Traegger Cable, too, took in that loveliness, the sheathed agreement of their first meeting, how yellow clung in curves, arches, turning darker where it was darker, tossing daylight about her, splashing it around, washing the lithe frame she carried with sunlight. Her hair, once again, shook loose, a forgotten attendant that sat lightly on the forehead, wind-worked as ever, playing a game, being innocent in the very breath that created motion. Cable someplace, somewhere, had seen this pose, this framed moment. He struggled to find who or where, at what point of travel such a sight had been captured that it now came back to him so richly.
He searched his mind, plumbing for associations, placing a variety of images in action as sort of triggers to fire the past into the present. He synthesized faces and shapes and geographies in a scrambling match, saw them meld as whole creatures in known places. May, he kept saying to himself, is different, yet he had seen this vision before, down to all the ancillary details, but failed to find who it was. Her face glowed with inner warmth, a fire deep as earth fire. Peirce was absolutely puffed up by her appearance. Cable saw that and it pleased him a great deal. The two of them were mesmerized by the aura of the woman, each having his own view of her, husband and stranger coming together in the wake of a terrible storm, two acolytes before the high priestess, and dread hungers as old as the tide washing on the beach below.
In one quick flash Cable found his vision. His mother’s sister, the lovely and vibrant Aunt Flo, audacious Flo, irreverent Flo, Flo of the sweet hands of gifts, Flo in an upstairs room mere feet from his tree house shaking off her dress, her slip, her bra and pants. She glided shoeless in the small visitor’s bedroom, never out of sight, breasts small but high up on her chest, hips subtly pronounced, thighs falling away so gracefully from their appointment, the light of the lamp throwing severe shadows on her body as she turned about the room. She bristled with energy and moved as if she knew he was looking on, transfixed, afraid to move, afraid of not looking. He would be found out. But in the morning, she but smiled at him as she always did, a smile full of seasoning, a thoroughly wet kiss of a smile that made him tingle all over, a smile ripe as raspberries stolen from Kostopolous’ garden. He remembered old Ben Perkins talking on the steps of the poolroom. “It ain’t the good legs, boys, it’s the mystery of their ending that does it all.”
Now Cable tingled again, now he looked at May Keating, saw her move subtly in place, felt into his boot tops the beating his body now knew. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been told to read some Yeats. One old bo’ I met told me if I hadn’t read Yeats, then I hadn’t been reading yet.”
Peirce coughed once, then said, ‘On limestone quarried near the spot by his command these words were cut: Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by!”
The words hung in the room as cold as a new current of air off the Atlantic. May’s face was stone-still, not a muscle tic moved. Hands as sweet as Aunt Flo’s, full of promise, great gift bringers, hung suspended and useless. Cable was positive that Peirce would crack a joke, thrust a lever into the sudden coldness, use himself again as proxy to rescue, be the immolated guinea pig. When nothing came out of Peirce’s mouth, Cable dared himself to rescue the moment. The moment he started to speak, the moment he thought he was forming words soon to be said and heard, indeed with their sounds still birthing in his head, he was cut short by Peirce. What ran around in Cable’s head, what he thought he had said and was being heard was just a moan coursing over the rocks, lifting off his own sea wall, a long keening moan beating outward from an inner pile of debris. It was a startling revelation to the man. He had come indeed to the place where life began, to that point of land Frank had essayed so well. It had begun for him, a man on the idyllic run, footloose, carefree and happily irresponsible, but not without a hunger nearly buried to the eyes, in a room with a husband and wife who had survived a storm, a horrible accident, a most testing lifestyle, hardships on both sides so severe they could have easily done in others not as strong.
Cable experienced, in a few short moments, such a glare of intelligence and knowledge bursting within himself, he feared it would show on his face. I must be glowing, he thought, the blood rushing pell-mell upon him, splashing through veins, hauling such clarity of oxygen along with it, such a shining he thought must be completely transparent. Brooding depths of May’s eyes were revealed to him, flowing from them such a demand for need and solace he knew was crystal clear, was being broadcast as much as an SOS from a distressed vessel. There, in the room, mere feet from him, clad in a bouquet of yellow flowers, being the irony of stonewalled defiance against life as it was, courage only skin deep, her need indeed having come up on the same beach from the center of life itself as he knew his had come, he saw the void circling around her. It swirled its apparition about her, a thin screen, veiled, less than gossamer, but fully enveloping all of her being.
His heart beat for her and he heard Peirce’s words as if they had hung on air.
“Isn’t that right there a most marvelous woman, mister? Doesn’t she damn well explode in this room! I mean REALLY explode! She’s a sight for eyes after the storm, I’d say. J’ever see the likes of her! Standing like that, standing like a goddamn goddess! J’ever? J’ever?”
