Thine eye diffused a quickning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free . . .
It was now November, and in November White Sands was surrounded by grey upon grey, with the tones of grey in the sky reflected in the tumultuous, angry water. The naked trees shuddered in the comparably angry winds. These winds were known to ravage the town, bellowing their vow to blow the last clinging leaves to the featureless ground in the erasure of collective memory. What did it matter, the snow would cover the ground in a matter of weeks anyway?
Snow, however, is not uncommon in White Sands in the penultimate month, and the day I decided that my business with Charsmith couldn’t be delayed any longer was alive with big wet flakes of snow lazily falling from the heavens. The snow that landed on the ground melted almost immediately. From my studio window, I could see that the traffic on Main Street had slowed down almost to a crawl.
It was a Saturday, and I was now working full-time at the school, so yes, the teachers strike was over and business was as usual in White Sands with the kids, much to the town’s relief, finally back in the classroom.
I called Jason and Euripides up and told them I was on my way to get them so they could help me hunt down Charsmith. Both of them understood that I wasn’t open to negotiation. Once securing my trusted henchmen–Euripides wearing the new jacket I had given him (I’d wager he slept in it) beneath an open trenchcoat for extra insulation–we drove our way through the now storm-like conditions in the direction of the water. The snow was not coming down hard, but the flakes were so big that you just couldn’t see around them. I had to click the windshield wipers to their highest setting to maintain any sort of visibility.
So painstakingly, we made our way down to Charsmith’s condo in the cautiously slow traffic common to the first seasonal snow. Once we arrived, we skidded over his muddy walkway to the door, rang the doorbell and gave a couple good hard knocks.
When Charsmith didn’t answer, we tried to enter, but found the door was locked. I suggested we try around back.
“Obviously, he’s not here,” said a frustrated Jason and I was inclined to agree. To my disappointment, we were forced to regroup.
In light of our poor timing, Charsmith seldom worked on the weekend, it was decided that we would go to the cafe and get warmed up with some coffee and possibly try our luck again later. We loaded up in the car and attempted to make the drive back up town. As we were driving along the waterfront, though, we thought we saw just within our field of vision a single car parked in the lot by the docks–call it providence–and so we pulled in to check things out. Sure enough, the car was a Jaguar and we knew that we had located Charsmith.
For a good ten minutes, we searched the old wooden docks for our friend until the snow died down enough to make out a lone figure on the far end of the main dock, sitting on one of the benches and just staring out into the water. I expected the winds by the water to be incontestably cold, but, really, the conditions to sit out by the water were good, given the circumstances and all, I suppose.
There was a hazy serenity on those docks and Charsmith had found it.
As we drew closer to the figure, we could see he was smoking a cigarette and dreamily looking at the water, like he was captivated by the cinematically slow descent of the snow flakes.
“Lovely day, mayor,” I said, assuming a seat next to our despondent friend, who didn’t even look up from his huddled position. “I figured this would be a good place to find the art collector.”
Charsmith brought his cigarette to his mouth with a shaky hand and exhaled. “Shannon Page, what say you, brother?”
“I was going to ask the same of you,” I said.
He took another sip of his smoke, flicked it out to sea and chuckled.
“So she told you . . .” he said with a matter-of-fact indifference.
“I like it out here,” Charsmith went on. “It’s painfully cold, but I like to consider . . .”
“What?” asked Jason. “Who told you what, Shannon?”
Charsmith paused as if to collect his thoughts, but really he was punishing the interrupter.
He then said: “At other times in my life I’ve come here and considered what it would be like to just jump in, you know, like that guy last year who killed himself on this exact dock about this time. You know, what would it be like to join the dark froth and just freeze until you burst with warmth?”
“Many a poetic soul has contemplated the same thing,” I said.
“Yeah, but I’ve been half in the water, only to change my mind. Ah yes, the Charsmith legacy has to be perpetuated and our royal blood must be the life-flow of the town.”
“Should have jumped in . . .” said Jason under his breath.
Charsmith ignored him. “God, do you know how hard it is to be the son of such a scoundrel, even posthumously?”
I told him that I could imagine that it would be difficult and Euripides’ normally neutral eyes betrayed agreement.
“I mean,” continued Charsmith, “nobody has ever respected me for what I could do, and nobody respects me for what I have done, and nobody expects me to truly succeed my father. Yet the town must have its heroes.”
“Then why are you mayor?” asked Jason.
Charsmith gave Jason the middle finger.
“So you abandoned our company to rid yourself of your father’s ghost,” I observed.
Charsmith didn’t respond.
“So where did you disappear to?” I demanded.
