The Green Mill was filling up, boys and girls, the usual assortment, art fags. Lester sat at the bar next to the waitress station drinking a coke and rolling the word fag through his mouth. Hissed, a wonderful fricative insult, too good to be confined to the realm of homophobia. After all a queer has taken some sort of position, “No pun intended” whereas the word was best at describing weak diffidence, the easy way out, the lack of imagination. He needed to reform the use of fag and he was thinking of his doing a thing at a slam, riffing on fag. It would be easy, too easy, and too obvious. He sipped his coke and wished he could have a guiness. Beer, especially the stouts he preffered, gave his throat a funny coating and made his voice unreliable. Wine was better, but all they had some crappy house white. He thought about Italy, being in Florence or better Venice and to get drunk on wine the color and viscosity of the blood of a huge freshly slain beast. And speak italian and follow some beautiful Venetian girl and sing in his stupid base barreltone and fall in a canal. He chided himself. “No dreams of escape”
The room was filling with smoke. He was on next or that would have been a problem for his voice as well. He looked at two or three girls that he decided were beautiful and stupid. It was an assurance he frequently made. He saw his name on a hand out taped by the door. It was a door or at least dor0way that Al Capone had come through, the place had been a speakeasy owned or operated by Capone or something. It hadn’t been rehabilitated or preserved, but the patrons were very aware of the fact.
He started by singing. It seems risky for he grabs the microphone without testing it, but in truth his voice can carry this room without it, no matter how crowded.
“Tote that barge and lift that bale gets a little dunk and I lands in jail.”
He didn’t drill it ,a little flat on the low notes but it’s still effective. It silences the room every time. He’s been adding more and more.
“Welcome to the new art
All of the advantages of pain and boredom without the annoying beauty.” He starts in a tinny monotone but builds to crescendo in volume and emotion.
“What comfort what certainty, what a race of obstinate realists.” A historical reference they’ll never get.
“What?!!!” Its important to do your screaming in a lower register. A few yeahs, some applause, more importantly respectful attention. He is steadily more convinced that the performance aspect is all that matters here. He could put any words, or practically any words in the right rhythm and could sell the crowd. Or read Baudelarie or Rimbaud in a fearful voice and be heckled off.
“What little beauty
untintended consequence strikes.
The prismatic orchid of spilled gasoline on asphalt
Or the same mercury vapor light
that steals the stars and the night
Creates a shroud of unexpected snow flakes
a shelter for the saddened drunk
writhing in sensation
before slumbering along
his way.” He doesn’t wait for the crowd’s appraisal but launches into the next verse.
“But I get sick and tired of trying, I’m sick of living and I’m scared of dying.”
“Oh, for the cleansing plague.” Severity and extremism always paid. “The arbitrary
lacking in lives full of plans and progress. There is no redemption for the disappointed.
What well-fed indentured dwarfs stewing concepts make.This is Gilbert and Sullivan, all the stupid shit of the opera but without any moment when the electricity escapes the denseness of meat and tissue.”
The crowd reacted appropriately. He hated them.
You have to lift the lever up. Sweeping long hair away from his face with a turn of his head, the kid looked at the booth expectantly, holding the gas pump in one hand and the other hand dug deep into his pocket, his arm tight against his body. He was hunched over and stamping his feet. Lester held onto the speaker switch, motioning one more time to push up, but finally relented and pushed the switch.
“YOU HAVE TO LIFT THE LEVER UP. ON THE SIDE OF THE PUMP.”
The kid looked at the pump, perplexed for a moment and then lifted the lever which doubled as a cradle for the pump handle. The hose stiffened and he inseted the nozzle in to the side of the car. Perhaps too many animal tranquilizers last evening. Lester went back to what he was dojikng before the kid puylled into the lot which was fooling around with his harmonica. It was a D, a Hohner of course, the most flexible key. He messed witha basic riff, alteranating blows and draws up and then down the keys, a variation of a blues scale. He settled on a tune reminscent of a simple song, he beliueved traditional, but that he knew one from an early Bob Dylan album. The words were,
Corrina, Corrina, girl where you been so long?
Corrina, Corrina, girl where you been so long?
I been worried anout you baby
Baby please come home.
So simple he once told a girl in college that he had written it himself, hoping to impress her, hoping eventually to sleep with her. He didn’t. Either the song or himself mhad been inadequately impressive.
