Jan/Feb 2020  •   Fiction

Perilous Stuff: Dispatches from Beirut

by Michael Campagnoli

Borrowed image

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas'd,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
          —Macbeth, V/iii


In August 1955 my mother attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Chicago's Comisky Park. We were in the midst of lethal, late summer heat wave, and as she climbed to the second deck, she began to wheeze. Her face turned bilious and red; she struggled for breath. She reached forward to grasp a metal railing to steady herself. The stadium was packed, George Beverly Shea singing "How Great Thou Art," the faithful alert with piety, but she knew what she had to do. She reached into her oversized pocketbook and withdrew a flask. The flask was full of Old Grand Dad. She frowned and downed a shot, and then another. The sanctified brethren nearby were mortified. Only one man recognized her plight and asked if he could help. My mother explained between wheezes that her doctor had prescribed two shots of whiskey if she were to have an attack. He was unequivocal about this. Asthma was no joke back then. It was very often fatal. Not only that, she was eight months pregnant. She was not a humorless woman, so she began to laugh. It was in this instant that her water broke and she had an epiphany of sorts (probably a lack of oxygen to the brain). Later she came to believe it was the judgment of God: she decided to name me "Job."

Between the asthma and the labor, she almost died. Me, too: premature, only four-and-a-half pounds. It was touch and go. My father, relieved that both survived, agreed to Job, though he knew I'd never survive grammar school. When I was old enough, he nicknamed me Jake.

Jake was my uncle's name. My father's brother. "Jake" may have saved my life. Naturally, both names carry literary baggage. I'm not unaware. But the wounds I've suffered have been neither phallic nor physical. In point of fact, a little less phallic would have spared me some grief; the only plagues I've suffered have been in my head. So ever since I was a kid, everyone calls me Jake.

A therapist once attributed my problems to the three years I spent in Beirut. Fat little man with a bald head and thin, bloodless lips. "Post-traumatic stress," he announced, smug and owlish, as if the words, themselves, relatively new to the world's vocabulary, had some sort of biological reality. I knew otherwise. All life is a breaking down. It isn't the big things, the obvious things, that finally crack you. It's the metaphor they represent. You don't get out of this alive.


Beirut, Lebanon — September 16, 1982

Pink leaflets dropped by fighter jets littered the streets.
Arafat and his men were gone with assurances
from Sharon and American Ambassador Habib.
Wives and children left behind. Old fathers and mothers.
Then fell the leaflets.
Gaby, an Armenian, who owned a barber shop in
the Commodore's basement, was close to hysteria.
"What does this mean?" he cried. He was one
who believed Sharon when he said it was the
Katyusha rockets they wanted. Forty-three kilometers.
Nothing more. He believed when Ambassador
Habib guaranteed the safety of the women and children.
But here we were, Kittredge breathing hard from the
climb, on top of a high-rise on the Rue Assi, watching
the Israeli advance. Then came the cluster bombs.
And everything changed.


Before Beirut, I took pride in my capacity to suffer. Wrestled, played football, boxed Golden Gloves. "Iron Man," they called me. Not my father's son for nothing. The old prize fighter. Mr. Hudson County. Toughness was a quality of the mind. But Beirut changed that. I lost resilience. Some sort of internal instrument broke: a corporeal gyroscope of sorts. Without it, reality turned aphasic. The random push and pull of atoms. The clash of light and sound and motion. "Once the golden box is broken," Kittredge told me, "sings the golden bird no more." Kittredge was bloated and debauched. A man of dubious orientations, with a quote for everything, some even his own.

Illness (my father's heart) brought me back from Beirut. Reassigned to Chicago. Not given a choice. By then, I was a man of negligible velleity whose corporate behavior was suspect. A kind of battle fatigue. Chicago might clear my mind, they thought. But when I returned, things only got worse. It piled in from all sides. "The people you love are a wound you carry your entire life." Classic Kittredge. For years, I drew on resources I no longer possessed. But it wasn't Beirut that finally broke me. It was the events of the following summer.



The heat in the Midwest had been brutal, vindictive. A Chicago summer. Day after day the sun rose like a big, fat, golden red cat. Implacable. Heavy air boiling up from the Gulf, paludal, suffocating, inescapable. "I'm burned out," I told Bobby Allen, "dead inside." It didn't help that my first assignment was a house-bombing in Elkhart, Indiana. A black family in an all-white neighborhood. Three children died.

Sleep betrayed me. Nightmares and delusions crowded and pursued. I missed deadlines, drank too much, became short tempered, picked fights with strangers in bars, made obscene gestures as I drove along the highway. Often I was drunk before noon. One morning I took a swing at Gerald Albright, Chicago Bureau Chief.

Albright was a former press secretary to Jesse Helms. He possessed the same snarling malignity that Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh would later perfect. There were only two kinds of people, according to Albright: doers and losers, the strong and the weak. He was not undemocratic. Anyone willing to be as ruthless and cutthroat as he, was welcome in the ranks of the elite.

He had the annoying habit of repeating the same stupid joke every morning. "Great day for the races," he'd say. "What races?" you were required to reply. "Why, the HUMAN RACES!" he'd guffaw, hiding his tiny teeth behind his tiny little fist. It was endless. He was well aware it wasn't funny. Funny wasn't the point. It was his way of reminding you to knuckle under, play the game, get along. A small price to pay, most thought, to escape his passive aggression and spiteful enmity. But it was the utter unreality that drove me nuts. What set me off that last morning, however, was what he did to Bobby Allen.

Bobby and I started together on the Star-Ledger. Me a stringer and he an office boy, someone who ran out for coffee or stocked your desk with paper and typewriter ribbons. He took care of things. Later, by dint of hard work and natural talent, he turned himself into a first rate news photographer. This he accomplished despite the fact that he could barely read or write. He struggled. I knew, Albright knew, we all knew. Bobby grew up on the Mississippi Delta at a time when the education of a black boy was not a critical priority. At 12, he was an "oxygen man" on a catfish farm. By 16, he came north, worked hard, taught himself everything. He earned it, didn't need a piece of paper and ink to validate his intelligence. Unlike Albright, no one handed Bobby a thing. A quiet man who never had a hurtful word for anyone.

Albright was holding a purchase order. "Cume on, Bubby," he said, a voice that dripped with plantation molasses, "Cain't you READ that? Tell me what it says." Bobby was no pushover. He didn't need my protection, but like most self-taught readers, it was always a struggle. One that humiliated and embarrassed him. Perhaps the only thing he tried to hide. So, when I heard the smug malevolence in Albright's voice, I snapped. In a split second, he became the focus of all the meaness and small-minded idiocy I perceived in the world. It wasn't altruism. I selfishly needed a target for my pent up rage, and Albright presented it. That's when I belted him. A right hand that knocked him to the floor. When I raised him up to hit him again, Bobby and couple others wrestled me down. "That prissy little shit," I cried and struggled to get free. "Just one more shot," I pleaded. Albright's nose was broken. There was blood everywhere. "Lost your laugh, babe," was all Bobby Allen said. "But he deserves it," I cried. Bobby just smiled. He snapped a ubiquitous piece of spearmint, shoe-button eyes in a dark coffee face.

But it wasn't simply the heat or Albright or the woman or my old man or the young black family bombed out of their first home by Indiana bigots or even Kittredge. It was color. The absolute absence of color. As if the whole world had shriveled up and turned to crabgrass.

So, burning my bridges behind me, I packed a bag and drove.

Up before dawn, windows down, holding tight to the wheel, anointed by the oil sweat of the open road, I drove. Without a word to anyone. East into the hot August morning sun. I had to do something, so I pushed the old, bloated Chevy down I-70 as fast as it could go, pistons pumping, shirt sleeves up, thinning hair blasted by the baked and stagnant heat. Motion as a form of action. Running for my life.

Going back to Chicago had been a mistake. My father died in August. And after that, there was nothing left. Not there, not anywhere. Distance. If I could get far enough away, then maybe I could see, begin to sort things out. The open road. The pedal down. Acceleration was all.



But relief was not forthcoming.

Indiana was obdurate, interminable, each mile like the last: unending, a numbing inertia. Ohio was no different. The same sprawling flatness, grim and austere, scorched and airless. Dayton. Springfield. Columbus. Zanesville. Bilious cities, smug and complacent. Legionaires and radio preachers, beef-necked men and pregnant women, cars with bumper stickers. "Christians Aren't Perfect—Just FORGIVEN." Would it end? The starved sameness, the meagerness of their lives? "Morning in America," Ronald Reagan declared, peering down from a pealing billboard. The sun billowed off the pavement. The tires smelled like melted tar. Distance. I needed distance. The road was salvation.

The Chevy labored, hemorrhaged. I pushed it hard, turning north, propelled by fatigue and exhilaration, yearning for the end of the continent, craving it, needing it, not merely as a goal but a repudiation.

Pennsylvania was a huge steamy block—brown and hot and punishing—wretched and cheerless. Somewhere between Wilkes Barre and Scranton, I passed a junkyard, "Largest in the World!" a sign proudly proclaimed. Amid the blighted slag heaps of coal were the carved out hulks of cars, acres and acres of them, out there rusting as far as the eye could see. "Probability one," I thought. It was a Kittredge kind of thing to think.


In the Bar of the Commodore

The shelling had gone on for 24 hours,
but Fouad was smiling. Coco, the parrot, was skilled
at imitating the incoming. She'd whistle, and everyone
would duck.
"At least they're not aiming at us," I said
(I was still young then).
"That's precisely what does worry me," Kittredge
the Englishman answered.
We couldn't get our dispatches out. We couldn't
get anything in or out. We couldn't get food or mail
or those Turkish cigarettes Kittredge loved so much.
But, somehow, the bar of the Commodore was always
stocked and Fouad always smiled.
"Tonight," he said in his broken, unctious English,
"we'ave Bar r r Bee Kew," and smiled broadly
(a mouth full of yellowed teeth like fat, golden corn).
And Coco did her act.
She was very good.
And we all ducked.


