We weren’t sure anymore and it troubled us to think we would grow accustomed to a world in which we simply went through the motions. We took pity on the rain, however, for it did touch our soul. We have been abandoned by our husbands and the betrayal left us out of touch with anyone or any feeling but pain. Of course, that’s why they probably left us in the first place: either we couldn’t shake loose those icy bits of anguish we loved to torture ourselves with or we enjoyed the safe feeling of a very lean and sparsely committed heart. Our children we raised to be bright and busy, cute and unobtrusive, and to wink at the seamy side of life least it turned into an idée fixe. As the erotic had come to be in our lives these days. It beckoned from an all too distant future and it astonished us to learn how elaborately detailed and similar our fantasy lives were. We all wanted to be swept away to a tropical island in the arms of an old friend turned lover, the two of us rendered senseless for days on end in an airy bungalow deep in a forest by a roaring waterfall screaming like wild animals and all paid for by credit cards charged to the men who left us for the young sexual athletes they had been grooming at their offices over the years. We hadn’t the courage of our convictions, which probably explained why we were all in therapy. The first order of business, our therapist said, was to put us in control of our own fantasy lives. We had to introduce elements of reality and probability into some of our more wicked daydreams. One woman talked of adopting ghetto children for the weekend and looking the other way while they stole her blind. Another spoke of hiring separate interior designers for every room in her house but never leaving the kitchen for fear she couldn’t speak articulately about the color schemes, art work, and fancy flourishes occupying all the curious new spaces. It was exciting; we all wanted new clothes, new hairstyles, new lives, and we made great and grandiose lists and watched them gather dust over the days and weeks.
When someone really died, actually died, we dropped everything and cried and cried and cried. We hopped planes and pestered the stewardesses for endless drinks and stared out the windows from behind our dark glasses into memories gone forever. Life really was unfair. No doubt they’ll come up with something, though. Like a new satellite system of spiritual checks and balances. They could operate it like they do those virtual reality devices. We wouldn’t have lives anymore, just experiences; not real experiences, but deeply felt moments filling up a whole snapshot gallery we could choose from day or night. We could color in the emotions: sweetness, a fondness for men who are good sports, sunsets, shy tears at the onset of menopause, gentle touching, great accomplishments, great heights, a good clean pine forest – such peace there was above the clouds. We brightened up, waved to each other, the stewardess freshening up our drinks and we sighed to ourselves in the comfort of our tears. One thing we discovered: we really didn’t have to be with one another to feel our strength. We drew on a vast reservoir of hope. Why, Monday next we’ll be showing off our new independence by going it alone to the new mall to stroll in the great circle with the boy who will have avenged his father’s death in a matter of days. He’s more than a boy, a young man, a fine young man who holds his head high and knows what’s true and what’s not. He and his troop are marching through the mall in a grand procession. Up the open stairways, across the balconies, through the white smoke drifting across the decks where the fashion shows are staged, passing by the strolling musicians, weaving among the gondolas and French carts filled with nice new things, up and down the escalators in conga lines, pursued every moment by the plainclothes security forces wielding their videocams, recording their every move, up to no good, they figure. And just because they’ve painted a rectangle on their faces and sewn themselves together with very thin and very stout fishing line. A trick accomplished by a surgeon turned acupuncturist!
They move in unison. If one falls they all fall; when one tears away the line cuts them all. They report to him day and night. He must know who killed his father. He was the chief executive officer of a large and wealthy corporation. No, a partner in a law firm. Who was found dead under suspicious circumstances in the woods behind his house. He had been taking drugs and they found stains in his under shorts indicative of a recent sexual encounter. There were even accusations of a hidden homosexuality, but the young man put out the word in the gay community and no rumors, no evidence, rather, well, they, the young man and his troop, they combed the gay bars and found no one answering to the description, in fact, there was no description. A psychic said there was no homosexuality. No closets, nothing hidden. Solitary, it had been a solitary act. It crushed the young man to know this about his father. A masturbator! The psychic saw the act, the hand in motion, his hand, the father’s, he wore a ring with a devil’s face on it. He talked to the devil. The psychic had heard their voices. Heard the man arguing with the devil, fighting off the urge but succumbing, the devil taking control. She could only see this in black and white, the psychic. A very crisp black and white, hardly any grays, the woods looking like a great taboo. All these trees with their bark stripped bare. The white air as thick as soup. The blow to his head dropping out of the white sky just as a crystal congeals out of a liquid. She said the crystal was a metaphor for the drug he took. Killed by drugs. No, not the drugs themselves, but the drug dealer, a woman, yes, a tall woman from the same law firm. And from the very family who built, maintains, and now operates the new mall.