TYhe kid finishes, arrives at the window and puts ten dollars under the rock that rested in the metal tray. He hears Lester’s harmonica playing and smiles crookedly and gives him a thumbs up, in some reference to approval or brotherhood that Lester would not deign to comprehend. The kid roared off and Lester bundled up, grabbed his clipboard and went outside. At the end of every shift, employees must take accurate pump readings as well as count all merchandise. He is wearing heavy knit gloves and the numbers he writes are barely eligible. He will edit them back inside. The first two reading are easy but the second pump the glass has frosted over and the face of the pump has to be removed. This is something that is supposed to be done with a key, but with some wrenching and a couple sharp blows to the frame, a trip back to the booth can be avoided. The window comes loose and, after nearly dropping it, he sets it on the ground and writes the numbers 782610 into the super unleaded dollars box and the numbers 567944 into the super unleaded gallons box. He lifts the window and repositions it, more or less back in place. He takes readings on the other side and moves onto the third pump. Again the side facing west is frosted over and needs to be removed. As he wrestles with it he grimaces, but the tautness of his skin resists it. The cold has gotten inside his jacket and wraps him like a vest, getting deeper inside of him, saturating his tissues. He snaps the cover more or less back on the pump and moves to the other side. The ink has frozen and ceases to write on the paper. Instead he carves the figures in to the paper to be transcribed later. He is trying to keep the numbers neat but is hurrying nonetheless. He finishes and bracing against the cold, trots over to the kiosk.
Inside, once he has flipped the deadbolt and closed the door, he stands with his fist clenched, shoulders tight, in fact all his body tense and shuddering from the tension in his muscles. He has taken a deep breath, but does not let it out. #e stands there silently, resisting the depth and the purity of the cold. teeth were strongly clenched. He thinks back to when he had broken his leg. He was nine years old when Jimmy Petrowski fellout of their tree house and onto his leg. A compound fracture of the tibia resulted, but at the time all he felt was an overwhelming shock, in specific pain somewhere in his leg. A darkness threw a border around a very bright summer day and a weight seemed to press against his whole body. Somebody ran next door and for his mother. He reached down and felt a lump under his blue jeans, a thing that didn’t belong there. He recoiled, drawing his hand back quickly, and inhaled deeply. He held his breath for a long time, then let it out and he began to drift feeling very light. He had always been curious about other kids who broke their arms or legs, what it felt like, what with the attention they received, but he couldn’t imagine any point or consequence to any of it.
Then his mother was there, not arriving but her presence was just, at once, evident, holding his head, half sobbing. Her voiced cracked as she said it’s okay, honey. But he didn’t cry. He held back, quiet and as the real pain began, he seemed to know that the longer he held on the more he could control the pain. If he were to breakdown or to cry out or blubber, pain would fly about out of control. The world turned in a vortex, trees and houses and kids with astonishment on their faces thrown up and about in slow circles. The sound of the ambulance, the paramedics and their movement and voices, almost undermined his concentration. They lifted him on a stretcher. One of the younger
kids faces he remembered staring at him, frightened and fascinated looking at his face and not his leg. He felt a throbbing in his jaw and glimpsed the greyness of his mother’s pallor in the brightness between the doors as they closed. He was given a shot of something and soon the ambulance spun around his silence.
The vent above the cigarettes blows the hot dry air that makes him drowsy all night, but now dissipates the cold. He relaxes in his stance. A car pulls through the lot and parks next to his. George, his relief gets out and runs to the booth.
“Holy Jesus is it cold out there. I thought my heater was broken but it’s just too damn cold to get the car warm.” He takes off his gloves and knit hat, “It’s not bad in here, though. Are you almost done?”
Lester holds up one finger, “‘n more.”
“I would imagine it was slow last night.” George pauses for a second for Lester to respond, then continues “I could never work nights. I tried it once. It’s so damn boring…” This is a piece of information that George has shared with him before so he goes outside to read the pumps on the other island.
The air inside the old Plymouth is warm, but the vinyl seats are still cold and hard. He pulls out of the lot and heads north on Central Avenue. The car animates stiffly ahead and the hot air blew off the dashboard onto his face, for a few moments feeling good, like an indulgent shower. The radio is broken so he was confronted with a variety of sounds to inventory. The power steering really is shot and it is groaning as he fights the alignment to keep the car straight. The frame is bent or the squeaking springs are no good, so it has been impossible to align. The transmission crunchs in and out of gears, regardless of changes in rpms. There is also a noise from the lifters that no amount of excess oil would cure.
