“Autobiography,” Arthur said, “is an indiscriminate drinker.”
We were in Scotland’s Hollow, as we almost always were this time of night, and Arthur had just finished one of his glorious reveries, his second and last of the evening. The conclusion, coming as it did on the heels of a rambling fifteen minutes of accusation, absurdity and exaggerated self-pity, had brought him to an artfully drained state. It had been an extraordinary improvisation, and he’d capped it off grandly, eloquently, and in the perfect setting to boot.
For months I’d been enjoying Arthur’s offhand enlightenments, which, of late, had become a kind of mantra to me as the juggernaut of corruption disguised as the twenty-first year of my life had worn and worn away at me, reaching its apex this midnight, a wind-swept, leaf-tumbling Fourth of July. This particular tangent had been occasioned by a certain sighting of a very certain young lady, with whom Arthur had recently concluded an affair, one whose manifold effects had ranged from the loftiest of passions to the most wretched heights of scorn. Moments like this made me glad to have him as my friend.
The very certain young lady, that would be Jade-Ellen, and the reverie she’d occasioned in him wasn‘t over her, really, nor over any ill will he‘d harbored since the fiendishly vague split-up, but over life itself, for it was the women more than anything that caused him to think along these lines. I’d seen her through the front window, walking at a brisk pace outside, almost sprinting, just as Arthur had been returning from the bathroom. I had hoped she’d been too fast for him to have seen her clearly, but he’d managed. Oh, how he’d leered at her, drooping onto the barstool next to mine, grumbling indistinctly.
Before I had time to delve into the complexities of his exact thoughts on the subject, I was forced to exchange pleasantries with Maker, the bartender, concerning that evening’s entertainment.
Scotland’s Hollow, our haunt, was owned and operated by a man named Maker Scotland, and he sticks in my mind because to me (and many others) he was the very archetype of an asshole. A pruned, gargoyle-looking thing, you couldn’t look at him without imagining dead bodies buried in a basement. A lack of love for children was about the only thing he didn’t have in common with Hitler.
I looked at him now, taking in his spooky crop-circle baldness, like a botched scalping. “When’s Deacon supposed to start?” I asked.
Maker’s reply was short and to the point. “Midnight. Donations accepted.” Maker made it absolutely clear that he did not give a shit whether or not I’d appreciate a more elaborate response.
He ambled, at his ease, to another end of the bar, rum in hand. Once he was out of earshot, Arthur lifted his head. He looked at me, smiled quizzically, and rubbed his hands together. He seemed about to say something, had opened his mouth, even, but at the last moment, he stopped himself, shook his head, and pressed his face into his hands. I had become used to such responses from my friend.
Arthur Cohen was a bundle of contradictions; a heathen prankster so offbeat and seemingly nonsensical, yet so accessible and unassuming, that all who encountered him came away convinced that he was their greatest friend in all the world. Twenty-one, gangly, chestnut-haired, he garbled his immortal proverbs in a recklessly earnest redneck monotone, the only one I’d ever heard. He had an intuition to be envied, and an irrepressibility you could savor. A certain genius for self-absorption pervaded every nook and cranny of his psyche. Only the Midwest could have produced him, and he always said the region was going to the dogs.
Arthur had the gift of the natural storyteller, that gift being the understanding that only half the tale is telling it--the other half perfecting, in one‘s mind, exactly how to relate the experience to others while still engaged in it. This could not be learned, but could be developed. The easiest way to do this, according to him, was through a continual addition to one’s own repertoire of experiences. And since, as I reasoned in those days, it wasn’t what you knew, or even who you knew, but how you knew, I constantly found myself falling into more than a few of his delightful misadventures, and wringing all manner of chaos and ecstasy upon myself.
For Arthur to have succeeded as a writer, there would have to have been a Pulitzer for sweet nothings, and a Nobel Prize for daydreaming. Thoughts of unimpeachable excellence were continually at work inside his head, and everything he did only enhanced the hypnotic mystique of his already comic persona.