Around 4:00 AM I crossed the Kittery Bridge into Maine.

I could smell the salt water, feel the cool breeze off the water. The refracted rays of the sun back-lighted the eastern horizon. At the first open spot, I pulled off Route 1, followed the back roads until I found the ocean. I had the need to see the sun rise.

As the tip of the sun peeked over the Atlantic, the water crashed beneath me on red-green rocks. A mystical shaft of light, soft and transparent, made the world new. I stood tall as I could, arms extended, breathing in the salt spray, huge chunks of it, sucking it deeply into my lungs. Somewhere in the back of my head was the idea that the sea could heal me.

There were times in Lebanon (Chicago was even worse) when I thought the sun had boiled my brain, made it swell and push against the smooth case of my cranium. The pressure was unbearable, as if my skull was an eggshell ready to burst. It rarely dropped below 90, even at night, and never a breath of wind. The trees stood rigid. The dragonflies did not buzz. And there was no movement. None. Everything—remained—perfectly—still.

So I stood facing the sea until the sun rose over the Atlantic. When I turned, the sun had revealed the land, and there was color—real color—variegated and multi-hued. It almost made me dizzy. I waited for a change, something to change, the ache to ease, the gnawing pain to relinquish my body. But it didn't. The sea wasn't enough. The pain prevailed, and the ghosts returned, one by one, then all together. "Get back! Get back!" I cried. But they wouldn't.

So I drove.


The Blood of Martyrs

During the day Hamra Street was crowded, but at
night it was empty. A ghost town. Sometimes there'd be
shelling—rockets, howitzer, Syrian artillery. Other times
just small arms fire, maybe mortar. But when it got
going good, the shells would land 100/minute and the fiery
arcs of tracers would fill the black-purple sky.

"It's nothing to see a cripple in Beirut," Haji said,
smiling insanely. "Islam's a tree that feeds on blood,
Islam's a tree that grows on severed limbs, Islam's a tree
that drinks from the blood of martyrs!"

"When the firing starts," an old woman tells me,
"we hide in the toilet and hold the children's ears."



At a Shell station near the border, I stopped for gas.

The kid at the pump was French. A fat, grease-smudged face, all smiles and willing to please. But he didn't know much English. When I asked about the boarding house on Chestnut Street, the kid shrugged his shoulders, rolled his eyes. He called to a lean, rat-faced man standing near an open bay. The man, dressed in dirty blue overalls and soiled work boots, wiped his hands on a mauve-colored rag. He listened to the rapid patois of French and broken English with a confused scowl on his face. Then he spit on the ground and walked in the garage without speaking.

I handed the kid my VISA, followed him in to sign.

The rat-faced man stared out the front window. I asked him about the boarding house. He never acknowledged my presence. Solid dark hair that looked young, but the skin on his face was acne-scarred and old. He stood in profile and glared out at the street. "Take a right at the bank," he said after a pause, never turning to look at me, "follow the coast road." A bitter expression, dyspeptic, surly and sullen. This was a man who needed a beating. There are Gerald Albrights wherever you go. But I was done with that. Instead of confronting him, I remembered something Kittredge told me. "Character," he once said, "consists in keeping out of the way of fools, not conquering them." Good advice. I should have listened before.

I depressed the clutch and put it in gear.

In town, I passed a fastidious village green and a row of smug little stores up close to the road. At the Pemiquid National Bank, I turned right. The Chevy wheezed. First, houses with wrap-around porches and well-kept lawns, then snug fisherman's shacks. After half a mile the houses disappeared and the woods looked wild and untamed. I welcomed it. I was sick of human beings, done with people. Maybe for good. Call me Ishmael, I thought, minus the tattoos.



The coast road was narrow and pocked. It elbowed its way up and around. I could smell the ocean on my left, catch glimpses when the road dipped down and the woods cleared. Then there was a steep hill, a long one, and at the top was the house, back from the road, a mass of white clapboard and spindle work support, solid as an anchor, surrounded by juniper and spruce. Their branches swayed in the wind with the sound of rushing water.

I urged the old Chevy onto the white gravel drive, and it groaned to a halt. A few moments passed. I pulled myself out, and for the first time felt the full impact of accumulated fatigue. Lightheaded and groggy, I stretched awkwardly. My arms retained the road's vibration, the velocity of flight.

The lawn, a cushion of brown needles and moss, was buoyant like the sea, like float-walking the surface of the moon. I couldn't seem to get possession of my legs. I was spastic from the waist down. First one knee, then the other, buckled. I nearly lost balance, had to pause for a moment and look up in the trees.

Tall trees, gnarled with age. I felt a kinship. My father lived in the grey grit of a city his entire life, dreaming of trees. So, finally, I was my father's son. Jake, after all. "Pa," I called as the trees bent with the wind, "I'm coming home."

The bright sky shone blue and faultless. Far in the distance, over the sea, gulls rode an updraft. They circled and cried. The branches of the trees pushed forward and back. The tall grass flattened. Shadows shifted. The sunlight quickened and flashed. The air was clean, and it was good.


The Druse

We were cutting through a stand
of cedar when the scouts found a Druse sniper who
had fallen from the crotch of a tree. The first dead
I'd ever seen. The sniper rested on one side,
head propped against a rock, lips slightly parted.
Camel flies swarmed over his body, climbed
in his mouth where the blood had
pooled and dried.
Saadi checked him.
"Hit in the spine," was all he said.


Haunted by ghosts. It was no longer a question of volition. Memory came at me from all sides: unwanted, indiscriminate, without pattern or design. Sometimes mere fragments, sudden flashes. Other times, complete and vivid in detail. Nonsense, quarrels, questions of guilt, narcotic evocations of youth. Like uninvited guests, they disrupted my days, tormented my nights. Struck at any time. Often with such ferocity, I found it difficult to distinguish one from the other, present from the past, real from the imagined. Most of it I blamed on a woman. The rest on my boss. But deep down, I knew the problem was me. Me. I couldn't hold things together. "You can run," Joe Louis told me, "but you cannot hide."

I groaned and took a breath, mounted the porch steps and rang the bell.

An elderly woman answered.

She drew her chin to her chest, eyed me skeptically through a pair of black half glasses. I couldn't blame her. I looked like hell, smelled worse. She fingered the loose wattle of her scrawny, annulated neck. She considered. Eyes alert and cautious, she motioned me in. The room was on the second floor in back. A corner room, small and immaculate.

"$120 a week," she said, standing in the middle as I looked in from the door. "No guests. No loud music." She wore a frayed sweater over wrinkled tan slacks. Bottle-shouldered and low-bellied, like a sack of potatoes on miniature stilts.

"You aren't one of 'them' from the photographic workshop, are you?" she asked.

I shook my head no.

"Good," she said, "because I don't like 'them' from over at the workshop."

I paid in advance.

When the door closed behind her, I sat down on the bed.

It creaked and groaned as it accepted my weight. An old bed with a bloated, tubular frame and decrepit springs that registered every movement.

The room was rectangular with two large windows, a dresser, and a tiny sink. The sink was cracked and stained orange, probably iron in the water. The bureau had cardboard folded under one leg. In the corner beneath an eave, a watermark near the ceiling trailed part way down the wall, very faint. Winter ice, I guessed, up under the shingles.

I lay back on the trapunto quilt, propped a pillow beneath my head. A few moments passed. From the open window came the distant rise and fall of the ocean and the cool, cleanly pungent odor of the old lady's herb garden. That, and the lassitude of wind in the trees, the reassuring sound of birdsong, helped me let go, to relinquish myself. The white curtains stirred. My breathing slowed and grew shallow. There was numbness and floating. Home, home, I thought, surrendering to the warm, slow respiration, the dull pulse of sleep. Tree-waning sunlight filled the room. My arms and legs felt heavy, weary, suddenly terribly old.

"The entropy of existence," Kittredge whispered, "tends to a maximum. Click, click, click," he laughed.


The night before, along a black lonely stretch of I-80 in northern Pennsylvania, I stared into the lights of an oncoming vehicle. The effect was hypnotic. As if I could cross the grassy median and crash head on into the approaching capsule with impunity. Or turn abruptly, wrench the wheel, and hurtle at 90 mph across the hilly, brown-bleached fields without the slightest lurch. The inexorable pull and tumble. And I welcomed it: speed as a form of ecstasy, a mode of forgetting. I waited for each atom that was "me," the thing itself, to scatter, break free, to careen off and travel its own random path until I disappeared. Completely. Forever.


Puissant and Ready to Prove

"Sanctuary!" Kittredge howled, "Sanctuary!"
A plaintive cry, deep bellied and overwrought. He
raised his arms, stumbled, and nearly fell. "Sanctuary!!!"
he howled again and pulled his long black actor's cape
over his bloated actor's head. Standing near the
clock tower on the campus of American University, he
performed a hunchback worthy of Laughton: drunk, loud,
delusional, bathos and lunacy mixed. I tried to quiet him,
but he hammed it up for the benefit of a passing patrol.
Maronite militia. Teenagers, most of them, puissant
and ready to prove.
"Hold thy bloody hand!" Kittredge boomed
as the guard converged. Men had been shot for less.
They lined us against College Hall at gunpoint, made
us strip (smirking at Kittredge's white spindly legs, his
ample gut, his puckered, diminished ass and shriveled
privates). Relieved of our cash, they departed
(tires screeching, weapons firing in the air) while
Kittredge and I scrambled to retrieve our soiled
jockies and torn up shirts.