The trans slips going up the overpass for 55 and the car moves slowly up the incline, the engine races loud. The sky begins to lighten and as the windows defrosted he notices that it is foggy, a low and encroaching sky. The smallest impulse keeps him from heading up to the southbound ramp and turning left and going to the picnic grove on Harlem Avenue, where he imagines it would be so quiet and empty, and not empty. Conifers, both green and brown glisten, painted by the frost, huddling together. He had seen swirling small, slow tornados wrap around trees and the pond collide softly with clouds in a dreary and cold magic. The time and the weather were perfect for the feeling of enveloping solitude onto it. Instead, he trundles down the ramp, gaining speed in spite of the skipping transmission. It seemed funny the way the thing gained speed, relyting upon gravity rather than any residual horsepower.
There are some cars on the Stevenson, but it has not yet began to build toward rush hour. The Plymouth is like a freight train or an ocean liner, slow to gain momentum, but steady and plodding and eventually relentless. Soon the other cars stopping blowing by him. But it played this game with him every day. It is fine once it hits fifty or fifty five but it is becoming increasingly difficult to get it there. There are so many things wrong with it that there is little question that it will die soon the only conjecture is from what. He is tired of climbing under on an almost daily basis to keep it going. He laughs, remembering his father, climbing under and out of a long succession of cars out in the alley and remembering thinking, “Why does he bother? Why doesn’t he go get a new one?” Because he didn’t have the money, just like Lester doesn’t have the money now.
He is very tired and wide awake, like his brain is divided, the hemispheres are independent. He does know which one is driving. He can hear his father swearing under the car, the voice he had before the strokes, and the voice of his mother and that of Tereze, saying mundane, diurnal things, as always, pushing the envelope in an atmosphere filled by the ninety five percent of all conversation that is pointless. He is falling asleep at the wheel and he shakes his head violently. Tereze and his mother were talking these days. Whether it was because she was pregnant or because he reduced what he said to either of them down to what was important, which was next to nothing or whether they felt a need to further contribute to the greenhouse effect, hr didn’t know. The consequences involved with Tereze and the pregnancy and the lack of money or insurance and his terminal automobile are the kind of contemplation that he can do without. He’d rather fall asleep at the wheel. He wishes the radio worked, so he could turn on the livestock commodity reports. He found them extremely entertaining. In and of themselves they were the silliest and most pointless form of human communication. Yet individuals livelihoods depended upon these quantifications of pig and cow parts. He tried to imagine someone listening intently, even feverishly to the quote on july pork bellies. That information so trivial could be used in the same medium as the language of Shakespeare and Joyce was incredible to him.
The sound is ‘gro, grop, gra’ or something, or how would spell the sound his father makes, if he had to spell it. ‘Grip, gru,’ all day long, trying to say who knows what, the times he went to see him. He didn’t recognize Lester after the third (or was it forth?) stroke. Not that it had any real effect on their relationship, for they hadn’t gotten along for a couple of years. More strokes than a bad golfer, he said to his brother who then took a swing at him. They hated it, his family, the way the old guy failed to recognize anyone elses needs, the invalidity and the grip, grop. Honestly though, he didn’t see much difference between that and the rest of the prattle that goes on in that house.
He talked constantly before, always, at the bar at home, in the car, with stories and opinions and jokes. Was the gorp gra the result of some mis-wiring of the brain caused by the stroke, or the alcohol or was there some eviscerated part of him still impelling him to talk, so the sounds were just attempts at articulation? The expressions were gone, too, replaced mostly with a single wide eyed limped fleshed mask that seemed, at various times to mimic concern, amazement , wonder or terror. His face was once lively, agile when he talked, or all of the time, with wide scale of emotions, embellishing everything he said. He was a story teller and a teller of lies and he told you they were lies; he was only concerned with the telling. (An aggravated man once punched him, in a bar, after he insisted on finishing a story after he had already admitted it wasn;’t true.) A poet of small, local recognition, publishing in small college journals and with the local, annual art publication, he worked on a novel for twenty years without ever coming close to finishing it, an Irish‑ American reprise to Ulysses, about the neighborhoods of the far Southside, as if anyone gave a fuck. A would‑be politician, he twice was a sacrificial lamb for the party, running against republicans incumbents for county offices. A city bureaucrat, a ward healer of only limited effectiveness, a drinker, a stroke victim. Gru grop gra.