I could write his entire life history here and now, but suffice it to say that he was a heathen genius, always busy scrutinizing each and every facet of existence not to understand, but to accept.
For Arthur Cohen, the line of reasoning went not from A to B to C, but from A to C-flat; the difference between the right God and the almost-right God was the difference between the tongue-of-fire and the hellfire; ambiguity was more potent than denial, and vanity the only thing life was too long for.
All of these qualities made for many miracles, and even more memories, and it is one of these memories I now speak of.
I’d say half the reason I even recall this episode is that it chanced to happen on Independence Day. The festivities must have wracked my brain enough for near-total recall. It was a lean time, a time that served to signify the end of the youthful godhood that Arthur and I, however naively and sweetly, had conjured for ourselves, and it still appeals to me because I think it illustrates all that we stood for and believed in all the while ago, in an age which has so forlornly and bitterly passed into memory.
Scotland‘s Hollow was a sweaty inferno, and made my long-sleeve shirt cling to me like blood. The heat hung in the air like a cloud--wine breathed its last in that smoky furnace, but conversation of all stripes flowed like water from the Holy Grail. Most of the talk centered around blues extraordinaire Deacon Kidd, that evening’s entertainment, for which a healthy crowd had started to swell. It became harder and harder to see the stage with each passing minute.
Marley Carr, the town delinquent, dragged himself to the bar, falling onto the stool next to mine, blinking rapidly. I was less than pleased.
“Man,” Marley slurred, by way of greeting, “I hate takin’ a piss while I’m smokin’ a cigarette. It always gets in my eye.” He groaned, looked around the crowd, then, noting my bemused face, amended what he‘d just said. “The smoke, not the piss,” he growled, leering at me maniacally with his grizzled, bounty-hunter visage, the stubs of his last two remaining molars, pins in his 7-10 split of a smile nearly the color of the light beer in front of him. Marley was the closest thing Maker Scotland had to a friend, thus guilty by association. His left eye did indeed look a little clenched, a little redder than usual, as if he’d just been rubbing it.
Applause suddenly rippled through the crowd as the house band finished its sound check and Deacon Kidd took the stage as if he owned it. He immediately launched into the perennial favorite, “Strawberry Hearse Blues.”
The vast majority of the crowd looked as if it was very pleased to be seeing and hearing Deacon Kidd playing “Strawberry Hearse Blues.“ There were many smiles on many faces. Heads bobbed, eyelids drooped. Nobody seemed to want to risk a hard-won place in the first three rows on a trip to the bar for a quick brew. Kidd’s voice, ravaged by drink (and three packets of Marlboro a day) piled on top of the audience like dirt over a freshly dug grave. This raw, sinking-ship voice, coupled with his hell-on-a-leash riffage and devil’s-backbone slide work, wove a polyrhythmic tapestry over the crowd, a satanic clang of a blues of the soul, by the soul and for the soul, a blues that bruised, the dirtiest sort. Deacon played those nuclear chalkdust blues that were the soundtrack to my life, the kind that created a silk coffin of sound around the listener’s entire body, starting at the eardrums and working its black-lung way, note by rusted-nail note, to the tips of the toes, and back again double to the eardrums, leaving one with the most worthwhile of migraines. This is why I paid attention to him.
Arthur, however, took issue with Deacon’s harmonica playing, which seemed too smooth and out of character for an otherwise rawer-than-raw production, and he was always threatening to get Kidd alone one day and teach him how the blues was meant to be played.
Marley Carr was one of Deacon Kidd’s biggest fans, his main reason for loving him being that with Deacon Kidd, you could never tell if you were listening to the best crap you’d ever heard, or the worst good shit.
Urban legend had it that anyone who walked out on one of Deacon’s sets while he was still playing would come home that night to find a hook hanging from his or her doorknob; a serial-killer hook, the kind the captain of a pirate ship would use. Marley Carr had been the one to tell me this, and Maker Scotland had backed him up. I’d believe it if it were Maker, but not with Deacon Kidd.
Of course, in those days, I believed legend over anything else.
