Chapter II

Shawn Bacon named himself Euripides upon his seventeenth birthday. By twenty-two, Euripides had already grasped classical Greek and its ancient evolutions and was moving on to Semitic languages. For those of us who grew up with him, there was no way that we could have recognized the despondency of this deep-feeling fellow until he returned from Jordan a year ago not speaking a single modern word, preferring to express himself in antiquated outbursts of what I can best describe as piss.

Euripides made it clear that he was not to be understood, and I’m not talking just about communication. I remember one day in high school Euripides gave away all his newly acquired clothing from Christmas and then, a few weeks later, paid a visit to the local Salvation Army. What killed me about the whole affair was that the clothes he ended up buying turned out to be in the likeness of the clothes he’d given away. From then on–and through a few experiments of my own–it was readily apparent that Euripides harbored a strange compulsion for previously worn clothing, and a distaste of articles never soiled by the likes of another human body.

Needless to say, Euripides is one of those colourful colourless-persons, and, consistent with his breed, a necessary companion for a person like me in that he genuinely listens. He doesn’t really interact with you, he just sits with you and smokes with you and listens to music while the whole world vomitously expresses and expresses itself. He refuses to reveal himself, a Zarathustra of the mind inhabiting a loneliness that human company cannot relieve, that possibly nothing could relieve. In all honesty, I haven’t heard him laugh since high school.

He is a relief, I am reminded in the liquor store that evening, no one to babble in my ear while my temperament continues to grey in the company of the estranged. Euripides just stands there in gloomy oblivion, just gazing at the retreating cover of cloud with that familiar look of boredom spelled out in the red freckles of his face. Red setting sun partially blocked by purplish clouds, a heavy man with a million red freckles and red curly hair to match. The scene was almost humorous to me as I shelled out my cash.

After we got out of there, we went back to Euripides’ apartment to get all primed up for a night on the town. So we put on some Zappa and just mellowed for a while drinking whisky, smoking and trying to discern naked women on those scrambled movie channels until it was time to leave.

It was dark when we left for the bar. The night had a full moon and it was hot and sticky. So we arrive at the bar and are just about to go in when we notice this guy dragging this rundown looking woman out of the lobby. She was crying and protesting and stuff, loudly I might add, and the sleazy plebeian punches her in the face, right in the middle of town, our White Sands, and proceeds to stuff the now limp, sobbing body into an old rundown car.

As the picture unfolded before me I became dreamy-eyed, entranced, able to survey the situation with the greatest attention to detail while retaining my distance. Chiaroscuro, the pinkish-orange light of the streetlamp played upon the dark, her cries contrasted his peremptory silence, the declaration of her vulnerability served to heighten his physical power, the tangibility of his malice.

In the heat of the moment I was moved by how quickly her child-like whimper was stifled in the grip of his mandibles, invisible in the shadows, but, perhaps because of the strange light, vivid to the imagination, and I realized that innuendo was coating the whole scene and lending a discreditable romanticism to what was probably an ordinary exposure of White Sand’s disease.

The marriage of reality with imagination found its consummation in the fabricated smell of bitter ichor dripping from a mouth filled with dirty pointed teeth, rising like tendrils of smoke above the polluted air of cheap perfume, and I gathered they spent a lot of time in the bars, canvassing their drama.

She assumed a traceless quality as the car-door slammed shut, her sobs heard no more; irreparably, she was the victim of their topsy-turvy world.

His predatory eyes looked beyond me as he brushed by to assume the controls of the car, conveying only cold apathy and a kind of manly pride, I suppose. He threw the cigarette that was imbedded in the corner of his mouth to the ground before opening his door, barely conscious of his audience.

What did he care if a couple of scoundrels like me and Euripides witnessed the airing of their dirty sheets? He was probably enjoying the fact that there were spectators for their flawless, honest performance.

As if to assure us of his pride, he departed with a belch of a noise, violently shifting gears and screeching into traffic trailing a gush of dirty smoke.

In a gush of dirty smoke Persephone was ushered to the netherworld amidst an oilburning chariot right before my eyes, and I and my company did nothing to stop it.

