Thursday, November 14, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 14

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here.

= = = = = = =

"But the world is full of drama," I told her when she called me early in the morning. It had been a bright, sunny morning, and I was enjoying looking out onto my sunlit yard and seeing the deer shamble about in the leaves on the edge of the woods. The squirrels were busy planting acorns closer to the house but I figured if they didn't find them during the winter, the lawn-mower will take care of any seedlings in the springtime.

When I heard Sybil's voice on the answering machine, I debated about picking up but I had not yet started composing for the day. Now I figured it would be a lost cause. There were clouds on the horizon already: perhaps it would be overcast, after all.

"Why do you insist on going in search of it," I asked her again. Perhaps I was implying it's her fault, and she was reacting badly to the implication. Sybil insisted she didn't know the guy was married – wasn't that the point? – but yet from everything she'd been telling me, how was it I'd assumed that before she'd figured it out?

Well, she hadn't figured it out, had she? She insisted she had no idea he was married until he told her on Sunday, and her life has been turned upside down ever since. I tried not to sound like I thought this her typical state-of-being.

It didn't matter what I'd say, she would take it the wrong way. If she asked me for advice, she would ignore what I'd suggest. If I offered to refer her to a therapist I knew in Boston, she'd accuse me of thinking she was crazy. If I suggested she shouldn't hang out in places where she meets men like this – mostly restaurants rather than bars, actually – she'd insist she's not a slut.

Much of our conversation rattled around the empty rooms of a life shared less and less. We entered into this space only to find there were no chairs to sit on and rarely any pictures on the wall to look at. Somebody had invited you for dinner but there was no food in the fridge.

She was on her way to work though she had no idea how she'd make it through the day. Five days on, she complains she is still reeling from his "treachery" as if she were the woman who'd been wronged in this experience.

"Look," I said, "you just need to take a deep breath and forget about him. He couldn't have been that great a catch...?"

There was a dramatic pause, an intake of breath held longer than expected: realization or disbelief? I didn't know the man, did I – though possibly, I might have, peripherally: I doubted he would be a friend of mine. I waited for her response – maybe he was? Maybe I was being insensitive, obviously not aware of what had torn her life apart.

Was I listening in on an epiphany or had she not heard what I said and was waiting for me to say something – something she could hang on to, believe in, accept at face value? Was that even possible, I wondered, when she was in a state like this?

I dreaded the inevitable self-made invitation she might stop by after work or the suggestion perhaps we could grab lunch somewhere in the village. If I explained I was working on a new composition, she would say I could always get back to it later.

Most of the time, I don't think she realized what that meant, interrupting my creative flow. She figured it must be like reading a book: you put it down, you pick it up again, right?

The intake of breath had interrupted her train of thought for only a few seconds, I'm not sure how. He had been a wonderful, caring man, she protested, but then he turned out like all the rest. I ignored how this was supposed to make me feel.

Honestly, with all her experience, you would think she could come up with better cliches than this. What does she see, through those eyes, what diaphanous veil turns into a locked door?

These men she told me about – maybe two or three a year – were cardboard cut-outs, their names and personalities interchangeable, unmalleable, their situations constant.

Did these men substitute for what society refers to as "a relationship"? "Shut your eyes and see!"

I let her ramble on as I knew she would, adding the occasional grunt or sigh to let her know I was still there. We had been through all of this before when she visited, distraught, on Sunday, freshly wounded, and now, still raw with pain, reliving it again as if she thrived on scraping at a scab which had no chance to form.

The benefit of a cordless phone, I've discovered, cut free from standing there, locked in one place, meant I could roam about the house. It was old and clunky, this phone; outmoded – Stephen will laugh at it, I'm sure – but practical, my primary mode of exercise.

Looking out windows from different rooms in the house, I could see the sky or look into the trees, scan across the grass toward the woods or view the road that passed for a driveway up to my front door – empty, for now: woods, trees, sky, yard, driveway.

Unchanging, constantly changing, things I'd not noticed yesterday, things I'd forgotten I'd seen before but somehow overlooked. Two birds flew up to the feeder, snow buntings, a sure sign of impending winter – is this the earliest I've seen them?