All this time, Arthur had scarcely moved. Since my clipped conversation with Mr. Scotland, he’d kept to himself, staring into his hands, and seemingly oblivious to the chaos blues and delinquent chatter that surrounded him. I’d paid little attention to his brooding, figuring Arthur needed a quiet stretch of time to himself in order to reorganize and redirect what I was willing to bet were falsely heartbreaking ruminations on Jade-Ellen. This pensive, self-contained silence of his I’d taken as a matter of course. But now, in the light, sitting there packed like cigarettes in the cramped, uncomfortable tavern, I was sure I could just make out the faintest tinges of regret, frustration and other, unnamable, emotions that skittered so crazily across his face like rapidly changing weather currents.
Jade-Ellen Spencer must have been a forbidden love by an age at which most of us were still virgin baggage. I looked at her and saw crazy.
Jade-Ellen had been Arthur’s muse. She’d never wasted a chance to make it clear to him how much she loved and idolized him; had loved him like it was going out of style. This had been too much for Arthur, who was prone to sharing his love in inverse proportion to his sense of humor, which knew no limits, and had served as the main catalyst for the degeneration of their romance.
They’d met at the height of Arthur’s literary pretension phase. These were the days when Arthur wrote only in longhand. He did this because he liked the way the stories felt flowing out of his hand onto the paper. He’d fall asleep still writing, and the pen would fall out of his hand, staining his mattress. That was when his pen name had still been Arthur Blanch.
I remember the first time Arthur brought her home. I’d been staying at his place a lot, sleeping on the couch most nights, and not doing much of anything except helping him with some of his work. They’d made a grand entrance, arm in arm, laughing merrily at some private riddle all their own. Jade-Ellen, after scanty introductory formalities had been made between us two, had taken it upon herself to examine the mad-scientist’s laboratory that doubled as Arthur’s room. Among the first things she’d noticed was his ink-stained bed, and, being the spunky little debutante she was, had immediately begun to jump up and down on it. Shouting, waving her little fists, she’d danced on his mattress like her shoes were full of watermelon wine, bellowing his name over and over again: “COHEN! COHEN! ARTHUR COHEN!” She’d refused to call him Arthur Blanch.
“Cohen, you‘re the only guy I‘ve ever met,” she’d declared, “with black stains on his sheets!”
Arthur’s literary talent had been a major factor in her initial attraction to him. The mere existence of such a man as Arthur Cohen had been enough for Jade-Ellen, and this had been her fatal tactical error. She’d been attracted to how memorable of a character Arthur was, especially how he came wrapped in enough layers of wit and whimsy to keep her guessing forever. She admired this in him and, I think, even envied him.
A spunky, sparkling specimen of winsome French-Italian-Irish girlhood, a raven-haired, sphinx-eyed enchantress with a husky soprano fit for hours and hours of pseudo-intellectual digression, Jade-Ellen was the sort of girl with whom you could have a suicide pact. A captivating character, armed with a vast array of cosmopolitan pretensions learned in East London art houses, refined more and more each trip to Paris, and brought to full and final realization on any dance floor. Intelligent, no doubt, and certainly cultured; however, like most twenty-something American females, she was looking for someone more desperate than herself to save her life, and this is where Arthur was supposed to have come in, but hadn’t.
Arthur loathed idolatry, and anything resembling commitment, and so he’d gradually grown and grown not to like her. And by the time the summer had come around, he wouldn’t have cared whether or not she just slipped quietly out of his life; like the March in which he’d met her, in like a lion and out like a lamb.
Arthur used to tell me, months before he‘d met the girl, that the only worthwhile romance for him was a doomed one--an intense two months or so of pure, unadulterated passion in which he and a woman went at it, soul to soul, until one of them had died and the other had gone crazy. He wouldn’t care, he’d said, whether or not it was he that did the dying. But I don’t think he realized this may have been what he was getting into with Jade-Ellen. He must not have known; if it had been in accordance with his fantasy, I don’t think he would have entered into it with such simple, wide-eyed glee.
