(A work of fiction: dedicated to all superior beings, past, present and future.)
Her name was Kay. I got an instant crush on her so I'd say she was sexy. More than that, she had kind of an, okay, I'll say it, an aura. She literally glowed. I'm not going to say like the full moon in June though, even if I want to. She was talented, anyone could see that. It made me want to do a crazy, desperate thing like I had not done in years. Like write to her, when I didn't even know her. I got that agonizing urge to write bad love poems, hundreds of them.
I met her at a "reading". Poetry mostly, but some prose too. Not the kind of thing that I'd normally go to. I went as a favor to my friend, Tracy. Tracy was one of the readers. I missed her last reading so I knew I'd never live it down if I missed this one. Of course she couldn't remind a guy, hell no! Whatever goes on in Tracy's life is supposed to occupy every last bit of space in your prefrontal lobes. Jeez.
So being that this was Santa Cruz, one of the last Hippie Havens left in California, I protested. But I went. I walked into that room full of Veggies and Vegans, and Ovo-Lactos and whatever they call fruit-people wearing my best deerskin jacket (the one that still has the fur on it) a handful of animal byproduct hair gel slicked onto my head, snakeskin boots, a pager on my belt, gold and diamond pinky ring (to symbolize earth-rape) and glancing at my watch constantly. I had finished the double cheeseburger in my '68 Camaro but I was sure you could still smell it on my breath. I tried to breathe on everyone before the reading got started.
Looked like it was starting late. People, mostly women, were milling about in their Birkenstock sandals trying to dip that cream cheese salsa out of a wooden bowl but the chips kept breaking. We were standing inside of a tent that had been turned into a bookstore after an earthquake knocked down half the fucking town a year ago. There were a lot of people there I recognized, writer people. I nodded at them and if I was close enough, breathed.
Tracy wasn't there yet. Always late, everywhere she went. Arthur was there though, her boyfriend. Nice guy, I like him a lot. There's always a smile underneath his red beard and his eyes are always laughing. I could see why she liked him so much. "Noisy huh?" I said, sidling up to the grub table.
"Yeah, lots of traffic." he answered. You could hear trucks, buses and Harleys rumbling by outside on the busy street. I picked up a paper cup and took a sip of some stuff that looked like beer but tasted like carbonated apple juice with a little aspirin mixed in. Then I nodded. A few more people showed up. People I knew better and wouldn't breathe on on purpose. I busted a few chips in the cream cheese and started to feel more at home.
I couldn't think of a damn thing to say to Arthur and I don't think he could think of anything either because we just kept looking at each other and making stupid grins like it was Christmas. That could only last so long so next I started glancing around at the books on the shelves. I saw about six or seven that I would have liked to pick up and read but I couldn't because I had an empty apple-aspirin cup in my hand and nowhere to put it. I held this thing in my hand about chest high, periodically bringing it in close and then relaxing to let people squeeze up to the grub table so they could break their chips in the cream cheese too. All the while I was staring blankly at the covers of books by people I had never heard of but was apparently fascinated with. This helped me to make eye contact with nobody, afraid of more sick little Christmas smiles. They must have wondered how the hand with the cup knew to bob up and down, just at the right time to let them walk by.
Tracy still wasn't there. It was about twenty minutes past the time they were supposed to start. I had put my jacket on the back of a chair earlier to save myself a place. I took it off. When the time came I wanted to leave inconspicuosely. I really wasn't supposed to be there anyway. I was supposed to be at work, but it had been really slow so I cut out early. The pager on my belt was for just-in-case, so I guess you could say my bad attitude was too.
I figured I'd be here another hour at best, preferably half an hour. Arthur introduced me to a woman who was walking around handing out a list of the readers. She had like a real strong British Cajun German Alabama accent. Her name was Alice. I'd tell you what she said but I don't know what she said, I just smiled and nodded when she spoke to me. Tracy was way down near the bottom of the list. Arthur and I were leaning up against a bookshelf.
Next thing, the woman with the accent walked up front and addressed the crowd. She was the Emcee. There were about fifty people in the room. She asked if everyone could understand her. At least I think that's what she said. Several people answered "No". I was one of them. So she raised her voice and spoke louder. After a while I could understand about every third word. I got the gist of it. The reading was a benefit to raise money for a good cause. "Oh shit." I thought, "Here's where they ask for money". See, I'm Scottish, that makes me a real skinflint. I can't help it, it's my nature. I'm fine as long as no one asks me for money. She didn't though, she just held up a calendar that they had put together, full of poetry and illustrations. It was for sale. "That's cool." I thought. She went on to read a few of her own poems. They were probably good poems. Every third word was good anyway.
