part three (nine more people)
Standing with her hands on her hips, Miriam stared at me from 30 feet away. People passed back and forth across our line of sight. How could I not stare back at a woman who was staring at me? I was like a nonplussed gopher transfixed by the hypnotic gaze of a beautiful serpent. Yes, I said it -- "serpent." Women are sort of serpentine. They have a wavy shape. They are curvy. Men are helpless. Anyway....
I soon realized that I was moving, that my feet were taking steps of their own accord in the direction of Miriam. But this phenomenon, this happening was a complex one. Of course, part of me had no argument getting (to paraphrase Ezra Pound) my invisible antenna buzzed. But there was a deeper element involved: it was like the potential for a weight to be lifted off, it was like I was moving toward a priest, or whatever. A knowing, pitying, pacifying shoulder waited there. For me to hang my head on and bawl like a baby. Bawl until all the tears were dry, until my tearless eye sockets dry-heaved with an exhausted catharsis.
But...I was only three steps away from emotional and spiritual deliverance when Miriam's gaze moved from me to someone else, fixing instead on another who now was standing right beside her.
"As I was saying, Miriam, the exotic tango of anti-matter and imaginary particles...."
"'Brutha' Buck! 'Brutha' Buck,"came the melodic mezzo voice of a blond-maned woman about my age. It was Chansonete galloping up to me and beaming with extraordinary effusiveness. Yet an effusiveness oddly colored with traces of melancholy. Something deep in the eyes. Something in the eyes that has not only seen of lot of things but has also seen into things. Or maybe these were eyes that cast as much emotion as they received impressions.
"Chansonette...'Sista' Buck! How delightful," I said, with uncharacteristic sincerity in the usage of such a word as "delightful."
"You. Will. Never. Guess what I have here." She fumbled around in her handbag and retrieved a sheet of official-looking paper, with a letterhead on it and everything.
"This proves what I have suspected all along, Tim. You and I really are related."
"What is it?" I asked, with uncharacteristic curiosity about anything official-looking.
"It's a document I requested from F.R.A.U.D. -- 'Forgotten Relatives Analyzed and Ultimately Disclosed.' It's genuine. It's from a special office in Nigeria. and it was free! All I had to do was email them my bank account number, which they said would contain a karmic, mystical code. To help them, as they said, 'penetrate the dim possible past.' And it worked! It says right here in very nice script: 'The Chansonette Buck family and the Tim Buck family diverged during the Dark Ages, when brain plague caused a whole village in southern France to contract amnesia. Everyone wandered off and forgot who they were related to. And a secondary effect of the brain plague was that every fifth generation would produce a crop of severely romantic offspring.'"
We clicked wine glasses over this wonderful news, then hugged like a true brother and sister!
Some rare people vibrate with a very low frequency. Almost tectonic. Deep under the surface. Sort of like a soul breathing in a quasi-yogic manner. And even rarer are the few (or one) who also projects an inner light. Sort of a Krishna frisson.
I caught Nels's attention by waving the two small semaphore flags that I always keep stuck through my belt like a pair of Japanese swords. Of course, Nels had no idea what my message was -- "I have two blowfish I will sell cheap" -- but the distracting quality of my flag-waving was enough to entice him over for a how-do-you-do.
"Twin-cousin Tim!" (Since Nels and I seem to enjoy one another's absurd Facebook status updates, we decided to wittily refer to ourselves as cousins, and twins.)
"Howdy, Nels. Please explain to me, in two words or less, how it is that you keep such a smile in your heart."
I was afraid of Lisa. Because I'm afraid of women who are so intense that they make flora lean in their direction when they walk past. Who make fauna run in figure-eight patterns when they approach.
Forget ESP and that junk. When Lisa came up to me and stared straight into my face, I felt that my soul was being vacuumed out, and sucked into an invisible piñata shaped like a teardrop. It seemed as if every deep secret in every forlorn corner of my being was now inside that piñata. Inside her eyes, I saw her hang that sad vessel from a dead tree limb. And then whack it with a hardback copy of Neruda poems until it burst open. An exorcism by a magical woman.
Into the free imagined air, my soul's burden flew. Exposed. Revealed. A magical momentary ritual of goodwill and blessing. Repressed love now liberated and flowing like evaporated chagrin outside or inside or outside/inside my altered state.
I came back to reality, sort of.
"Dear, Lisa! You're good, very good. But I think I could win a contest."
"What do you have in mind?"
"Dueling epiphanies. We each get one shot at it. I'll go first. Hey! Everyone. Gather around. We're about to epiphanize."
I cleared my throat and took a dramatic stance.
"Alarm clock alarming. Light through curtains. Like the glow of a lantern-fish eyeball. Dew-soaked crows complaining beyond the window. To hell with this. I'm staying in bed."
"Hooray!" went up the collective approval.
Rarely had I achieved such extemporaneous transcendence. "Okay, now it's your turn, Lisa. Try to beat that!" I said, winking with unjustified confidence, practically arrogance.
Lisa closed her eyes, breathed deeply, then:
"Waiting. This morning mountain vapor heavy with waiting. And that nightingale, having sung her dark passion, is now silent. Soon, the pink-silver light will astonish this fog. I have also sung. I am also still waiting...."
"Bravo! The winner! No question!" rose from various members of the assembled.
I was secretly pissed off but made an ostensibly large-souled concession.
"Tim, you don't look as nice in person as you do in your profile pictures. Did you Photoshop yourself to make yourself look more human? And why does your hair look scared?"