Euripides and I arrive at the bar before the others and acquire a table in the corner. Acknowledgingly, I smile at Father Chapman and his companion, my old English teacher, Mr. Baron, who gives me an enthusiastic lift of his glass before downing its contents.

Father Chapman is of stellar character, elderly and wise, possessed of a surging piety. His recent fame in White Sands was initiated by the rumor that he provided a woman who frequented his confessional booth all of his savings when she expressed her “dire need” as a result of her husband leaving town with another woman in the congregation.

Bad rumors surfaced, but I knew that he was a priest who simply had an unexplainable devotion to his religion, something almost mystical. He made himself large before God and the world. This troubled people, but not me. Not that I care, I make myself small before myself. God has never shown me providence, and conversely, I’ve never acknowledged him beyond empty intellectualism.

Mr. Baron, on the other hand, used to have an appreciation for me as a student. Now he just complains about how I wasted my talent when I walked in his footsteps, not only as an English teacher but as a permanent resident in the bar. What I’ve tried to explain to Baron is that it’s not that the bar makes me happy; rather, it’s perpetual, familiar agony, my skeletal fingers around a leering glass of transitory annihilation, yet that’s something. How can he not understand? Or maybe he too truly understands . . . I don’t know . . .

Craven and Justin Fancy walk in, Craven with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Fancy, like any time I’ve seen him, in conversation mode, hands moving in way of explanation while they walk. The dark scholar wouldn’t even look at me, probably still miffed over that afternoon. I noted to myself that I’d probably have to apologize later if he was to join our discussion group again.

“Euripides,” I said, finally turning to my company, “I was thinking . . . the last words I heard you speak in English were in high school, near graduation, when you were called upon to perform that math question on the board. It was calculus or something, and you went up to the blackboard and assiduously worked out the problem. I remember the look of triumph in your eyes as you made your way back to your seat, (you weren’t good in math were you?), and then the teacher chastised you for the methodical nature of your approach. Is that the last time I heard you speak English, when you invoked a curse on the teacher?”

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Yes,” I said, turning towards a woman in her middle twenties with a very womanly body–you know, the hourglass shape and perky breasts–and kind of weird eyes; they’re hard to explain.

“You’re the poet, Shannon Page, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“See that gentleman over there?” she asks, pointing to Charsmith. “He’s the one who directed me over here and said that you were expecting my company.”

I looked across the bar and saw that Charsmith and Jason had arrived at the bar with equally beautiful women. Charsmith gave me a sly grin. Leave it to Charsmith, inheritor of not only a king’s ransom in this world but a volumeless harem to match.

“Indeed, madame,” I answered, kind of blushing under the scrutiny of her gaze, “Please, will you join us?”

“Yes, thank you. My name’s Lexus,” offering me her hand. I shake it, not too firmly or too relaxed, and tell her that I am pleased to make her acquaintance and comment on her extraordinary name.

After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence–I was at a loss at what to say to her and Euripides was no help–she says, “I’ve read some of your poems in that magazine, Neutral Tones; to tell you the truth, they seem rather sadistic and twisted. I didn’t think I’d find you to be very agreeable when I found out we were to meet.”

I admitted with a grin that I was a lot of things, but agreeable wasn’t one of them.

Lexus, laughing, says, “You’re not very handsome, but you exude confidence in your speech. You become better looking.”

I thanked her for the double-edged compliment.

After a while of polite exchange and introductions, you know, boring stuff, she says, “Recite a poem, would you?” playing with a straw with her mouth, pleadingly, surreptitiously. Yes, she kind of crept her way up to me using her blasted feminine charms.

“Which one?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe last December’s one . . . the one that’s just charged with winter.”

I entertained this request, but only half-heartedly, eventually electing to shrug it off. Maybe it was because I was kind of embarrassed by her knowledge of my writing, but that was unlikely. Some would say that I’m inherently ornery, which was probably the case. So instead of saying a few verses of less than mediocre poetry for the lady, we probably sat there for ten, seriously ten, strenuous, embarrassing minutes of just sipping our drinks, avoiding eye contact and listening to the music from the jukebox.