“I didn’t want to tell you guys at first,” Charsmith admitted, still some reluctance in his eyes. “But I’ve decided that it’s nothing I should be ashamed of and it is what it is.”
“We won’t judge you,” I assured him.
“I had a full psychotic episode and woke up in the ER.”
“Holy shit!” said Jason.
“I was institutionalized for a time, a complete wreck.”
“You were put in the mental health center?” I asked.
Charsmith nodded. “Have you heard the term schizoaffective?”
We all shook our heads.
“Well, that’s what they think I am. It’s kind of like schizophrenia, I suppose.”
“That’s rough,” said Jason, genuinely sympathetic.
“I’m on an anti-psychotic and some mood stabilizers,” Charsmith explained. “I’ve been feeling better . . . staying away from the weed and alcohol and drugs.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?” I asked.
“At first, I was embarrassed. Then, when I did get out, I didn’t want any negative influences. I just needed some time to myself.”
“McRose told me how he refused to absorb your company,” I said. “I thought you might be financially ruined.”
“Is that what he said?” Charsmith said rhetorically.
“You have a whole different perspective, don’t you?” I asked.
“Sure, sure, there’s always another perspective . . . but surely there’s truth as well . . . and the truth is that I beheaded the villain and served it up Charsmith style.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jason.
“The selling to McRose business was a ruse, Shannon.”
“What?” I stammered.
“I wasn’t exactly truthful.”
I couldn’t speak.
“The irony,” Charsmith continued, “maybe the coincidence . . . is that McRose contacted Charsmith Enterprises, believe it or not, and I guess you’ve gathered by now that we were too large for McRose to sink his teeth into.”
“I don’t know what to think,” I admitted.
“McRose knew that the stock prices of his company would plummet upon his resignation, and so he, feeling a bit sentimental about the fruit of his toils, advised his company’s executive board to issue a suzerain vassal type of deal before he disappeared from the world’s critical consciousness to spend more time with his family, since he’s in poor health and all. Believe it or not, he has a soft spot in his adamantine heart for White Sands.”
“Poor health . . .” I said out loud, confused. “Is that what he told you?”
“That’s what I understand.”
“Well, he told me he is going to be spending time in prison.”
“I don’t care what his reasons are. My company invested in up to forty percent of the shares, which makes it the majority shareholder of “Syzygy Corp.,” now like the navy seals of Charsmith Enterprises, being its specialized elite class of soldiers.”
My jaw dropped.
“Really, it’s an adequate addition–not really that profitable, but adequate. At least that’s what Reed, my personal business consultant and president of the company, argued and I let him take care of all the particulars.
“You know I don’t get to Toronto very often, and am pretty indifferent when it comes to my responsibilities and stuff, which, as you know, aren’t that many. To tell you the truth, I had little to do with the final transaction, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter.”
“Why am I in the dark?” asked Jason. “Does everyone here know what’s going on but me?”
With the snow swirling around us, Charsmith became more loquacious and comfortable while my confusion grew. And as he spoke, I could see past his age-defying face and recognize him for his humanity, how saturnine he looked with the snow collecting in his hair and melting, leaving him sure to get a good, old chill. I thought of everything he had been through and I felt for him, even though I was still upset by the way he had conducted himself.
I watched the way his olive eyes squinted in the lazy flakes that changed in intensity virtually every minute, and I wished I had taken care of him when he needed me most, and how lonely he must have felt when he had no person who genuinely cared about his problems he could turn to. Think about it: he lost his whole family in an irretrievable instant and found himself responsible for a corporation where everyone considered him to be an irresponsible nobody whose father had provided him with everything. It’s no wonder he was always high or inebriated.
I wondered if Charsmith was outside in the unfortunate weather pondering the hope beyond the visible in a misty grey that intimated a beyondness . . . and living by it.
Charsmith was quite unapologetic about convincing Karis to part with the painting, though; either that, or he was waiting for me to bring it up directly–I don’t know–but I felt I was the larger figure as we sat there.
He kept lighting cigarette after cigarette and blowing smoke that flew back in his face. His nose was red from the cold and even dripped a little, leaving him to wipe it on his sleeve once in a while.
Jason was sitting on the bench with us, leaving Euripides to stand up. The freckled linguist was rocking back and forth from foot to foot trying to keep warm I figure, for he didn’t try to disguise his shivering through chattering teeth.
Still, we were alone together as a circle of friends for the first time since early September.
“Remember your curse?” said Charsmith to Euripides, breaking the silence, and we were surprised because it was only on rare occasions that Charsmith addressed the silent linguist.