At Damen he moves towards the off ramp and notices a sort of yellow cloud that one of the factories is spewing out, hanging over the area just north of the expressway. The panorama more than makes up for the trip to the forest preserve. It gives the black iron structures an ethereal quality, distant alien, like pictures of the blowing loess in the Chinese countryside, thicker than the clouds, it seems an adjunct to them and delineates the carefully engineered lines of the urban infrastructure. It is beauty. An unintentional, uncontrollable beauty, “…but all beauty has elements of the unintentional and the uncontrollable,” he laughs at himself, at the kind of ridiculous thing he might have said in college. He leaves the expressway at Damen.
He pulls the key out of the door and heads to the back of apartment to the kithcen and fills a glass of water, then heads back out to the front room. He checks the two bedrooms on the right as he comes back out. She is not home which is good. The light is coming in from the front windows, with their southern exposure onto sixteenth street and from the windows on the east; the building next door ic a small store and allows light into the third story apartment. The drapes are up as he likes it. He sits on the couch to unlace his boots. The television huddles quiet and dark in the corner, sucking air and sound ou tof the room. He stare at it for a moment then pulls his coat back on and heads back down the stairs. He goes out the front door of the building, his coat open, tired of paying homage to the cold. The street is perfect. Most of the stores are closed and the traffic is sparse. He feels a little invigora5ted by the cold and the flapping of his coat. The signs are almost exclusively in Spanish. He enters a little grocery store, a convenience store, really, although the sign promised a super mercado. He orders a hot chocolate, which becomes a cha‑ko‑lah‑tay, from the man behind the counter, and wh8ile waiting picks up a newspaper. He pays the man one dollar and 77 cents with coins and the man smiles and says gracias. He is in Lima in Asuncion, Buenos Aires, San Salvador. He can understand practically nothing in the street. It allows him to be singular, independent, without reference. He knew no one here and ,no one would recognize him, stop him on the street, ask pointless questions, wait upon stupid responses.
Back upstairs, he looks through the newspaper. Morning edition, tabloid format it is poorly laid out poorly written and fatuous in substance. Human interest, man bites dog anecdotal stuff dominates, written to appeal to the commonest most reactionary instincts. Local politics is covered like the sports. An almost anthropological, value free approach to national elections. Comics, ads, classifieds and then the actual sports, the largest contiguous section of the paper. He drops the paper on the floor and undid the laces and pulled hgios boots off. He left them there on the floor, one boot leaning against the other. The air in the back bedroom is dry and after raking his shirt off he cracks the window slightly so that a cold stream of air ventures into the room. He strips to his shorts and gets under the covers. The room is so small that a queen size bed pretty much fills it up, with a small table with a lamp and a phone on one side and about a foot for getting things in and out of the closet. He reachs over and closes the window after a few seconds, because the room got cold right away. But the bed was comfortable and perfect for sleep.
The telephone pulses in to his sleep a few hours later. He picks up the phone and some part pf him mumbles hello. His voice is dry and coarse from the dryness of the room.
“Lester, you madman, how are you doing?”
“Hey” he says in a barely enunciated half syllable. It is M.K., who, like most of his other friends he has not seen or spoken to in many months. One of the others, a different friend might have expected him to feel remiss about being in communicado for such a stretch. But M.K. has been known to play herrmit or misanthrope on occasion and theirs was a friendship based upon some mutual academic experiences and intellectual interests with little in the way of emotion for each other save a high regard.
“It’s been a while. What have you been up to, Catching up on Kant? Deciphering Pynchon? Constructing the perfect Haiku? What? What?”
Lester shakes his head and mutters a single sound that begins like a m and finishes like an n, that can be thought of as a dipthong, a versatile contraction. The beginning section represents either me or I’m and the end is a negative manifestation, in this case most likely the word nothing. and with an impied action verb in the tense of one’s choice in between. M.K. laughs his high pitched, nervous sounding, but not nervous laugh.
“Oh I forgot you worked nights at the gas station. Well I could let you go back to sleep, but tough shit. I saw Tereze’s wrote a post on propaganda. It’s quite good. She was explaining your theories on the Nazi’s, how they eroded what was unthinkable by daring to say it and then reducing it to a mundane level.”
