He just disappeared. One minute her husband was almost on the bridge, walking through spring greenery, smelling wild roses and late daffodils. As she was looking at him, he disappeared. He never reappeared.
For the rest of her life this sequence would roll past her eyes. She would re-experience the scene in her mind’s eye, often in the most unexpected places. While resting in an airport lounge, animal fatigue settling in, disinfectant filling her nostrils; or when seated bolt upright, belted into the driver’s seat, waiting at a stoplight—the exact sequence replayed on her own private screen.
She of course remembered fragments from earlier that day. And over the years these details would gain significance, promoting a vivid, never-to-be-questioned truth. The way he stood contemplating recently planted fruit trees, steadily aiming water from a rusty watering can. Gruffly stained shirtsleeves, evidence of shuffled dirt and lawn clippings. Planting threads of arugula and sharp-smelling tomato plants, all heirloom.
The night her husband disappeared, she watched the moon, mesmerized by a force beyond itself, be sucked up into tentacles of hefty cloud. Gone. After a sum of subtraction, her heart’s desire was gone. Just like that. She snapped her fingers and was perturbed to find herself quite alone in the garden, lit only by stars and peripheral, urban neon haze.
Later, disoriented, she is unable to click on a search engine and find a clue.
Open Apple copy, open Apple paste. Nothing works. Watching herself atrophy into lovelessness plummets her into imagining others in concrete cells, others who look at cracked ceilings and wonder when torturers will return to inflict unending physical pain. She wonders, too, how hard she would try to hold on to life were she the one in the cell. How hard would she wish for death rather than face further grotesque pain?
This was unlike a domestic tragedy where a Mum is shopping, her attention somewhere else in the moment a child is taken. Her eyes did not leave her husband as he transmuted. Her husband faded into air while walking toward the river. She could swear on every holy book that she observed him every second on that warm afternoon. She would swear, until her dying day, that her eyes were on him. It’s not as if he were plucked up by aliens or that her eyes shifted focus for any particle of time.
In actual fact, the act of disappearing was not so surprising. Why worry if the cycle is incomplete? To disappear is step one, no need to feel duped until the cycle is complete and disappearance is permanent. Why not dispel urgency, postpone panic? Her initial phlegmatic reaction was based on her very ordinary expectations and offered equanimity. She experienced not a whole Act, not even a scene, just a smidgen, an inkling of one sublime moment, a handful of seconds in a life-long play.
Her belief in this moving picture, the one where her husband is about to reappear, was of such colour that when he did not come back, all future confidence was jettisoned. To remain sanguine in a moment signaling arch despair was to deny physical reality. To believe in an outcome of quotidian possibilities only amplified her shock. It was a negative mystery, one solved by an arithmetic equation: one minus one equals emptiness, equals zero.
2/Roll Of The Dice
Urgency invades her life. She attempts an account from the beginning. It’s a long shot. Her short-term memory is inventive; of its own accord, it records her life as a hodgepodge of demeaning and fraudulent pastiches.
Eventually after insomniac days and nights, a muggy summer leeches long-buried bits and bobs.
Staring at herself in a mirror, she sees just a remnant of that quizzical girl who enchanted more than her husband, but who never cheated. Not if you don’t count accidental encounters with soon-to-be-famous politicos. Caught in the lift at Parliament building, groping a senior politician.
Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing, alright.
She rolls the dice.
Her first attempt to make a start.
She remembers two old friends arriving on their beat-up Harley. She wanted to stay home and cook but her husband insisted all four go out for dinner at a cheap Malaysian dive squeezed in between massage parlours on a dead-end street. She can’t recall any conversation, just animated faces over bowls of pale floating noodles and stray vegetables. Those two friends always put a roof over her head, supported her through earlier delinquent and fraught years. At the end of the meal she expected her flush husband to pay for all four meals, but he paid for just two.
Now she recalls the pall of her humiliation and more disarming, the feeling of abandonment: like being tossed from a gemutlich family dining scene into the street, a match-girl lurch of the heart strings. And like a fairytale, she participated in the story from the mute and wilting place of a powerless child. Sitting quite still, she watched one of her friends pull out a ten-dollar note. It was all he had. She slipped some money out of her pocket and passed it to him. Her husband never knew but she knew, and it is only now, on re-entering this scene, that she finds the unsettling roots. Oh, to find the original separation, which always begins at the beginning.
Unearthing tricks of the past or rather tricking herself into unearthing lost knowledge, she finds a story she has neglected. It concerns a delicate exposure. It also involves a dining occasion early in the relationship. They chose a restaurant with outdoor tables. They both liked the idea of being seen. The dusk was warm. At some point he took off his jacket and loosened his shirt collar. It was plain to see from every angle that he had a fresh hair cut. He turned to order a drink.
The back of his neck! Skin impregnated with grains of unfolding dark hair.
