Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Tall Tale Tuesday :: Lily Darling
I sat at the bar in the dim and the dank of the Rusty Trough, nursing a double of Jameson’s and a desiccated heart. The past few hours were the crumbling of my world. When I arrived home from the office that evening, Lily wanted to talk. “I’m in love with Peter,” she told me, matter-of-factly. It was her nonchalance that conquered my heart so long ago. Nothing had changed; it was still mesmerizing.
We met at the university in our junior year, when the Kent State shooting stood fresh on the forefront of the nation’s conscience. She was an English major slash beatnik poet. I shambled about with roguish good looks and a put-on, devil-may-care disposition slaying the hearts of the fine and fetching co-eds. Except Lily. She was impervious to me, neglecting my advances with a spurning swish of her black tangles. I was rankled and defeated and sounded the retreat.
I have Annie Hall to thank for our relationship. I slipped into a matinee one breezy spring afternoon, clandestine and alone, afraid of how sullied my prefabricated persona and hard earned reputation would become should someone discover that I enjoyed Woody Allen. I was alone in the cinema, or so I thought. In the buzzing darkness there came a high and lilted laugh in chorus with my laugh, exalting the mixture of neuroticism and jubilance on screen. It was Lily. She was as beautiful and enchanting as ever. It was the only moment in my life where I empathized with Adam, shared in his temptation. When the lights came up, I asked her to dinner. She said yes.
After burgers and beer at a greasy spoon, she invited me back to her dorm room. We made love as the crisp and simple stillness of a May night wafted through the open window. In the years since, when the world seems out of focus, I recollect the healthy expanse of tantalizing tawny skin that blossomed forth as I peeled away her green blouse. Somehow that snippet of memory centers me. It was the best day of my life; the Willie Mays of days. Three weeks later, say hey kid. Lily was late. The rest is history. Thirteen years, two kids and a few acres on a re-financed mortgage: Domestic bliss. Until Pete.
“Peter who?” I asked.
“Peter who? Peter Pan, sweetheart,” she said sardonically. “Your friend, Pete Kensington.” She never looked up from the stove as she stirred the pot of spaghetti noodles.
“What the hell, Lily?”
“Where are James and Matthew?”
“The boys are over at the Barrie’s until after the ball game.” Still stirring. “I feel bad. I really do. Pete took me out for coffee a couple of months ago. The coffee became drinks and dinner. From there it was an easy transition into sex. I didn’t mean for it turn into love. I am sorry about that.” She drained the noodles in the sink before saying, “could you move the sauce off the burner?”
I didn’t touch the sauce. I put back on my navy pea coat and left for the enticement of a near empty bar.
Tom Waits was warbling out of the derelict speakers of the antique jukebox in the corner when I walked in. I downed a whiskey and chased it with a whiskey. I was on my third round and times were a changing when Pete sauntered into the bar. He took a seat on the barstool next to me. His untidy mop of blonde hair was matted down with the drizzle of an autumn sprinkle.
“Lily tells me you’re having a rough day, buddy.”
He scoffed. “The next round is on me,” and he motioned to the bartender. “She might have apologized, but I’m not going to.”
“Good to know.”
“Hey man, ever since Eloise from accounting gave you that hummer last year, I thought it was over between Lily and you. Or least on life support. I just assumed you’d given up.”
Ransom the bartender, a brawny bald man, brought over the green bottle of Jameson’s and a couple of stained glasses.
“Just leave the bottle,” I told him. He shrugged and unscrewed the top before resigning back to the end of the bar nearest the television. The Phillies were about to win game one of the World Series.
“Here’s the thing, Pete. I know I’m a piss-poor husband, and yeah, sometimes I like a little action on the side. But how did that lead you believe it was ok?”
“I didn’t say I thought it was alright. I only said I’m not apologizing. I’m not sorry we fell for each other. I’ve loved Lily from the moment you introduced me to her. She’s amazing.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I married her.” I swilled back the last of my glass and poured another. “I came here to be alone, Pete, not to be patronized by the man screwing my wife. Please get lost.” Then the booze interjected, “Asshole.”
Pete stood, raising his hands in a conciliatory gesture, and walked out of the bar. The roar of the crowd at the ballpark on TV rose over the dull waning of the music. I had to piss.
In the bathroom there was another man, a younger man, tall and gawky, almost as though he stood on shaky stilts. He leaned with one arm against the wall in the dirty luminescence, urinating hard into the basin, groaning occasionally and massaged his brow with his free hand. He looked so young. I sidled up to the urinal and went about my business.
When the young man finished, he shook and stepped towards the sink, forgetting to zip up his fly. The rush of the sink faucet gurgling began to work on my brain and stomach. The world was becoming insubstantial and nauseating.
