Center City........ The annual downtown festival sponsored by the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce. An attempt to breathe some life into a decaying rotting lifeless inner city of small town Texas. I parked a block away, at a weekday unneeded and unused parking lot and made my way to 8th and Polk Street. Polk Street, Main Street anywhere else. I stood momentarily at the corner observing the hordes of revelers flow around and past me-tourists, hucksters, pickpockets, and students, Gypsy urchins sniffing glue, and snatching purses, drug dealers, cops, young lovers, and peddlers of every common place and oddity. Old people, holding hands and drifting back in memory 50 years when they strolled hand and hand in their youth. Pointing at each storefront recalling what was there a lifetime ago. In many ways like the old days, Hope in bed with despair.
I turned toward 9th, when I saw her emerge from Brewsters Pub, she wasn't looking my way and she began walking south towards the end of the block where the neon sign of The Blue Note Bar and Grill loomed glowing softly in the rosy light of a static dust. She allowed herself to be dragged along with the throng among the carousers. Following behind her like Humphrey Bogart staking out Peter Lorre in a 1950-s thriller. Catching the bob of her blonde hair and the glow from the street lamps highlighted her once familiar beauty. .
I could feel the pounding of an anxious heart, spilling blood. She paused in front of the Blue Note. Standing there as if lost in thought, the gentle breeze of days fading light tugged at the hem of her cotton dress. I dipped into the foyer of an old closed up building. I faced the dread were she to see me and turn back to speak. As the last time I looked into her eyes set in motion the final scenes of a drama which she had a decisive and leading role. I looked down at the sidewalk as newspapers drifted against my shoes. I exhaled the smoke of a cigarette, watched the smoke rise and imagined that with it all the things in my life that had gone wrong, and the mistakes I had made were drifting upward like flotsam on the swirling eddies of the smokes current.
As the last grasping rays of twilight cast their rays on ghostly silhouettes, she disappeared into a place where I had taught her the two-step and The West Texas Waltz, so many months ago.
I stopped at the window to the live Texas music side of the club, where in a few hours the dance floor would be filled with couples. The dance floor was viewable from the sidewalk outside. As the bruised ego of the coming evening cast a shadow on the wooden floor, the sudden urge to go inside over whelmed me. An impulse I struggled to supress. I swallowed hard, and for a moment at least, fought off an unshakable sadness.
LoneStar was pure small-town Texas, and despite his degrees and his years of travel, he would always be small-town Texas, deep down in the well that was his real nature. Tall and lean, he neared the end of years of a storied life. The ice from his drink was pudding around his glass. He had strung himself out in stories to the breaking point, playing roles inside his head for so long that the distinctions between who he was and who he pretended to be were bleeding together. He made mistakes by revealing too much of himself. Exposed, his friends began to think of him as damaged goods. People who so distanced that they didn't understand this so well. In fact it could be argued that more often than not, damaged goods, were simply thrown away.
She sat at the same table they had sat at so many months before. Though there was a vast age difference between them she had loved him, still loved him, and she new him well, she also knew she got only a part of him. He kept a percentage to himself. But she had known that going in, and she had accepted it, though she had to admit toward the end it had become to have an effect on the relationship. It was nothing insurmountable. It was that the small part he kept to himself sometimes defined more of what happened between them than she would like. Her smile faded, and she stared into space with an unsteady tilt of her head.
He cut his eyes at the Club across the street. He had taken a window seat in Amigo's Restaurant. His eyes returning to the space across from him, where emptiness sat. He wondered what it was about women that made them so romantic about their relationships. She wondered why men so bravely proclaim their independence from such attachments.
In the simplicity of his inebriation, LoneStar thought, they know a small story. With his elbow resting on the table, he raised his hand in front of his face and squeezed his forefinger and thumb together. "About that much. The least little scrap of me." He whispered to himself, and his blue-green eyes squinted blankly looking nowhere. At some point only the man deepest in understood everything, and it wasn't a rare thing for him to keep some part of it stored forever in that small percentage of himself that he never shared with everyone.
She seemed to be unable to think of anything else. She was completely aware, feeling the effects of the gin, which had been creeping up on her with every fresh drink. She stood slowly, her voice started low.
"You .....son.......of.....a ...........BITCH!" she screamed, and without thinking she grabbed the edge of the table cloth and jerked it with all her might, sending everything on the table flying across the room, crashing, rattling on the floor, behind her as she stalked out of the Bar, and into the sultry, mean heat of the night.
Desolate in her depression, she felt like a life long whore who after years of abstinence had returned again to loveless sheets, preferring even one moment of counterfeit affection to endless nights of genuine loneliness. Nothing compared to moral failure in its resulting isolation. For momentary comfort she had left me with only the sour after taste of regret. She had fallen to her death long ago, and in doing so she had grasped at my heart in an effort to save herself. The plunge killed us both.
As I watched her thru the cafe window, disappearing into the fog of the evening. Only one last thought prevailed in my mind. Her leaving was as sure and final and symbolic as death. The only thing I know that last forever.