Vehement discomfort prickled her spine as she stared at the back of his neck. Her ears ached. Why? A question without answer. She concealed the incident immediately on observation.
Now she is smothered with a memory of repulsion so violent she can taste the weight of shame. Shame because she realizes that the rudeness of the exposed bare skin had less to do with her visceral reaction and more to do with the fear that spectators had observed her crude response.
Had she followed her instinct, who knows? A flash of disembodied white skin offers up the ability to now re-entangle herself in her own history. Had she interpreted this jigsaw wedge as a giant warning sign—WATCH OUT—her story would not have found her shrivelled in the garden; she would never have reached the garden.
The wooden bridge crossing the canal provided the medium for his disappearance. He was both almost on the bridge and almost off the bridge. She holds onto this memory the way one holds a trapped insect about to be released, away from the body, shielded by glass or pincers. But with such concentration and dedication.
As a young woman she took a train journey. Though it was an overnight trip, she could only afford one upright seat. Day turned into night fairly rapidly as the solstice approached. Shadows of a large landscape unfolded. Ranges of hills evoked giant loaves of bread. Outlines of what she could imagine would be somnolent prehistoric mammals sprouted power poles like minuscule appendages. Ghostly skies lost clarity as the train merged into an ever-darkening evening. Pinpricks of starlight flickered through the window panes. Tunnels closed out the outside world.
Leaning against the window, aware of the repetitive, soporific clatter of train sounds, heavy metal speeding over hand-built rails, her eyes slid shut. When her eyes opened, she found herself observed by a stranger seated adjacent. He reached over and wiped saliva from her creased cheek. She smiled just a little. After a short romance, she would marry him.
The invitation to join him for life unhinged all her plans.
Years of drama and pathos unfolded—mercy given and received. Refugees from the wealth of history, each ignored their own parents’ admonitions. His father, himself a true refugee, mounted a later train to visit her parents. He was seeking their support to dissuade them from the marriage. All parents were in full agreement. Facing such an opposition campaign, they jumpstarted their marriage. No wedding guests, no family members. A woman dressed in an eiderdown and rollers was hauled in to witness. Those were the paisley years.
Both survived an onslaught of disease, she from Asia, he from an indiscretion. Their valiant attempt to reproduce required invasive procedures of modern medicine, which contributed to a loss of intimacy and new restrictions. The partnership demanded coy footwork, operating on a tight schedule at a distinct distance. On reflection she knew that cave people lived similar lives, without the gadgets, but certainly with the accumulation of petty regrets.
Now, her accounting moves to a theatre seat in a suburban centre.
Her insides were raw, recoiling from his ridicule. She wept in front of strangers. Her emptiness was complete, a stranger in a foreign country. She was dressed in acres of melancholy, yet into this sadness came the way his shirts smelled when he was afraid. The way he cried when he thought she had betrayed him. And the way his rage swelled outside of him, like a deafening train crash, when he felt wronged.
Sun ain’t gonna shine again. Well you say you always mine, you always treat me kind, but I know Lord, sun ain’t gonna shine again. . .
You went away, didn’t say goodbye, but I still love you. Lord I wonder why. . .
4/Summer Comes Around
It is so right that Ray Charles dies on the day a letter arrives. It is addressed to her husband. She opens it. After all, she has no forwarding address.
I have no idea where you are. I realize now I have no idea who you are. I found this address on an envelope in the rubbish. It was your handwriting.
There was no letter inside. I decided to use it, add your name and see what happens. Perhaps I should have been alarmed. An address with no name could have put me on alert. Raised a concern. Discretion is my middle name, as you know. Maybe that is why we were together. I never asked questions. Deep down I thought you had murdered someone in your past. You. A killer?
She stops reading. Yes. Confusion dissipates, and with it comes a slow dawning of her collaborative life. No longer numb from self-hypnosis, she speeds into overdrive, shaken by a glee tinged with relief, as if she’s found the combination to a secret lock. She is not alone. She was not alone.
Together, they combined to vanish him. Together. She is able to reconstruct a new equation. She knows they were one plus one. She knows that they became one minus one together.
Send you back to Arkansas.
Misery transforms; no more drowning in her own tears. She considers burning the letter. She considers not reading on. Her resolution is made. She crumples the paper—satisfaction. Sufficient even to deposit into the bin.
Fire is too large.
Eventually she grows to love the ending in the garden, and she confronts the metamorphosis as if she were an optimistic Eve. She comes to understand that both the snake and the man have left the garden. The puncture through which she has been leaking, a cavity draining fluid, is stopped up. No more sweet maple syrup dripping into a bucket. No more milky juice leeching from a rubber tree.
Ticking by, time shapes a curve that requires the re-setting of all her knobs; she adjusts and fine-tunes until the station, the body, transmits a symbolic signal that has fresh blossoms on all the fruit trees. She sees red on the horizon. It is summer once again.
Copyright © 2008 by Reihana MacDonald Robinson