Anyway, just when I thought I was going to die of boredom and discomfort, Lexus comes up with this line in reference to the music being played, eyes all wide and excited.

“Morrison’s the shazam, don’t you think?”

“The shazam?” I asked.

“Oh, shazam . . . it’s the thrust behind ultimate clarity, silly,” she laughs, “like getting banged upside the head.”

“Of course, what was I thinking?” I said playfully.

She follows up her remark by adding, “Of course, I argue that all forms of music are conducive to creativity, depending on the artist’s taste, naturally. When I write poetry, Shannon, I contemplate the mood before I even jot a word down.”

“Hmmm.”

“Shazam, I guess, is the inspiration of the inspiration, what do you think?”

I shrugged.

“What would be the inspiration of your inspiration, Mr. Page?”

When she asked this, she became real serious, and she folded her arms on the table and looked at me with this look that can best be described as inquisitive malice I guess you could call it.

“Nicotine,” I joked.

“Really?”

I nodded.

She giggles.

“I’m just curious as to what could make a man like you write under the pretense that women chart his destruction.”

“What?” I said, amused into befuddlement by her candor.

“You work under the pretense that women are your ruin, don’t you?”

“No, no, no,” I replied, still amused, she couldn’t have been more wrong. “Women thus far have failed to fulfill my expectations, that’s all.”

“What do you mean?” she asks in a sad girlish voice, all disappointed in me in that flirtatious, girlish kind of way.

Cautiously, I admitted that I was somewhat cynical about relationships, not angry, and my writing reflected this, but I didn’t want to go into detail.

And then, can you believe this, she looks me right in the eye and has the nerve to ask me if I’m a misogynist, in which I merely reiterate my apprehensiveness about relationships. In fact, I probably dislike most men more, but that’s another story.

“Why wouldn’t I ask you if you hate women?” she says ironically, “I readily admit my hate for men.”

I found out that Lexus was from Toronto and vacationed in White Sands during the summers. She had attended many of Charsmith’s summer blasts over the years and rather overtly claimed she had been intimate with him before, but I didn’t really care much when she rambled on about the details of her personal life. But I found myself wishing that I had consumed a little less beverage and was better prepared for the formalities of such a sudden and bizarre exchange. Charsmith always, I mean, always, manages to stick me with the headcases.

I must have demonstrated this little bit of annoyance, maybe I was folding and refolding a napkin or rubbing my forehead, I don’t know, for she made sure to make her next comment in an assuring girlish laugh.

“You have an air about you which reminds me of a rogue wolf, a don’t-get-to-close-to-me type of thing. Relax in my company, Shannon, I’m incapable of being judgmental since I believe every person’s opinion’s equally valid.”

“What about my friend, here, you have said nothing to him?” I pointed out, ignoring her reassurances. “He is more of a lone spirit than me.”

Euripides was still at the table, forgotten, very much alone. That was his world and preference anyway.

“I am interested in you, you’re golden, a peach-pit for the sucking. I like that poem about the type of passion that spreads through your body like hypothermia and leaves you-”

“It doesn’t matter,” I interrupted, “he speaks no modern tongues. Which, of course, makes his hypochondria quite a dilemma, given his refusal to communicate his symptoms to a physician, you know, out of conscience and all. You should see him when he gets a little cut, he must believe that the soul is in the blood. . .”

But she continues, unfazed, oblivious to my ranting: “So most of your love affairs have been cold, haven’t they?”

“Probably all of them end up cold,” I said, begging her to end the inquisition with my eyes, but she grins wickedly, teeth are bright white. Euripides leaves the table shaking his head and I look miserably toward her, utterly abandoned, lone wolf. In that face I see myself clearly.

“Mine do, too,” she admits.

Where is November I think, the cold grey clouds and the spitting sky. I light candles in November and take hot baths.

She lights a cigarette, blows a stream of smoke toward the ceiling and continues, “That’s why I simply don’t care about anything, I mean, there comes a time when public opinion is deafened by your own insecurity, which always shows itself boldly, and this boldness is a greater statement of dependence on what other’s think than simply remaining quiet, shy and reserved.”

