Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo day 28

"Your ghost is most likely a Vanderhoy," Morgan said. "Or not. The ghost could not only be from another time, but another place as well. It's not like the nature of the supernatural is fully understood. Or ever will be. Mystery is half its allure to me."


"Yeah, I was never into ghosts before this. I've seen them in movies, but didn't, you know, give much thought into them being real. Or, if they are real, why they even exist."


"As we've seen tonight, supernatural phenomena is a lot like historical research. They exist in a parallel reality, if only we have the lens in which to see them. Apparently, for reasons unknown as of yet, you've been given this window to this phenomena. And I must admit, your case is unique in that the ghost appears so regularly and for such a regular interval."


"Why do you think that is?"


"It has something to do with the nature of the temporal shift. The strings of time in this case may move in a rhythmic regularity, like the rays of the rising sun hitting the back of a cave wall. And speaking of time, I'd better get you back in enough time to enjoy the phenomena."


As Mackey put on his coat to leave, he looked around the living room, which was bedecked in Christmas lights and a tree, with presents underneath it. Leland sat in an armchair reading by his own lamplight. The kids played a board game on the floor nearby. Somewhere, the family dog's collar rattled as it lapped water from its bowl. The air was infused with cinnamon and the lingering garlic presence of the pizza. This is the life, Mackey thought. He wondered if Morgan and her family gave any thought to the good fortune they enjoyed.


And as Morgan dropped Mackey off back at the Augusta Inn, back to his dingy world, even with its window into another world, Mackey felt a little bit of the sadness and futility overcome him again. But he decided to linger in the cold, on the porch a minute, and stare up at the stars through the barren branches of the maple tree in the front yard. He thought of the Vanderhoys, the furniture maker and his family, long gone, but for the quality woodwork,  the stairway, all of the balusters still in place. The glimpses of other lives he'd seen this night stayed with him and while, in perspective, the census data of his own life seemed lacking, he had a sense of the vast history that lay at his feet.


And he recognized he was part of the slipstream, a participant in the continuum, and that someday others in the future may twine their strings of time with his, and Mackey may be the touch of the supernatural in this undetermined future, a mirror holding a mirror to a mirror, ad infinitum.


Chapter Thirteen


Stella Charles had kept every stuffed animal she'd ever received since she was a baby, and knew the provenance of each one. And she'd brought them to college with her. Above her desk, she'd strung a net hammock from her bed post to the top corner of the window, securing each end with layers of black duct tape. The various sizes of stuffed dolls filled out the hammock and piled nearly up to the ceiling. It was a ponderous collection and looked like it was always on the verge of collapse.


This was the first thing Gerald noticed when Stella opened the door to let him into her room. Stella's roommate, Breanna, was on the floor, but working on a project in the main living area. She would appear briefly every few minutes for supplies. By contrast, her side of the room looked barren next to Stella's clutter.


It was a Friday night, and the floor was pretty quiet. ISNU was close enough to the suburbs that it was considered a "suitcase campus." Many of the students went home on the weekends, so the campus lacked some of the vitality of universities of similar size. But Stella said she usually stayed. Her home was a little further away, Lake Forest, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Her commute home involved a bus ride and two trains. She said she made it home once every six weeks or so.


Gerald had surprised Stella earlier that afternoon, tapping her on the shoulder in the student center. After she finished her song on the piano, she stood and gave him a hug, first contact, and thanked him for coming.


The piano was in the common area of the student center and was wired to play itself electronically, which it did during the day, garnering little attention as it provided background music to the passing blur of students and faculty. Stella said she'd figured out how to turn off its player mode, and would sometimes sit and improvise her own jazz and classical melodies now and again to vent off steam when studying. The university's programming director saw her one day and instead of scolding her, he'd remarked how refreshing it was to hear live playing on this piano.


And then he did something spontaneous that surprised Stella, offering her a paying gig, $20 a session to play for an hour or two every Thursday and Friday afternoon at 1. Stella had been doing the gig for two semesters now.


"It seems that no one pays attention," Stella said. "But you wouldn't believe how many times I've been approached and complimented for my music. I kind of like that it is a passive performance rather than before a sitting audience. I think I'd be nervous and too self-conscious otherwise. But here I just cut loose and don't worry about it. The time just seems to fly by."


"I hope I don't ruin it if I hang out," Gerald said.


"Well, sit over there," Stella said, pointing to a couch along the wall behind Stella's line of sight.


And so he did, reading a book while Stella played. Her style lent itself to passive enjoyment, strings of arpeggios and a steady rhythmic sensibility. No structure, but a series of sounds blending into one another. Every once in awhile she'd find a phrase she liked and build around that, changing keys, altering the rhythm slightly, and then returning to the original phrase.


Afterwards, Gerald complimented her. "I can see why you were hired," he said. "You're very melodious, but not intrusive. It's good music to study by."


