trevor asked if I could take several days off and fly to the Biggest Little City in the World. It would be great to see me, and he wanted to introduce her. It did not take much thought on my part. A few vacation days would do me good. Perhaps I could shake off some of the neurotic rust that had been collecting around my heart. I booked a flight, threw together some jeans and boots, squared my cowboy hat on my head, and took the iron bird west to congratulate the Ringo Kid.