Euripides was reactionless, except for his eyes, which betrayed his interest in a quick look Charsmith’s way before looking out to the hazy, bluish homes on the other side of the bay, puffing gentle smoke.
“Remember, you bloody genius, how you pointed to the teacher and said something like: you will be stripped of your royal authority and you will be driven away from people to live with wild animals, eating grass, and as an animal you will be an animal until you acknowledge the hypocrisy of your soul.
“That was great wasn’t it . . . hypocrisy of your soul. Ha ha, you bloody genius . . . Do you know what, Euripides . . . Shawn . . . whatever . . . I’ve been thinking about it, and I think your curse implicated everyone in that classroom who contributed to your abuse.
“I was one of them, Euripides. Do you understand? I made you into a laughingstock in high school, too, just like everyone else, even though I was friendly to your face. And don’t think Shannon was so innocent either . . .
“But the curse, ha ha, I lived it. I fell under your curse and became that animal removed from my throne, and I enacted my bestiality, becoming some mindless buffoon who subsisted off the land.”
I couldn’t tell with the snow and all, but I think Charsmith’s eyes were moist as he continued with his voice becoming quivery.
“And, you know, I argued with myself that nothing has consequence, but you don’t understand, I hated myself and how I was the spitting image of my father, and I kept telling myself that there was nothing at stake other than my psychological health–that it didn’t matter because God was only an idea.
“And so I lived off grass, trying to dissuade myself from thinking about things . . . but you know, I recognized the hypocrisy of my soul and how I had to have everything my friends had–or perhaps everyone I came in contact had–and more.”
He turned to me: “Shannon, you have to understand, I had to be better than you . . . especially you . . . I had to. I can’t explain it. This need pervaded my life. I’ve always envied your calm demeanor and your desire for self-expression. I’ve always envied you, so look what I became: my father.”
Jason, Euripides and I just stood there silently, intrigued by Charsmith’s sudden confession.
“Like Karis, for instance. I was never attracted to her; believe me, we both know she wasn’t a beauty. Yet it bothered me that she treated you the way she did and kept that painting. I knew she’d have a price, I just knew it . . . Do you see what I’m saying?”
“She sold your painting of her, the one you worked a whole year on?” Jason said in disbelief.
“I don’t hold it against you, Charsmith,” I reassured him, surprised by how calm and rational I was. “It just tells me that you don’t think she’s worthy of possessing that painting, that I deserve better. I never realized how much you cared.”
“Do you know how worried I was that she’d tell you before I had a chance to explain myself?” Charsmith said. “In the bar before we ended up at Chapman’s, I was trying to tell you about the offer I made her as well as my whereabouts when I disappeared.”
“I remember,” I assured him.
“But I have to tell you something,” Charmsith continued. “It was your loyalty and value as a friend that ultimately kept me from ending my life. I was so, so low. But, you know, when I started running for mayor, it was because of a certain compulsion. Ha ha, do you hear me slimy Jason, miserable Euripides? I ran because of a certain compulsion, and look, I’m equipping myself to be a benefactor in White Sands while my father was all about optics and public opinion.”
“You’re following your own path,” I added.
Charsmith nodded. “I definitely am. You know, I spend a lot of time here now, by the water, just thinking about things and how I’d like to be thought of by those around me. One day, I’d like to be a Chapman, one who lives his life totally by his convictions. That’s why I sold my stock in the company and donated all my proceeds to the poor. The estate is next. I’m plan on making a go of it on my own with no advantages.”
“You’re what?” I asked.
“I’m going to follow my heart and live life on my own terms.”
“You could at least have made a donation to your friends,” Jason said bitterly.
Charsmith glanced at him dismissively and then turned his attention back to me: “Remember that poem you wrote where you discuss the natural world in contrast to your feelings?”
“The one about Silenus, the tutor to Dionysus and also known to be the oldest, wisest and drunkest of his worshipers.”
“Of course, you’re talking about Remedial Season.”
“What’s that one line: Sometimes it frustrates me that the outside world didn’t . . . didn’t something . . .”
I recited a line for him: “Sometimes it frustrated me that the outer world didn’t conform to my inner reality, at other times I grew ill and claustrophobic when I realized the perfect resonance between the two and couldn’t escape.”
“That’s it. Please keep going.”
I licked my lips, which were chapped from the cold wind, which was starting to pick up.
“Let’s go to the cafe,” whined Jason, “it’s freezing out here.”
“Go on, Shannon,” Charsmith urged.
“Nevertheless,” I said, “these undulations led to an indifference–a confusion, I suppose–in which the God-provided beauty around us that draws us to him received new definition–a negative definition–and indifference toward my situation in life proliferated in the margins of my reality.”
