Mar/Apr 1998  •   Fiction

A Gray Impalpable World

by Timothy Boring

I lie here underneath her. On this couch in the cold gray light of an October evening. The blue curtains shift about the windows across the room. I opened them before we fucked. She didn't ask why. She is sleeping. Naked. Her face buried in the crook of my neck and her brown hair spreading out across my chest. Gray. Such an appropriate color for this occasion. Outside the windows, I see more of it. Dark conquering light. An area of obliqueness. Of shadows. In here, more of the same. I hear her breathing, perhaps more like wheezing that isn't music to my ears. I feel her annoying heart beating against my chest and I wish it would stop. Just stop so we could end this masquerade. I look around. Like everyday for the past year. Seeing nothing that makes me want to stay here. Small streams of light, transparent and pale orange, drift in underneath the door and through the transom above. On the wall near the door to the kitchen hangs a painting from high school. I think my senior year. A black canvas on which is painted a distanced view of a city at night. Street lights and lights from homes in some unknown valley. A main drag lit up by bright yellows and greens—flourescent pollution. Tiny reds and oranges, I think they're fires, barely smoldering. Or perhaps just coming to life. A pale moon with shades of gray looms above the scene. No eyes, no smile. Just there. What would I do if I lived there? Would I get to know anyone? I imagine myself walking the crowded streets. I am naked. I have long hair and I keep pushing my bangs out of my eyes to see. Wiping my hand across my chin, I discover a rough, scraggly beard. I walk past a conservative looking couple: he's wearing a cardigan and Guess jeans and penny loafer's; she has on a full length dress and flats. I see it in his eyes. He can't wait to get her home, get her out of that dress. And then lie there staring.... Tick-tock-tick-tock. I want to break that fucking clock! I knew this kid once. Can't remember his name. We went to the same college. Nice guy for the most part. He had this old time piece of his grandfather's. He didn't carry it on a chain or anything, just kept it in his jeans' pocket. It was gold and the first time he showed it to me he told me what his dad had said when he gave it to him. He said: I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; and it's rather excruciatingly apt that you use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it did his or his father's. I never saw him again after our freshman year, though. How could a father do that to his son? Mausoleum of all hope and desire! What the hell does that mean? Death and hope? Hope in death? I like to think of myself driving. Driving anywhere. It doesn't matter. A country road in some forgotten land of time. I'm driving any car. The make and model are unimportant. It's evening. The last dying rays of the sun sink below the outline of the ridges hulking above the road. Shadows grow longer. I hear only the tires crunching over stones and dirt, smell nothing but cow shit, think of nothing but driving. Up ahead there's a bend in the road where a lone willow tree stands (I know, I've driven this road before), and two pairs of bright eyes are frozen in my headlights. Deer for sure. I'll drive slow. No need to wreck my dream. Slowing down, waiting for the bodies to materialize, I hear voices.—Didi?—Yes.—I can't go on like this.—Do you see those lights there?—Oh! Yes, I do now that you mention it.—It must be him.—Yes. Our wait is finally over after all this time. I stop. Staring for a moment, my eyes begin to slowly adjust and focus on these two odd-looking guys. The one is wearing some sort of hat and long overcoat. The other is standing there with his pants down around his ankles. They look at me funny, waiting, I guess, for me to say something. So I do.—What are you guys doing? —We've been waiting for you, the one wearing the hat says.—Waiting for me?—Yes, says the other. We've been here since yesterday.—Huh? Is this a dream? I ask them.—Possibly. It's hard to tell anymore, isn't it!—Yeah. Yeah it is. The one pulls his pants up and draws them together with what looks like a piece of rope. He says:—Are you him?—Am I who?—You know, Him?—No, I say. I don't think so.—That's too bad. Isn't it, Didi?—Yes.—Do you guys want a ride?—Where are you going?—Where I've never been.—Yes, the hatted one says. That is a good place to go.—Well?—I think we'll wait here. For our friend.—Okay. I drive on. I want to throw that damn clock out the window! But I can't. The incessant ticking—it won't ever stop. That's why. If I throw it out I'll still hear it in my head. TICK. TICK. TICK. The hands moving forward without ever ceasing. When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Mr. Letastack, told our class one day:—I would like all of you to put down your pencils for a moment. I want you to sit there in your seats and watch the second hand on the clock. We did, not knowing what he might be getting at. Some paid no attention: they slumped in their seats and stared out the window at the bright day, probably thinking of what they were going to do at recess. I watched the clock, though. Watched that damn second hand tick from the 3 to the 6. I'm not sure why it intrigued me so much. It were as if it spoke to me. I concentrated on it until the ticks rang loudly in my head like someone beating a gong at an ancient ritual. TICKKK. TOCKKKK. BONGGGG. BONGGGGGG. Then he said:—You've