Lou Graves is a writer, literary and music critic, and contributing author to Narrow Magazine. Recent work has appeared in Flash Fiction, Fishfood, Out Of Our, The Write Room, Foliate Oak, A.C. PAPA, Florida Speaks, and others. http://lou-graves.tumblr.com/
If Only We Could Talk Like Pianos
Whenever it rains I think about Caeri. Especially when it’s a summer rain; the humidity, like an invisible smoke, rising from the ground and filling the air; the sunlight, like sparks, caught by the drops of rain and reflected in the puddles on the streets and grass. But even when it rains in winter (the sky darkened and casting its shadow on the streets and houses; a sudden coldness, like a frozen razor blade, cutting through the air; my hermetic world, like a fishbowl with a towel draped over it, strengthened and reinforced by the darkness) I find myself thinking of her. I remember her telling me one time that “whenever it rains on a sunny day it’s because the devil is beating his wife.” This was an old Irish saying told to her by her grandmother. When it rains one finds one’s self rendered both melancholic and nostalgic, and when melancholia and nostalgia collide one is almost always reminded of someone they once loved, who once loved them, and of this person‘s absence which now follows them like a ghost they’ve learned, by necessity, to ignore, or rather to deny. Right now I’m sitting on the balcony listening to the rain and watching the sky darken; the sound and the shadows are like a smothering blanket and I find myself overcome with nostalgia and melancholia, thinking of Caeri. Sometimes when it rains I like to pretend I’m Humphrey Bogart and imagine that “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” she’ll one day walk into mine. I light another cigarette and begin to slide into the nebulous and mercurial depths of memory. It’s a smoky feeling; one of humid rain.
Our first date was on a rainy evening one summer. I was standing on my front steps when she pulled up and as I got into the car I asked her (the first real words between us other than an occasional and superfluous word here or there) how her day was, or rather “how was work?” and she had answered, in length, driving through the rainy streets towards the Sushi restaurant we had agreed upon for dinner. It seems strange to me even now how comfortable and natural it felt; from the beginning we were like an old pair of shoes, as familiar to each other as a family is towards the house cat or some old relic which has sat in the corner of their living room for decades. I remember it raining so hard we almost crashed turning one corner, and how we had laughed about it. Over dinner she told me about her family (she was related to the composer Henry Mancini) and about a castle in England she had always wanted to go to, which I had been to often throughout my youth, and I had promised to take her there one day (a promise broken through circumstance.) Later (after getting drunk together in several downtown bars) we spent the night together (without having sex) simply falling asleep side by side like an old married couple and the date, which was intended to be only dinner and a drink or two, stretched into and throughout the next day.
With her cool and aloof demeanor, her soft round face, and her eyes both curious and suspicious, one was compelled not only to believe in past lives to believe that she had surely been, previously, either a cat or some other kind of feline. She was short and would tilt her head forward looking up at the world with her eyes cautious and seemingly cunning, and her mouth downturned making one wonder if she was in fact an evil genius plotting one’s slow and painful demise. The first time she spoke to me I was sitting at the bar laughing to myself and she had asked me if I was “genuinely amused by the world or are you simply being diabolical?” to which I replied “a bit of both.” One night we saw a silhouetted owl and had named him Owlfred. He (Owlfred) became a running joke between us and we would wonder aloud “Where’s Owlfred tonight? What’s he up to?” and I even bought her a pair of owl earrings which I left in a box on the windshield of her car hoping the rain wouldn’t wash them away. She was neurotic about emptying the lint tray on the dryer and paranoid that if you didn’t it would cause a fire. And she was obsessed with the ocean and wished she was a mermaid or some other form of sea creature. One time she let me read a poem she had written which was so good I was jealous. It had no title and so I suggested one of the lines (“If only we could talk like pianos”) and she agreed. Later that night I read the poem three more times each time feeling astounded by its profundity and simplicity, and by how they mirrored each other like shadows. I wished I had written it. I played her songs by Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and Tom’s “The Heart Of Saturday Night” became our song. One morning she left me a note saying “thanks for being the heart of my Saturday night.” She had a cat named Shanks (a fat ginger thing) who would lick anything that came within reach of his tongue. Sometimes he (Shanks) would get jealous and climb between us. One night I woke up suddenly and felt her arms wrap around me almost as if I were falling and she was catching me. Another time we woke up late and she had driven me to work in her pajamas while I got dressed in the back seat, kissing me goodbye and telling me to go brush my teeth and I told her to get some sleep and we agreed that she would dream of me and I would daydream of her. We used to ask each other “what are you thinking about?” and would have to answer, no matter how serious or silly (or vulnerable, or private, or irrelevant, or even absurd) the answer might be. It was one of those idiosyncratic habits between lovers. Looking back it seems I fell in love with a question.
One morning, as the rain fell heavily outside, we had slept in, holding each other close and staying warm while the outside world seemed to be caught and ravaged by the storm. We were close and safe within our hermetic world; unable to get out from under the covers, unable to let each other go; we were together at the center of our own universe. The outside world (the world beyond the edges of our circle) seemed distant; the sound of the rain falling was distant; the wind howling and tearing down trees was distant; the flooded streets, running like shallow rivers, was nothing more significant that a distant and surreal chaos, a chaos softened into meaninglessness by the hermetic seal surrounding us. Together we had found a quiet corner in which to celebrate our insignificance together and we stayed there most of the day surrounded by the storm, drinking mango and pomegranate tea while I read her a Bukowski poem (“we ain’t got money honey but we got rain.”) So if you find me one rainy day sitting on a balcony or a doorstep, walking like Humphrey Bogart with my head down and my hands in my pockets, or perhaps sitting in the darkest corner of a dark bar with a book and a cigarette, and if you ask me “what are you thinking about?” chances are I’ll be thinking of Caeri.
© Lou Graves