Charsmith face was dropping, like the skin was melting off his face. He composed himself and motioned for me to continue.
“The outer world from this point was a continuum of the inner life and I sank into the perplexity of knowing that it was I who was responsible . . .”
“Shannon,” he said in a choked voice, “I love that: the perplexity of knowing that it was I who was responsible.” He rubbed his eyes and placed his face in his hands, looking down. “Keep going . . .”
“Only an inner change could remove my security in indifference and prompt an inner and outer distinction. For the outer to become beautiful again, enjoyable again and reflective of an inner peace, I had to find an internal remedy.”
“You know,” he said, looking up, “I’ve taken this piece of poetic prose you published in that magazine and have just stared at it for hours and hours. What destroys me is that you never define the remedy. How am I supposed to believe in an undefined remedy?”
I looked from Jason to Euripides and then back to Charsmith: “I’m cold . . .”
* * * *
As expected, Silas and Priscilla’s Cafe was packed–everyone loves to gather in a warm, social setting when the snow first strikes–so it took a good half-hour before the table we were accustomed to inhabiting made itself available.
Everyone recognized Charsmith and addressed him as mayor, and it felt strange to be with such a political big shot (note my sarcasm). “Good day, mayor . . . how do you do, mayor . . . fancy seeing you here, mayor . . .” It all seemed so surreal.
“Youngest mayor of White Sands ever,” said Clint Dumoine, who was occupying “our” table along with his shriveling wife, Sheila.
When Dumoine finally got up and put on his jacket, he gave me a pat on the shoulder and shook Charsmith’s hand with an encouraging wink of his sparkling right eye.
“Good to be back in the classroom, isn’t it?” he said to me as he was leaving, holding the door open for his wife.
So finally we were seated at our table, finding ourselves in a warm environment–I swear, my hands and the tips of my toes were still numb–with steaming hot beverages. Jason had a frothy cappuccino, Euripides a coffee, Charsmith, true to his new lifestyle, hot water and lemon, one which he barely touched, and some orange pekoe tea for myself.
Charsmith glared at me insect-like.
“Need a cigarette?” I asked him.
He nodded. I gave him one and lit it for him with a match. He leaned back and exhaled.
“Obviously the poem was not about the remedy,” I said, “but how to acquire the ingredients. In searching for answers myself, I realized that the anxiety I was experiencing was intensified by my decision to try as reasonably as possible to divorce everydayness from my thinking.”
“Sure, talk in spirals if you don’t want to be understood,” muttered Charsmith.
“Just listen,” I said. “The November mentality can be overcome by changing the focus from bitterness over what you can’t control to self-transformation.”
“What are you saying?” said Charsmith.
“That you’ve already found it. Despite what you’ve been through, you’re still doing what’s in your control to better the lives around you. I think that’s all we can do: let the bitterness go and give back more than we take. The reality is that everybody is thrown into the same conditions, many under unimaginably challenging circumstances, so we have to stop complaining about what we can’t change and do something positive.”
“But it’s so hard not to be disconcerted by the tainted beauty surrounding us,” Charsmith replied. “I can’t stand the inhumanities and suffering around me. All I know is that all the weirdness I’ve been experiencing has a medical explanation and I’m now ready to carve my own path.”
“Then I think the next step—for both of us, I mean—is to live by faith.”
Jason, who had been sitting there quietly, could only shake his head. “And there you have it,” he said cynically.
I smiled. “The Concept’s life demonstrated that we live our lives on a spiritual trajectory and that faith will determine whether we plunge or soar.”
“There is no remedy,” said Jason. “Our sins are part of the taintedness.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the person I needed to talk to weaving her way through the dining room. Sure enough, I saw Lexus take a seat at the counter with her laptop and order some coffee and pie.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I said before making an abrupt disappearance.
“It’s good to see you, Lexus,” I said as I approached her.
She looks up from her typing and examines me in the form of a long, cold stare from those strange beautiful eyes of hers.
“I’m busy,” she replies, and she resumes her typing.
I took a seat on the stool beside her, but she ignores me.
“I never should have spoken to you that way that night,” I said. “You didn’t deserve it, and I regretted it the moment the words left my lips.”
Lexus stops typing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says, intentionally being oblivious. Her expression says otherwise.
“There was too much closeness all at once,” I explained. “I felt such a sense of connection with you that I couldn’t handle it. Something within me just rebelled.”
She just looks at me blankly.
“I’m so sorry, Lexus, I wish I could redo that night all over again. I was such a jerk.”