just watched fifteen seconds pass. I want everyone to realize that you will never be able to get that time back. It's gone forever. I slide the both of us over to the edge of the couch, then roll her onto her back. Her bare nipples, pink and large, rise and fall in time with her stomach. She rubs one foot along the inside of her other leg. I stand in the stillness of the room, move through the thickening gray, through the light seeping in from the hallway, to the television. I pick up a cigarette and light it while staring outside. I hear an owl.... I went hunting last week. I drove out to this hollow near Crickett's Gap. About an hour from here. It was still dark when I turned onto the dirt road leading up into the hollow. I parked the truck next to a dilapidated barn near the mouth of the hollow. Stepping out into the blackness, the silence hit me hard, almost suffocating me like a question from your lover that you don't want to answer. Orion was beginning his descent below the ridgetops. The smell of dirt and grass hung on the crisp air. After turning on the cargo lamp, I walked to the back of the truck and found myself encased in bright light. It hurt my eyes to look at it. I felt as if I were a deer, come staggering out onto a rural road in some back- country, finding myself frozen with fear in the beams of a fast- moving truck. I dropped the tailgate and sat down, pulled a trash bag to me, then untied my boots. Out of the bag I drew a pair of camouflage overalls. I loved these overalls. I think my mother got them for me for my birthday. Comfortable. The best adjective to describe them. After sliding them over my jeans I put my boots back on and tied them, then stepped down onto the frozen ground, grass blades shattering under the weight of my feet. I opened my bowcase and took out my compound, screwed on the quiver, then placed five arrows in the quiver before moving back into the darkness to return to the cab and turn off the light. I hiked the mile up into the head of the hollow, my flashlight still in my backpack. I walked up the dam, around the lake and stopped at the edge of the woods. I listened. Rustlings on the ridges above me. Which side? I looked to see but saw only the stark forms of tree tops jutting toward the sky in differing degrees of blackness—black, dark gray, and gray sprinkled with white spots. I continued up a draw to my treestand. Climbing into it, I felt myself breathing hard. My breath drifted on the breeze and I followed it upward until I saw above my head twinklings of stars through the still-leafed trees. I kept looking around, trying to focus my eyes so that I could see more clearly. The forms of the trees grew blacker, though, and denser. And then I saw them. They danced in the void like sprites. Little balls of white light flashing here and there. I saw them directly in front of me and turned around in the stand, brushing my elbow on the smooth surface of a limb, to find them dancing behind me, too. Aliens? Small, obscure creatures from some nether world come here to experiment? My heart beat faster. I tried to keep my head about me. They sped up. BLINK-BLINK-BLINK. Moving closer. What did I have to do this afternoon: 1) clean 2) balance checkbook 3) eat 4) ... Flickering faster now. Two years before I was so afraid because I'd seen Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula the night before. I sat in a tree stand early the next morning thinking that a vampire might swing down from the upper branches and hang there upside down, screaming in my face, while I shit myself. His pale face standing out like the moon. Then he would disappear back into the dark where he came from. The sun popped up. Its rays lighted on tree trunks and the decaying leaves of falls past. The breeze turned bitter and grew stronger, whipping saplings in a frenzy and sending chills up my spine. After concentrating on the ridge to my right, I turned and faced the back ridge of the hollow, searching. The dry creek switchbacked about fifty yards from where my stand was. There was a fallen tree in the bend; the trunk was uprooted on this side and leaned across to the other. And there at the base sat a man in blue jeans and a plaid jacket, leaning back against the tree—comfortably. He appeared relaxed, as if he were meditating and had found nirvana. His lips were parted in a slight smile. The image scared me. I blinked. He was gone. I woke up this morning masturbating to the image of a woman I've seen only once. She had blond hair, pulled back in a pony tail. Her chest screamed to be let free from the tight shirt she was wearing. I think I saw her in the grocery store. We were in a hotel room, in the mountains. I was sitting on the bed in my underwear when she came out of the bathroom in this negligee type thing. Black lace pushing up her breasts; thin straps laying over her lightly freckled shoulders; the thighs riding up past her hips. She came over to me, stopped at the foot of the bed where I was sitting and slid in between my legs, rubbing her hands into my hair, pulling my head toward her chest. I kissed her cleavage, ran my tongue down between her breasts, up along the edge of the cloth which created a border between the worlds of eroticism and banal nudity. I pushed the straps off her shoulders, exposing her firm and hard-nippled breasts.... Then I came. Lying here now, beside this one, I hear the clock ticking again. I stare at the ceiling. Gray light continues to seep in underneath the curtains, edging toward me in slow waves.