The Philosopher

I was sitting in a sidewalk cafe along the Rue
Emile when I recalled a conversation I had one morning
a long time ago with Richie Fisher. We were sitting
in the Clinton Place Deli. To Richie,
a balding, middle-aged man with wild grey hair and
pockmarked skin, I said, "I'll never be young and
in love again." A simple declarative, said without
bitterness. I was being philosophical.
"What?" Richie scowled. He slurped a hot cup
of coffee. "Don't be ridiculous." He had better
things to do than listen to drivel.
"No, I mean it." I was 21 or 22,
my first job out of college. A stringer for The Star Ledger.
"I'll never be young... AND... in love... again. Get it?"
"Get what?" Richie grunted, irritated, talking
with a mouth full of lox and bagel and cream cheese.
He was in a rush; he was always in a rush. "What
difference does it make?"
"A BIG difference," I said. But Richie ignored me.
He was fighting the lox. It was stringy, and he couldn't bite
through. A slice came out when he bit down, and it hung
from his mouth like a ragged piece of orange dog's tongue.
He grunted and waved his hand, stuffing it in.
"Fuppit," he finally said, still chewing.
"FUPPIT!" he cried emphatically, impedimenta
spraying the air.
"Jesus, a 'Romantic.'"
"FUPPIT!" he repeated savagely, taking another
huge bite. "FUP WOVE!" He was furious, cream cheese
ringing the corner of his mouth, lox sticking to his chin.
In his eyes the dark ordeal of race, five thousand
years of suffering and survival,
the cossack's knife, the fiddler's grace.
"With life you make sure!" he said.
More than a decade later, I could feel the table shake,
smell the cabbage soup, taste the pastrami and Russian rye.
"With life you make sure," I thought.
And Richie was right.



I woke drenched in sweat, gasping for breath, trying hard to swallow. It was the same dream. It wouldn't go away. There were times I dreamed other things, but no matter what, I always dreamed this.

I took several breaths, caught and held in my chest, until my head cleared. At the little sink I doused my face with water, then filled a blue and white pitcher and poured it over my head. The water was very cold. An underground well, I figured. I went to the window, pushed it up. There was a long down-hill field, a meadow, then woods, then the ocean. A cool breeze came off the water. The back of the house was shaded by tall pine trees. The air tasted green in the silence.

Later, sitting on the bed, it was then I began to mind about the woman. Her name was Kristen, and she was married. I didn't know that in the beginning (at least, that's what I told myself). After a while, though, the marriage got to my pride, began to eat at me. I wanted her all to myself and couldn't get wanting her out of my mind ("Aha," Kittredge leered, "good at the beast with two backs—or just the green-eyed monster? Click, click, click.") Wanting her made me act stupid: one of those guys who couldn't let go. "Uxorious, dear boy," Kittredge admonished, raising his bushy eyebrows, "covered with a febrile, fuliginous ointment, got 'tween greasy sheets."

"What would you know?" I told him. "You're just a drunk."

"Ah—ha, ha, ha—HA!" Kittredge laughed. "Show me a man who's not passion's slave, and I'll wear him at my heart's core. But come now, Jake, really, what else did you expect?"

"Get back, get back," I said.

"Not on your life," Kittredge answered.


After the conflicting tribal emotions, the subterranean intrigue and passions of the Middle East, Chicago's bright, brittle, prairie hard flatness, its uncomplicated broad daylight, American predictability was at least familiar. Uncomplicated was the operative word. It's what I thought I saw in Kristen.

She was a Midwesterner, too. Norwegian, from Kansas. Small-breasted, round-cheeked, eyes alternating between a warm and cold China blue, a kind of Shirley Temple-almost woman (dimples and all). No convoluted subtlety here, no welter of bewildering, self-deceptive emotions, just clear-headed, practical, heartland intelligence and ambition. She worked hard. Believed in work. Work was the one thing on which she relied. She demanded little from all else, including her marriage. An open book, I thought. And the sex was revelation, cathartic, none of the usual orgasmic exasperations.

It was the sex that convinced me: straightforward, uninhibited, but not just glands. It was love, LOVE. And at the center a stillness, a knowledge, an answer. Differences were unimportant, I thought. And then there was the minor inconvenience of a surplus husband, the moral gymnastics. At that point, I wasn't capable of making moral distinctions. The world was a jumble of turbulent disorder. Shapes appeared and disappeared, spasmodic and illusory. I needed something, anything to hold on to. Kristen was that thing. And we loved each other. The sex confirmed it. How could anything be wrong, anything of substance, if the sex was so right? How could she leave after such thorough, metaphysical even, fulfillment? Dining with the gods. I counted on it. The only constant. Pure and simple.

When the end came, it was something like heroin withdrawal.

"Did you think you were the 'only' man ever to please her?" Kittredge asked.

"Leave me alone," I said.

"Oh, come, Jake. Be realistic. Female bodies litter the landscape because 20th century men cannot relinquish their adolescent need to sentimentalize a basic human function. What is sex, after all, but a biological imperative? So she lied to you. What did you expect?"

I knew the guy. A car salesman. He sold her a Volvo. A car salesman for Christ's sake! Click, click, click, I thought, and Kittredge smiled. She was not my best hope but my last, and just one more reason for leaving.

"Ah, Jakey, Jakey," Kittredge said sadly, "we know nothing, pure and simple, beyond our own complexity."


It Happened All the Time

Haji was drunk. Very drunk. A few days before,
his brother (a civilian, home for the holidays, studying
medicine at Ohio State) was shot by a Christian sniper
somewhere along the Green Line. The brother was
unarmed, moving supplies for the Red Cross to the
refugee camps. This was shortly after the massacres
at Sabra and Chatilla during the Israeli occupation.
And now the brother was dead and
Haji was drunk. Muslims were forbidden drink,
but Haji was drunk. He was holding the muzzle of
an old Kalashnikov in the face of a liquor store owner
who had complained after Haji cracked open a bottle of
rum. Haji thrust the barrel of the Russian ordnance
into the man's nose and mouth and smiled maniacally.
The owner, his nostrils shoved close to his eyes,
reconsidered, decided, after all, it was Haji's rum,
in fact, several cases of it.
It happened all the time. People shot each
other over traffic jams on the Mar Elias. The police
were powerless. They'd distribute a press release
saying, "A warrant has been issued for assailants
unknown," and that would be an end of it.
"Wake up, Jake my boy," Kittredge told me.
"It's every man for himself. Click, click, click.
A simple errand, a trip to the market, you wind up dead."
So Haji sat on the curb drinking, weeping,
appealing to Allah. He'd always been the wild one, the
crazy one, the one who didn't care, who believed
in nothing but death. The brother was the "Good One,"
the "smart one," the "gentle one," the one with a future.
Baby brother. Liquor never touched his lips.
Haji wailed. He pounded his chest, ripped handfuls
of hair from his head and beard.
And I stood on the sidewalk, watching,
still trying to be young.


I searched through my things for a fresh pack of cigarettes. None in the valise or briefcase. In the pocket of a soiled shirt, one cigarette remained in a wrinkled pack. I hadn't smoked since college. Except in Beirut. But during a gas stop in Ohio, I picked up one pack, then another, on impulse. I lit the last one now. The smoke tasted acrid and looked yellow in the light. I crushed it out in a dirty metal ashtray. "Filthy habit," my mother used to say.

I fell back to sleep and slept intermittently for the remainder of the afternoon. Early that evening the old woman (her name was Martha) woke me up. She climbed the back stairs and asked if I wanted dinner. "No," I said through the door, and that was the end of it. Unfit for human contact.

That night I was restless. After fitful sleep, I woke as the moon waned and wished I'd taken the old lady up on dinner. Toward daybreak, I fell into a sound sleep. Around 6:00 AM, something scratched at the door. When I opened it, a short-haired, black and white cat gave me a startled look and scooted down the hall. The sun was up. Birds were singing. I put on my beat-up Nikes and black running shorts, descended the stairs quietly as I could, opened and closed the dark-paneled front door, and escaped the house unseen.

At first, every step was a kind of groan, a muffled trauma. My body felt stuffed, swollen. Blood pounded in my ears. After the first mile, I began to loosen, breaking a warm sweat. I pulled hard on the up hills and relaxed down. I'd always run. Even in college, when I smoked, I ran. Running was a kind of religion. I shifted, finally, into a fluid, efficient stride. Hitting lightly on the mid foot and toeing off with ease. Gliding. I ran the narrow, winding roads until my pores opened and the poisons began to drain. It was a magic place, private and provincial. I felt like a first-made man, moving silent through the deep and tangled forest.

Back at the house, the halls were empty. I peeled the wet clothes and grabbed a towel. There was no shower. Just a tub and hose. So I crouched in the tub and sprayed water over myself. Kneeling awkwardly in the pale morning light, I soaped and rinsed, squatting against the hard, white porcelain, washing away the sweat and grease, scrubbing and scrubbing, patient in my grief, as the drain gurgled and coughed.

But the memories wouldn't stop. No penance could pay. Ghosts. Ghosts. They came at me, one after the other, then all at once, never left me alone.


Humane Interests

When Kittredge returned from the Iraqi border.

All morning and all afternoon, he drank. But he
wasn't drunk. He just sat staring straight ahead.
A slim young man with a pretty mouth sat next
to him, but they didn't speak. I waited for his friend
to leave and went over.

"They're using children to clear mine fields," Kittredge told me.


"Kids." He shook his head.