After pausing for a moment to choose her words, she replies, “I’m going to admit something to you, Shannon. Part of me felt compelled to come here today hoping we’d somehow cross paths.”
“Because I never felt finished with you, like you’re still in my system. Bottom line is that I’m not through with you yet.”
“You’re not?” I asked in surprise, feeling myself blush and smile.
“No way,” she says with conviction.
I laughed, and even felt slightly turned on. “So what’s next?”
“You’re going to take me out, show me a good time and prove to me that my intuition about you was correct,” she states in no uncertain terms.
“I’d love to,” I said.
“I’m never wrong about people, you understand?”
“I believe you.”
“And Shannon, I want you to know that I’m partly to blame as well,” she concedes. “I came on strong because I felt like I already knew you, and that wasn’t right, either. Not that this excuses what you said because you deliberately tried to hurt me. You understand the difference?”
I nodded. “I can’t even explain what was going through my mind,” I confessed.
“I just knew that wasn’t you . . . Everything in your poetry screams that you just want a woman to care about you, just like I want someone to care about me.”
“Am I that easy to read?” I asked.
“It’s not a bad thing, trust me.”
We sat and talked together while she finishes her pie. She leaves only after we arrange to have our first real date later that evening.
I was still pondering how lucky I was to get a second chance with her when I rejoined the guys.
“As if she was willing to talk to you,” said Jason.
“I was just as surprised,” I agreed. “But she accepted my apology.”
The parasite just shook his head in disbelief. “I wonder why women won’t extend me the same grace . . .”
”So what were we talking about again?” I asked, sitting down at the table.
”You were talking about faith,” said Charsmith.
”Right. I was trying to make the point that faith trumps the contradictions in life that are impossible to internalize.”
“Contradiction,” Charsmith repeated. “Aurorian splendor . . . grey, capricious sea . . . rising-falling zephyrs . . . insouciant sky . . .”
“Good memory,” I said. “The menacing neutrality weaved into nature’s poetry.”
“So let me get this straight?” said Jason. “You’re telling us to go back into the fantasy and go on as though there’s nothing rotten in Denmark.”
“In a sense,” I replied. “I’ve decided that I have to live by dream. I think it’s the nature of the dream that’s individualized because we pick and choose to keep certain things out of our consciousness. That’s what Father Damon was trying to get across when he said that regardless of how you live your life it’s important to view everyday decisions as meaningful and pointing to the beyond, to otherness.”
“Father Damon?” asked Charsmith.
“He’s the head of our discussion group now, to Shannon’s relief,” Jason explained. “A lot has changed since you became mayor.”
I added: “After Chapman left us, Damon formally stood up to the church on Chapman’s behalf and everything he stood for. Damon wasn’t excommunicated, but left the church of his own volition. And now he’s starting to fulfill the role that Chapman had in our lives.”
“As mayor, you’d think I’d know what’s going on in the community.”
“I can’t believe you actually wanted to represent this town,” Jason said cynically.
“I’ll explain if you let me,” said Charsmith. “It has to do with what my psychiatrist labeled a psychotic episode, my eventual breakdown, and the series of events leading to my decision to run for mayor.”
THE STORY OF CHARSMITH: TRI-APOTHEOSIS
The night before everything went to hell featured a strange visitation. Even though part of me knew I was at home in my own living room, I was convinced I was toiling in these huge farmer’s fields in the dead of summer. I had my shirt off, and it was amazingly hot, and I was just drenched with sweat, just working and working the cement-hard earth with a hoe trying to scrape and chip the weeds away.
When I was so exhausted and parched that I couldn’t go on, I sought out the shade at the edge of the field where there was a treeline and a fresh brook carving through the forest. It was within this tantalizing cover of shade that I discovered three goddesses of incomparable beauty who had been observing my struggles and awaiting me expectantly.
As I drew closer, I could see that a bluish fire shone in their eyes, and I found myself trembling when the tallest of the three, the blonde one, stood oak-like and beautiful before me and removed her golden stitched shawl so that I could imagine the perfection held in position by her mirrored breastplate. Her face had an angular femininity to it with an imperious pointed chin, while her sumptuous lips spoke words of promise and fulfillment.
“Mortal,” said the melodic voice, like her mouth was secreting liquid honey, “this is not a summons. We’ve come of our own volition . . . to see which of us is most appealing–that is, radiant, although all of us are, as you can see, more glorious than a setting sky.”
“Much more so,” I managed to stammer.
The first Goddess inaugurated the contest: “The earth goes round the sun and never stops its rotation, and yet humans labor and expend great energy in the pursuit of containing time, whether through paintings, or verse, or familiar settings or daily rituals. They seek to stabilize the unstable, and, alas, they perish destined to fail and atrophy, like the remnants of an ancient civilization or an irreplaceable moment.
