03 March, 2009
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF WILBO
copyright 2009 by Jim Nail
At the crest of the ridge he stops and looks down on the small, secluded beach where he lives. Often he pauses here to sniff the air and scan the horizon, looking for changes, signs of visitors, signs of danger. Tonight he senses danger, perhaps, or at least change. Something is different down there. It’s enough to dissolve his silly motion picture emotions and to rivet his attention to the here and now. What could it be? He allows his eyes to sweep the horizon from left to right. It’s still not quite dark. The outlines of the rocks and snags and mounds of kelp stand out against the whiteness of the sand. The breakers produce themselves like broken chalk lines drawn by a ghost on a gray slate board.
His house! It’s gone!
No, no, it’s not gone. It’s still there. But there’s something wrong with it. It looks different. It’s hard to tell what from this distance. Something has changed.
With his eyes fixed on the shadowy shape of the house, he starts down the steep trail into the driftwood forest. Soon he can no longer see the house. It’s hidden behind the driftwood and the dunes. He quickens his pace. He breaks into a run. His feet still bare, the shoes growing heavy in his hands, he stumbles on stones and leaps over small streamlets. Blades of cord grass slice at his ankles. He breaks into a clearing and the house is visible again, or at least the place where the house should be.
The house! It’s gone!
No, no, it’s not gone. It’s just different. Something is different about it. Something has changed.
He reins in his gallop to a cantor, then a studied trot, keeping his eyes on the structure, trying to figure out what’s going on there.
It’s like the house is transparent, like you can see right through it. Is that what it is? It looks like a child’s drawing of a house. The details are gone. The perspective is wrong. The house seems to be moving, waving, like wheat in a wind. What is happening? He slows his pace to a walk, he crouches, he advances slowly, like he doesn’t want to see it all at once, like it might overwhelm him, what it is.
He begins to see things outside the house, scattered about, shadowy objects silhouetted against the white sand. One by one the objects come into focus and reveal themselves.
There’s a chest of drawers lying on its side; the drawers are pulled out and items of clothing are spilling out onto the ground. A shirt is draped over a brush scrub, one sleeve flapping in the wind. A table lies on its back, like a wounded horse, its legs slowly kicking in the air. A huge striped worm appears to be oozing through one wall of the house. On closer examination it reveals itself to be a mattress slung over a railing.
Wilbo stubs his foot on something and almost falls. On the ground a heavy shard of broken pottery is the first thing he fully recognizes: his stone crock, smashed to pieces, the pieces sharp and menacing. He stops in his tracks.
His house has been torn apart, completely. All the driftwood and pallet and shingle walls have been ripped off and broken down and thrown about, leaving only the bare skeleton of the park service tool shed like a lonesome ghost of a building leaning in the sand. In the door frame the abalone-shingled door hangs on one hinge. Everything in the house has been thrown out. The beach is covered with debris, plates and cups and bottles and blankets. Books lie bleeding on the rocks, their spines broken. Pages from books and other papers blow about. The bicycle spoke window has been deliberately bent in on itself, like a clamshell. The kerosene lamp has been decapitated. The bed frame has collapsed into a pile of splintered planks; the mattress hangs over one remaining wall joist.
In shock, Wilbo stands in the debris of what was formerly his house. His feelings are far from simple. In fact he feels very little, or at least very little that has to do directly with the destruction of the house. About the destruction of the house he thinks, oh, this is strange. This is very strange. This has never happened before. This’ll take some fixing up. I’m not even sure where to begin.
He strolls about the mess, nudging objects gingerly with his bare feet. It’s getting darker now, hard to tell what anything is. He picks a few things up. Many things are not broken. Most of his pottery is OK, the bowls, the mugs, the glazed plates. All of his clothing is fine- just scattered about. He sets to the task of uprighting the dresser where it lies, gathering all the shirts, pants, socks, stuffing them back into the drawers. Then he takes a broad sweep of the scene, collecting objects in his arms with little thought of their identity and tossing them back into the foursquare containment of the house frame. He pulls down the mattress from where it hangs and lays it flat on the plank porch.
Sleep there tonight, he tells himself, I’ll do the rest tomorrow. Now I need to sit. I need to build a fire. I need to ponder. This is going to take some pondering..
He sets out, looking for driftwood. Driftwood is everywhere on this beach. The good stuff is in the cove up against the cliff where the high tide rarely goes. He’s got his arms full- all he’ll need for a fire tonight- and he’s started back toward the house when he spies the neck of the bottle sticking up out of the sand.
“Ah!” he cries out loud, and a happy warmth rushes to his limbs. ‘They left me my Tawny Port!”
He throws the firewood to the side and makes a lunge for the bottle. But the moment he grabs the neck he knows something his wrong. He can tell by the weight. The bottle is not broken, but it’s empty.
“You god damned bastards!” he cries, surprised by the power of his own emotion, and he hurls the bottle with great force. With all the available sand around, it chooses to strike a rock and explodes with the resounding crash that usually signals the beginning of a barroom brawl.
“You motherfucking bastards! At least you could have left me my wine!”
The next thing that comes is a wall of tears, a flood of such mighty volume that the first thing it pushes out is a sob from his mouth, like a little child sobbing for its mother.
“Claudia!” he cries, loud enough that anyone on this little piece of beach could hear him.