"Iraqi mines are decimating Khomeini's tanks, his
personnel carriers. So he's using nine and ten-year-olds
to clear the fields. Lines them up at arm's length,
wide enough to move an armored column. Three
waves are usually enough. You think I'm kidding?
They can't wait to volunteer, to die for the Ayatollah."

I was skeptical.

Kittredge laughed. But it was hollow and soundless.
"You can't imagine the carnage," he whispered.
"Blown apart. The Iraqis are eager, positively gleeful
to provide proof. Purely 'humane' interests, of course."
He raised both eyebrows in unison.
"They actually have 'child' POW camps. Isn't that incredible?"

"Click, click, click," he said.


The Beards

He was Hezbololah. But very young.
The Christians waited until he got over the stone wall
in the garden, then shot him. He was carrying
a grenade launcher, and it was heavy, clumsy,
and he was having trouble getting over.
"Ooou-ah!" he cried and fell head-first,
then sat up and kicked the launcher, which
snapped back and hit him in the head.
He began to weep, violently.
It was embarrassing.
That's when they shot him.
"I hate the beards," his shooter said, smiling.
That's what they call Hezbollah, the "beards."
But he was just a kid, really.


Trying to be Young

"Oh, poor boy," Kittredge said. "Poor baby Jake."

West Beirut was in rubble. We were living in bunkers
underground. Above us, packs of stray dogs, ribs sticking
through their skin, scavenged the garbage in the streets.
"The Chinese," Kittredge explained, stirring a simmering
kettle, "believe rat to be thoroughly nutritious. Prevents senility,
or was it sterility? Perhaps sinus infection? Maybe just

"Get it away from me," I said.

"Oh, come now, Jake. Don't pout. You've got to face
it. There's no Deus ex machina now. No calvary to the
rescue. No Jesus from the grave. It's die dog, or eat the
hatchet. Besides, you should consider yourself fortunate,
lucky, really LUCKY, much luckier than your compatriots in
that most coddled nation on earth, forever whining about one
thing or another, insulated by selfishness and greed, sheltered
from the world's suffering by the trick of beneficent geography.
You can't avoid choice. You can't avoid knowledge. The
comfortable life, indeed. HA, HA, HA," he laughed. "Ah, Jakey,
you old funambulist, you counterfeit, you imposter you:
such wide eyes, such smooth skin, such fraudulent cheeks.
Just how long do you think you can cling to false innocence?
Face it, there's no territory to 'light out to' now, Huck. This is it!
The end of the universe. Ah-ha, ha, ha, ha HA! CLICK, CLICK,
" he said, leering, leaning, fondling me with his filthy
hands and stinking breath.

I pushed him off. "Get away from me, you old
faggot," I cried, and Kittredge looked hurt.

"Ah, Jake," he said sadly, "what's life but taking
a licking?"



The old lady was working unaware in the garden. She stared down moronically, lips distended, kneading the damp black earth with a trowel. She was very old. Her liver-spotted hands, her face so pale and soft, a delicate tracery of intersecting lines. I slipped past quietly and headed down the meadow behind the house.

The morning sun was high and bright. The unmown field shifted in the breeze. The wind, the sun, the wild flowers brushed against my hands. Rowing waves of grass. At the end of the meadow was a trail through the trees to the water. I climbed out on the big rocks, wedged myself between two, and settled in.

Bright blue day. Thick clouds scudded. A cool wind fanned the sweat on my brow. To my right, the Atlantic rolled in, heaving, plangent, far spooming. To my left, far in the distance, the harbor. Sailboats, masts stiff in the wind, bows pointed outward, rocked gently, sent a vague clank, clank, clank across the swift-coming tide. The village hugged the land, huddled in a sea of grass. Two white steeples, the broad green roof of the Post Office, the golden cupola of the library, and the white clapboard of an abandoned mill. Beyond, stark twin mountains rose almost directly from the sea, presided over the diminished town with the brooding buddha-like self-possession of aged, scabrous, humpbacked whales.

I squared my back against a rock and stretched my legs. The warm sun, the wind on my face, the ocean's spray. I took slow, deep breathes. There was the blue of sky and water, the pullulative green of wood and fern and meadow. And the silence. Only earth noise: the branches of the trees, the plash of water and rock, the flaw-sparged rock, the lichen-scurfed rock. At rest, finally alone, I remained a long time, breathing the ease, riding the roll and rhythm of the waves, until I fell asleep. I slept, but did not dream.

Later, the incoming tide sent me scurrying back to the trees, a place higher up that was all darkness and spruce, gnarled roots and soft, black earth. An ancient place. Magical, it seemed. Older than time. Cool amid the shadows. Safe amid the sheltering spruce. I longed for the earth to absorb me, to take me home, a transubstantiation complete.

I yearned and waited for the sea to wrap its arms around me, make me whole again. Not enough—the wind, the sun, the wild flowers, the speechless waves of grass—not enough. Yearning could not make it so, and love could not withstand it. So, raw and broken, inside my skull, I waited. Kittredge cried, "Let come Spring, let come Fall, let come Life, rambling down the hill all dressed for death."

And then I sensed a presence.

To my left, near the water's edge, amid the hasped and tangled wood, within the darkness and the shadows, I saw a hand—a soft, white hand, perfect, suspended in a single point of light—a young girl, hair falling down her neck in ringlets, gleamed, smooth-skinned, face like a heart, bright eyes, glowing cheeks, fertile thighs, reaching up on tip toe to grasp the bloom of pink rose mallow. Petals, thus, by stem she held, and smiled—smiled!—a young girl's secret smile of boundless dreams and furtive hopes, taking pleasure in the rush of wind, the stiff salt air, the rough feel of bark beneath her finger's touch. Holding the blossom to her face, breathing in the fragrance, she walked along the water's edge in dappled light, and sang, tripping lightly.

I peered from cover of black-knotted tree, kneeled awkwardly, the sharp angles of my body, joints in pain, hard against the wordless rock, a kind of piacular crouch—driven by need, the urgeless want, the brute awe, the need to know beauty, evanescent and doomed, pure and simple. I coughed, more a kind of growl. And she was gone, just-like-that, without warning or alarm. Disappeared, a treble peal of girlish laughter. I was alone with the nameless ache, the need to know, the empty dream, uncertain in the brevity whether she was ever there at all.

"Ah, Jakey, Jakey," Kittredge said sadly, "we know nothing pure and simple, beyond our own complexity."


The Stump

In the building opposite, a wall had blown away, and
everything was in view like the back of a doll's house. The
shell had hit in the street just moments before, and there must have
been a tunnel beneath because it all caved in, creating a kind
of escarpment. The sun was high and it was hot, and in the dust
and heat was a little girl on one of the floors hanging out toward
the street—naked, shaking, scared stiff—watching the Amal militia
shooting their guns off as they drove by in Range Rovers.

They sat him against the wall of a Mosque. His face was
sweaty and caked with dirt. His eyes were black dots in wide
open whites. They darted around wildly. He couldn't say anything,
but you could tell he wanted to know if he was going to die.
A grenade had ripped out his belly, and they had
dragged him from the street to be clear of the AK 47's. His legs
were splayed and lifeless, and his blood was all in a puddle.
He kept looking up, but they ignored him.
In a few minutes, it was over.

"A body's just a 'thing,' Jake," Kittredge said.
"Unaspirated, a 'thing,' a leaf, a shard.
A human stump."


That night I was restless again. Haunted when the house was dark and the moon vacant, alone in my room, thinking about the young girl: the bright eyes, the lovely cheeks.

When sleep came, I started awake several times. The kind of dream where I kept turning into different people, changing all the time; then I stayed same but the others changed. And I had something important to tell them, but I didn't know what it was. I'd begin to speak, but they'd change before I could finish. And all along, I kept thinking, It's my fault, my fault.

And then I dreamed I saw workmen. They had a large truck, moving boxes—rugs and lamps and furniture—from the apartment next to mine in Chicago. An elderly woman lived there. I recalled how a day or two earlier (or was it a week or a month?), I passed an ambulance coming into the complex (red lights blinking) and thought nothing of it. Then it dawned on me. It was the old lady: she was dead.

Now, three men threw her things into the back of a truck. Strangers. They tossed the intimate accumulations of a lifetime with callous disregard. Strange men, heartless, handling her things with rough, indifference. And no one to weep. The last to go was an easy chair. Through the pattern of wear of the frayed upholstery, I could detect the outline of a frail little woman with soft white hair and a timid smile. I lived there a year and never bothered to learn her name. "You call that living?" Richie Fisher said, scowling. "It's a waste of life."

And then there was a stillness and something in the middle of that stillness, but I couldn't tell what it was. It got brighter and brighter. And then I began to see. It came closer. There was an absolute calm. And then, I knew. The thing at the center of the stillness was the day my father died.

Pain wrenched his heart and took him to his knees. They put him in a hospital bed. Made him into the fraudulent husk of himself. Didn't fool me. The sunken-eyed carcass was a shameful facsimile. Like a lion, my old man pawed the earth one last time and died.

Even now, I can feel the power of his gaze, the pulse of his spirit. The broad chest, the imperious glare, the dark, almost mournful eyes peering out from creases of flesh, the proud Roman nose, the thick neck. My father. My old man.