“Is that so?” I encouraged.

“Well, yeah,” she answers, taking another drag. “It’s so forced, I mean, if I stood up on the table right now and started dancing, I wouldn’t care now, spit on them, but maybe tomorrow it would occur to me that I do have a certain dependence on them and would even become frustrated that they didn’t despise me for my ostentation. And then I’d probably just lie back on my bed and cry into my pillow, you know, because I . . . because I simply don’t care about anything. Does that make sense?”

“No,” I answered, “but perhaps an illustration might clear things up,” I challenged, I baited. In truth, I didn’t understand.

“Very well,” Lexus sighs, unhesitatingly smushing her smoke and confidently stepping up from the intelligible floor of the bar to the transcendent realm on the table employing her chair as dialectic.

And she actually begins to dance, looking at me with this sexy kind of look, you know, this devious, impish smile, while she devises these provocative gestures to spell out her indifference to the world, the girl with no opinion. At one time in my life I might have been embarrassed, but I just sit there manikin-like and keep my gaze on her unwavering. I’m unsure what the other people in the bar think, although there is some playful whooping that could be heard over the music.

“So you see,” she says to me after she hops down and gulps down some of her drink, “this is the way the female defeated in love becomes empowered. Futility, isn’t it?”

“Well, maybe you’re more daring,” I replied, “but your cynicism, is it warranted? I mean–”

Titus, the bald bouncer with some missing teeth from a hygienic lapse of about two years (his Goth stage), comes over and warns us about our conduct in the bar as he collects empties from the tables. Titus has always hated me, even going so far as to physically remove me when I drunkenly proclaimed Robertson Davies as my hero.

“Anyway, you’re pretty,” I continued, “I mean, you can do anything and no guy would care, so what’s the big deal?”

“That’s the point when I say futility, duh!” she jokes.

“You know what I mean,” I said.

She assumes a sad defeated look.

“Hey, you shouldn’t feel bad,” I said in my most comforting tone, feeling a little guilty (I was, after all, the one who encouraged her).

“I loathe my inability to affect the outcome of my predictions,” she says bitterly.

“I’ve upset you, haven’t I?”

“No,” she replies with a forcefulness laced with sadness. “When your lovers don’t care, why would you expect anyone else to? It just bothers me that if you were the one who stepped on the table, they’d take you outside and kick the snot out of you, that’s all.”

I paused for a second, and felt myself sickened by the conversation.

She concludes: “Men, they just can’t take me seriously, and I’m not sure they ever will, even a single one.”

“If it helps, you’re one of the first girls I’ve met whose vanity doesn’t have to be fuelled by the exploitation of her suitors,” I said.

“Jerk. . .” she mutters, and she gave me this look disclosing an urge to strike.

“No, I didn’t anything by that–I mean, you have a soul. I only hope you of all women don’t get entangled in the hypocrisy signed on the dotted line.”

“Don’t tell me, you’re a throwback from White Sand’s Refinement experiment,” she says cynically.

“No, even then I had a steady girlfriend.”

“Oh, a rebel . . .”

I looked at her, becoming irritated.

“Marriage is in my future, Shannon, don’t get me wrong,” she suddenly admits, “but,” she sighs real sexy and then starts giggling, “I just feel sorry for the tragic bastard that does . . .”

“Actually Lexus, I’ve had my chance, “that is, to marry, I mean.”

“Oh yeah . . .”

“And Lexus . . . don’t accuse me of being melodramatic . . . it’s just that. . . that I don’t think I’m to be loved by woman.”

(In hindsight it’s preposterous to think that I admitted this without encouragement; I could only lean back and let the mistake play itself out, and it was a mistake, a mistake taken from a false sense of . . . could it be . . . intimacy maybe?).

Lexus doesn’t recognize my vulnerability, doesn’t reply even, gazing at nothing in particular, anything but me; perhaps she’s distracted, or maybe I’ve made her uncomfortable, or maybe she’s annoyed that I had reversed the conversation’s object from her to me. Just the same, the only thing I could do after tossing out this highly personal admission was light a smoke in what I hoped to be ephemeral rejection.

