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The Man With His Back To The Room


The Meeting

They’ve seen each other only once in thirty years & that was a brief meal in a crowded restaurant in New York. Only their mothers have known them longer & yet their knowledge of each other’s history is vague . . . so many years with no connection. On this occasion, they must cautiously . . . feel their way.

____________

Each orders a glass of wine. White. & the first tells something of his son & his daughter who are at work in California & the other counters with the history of his son who is now in Athens & then they speak briefly of their wives & something about their work & one has ordered another wine & the other coffee & . . .

In a recent dream, the second one begins, I watched you walk away in a snowstorm, you know, the kind we knew as kids . . . big drifts on either side of the road & even after I called out you kept going & I assumed you heard me but you were always intent on your own vision & I was too far away & the light had changed to dark & I remember sitting down in the snow & crying . . . knowing you wouldn’t be back . . .

& the first admits, it was just like that but I wasn’t so intent on my vision as much as I wanted to get away  . . . find what I might do if I were really alone & then I just kept going & when I came around a corner there you were in the snow & I couldn’t bring myself to turn back but couldn’t face you either & spent the night in a strange room in a house just down the block & around the corner . . .

& then the second one says, there was another dream. In this dream you’re carrying a body & struggling to keep it on your shoulder & I’m walking at your side & you keep trying to pass the body to me but my hands are frozen & you offer to rub them but your hands are full so we sit down - you with your extra body & me with my frozen hands . . .

Yes! the first one exclaims, Yes! we were on our way overland to Berlin . . . it was after the second war & we were still kids but we knew enough to hide when we saw adults & I knew they’d taken my aunt & uncle & my father had dragged his mom & dad out of the way just in time & he’d given me the body of my cousin to carry & we got lost at the docks where there were so many others & I saw you way ahead & called & you came &

But, wait!  Do you ever think of the time, the first one asks, when we cornered Patsy from across the street & asked her to pee for us & we would for her & she sat down & all we heard was the sound of her water running on the stones but when she wanted to see us & I ran to the back of the garage & pissed alone while you took it out & let go right in front of her . . .

& they laugh together over the story but fall silent again & the second one orders another wine while the first abstains & the second, who is becoming more animated, says, I have another dream - well, maybe not a dream but a memory of us in a canoe & we’re adrift in an eddy on a fast river in northern Michigan when all of a sudden the canoe starts to move on its own & we’re swept downstream & we’re carrying the carton of food for the rest & there’s a snake under the  provisions & the canoe tips & the snake goes free but so do all our goods & . . .

Yes! Yes! You swam to shore & tossed a  line & we secured the boat &... the first one is very excited & then he remembers something & stops in mid-sentence & says, Wait! It wasn’t you it was that crazy ‘Swede’ who dove in & saved the day & us but the second wants to go on with his version & says, Yes! It was “Swede” who dove in but I trapped the box & kept it from following the canoe downstream & . . .

They both sip their drinks & laugh at their childhood & decide to order their meal & the first one says, I’ve been thinking a lot about eternity. & the second one looks up from his cream of mushroom soup . . . Yes, I’m thinking of taking a trip to Israel to visit Calvary . . . maybe feel what he might have felt & maybe make my peace with my transition & the second one says, What about a Buddhist retreat or a Klamath sweat lodge or . . . the first one interrupts & says, No! That’s not my history. It has to be from my past . . . not just anyone’s.  I’ve thought of other Jews but his is the most obvious . . . the most notorious . . . & I need to learn from one of my own.

& the second one nods & says, I’ve been thinking of eternity too but in another way. I’ve been trying to balance suicide with an indeterminate stay & have already purchased all I’ll need.

But what does that have to do with eternity, Says the first one. I mean, dying isn’t the issue. What comes next & how to prepare is the issue. & the second one finally pushes his soup aside & says,

I’ve had another dream.  This one didn’t feature you but, when I knew we would meet, I think, after all, maybe it did. In this dream there’s a road which runs up a mountain & at the top another road which runs off to the right except, at the end of that road, there’s a cliff & no where to go but off the edge.  & I raced up the mountain intent on going on & ran down as fast as I could & off the cliff & . . . I flew . . .I actually flew off the cliff &

sailed over the green fields & landed easily on another road & kept walking & thinking about that flight & how easy it was & how there wasn’t panic but more . . . a state of peace . . .

The waiter opens a bottle of red wine which the first one tastes & approves.  Their entrees arrive & the first one, relishing a taste of the wine, says, Do you remember the time you had a fight with that guy from the other block. You couldn’t or wouldn’t hit him but he beat your head & If I remember you did get in a few before your nose started to bleed & we had to get you a box of Kleenex & . . .

the second one nods between bites of his quail & says, I never was any good at a fight . . . but years later, I found myself up against a drunk in the street & cool as can be I used his head like a punching bag . . . jab here, jab there & the poor guy couldn’t get away & finally we stopped & he still came around & tried to kick in the window of my car . . .

Wait, says the first one, let’s talk about your dream of the mountain & the road & where do I come in? & the second one says, I think I was dreaming of how our meeting after all these years was to be like a run up a mountain & maybe I needed to know it would all be OK.

& the first one, having finished his steak & another glass of wine says, It may surprise you but I’ve had my share of dreams these past weeks & some of them have to do with you or us or however that goes. The last one was several nights ago. I was having a hard time staying asleep & finally dozed & saw a snowball fight where you were out in the open & we were behind our homemade fort & we kept pelting you as you came across the field but you wouldn’t stop even after an ice-ball hit you in the eye & broke your glasses - you kept coming like a bear in your heavy winter coat & we couldn’t stop you

& . . . that’s where it ends . . . you’re climbing the wall of the fort with blood in you eye & the snow is turning red & I can see you but I can’t hear you . . . & there’s blood everywhere & . . .

he stops & wipes his lips & shakes off a smile & continues I think we ended up at my house with a plate of cookies but that part is lost . . . & the second one, who’s been sitting up & listening says, it never was like you to get angry - maybe it was me who made you angry enough to toss the ice-ball . . . maybe . . .

But, it wasn’t me!! cries the first one, startling the waiter, It wasn’t me! Jesus! I swear it wasn’t & you know how I helped you into the house - don’t you remember - it wasn’t me . . .

They skip desert & order coffee & a pair of inexpensive brandies & after a few minutes the first one asks, do you remember watching Mrs. Coleman undressing for her bath & how I said I bet we could see your mother too & how mad you got & there were the others hanging around & they all started to laugh & chime in & how you left & we didn’t see you for days & . . .

& the second one, looks at his watch & says, I must leave soon but I’m more interested in another time & I keep thinking, does he remember Fox River, when we both wanted to date the same girl & she asked us to chose & you said “Go ahead” & I wasn’t sure you meant it & said, “No. You!” & we started to shove each other & soon it got rough & we were hitting & kicking & . . . by then she’d gone off with someone else & the pinball machines were all that were left & we ended up not speaking & walking home in the dark  . . .

& the first one lifts his hand & signals for the waiter & they sit a few minutes longer sipping their brandies & their bill arrives & they spend a few minutes more dividing up & clasp hands at the door & outside they wave good-bye & turn once more to wave & then go on.

 

Overview
Barcelona Diary
It's Mother's Day
By Dawn's Early Light at 120 Miles Per Hour
Stiletto
The Man With His Back To The Room
Intimacies, Prose. Poems and Stories
Homage to a Widow
It's Only TV
Improvisations - Chapbook
After Goya
Escapades
Improvisations - From Contemporary Music