Kay was up next. She walked up front on the tail of the last poet's applause. She stood her tiny body on a low table so she could be heard. Short cropped blond hair, sandals and baggy clothes that hid her figure were not unusual in this town, but she was different. Her presence lit up the room. Her smile was so kind it melted all my defenses. She spoke slowly, softly and deliberately, but her voice cooed, wooed and seduced the room without shame.
I couldn't believe what I was feeling. Her poetry was amazing, full of calm, quiet power that drew me in and made me never want to leave. She took me to the sea, the mountains, and to some kind of magic place that existed only inside of her. The last poem she called an "incantation". If anyone had been left out that brought them in. I was flattened, floored, splattered. It felt great.
When she walked by me I said "amazing". It was all I could think of to say. She smiled and said "thank you," took two more steps and stood next to me, against the bookshelf. To move my eyes from facing front to facing Kay required a one hundred and eighty degree head turn. I managed it twice during the subsequent readings. One hundred eighty degrees is a long way to turn your head. The first time was to see if she was really there because I couldn't believe it. The second time I made it about one sixty five and managed a smile out of the corner of my mouth and a glance out of the corner of my eye. My neck was getting stiff.
In between I listened to a poem about a guy dumping a girl; lots of images of blood and bleeding and tears and memories and more blood. That sweet young girl got a lot of applause for that one. Not because it was a great poem but because she cried when she read it. Everyone knew about blood and memories.
When she was done, an ecstatic looking guy stood up next and claimed to be the first published Homo-erotic Latino poet in the county. He read love poems about wanting to follow this guy down the beach like a dog and sniff his footprints or something like that. And about wishing he could be reincarnated as this guy's personal grooming implements and so on. He seemed really fucking happy. I knew what it felt like to feel that way about a woman. At first I was jealous. Then I was disgusted. Then I was disgusted because I was jealous. Then I was disgusted with myself for being disgusted: not because he was gay, but because I was afraid I felt that way about Kay already. I knew that was wrong, but there was just something about Kay. In any case his poems were nice in English and beautiful in Spanish.
Tracy arrived just in time to read a prose piece about a man being attacked by an article of women's clothing. I'm not kidding, really, that's what it was about. It was called "Shoulder Pads" but I was in such a daze by this point that I hardly noticed her arrival and had to concentrate hard to hear what she read.
When it was all over I spoke to Tracy. I didn't particularly like what Tracy had read but I lied and told her I did. She's a friend, I had to. "Do you know Kay?" I asked.
"Yes! Isn't she wonderful? She was in my poetry class"
"Yeah, she got a boyfriend? I want to ask her out."
"Oh, uh... not that I know of. What is it that you like about her? Her poetry?"
"I think so. I guess I should go talk to her huh?"
"Go do your stuff Michael." she said. I loved it. Made me feel like I really had "stuff", that is until I walked across the room to talk to Kay and my snakeskin boots turned into big clowny shoes. My 501's turned into plaid highwater slacks. My Deerskin jacket turned into one of those short sleeve bell bottom polyester green shirts with the pocket protector crammed full of colored pencils. To my surprise even my contacts mutated into black horn rim glasses repaired with scotch tape and my sculpted hair sprouted into one huge dandruff-freckled, greasy, cowlick. By the time I got to Kay it was only iron will that held me up.
I had to stand there for a while. She was having a loosely jointed conversation with two other people and I had to wait for an opening. While I waited I listened. My heart sank, "Did I hear you say you're moving to Alaska?"
"Yes, in two days." she said, smiling sweetly at me.
"Oh. Are you coming back?"
"I don't know, maybe in a few months."
"I'm sorry, I guess we haven't been introduced. I'm Michael. I'm a friend of Tracy's." I said, trying to smooth my imaginary cowlick. She continued to smile and nod, looking very kind. It only made me feel worse.
"When did you start writing poetry?" I asked, she smiled and blushed as she remembered something, then answered, "When I was in Junior High and no boys would go out with me."
People continued to buzz up like bees. One woman asked Kay to autograph the calendar. That looked like a good idea to me for two reasons; one, so I'd have a copy of some of her poetry, and two, so she could write down her address in Alaska so I could write to her. I quickly excused myself and bought a copy.
By the time I got back I could see that conversation would be difficult. The crowd was breaking up and everyone was headed in a different direction. I managed to compliment her poetry again. I told her that I was a writer too and as she was signing I put my cards on the table. It was simple and blatant. "I'd like to see you when you get back." I said, watching her expression change ever so slightly as she signed. She got that almost imperceptible "Fat chance Bozo" look in her eyes while she kept smiling and didn't answer. I thanked her for the autograph and walked away, tripping over my twenty-six-inch clowny shoes.
While limping over to bask in Tracy's friendship I paged to Kay's autograph as quickly as I could. I don't know what I was hoping to find. Maybe "Gosh, you're cute! I really like the way your bulbous red nose honks when you squeeze it and the way your bowtie spins around so fast." Something like that. This is what she did write: "Thanks for the encouragement, Write! Write! Write! Kay." She didn't mean write to her. She meant write. You know, write-write.