So silence found its way into the conversation again. It didn’t matter, her strange, pretty eyes held me entranced and I was incapable of speech, giving her these kind of bashful smiles that she always demanded explanation for. She’s like, “What? What, Shannon?” I always responded, “Oh, nothing,” but I wanted her to realize that I was just enjoying her company, and was even feeling self-conscious under her scrutiny of crystal blue.

Actually, it was because I was enjoying her companionship that I longed for something, anything to happen, to break the sordid magnetism between us. Did she feel it, too? Finally she added some motion to the static discomfort, applying chapstick, strawberry scented, and grazing her glass with her lips, only she didn’t realize that she had already downed its contents.

“Recite your poem,” she requests again, looking up bemoaningly from the empty container to another.

“It’s embarrassing,” I replied, looking around self-consciously before the people around us.

“Look at what you’re wearing, Shannon,” she jokes. “Don’t pretend you have pride.”

I was still wearing the outfit I wore when I visited McRose.

“Besides,” she adds, “I think I earned it, don’t you?”

For a second I retained that sleepy consciousness that I had experienced earlier–remember, when that Paul Simon song came on the radio–and everything kind of slowed down so that it was just Lexus and me, nobody else around except for the conductor of uneasiness within, calling for me to maintain my composure and bite my tongue.

Heeding the warning, I recalled the scene outside the bar, how a part of me was dragged down to the netherworld as well when that man drove off into the night. It dawned on me that the shattered woman involved in the car incident was my customized mirror, and this realization served to assuage my guilt at failing to come to her aid, for it was quite obvious that succour was an impossibility since I was unable to help even myself. And to be honest, Euripides and I were too scared to do anything about it.

And so, in strained resignation, totally broken, I began the first line of the poem:

“The snow seems cold tonight, she said . . .”

“Go on,” says Lexus encouragingly.

Have you ever been with a bunch of people and suddenly one person says something so outlandish that the group turns on him and you can feel the electric discord between the company-turned-jurors and the outcast? You feel the embarrassment, the vulnerability, the stress on the person’s face as he tries to rectify his misinterpretation or blunderous comment. You feel as though you wish you were the one tightwalking error so you could defend yourself against the mob and ensure the victim’s escape. So you draw the attention away and the perpetrator goes unharmed. But when it happens to you, you, nobody steps in and the accusing glares of your contemporaries gnaw on your weakness and you find yourself submissive, and so alone, and fully conscious of the merciless slaughter of your pride before all.

To exist in this state, this state of utter weakness without sympathy, is spiritual decay.

I could feel my spirit decaying before Lexus, my backbone amphibiously elastic, and this aura of vulnerability pressing and becoming stronger. Tick, tock, I was a split second from breaking my resolve of silence, my commitment to conscience. There was no way to alter my voyage this evening. I paid the boatman and was now being ferried to the other side, finding the words of the poem sticking to the roof of my mouth peanut butter-like as I tried to form the next line.

Instead I took a sip of my drink, and found myself looking deep into Lexus’s expectant eyes.

I could see myself perfectly in those eyes: twin Shannons, no shimmer. To see yourself two-fold in beautiful eyes is ineluctably disgusting.

So we just sat there assessing each other in familiar silence. I was fully conscious of everything around me again now that my trance-awareness had ended. She was waiting expectantly and I was debating whether to turn tail and make a break for it. I would have if I were stronger. Craven’s friend, Fancy, diverted my attention when he excitedly started explaining his ontological journey to Father Chapman. He divulged on his desire to suddenly see his life in perfect context, like Saul did on the road to Damascus. Father Chapman clapped his hands in complete pleasure. The old priest reminded the young scholar that only effort and experience reward understanding and that you have to initiate when it comes to God, who already provided salvation.

I, at this point, had drank enough to have the confidence to shout across the room, “Hey, Fancy, to get at the spot you have to move away from the spot,” to quote that most unhappy Danish man.

Of course, Father Chapman loved the allusion and clapped merrily again. Craven merely glared coldly in my direction, while Fancy continued his conversation with the priest in hushed tones.