I myself didn’t trust her as far as I wanted to have her thrown, for I’d decided before she and Arthur ever came into contact that the fools of this world are distinguished by their desire to know as much as they can, in contrast to the truly intelligent ones such as Arthur, who desired to know nothing. And Jade-Ellen had wanted to know things. Too many inconsequential trifling things for Arthur to keep up with; she’d expected his grand intellect to rub off on her. It had been this sense of expectation, this idolatry, that had wrought such an ungodly racket on their once ideal affair.
Jade-Ellen was a special girl, not conniving in the way that most people usually think of the word, but, in her own way, truly one of the most nightmarish of any woman I’d ever known.
The great doomed romance ended as suddenly and unexpectedly as it had started, and in a way that still puzzles me. This is what happened: Jade-Ellen had begun, after enduring roughly one-and-a-half months of the vicious lust beast their relationship had become, to be irritated by Arthur’s lack of motivation, which she saw as an impediment to the progress of his artistic career, especially when he tried to pawn off his lethargy by stating that he “wasn’t lazy, just free-spirited.” This was when she’d broached the subject of moving in with him more than once. This, too, was blasphemy to Arthur Cohen, who, in terms of enduring solitude gracefully, was a man among men. This solitude was what he needed to become the great artist he felt it was in him to become. This would have worked in my favor also, as I more or less lived at Arthur’s house at that time, and was not particularly eager for Jade-Ellen to mark his place as the ideal arena in which to warehouse her patent-bitch credentials. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have her own place, so the reasons for which she felt she had to invade mine and Arthur’s space were a mystery to me. I guess she just got lonesome.
The scheme we laid on her ended up hitting her where it hurt, for it played on one of the vulnerabilities she thought she kept so hidden. Her fondest wish had been for Arthur to compose a verse for her, to her, not just another of his lyrics he always told her she was the one and only inspiration for. So one night, while she lay on the couch normally reserved for me, in the same drunken stupor she’d passed out in the past nine nights running, we slipped this note underneath her ear, with a verse as follows:
beautiful she is
and beautiful she’ll stay
The next morning I woke, on the floor, to find her gone. And since then we’d seen no trace of her. We’d only been joking; it wasn’t as if Arthur had really intended to throw her out just like that. I can’t say why she left without any kind of scene. I think she’d been hurt that Arthur, by that point, looked at her with no more emotion than any other individual, and she wasn’t built to handle that particular strain of vulnerability. Jade-Ellen, you see, was dealing with emotions she really did not understand, and was thus inclined to commit any manner of rash and imprudent acts.
One night, after a bottle too many of the white merlot she favored, she’d said something to me. I know of nothing that could explain her better.
“Man, you gotta understand--I’m a pathological liar,” she’d said. She’d put the bottle down on the table, turned, and looked me square in the eye:
I could tell Arthur was serious.
“I know it’s still there,” he said, “I can feel it. We’ll get it and bring it back here and then Deacon will learn the blues the way it’s supposed to be played.”
“I don’t think,” I replied, “that it would be any good anymore. That harp’s been missing for months. It’s probably been rained on by now, and burnt to a crisp by this sun we’ve had.”
“I don’t care,” Arthur said, eyes ablaze, standing up and pasting another cigarette between his lips. “I’m going to the river. You can stay here and cop licks from Deacon all night long if that’s what you want.”
“No, no!” I sputtered. “I’ll come with you if you want me to. It’s just that Deacon’s only played one song. He just started playing! Besides, it’s going to be impossible to find that harp in the dark.”
“Impossible,” said Arthur, “is a word found only in the dictionary of fools. I’m going to get my harp.” He turned, and began worming his way through the crowd. I stared after him, then glanced over at Marley Carr, who lay facedown on the bar, mouth open, tongue lapping out horribly. I deliberated for a quick second, watched Arthur getting further away, now as lost in the crowd as the crowd was in Deacon Kidd’s second song, the aptly titled “I Got a Gun For You Blues.” His groovy harp work clashed with the thrashing full-band arrangement. Maybe Arthur had been onto something after all. I gulped the dregs of my beer and got up to follow Arthur, as I had done so many times before. As I worked my way towards the door, I felt two pairs of eyes following me: Maker Scotland’s and Deacon Kidd’s.
