This day was another page off another calendar of another year stretching back into the emptiness of where one’s memory suddenly cuts off. A phantom sort of cornucopia that takes but does not give. An obscure mechanism dissembling each element from so many things down to fewer and fewer. Like the Kleenex tissue game where a lit cigarette is the useful tool daring both structure and fate. It was not that things were becoming perpetually pensive or fatally morose so much as simply pedantically vacant. The routine of each week orchestrated to overlap perfectly upon the symmetry of all previous well-worn habits. The notions of that thing called time noticed more by it’s unconscious routine observance than any waking finite measure, Each calendar page fading to a blank by fact of a cosmic form of disappearing ink.
Murray’s mind was spinning like a top. It was always busy cranking out combinations of prettified phrases that sounded like it was profound. It always sounded profound but it couldn’t last the distance! An attempt to reach forward but forever end up circling the block. Attempting to get somewhere that was always just out of reach but one could always sense ws not far enough away to pretend to be able to completely forget about. Something intangible but maddening. An opportunity dangling just out of reach, ever out of reach, yanked away at every attempt. A daily attempt to fill in some spaces that one had too long ago abandoned. It was just the vacuum of too much emptiness that needed a sonar ping. Deep down, Murray knew that. Another day, time passing to the point that day would then be night. Again and again and again. How to bring it some dignity?
They had taken his wife Shirley down the elevator on a stretcher type bailey and wheeled her out into the night onto the cold concrete sitting up for a short while just behind the flashing red lights of their vehicle. There she sat frozen with a scared expression. The moment animated by the white sheet that they had draped upon her that flapped ceaselessly in the wind. The sight of her locked in the fringes of the deepest corners of his mind far out from the reach of daylight in a place that could never get any sun. It was the last time that she had been in their apartment. The last time before her death that she had known a home, her home, their home, together. It had always seemed that the loss of it was for her like being cast into the waves in the middle of the deep Atlantic. The matter of time that it took being governed by her own despair. She was gone by the end of the new moon.
The rocks that he brought to the cemetery to place upon her stone were gathered from the vicinity of their neighborhood as if the act was some form of sentimental concession. Something familiar in that other place of cold marble and stone. The only place he could liken it to was the old hulk of the empty department store down on the intersection on the corner of the next block. A place that he had grown up with from the earliest time he could remember. The biggest retail store in the area it’s large parking lot never empty till well past closing. It now stood mute and singularly alone. Its massive shell like a void. The lasting impression of its abandoned interior silently echoing flashes of the past when a particular past tense purchase from some indistinct point long past had been made. That black pair of worn out Reebok running shoes! How long now since he had brought it to the brink of so many times almost tossing them away? The argument of utility in having once pair that he could do anything with. The others subsequently collected brand now in his closet long after this fact having quickly matured and gone into the trash or were awaiting their fate. Yet, this old pair were still there under a small step stool by the door hiding just out of sight. He just stubbornly refused to part with them! The birth place of their delivery still remained as well though no longer tended in the daily concerns of the mind. Both there but not there, it was just a matter of time until they too would suddenly fade.
Murray was not a religious sort. Not the kind to identify with labels. Not the type of persons to stand for emblems no matter how humble to be sewn to his outer coat. These cliches perhaps useful to some were his anathema. It made him angry that others that claimed a similar ancient descent were so quick to fall in line with an identity that cast them in such a stupid unfavorable light. He had never experienced that golden situation so often wailed about where in the classic sense of the general discovery of a nose that slightly hooked, or a forehead that was said to be too narrowed, he ever was singled out. His persecution started young by pairs of other young boys, brothers! Pairs that would take turns alternately befriending him while the other crawled behind and the twin would push him, the little piggy over the bench-like other. He learned fast as the new boy in so many towns that he was the outsider. The one that did not belong. The flaw was within him! Not in some pariah-like identity of a group that the happenstance of birth that he had been dropped into. His sin, whatever it was or had been, was solely his own. The world was a hard place and not anyone from anywhere could escape that fact.
His writing had crept up on him over the years. Something that early on in life was paid no credence as deserving special regard. A mere sense of a cursive form of mentally expressive doodle. Something to accompany a random stick figure assembly of squares and circles that so often melded into a silly humanoid. The words serving to define its outbursts. He was good at drawing heads! Human faces that floated like balloons many times resembling another publicly acknowledged antagonist that would just as frequently elicit a good laugh from his high school lunch table. Perhaps that was the start of his career? It really never occurred to him. It was just a minor talent in a boy that was looking for something reliably unique to display to the world. The assembly of emotions seemed equal in importance to the rationality imposed by the strictures of proper English composition. Though occasionally when he briefly entered into the territories of its foreign equivalents he was was quick to take note that expedience in brevity was ever more treasured universally in the expression of human existence. He was thus ever self-conscious of his penchant to build thoughts like blocks of stone liberally addling adjectives like mortar. It was often commented upon. But despite all his own efforts much later on to discover the Grail of a winning balance of the same, he always gave in to his own mental game of seeing how far he could take it. Stone upon stone upon stone.