My female companion resumed her air of expectancy, even tapping her nails on the table. I felt a stir of jealousy, the jealousy that she was in control and that I was fumbling for a grip on precarious ground. I was once washed away in a mountain stream and felt death as the current took me over. I could not kick away and was pulled under only to reemerge thirty feet away, grabbing onto a rock in a most unbelievable state of relief.

When would my relief arrive, when would the ferry drop me off on my destination and just let me be?

I turned my gaze to Euripides in the shadows. Euripides is a ghost, he floats here and there almost unobserved. People respect his decision. Ghosts are feared, they are intangible fragments of the mind. Euripides exists as an intangible, that is why I can stand him, that is why people fear him. Yet his absence from the table showed me how really material he was. I wanted to say to him: “Euripides, good friend, hear me, why do I abandon all reason before something demure and curvaceous?” God, I needed some freckled wisdom. Then I thought to myself: “If only I had earplugs and was blind, for, no doubt, it is better to pluck out an eye than to allow such vision to idealize the path to destruction.”

“Forget the poem, Lexus,” I finally said with conviction, proud of my fortitude. “Maybe another time,” I added, unable to restrain the subversive enemy of my own lack of resolve.

She was disappointed, I could tell. A pretty woman always gets what she wants. Maybe that’s why I refused her.

As she sat there, suddenly withdrawn, I felt sorry for her. Yes, it was becoming clearer to me that I felt pity for the woman with the strange eyes and was becoming increasingly aware of her vulnerability, of her isolation, of her need.

“Would you like something else to drink?” I asked nicely.

“Whatever,” she replies coolly.

“A cocktail for the lady,” I called out to the waitress, becoming even more fortified in the face of her fragility.

“Make it a rye and coke . . .”

“A beer,” she yells out.

“Shall we toast?” I said after she receives her drink. She shrugs.

Raising my glass to the room I proclaimed, “To spiritual vampirism,” and we both drank to our stinking pleasure.

This made her laugh, and she swallowed much of her drink in a prolonged gulp from the bottle.

“Is that what we are to each other, Shannon, vampires?” she asks.

“I can’t speak for you,” I answered. “But I know one thing, we’re both too smart to let feeling get in the way of social expectancy.”

“I know it,” she says as if to herself. “We can’t help ourselves, can we?”

“Nobody can help it in White Sands,” I said bitterly, “only some of us are more frigid.”

“Exactly, we capture arcticity . . .” she concludes with a strange smile, kind of primed as well. “Your poem is the world from which we cannot escape.”

When she said this I stopped, totally baffled.

“Lexus, where did the inclusive come from?” I asked, drunkenly offended. “I’m my own language.”

At this she assumed this disgusted, shocked look on her face, a scolding kind of grin, the kind elementary teachers get when faced with an insolent student. She was not pleased, intuitive enough to discern that I was furthering the rift between us when it seemed we were just sparking the gap.

“Shannon, don’t be so conceited as to think that I don’t know where you’re writing from,” Lexus warns, suddenly very distant and very sexy.

“How could you?” I scoffed in disbelief.

She continues, suddenly serious and enlightened by shazam: “It’s waking up every day in the knowledge that greeting you will be your ubiquitous anger, and then the day’ll progress and your cynicism at being implicated in the banality of routine will start to fester, and so you go home to escape the meaninglessness by reading depressing literature and stuff in your attempt to combat the despair that you don’t really want to lose.”

What could I say to that? Uneasiness churns in my stomach and I bite my tongue at its bidding. Is this true? Do I want to aspire to be normal, or do I want this illness to stay with me as long as I live, whispering to me in a language conjugated with pain. Does happiness have to be opposed to identity?

“If it must be said,” she concludes, distracting me from my thought, I almost forgot about her, “the only difference between us is that I crave company in my plight. Can’t you see that?”

“All I’m saying,” I finally managed to answer, impressed beyond articulation, “is that you can’t possibly understand . . . you simply can’t.”

“Suffering in love, I know this, doesn’t make you special, Shannon, or anyone for that matter.”