Then, quickly, his voice faded, as if shorn of all breath behind it, as if he had run up the steepest incline on his way to the victorious end of a long journey. Faint ripples at chest gave clue to inner turmoil. His eyes shifted through the prisms of the mirrors arranged above and about the bed, mirrors that provided him a view of just about everything in the room. Eyes searched Cable’s eyes, found May’s eyes, almost wed them as he moved between them, moved the two of them as close together as they had been beside the porch the evening before, spilled them into the crucible foaming and bubbling at their feet, foaming and bubbling all about them, all about Sunquit, there beside the primeval sea, beside the path out of the depths and up through which all creatures and monsters and people in all forms had come forth to be themselves: algae-like and grasping and rich-mouthed, salt of the sea sucked down into their bones and burning on their flesh, wash of the endless tides moving over them like the hands of the final masseuse, the stroking of a near-godhead figure.
In his mind Cable knew Peirce was moving in the still bed. No man could inflect more into his voice without putting his whole body behind his words, without straining and using every muscle the mind normally had control of. And he fully measured Peirce’s use of the word “mister”, not as a chain of command usage, but one which exalted Cable to another level, the one he himself could not attain. Peirce was, just as Cable felt, crystal clear, and he placed him years earlier in the classroom with the brothers of a small, disciplined order, not yet Jesuit, not yet Dominican, at argument, at attention, trying their best not to be at odds with the world about them. He saw Peirce in jacket and tie, briefcase in hand, surrounded by granite as gray and as somber as death itself. In one crucial moment, one which was accompanied by the purest of light, the purest of clarity, Cable not only felt Peirce’s horrendous inability and hopelessness of getting done a task he had promised himself to finish, but the expression of that knowledge in a literal broadcast. *
Traegger Cable accepted Peirce’s invitation for lunch, a light chicken May would toss together without much effort while he set about moving the fallen limb, which he moved away from the house with ease, cut with an old buck saw he had found in the cellar, stacked the cut lengths against the garage. A bit later May, he knew, was looking at him from the window of Peirce’s room and he tried not to set any pose, though her eyes were heavy on him. She’s talking to him, he thought, about what I’m doing, how I’m doing it. He heaved a heavy section of limb rather rudely. The muscles in his arms and back leaped in attention and responded quickly, with ease, his commands rapidly known. The wind had fallen away to an aside, way off-stage, forgotten except for the vision of the land, the clutter of its insignia spread all about the immediate area, everything being just a small tragedy.
At sea the swells were minor, light gray, white-edged, long and furrowed the way an Iowa wheat field he once passed by had been plowed in the spring. The swells flipped down the beach, so many streamers in the breeze, pushing against the shore, rustling a bit, frothing for a quick short moment, moving finally onto the absolute silence of the lonely beach, then disappeared forever on the sands. The theme of them came at Cable dramatically, swelling the air in his lungs, leaving his mouth open in awe. They seemed to speak of time, the passing of time. The seconds built in them, ticked away, and passed on. As each swell encountered the shore, as it rolled up on the beach into a final nothing, the seconds ticked away. Cable felt the short moments licking away his existence. Time wasn’t on his side. He’d done so much, and yet so little. Yardsticks were difficult to come by. Self-analysis was a deadly trick oftentimes, more trouble than the root cause being explored, throwing sand into gears, obstacles in the track of good reasoning. And here he was smack in the middle of a strange triangle. He thought of Peirce board-straight in the bed, his final bed, unfelt pain coursing through him, through muscle tissue now gone into the span of the soul, pain that if felt would cause the most horrifying screams one could imagine, pain that if felt a normal man would be unable to survive but for merest seconds, if then at all, truth be the matter. Departure was ever a threat.
Without a voluntary effort, he thought of May’s thighs in the flowered dress, prominent at stress, the push of them against the near silken material, how they could speak through the weave of the cloth, the heard voice, the unpronounced but spoken message lifted towards him, the cry, the anguish, the want, coming straight at him. There was more than arc, more than the essence of curve rising to her buttocks as pronounced as a gasp, more than a coiled energy and want packed deeply in them. Her pain gathered in him. His eyes closed. She was still there behind the eyelids. The old warnings and hungers rode boldly into the arena once more. It was as if they had never gone away, not for a moment, not even in the midst of storm or the peaceful aftermath falling on him now, with the imponderable and immensities falling with it, coming from the far side of everything known and unknown, coming out of all he had experienced in his life. Hungers had come fully prepared for the battle, arrayed, at oneness. He turned and gazed at the little cape. He did not look at her in the window, seeing only the house and what it appeared to be: aa island of two people he had not known more than a day earlier, set right on the plane of the earth. They had been waging their small war of survival before he had come along and, chances were good, they would wage it long after he had gone. He did not believe he had come this far in the lee of the storm.
The wood cut and stacked, an honest sign of labor tingling in his hands and wrists that had been too long ignored in his wanderings, now momentarily dwelled on too much, as if true labor is all that makes a man or his day, or is the ultimate cause of satisfaction. Cable turned his back on the window where she, standing back from, looked out from, and acknowledged his sudden erection. He was positive she was aware of it, so much energy nearly visible in the air, so much between him and the window that it hit at his back, rode feverishly on the skin of his neck, sank in and warmed further the sudden coursing in his veins.