When I was a boy, we'd go to the "sitting down" park over by the Eisenhower Expressway near the War Memorial. We'd play catch, get an Italian ice or gelato at Mario's. And then as the sun set, the old man (in his 40s then, but to me always the "old man") would rest and watch the early evening traffic congest. It was then that I'd arm myself, scurry from tree to tree collecting spiky round thorn nuts, perfect for throwing. He'd stretch and doze—and I'd attack. His bald spot made a perfect target. I'd wing one off his head, and he'd howl, roll his eyes in counterfeit rage. That old Italian. Worked at Western Wire for 43 years. Hated every minute. A spirit too large, too fierce, too proud to be confined by a desk, by stale indoor air and vague florescent lights. So up from behind I'd sneak. "All right, all right," he'd say, "one more time, and I'm gonna get up." My arm would whip and snap, the spikey ball would streak, carom off his naked head in a lazy arc, and "Ahhhh ooooo!" he'd roar, the cry of a wounded rhino, fist in mouth, whites of his eyes rolling. He'd scramble to his feet (not tall, but big). I'd wail with delight, and the old man, with surprising speed and grace, would give chase beneath a cool stand of spruce and pine. Tree to tree, we'd run, the man and boy, my squeals echoing the golden twilight of a summer nights long gone.

My old man, I thought as I lay in bed. My old man.

But there was anger between us: my father's love an upraised fist. His generation cherished discipline, devotion, prerogative. But service, also. His whole life, he sacrificed his private dreams to provide, to provide. Too young, I didn't know. Too young, I couldn't see. I only knew his rage, his futility. The fear and pain in my mother's eyes. She made him into a monster, but he was just a man, flawed but with something exquisite about him. For too long, we were lost to each other.

Toward the end, in convalescence, we came to a kind of armistice. That tough old man, that never-quitter, who left the basic word unspoken. Too soon, too soon, lost to the strokes. I grieved. Too late, I blamed myself.

"Ah, but Jake," Kittredge reminded, "in dreams begin responsibility."

And then I was dreaming again.

And the heat returned, and there was sunlight and dust and loud explosions. The earth shook. People ran in every direction. The shells kept falling, and I was afraid, for the first time afraid I could really die. I dove to the ground and prayed. "Bless me Father for I have sinned. Mary, Mother of God, pray for me," I cried, though I no longer believed.

When the shelling stopped, there was silence. Then the wailing began. In the midst of the settling dust and debris, a woman came walking down the alley. Her arm was severed from the elbow. She had a quizzical look on her face, standing alone in the street. She didn't cry or scream. When she saw me, she came over and held up the bloody stump for me to examine as if it were a question mark.

It always ended the same. No matter how many times, I couldn't change what happened. She'd come up, and I'd keep my camera focused, looking for angles, snapping shot after shot. "You call yourself a human being?" Richie Fisher cried. I never spoke to her, never tried to help. "What could I do?" I'd ask. It wasn't long before she collapsed, and then I called for help. "Aggghh..." Richie Fisher said, crumbs on his shirt, shaking his head, waving his hand in disgust.

The same old dream.

I woke in a cold sweat, grunting, barking in a way, pushing back the sweltering revulsion, the self-denunciation, the dancing images of death. I ran to the bathroom and puked.

"Ah, poor Jake," Kittredge cried, "poor baby, Jake" and then he laughed, "Ah—ha, ha, ha, ha—HA!"

A husky, boozey laugh. "Click, click, click," he said and laughed again.

"Fuck you," I told him, but Kittredge couldn't hear.


Allahu Akbar

"All my luckless race are dead, save me." It was
Kittredge, and it wasn't true. He had a wife and kid somewhere,
but they wouldn't have anything to do with him. He was drunk,
rolling around on the floor, bloodshot eyes haunted and afraid,
beckoning me.

"For Christ's sake, not again," I said and started
to close the door. Kittredge sat up on his knees, hands palm to palm,
the perfect penitent in black cossack and white surplice.

"Have mercy," he implored, "sinner that I am."

Just more clowning. It was late. I wanted to sleep.
I gave him a shove. He teetered, then toppled to the floor
in a kind of slow-motion plunge.

"Ah," Kittredge crooned, "he makes a swan-like end."
Arms spread with a flourish, barrel-chested and blocky,
he landed with a thud.

"Get out of here," I cried and pushed
him clear of the door.

"Ah, Jake... pluck from memory a rooted
sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain, and
with some sweet oblivious
antidote, cleanse the stuffed bosom
of that perilous stuff
which weighs upon the heart..."

"Get outta' here."

"But Jake..." Kittredge pleaded,
almost a whisper,
without a trace of irony,
real terror in his eyes and pain.

What could I do?

"All right, all right, but this is the last time."

Kittredge staggered to his feet.

"Allahu Akbar," he said, making the sign of the cross.

"Sure, sure," I answered.

"Sacred heart, pray for us," he said.

"You're bleeding."

"Worker of miracles, pray for us."

"Was it Jimmy, that son of a bitch?"

"Help of the helpless, pray for us."

"You'll never learn.""

"Hail Mary, full of grace," he said.

"All right, all right. Get off your knees."

"Allahu Akbar," he said.


I didn't remember when it happened. Not exactly. Beirut didn't do it, not by itself. Accelerated things, I guess, but it would've happened anyway. Not a conscious process. I hardly noticed. I woke up one morning, and click, click, click, I was no longer young. I stopped believing in things—any things.

"Take my hand," Kittredge said, "it stinks of mortality."

For the first time, I was afraid, truly afraid. Not simply the immediate fear of bombs and bullets (but that, too).

So I made changes.

I quit smoking, began running again, eating right, watching bodily functions. Light stools could mean cancer of the liver, or was it colon? Shortness of breath? I wondered if occasional lightheadedness meant blood pressure, potential stroke? It happened every day. Someone my age dropped dead while jogging or just after lifting weights. I worried about indigestion: hiatal hernia? acid reflux? incipient ulcer? cancer of the pancreas or stomach? The esophagus? And what about heart disease? A lot of people confused indigestion with angina. But nothing worked, nothing dispelled the vague feeling of dread, the impending doom. The pleasant but fraudulent illusion of linear history, of God and will. My personal invincibility was fractured forever.

Back in Chicago, I read the obits every night. Not morbidity, but a desire to know just how long a man might expect to live. Too short, the tragic brevity. "One long slaughterhouse," Kittredge concluded. "So we invent gods, religion to distance ourselves from the inescapable... Religions, gods, we fight and kill to prove dominion. But in the depths of our puny, scatological souls, we're crazy with fear. Homeless. Haunted. The long howl of fright, of fear in the night, deep-bellied and world-lost, with head up and only the whites of the eyes showing. We're all doomed to broken-off careers. Courage, dear boy, real courage, is facing the world and our own demise without absolutes." So, one by one, things fell away, until there was hardly anything left. And Kittredge laughed. That long, hard laugh. Even though Kittredge was already dead.


Probability One

"With probability one," Kittredge said.

He was sitting on a stool in the bar of the Commodore. He always said it like it was some kind of greeting or benediction or mantra or something. I'd been in country about a month (still young) and was sick of hearing it, so I asked.

"The Markov Principle," Kittredge replied, white hair sprouting from his nose and ears, heavy-lidded, looking dignified in a blasted, broken-down way. "Probability and statistics?"

I gave him a blank look.

Kittredge raised one eyebrow. They were bushy, and he used them expressively. He chuckled, then coughed into a handkerchief and went back to his drink.

"C'mon," I said, getting angry.

Kittredge turned toward me. "How about Quantum physics?"

I shrugged.

"Nothing at all?" It seriously surprised him. "Ah, you Yanks," Kittredge said, shaking his head. "Priceless." And he laughed that booming laugh.

I leaned on the bar and stared.

"You want the long or the short version?"

I sipped a beer.

"All right, all right," Kittredge replied, "but I want your full attention."

I stood up to leave.

"Wait, don't be so impatient." He peered down his narrow, beak-like nose, pursed his lips like an Oxford don. "Most people," he began, "assume the world is an orderly proposition, predictable. Simply a matter of enough information. 'Initial conditions' and so forth. But those who have more than a passing familiarity with Quantum theory know that it describes reality as little more than a game of chance. A crap shoot. Even Uncle Albert was wrong when he said that God doesn't play dice. Those pesky little electrons just won't behave. So much for Newton's precision."

I pretended to nod off, started to snore.

"All right, all right," Kittredge capitulated, "we'll come at it another way... familiar with Russian Roulette?"

I nodded.

"You have six chambers and load only one, correct?"

I scowled and grabbed a passing Lebanese in a business suit. "See this guy," I said, indicating Kittredge, "he's an asshole."

The Lebanese looked insulted.

"Don't mind my young friend, here," Kittredge told him, smoothing the man's lapels and smiling pleasantly. "He suffers from Lallocropia. Affected him all his life. He just never knows when to keep his big mouth shut." He rolled his eyes, pointed to his head, and nodded toward me. The Lebanese gave me a dirty look.

I stared back.

The Lebanese shrugged and walked away.

"Impeccable manners, dear boy."

"So?" I said, ignoring him.

"So-o-o," Kittredge said, "you load the revolver, spin the cylinder, put the barrel to your head and pull the trigger. The result is one chance in six of getting killed."

"Yeah..." I said.

"However," Kittredge continued, holding up a prohibitive finger, "that's if you play only once. If you play twice, the chances reinforce each other; the odds become one in three... Sure you haven't studied this somewhere?"

I gritted my teeth and glared.

"Pity," Kittredge observed.

"SO?" I repeated.

"So," Kittredge answered, staring at the walnut hardness of his thick, yellowed nails, "after ten plays, it's 84 percent chance you're dead."


"After 20, it's 97 percent." He was cleaning his left thumb with a pocketknife, examining it critically. "If you continue," he said absently, "the odds become 100 percent, or, as they say in the field, 'with probability one,' a certainty." He looked up at me with his pale blue eyes open wide. "Click, click, click," he said, pointing a finger at my forehead, "from the day you're born," and he no longer smiled.

