FICTION- My Visions
My investigator, Mr. Vargas Tiller, hasnt found the witness Im looking for, but he thinks hes discovered something about my wife, Connie, and a country-western singer from Estes Park, Colorado. I didnt ask him to look into the matter, but it came to light, and Mr. Tiller said he felt it was something I should know about. He charged me $250 for the report, a free-lance kind of project, complete with photographs of my wife and Phil Langdon, cowboy hat and all, leaving the Pony Express lounge one night last week.
All of this has made my stomach act up, has made it hard for me to swallow, but I must say truthfully that Im not surprised. Ours has not been a happy life together since the death of our son. Our lives have become– well, a burden. Something we need to steel ourselves for every morning. A boulder to be pushed up the hill. Im a lawyer, and I fight with insurance companies and police departments. Im not popular with them. My office windows have been broken on more than one occasion, but, mysteriously, the police have never been able to find out who did it.
Even at age 53, Connie (whose maiden name was Consuela Maria Vega) is still a very handsome woman. She has very long, very thick and dark hair, just touched by a little gray now, which she pushes back from her forehead aggressively, shaking her head in a kind of whipping motion, as if she were a racehorse. Shes kept her figure over the years, exercising and swimming even more often and more vigorously since the death of Zeke, as if sweat and breathlessness and bright chlorinated water might purge her of sorrow. Shes the entertainment editor for the local newspaper, and, like me, she has numbed herself with her work.
Im not quite so well preserved. Im saved from appearing overweight by my height, but my hair is entering the thinning stage. Oh, and sometimes I drink a little too much. While Connie has numbed herself with work, Ive taken on a double dose- numbing myself with work and booze.
In any event, Connie and I have struggled over the past two years since the death of Zeke, who was our only child. He was tall and dark and handsome like his mother, and came to us rather late in our marriage. We lived on Fourth Street then, in the south end of Westgate, Missouri, and my practice was just starting to make what might be called good money for us. Wed tried different approaches. Diet and scheduling. Unique coupling positions. Basal thermometers and detailed charts. But for years nothing had worked. We were in our early thirties and childless. Then a friend of ours, a nurse named Peggy, asked if Id tried wearing boxer shorts. I laughed and told her I thought that was a little personal.
You should try it, she said. Gives the testicles more air, cools them off, allows them to breathe. Helps the motility of the sperm. I was already getting aroused just thinking about the breathing space in boxer shorts, watching the friends lips move as she described the benefits. Id been wearing boxer shorts for about three weeks when it happened.
I came home from the office for lunch that day. I had a small office at the Stockyards Exchange Building then- a long ride to the courthouse, but cheap on rent and close to home. When I came around the side of the house, I saw Connie in the backyard, working in her flowers and vegetables in the blistering mid-day sun. She had on one of her skimpy white bathing suits, and her long, almost black hair shone like a halo. She had a swimmers body, with slightly broad shoulders and narrow hips. Sometimes I liked to just stop and watch her.
When she saw me watching, she smiled and peeked over the top of her sunglasses. She walked toward me, shaking dirt from her hands, as if to embrace or kiss, and I could see a lovely trail of sweat meander down into her brown, brown navel. When she got close, her left hand flashed toward me and grabbed me at the front of my pants, pulling me toward her. She laughed that growling little laugh she has sometimes, and she said, How are things inside those boxer shorts, mister? Keeping cool in this heat?
I looked around quickly to see if any neighbors might be watching. I didnt see anyone, and I said, So far, so good.
Ive been thinking about you, she said, eyeing me over the top of
her sunglasses again.
Youre all covered with sweat, I said.
Then lick it off.
That was the afternoon Zeke was conceived. Im almost sure of it. And Connie agrees that something definitely happened that afternoon. I missed two appointments and a bond hearing, and the next month, Connie missed her period. That was a strange summer, and sometimes I like to play it over in my head. Some things have never happened like that again.
Like I said, things havent gone well between us since we lost Zeke. We tried to get away for a while in the spring after it happened, but that turned out to be a disaster. We left Lisa, Zekes girlfriend, in charge of the house while we were gone. I thought it would be good for her- to show we had no hard feelings. She had volunteered her services, and she seemed to be doing her best to remain our friend, even though the real link between us, Zeke, had dropped out of the chain, and even though Connie had never really liked her.
He was killed on his way home from Lisas apartment early one morning. Hed been playing a gig the night before with his band, a local group of college kids called The Atchison Depot, and hed gone to Lisas place, presumably to spend the night. There had been some kind of fight, though, a lovers quarrel that sent Zeke out into the early morning hours with what the coroner would later describe as a trace of cocaine and a fair bit of alcohol in his blood. On a steep hill just north of town, his Jeep flipped and pinned him beneath it. It wasnt quite dawn yet when the captain of the highway patrol called us.