“I am pure beauty, and no matter how you evolve, I remain changeless, unable to evolve or diminish. I am pure beauty because I can be contained, for I am not subject to anything but my own constancy.”
The goddess bowed: “Am I favorable to the eye?”
“Yes, very much so,” I admitted.
The next goddess was lithe, with wheat coloured hair and flashing steel eyes. When she moved the world assumed a soft pinkness, and I forgot I was hot, feeling so relaxed and dreamy.
“Am I not beautiful? I walk on wind and swim in the beams of the moon and can be heard in the stillness of summer days, when the breeze dies down and all that is left is impression.
“Humans arrange their lives for the next moment, and that’s what I am, the next moment, forever before you–pure hope and promise. One cannot turn from me, like the flow of a river proceeds toward a larger body, and silvery and incandescent are my rewards, which remove all anxiety and encourage steady progression.
“Don’t you understand, you cannot turn from me, and one day you will experience my flowery embrace, sweet and intoxicating. Yes, we’ll plan for the consummation of our love, and we’ll hold each other and bask in warmth and security behind the silvery, raging waterfall of my origin.”
“The pink light was pulsating, and she smiled provocatively when she finished her soliloquy, face radiant and tempting, and I think I saw a strategic flash of her thigh before she turned to scowl at the first goddess.
“Am I not beautiful?” she repeated, turning back to me.
“As a waterfall,” I replied.
“When the pink light faded to darkness, I took heed of the final goddess. She was dressed in plain white and emanated purity, even honesty. It was like a gateway opened before me and she emerged, like a ray of light across a dark, dark room.
Her hair was a rich brown, with eyes that were a sea green, melancholic, not eyes expected of a goddess. She had very human eyes. And her movements were not fluid, but born of self-consciousness. In a motion suggesting preparation for the worst, she dropped her white robe and stood before me unforgettably revealed.
Any mortal could tell she was contemptuous of the contest.
The voice was sad, like a whale call, and I found myself mesmerized by her humanness, stark naked before me and strangely asexual. I mean, her body was flawless, but . . . but there was something about her candor that was undeniably discomforting . . . but maybe that was the point.
The Sad Voice: “The cosmos bow before me, yet it is not my wish. And most people receive me whether it is their desire or not. I can offer promise and catastrophe in the same breath. I may balance the world, but my tears are sincere, and I cry golden and red.
“So be it, I can be lost as surely as I can be gained, and I can grow as likely as wither.
“I cannot be earned, but I may be granted. I can be found where the soil is well ploughed and the germination of my seed well-tended. People suck from my juices, which flow freely, and people are free to glean my fields in the October triumph of landscape splashed in water colours, or in the cold reality of December.
“I am not bound to the seasons.
“Time does not matter, for my presence is contagiously appealing, like pure beauty is, yet I am not pure. What marks my beauty is my possibility, which is eternal, and my fields are the hearts of humankind, bereft of all deception.
“I speak no poetry, for my movements are poetic, not like the pattering of my awkward tongue, devoid of verve, like rain on a shingled roof. Let people describe me, I am what I am.
“If my beauty attracts you, I just may smile, but modesty permits me only a transient delight, for my full pleasure is the knowledge of a man who acts of his own accord and strives to better himself in a world where promise and catastrophe can be offered in the same breath. Will you choose me?”
“And that, my companions, is when I blacked out and everything spiraled out of control from there,” said Charsmith, finishing the account of his hallucination.
“That’s incredible,” I observed. “I can’t believe you experienced that.”
“It seemed so real that I still have to remind myself that it was a hallucination,” Charsmith confessed.
“Such a difficult decision,” Jason said to himself aloud.
Charsmith replied, “To this day I’m unsure which one is the most beautiful to me.”
I nodded in agreement. “I’d have a difficult time deciding the contest myself.”
“I figured something out, though,” Charsmith said, speaking directly to me. “The conscience cannot lead you to religious conviction, to faith. In other words, the conscience can’t make you believe something. I suppose, invariably, the question would be, who would you choose?”
“I can’t answer that,” I said honestly. “I’d choose any one of them based on how I felt during the day . . .”
“Sure you can,” said Jason. “The images Charsmith described are now alive in your imagination. What does your gut tell you?”
“Who would you choose?” Charsmith repeated.
“I would choose not to choose,” I admitted.
“You’re too religious not to make that choice,” said Charsmith.