"I don't get it," I said and slapped Kittredge's hand away. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Ah-h-h, ha, ha, HA!" Kittredge laughed. "Jakey, Jakey, you take this all too personally. Click, click click..." he said, his finger at my temple. "It's pointed at you from birth, and it doesn't matter where you're born, Beirut or Beaver Falls, and it doesn't matter about God or any of that shit! Don't you see?"

He spoke with a sudden urgency, grabbing me by my brown bomber jacket, looking me in the eyes. "Don't you see? It's all a crap shoot. Whether we know it or not, every single minute of every single day, we're dying before each other's eyes..."

I pretended not to see, didn't want to see. I pushed Kittredge off. "You're just an old drunk," I said and walked out of the bar.

And Kittredge laughed. That long hard laugh.


On the Esplanade

One morning, down by the esplanade, Kittredge saw a
group of young boys tormenting a kitten, tossing it in the air,
throwing it back and forth. When he yelled at them to stop,
they hurled the creature into the sea. Broken-down and out of shape,
Kittredge lumbered over the sand and into the water. The boys
were furious. They mocked and jeered him.
When he returned empty-handed, they were jublilant.
"Little bastards!" he roared.
Heartless and smug, they taunted and sneered.
Kittredge had to throw rocks to chase them away. But
his anger soon broke against the hard malice of their insolence.
Though he tried to hide it, you could see tears in his eyes.
Thereafter, whenever one of the boys saw him, they'd yell,
"Hey Meester, the kitten, she swimming!"


Barbara Day

Something like Halloween back in the States. It was late, and Kittredge came bursting in, waking me. He was stinking, sweating, swearing, bleary-eyed drunk.

"The f-fucker," he said, holding an open beer in one hand and a six-pack in the other. "You know? YOU KNOW?"

I didn't know; I'd never know.

Kittredge listed from side to side. He looked at me with tremendous effort, trying to focus, to push his meaning through the word ends.

"YOU KNOW?" he repeated with fierce intensity, staggering a little. "He got it all down... all of it... it's all there, the pisser, the son of a bitch, the fucker!" He took another swig, spilling most of it down his chin, and yelled at the top of his lungs, "THE FUCKER, THE FUCKER!"

I tried to quiet him, but he shook me off with a snarl, lost for the moment in his own reverie.

"...the fucker," he said, under his breath, standing unsteadily. "You know? You know?"

There was an earnest imploration, a tenderness, even.

"He did it. He did it. And now he's dead... that's it... that's it. That's all it amounts to..."

His grief was without irony. Serious and inconsolable.

But there was no way of knowing what he was talking about. It might have been a friend who died that day or writer dead centuries ago.

I reached out to him, lifted him, supported him, guided him back to his room.

In the hallway, we stumbled but kept our balance.

"Atta boy," I said, "you can do it."

Kittredge put a heavy arm around my neck and banged my head to his.

"Ah, Jake," he said, "good old Jake."

And I thought, Ah, Kittredge, good old Kittredge. Time-obsessed, beauty-obsessed, suffering Kittredge.



My days assumed a quiet rhythm.

Up at dawn, a morning run, quick shower, breakfast, then down to the rocks and water. I took long walks, all-day bike rides. I climbed Mts. Megunticook and Battie, drank from their ice cold, rock-bottom streams, laid on the big flat rocks of their precipices, warmed by the sun. These were the mountains Millay climbed as a girl. It was her place, her long red hair alive in the wind, her wide heart, her wakening song.

All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.

I found her collected works in a bookstore downtown. The elderly man who sold me the collection, his name was Ed, knew the family as a child. He began to reminisce: the fiery hair, the haughty self-confidence, the precocious intelligence. Norma, Edna's sister, was the pretty one. Vincent (that's what everyone called Edna) was attractive but a little scrawny. She never learned to conceal her quick mind and superior gifts. For a while, they lived on lower Chestnut Street, but forced by need to move to a small house (more a shack, really) in the meadow near the Megunticook River, downhill from Washington Street. In the winter it was drafty and cold. In summer showers, he told me, they'd run through the tall grass in their thin print dresses, laughing and leaping, soaked to the bone. Ed's grandmother used to live next door. His mother was a playmate of Vincent and her two sisters when they were young. Listening to him, I decided that the heart knows, after all, what it knows. I had come to the right place.

Something began to stir. After 20 years, I started reading again. Bellow's Henderson, the Grun-tu-malani, the women of Bittahness. And Lear, King Lear, Cuckoo's Nest, All the King's Men, Death of a Salesman—these were books I read in college, the books that reached into my veins. Who would have believed it? Sitting in the college library, taken by surprise, an ignorant 18-year-old freshman, a football player well over six-three and 200 pounds, hearing the music of Lear for the first time, not fully understanding but knowing I was in the presence of greatness, unashamed as the tears filled my eyes with pity for the the poor Fool asleep before noon. And the old king with Cordelia, dead in his arms. "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life/And thou no breath at all?"

I thought I was too old and cynical, but they reached out to me again, pulled me back to a life of feeling. I saw my father in Miller's salesman, and the old misunderstood king, and McMurphy, too, tragic and heroic, and I recognized, perhaps finally, the irreconcilables that flowed in my father's blood and mine. On every page I heard Kittredge, my mentor, my brother, my friend. The most innocent occurrence could bring him to mind. And I'd weep. I could finally weep. Night after night, I grieved.

One night, facing exhaustion, unable to eat, I swear Kittredge seemed to come to me. He patted me on the head. "I'm all right," he said, "really, I'm fine. No need to cry." Probably a defense mechanism, dopamine released in my brain. The body's basic survival instinct. You couldn't convince me. I felt him there that night. I made a truce with myself. A turning point. A reprieve.

After that, life reasserted itself, returned to my veins. My head cleared and awakened. I wanted to live. And it was my dead who healed me.

And I began writing again. I filled pad after yellow legal pad with all I saw and felt and tasted. I spread my notes from Beirut all over the floor. Instead of trying to escape, I read and reread them, searching for truth at the center. I wrote and wrote. It poured from me. Beirut and Chicago taught me I was outcast and fatherless. I had a passion for truth, but in Maine I discovered feeling, the only source of value in an otherwise meaningless universe.



One night, more than a month after I arrived, I felt ready for people again.

I drove into town. There was a place near the waterfront. A stand up bar with a small dance floor, tables, and a three piece band. There were maybe 20 people. I took a corner stool, ordered a gin and tonic.

An older man stood next to me. Maybe in his early 60s. Kittredge's generation. He wore a short sleeve, smooth white shirt and casual slacks. His hair was thick and grey and wavy. A dark tan. Clark Gable, pencil-thin mustache. Called everybody "Cuz" or "cousin"—except the waitress, she was "nurse." "Hey, nurse, bring me some medicine," he'd say and point to his empty glass. A good-natured guy, a sparkle in his eyes. I liked him immediately. His name was Hymie. Lived in Pittsburgh. On vacation, visiting relatives. When the waitress brought his drink, he smiled and treated her to a brief serenade:

You made me love you,
I didn't want to do it,
I didn't want to do it...

Had I tried something like that, I would've looked foolish. But Hymie could get away with it. His good will was infectious. The wink in his eye said he took nothing serious and nothing for granted, including himself. It was all in good fun. When he finished, the waitress applauded and everybody smiled. "A bar's a great place," Hymie said, "no matter where you go, you make friends."

It was then I noticed someone sitting at one of the tables staring at me, trying to catch my eye. I ignored him.

The band started playing old songs, Gershwin and Porter, Glenn Miller. Nice songs, but sad. They evoked another time and place. A simpler time, ephemeral and doomed, dancing cheek to cheek, while jackboots echoed in Munich and Berlin.

"Ah, now, that was music," Hymie said when the band took a break. I had to agree. My father told me once that I'd never be an adult until I could love Sinatra. Naturally, I disagreed, took it as a put down, couldn't believe how ignorant and old fashioned he was. Now I was beginning to understand. Toward the end, I got my father to listen to rock. He said, "They replaced invention with volume." Not a bad quote. Something Kittredge might admire. It's true: I could hardly imagine, 20 years hence, listening to the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin or even Dylan and saying, "Ah, now, that was music," and meaning it precisely the same way.



We were sitting in the bar of the Commodore.
I was mad, and Kittredge was laughing.

"Come now, Jake," he said, "you must see the
humor in it. YOU, above all, complaining about 'change.'
It was your generation that jammed it down our throats!
We were old, dried up, anal retentive—remember?
And we were! We were! But you weren't satisfied. You
had to parade it, threaten with it, carry it like a bludgeon.
You embraced 'change' like a religion, worshiped it as a
way of life. Rubbed it in our faces as if you invented it
yourself. 'The times they are a changin'.' Indeed.

"Now the years go by—too fast, too fast—and it
scares you. You want to slow it down, to hold
back time, to hold back change, for even 'good' change
is just a reminder of mortality. It's the clock ticking.
Click, click, click. The days counting down. Too fast,
too fast. And all along you thought you'd be young and
live forever. Ha, Ha Ha! And NOW, you know. You
know it. Too fast, too fast!

"When you're young, 'change' is an ally, a promise.
When you're old, it's little more than a finger pointing
click click, click!"

And he laughed that devilish laugh.


"I tell ya," Hymie said, "when I was a kid, that was it. Dances every night. It was great. No trouble. Everybody had a good time. A few drinks, a good band, a lot of fun. That was it." As he spoke, I noticed in the mirror that the one staring at me had moved a table closer. And then another and another. He was just a kid—a boy, really, neat and clean cut, with a clear complexion and close cropped hair. But he had a nervous, haunted look. The kind of kid who bites his fingernails down to the nub.