The rain above the clouds shall rise up like a great indignation! And march through the new mall along with the young man in silent accusation: take no pity on that tall woman! A drug dealer! A murderer! Their faces take pride in the severity of their keen virtue. They know no doubt, no anguish; none torture themselves with indecision. They are bright and busy yet find the sexual boutique on the second floor rather diverting and don every device. In a matter of minutes they are swept away into a melee of oral, anal, and genital gratification. The ghost of his father appears on a video monitor in a great argument with the devil. The security forces are recording every sigh and grunt, every thrust and suction, that tall woman standing at the edge of the orgiastic repast talking on her cellular phone to the pornography distributors (the very same people who control all the illegal drugs) negotiating the book and movie rights to all the wild and wet goings on. Already she has the merchants of the mall winking at the situation. And no doubt she would be piquing their pious lust with a free video preview if it weren’t for the darling ghetto children who come teeming in through the doors and go about stealing the place blind. Actually, they steal nothing. They simply rearrange everything. They fondle the soft furs, dance about in the shiny shoes, snuggle up to fluffy pillows, play catch with bottles of perfume and tins of potpourri, parading about with every boom box, television, and electronic game until they abandon it all to their profound boredom and run back outside into the hail of bullets coming from the opposing camps of interior designers warring over who will get to pluck the pricey plum to redesign the new mall now that the ghetto children have left their dirt on everything.
Spiritually invigorated by their sexual refreshment the young man and his troop cry and cry and cry at the sight of the ghetto children strewn about in actual death beyond the glass doors and continue on strolling in a great circle through the new mall knowing they will have seen the truth in a matter of days only to lose it in memories gone forever under the assault of all the new and wonderful things loving them to death in the future where they now stand in the radiance of lights, camera, action in perpetuity secured by those nice surgeons filling them with new organs donated by the fresh batch of those colliding with the sunset of life before their time.
Of whom we shall not speak for their silence is the only true voice of unison. A single word spoken and the dead might as well open a law firm to argue who had what right to be enslaved by which god or devil, a silly notion, as everyone knows, eternity is a single note sung by everyone. Imagine if even one of the dearly departed were to dissent; why, it would ruin everything. Imagine if that tall woman actually came up to the young man to report a startling conclusion. That, indeed, there had been a kind of homosexuality, not a real physical encounter between one man and another a psychic could have witnessed, but an inversion, a turning away from the feminine toward a secret wound, a closed and hidden sexuality, an unspeakable shame which could only express itself in the public shame of some renowned taboo. And, yes, that tall woman pleading her case, saying it was not she herself who delivered the fatal blow, but the young man’s mother! The murder scene: not a psychic’s vision but the vision of a lifetime in which the devil’s hand is the hand of fate, the woods the masculine world stripped bare by a feminine invasion showing it to be nothing more than a seamy, white, viscid pulp worth nothing more than the clammy boastings of a paper tiger, the absence of color the really real reality of their marriage, the blow the realization of the poison grown between them, crystallizing from the very air they breathe – an insidious death! But highly improbable, our therapist said. It dismissed the compelling thread running through the young man and his troop connecting them to their fine and noble truth. It disregarded the unconscious need for a fulfilling abstraction as symbolized by the rectangle painted on their faces. Besides, it would poison our reservoir of hope, turn us against ourselves in bitter and endless recrimination over whether the feminine world had, indeed, put to shame the masculine. Yes, poison we did understand. A teaspoon of which, one of us discovered, had easily simulated sexual activity and the presence of an illegal drug in her husband’s body, death coming as a surprise to him while he was out for a solo walk in the woods. And to whose funeral we were now flying with teary abandon; yes, have pity on his dear son’s soul.
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Sean Connolly is the author of the novel A Great Place to Die (Hardscabble Press) and has published fiction in numerous journals. His satire and creative nonfiction has been heard on All Things Considered, Weekend Edition of NPR, Radio Smithsonian and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia.
Copyright ©2006 by Sean Connolly.