Sybil and I had met in passing shortly after I moved here. If I had been five minutes later, we would have missed each other, waiting in line for tickets to see a movie – I was going to see Laurent Tirard's Moliere, she was with friends to see, for some reason, the latest Harry Potter film. We had a brief conversation while waiting for her friends to make up their minds about something and then she changed her mind and decided to join me, instead.

I'm afraid she did not particularly enjoy this French rip-off of Shakespeare in Love, for reasons different than I didn't, but we found ourselves having a first date without really trying. I wonder, thinking back, if there were any warning signs I might have missed until later – until it was too late?

Not that I would characterize her as unstable which is too often the temptation these past few years: she's just had rotten luck with her relationships and that was something she and I had not really tried to develop, knowing from the start it wouldn't work, going in that direction. It was a pleasant friendship and we enjoyed each other's company but without the physical or deeper emotional attraction, anything more was a matter of convenience.

It's not that I wasn't lonely for companionship but I have always been comfortable in my own society: life here on the hillside overlooking Cape Edmund and Langley wasn't the exile some of my friends – including Stephen who should have known better – assumed it was.

For that matter, Sybil felt obliged, when she had nothing else to do, to call me on the phone and talk for an hour or stop by with Chinese take-out for an impromptu dinner-date, usually with a DVD in her tote-bag, normally something I hadn't the slightest interest in watching. But I supposed there were worse ways to spend my time, I told myself, and put up with it.

My evenings were usually spent in reading or, these past two weeks, writing this blog, since composing was something barely working during the day when I felt more alert. But as I became too reliant on television to wile away the time, Sybil's interruptions became an alternative.

And it was in the darkness, looking out into the unseen woods, that I felt most vulnerable to the darker thoughts of loneliness and uselessness, especially now that I no longer had the classes to teach. But this fall, I had seen Sybil less because she would be out with "her man" – I knew him by no other name, a matter of discretion which made me all the more convinced I knew him.

Would she resume coming by unannounced, now, trying to piece back together what she called her "shattered life" after another betrayal? Did she look on me as the one man she could trust? And could I let her down, too, by saying, "you know, Sybil..."?

Over the years, I had dated few women and had fewer relationships of any duration other than Madeleine's. Even ten years after her death, it was enough to make me wonder why someone like Sybil, someone who thrived on the precipice, would turn to me for advice.

Of course, it wasn't really advice she was looking for, was it? It was confirmation she sought, and the longer this went on, the less confirming I could be.

The next time I looked out into the yard, another half-dozen snow buntings had arrived.

I spent the rest of the day at the bottom of the vortex left in her wake. It is not just sympathy for her dilemma but for the situation she has allowed herself to create from it. I doubt her former boyfriend, since he never gave her the line about ever divorcing his wife in order to be with her, was putting himself through as much anxiety over the break up. If anything, I imagine his entire range of fear concerned only the possibility of repercussions should Sybil ever inform his apparently equally deluded wife where he'd been those nights he said he was working late (do people even use excuses like that any more – or fall for them?).

But why involve others in it, the "innocent bystander," not that I'm so innocent in all this, I guess (guilty by associating, perhaps)? There's nothing I can really do to help her beyond listening, beyond offering advice or at least sympathy, as unhelpful as either of those were, given her intent on torturing herself with it.

"Yes, you're right," she'd say and promise to get over it, put it away and move on, but then, before even taking a breath, she dove back into the whirlpool of her emotions as if that brief moment of lucidity never happened. At that point, my shoulders caved in and I leaned back against the doorjamb with a long sigh.

It is at times like this I wonder what kind of friend would do this to a friend? I'm convinced she is only keeping the pain alive, that she is somehow happy only when she's made someone else miserable as well.

She would not have done this to her latest ex for fear of driving him away, but she knows I will continue to be there, no matter how bruised by it, myself. It makes me feel so powerless and useless, this constant, maddening battering of my soul.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * * be continued...

Dick Strawser

No comments:

Post a Comment