"Regina, you are so cool. Tell me a quick story about an Aegean merman who crawls ashore at night and then, breathing with difficulty, flops and slithers onto a terrace where he sucks the toes of a sleeping maiden dressed in a transparent gown while lounging on a garden seat."
"No. I'm not in the mood to tell you a new story. I'm in the mood for something else. I want to dance like the demented mistress of Dionysus."
"Okay...you lead. I'll try my best not to step on your feet. Those shapely tanned feet, with toenails painted the color of a faint-green opalescent illusion.
"Hey, boys! Strike up the xylophone, flute, and gong. Play a groovy Greek bossa nova!"
"Ohhhh...now I'm in your crazy sandbox!"
This was uttered in ascending tones by Paula, who came toward me as vertical as a pine tree, yet somehow also as undulating as a Canadian prairie vista.
"Paula, my frighteningly talented camera-woman friend! How are you, darn it?"
"Ha, ha. I'm still vertical, but this ginger ale...oh, my. I think I'm going to explode with a little poem. Stand back. Don't get hit with my word-shrapnel! Ah, ha, ha, ha.......umm....where is Jasper or Merle? My glass needs completely filling up again. I mean, completely. Ha! Do you know what, Tim? I'm going to tell you what. I like sunsets. I like sunsets because they tug and pull out my soul. I have a soul. A big soul. A nice, colorful soul. My soul gets pulled out and blends into the sighs of sunsets. Life is not a dream, Tim. No, Tim, it's not at all. Life is a sunset that never sets. Life is many colors and the way that one color touches another, like a shy lover just before becoming warmly and deliriously entangled.....
"Oh, thank you, Jasper. Yes...all the way to the rim. Even let it spill over just a little bit. I like to lick ginger ale...."
I had been mildly confused and not a little concerned. The whole time, Charles had kept a large army-style duffel bag slung across his back. I could stand it no longer.
"Charles, what's with the bag?"
"Well, if you must know, it's me."
I did not understand.
"Yes, Tim. I take me with me whenever I go on a trip like this...though, I have never before been on a trip quite like this."
My look of persistent stupefaction prompted an ensuing, not ordinary, demonstration. Charles removed the duffel bag and set it on the floor in front of me. A few others, intrigued, came to watch. He knelt on the floor and unzipped the bag. Out popped a boy about seven or eight years old, who was rubbing his eyes and yawning.
"This is me when I was quite young. I keep him around for inspiration, for aesthetic energy when the day sags and the night heaves. Something came over him at that age. Something akin to a numinous invasion. He began writing poems. Some of them continue to startle me, still bring on a sense of eerie wonderment. This Charles and I are still very much bonded in spirit. He lives off my new poems, and I take nourishment from his old ones."
"Cool." I reached in my shirt pocket and pulled out a lolly-pop with bright delicious colors. I handed it to the now-wide-awake youngster. His expression was like an opened lotus blossom in a crystal pool of bliss.
A few feet away, Olga was looking at Charles, with obvious appreciation for the quality of his soul. I was envious. An intervention was called for.
"Olga! Olga!" I said with a tone meant to distract her. I held out my hand and shook hers. I was shaking Olga's Russian hand. How could this be happening? But...her eyes kept straying back to Charles, who stood in the center of a circle of the awed. I leaned over to interject myself, to interrupt her field of focused vision.
She leaned also. I leaned a little more. Finally, and with a faint cloud of irritation crossing her face, she said:
"Yes, Tim. What is it? What do you want?"
My heart sank at the tone of her voice. I fumbled for words.
"Ahh...ha, ha, ha, ha! I got you. You fell right into my joke. You are so transparent. I had a little fun with you."
Relieved, I smiled like a snowman with crooked raisin lips.
"I want you to know, Olga, that you are oddly wonderful. Maybe it's the language difference. On Facebook, the tonalities of your typed voice are so changeable, so variously expressive. Sometimes, a young-spiritedness, almost a naivety. Other times, a tonality of fathomless wisdom. So infinitely Russian! And may I say this with all due respect? When I look at you, I feel the jingle-jangle vibration of sleigh bells...I see the steaming breath of winter wolves...I hear the chattering of puppets locked inside an antique armoire...."
"Tim, stop being so stupid. And go fetch a bottle to refill my glass. Tee hee!"
It dawned on me that I had not seen Nabina for quite some time. I made discreet inquiries. The verdict was this: some time ago, she had been seen with a glazed, far-away look in her eyes. And then walking toward the stairs, looking back over her shoulder in an evasive, perhaps paranoid gesture.
I went back down the 50 flights of stairs. To find Nabina. To make sure she was okay. I called out on each floor. No answer. Finally, I was at the ground floor. Still no Nabina. I walked outside in the pitch-black night -- the moon was obscured by a large bank of almost metaphysical clouds.
I wandered around the grounds in the dark until I heard something hissing and swishing. As I moved closer to that sound, I tripped over what I soon realized was an industrial garden hose. Then I heard Nabina's voice.
"I'm a fish! I'm a fish!"
I followed her voice and was soon getting splattered by what turned out to be a lawn sprinkler she had found in the basement. I stepped back out of wet's way and asked:
"What the heck, Nabina? What in the world are you dong out here?"
"I'm swimming through the ocean. I'm a fish, I'm a fish."
"Please, Nabina. Won't you come back inside? We all miss you, and the entertainment is about to begin upstairs. I'll see if someone brought a towel or has a change of clothes."
"Okay, Tim. Pip-pip and quick-march. But I won't need dry clothes. My dress is way over there."
"You mean you're naked right now?!"
"Fish don't wear clothes, silly Tim!"