His eyes closed, shutting out the piled logs and piled brush and puzzle of leaves lying about like scattered gloves, he thought of her parting herself, touching herself, behind the window, fingers wet, her mouth dry, puckered, salty, calf muscles and thigh muscles in minor rebellion. In a burst of light and energy, he willed the scene to happen behind him.
Peirce asked her again, “How is he doing? Tell me what he’s at. Does he move the same way at labor?” He had framed the question in the most liquid manner possible. Of their attraction to each other, he was positive. It sat in the midst of the room as indelible as anything the air could carry or contain within itself. May would ride him gloriously, her mouth turned, open, in that frozen moment of ecstasy.
She whipped around to face him, her face full of the message filling up inside. “He’s a stranger, Peirce. A complete stranger. I swear, if you throw me at him you’ll be as sorry as any day of your life you can pick on.”
“You do like him though, don’t you?” he said, more than a question, but leaving the hint of a question in his words, as if room for argument, room as much as deference as for anything. “He’s strong looking, in a quiet way, don’t you agree? What’s he doing now? I bet he doesn’t strain when he works, just a piece of music, smooth I’ll bet. Am I right?” His eyes fell on her buttocks as she stared out the window, saw them hard against the dress. An old dryness walked in his mouth.
“Do it for me, May. Do it now while you’re standing there, as if you’ll live forever.”
She turned slowly to face him. Her voice lacked conviction. “Peirce, it’s just noontime. He might walk back in here any minute. You can’t ask me to do it right now. It’s not fair.”
He saw the tightness sitting at the edge of her eyes, the faintest twitch to her lip, how her right hand hung beside her as limp as it could ever be. The secret aromas of her body crossed the room to him, for full seconds assailed him in the bed as if a gas had been released from a canister, catching up in his nostrils, riding in the back regions of his throat with a fullness difficult to understand. In that other time she had stood above him, only the vaguest neon of the motel falling across her whiteness, the blackest beauty of her crotch, her legs parted, her hands moving. A million times he saw the picture of her, generated and generated again and again, the sweeping and engulfing heat shooting through him, her mouth opening, the neon flicking on and off on her thighs, throwing the white of her buttocks sideways against the darkness as she turned for him, stood tall, white and lovely. His column of white loveliness.
His Canada forever. His Niagara rampage. His starving wife.
He called her name, the soft sound of her name, a whisper that trailed faintly across the room. “May, do you have panties on?” His diminutive use of the word touched them both, as if it were an entryway or a signal.
She smiled. “You know I never wear them around you, Peirce.” An honest light shone from her eyes. She shrugged imperceptibly, but a shrug that Peirce read and understood, a shrug that told him what road he was on and how much of it he could travel.
“Oh, May,” he said,” do it now, May. Do it now.”
She nodded at her prone husband, her mouth now too dry to talk, not a weariness but a small reservation touching her lightly, then immediately smiled and turned, perhaps cautiously, back to the window.
The sill was chest high. The stranger Cable was still at his task in the yard, his shoulders wide, his hands sure at grasping. In her left hand she gathered the front of her dress, bunched it and slowly pulled it up over long, white thighs elegant in their curving, over the full span of her buttocks, pulling the bunch of it tightly against her abdomen. The mound of her rear, like a half moon of golden light, shone at him, a creature freed from an erotic prison, almost a being in itself, muscled in a clearly provocative way. His ears buzzed as he looked at the cleft parting it, saw the long sweep of her thighs rising to junctures. The painting of it was set into his mind forever, such a great expanse on her tall frame, such energy thrown into the long-arcing thighs, such a thickness to them that one would never guess of it looking at her fully dressed. Her right hand slipped slowly out of sight, her legs parted, an almost indeterminable motion presented itself to her body.
Her left hand gripped the clump of dress tightly. The hidden hand began to move. Cibola. Victoria. Mound from some starlit night. Ambiguity. Adolescence. Smashing fucking soft beauty to pieces and grabbing it back again. Building it. Making it come back again and again. Oh, again and again. Oh, relentless. Oh, savior of all my nights. Oh, savior of all my nights. Oh, lights on top of lights.
Her husband stared at her backside, the v’eed legs almost at a pulse, and the muscles of her entire frame in concentration. Her taste was in the air. He knew the sea again. All the sea.
Out the window the stranger, suddenly stopping at his task, turned, looked up and stared at her. For the briefest seconds, a trembling finding growth and reception in her legs, in a dozen parts of her body at once, the new sun cascading down on them, their eyes locked together. She thought of universal gravitation without saying the words. She shook. There was a silence in the world. Water coming against the shore was less than a whisper.
She mouthed his name, and then, her face flushed, feeling the brilliance on it, the redness sitting there, she rode over that motioned pronouncement with her husband’s name; Peirce! Peirce! saying it the way he loved to hear it, urgently, softly, letting it fall to the floor of his room as an early leaf might fall to grass, gracefully, as good as promise can ever be.
She tasted the unity of the moment, fraught departure, the complexities, and then the ironies, every last one of them, building slowly in the air.
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