We stepped into the night and started off, high-hearted in the din and divinity of youth, pulling on our cigarettes, it seemed, each time a fresh batch of fireworks burst above our heads; the mentally depraved being led by the mentally abstract.
I had been feeling a bit dazzled and razzled and frazzled and fritzed for the better part of an hour, and could do little more than follow the creeping silhouette of Arthur’s ungainly strut as best I could. His walk was an exercise in awkward balance; a bad left leg gave him a drunken amble, as if searching for some central fulcrum on which to better grace the leaf-ridden streets with his prance-of-a-limp swagger.
A fog drooled through the seething, anarchic rumpus downtown had become, a billowy robe of a fog that curled around our ankles and lent its mystic splendor to all our surroundings.
The streets stood celestially transfixed. All nature quivered in supernatural ecstasy. Archangel headrockets, brushfire squalls, and Amazon operas throbbed with a subdimensional brilliance in the nightquake pre-dawn.
The day preceding this enchanted evening had been perfection defined, when everything the sun touched had turned to gold; where I’d seen, for the first time in years, an ice-cream truck, careening merrily through the neighborhoods. It had left a souvenir: a glorious, glowing moon, scrumptious as a huge scoop of cookies ‘n cream; a gallant, full moon that charged through the sky like a knight.
But I do not think the truck had also been responsible for the wind, which had picked up since we’d stepped into it from the tavern and now tore hellishly at our collars; a wind that Arthur Cohen cursed as he tried in vain to light the latest addition to his endless chain of cigarettes.
Close by, at a stoplight, a magnificent gray hound sat in the flatbed of a pickup truck, barking loud and long. And farther away, through the mad rampage of the festivities, we could hear the screeching of an ambulance siren.
As we made our way to the street corner, something happened which has lingered in some dark, dank sliver of my conscience ever since.
The ambulance rounded the corner, and the dog’s cry changed as it scrambled into sight, a moan now instead of a bark. A damned, foreboding omen of a wail, a moan in perfect harmony with whatever shrill note an ambulance siren makes, a low-pitched howl that carried a frail, pitiful thunder all its own. A death moan for whoever must surely have been dying inside. And believe me when I say that was the tone of our lives there, in that one agonized, caterwauling yelp.
The silence that followed was a poison silence. Arthur didn’t seem to have been affected in the slightest; it hadn’t registered with him. He hadn’t been able to turn his attention from the cigarette he’d been attempting to light for the past five minutes. I could tell by the way his face was still fixed in that glooming glare that no vivid description of what I’d just seen would interest him. He began walking on as soon as he‘d finally lit up, his stiff stride stabbing the sidewalk, and we beat away, matches no match for the wind, to the dark and ruined heart of this tale.
Only a fifteen-minute walk from Maker’s and downtown, the river may as well have been another world.
I’d been convinced that Arthur’s quest had been a lost cause from its inception, so I can’t say why I’d gone along with him. He may have been midway through one of his less successful schemes, as he was from time to time, and would have been no less entertaining for it, but I think the real reason I followed my friend was that I hadn’t liked that hellish look I’d seen on his face in Maker’s, with all its fraudulent certainty, and I wanted to accompany him wherever the night might take him.
The reason for going to the river was to go to the fire pit, a popular gathering place for youths such as ourselves, where we could drink booze, play music or just talk; talk for hours on end until the small hours of the morning. A homely, accessible little thicket, set back from the street, behind the houses and facing the river, there were enough wooden benches and stump chairs for twenty people or more to sit comfortably. The pit itself was just a large dugout filled with logs, perfect for starting huge, blazing conflagrations. Part of the attraction was the seclusion, part the scenic beauty; the location had been carefully chosen. Two rock walls, both crescent in shape, rose out of the river, on either side of the fire pit, fifteen feet or so in front of it and accessed from land by log bridges. Craggy, sloping, they were too much for most of us, and when we swam there, in the summer months, few of us dared even attempt to scale them, though their height would have surely made them wonderful for diving.
