“That’s OK. Just bring your blanket and pillow in.”
“Ok thanks. Be a sec.”
Softly, swiftly, Paul shut Paula’s bedroom door behind him and walked down the hall and back into the living room.
Marie was curled up on the far couch; her freckled face sprawled out on the throw pillow, a lick of spittle clasping onto the corner of her lower lip. As she rolled over, the sliver of her slippery saliva rolled off her mouth, down the strap of her travel bag, and splashed onto a map of the town harbor. The dull moon threw a grey faded light into the dark hazy stillness of the living room.
Paul knelt by the near couch and smoothed out the faux velvet. He gathered the couch’s throw pillow and Paula’s faded blue blanket, and brought it to his nose. It smelled passionately of Paula. Not the perfume she always wore; the one of lilacs and lavenders that tugged at Paul like a runaway freight train. No, she had used this blanket before. Curled her just-so legs around it. Nuzzled her check into it. Perhaps had even kissed it in a pleasant dream.
Paul had never smelt that scent before. But he had imagined it. Touched her perfect body with his mind.
Marie rolled over and yanked out another bellow of a snore. A duck-and-cover snore. An apocalyptic rebel yell. She exhaled and thundered again; Zeus launching apneic thunderbolts from Olympus. No sleeping through that.
Paul sniffed again, inhaling deeply. He held Paula in for as long as he could muster. He exhaled grungy sleep-breath and desire.
Throw pillow in one hand, the bundle of blankets in the other, Paul creaked open Paula’s bedroom door and turned to shut it behind him.
Light is quicker than love, and by the time Paul turned around, Paula was enveloped by darkness. Paula had scooted her pillow, comforter, and lithe body over, leaving Paul a just-so space. Paul couldn’t tell which direction Paula faced. Marie’s volcanic snores hammered on the bedroom door, squirming their way between the cracks.
Paul slid into bed.
“Thanks for this. Can’t sleep through that din outside.”
Paula sighed a muffled reply and turned in bed. She was now on her side, but in the darkness, Paul had no idea if she was facing him or the wall. He laid there, flat on his back, with no intention of ever falling asleep.
-Now what? All that hacking and clawing and burning through the labyrinth of Paula and me and I reach the center and I’m left at this impossible impasse. I can’t squeeze my way between these bars; I can’t write my way up and over this staggering, metaphysical obstacle.
Burn, burn, burn. Wandering in the night. What are the chances, we’d be sharing love, before the night was through?
Paul turned over to face Paula. He still couldn’t see her. An inkling of him felt as if he’d never seen her through the darkness. The darkness both his and her own.
Paul vacillated between sleeping on his back and his side – facing Paula. He counted his turns, back and forth, right left right left right.
Time ceased to have any meaning.
Suddenly, Paul felt something shift around him. The room began to turn, the bed began to tilt, and a honeyed light began to surge out from the six inch space between his body and Paula’s. Before he knew it, he was on his side, and Paula was facing him. With closed eyes, she was moving towards him, and he towards her; swiftly, two knights and two lances in the joust of a lifetime.
Paula drew herself up to Paul, eyes wide shut, and softly parted her fluttering lips. From this most gossamer of spaces, out poured harps and guitars, drums, bass, double bass, cellos, horns, gospel choirs, D&B wobbles, the entire orchestra from a day in the life; and they came together and readied themselves for an ineluctable melody, to be played at the behest of Paul and Paula’s ineluctable harmony.
As the six inches became six millimillimeters, the ensemble gathered itself for its performance. But at the point of no return, as the conductor’s baton dropped for the downbeat, something went horribly, irreconcilably wrong.
Cymbals crashed, bass drums pounded, strings screeched. But nothing like the joyous sound the moment called for. No, this was dissonance. Horrible, horrible dissonance. A hundred thousand times worse than a hundred thousand pairs of nails on a chalkboard. This was clishclash, slashburnscream. The Rite of Spring if the dancers were demons set on unholy fire by Satan himself.
And at that instant, Paula turned her head to Paul’s shoulder. And she began to vomit; vomit uncontrollably.
Out of her mouth poured a labyrinth of intestines, pus, and hot boiling acid. Out onto Paul’s shoulder streamed an immeasurable jet of burning lead. Of leeches and decaying meat. Of daggers and shrapnel. Of a puree of tangled wires and hairs and vipers. The stream of excrement splashed against Paul’s shoulder and cascaded into the six millimillimeter space which separated Paul and Paula and formed a moat of molten mercury between them.
The vomit bathed them in its steaming juices, seeping into the pillows the sheets the covers, cascading down onto the floor and lapped against the bed, like wave after wave of seawater eroding an eternity of rock foundation. The bedframe began to break apart, falling into shreds, along with the wrecked instruments and the shattered glass of dreams, hopes, and longings.
This whole time, Paul held tight to Paula, stroking her back as she continued to retch. His body burned, burned, burned with searing pain; his shoulder decayed away to the bone. He remained motionless.
Silence. There was no sound. Even Marie’s roaring snores had stopped.
-This is what silence looks like.
He held her tight. He held her close. And he closed his eyes. No tears; no murmurs. He held her even as the swirling, scorching mixture of loss and pain and unsaid words filled their impossible souls to the brim and spilled over – over all the living, over all the dead, in the wretched little world he had built. He would hold her until all warmth and fire had been extinguished into ice. Until all that is left are the fragments of him and her that he had built like the teetering Tower of Babel. Built on faded dreams and an eternal pursuit of shadows.
In the wee small hours of the morning, Paul thought of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Orpheus and Eurydice, La Vie en Rose and Last Goodbye. He moved his hands from his flaming desire to his shoulders, forming a cross across his chest. He blinked away a year of dry tears and searched Paula’s dark ceiling sky for any smiling consolation.
He thought of Toru and Naoko. He thought of El amor en los tiempos del cólera, of Jay and Daisy. He thought of the men who have lain where he now lay and tasted Paula’s smile, kissed her eyelids, and brought her to ecstasy.
He thought of Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, I’ve Just Seen a Face, and Layla. He thought of the Girl from the North Country, and of the Girl from Ipanema.
…God only knows what I’d be without you…
We are all but gods in our own swirling snowglobes.
He looked at Paula again, lying next to him calmly in her deep reverie. Six inches was indeed an eternity. He looked at Paula and saw only an unforgiving darkness. Not the pounding dark mystery which beats at the heart of all hope, but a hollow void, into which he had poured and poured and poured, avalanching himself in, only to be so covered by the dense dust of himself that he couldn’t see that all his dust, which he had condensed and burned in the passion of his heart into diamonds and pearls, had fallen through her, and now lay bloodied and scattered in some dark alleyway. The jewels he had shaped with which to adorn her thus returned to dust, and blew away into the night, like the final ashes of a solitary cigarette.
He turned again to face the ceiling, and he looked through the ceiling, out into the night sky. He saw a plane, a blinking green light, slowly but surely advancing across God’s black canvas, his own blank canvas. Paul thought of whence he came and the infinity of roads ahead. Of the diamonds and pearls still to be forged.
“How does it feel?” Paul whispered to no one in particular.
How does it feel?