If Lester had been talking he night have brought up Hannah Arendt or Umberto Eco. Arendt’s discussion of the mundanity of evil is one of his favorite readings. He believes in the sanctity of language and it’s power. M. K. is intelligent and he has opinions and he almost knows what’s important.
“Are you still there?” M. K. asks after a moment, giggling slightly. Lesterr leans back over the side of the bed and hangs up the phone. He rolls back with hius head on to the pillow. The phone starts to ring again, so he unplugs it. He dreams of his father laughing nervously and that he is reciting a beautiful poem into a mirror, but the reflection is his father making his noise gra gro.
He wakes up a couple hours later, still thinking of poetry. He gets up to get a glass of water from the kitchen. She is in the other room and says something but he is thinking of a poem.
Where is summer?
Our incontinent lives
of chipping patch plaster walls
walls sounds die into these walls
He goes to the doorway. She is lying on the floor with a towel falling off her, still wet from the shower.
of dusty winter sunlight through curtainless window pours
Naked she warms at that bright spot on the floor with her brown baby swollen stomach moving
of her shallow breath
She is sayin g something to him but he doesn’t listen to the words, but just the sound as it moves around the room.
of quiet “sound dies into these walls you know”
of a terror quiet uncertainty
He tunes into what she is saying. “I opened that letter from school. It’s been sitting there for several weeks. It’s from Ron Downey. He needed to talk to you beforer the eighth or he was going to have to give you a ‘F’ for the course. Although it’s now the twelfth so it really isn’t much of an issue. I would have called over there if I’d known it was going to lapse. That’ll pretty much kill your chances of staying in the program.” He wonders why her laying on the floor even pregnant looks somehow sensuous.
Of memory of a future of the finest angry pleasure at the shaking of their heads
He sits down in the chair. She goes into the kitchen. “I went shopping with your mother today. We bought some things for the baby. Anyway she seems to think your father might be better off in rehab. Where he can get constant monitoring. She is afraid that something is going to happen when she’s out at the store or something. But your brother is against it.” She comes out of the kitchen with an apple.
“Are you hungry?” with an apple she crosses the floor in a series of creaks and smiles
Of her smile
She is more stupid than a child, a child she can’t even dream of. At best she is warm in the winter.
Tereze is talking but Lester doesn’t process any of it. He has become quite adept at not listening, to the point where speech is like a low buzzing. She moves with a heaviness across the room. She is becoming angry. When her voice stops she stares out the window. He stares at her but when she glances at him, he looks away. He remembers when he first met her.
A memory of a vision
A girl dancing in a summer’s flowing on a hydrant street
“You never look at me anymore. Are you embarrassed? The only time I catch your eye when you have that cold expression. Like murder. ”
Hearing nothing save cat sounds pleading at a door
It is an easy thing to do. Tighten brute hands around the throat.
“Why don’t say it. Say you want to hurt me. You have to say something.”
The muffled collapsing of tissue into bones, Diminishing rasps, gurgling.
A sound that dies inside these walls.
She awoke with her face very close to his. From this tight perspective, his features did not seem so refined, so pretty. A growth of beard and the rale of snoring conspired to give him heaviness, that was almost brutish. She didn’t realize he was awake.
“What’s up?” Pierce still hadn’t open his eyes, but twisted more squarely onto his back.
“I was just noticing that you’re more manly than I thought. You actually are larger than me. It’s kind of like lying next to Fred Flintstone.” She was slightly disappointed at herself for feeling the need to make a joke. He wouldn’t.
“Well, okay. Thank you or I’m sorry or fuck you. You choose.”
“Just an observation.”
“Taken in the spirit.”
She moved back away from him and then swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up. She looked around the room for her clothes. The black cocktail dress lay in a pile on the floor. Her husband Theo had always liked that dress, but that was not something she wanted to consider at the moment. “That was lousy of you last night, ambushing me on the Penny case. Your friends are dickheads, especially that Matt guy. I wanted to tell them to fuck off.”
“You can tell anybody you want to fuck off.”
Her bra and panties were near the foot of the bed “You’re so full of shit. You’ve been telling me for weeks how important this opening was to you. It wasn’t fair. These assholes didn’t know anything about the case. But given the situation, I didn’t feel I could get into it with them really.”
“What’s to know? You’re the one trying to fry the kid.”