“Reminds me of a joke, this does,” said the young man.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Us being in here together, reminds me of a funny joke I heard,” he said, stopping to quell his own gag reflex. “A sailor and a soldier are using the john at the same time and the sailor finishes first. He steps away and makes for the exit when the soldier yells, ‘in the Army, they teach us to wash up after we piss.’ The sailor says, ‘in the Navy, we’re taught not to pee on our hands.’ And he leaves.” The young man guffawed at his joke. I gestured my amusement with a smile, prim and tidy. I’m a cruel and cold drunk. The joke is an old standard, common fare of bar bathroom prattle.
“I thought you could use a laugh after hearing what Pete did to you,” said the young man. “He’s never been a nice fella.”
“Y’know Peter Kensington?” I asked.
“Only too well. I grew up with the jerk. He never really grew up, though. A while back, he took a fancy to my older sister; led her to believe it was love. It wasn’t. He took what he needed from her and just left. That's the thing about Pete, he's only looking to surround himself with expendables. It’s a world of feeders and eaters. Peter’s an eater. ”
“Well, anyway, I’m scooting. Listen, if you have a predilection for escapism, for getting lost, check this,” said the young man, placing an Altoid tin on the jaundice sink counter.
I laughed. “My breath’s that ripe, yeah?”
But the young man just walked out.
I took special care to ensure all my parts were neatly stowed and that no leaks had sprung before stepping away from the silver basin. Once, fresh out of college, in a state of heavy inebriation, I neglected to remove the underwear from the line of fire. I spent the remainder of the evening lurking in the bathroom, sodden and stinky, like a troll. Ever since, I’ve been keen to take my time and ensure no more mishaps foil my binges. After a once over, I approached the sink and washed my hands. In a moment of rashness and impulse, I slipped the Altoid can into my pocket and walked into the bar.
The payphone in bar was as antique as the jukebox only much less reliable. It took some cajoling and pleading with the Graham Bell gods. Eventually the line connected. Lily answered.
“Lily, it’s me. Listen, don’t talk. I just want you to know that I’m still crazy about you. I want us to be forever. I don’t care what it takes. If you want me to reinvent myself or develop some panache or whatever, I’ll do it. You’re worth it. I love you, Lily.”
The line crackled with static before she responded. “I used to be at a place where all I wanted would’ve been to here you say those things. But I’m past it now. You’re just not fun anymore, sweetheart. You’re old. You can’t change that.”
“Peter’s my only a year younger than me. And he's a rube,” I protested.
“You’re missing the point. He understands true living. He possesses virility and spontaneity. You lost those things along the way. I’m sorry, honey, but I’m resolute in this. I did love you. Once.”
“Go to hell, Lily,” and I replaced the handset. I turned back to the bar. “Ransom, a whiskey.”
My imbibing came to a crescendo with a few more glasses of whiskey. The bartender cut me off at a quarter past eleven. I slung expletives at him like arrows and stones and stepped into the zesty autumnal air. The air slinked around me with brisk fingers and icy breath. It felt invigorating and good. The cold kept the infidelity from my mind; a frosty October night to stamp out Lily. And so I walked.
I walked from the outskirts of town into the old town and the municipal gardens, thick with dormant brambles and brown leaves cascaded in the pale light of a chilly full moon. I sat on a bench in the long shadow of the church bell tower and beheld the glory of white stars adorned about its steeple, so bright and bold. My buzz was beginning to run thin and dissipate. I stamped my feet to stave off the cold. A slight jingle from my pocket tinkled in the night as a few coins clanged against the tin of the Altoids container. I removed it from my pocket.
The tin was ordinary, decorated in the signature red rimmed outline with the bold print letters. I tugged on the top until it loosed. A small bit of paper fell from inside the container and into my lap. By the white moonlight I could only just make out the remaining contents of the tin. Inside was a thin layer of amber dust or powder, finely granulated and twinkling golden in the pallid light. I had experimented with narcotics and hallucinogens in college, but what sat before me now was nothing I recognized. Still, my high was fading. I didn’t want to be sober. I took a pinch of the dust between finger and thumb and gave it a couple of quick snorts. The powder stung, like tiny daggers piercing the inside of my nostril, leaving it raw.
It was then I saw the crumpled bit of paper sitting in my lap. I grabbed it and smoothed it out as best as I could. Scooting to the far side of the bench where creamy moonbeams alighted, I hoisted the paper into the light. It read:
Catch a pinch of the fairy dust,
Fly to a place of brilliant trust.
Think a lovely wonderful thought,
And the pain will be naught.
No hurtful adult in this land,
Come to join a merry band.
Second star to the right
And straight on ‘til morning.
I smirked. The dust was coursing through me now and my heartbeat elevated to a dangerous pace. My heart surged and pumped and thrusted to keep up with the demands of this foreign taskmaster. I inclined my head against the back of the bench and thought of Lily, thought of her making it with Pete, thought of her playing with our children, thought of her telling me she didn’t love me any longer.
Then, I thought of that night long ago when her golden body was bare against mine and how right the world was with her asleep in my arms in the twinkling of a May night. That felt good. It was a lovely wonderful thought. In that moment, I wanted to fly. I had only to spread my wings and wait.