When he hears her name, escaping like this from his own lips, he is stunned. At once he sits down hard whomp on the beach, hard enough that it hurts. The tears are still flowing through his eyes but he manages to get control of his thoughts at least.
What am I doing? What am I thinking? This isn’t the way for a grown man to behave. I can’t be acting like this. I’ve got to build a fire. I’ve got to ponder. I’ve got some serious pondering to do!
He pulls himself up and brushes himself off. He gathers up the scattered firewood in his arms and carries it to the fire circle in front of the sitting bench. He has a little trouble locating the paper to start a fire. Finally he tears some pages out of a notebook he finds blowing in the sand. He doesn’t stop to notice what’s written on them. It’s too dark to read, anyhow.
With a fire brightly blazing, throwing flickering dune shadows out across the beach, Wilbo sits on his private and comfortably contoured log, and ponders. The moment he sits and begins the process he feels an incredible sense of relief come over him, like pulling into the driveway after a long, long journey. His pondering is heavy with relief. His pondering is the relief of a dog who jumped out of a truck miles from home in the middle of the night and had to trudge for hours in the dark, following his instincts and his sense of smell, and now he lies curled up on his familiar rug by the fire. His pondering is the relief of a cottonwood seed dressed in fluffy feathers and buoyed aloft on currents of air, drifting high over valleys and hills and cities and lakes, for days, weeks, maybe even months, until at last, in a moment of calm it comes to rest in a fertile field near a river, where it can germinate and sprout, and take root in the soil. His pondering is the relief of a long, strong dominant seventh cadence finally resolving after much fanfare and cadenza into the deep homecoming of the tonic chord.
Why did I call her name? He ponders. Twice now, I’ve called her name, out of the blue, both times without warning, without forethought, like Kinko Syncho Quinto. Why her name? Does she mean that much to me that her name comes flying out of my mouth as if from nowhere? Has she lodged herself that completely in my subconscious mind? Am I going to be seeing her face in the way the smoke curls from my fire, am I going to be hearing her voice in the crowd as I walk down the streets, just like in all those corny songs?
And what about that thing we were doing together, back there in the street? It wasn’t like the other times. It was like something greater than both of us took control. But if neither of us was in control, then neither of us was leading. It was no longer a competition- there was no more wrestling of power. Nobody was making this up, and yet there was nothing random about it. It was almost as if there was a music, but there was no music. There was only one will between us. Or am I deceiving myself? Could it be that she was in control all along, entirely in control, like a sorceress, and I was her unwitting experiment? Is that what’s happening to me now? Has she climbed into my mind, deliberately, intentionally? Does she know what she’s doing? Am I a victim of something, maybe something new that the young have learned, some new craze, while I’ve been growing old?
His thoughts go quiet then, or at least they soften into a series of fuzzy, round thought shapes without much detail or intellectual edge. He thinks thoughts like perfumes that slowly shift and fade into one another, or like the rhythms of hand drums modulating with the changes in the ambient temperature. He enjoys these imaginary senses and sounds. He allows himself one more concrete idea: so what if she doing it on purpose? So what if there is some sorcery behind it? Could there possibly be any malice in her motives? What sort of malice could there possibly be? If she’s driven by anything, she’s driven by pleasure. What malice could there be in pleasure?
Then he lets that thought go and just listens for a while to the sounds of the waves. How many nights has he done this, as part of his pondering, listening to the waves as if they were an organized piece of music, analyzing the time shifts and the melodies and the counter-melodies, counting the cadences and the codas. It’s always a complex piece, like something by Debussy or Hovanness, and it’s never the same. In fact, it’s the original piece, the one that inspired many works by these composers. He doesn’t think any grand thoughts about this, about the One Mind, the great Cosmic Composer, and all the strange and sundry names assigned this Being by the world’s great religions. No, he doesn’t think that thought. He just sits and listens.
After awhile another round of emotion wakes up and starts its ascent within him. It begins when a new sound is added to the mix of the music- the sound of seals barking out on the jagged arched rocks. Sea lions, properly, he reminds himself, as Carl once reminded him. Harbor seals don’t bark. Sea lions. It’s the first time he’s heard them this spring. Their song sounds plaintive and mournful although in fact they’re probably just happy to have arrived and to be alive, out on the rocks, in the night, with the cold salt spray splashing in their faces. Their song reminds him of the distances they’ve traveled, from the secret hidden depths of the ocean to the curved and rocky threshold of the shore, where the known meets the unknown, where the conscious meets the unconscious, where the images of dreams take form in the creatures of tide pools, where the movements of dance flow spontaneously from the body and names fly unbidden from the mouth.
Claudia! Why do you torture me?
You have exceeded all your designs. You have accomplished all your goals. When I inhale, I breathe you in. When I exhale my breath repeats your name. My breath funnels into yours. My movements mirror your movements. My body covers your body. My soul is at your mercy. Take me and do what you will. Move my limbs about like a doll. Dress me up like a doll. Dress me up like a man. Dress me up like a woman. Dress me up in any sort of clothing. Just take me in your arms is all I ask….
Sitting by the blazing fire, with the waves pounding and the seals crying, surrounded by the broken, fallen, and scattered rubble of his house, and of his life, abandoning all inhibitions, Wilbo weeps.