“I’m not trying to fry anybody. I’m not even on the case. Tom’s the DA and it’s his call.” She entangled her hose and as she gathered it to pull it over her feet, but seeing a run, stops and looks for someplace to throw them and settles for the floor. “You know I have some reservations about it, but I find it hard to blame Tom for going for it on this one. He’s not human.”
“He’s a kid.”
“He raped and tortured the old woman for hours before he killed her. And shows not a shred of compunction or remorse. How do you get that cold? And in sixteen years? “If you want to build a monster start with a child.”
It ticked her off that he did not respond to her point, but she was curious. “Who said that?”
“It may have been Pol Pot. Fred Rogers. Me.”
“Well this isn’t some confused child.”
She had barely gotten it out of her mouth before he said, “Categorical imperative.” It was a response that she had come to hate. It meant that if she allowed they’d soon be arguing freshman philosophy. “It’s beside the point right now. You hung me out to dry with your friends.
Her underwear on, she shook out the dress and put it over the back of the wooden chair that was in the middle of the loft. She walked to the large window and leaned on the sill. Below on Milwaukee Avenue, loose paper swirled in the cold wind. A woman with two small children standing close to her waited for the bus. They were bundled up, with scarves and hats and coats of different patterns and colors, but it still seemed too cold for them to be waiting for the bus. A bus going the wrong way passed down the other side of the street. She lacked sleep and the effect of too much alcohol made everything, her thoughts, sensations, body temperature, emotions, apt to shift and change direction abruptly.
“Do you know Lester McMullen?” She asked with another non sequitir.
She hated it over here on the other side of the expressway. Perhaps it was too much like what she dealt with all week long. She could almost see the crime about to happen. It looked like more work. She understood to some extent why some artist who had no money and needed space would live over here, but why risk your life to be trendy. She had a friend who actually lived somewhere around here, in something called the East Village. Theo talked about moving here, dreaming his way, talking about how you could get a three flat for xxx and you only needed yyy down and the rents would pay for some or half or most of your mortgage. She only saw the abandoned cars, the derelicts on the corner and the graffiti. But there was probably no one in the world who was better at seeing only what he wanted.
“Nope. Who’s Lester McMullen?”
“He tried to kill his girlfriend yesterday. His pregnant girlfriend. She was in a coma last time I heard. Strangled her. He’s from around here Chicago Avenue and Paulina. That’s around here, right? He does these poetry slams. Sounds like someone you’d know about. I was going over it with the police. He disappeared and they’re looking for him.”
“You’re working on it?” He still hadn ‘t moved and she hadn’t caught him with his eyes open.
“Yeah I just got some information so when they catch him I can do the discovery. It’s my first…” She didn’t want to have a conversation with him.
She leaned her forehead on the glass. It was quite cold and it felt good given the warm air in the apartment. She thought that if she could stay here for a while it might cure her hangover.
The previous afternoon Detective May stopped by to say hello and ask her if he could leave some tapes he found in the McMullen apartment. May was a good guy, more helpful than he had to be and her curiosity was piqued by the thought of a murderer’s tapes. May dropped about a dozen cassettes on her desk. “Someone will probably have to listen to these. Of course if we don’t get him soon we may have to start seeing if they’ll help us find him.”
“Any change on the girlfriend?”
“No. It doesn’t look good.” She was wondering if it would be okay to listen to them when he added, “You want to put one in?”
The deposition she was reading bored her so she grabbed the player she kept on her credenza. It was a little exciting and she was curious to what kind of lunatic ramblings would ensue and as to what it would reveal about the crime. His voice was flat and somewhat adenoidal, but he talked slowly.
“There is a notion among them that if one were to find anything spiritual or traditional or certain, one would lose tensions… or the directness that allows for creative thinking. They are apolitical and if they do identify with any position it has to be properly assailed. And creativity, being creative, becomes their identity. It’s about more than objectivity. It is about being exposed. The fewer answers available, the fewer pre-conceived notions, the fewer judgments the more intense the exposure. They want to experience all of life and to be full of that experience, and that will be the transformation, the epiphany. The swan.”
May spoke up, “I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.”
“It sounds, I don’t know, like a lecture. Did he teach?”
“Not that I know about.”
She fast forwarded the tape. They looked at each other as the tape. She noticed that all the detectives hair, his moustache, his eyebrows and on his head, while striking in blackness against his pale skin, behaved the same way. It shot out in every direction at once.