"It's just a change in routine from the player mode," Stella said, shrugging her shoulders, downplaying the performance.


"How did you learn to play like that? Did you take lessons?" Gerald asked.


"Of course, I took lessons as a child, but I was never the best student. I didn't have enough discipline or know-how or whatever to read sheet music, so I improvise." Stella said. "I did know how to read, but have forgotten over time."


"You don't do any covers?"


Stella shook her head, frowning as if it was a shortcoming, sensing disapproval.


"Oh, no. It's much more creative to be able to conjure your own music. There's a certain boldness and individuality to your approach."


"Music is therapy to me. I've never desired to play in an ensemble or to perform publicly. This gig is the only one I've ever gotten. I've never been in a formal band or anything. 'Doesn't play well with others' describes me to a tee, I guess."


"Well, darn it, I guess there goes my plans." Gerald said, and laughed softly.




"I was hoping we could put a set together and hit the road, you know, set the world on fire, as it were."


"Umm. Not happening." Stella rolled her eyes, and Gerald noticed how young she looked when she did this.


Was he foolish to be interested in someone so young? Was he taking advantage? He knew many of the rules of seduction and was playing them as casually as Stella played the piano. He made sure to be passive, but attentive, ask good questions, maintain eye contact, keep open body language, and read for the small cues of interest and attraction. And so he raised his eyebrows when she stood close to him and pulled back her hair with one hand. Such a sweet move, Gerald thought, and a clear tell. He was wise enough to know when a woman was interested in him. And Stella was naive enough to not hide the signs of her attraction. By Gerald's estimation, there was nothing coy about Stella. And he knew this meeting would end with a kiss. More, if he could have his way, but he wanted to take this slow.


He actually liked Stella. And he hoped he'd outgrown the phase of sexual conquest, where each individual encounter was an event, a non-emotional thing, an experience to be compared with other experiences and nothing more. He was a reasonably good looking man. All it took was a little charm and effort to bed a woman. There was no thrill in that. But to discover, to meet and make contact with another human soul, to be open to love again, he hoped it was possible.


Just as he'd never held a job more than a year and a half, Gerald had never had a girlfriend longer than a year. Mostly this was his fault. As soon as it got boring. As soon they ran out of things to talk about. When that air of uncomfortability, or worse, unconscious ease entered into the picture, it was time to bail. He tended to favor artistic, outgoing types who could complement his more introspective nature. Past girlfriends were always the life of the party, and Gerald, a good listener, could always be counted on to interject the timely punchline.


It's just that inevitably, sooner rather than later, he grew sick of the prattling, tired of having to pretend to pay attention. He was ever restless, ever seeking out a new narrative to explore.


And maybe Stella could be different. She was certainly younger, less jaded, than Gerald's 30-something contemporaries, most of whom had been through the relationship mill, as Gerald had, and were more driven, more desirous of a spouse, babies, or, sadder still, to reclaim their lost youth. In any case, Gerald hoped Stella was more a tabula rasa than all that. Complication was the last thing he wanted in his life. If he couldn't be a monk -- such a notion was impossible, on second thought -- then at least let him maintain a simple existence. Keep things light and easy, he thought. No baggage.


Gerald was surprised when Stella invited him up to her room. This was much more forward than he'd imagined. But when she told him her roommate was around, she knew it for what it was. He was going to be assessed not only by Stella, but from the impartial eyes of a third party, maybe more. No doubt he'd be the topic of conversation well into the night after he left. It was so collegiate. Such a youthful move.


Stella's roommate had the same air of studiousness as Stella, but was not nearly as pretty. Her angles were sharper, the lenses of her glasses a little thicker, the frames bigger. She wore sweat pants with ISNU letters on the butt, and a sweat shirt spackled with paint. Dowdy is the word that came to mind when Stella introduced her. And she was otherwise occupied and made a swift exit.


Gerald sat at Stella's desk, the hammock full of stuffed animals hovering over him. As Stella explained the reason for the stuffed animals, Gerald asked which one of the stuffed animals was her oldest.


She held up a tattered blue teddy bear. One of its eyes was missing and the ribbon tied around its neck was frayed and faded.


"This is Blueberry," Stella said, hugging it to her face and looking at Gerald with a pouty look. "I've had him since I was born. Aunt Edna included him with a congratulations bouquet she sent to the hospital. There's a series of photos with Blueberry and I when I was a baby, up until about age five. In the first one, we're about the same size."


"That's a good idea," Gerald said. "And is Blueberry your favorite one?"


"No, that distinction goes to Elfjin," Stella said. She put Blueberry back and grabbed a smaller, round, green one. It looked like a troll with a pointy felt hat, tiny stuffed pointy shoes, and a pointed nose.


"Really?" Gerald asked. "This one's your favorite? He looks kind of menacing, like a monster in 'Where theWild Things Are.'"


1 comment:

raini said...

now that is what i call cool story