Saturday, January 5, 2008

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Chapter Six

I can judge the degree of Rae's irritation with me by the closeness of her aim when she throws things in my direction. Whatever she throws, be it a copy of Middlemarch or an overripe beet, there is little chance in her aim; she never hits me unless she intends to.

One morning when we were living in a mobile home in Brookings, Oregon, for a few weeks, Rae returned from an early walk, picked up an annotated paperback edition of Middlemarch, and caught me midshoulder as I sat in the kitchenette, hunched over my laptop. Dreariness and overcast swirled outside, but that had little to do with Rae's mood.

Brookings is a metastasized retirement village, plunked on top of an otherwise cheery and boosterish town on the Oregon coast, just over the California border. We were there investigating a potential target of opportunity in Medford, catching the Henry IV cycle at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, and giving me a chance to finish a requested revision of a story.

Being hit by the book was not a complete surprise; Rae had been on edge starting after dinner the night before, when the provocation for her dark humors had slipped free like the genie escaping the bottle.

"You think that's going to make everything neat and tidy? Get this straight, Howard. There isn't any neat and tidy. They're finding planets out there that they hadn't known about before. There's professors and ex-husbands and cops out there, not even thinking about colliding with us, but accidents waiting to happen all the same."

I stood, rubbed my back once for effect, then went to the propane stove to pour myself more coffee. "It's not such a big thing. People do it to formalize relationship."

Rae shook her head, first at my rubbing my back, then at the offer of coffee. "You think being married, I'm less likely to walk on you or you're less likely to want to chippie around with someone? Get a better metaphor, Howard. Did that stop you when you were married before?"

"Different circumstances altogether," I said.

Rae rolled her eyes upward. "Right," she said. "How silly of me."

My suggestions that we be married were as much of a surprise to me as they were annoyances to Rae. The notion of marriage to her seemed to have a life of its own, spurting forth like the catsup from a bottle in a truck stop restaurant.

When Sylvia and I sat in the office of an earnest MFCC in the University of California Counseling Services and effectively dissolved our partnership, I felt a great ease of spirit and an awareness that marriage was not so much a good thing or a bad thing as much as it was an experience I no longer needed to relate to. There was no one waiting on the sidelines, either for Sylvia or me, no oppressive sense of having submerged myself in a relationship. Then along came Rae. With her, my senses of comfort and completeness hit levels I'd left previously unimagined.

"Do you have any idea how many times I was married, Howard?"

"Four, isn't it?"

Now she came over and took a sip of my coffee. "I wish," she said. "I dearly wish it was only four." She seemed to consider this for a long, sad moment, then perched on my lap. "You remember that time when we'd been together about a month and I told you--" she took my chin in her hand, and shook it.

I nodded.

Her fingers tightened on my chin. "What? What did I tell you?"

"You said we'd be together longer than I could possibly imagine."

"So it was settled." She shook my head with finality. "It is settled."

The circulation in my legs was beginning to take a beating. Sensing this, Rae stood, cupped my face. "You've got to stop asking me to marry you, hear? Marriage is not what's going to make us last--not with our records. I've done being married. You not done well with it." She kissed my lips. "You've got a story to revise. I've got this book, which doesn't get any easier to read thanks to George Eliot's view of the world. Being thrown by me doesn't make it much better. We should go to Medford soon, take another look. Then maybe go, see if we can get tickets for A Winter's Tale. We have enough on our plate without you saying we ought to marry up."

Two days later, we were having cappuccinos in a small coffee shop across from a mobile home building in which a small one-teller branch of a bank has temporary offices while its permanent home in a small shopping center next door was being readied.

"This is an opportunity we are not likely to see again in our lifetime, Howard," Rae said. "An honest-to-god bank."

Later that night, while we sat in the Ashland replica of The Globe Theater,(because the main theater, where A Winter's Tale is being mounted has been sold out) watching a stirring rendition of King Henry IV, part two, six jiffy bags containing close to thirty thousand in cash, mailed from two locations in Medford and one in nearby Talent, and one in Ashland were on their way to us at three of our various MailBoxes USA franchises in Washington, Nevada, and California.

Just at the point in the play where Falstaff beseeches Henry to remember their early roistering and carouses and Henry responds, "Old man, I know thee not," Rae clutched my arm, her eyes brimming with tears. Caught in the web of her feelings and the aching sense of loss projected by Falstaff at Hal's rebuff, my eyes began to mist. "We should get married, Rae."

"Goddamn you, Howard," she said, her voice hanging in the humid summer night, and she was up, shuffling her way in front of people seated in our row, making her way to the aisle before I could stop her.

During the intermission I searched for her while ransacking my psyche for a reason for asking, however reflexively, the question I was enjoined from asking. When the lights flickered as an announcement that the next scene was about to begin, I returned to our seats, but Rae was not there.

My attempts at losing myself in the play grew progressively more futile. As the drama of one man's successful ambitions unfolded on stage, I felt alone and wretched without Rae. A nagging sense of melancholy stole over me, as persistent as the muggy Oregon night. When the play was over, armed with two hot chocolates from the refreshment stand, I headed to the street adjoining the Festival facility where our car was parked , trying to convince myself Rae would be leaning against the rear fender smoking a cigarette, which meant she still hadn't discharged the combustion beyond her explosion or, better yet, curled up asleep on the back seat, which meant she had.

Dream on, Howard Michael Camden. When I reached the car, there was no trace of her. No note under the driver's side windshield, no message on the steering wheel or driver's seat. Sitting there in the semidarkness of the parked car, my focus was drawn to the hum and flutter of bugs and millers circling about the nearby street lamp. I remained there for some time, trying to draw sense and wisdom from the bugs as they pursued their wild orbit.


R.L. Bourges said...

Now you listen up: this here is Miz Dolly and Rae sez you leave her alone, y'hear ? or you get mo' than one beet on the head, you get yo'self a good beatin up! Howard Michael Camden, huh?

(so what's the game plan - it's write as you go? first draft all the way, or what?)

Anonymous said...

Shelly with a game plan?! Ha!

Anonymous said...

and don't we all know it: lee's going to follow up on miz liz too now. Oh boy. Sally chasing down the scent trail must be something to see. But I did mention that the little lassie in Graulhet was raised to ferret out rats in the town's tanneries, didn't I?
don't worry, miz Liz; mademoiselle lassie is retired from the rat hunt/race and lives the quiet life with an old couple in Southwestern France. It's just that the shnoz on that dog, it don't give up on twitchin. miss lassie knows I'm around the corner before I even know she's waiting for me. Then she keeps sending me off to fetch the ball and repays me in onions. Like they say: It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.