Tuesday, March 12, 2013

the burning

If you’ve read Pilgrim’s Bay, you’ll catch on to this. If you haven’t, that’s okay. I hope this stands on its own. It is part of a longer work that I’m putting together as a sequel. Pilgrim’s Bay (if I haven’t already bored you with the story) was picked up by a publisher in London. They love the book. Had me do minor tweaks. Are re-titling it BLACK. It is due out in October of 2013 and will be released in conjunction with a literary festival in London. In the meantime—at the request of the publisher—I am putting together raw video footage of Alpena. In particular, short movie clips of nights out in the local drinking establishments—that will be used by the publisher for a trailer/short film for the book (there’s a bit of drinking in the book). If you’d like to be part of this, let me know. I’ll get hold of you the next time we are out. It is a volunteer gig. Informal. You hang out with us. Have fun. You and your actions get recorded via whatever device we have on hand and you become part of the minimalistic literary world that I’ve somehow become associated with. In any case, I hope that all is well. That you are making a good life. And that you are keeping at this keeping on. ~ K.J. the burning “But you’ll get your head straight, feel good, and you’ll write again,” Tom said. He put another piece of the dark wood onto the fire. Coals shifted. Sparked. Hungry flames lapped at the smooth walnut. “Not on that desk” I said, and I drank the last of the wine from the bottle. Closed my eyes. Could smell the pears. Taste their sweetness as the wine dulled the ache and warmed my gut. “You didn’t have to smash it like this, Aden. It was a nice desk. They don’t make them like this anymore.” Tom dropped one of the legs into the fire. “We spent four hours at Stoney Acres the day we got this wine,” I said. “She loved wine,” Tom said. He opened a bottle from the case that was resting on the picnic table. “She was a good girl,” I said. “Damn fine,” he said. Sitting there under the black Michigan sky had me feeling heavier and more hollow than I had ever been. It had been a bad day. One of the worst a man can have. But I did not want to think about it. I did not want to talk about her, and I did not want to talk about writing. Not now, and not ever again. But I was drunk and Tom was drunk and there is only so much you cannot do when you are drunk, so we kept burning the desk and drinking the Stoney Acres, and we could not stop talking of her. “She had grace,” Tom said. “Always, she had grace.” I knew she’d had it. That she was as strong as beautiful and that she deserved to be painted or written about, but I was not a painter and I had severe doubt that I would write again. Not in the way she had made me write. Tom handed the bottle across the fire to me. “No more pear?” I asked. “Pear is all gone. Now we are on to blackberry,” he said. I took three long sweet swigs from the bottle. “We have a lot of wine to drink.” “I don’t like wine much,” Tom said, “But this is a good night to drink wine. I know how much you loved her and she loved wine and the two of you loved drinking it together.” “We did,” I said. And right then I wanted to throw the bottle across the fire and smash him in the face. It was something I could not help. I loved Tom dearly. Like a brother. But now that it was only Tom with me and the hollowness, there was nothing else to do but want to fight someone. I had already smashed the desk, busted windows, tore the screen door from the porch, but there was still plenty more to break. I loved my wife more than anything. More than drinking and more than Tom and more than fishing. Even more than writing. She was the first thing I had ever loved more than writing, but now she was gone and I did not want to fish, or write, or be with Tom. All I wanted was to drink the rest of the wine. Our wine that we’d purchased on our trip north to Alpena. The wine from the day we spent four hours at Stoney Acres tasting and talking with the owners and walking their facility and tasting more and buying more and buying and buying. But now there was only the goddamned black sky, the flames eating the desk she had found for me at the thrift store—the desk that had helped me write one bad novel, a poetry chapbook, and two decent short story collections—the sound of traffic down Merriman and Ford and the jets flying in and out of Detroit Metro. And Tom. My best friend who I hated for driving all the way from Petoskey to spend the week with me. “Tomorrow, I’ll help you clean up the place,” he said. He opened another bottle. Took a long drink. “There, now we each have our own bottle,” he said. “I like the feeling wine gives,” I said. “It’s different from beer or whiskey. Wine makes me feel warm.” “It’s better than I thought it would be,” he said and he took another drink. “But how is the hangover?” I sat for a moment and was silent. I could not remember what a wine hangover was like. I couldn’t remember what any hangover was like because I hadn’t had one in so long. “I don’t know,” I said. Tom smiled, poked the fire with a broken shovel handle. “We’ll get this all cleaned up,” Tom said, as he looked at the house and around the yard. “Maybe you can do some writing and I’ll mow for you and put on a new door. I’m sure they have plenty of places to buy a door around here.” “Plenty,” I said, and suddenly, I did not hate Tom anymore. I felt sad as hell and thankful that he had made the drive and was the first and only person I’d seen in a week. People had stopped by, pounded the door, the windows, and called. But I did not answer. I did not open the door. I did not get out. And I would not have come out at all if Tom hadn’t stopped by in the middle of the night and opened up the place with the spare key I’d given him over a year ago for safekeeping. “Bet you didn’t expect to see me this morning,” Tom said, as he pushed around the orange coals. “I heard you come in,” I said. “Why didn’t you get up?” he asked. But I could not tell him. I was too ashamed that I was so drunk and so alone that for a few small moments I believed I had only been dreaming, that she was not gone, and that it was my wife that had come home. That she would walk into the bedroom, undress, and get into bed with me so that I could smell her and feel her. But once I heard the footsteps, the long heavy-heeled gait, I knew it was Tom, and I remembered that my wife was gone. Gone now and gone forever, and because I did not believe in God or Heaven or life after death, I knew that we would never be together again. “I thought you were a robber and I was scared.” Tom laughed and laughed hard at this. He was sure that I had never been scared, that I had always been strong, and that if it had been a robber, I would have been up and on him without another thought. But Tom, like everyone else—everyone except my wife—had always had me wrong. Tom laughed more and we drank and the sky seemed to rise higher and higher and soon we were what I had always believed we were—two shadows, drunk again, seeking comfort in mindlessness and fire. The way it had been before I had met her. “It’ll get better,” Tom said. “I know it,” I said. “I’m only grieving now and I’m almost through it. You coming here is the end of the grieving. I need to get back to work.” “But I just got here,” Tom said. “Can’t we have some fun?” “We’ll have fun,” I said. “Tomorrow, we will wake early, get a good big breakfast at the Village Inn and then we’ll hit the town.” “Sounds great,” Tom said. “And while we’re out, I’ll buy you a new door.”

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