It was funny that he had met his wife mere months before he was scheduled to graduate from high school and had only reached out to her because no other likely member of his own class was available. Shirley was just a freshman. A very sweet and voluptuously beautiful fourteen turning fifteen year old. Something that cut against the grain of eighteen year old male desires for quick in’s and rapid out’s. The moral strictures of the day threatening prison or marriage for violating the sanctity of a minor’s chaste state. That proverbial angel on his right shoulder whispered to beware! But to the prom they both went and further on to the resort just over the state line where the prestigious Playboy retreat had been engaged to put on festivities for those with parents willing to foot the bill. What should have been a slam dunk in the sack in terms of the first of firsts was deferred until after so much sporadic dating, Shirley had reached her sixteenth year. Murray’s most familiar jibe in mixed company being that he had managed to get away with the Mann Act in marrying a child bride. Unfortunately for one reason or another, children were never forthcoming. Just another thing to be tossed upon the growing pile of broken crockery and lifelong regrets.
Their marriage had its ups and downs. The parents on both sides putting strain on the relations at various points. Shirley was physically iconic. Her physique was to Murray’s taste flawless but the legacy of tension in all matters of intimacy. Being the younger in years Shirley initially embraced the notion of Murray as being the older having more sophistication and waited for his lead in all things. But with time and age she came to realize that the two of them were not all that different. The slight draft of the presence of an incremental distance between when it came to the matters of physical attraction. It didn’t necessarily drive them apart but created a minor sense of lingering emptiness that occasionally lurked in those occasionally darker corner’s of their continuing relationship. Something that accompanied a sort of formality that at times seemed flattering. As the years wore on it became obvious that things weren’t changing. Good friends, sure. But never really good lovers! Murray knew that Shirley too it personally. Maybe it changed her? Try as hard as he could, he just couldn’t summon that connection. It became a thing for him as well. Still, the managed to stay together.
The cancer had come right after the second decade. She didn’t last long. Six months after the diagnosis of leukemia had metastasized. The last looks stayed in his mind until another couple of decades had culled them into an occasional visitors. He didn’t feel like a victim but his anger seemed to congeal around himself. I was not that he felt in any way responsible for his wife’s death. It was that he felt somehow partly responsible for her falling out of love with her life. So often over the years he wondered if he had picked some forbidden fruit that was not meant for him? Perhaps she might have been happier with someone else who could have found the secret of what she was missing. That sense of connective devotion that he was too well aware that he seemed to lack. His hardness about life and the willingness to put his only emotions aside too often in order to survive and move forward contributing to his success. His subsequent grief doled out in small portions over the years in controllable doses so that the emotions never rose in temperature over a slight persistent uncomfortable warmth. There were flirtations and distant friendships but no more attempts at intimacy. And now the world as he had become accustomed to it throughout his life was quickly disappearing. There seemed not much more that he could do than wait.
The trips to the cemetery petered out in time. The routine of day after day became enshrined. Not so much from conscious desire as the accumulation of habit. His past habits of being to polish off a fair quantity of spirits diminished to an occasional respectful nicety in occasional accompanying others who considered sharing a glass de rigor as part of the discussion at hand. His initial encounters with recreational drugs had never taken hold. The excess in his life became a penchant for reclusiveness, The world of the mind standing in for conventional reality was now a horseshoe refashioned by his own singular conception. Everything analyzed and every possible response to eventualities of an encounter with another that might in some way become pivotal to his life considered. The effect though occasionally awkward and imperfect was seamless. No one could really know what he was thinking though he never lost the sensation that he could never be sure? A superb actor in his own right if he held control of the script. No one knew just what he was thinking but quickly accepted the character of the hour that he was playing. Over the years all those former friends in adolescence and young adulthood took on the mythological dimension of a pantheon of celestial presences. His dear dead love being the oft cloistered but ever revered mother goddess, His parents, the parents of his wife, they all filled out the archetypes of a replacement universe for any of earthly authority that held sway outside his own.
Perhaps, he sometimes thought, his efforts to craft the unique aspects of a feeling derived in this continuous play with phantoms was what unconsciously inspired his to waste time on what would otherwise be artificial and foolish? It might be that some part of him expected some form of immediate recognition from the sum total product of all this effort and energy? This vagueness served to carry him forth in terms of the daily discipline to spit out phrases and craft them into something preferably unique? Perhaps there was some form of latent happiness that served to pave the way and act as a bridge to former times that like some popular literary character devised between the wars provided a classic solution of a very public form of gradual self-immolation in the toxic flammable vapors of old brittle things kept flash frozen the past? And then perhaps he had just run out of steam like any engine found out of date in a world of electric and diesel? He was left to his own pile of stones and grown to weak to move any more. The periodic ritual of self-diagnosis was immaterial to him. He was too far along on the pat at this age to quit now. He would hear no more!