I was cornered: “What am I supposed to say Charsmith . . . Jason . . . wordless Euripides. Do you want me to say that I want a faith that’s pure but never grows; or a faith that will never realize itself throughout eternity, like a cosmic carrot before the clueless ass; or do you expect me to say that after working so diligently to transfer my grey-eyed optimism to illuminate the Concept it can be taken away from me and restored in an endless, torturous cycle. What am I supposed to say?”
“Hoc non amplius,” Euripides muttered in exasperation.
“What?” I asked, surprised that he said anything.
“Depends whether you want to be spiritually decadent; delusional; or whether you really want to be a human being, Shannon,” Euripides explained in very plain English.
For the longest moment ever, there was dead silence at the table as we all sat there in awe.
”You . . . spoke . . . Euripides . . .” I stammered.
He nodded. ”It’s Shawn . . . I’m ready to be Shawn again. “
”Ha ha, welcome back, Shawn, you big oaf,” Jason said with as much affection as I believe the parasite’s capable of. “I’m still not going to take it easy on you.”
Charsmith and I greeted his newfound voice with encouragement as well. After such a long sabbatical from our conversations, it was totally unexpected.
Shawn then explained, “The tipping point was when Charsmith here said that he gave away his family’s wealth after be subjected to the curse. Like him, I’m ready to change my focus . . . my outlook on life.”
”You’re ready to live by faith,” I paraphrased.
”Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Shawn said with a weak smile.
Jason fixed his attention on me. “Some people, understand, will never, no matter how sincere, experience faith . . . someone like me for instance.”
“I realize that,” I said.
”As someone who tried to live as consciously as possible, I think you’re right,” I replied. “It’s so difficult to believe there’s a logical reason for why we have to observe, experience, process and sublimate our circumstances. But what’s it to you?”
Jason smiled. “You might not think that I’m listening at the table, but I do, and every experience you’ve ever shared has enriched my own perspective.”
“But you’ve applied none of it to your life,” Charmsith blurted in irritation.
“I am who I am,” explained Jason with a proud resignation.
“I’m ready to decide the contest,” I cut in, unwilling to go down that road with them. “While we were talking, the choice became obvious to me.”
“Good, let’s hear it,” Charsmith encouraged.
“My gut says the third goddess is the most attractive.”
“Bravo,” Shawn congratulated me, clapping his hands softly. “You’re willing to admit what we already knew: that you’ve always been willing to put everything on the line.”
The other guys echoed his sentiment.
“Obviously, now, you’ll never pursue Karis again, am I correct?” asked Charsmith.
“Yes, are you two done making each other miserable yet?” Shawn asked.
I made it clear to them that we were through.
“Just please tell us one thing,” Charsmith pleaded, “why the obsession with her?”
“Obsession?” I laughed. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“I don’t think there’s a strong enough word,” said Jason. “We don’t get what you saw in her.”
“You don’t?” I asked, baffled by their blindness.
“No!” all three of them said in unison.
“I can’t believe I have to explain it,” I said.
When they looked at me expectantly, I gave them some insight: “From the first time I met Karis, I felt an affinity for everything human. I now know why I was so fascinated with her: it was the sapience she emanated, and how she invited me to inhabit a world too dazzling and remote and colourful for the likes of me. But I persisted and refused to leave.
“Karis became to me the dispenser of fortune, the image of beatitude, the pure essence of Love as I understood love to be . . . It was through her that I found a way to forget just how cruel and diseased the world is while producing such goodness and bounty.”
“I’m sorry I asked,” Charsmith murmured with a wry smile.
”Something tells me they’re not through,” Shawn teased.
“Listen guys. Karis, I can honestly say, will not to be pursued again,” I declared.
They all looked at me skeptically.
”In fact, I have a date tonight,” I added, feeling the weight of their silence.
“You . . . have a date?” Charsmith repeated cynically.
“With who?” Jason demanded. “Not that girl who stormed out that night?”
“That’s right, Lexus . . .” I admitted.
Charsmith broke into a grin while Jason just shook his head in amazement.
“I knew you’d be happy for me, Charsmith,” I said.
“I . . . am . . .” he said, still smiling.
“Then why are you trying not to laugh?”
“It’s nothing,” Charsmith lied. “But congratulations!” and he reached over and to shake my hand. “Round of drinks for our boy here who’s moved on, what do you guys say?”
“You’re not supposed to have alcohol,” I reminded him.
”Whatever,” he said dismissively. He then called out to the waitress: “Hey, honey, a round of beers over here and we’ll settle up at the counter.”
“The far counter, you slippery Chinook!” shouted Silas, waving his fist from around the corner.
After the waitress brought our drinks over, Jason appeared to be looking around for something: “Does anyone know the time?” he asked.