Taking Connie to the hospital to identify him was a nightmare that makes me sweat whenever I think about it, so I try not to. Sometimes it just comes back to me, though, and I stop what Im doing and stare, as if I were having a petit mal seizure. It is, I would say, a little trance of terror and grief that Im doomed to experience forever as penance for the liberties I allowed our son. A father pays for his sons freedom. And though she has never come right out and said it, I know that Connie lays at least partial blame for Zekes death at my feet. I am, after all, the fool who bought him the Jeep. I am, after all, the parent who could seldom say no to his beloved and reckless child.
When Connie saw him at the hospital, she just said, Oh, Oh, Oh, over and over again, touching his smudged face, his large graceful hands. There was a purple welt the size of a golf ball above his right eye. She turned to me and said, John, hes going to have a terrible bruise there if they dont put something on it. See if we can get some ice or something to put on it.
I couldnt speak or look at her. I was choking, drowning, flying apart and collapsing in on myself all at once, becoming a black hole- so dense and dark I would be a danger to anything that came near me.
John, she repeated. See if you can find us some ice, honey. Ill stay here with him.
Connie, I said, my voice quavering. Theres nothing we can do for him.
She turned on me then, as if she would attack. You shut up! she said.
Connie, please, I said, trying to take her gently by the shoulders. She pulled herself from me then and threw herself on our son, screaming, running her hands over his matted hair, and yelling something in Spanish as if she were speaking in tongues. I had no idea what she was saying, and I stood there dumbstruck, trembling, trying to remember the last time Id heard her speak Spanish. Id seldom thought about the fact that she could think and dream, feel and speak in a tongue completely foreign to me- in a way I simply could not understand.
Eventually the doctors had to sedate her, to placate her by giving her Zeke's big leather belt, which she rolled up and hugged to her body as if it were a child. She sat in the corner of our room for two days just rocking and rocking with that belt, not eating, not sleeping. Again she had to be sedated. She was drugged during much of the funeral and reception, and I was quietly and desperately drunk.
We stayed in the house for much of the winter, emerging only for groceries and trips to the office, but by spring wed decided to try to get away for a while. Ira Kurzbaum, our neighbor, gave us the use of his cabin in the Ozarks, near Osage Beach, and Lisa offered to house-sit. Connie was against the house-sitting arrangement from the start. She wanted nothing to do with Lisas little intrusions into our lives- the evening visits just to chat, the flowers and little vigils at Zekes grave.
We live in a huge, old Victorian on Hall Street now- the house was my grandmothers. It has spires and turrets, terra cotta trim and parquet floors. We have two huge windows of stained glass at the front entrance that were imported from Germany in the late nineteenth century. In many ways, it's a rather grotesque and embarrassing old place, with a carriage house and an ancient concrete-and-tile pool that has become terribly difficult to maintain. Im thinking of filling it in with dirt and planting flowers.
Hall Street was once a very attractive address, but it recent years its become- well, somewhat marginal. It probably wouldnt have been a good idea to leave the house unattended for the month we planned to be gone, but in retrospect, I wish I had just let Ira keep an eye on things. Instead, Lisa moved in with her Labrador retriever.
The dogwoods were still in bloom in some of the high hills of the Ozarks, and Connie and I went walking early in the mornings, winding through seldom-used trails to the lake, our own quiet cove far from the tourists. We went shopping in Osage Beach, and we cried. At any moment, one of us might stop in our tracks, lapse into a trance of grief, and begin to sob. People passing on the street would stop and offer assistance, ask if we needed medical help. We just waved them off, telling them, no, everything was fine, which it wasnt. We hadnt made love since Zekes death, and Im quite sure that neither of us had really noticed. We both had sunk back into ourselves too far. We couldnt stay the full month.
When we pulled into our driveway five days earlier than wed planned, it was raining. It was raining hard, too. And there was a fancy little convertible sports car, one of those BMWs, I think, sitting in our driveway with the top down, taking on quarts of water. The interior was soaked. I told Connie to wait in the car for a minute while I checked to see what was going on.
I yelled from the front hall to see if anyone was there.
I heard a noise coming from the back of the house, near the kitchen.
Hey! I yelled. Did you know theres a car out here with the top down?
Around the corner, from near the stairs, came a man- just a boy really– dressed in a zip-up orange jumpsuit, with shoulder-length blonde hair cascading down into his face. He smiled at me as he passed- either an incredibly stoned or incredibly stupid smile- and said, Hey, thanks, man. I like completely forgot.
We walked past one another, the boy in the orange suit bouncing on the balls of his feet as if he had to urinate immediately. The front hall was trashed, with muddy shoes and musty smelling towels tossed into the corners, a huge gouge out of the wallpaper near the stairs. The whole house smelled of wetness and dog shit.
Lisa? I said again, and walked to the kitchen.
What? she said, not turning away from the counter. She was pouring milk into a bowl of Froot Loops, and she was absolutely naked. Her light, almost white blonde hair was pulled back into a little ponytail, and she was tan all over.
I said what! she yelled, turning around. When she saw it was me, her mouth flew open as if shed been punched, and milk splashed across the floor. Her eyes were huge and red and glazed with the same stupidity as those of the boy in orange.
Shit! she said, moving into the corner by the counter, trying to cover her smallish breasts with crossed arms. She tried to turn from me, as if the rear view was more appropriate somehow. Mr. Sheridan! she said. I dont know what to say. I didnt expect you.