I hooked up with Tracy and some friends in pretty short order and we headed for a restaurant shaped like a giant Juke box. Arthur had to work and couldn't make it. The waitresses wore skirts with musical notes all over them, earrings shaped like tiny records and if you asked them a question about something on the menu they had to sing it's ingredients. I ordered a grilled Hotwax sandwich and didn't ask. Nobody else at my table did either.
While we waited for our food Tracy's friend asked if anybody had a mental image of what shape time takes. Tracy said "a line." The other guy with us said "boxes, stacked up". The one who asked said, "Something like a bar-graph I think. I've always thought of it that way" Just to be an asshole I said, "spheres within spheres," let them try to figure that one out. Tracy asked the waitress "What shape does time take?"and she said, "I don't know, but if you hum a few bars, I can fake it."
After about six cups of Java I polished off my Hotwax sandwich and hotfooted back to work so I could shut everything down. Time was beginning to take the shape of a pink-slip and a final paycheck. Despite the obvious hints I had been dropping, none of my dinner pals had invited me along to the radio program where Kay would be reading later that night. I had admitted to having a crush on Kay and it seemed to be coming out that everyone else did too. I finished up at work and went home, wondering if I could stay awake until three a.m. when the program started.
Wired, yet tired as I was I figured I couldn't, so I hooked my radio up to the audio input of my VCR and set the timer to record from three to six a.m. It was about midnight.
I lay back on my bed and thought of how horrible it would be to turn on the t.v. Then I turned it on. It was worse than ever. After about an hour I turned it back off again and listened to the radio. It was alright, but the whole wall of my room is solid electronics and right about then it appeared more ghastly than I had ever known. A scary thought passed through my mind that it may have learned to turn itself on when I leave.
Another hour passed and I turned off the radio too. It stayed off. I shut off the lights and lay awake in bed. After a while I decided to get up and look through some publications I had for some of Kay's poetry. I found some and it was good, but I'd read better. It wasn't just her poetry then, it was the way that she read it. Something in her voice.
I turned the radio on again at about two minutes to three. Some guy was on saying how they wouldn't let him go home until somebody called and he was tired and nobody was calling. So I called. It didn't occur to me that it was a pledge drive until they answered the phone. I just wanted that poor tired guy to go home. Then I did a strange thing. I pledged.
Now I knew something was wrong with me. I went to the kitchen and poured myself a shot of twelve year old single-malt scotch. It's expensive stuff but worth it. I took it to bed. The liquid that my ancestors took centuries to perfect did it's job perfectly. It warmed my heart and made me feel like love.
To my surprise the British Cajun German Alabama lady, Alice, came on the radio and announced my name. I was really embarrassed. It would appear to be an obvious bid for attention. Maybe it was. But Kay wasn't there, Tracy was. "Good." I said to myself, "at least she'll know I"m listening." I listened to some great Jazz in between the poetry and figured Kay had gone home to sleep instead of to the radio station. I tried to get some sleep too, turned down the stereo and just let the tape run. Kay's poetry kept running through my mind. It reminded me of the time when I had to leave my wife. She'd pretty much tried to kill me, slowly, methodically, but with a very rational sounding explanation. So I stayed for a while in a room with just a sleeping bag, a lamp, some books and the dawn sun blushing through the open windows. I had to confront every moment as it arrived. At that time I had felt more alive than I had in ages. I was feeling like that again tonight.
I gave up trying to sleep. I turned on the lamp and turned up the radio, figuring I wouldn't close my eyes until after sunrise now. They were still playing some fantastic Jazz, the kind you never hear during the daytime. Also they continued to read some great poetry from books. I turned on the T.V. too, just to see what kind of random images would be accompanying my three hour audio tape. It was the news. I couldn't change the channel without interrupting my tape.
Somewhere in the world people were killing each other to get what they wanted. I was recording it. To stop I would have to let go of some of the most beautiful music I had ever heard. I did the easy thing and turned off the television instead. I could always dub what I wanted later.
The next thing I knew they were introducing Kay and a guy who'd been at the restaurant with us. Apparently the two of them had showed up late. Much as I wanted to hear her read, I was happy to hear the long passages of music in between, especially with the t.v. off. I could close my eyes and see anything I wanted to. I'm not sure how much time went by, my thoughts were swimming in a haze of fatigue, Scotch and strong coffee. Inspired, I called the radio station again and requested "Don't Explain" by Billy Holiday. They played it almost immediately. My favorite line is, "Don't explain, you're my joy and my pain." Billy had recorded it late in a career cut short by heroin.