Shawn showed him his wrist. I smiled when I noticed it was Charsmith’s old Rolex.
“Believe it or not,” said Jason, “I do have other commitments.”
“Shoveling snow for extra money again this winter?” I asked.
“Very funny,” said Jason. “You’ve only made it easier for me to provide some more clarity for you, Shannon–that is, if you don’t mind this party being pissed on.”
“No, you have me curious,” I admitted.
Jason proceeded cautiously: “I’ve flipped through the newest issue of Neutral Tones . . .”
“So,” I said.
Jason said, “You mean, you haven’t seen it?”
I explained that I wasn’t supposed to be published for a while, so I didn’t bother.
“Oh god,” laughed Jason, “this is going to be harder than I thought.”
“What are you snickering for?” I asked.
“Go easy on him,” Charsmith insisted.
“Well, Shannon, there’s . . . there’s an article about you in it by one of the editors.”
“If you’re not aware, your date there, Lexus Lalonde, now works for the magazine. Her first article talks about coming to White Sands to meet you as a way to preface your next poem.”
“Oh yeah,” I said.
“I’m not sure I should be the one to tell you . . .”
“I can take it,” I insisted.
Jason inspected me very seriously. “Alright, buddy, have it your way, but brace yourself. Remember the love letter that accompanied the painting you gave Karis?”
“Yes,” I replied, feeling my heart sink.
”Well, somehow Lexus got her hands on it.”
Jason pulled out a piece of folded paper and began to read my own words to me.
A grown man stole my childhood from me when he deliberately killed my best friend. He robbed me of my happiness, my trust in human nature, when I too young for such a dose of reality. No dog is just a dog to a young boy. I’ve never gotten over it. But when I’m with you I forget just how angry I am, how I am powerless to go back in time and erase this injustice. There’s no way I can compensate you for the gratitude I feel for this incredible gift. Part of me believes that the best way I can repay you is to step back into the shadows. You deserve a man so much better than me, one with a more optimistic outlook. But the selfish part of me says I need you. This painting I’m giving you is forever. It captures my feelings for you in a period of time when I needed you most. While no medium can capture just how deeply I love you, I can assure you that every stroke of the brush was painstakingly measured. So what I’m giving you is my complete, heart-felt effort to provide a visual image of my feelings for you. I do not know what will become of us, but as long as you have this painting I’ll know that part of you has stowed away some feelings for me. I pray you can afford me this comfort, not that I am worthy.
”This is where Lexus gives her insight,” Jason said before continuing.
The young woman who gave me this excerpt wanted the readers to know that Shannon, although troubled, is a highly generous person. My own experience gives me reason for pause, but it’s hard to judge a complex person who may be going through a rough patch. Besides, we’re all messed up people who take it out on each other. I found her because I needed evidence to support my instincts. Then again, I met another woman who said that Shannon struggles to respect the boundaries of a business relationship. Strangely, I left White Sands with an admiration for a sensitive soul unwilling to own up to his sensitivity. Perhaps his upcoming play “Grey-Eyed,” a modern adaption of Sophocles’ Oresteia, set to start running in February through Huronia Players, will provide some evidence to the contrary.
“Still want to date her?” Jason asked with a sadistic grin.
“She didn’t do anything wrong,” I countered.
“There’s more,” said Charsmith, grabbing the page from Jason.
“What now?” I replied, feeling like it would be hard to feel more exposed and vulnerable than I already did.
“She ends the piece with the following,” said Charsmith.
Still, it’s hard not to compare someone who takes himself so seriously to one of those insecure men who drives a jacked up truck. The combination of low self-esteem with an inflated ego screams of a man overcompensating for the size of his endowment. To me, quite frankly, he came across like he was a bit of a dick.”
“I deserved that,” I admitted, feeling myself flush red.
Charsmith reached over and slapped me on the shoulder from across the table, startling me. “You’ll get over it, Shanny. Period.”
And you know what?
I knew I would.
But I’ll let you in on my own little secret: it’s the cyclic relationship between faith and skepticism where meaning is found–the point where the one sharpens and hones the other–where the parasite consorts with the hermit and cyclops, passing their feet through the ghost who cries, “Language cannot capture me,” and all you can discern is the prominent feeling of nausea . . . dull hangover . . . and the icy, white scream of the schizophrenic conscience into cerebral numbness . . . reminding you of the smell of wet flowers after a summer rain, cookies baking and your parents’ designs for your future; your report cards and your music lessons and your driver’s license and your degree . . . and all for what? For what I say?
That from the plush security of your own couch you can dream it all your own.