“I never said so . . .” I started, but I gave up when I knew that in my own covert way I had given every indication of my arrogance.

Mr. Baron, Father Chapman, Craven and Fancy were all absorbed in conversation while Titus continued to wander around cleaning tables and changing ashtrays. I hoped they didn’t hear Lexus’ remark. It’s funny, but when Lexus started talking about the homogeneity of suffering, I started to think of my grandmother, and her grandmother, for that matter. Do grandmothers know what goes on behind a face that receives only her love?

Guilt–that’s the unsettling feeling I couldn’t place a label on in the cafe, the invisible working of guilt, one element of the uneasiness manipulating from within. Damn moments of personal insight! Even Gulliver found a woman’s breasts to be disgusting from such magnification.

I tried to justify my position: “What I’m talking about is my own special depravity, transgressing the laws of my personal universe. You can’t deny me my sense of significance, Lexus, for it’s . . . all I got, and my failure with women composes a major surge of that significance.”

“What?” Lexus demands.

I repeated myself as best I could.

Lexus has an unnerved look in her eye: “I won’t deny you your cherished dissatisfaction, Shannon, I just refuse to acknowledge your individual claim, since I’m under the opinion we’re the same and all.”

“We’re different,” I insisted.

“Oh. . .”

“Don’t you get it? I’m. . . the one who feels completely defiled, at odds with everything–everything your beauty defies.”

Lexus becomes livid: “Yeah, I feel just so pretty. . . I let a numbskull dandy–the one I despise . . . who used and discarded me–somehow charm my friends into charming me into coming here to entertain a nobody poet who blames me for a night that was meant to go by incognito. It’s not my fault that tonight has been personal, do you understand? And I don’t require any commiseration, thank you.”

“It’s not good,” I protested weakly.

“What are you talking about?” she says all exasperated.

“The poem. You know, “My Passion.” It was an early work that I’m ashamed of, but I’m willing to share it with you if you still are interested.

“The snow is cold tonight,” she said.
I nodded, it was true, it seemed colder.
Perhaps it was the lusterless sky
or the faded moon, obscured by cloud
the patches of stars
-even our visible breath
It could have been us.
No flare, twin icicles dispassionate
or maybe the fact that our eyes were both blue
The world smelled cold.
And she walked as if animated, a corpse
I could feel numbness running from my veins
A continuum from her.
Our taxi came,
She touched my hand . . .
Ice upon Ice, Winter upon Winter
Snow a little colder

As I’m actualizing the verse, her eyes lock on mine, and I feel my heart disperse into her being, projection. There was something which we shared that I can’t place my finger on, for her situation was undoubtedly different from mine, yet in repelling each other we remained the same space apart, close enough that we could view each other utterly. I could see that she was empty, like myself, and that, no matter how hard she tried to fill herself, she found herself to be bottomless, void of shape or content. And in this flutter by the light so pale we found ourselves quite repelled to the point of attraction. We were nothings with nothing in common but our nothingness. How to write on blankness. And in this translucent, revelatory moment I could see the little girl in her, the child that her parents raised and her grandmother adored, all scared with a runny nose and tears, I could imagine them silently sliding along her face–they called for my succour, like the woman dragged off by the savage in the car. She walked into here, to this bar, displaying those weird pretty eyes capturing the whole of her life within: the smell of wet flowers after a summer rain, cookies baking and her parents’ designs for her future; her report cards and her music lessons and her driver’s license and her degree, but this . . . this darkness, this magnetism toward the horrors of inwardness had found her, too, and was pulling her in just as quickly.

Did she expect me to slow down this progression, or did she want me to speed her descent even more?

“Shannon, we’re going back to my place,” said Charsmith placing a hand on my shoulder, woman in hand, breaking our moment and seizing my stream of consciousness, perhaps for the first time in weeks. “Are you coming?”

“Are we going?” I asked Lexus, half-hoping she would decline.

“Yeah, we’re coming,” she says, standing up and extending her hand toward me.

Reaching for her hand, I called for Euripides to drop his game of pool with Titus while he was on break and come join us. He wordlessly complied.

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