I felt it was important to provide her with a first class ticket. She’d been with me for years, putting up with all manner of nonsense and prejudice. People didn’t understand the need for a personal alchemist, and I wasn’t very good at explaining it. Her life had been challenging enough, a first class ticket was the least I could do. I booked us an outside suite with a view of the sunset, which seemed fitting, considering. It wasn’t a goodbye cruise, but it might as well have been. There’s only so much alchemy can do for a lost soul.
Bodine, freelance astronaut extraordinaire, posed in the open door of the shiny space capsule. The launch was only minutes away and he dazzled the assembled press corps with his casual élan. In the shadows behind him, Carmine, his simian copilot, was already strapped into her padded seat and running through her preflight checklist. “One more for the ladies,” a photographer called as Bodine flashed his best toothy grin for posterity. He was anxious to duck into the dark capsule before anyone noticed the flop-sweat running down his cheek. Blasting off into the inky void of space couldn’t come soon enough.
The way I remember it, we all kept our underwear on, although recently a photograph has surfaced, and is making the rounds, that would seem to prove otherwise. There were four of us – Tony, Toni, Mark, and me. The water was cold, sure, and I don’t think any of us thought that our undies would keep us warm. But still, when Tony suggested we strip all the way to the buff, he was roundly outvoted, except, of course,Toni. She’d strip down anywhere any time, which made it rather interesting going out in public with her. You just never knew.
It was not an easy thing after Charles left. There were Charles shaped holes everywhere I looked – in the clothes closet, in his chair by the fireplace, in my bed. It took me a long while to not make his breakfast beside mine. Four eggs and toast was not more difficult than two. The difficulty was in remembering how to cook only two. Like Proust’s storied madeleine, a wealth of memory bottomed up with each egg. And what is perhaps most odd was that I had no intention of filling that hole. Charles had left, and the whole remained.
There was debris scattered all over the highway, shoulder to shoulder. The writer of the story had abandoned any pretense of understanding what it was about. He’d leave it for the tour guides to explain. What passed at one time for reason now just confused. Seduction and scandal at the airport. “Stringing words together is not a story,” said the editor. “Context counts for something. If you can’t tell me what it’s about, is it about anything?” The poet refused to weigh in, and let it hang in the air like a balloon animal. Likely no one would care anyway.
The phone rings on the far side of the house. I stop typing, my cat raises his head from the pile of comforters where he’s sleeping. We both listen, ears cocked, as the answering machine down the kitchen kicks in. I hear my own muffled voice telling the caller I’m not at home. Neither of us can understand the echoing message. After a single shrill note from the machine, the house is quiet again. The cat yawns, showing his sharp teeth, and goes back to sleep. I turn back to my desk. Now I know how the story ends.
There was a time once in my life when I was the blue light flashing under the subway cars. Down the hill from Mosely Street, the Columbia T station waits in the frosty morning. I huddle myself around a cigarette, bluster blowing up from Carson Beach. The train comes balling in with a billow of dust, I toss my dogend onto the tracks and we race together into the city that feels a world away. Rolling home late, the train filled with drunk and rowdy Southie toughs smashing bottles and itching for a fight, I’m hoping they don’t pick me.