In the center of one of these walls, the smaller and more accessible one, there was a small hawks’ nest, unused now, that had been there since time immemorial. The nest was wedged into the rock, having weathered storm, sun and stone for years. Every time I’d come here with him, Arthur had tried and failed, sometimes all night long, to knock that nest into the water. He considered it one of his goals. He’d never tried to take it down by force because he considered the crags too dangerous to climb, although it just may have been within reach from the top.
Arthur had lost his one and only harmonica one night, drunk as ever, at a fire pit gathering. I hadn’t been there to see it. He’d handed it out to the first person who’d asked for it (he no longer remembered who), and that was the last he’d seen of it. He was convinced it had been left there and forgotten, and had meant to go back for it ever since.
I’d seen the harp myself many times, and had no idea how Arthur would ever fancy himself lord and master over Deacon Kidd with the thing. It may as well have come out of a Cracker Jack box, for all its quality. A rusty little number, with a tinny tone too feeble to compete with any other instrument, he’d held it dear to him when he still had it, perhaps because of its lone notable feature, a searing, sky-blue plate color. Neither of us had been out this way since right before he’d met Jade-Ellen. Arthur used to joke that Jade-Ellen was the replacement for his harmonica, and he always wished he could trade back.
There was a dog that lived among the thicket, a miserable, three-legged creature tended to by whoever lived out that way who felt sorriest for it. A despicable-looking thing with a filthy coat of some bone-yellow color, like Marley Carr’s teeth, chopped ears, and one eye permanently fixed at a downward slant. Distrustful of humans, quick with a bark, he’d scamper away from anyone who got too close. I had named this dog Fledge, but I had never told anyone that, not even Arthur.
Now, as we entered this holy thicket, and I sat down to rest on one of the benches, Fledge emerged from behind a tree, sidled up to a spot near me, and rested on his haunches, both of us entranced by the rummaging, cursing Arthur Cohen. The moon, still full, still bright, held a lingering glow. I hadn’t been to this place in many moons, but felt right at home in my old haunt.
Arthur began his search in the dugout itself, rifling through pine needles, stray woodchips, aluminum rings, crumpled pages and beer cans, in the air that smelled of old age, stale cigars, and some small, unmistakable sliver of sensation to which I could give no name save youth. I looked at Fledge, and he looked at me, and I said nothing, and he barked nothing, and together we observed this reconnaissance. And suddenly, for only a fraction of an instant that fled all too quickly, I was filled with a tremendous, ecstatic understanding of and appreciation for our own bond, the bond between Arthur and I, Fledge and I, and the whole obscure, confused environment we’d found ourselves in, like some great circle of the psyche had come to a final, irrevocable close. And this limpid realization may have lasted, so far as I could tell, forever, had not Arthur Cohen, at that precise moment, sprang up, up and away, like another Roman candle, into the air, from out of the dugout, with a manic yelp of pure, unrestrained rapture, his left hand clenched over a small plastic object that gleamed with a brilliant flash of blue.
And somewhere, someplace, from the other side of the river, also at that moment, came a mighty thunder, the roaring squall of one last batch of fireworks, as he landed and came to a rest.
Somewhere else, from some place that seemed very far behind us but what could have really been only ten feet or so, Fledge began to bark, competing with the ruckus, a staccato calling that ended almost as soon as it began in a pathetic, defeated gurgle, as the similarly brief explosive display burst its last all too quickly.
Arthur Cohen stood in the center of the fire pit, turning and turning in his hands the cheap trinket that would be half the battle in making Deacon Kidd recognize his own worthlessness in honking the blues. And I saw his grin fade now, slowly, slowly, like a dying fire, until he stood quiet, sensing as I sensed the impalpable limitation of the entire scene, that same internal circle I’d felt minutes before, except where I had felt a closing in, Arthur felt a crashing down.