“… This freedom, taken to its extreme, is uncertainty to the very core, slippery, malleable, vulnerable to the intersecting spheres of need and circumstance that shift and re-position themselves”…. She moved forward again. … “also the danger of flatness of sensation, the lack of comparison and judgment and ultimately the loss of critical thinking. This is ceratinly what makes art unsatisfying.”
She didn’t understand it but took comfort in the idea that it probably no one could. She flipped the tape over.
“Look up Gesellschaft. The Elizabethans, the love of life was due to its fragility, its impermanence, its mystery, its challenge. This is not the case for us. Every death is a tragedy. Nietzche almost got this, but he was a fool for war. By the late eighteenth century already fought by bureaucrats.”
They listened to a couple of others. It was more of the same although there was also something that sounded like poetry.
“Well, there’s probably nothing here that can help us. But if we don’t find him soon, we might have to come back to it for help in finding him.”
There was other work to do and it wasn’t the ranting and carrying on that would have been amusing or scary. His voice was serious and calm. It was only slightly sad and not angry. He did sound like he was talking about Pierce and his friends, but she didn’t really understand. He seemed sincere, not posing as alienated or cynical or scornful. It ocurred to her. The tape was not meant for anyone else, not any manifesto, but just his thoughts. She wanted to listen to some more, but it seemed like an invasion of privacy that was not yet necessary. Besides these seemed to be things that mattered a great deal to him. She felt saddened by the fact that he was probably guilty.
She spotted her shoes by the acetylene tank near the front door. She didn’t move to get them but moved her head to a different cold spot on the window. Traffic was filling in on the avenue below. She hoped, fantasized that McMullen was a friend of those people at the party the night before, that they might be shocked and dismayed by how appalling his crime was. Surely when the office asked for the death penalty for someone who killed a pregnant woman, a girlfriend, their rhetoric would be silenced, they would be confronted be their hypocrisy. But, no. These were irrational thoughts for it probably wouldn’t change their minds and his guilt wouldn’t punish them. Indeed they would turn him into a victim. The lawyer inside admonished her for such poor logic. She also felt herself no lawyer while listening to the tapes, both for doing so and for thinking she might no be able to pursue the death penalty for the voice on the tape. This doubt clung to five years of doubt about being a lawyer and seemed to cluster with a whole life’s worth of general doubts. She felt subverted at a moment when she was already upset and weak. She almost started to cry and, worse, had an impulse to crawl back in bed next to him. She almost let the warmth and smell of his skin and the grasp of his arms soothe her.
She took a deep breath and waited a moment for her jaw to stop trembling. Her nose stung. A small triumph, she mocked herself and pulled the dress over her head. She moved along the windows towards the door.
“I know. You’ll be home later.”
“No. I’m leaving you, this, our tiny little thing.”
His eyes closed a little tighter and his lip curled just slightly. “Going back to your husband?”
There was no chance of that happening but she resisted responding. Success in arguing is based more on what you don’t say. She got her shoes as looked out again through the last big window by the door. The asphalt of the street was a patched throughout but sporadic potholes were also evident. Perhaps she would leave Veronica with her mother. It was almost 6:00 and she could get up and back from Evanston by 7:30 if she left right now, but it seemed like a lot of effort to basically avoid some guilt and some confused silence from her mother on the phone. It would be easier to call and leave a message now but she did not want to let Pierce know any more about her life. The woman and her kids were gone. The thought that that woman had problems more intractable than hers gave no respite, not that it was more of the same but rather that there was nothing to compare.
“This is very interesting.” He said distractedly. “This from the same woman who said she loved me last week.”
He was a marvelous adversary. Pierce claimed not engage in rhetoric nor to having anything but the most obvious of agendas and enforced it with a blunt, laconic style. In reality he controlled the arena with the constant threat of withdrawal, not silent hurt like a parent but rather the pose of someone too busy, too concerned with his work to buy into the unnecessary complications of her life. His silence was disciplined and he always got you to say more than you wanted to. It was a technique that would have never worked in court
There was no elevator and she had to walk three flights down. Stairs had an unusual meaning in her life right now. Veronica had just triumphed aver them and lived to go up and down any and all stairs she encountered. He unsteadiness in her uncomfortable shoes mimicked her daughter’s technique. She had imagined Pierce playing with Veronica, introducing them. She imagined he would be fun for her. It was mental kitsch. Sentimentality.
Her only loss here was the loss of some dreams. It made her feel stronger to let that go. Better this way.