Obviously, I said. I could feel my face turning so red it would have scorched a finger.
She inched away from the corner, still trying to keep her shoulders, her pelvis, turned away from me. Im sorry," she said. "Well clean up and get out of here. Her face was crimson, too.
As I walked back into the front hall, bare feet and legs rushed past me and up the stairs just as Connie was opening the front door. She saw the flash of nude legs flying up the steps, and she stopped in mid-step to stare after them.
Whats going on here? she said, looking around at the damage, shaking rain from her jacket.
I guess we werent expected, I said.
She walked quickly to the kitchen, her flat heels clicking efficiently across the hardwood, and looked at the wreckage there. Then she headed for the stairs, her brown eyes glinting, wet with rage.
Connie, I said, trying to take her arm. She jerked away from me and took the stairs two at a time.
She was yelling through the upstairs hallway for Lisa, pounding on doors, throwing them open. I followed along behind, trying to calm her. Connie pushed open our bedroom door then, her breath coming in quick heaves, her nostrils flaring. Lisa was just pulling up a pair of jeans, hopping on one foot and sobbing. Her huge Labrador lay across our unmade bed.
Connie stood in the doorway, feet planted wide and knees locked, her back arched. She curled her fists and said, If you are not out of here in three minutes, I will kill you and your fucking dog.
Lisa stopped sucking in sobs and looked at her. She tried to say something. Mrs. Sheridan, I just...
Just go, Connie said, looking away from her, leaning with her back against the wall and looking at the ceiling. Just get out.
Lisa had to drag the dog off the bed and down the steps, one arm pulling at his collar, the other loaded with a bundle of clothing. I didnt offer to help, just stepped out of the way. We heard low voices in the front hall, then the click of the door and the purr of the little foreign car as it pulled out of the driveway.
I touched Connie on her shoulder, but she jerked away. She went to the closet, stepping over trash, and hung up her jacket. Then she passed me without a word and walked to the steps. I checked some of the other rooms for damage and followed Connie to the kitchen, where she had already started to clean the counters.
Hey, Con, I said. You dont have to do all this. Well hire somebody to come in and do it. Just leave it for today.
Leave me alone, she said, not looking up from her busy hands.
We can go get a room for the night somewhere, I said. How about the Pony Express?
Just leave me alone! she yelled, swinging toward me with the bowl of Froot Loops in her right hand. She looked at it for just a moment, then threw it at me as hard as she could. It crashed against the wall behind my ear, spraying pastel milk across the kitchen.
Just the get the hell out and let me do this! Shiny mucus and tears smeared across her face.
I got the hell out. I spent the night at the Pony Express, drinking gin and tonic in the lounge and watching the Kansas City Royals on a little TV in the corner above the bar. The bar there is a busy place, but I shut everybody out. I just watched television until I could no longer hear, until I could no longer feel, until I could no longer walk.
Its a little surprising to me that Connie and the country-western singer meet at the Pony Express. Like I said, its a busy place. But Mr. Tiller has the pictures, and it's true that Connie and I havent had what you could call successful relations lately. So maybe it all fits.
Im not sure what it is, but maybe its something I should get some professional help with. Even after the passage of many months, after our house has been redecorated and rearranged, and Connie has begun to come to me again in the night with her light robe pulled back, her heat pressed against my coolness, she's unable to warm me. My problems dont seem to be physical, although the drinking does impair my response time in more ways than one. No, it seems as though Im impaired spiritually, visited by demons that demand something from me, something I havent learned to give up. So I embrace the visitation. It is a vision.
Sometimes, the heavy breaths of passion bring on the vision. It's a vision of my son struggling beneath a killing weight, unable to breathe, awake and aware that everything, the entire universe, is being pushed out of him, confronting something so unknown and so terrifying that he reaches out in the darkness for someones arms to hold him, to help him through it. He reaches for his mothers arms, for gentle and generous hands, but they arent there. He reaches for the young blonde woman, for her thin, curved, small-breasted body, but shes not there.
He's just alone, in the dark. My own chest starts to tighten when I think about it. Its as if my ribs are cracking, my lungs being crushed, my breath coming in shallow gasps, wet and thick with my own fluids. I collapse limply at my wifes side, curl into her and sob. Sometimes, she cries, too, stroking my thinning hair and murmuring that its all right- that everything is going to be all right. Well get through this part of it, too, she says. Its been two years now, though, and we arent through it yet.
If she ran off with the cowboy, I guess it wouldnt surprise me. She seems to be ready to be rid of some of her sorrow now, ready for movement. Then again, I might be wrong about all this. Maybe theres just some misunderstanding. Like I said, my response time seems off, my judgment impaired. For now, my visions continue.
Maybe with a little help, though, I could be ready for movement. Ill talk to Connie about it tonight when I see her. We could sit in the yard in the dark and rub our bare feet back and forth in the grass like we did when we were young, when we would lie back, making one impression in the grass rather than two, making plans about things we could never really know about until they happened.