They had forgotten to ask my name when I called so the DJ cut short the song, got back on and asked if the person who called had been a subscriber. "Don't explain." I thought. For the next ten minutes Alice got all obsessed, thinking she had played a song for somebody that hadn't paid for it. I laughed.
Finally somebody else called and took the credit, even better. I was in hysterics. By now it was after four-thirty in the morning and time was taking the shape of something viscous, oblong and wormlike. Everything seemed funny. Even the doorknob was hilarious to me for no particular reason. The radio guests must have been getting tired too. The conversation had degenerated into a; "Guess what kind of footwear Tracy is wearing" contest. Jesus. Of course I knew; Big, pink, bunny slippers. The doorknob was funnier than that. I found myself feeling grateful that I was not on a radio talk show at four-thirty in the morning.
Eventually Kay read. Stark poetry with strong female imagery, some of it was overtly sexual. It worked for me. Most poems she read had definite feminist leanings. Some were what she called "ecstatic poetry" by a woman immersed in an ascetic spiritual life. She didn't so much read the poems as sing them. Her voice was easily as beautiful as the jazz they had been playing. It painted pictures of a world that I was not a part of at all. When she was finished, the hostess read a strange violent poem and dedicated it to Kay, something about men and torture.
Something about that bothered me. I tried to make a mental note to listen to it again on tape.
At the close of the program I called one more time to say hello to Tracy but she had already gone. Instead I spoke with Alice, who asked why I hadn't dropped by. I had to tell her that I didn't know I was invited. By now I had mastered her accent and understood her perfectly. Her voice was remarkably kind, I thanked her and hung up the phone falling into fitful sleep as the sun was rising.
Two weeks later Tracy walked through her livingroom at noon, carrying two cups of tea. Kay was now in Alaska and I had calmed down slightly. Tracy sat down on the couch opposite me and set the tea on her clear glass coffee table."That is really strange, Michael. Have you thought about it ? Tried to figure out why? I mean you don't really know her or anything about her. Not really anyway."
" I have been thinking about it some, but one of the biggest revelations I woke up with this morning. I must have dreamed about it. I think she's a lesbian or bisexual or something like that. I mean I don't know or anything but that kind of adds another twist to it."
"Does that bother you?"
"No. But in my experience I've found it difficult to get dates with out of state Lesbians."
Tracy laughed and said, " That's not funny Michael, but maybe that's just it. It's a totally safe attachment. You can go completely crazy over her because you think you can never have her."
" Yeah, but there's more to it than that. I feel like I met someone from another planet or something. She really blew me away. And the funny thing about it, everyone I've talked to that knows her feels the same way. I think she approaches life in a completely different way than I do. "
I took a sip of my tea and burned my tongue. Tracy blew on hers and spoke softly to me, "Careful. Do you mean as in "opposites attract?"
"Maybe. I don't know. But then what is it that is so opposite about her? What is it that I'm so attracted to? It's driving me nuts!"
" Maybe what it is, Michael, is that you want to know her secret. That you don't really want to be with her... what you want is to be her."
"What, you mean because she's a lesbian? Of course if I was a woman I'd be a lesbian! What do you think I am? A fag?"
Tracy laughed convulsively, spilling her tea all over the couch, "That isn't what I'm talking about and you know it! Stop trying to change the subject!"
I grinned and jumped up to grab a rag from the kitchen while Tracy went to work with a napkin. "Maybe you're right!" I yelled from the kitchen a moment later, "Maybe her strengths are my weaknesses. Maybe I think she's a better person than me! " I found a rag and returned to the livingroom. I got down on my knees and tried to sponge the warm liquid from the folds in the couch.
"Oh come on now Michael, you don't even know her and you've got this whole fantasy cooked up that she's better than you. " Tracy said over her shoulder as she walked to the kitchen to find something more suitable to clean with.
"But Tracy maybe she is!" I shouted. And then more softly to myself, "Maybe she just plain is."
Tracy stepped out of the kitchen and threw a wet rag at my head, narrowly missing, "It's a good thing she's not around. You two might actually get to know each other. I mean she really is a very nice person but I don't think she would be what you want her to be. She is just different, you're different, everyone is different. From what I know of Kay..."
I interrupted Tracy, "I didn't think you knew her that well. What do you know about her?"
"We went out together for awhile..."
"You mean you dated her?"
"Michael, I told you before that sometimes I prefer..."
"OK that's it. I'm moving to Arizona Tracy. Did I mention that before? Because I really am moving to Arizona. Soon."
"Yeah, me and Arthur, your boyfriend, we're running away together, to the last state in the union ." I said, grinning again, "We're going to drive pickup trucks, wear Bowie knives and eat rabbit stew for dinner. And beer, we're going to drink a lot of beer. And Jack Daniel's on the weekends..."
"Michael..." Tracy walked over and grabbed the back of my neck with two fingers. I scrunched my shoulders up and grinned some more. It hurt.