The last drink they had together months ago ended with words and feelings unlocked from too many doubts and insecurities of past loves for both of them. The linger of her perfume had mingled with the rising smoke of his cigarette. Tonight through the haze he wondered which set of tail lights leaving the parking lot was hers. He ordered another drink as his finger drew imaginary circles on the table cloth.
As a bid to her fidelity she had proclaimed her anger when it was only through a friend that worked in admissions had informed her where he had been for several weeks. He had been released when she came to visit. His deception she felt was a complex pattern of lies. He had betrayed her with his silence. They were playing word games now. The syntax had to be massaged to the point where each of them could live with an acceptable ambiguity. That was the apparent game. The darker game, the subtext, was one that made his face and chest burn as though he had a fever. To her she was at the point at which all of the invested interests and time came together finally. She had wanted him to insure that those interests were secure. Whatever he had thought, he had been mistaken.
He had felt the strange but familiar stirrings of excitement, a mixture of fervor and foreboding-that eventually rose to the surface. Something he was not sure he could control. It was not like any other emotional experience, at once elemental and sophisticated. It was the simple challenge of survival and as complex as aberrant sexuality. It had been an open-ended invitation to risk the unknown. He thought he was just trying to protect her from her youthful exuberance.
The evening had brought a thick fog with it. The crowds were growing smaller but the bars were filling up fast. At least he had avoided her and had gone unseen.
Two years later
For reasons unknown to himself, he was drawn to enter the bar where he had once shared drinks with a vision. It had been her twenty-first birthday, and it seemed a lifetime ago. In reality it had been only two years since that festive evening. He was staring at the pattern of the woodwork of the table when a shadow cast over him. He looked up.
"May I sit down?" she asked.
He nodded yes.
"Do you believe in love, cowboy?"
I suppose I do, he nodded.
Then he spoke. "I have a Glass Heart," he spoke matter of factly. "Do you remember I told you this before? I did not ask for it, this glass heart. It was a gift." He paused as if to let something subside-a pain, perhaps; a dizziness. "Hard is the glass heart. Nothing moves through it. It has no fragrance or softness. Cold to the touch. It hears no music, see no light..." His heart jerked in his chest, and he continued. "And yet it is fragile too, so very fragile. "
She reached across the table and kissed him softly on the cheek. The Glass Heart shattered into powder. "A Glass Heart. Hard...and fragile. I need both to survive. And in the end, to be redeemed...."
She took his hand and folded his fingers around a gold locket. In the silence that followed, he grew pale. She rose from the chair and left, the sunlight outlining her body when she opened the door and went outside into the hot Texas heat.
As the day moved steadily into the thinness of its time, he grew slack. All of a sudden he felt a stillness in the room, and he knew he was very much alone. He opened the locket to find a picture of the two of them, sitting at the very table he sat at now. The locket, a requiem of her love. A constant reminder that of all the many passions that gripped and compelled the human heart in the course of a lifetime, the greatest of them was love.
So I took yet another risk and in doing so had played a card in a hand that I increasingly feared would allow me fewer and fewer options. How many cards are left in the deck? All the spent ones lay before me, and I could remember in detail exactly how I had played them, and the small stack that remains to draw from was there too. But there is no time to count, no way to calculate what my chances are with the few cards that remain. Each day seems to move in glacial time past my frame of view. Another drama, another act, another role. It wouldn't be so bad if anything ever lasted from these theatricals. But the whole point is the ending. Correct?
It seems I always have to step over the corpses to get off the stage. I always exit alone. There is no one to talk to. The isolation is torture, as is the absence of continuity.
Do we really need someone to share a memory with, but even worse, to share the few things we wish to remember?
In the silence, in the darkness, no one could see the hurt in his face. They couldn't even imagine it. He knew the importance of trust between two people, especially the trust necessary between two people who had learned to submit to the free fall of a certain type of relationship. Where the assumption was that the other partner was securing the lifeline that would prevent the plunge from being fatal. That kind of trust came with an emotional price. He would have had to commit to her, the kind of commitment you made to the coming of night, the passage of time, and to the surety of death. He realized that there is no way to turn back the clock. Two years ago when he had made his decision, he meant it. He had made the judgement that whatever good they might be for each other, it wasn't worth the price of admission.
He took another shot of scotch. He was on the edge here. A few more sips and he wouldn't be able to think straight. He would be in that zone, that strata of self-deception where he would assume he was thinking straight, even though he wasn't. Sinking, like a pilot flying to high without oxygen, into that nether zone of absolutely believable delusion. That is where he was at this stage of his life-trying to find a balance, to linger on the edge of delusion but not step over it.
He evaluated his life at this moment...........a fucking horror show. Trying to think of just one person he meant something to, he faced his solitude and determined not one single person that mattered. He was just a mere bit of debris, blown and whipped around in the winds of his dusty past.
Spitting out irrevelant words in his ever meaningless insignificance