"We used to put the dances on ourselves," Hymie told me. "The Depression, you know. People out of work. Nobody had a thing. We'd rent a hall, sell some tickets, make a little money. A lot of fun. Right Cuz?" The bartender nodded and smiled. "You make good medicine, Cuz," Hymie said raising his glass. "Set 'em up for me and my friend."

The gin was cool, and my throat was dry. I was beginning to understand that this was what life was, moments like this: a warm summer night, smooth cold gin, Hymie singing to the waitress. That's when I recalled where I'd seen the "kid" before. It was around 6:00 AM as I cut through town on my run. No one was around. The "kid" (probably his early 20's) was sitting on the steps of the Post Office as I turned the corner, running hard, and startled him. His eyes opened wide. He winced, then stared after me, and apparently continued to stare long after I was gone.

Now, as Hymie talked, the kid got up and walked to the rest room. As he passed me, he bumped into me (probably harder than he intended). His hand hit my crotch. I turned quickly, a reflex action. He flinched, fell back into an empty table and chairs as if he were going to be hit. "Excuse me," he said, frightened and polite, and walked away as quickly as he could. When he reemerged from the restroom, he sat in the back, near the door, and kept sneaking looks. He never said another word. Just looked. He couldn't seem to help himself. I ignored him. After a few minutes, he lost his nerve and disappeared out the back door.

"Hey, nurse," Hymie called, "how you doing?" and winked. The "nurse" winked back. He just walked in that night, and they all knew him and loved him. "I have a good time," he said. "What the hell, you're only young once." And he ordered another round.

He'd served in the Pacific. Tarawa, Ulithi, Iwo Jima. I knew that at Iwo Jima alone, every unit suffered 50 percent casualties. I knew because my old man was a Marine. He served with John Basilone in C Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division. But Hymie wanted to talk about when he was young, before the war.

"One time," he said, "me and this friend, Blackie Russo, hired a band, King Donovan and the Rhythm Boys. They were big... toured the whole country. So after we booked them, they got a better offer in Cleveland, I think it was, a big hotel, the Stanhope. Blackie's brother was standing in the office, right there at the time. He heard the whole thing. One of them says, 'What about that bunch from Braddock (meaning us)?' 'Oh, I know them,' Donovan says, 'just a bunch of greenhorns. The hell with 'em.' Greenhorns, can you imagine? So they don't show. We had the place rented, the tickets printed. We were so God damned mad. About six months later, we thought of a way to get even..." The stories kept coming, full of drinking buddies, good time fun, and barroom battles.

A little later, while Hymie was up singing with the band, I put a tip on the bar and walked out. I gave Hymie a wave. Hymie nodded and said, "Good night, Cuz," through the microphone and never missed a beat. He had a good voice, smooth like the band singers he admired so much. My Cuz.

As I got in the old Chevy, I noticed someone peeking around the corner of the bar, peering up at me from the shadows. It was the kid, giving me a naked, starved, meager look he didn't know I could see. The intensity was embarrassing. He was wretched, pitiful and moonstruck, but he meant no harm. "None offend," Kittredge said, "none offend."

I turned the engine over and put the car in gear. As I drove up the long hill to the house, the radio announced that yet another cease fire had been broken in Beirut. Druse and Christian artillery were dueling in the middle of the day.


The Knight-Newsreel Press

BEIRUT—Hospitals report they are running out of
medicine. There's no electricity or water. The presidential
palace atop a hill overlooking the city has been blasted
into rubble.

Rats, some as big as cats, scamper through
mounds of garbage festering in the summer heat.
Power cables, cut by shrapnel, dangle from splintered
wooden poles. Beneath rubble-strewn streets, the estimated
150,000 Beirutis cling to what is left of their lives, cowering
for days in underground bunkers or basement parking lots.

After five months of day-and-night shelling, Beirut is in ruins.
With probability one, I thought.
Allahu Akbar, I thought.
With life you make sure, I thought.



By Labor Day the tourists had cleared out. The stores and restaurants were vacant, the downtown streets virtually deserted: a kind of temporary quiescence before the gauntlet of winter.

That Sunday morning, I walked the mile down to the harbor.

The sun was still high and fairly warm. The houses were sleepy and deep in shadows. The woods were full of movement. In Chicago, the blast of city life had been constant. A barrage of jack hammers and buses shifting gears, the grinding hum of gridlock. In Maine, I awoke to the concinnities of living creatures. I heard woodcocks on the forest floor, white-throated sparrows, and ravens croaking back to their aeries on the ledges. The closer I got to town, black-capped chickadees were lined up at bird feeders. My favorites. I loved the little chickadees. Standing in Mrs. Perkins garden, I'd take two fists of bird seed, raise my arms extended like St. Francis, and wait for them to come. They'd line my arms from shoulder to palm, patiently waiting their turn. Cee-dee-dee, cee-dee-dee, chickadee, chickadee, they cried. Too bad humans couldn't learn such civility. My ghosts still haunted me, but on a day like this, they were sensible enough to keep their distance.

The brisk walk quickened my appetite. My mouth craved breakfast at Cappy's. They raised their own chickens, and the eggs they served tasted like real eggs from my childhood, not the tasteless self-replicas purloined from chickens packed in cages so tight they couldn't spread their wings or avoid the decaying carcasses of their cage mates. These were real eggs with a deep, yellow yolk. Three over easy with toast, corn beef hash, and hash browns. I couldn't wait.

Close to town, I overheard a snatch of voices.

They pulsed, rose and fell. I paused, cocked my head, and tried to follow. They came from a church farther down the road. Against my own inclinations, they beckoned me. Drawn by the old time pull of gospel chords.

I hated church as a kid. After my mother's Billy Graham escapade, we wound up attending the local Baptist Church minus my father. He considered Baptists heretics and holy rollers. He wasn't particularly religious himself, but he was a man of loyalties. He stopped attending the Catholic Church, he said, because he resented paying for his seat to an Irishman (the local priest). He could never get over the fact that his church, the church Italy invented, was owned by the Irish in America. I, too, had an ambivalent relationship to organized religion. The cold-hearted minister high up in the pulpit would bluster sanctimoniously. The old biddies would narrow their eyes and search for the slightest intimation of sin.

In college, my friends and I regarded organized religion as a collection of reactionary rednecks with simpleminded and hypocritical middle class values, standing in the way of personal growth and freedom, the liberal utopia we envisioned. No different than Beirut, I always believed uncritically that they (the religious right) were the enemy. And yet, and yet, I found myself drawn to those artless and exuberant voices. The gospel chords, solid as anchors, drew me back to a time I thought was forever lost. For a moment, I felt like I was home again, even though I'd never had a home. One Sunday night service each month, the Baptists would have a "singsperation." The preacher's sermon was dispensed with, and the entire service was singing those old gospel hymns. In an ever threatening world, it was those iconic chords that embraced and protected me as the voices around me rolled.

The church was white clapboard, solid with an ascetic grace. It had a bell tower and steeple with a cross on top. The side windows were tall and arched, filled with stained glass. I followed the music, drawn by the comfort of human voices raised in harmony. No yelling, no strife, no violence. Kittredge sneered, but I sent him away.

I entered quietly, unnoticed, and took a seat in a back pew. The roof was meant to emulate an inverted ship, the rib-like rafters arched to the bow. There was the sensation of rock-bound steadiness in a tumultuous sea. The pews were high and just comfortable enough to keep you awake for the preacher's sermon. I kept asking myself, "What the hell are you doing?" But there, in the cool peace drifting downward like snow, I found a momentary refuge, a stay against confusion. I remembered John Updike when asked why he attended church each Sunday replied that it gave him an hour's quiet and communion with himself. The hymn ended, and the preacher stepped up to the pulpit.

He was a man of latter middle age with a pale, generous face, almost shy. He paused, looked up to the ceiling, then closed his eyes.

"Hypocrite," Kittredge cried.

"Go away," I told him.

"Tolstoy took a walk in the woods and in his grief discovered God. Come, Jake, you're no Tolstoy."

"Go away you old fool," I told him.

"Many of us," the preacher began, "are old enough to have lived through a century where man decided he no longer needed God." His voice was sonorous, explanatory, not judgmental. "We embraced science, modernism, the accumulation of wealth. Religion was discarded as little more than a collection of mindless superstition. God was dead and the Bible a charming artifact of empty myths. I know this because I believed it myself. Instead of God, we embraced -isms: rationalism, Freudianism, Skinnerianism, Humanism, materialism. We challenged our minds, celebrated our animal passions, and genuinely believed that discovery would be our savior, knowledge our salvation."

He reminded me of a professor I had in college. His lectures so popular they were recorded and re-played on the college radio station at night. With Kittredge not far away, I was skeptical, waiting for the everlasting "nay."

"In time, however," he went on, "it became evident that discovery had invented weapons of horror and complete annihilation, and knowledge had made us cynical, adrift in a world where man plays wolf to man. Lately, the Word has been hijacked by unscrupulous clergy who preach a gospel of success, a life measured by power and financial gain. Aren't you tired? Weary? The headlines in the evening paper assault you every day, and it's hard not to have a presentiment of doom. Everywhere in the world, EVERYWHERE, you witness pain, violence, and unspeakable suffering. No matter how hard you ignore or work to ease the spiraling chaos, it seems to multiply. The World is little more than a one-way ticket to extinction.