And I could see, very clearly this time in the half-shadowed thicket, that same damning mixture of frustration and despondence cloaking his face like a shroud, which I’d noticed, in a lessened form, hours earlier, in the tavern. And this must surely have been why he decided that his words, for once, were null and void. For this situation, action alone was all that would suffice. He turned, to the rock wall with its hawks nest, and took aim.
He bent, drawing back his arm and, in his best sidearm stone-skipping stance, sent the harp, clumsy thing that it was, sailing through the air as hard as his frail body would allow, toward the nest he’d tried in vain so many times before to knock from its perch. And a very curious thing happened, though the way the night had been, the way that entire season of our lives had been, of which this episode was the climax, should have made it seem to me even as it happened the only allowable outcome.
The harp had been thrown at such an angle that it had lodged itself into the side of the wall, in one of its many chinks, just high enough that no one could, if they dared, climb up to grab it from below; and just low enough that no one, if taking the other way, could have reached down and removed it from the top. It sat there, in the center of that massive crag of sharp stone, at some crazy, impossible angle, lodged fully and firmly enough that I could imagine it holding there for all time. We saw this in the dying, garish streaks the last of the fireworks had become, and the pale light of the moon which still shone strong as ever. I thought for a moment it might have at least struck the wall hard enough to disturb the aimed-for nest, thus still sending it into the water, and I listened for a splash, but no splash came.
Somewhere, from a place behind us now assuredly nearby, Fledge began to bark again, this time at a steady rate, at something I could not see and did not want to see. I suddenly felt very tired. I sat up, brushing twigs from a shirt that hung limply from a body which seemed to have receded into itself. The wind had died a little, and the swelter I’d felt all night long had been replaced by a dank dampness that, though far from uncomfortable, left me only with a desire for home; dry, familiar home.
It was I who led the way this time. I motioned to Arthur Cohen, who had stood gazing into the river since he’d thrown his prize, to come along, snapping my fingers comically and muttering, furtively, his name. He seemed lost, in some weak trance. Not until I had snapped my fingers for a third time did he wheel around, hands in his pockets, eyes cast to the dirt ground. We set off. Fledge, with his hobbling phantom lurch, led the both of us.
I felt an odd freedom in parting with Arthur that early morning. He hadn‘t said a word on the way back, not even to ask for a light, which was a first. That was fine by me; I had no desire to speak of anything. We passed through the streets, almost vacant now, and took leave of each other near Scotland’s Hollow; I to my home, and he to his. I didn’t expect him to say anything but he’d managed in the end.
“Doobidoob,” he‘d said, in a tiny, accented tone. “A bit tired, maybe. Bedways is rightways now, so best we go homeways.” He gazed not at me when he said this, but at the ground. And the feeling was as palpable then, as it had been at the river, that some incredible scheme had somehow ended, some impossible aspect of youth vanquished, only to be regained, if ever, in some undreamed-of and unimaginable future. I clasped my friend’s hand, which burned with a nervous heat that must surely have been aching to begin the tale of this night of all nights, flowing from his hand to the page like so many times before. I only wonder how he’d rehearsed it to himself, as it was happening, as he so surely must have been.
If he hadn’t, of course, there was no story to speak of.
I slipped my own cold, limp hands into my own pockets, and meandered, with mournful tread, homeward, to spend the night in my own home for the first time in weeks. I strode, feeling strangely alone in the world, though in the distance I could hear the last dregs of the comic ruckus the city had become still going strong. I wanted no part of it, and for that I was grateful.
As I walked, I thought. I thought of Arthur Cohen, and Jade-Ellen Spencer. And Deacon Kidd, who need only try and fail to recover Arthur’s harp to find fodder for a lifetime of songs. And all the weird delightful currency our lives and times carried and created; the bonds of affection and the bonds of youth, the inner loyalty of an immaculate understanding. And the moment of discovery, on arriving home, rare and unforgettable as a four-leaf clover in a chainsaw blade, of a silver hook, ancient and rusted, hanging from my doorknob.
February 7--15, 2008