"So we fed our minds, but starved our souls. Yes, our appetites and curiosity must be fed. God blessed us with minds and bodies that need stimulation and nourishment. There's nothing wrong with luxuriating your mind and body, but never at the expense of the soul. God blessed us so that we can only be satisfied by faith and communion with spiritual meaning. Man can deny it all he wants, but he is finally a spiritual creature. Call God by whatever name or word you choose, but you cannot live divorced from His goodness. Which one of us has not had our senses overwhelmed by the beauty of nature and been transported by it? Has it not communicated truth? That spark that responds is God in us. What is that feeling that fills us when we reach out to another human being suffering in need? But we turned from those truths and filled our heads with facts, information, and the more filled our heads and pockets became, the more empty our souls. Whole generations believed God was dead. Instead of truths to live by, we gave them morals that were situational. Day to day reality was colored in different shades of grey, rarely black and white. You can lie and cheat and be dishonest and call it 'good business.' How can that be? And Jesus went into God's house, and cast out all that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, 'It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.' The gospel of success has become a den of thieves, more important than the gospel of love. Jesus said we should not worship things. 'Man shall not live by bread alone.' We need more than computers and technology, the latest gadgets and conveniences. How does it profit man to gain a hot tub, but lose his own soul?"

He smiled. "But the breakdown of moral standards brought about a breakdown in society. Gang warfare, racial strife, hatred and prejudice, drugs. No matter where you turn: lying, cheating, bigotry, greed, horror, and immorality overtakes us. What would Jesus have us do?" He paused, put his hands together palm to palm as if in prayer, and raised them to his chin in contemplation. He stepped back to the pulpit.

"There are those who say we should unite in lockstep, confront the world, do battle against the Godless hordes who oppose us. Some advocate that violence is the only answer. They tell us how to vote, to arm ourselves and seek to conquer. Would Jesus suggest such a thing? Jesus knew you could not change the world with force or violence. He knew that sin was a part of human nature as much as love, and He knew you could not defeat it with compulsion. Goodness and giving is the answer. God is the spirit of goodness in a weary world. When you act in God's spirit, those small acts of sacrifice and kindness that you perform almost every day, it puts you in the arms of God. This world is not bereft of God, and God has not forsaken us. He yearns for our return. But how shall we transform this world to make it livable in peace and understanding? Jesus tells us, 'Ye must be born again.' Nicodemus was a smart and worldly man, but he didn't understand. 'How can these things be,' he asked Jesus. 'Shall I enter my mother's womb and be born again?' Jesus told him to look into himself, to acknowledge his own weakness and sin, to ask forgiveness and seek to do good, and he would be born again, cleansed, born into the spirit of giving, transformed by grace. The God of the Old Testament is a God of if-then. If you do this, then I'll do that. Jesus offers a new covenant. There is no if-then, there is only grace and love, and all you have to do to obtain it is to confess your sins, accept goodness into your heart, and gain self-knowledge."

He paused and a wave of emotion washed over him. His eyes filled with affection. He looked down at his flock with such tenderness.

"Are you weeping, Jake?" Kittredge asked.

"Go away," I told him.

"Oh please, you're moved by this backwoods Billy Sunday? One sunny morning, C.S. Lewis set out for Whipsnade. When he left, he was a non-believer. When he arrived, the Son of God was in his heart. Is that what you're trying to pull? Paul on the road to Damascus?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"I come to you today to tell you I don't know the answers that will cure the world's distress. It's too great a burden for me to bear. But when I think of Jesus, it fills my heart with joy. So every day I renounce selfishness and greed. I live the law of love. The world is full of spite and violence, but we have a choice: we can live in God as one who's been forgiven, or we can live forsaken in a lawless, loveless world. He waits for us, He yearns for us, He is our Father. And because God loves you, you can risk loving, too. It will do no good to confront those with whom we disagree by telling them they are wrong. Seek understanding. There is a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up. Put aside pretension and pride, smugness and vanity, embrace kindness and forgiving."

His voice became soft, implorative. "The sparrow is a plentiful bird. People sometimes complain about how they multiply and consider them pests, but Jesus tells us that not even one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing. He loves us. His eye is on the sparrow."

I left the church as the organ played and the choir began to sing.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

"Come, Jake, come. You're not buying this hillbilly hocus-pocus?"

I was angry with myself for feeling such potato love, but I couldn't deny that the preacher's words and the choir's singing touched me. Were these people the enemy? They really weren't so different from me. I wasn't ready to embrace religious orthodoxy, but it was a relief to feel something positive, to feel some sort of connection to other human beings. A simple community of belief. It washed over me. They just wanted the world to be kind.

"Ah, yes, anoesis," Kittredge said.

"Leave me alone," I told him.

"A state of mind of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive content. That's what you're suffering from my boy."

"I don't care what you call it. There's nothing wrong with being moved by simple kindness."

"Simple. Yes, simple," Kittredge said.

"I've lived my whole life as an against-er. Lonely. Alone. Don't you see? I'm not a-part, I'm a part of everything. You above all should see. We share a commonality with these people no matter what we say. For the first time since I came back from Beirut, I don't feel abandoned and alone. These people aren't smug or elitist. They think the same things we do, but they call it by different names. We have no right to think of them as less than what we are because their beliefs are simple. And we do, you know, we do! We've treated them like they were idiots, boorish and ignorant, peasants with small-minded, parochial views. And they are harmed by our presumptions. We've dismissed their concerns, thought them irrelevant. We think them unwashed scum or scrubbed up hypocrites. They're not! They're just people, frightened people, and when people are frightened, they take extreme positions. We're not better than they are. If compassion is not the answer, then there is no answer. I'm ready to make peace."

"Ah, Jake, tender Jake. Take my hand. You're a good man, Jake."


Sabra and Shatila

During the early morning hours,
of September 16th
the Voice of Arab Lebanon
began reporting the news that
the PLO had left the day before,
trusting the words of Ariel Sharon and
the American Ambassador Habib,
leaving their wives and children,
old men and old women,

The Israelis surrounded the camps
on the evening of the 17th,
then the Phalangist trucks arrived.
They killed
all day and all night: house
to house, even the cats and dogs,
leaving booby traps
beneath the corpses for those
who would come to bury their dead.

It went on for two days.

I arrived the second afternoon
via Al-Sifara Al-Kuwaitiyah.
They wouldn't let us enter,
but you could still hear the
screams of women and children,
the busy business of death.

A young Israeli soldier
at his post on top
of one of the buildings
surrounding the camp
looked down at me.
Our eyes met,
and he began to weep.



I woke early and lay in bed, listening to the silence of the old house, waiting for the silver light of dawn. It had rained hard and long during the night. Brisk northwest winds had gusted and blasted. Now, a breeze gently billowed the sheer white curtains. My breath rose and fell on the rhythm of the wind, floating, as if speech or movement would shatter the moment. It was one of those mornings in early September in Maine, when all at once, it seems, the summer is gone.

Out on the road, the sound of my feet on the pavement mimicked the muffled pounding of my breath. The wine crisp air stabbed my chest. I lugged myself—struggling on the hills, breathing forced and ragged—pushing my body before me like a lifeless steamer trunk.

At first my left ankle ached, then my right knee. After a mile or so, I began to loosen. My stride lengthened. A warm sweat covered my brow. The pain disappeared. My breathing came easier. Up hill and down. Movement became fluid, my legs light and elastic. I was running—running, running, running—as if he lived well in my body.

The rising sun hadn't dried out the morning smells. There was the raw scent of cedar and sedge, of moss-backed rock, sweet clover and bloodroot. The sour mash sap and mud smell of fresh cut wood.

The old dirt road curved, dipped down parallel to the coast. Through the bright wet leaves, I saw the sea, rolling in white caps, the fish delighting sea. I heard the surge and swell, smelled the salt. In a small cove, a Great Blue Heron, like a warrior king on stilts, stalked the eel grass in the shallows for chub and herring. Above the water, out high in the transparent sky, an Osprey soared, wings crooked in flight. And then the road swerved from the shore and traveled up a small hill, at the top of which was an orchard.

Here were rows of sweet green apple trees, their branches gnarled and thick with fruit. The sun rose higher, and the honey bees buzzed. Three yellow-eyed, black-purple crows squawked in a tamarack tree. Then came the woods and bird song, and I was running hard, and there was no drag, and Kittredge smiled. "Run, Jake, run," he said, "Ripeness is all."

And I remembered what it was I was trying to say in the dream I always had, the dream of my old man and the one armed woman where I kept changing into different people. I wanted to say, "I'm sorry!" That was all. Just, "I'm sorry."

"Good, Jake, good!" Kittredge said. "Remember, memory's a kind of accomplishment, Jakey, a sort of renewal, really."

And I felt lightened, purged. I wanted to remember now.

And then, I was running. Past ponds and meadows, blonde-green golden fields with golden flowers, red columbine, and pasture rose, purple lupine and yellow marigold. Running in the rain made a new world.

I saw a footpath through the forest I hadn't seen before. It was all pine, dark and damp, with fiddlehead fern and bright green grass, broken only by the straight, white bark of occasional birch. Below was the distant plash of waves and above the solemn windsong of treetops and sun. The ground was spongy, cushioned soft but firm beneath, and I ran effortlessly. Feeling the pulse of my body, the sinew and blood, pumping, swelling, the leap and stretch, supremely in the moment. Perfect. Within time. Not behind it or ahead. But within time. Just pushing against the ground, the sky, the wind—against gravity, itself. Taking the measure of it and meeting that measure.

"This is it..." Kittredge told me, "immediate, primary, certain... it's all there is."

A little later, breathing deep the fresh clean air, sweating pure, flying high, gliding between the moss encrusted rocks, I cried, "It is enough... enough!"

And it echoed against the impenetrable forest. And someplace, faraway, Kittredge laughed, that deep-bellied, full-throated laugh.

"Run, Jake, run," he cheered.

And I was running, running hard against the darkness. Feet pounding. Heart racing. Running towards a glimmer of light. A single sliver. A tiny shimmer of diamond-shaped light. Way off in the distance.

Running, running, running—always to the light.