Thursday, October 13, 2011

INBETWEEN --5 chapters


All that winter they were ripping up the streets of Europe, the streets of Paris and Florence, the streets of Rome. Scaffolding circles churches, hides triumphal arches, strips of green nylon tarpaulin stretched across its planks and frames. Streets have been uprooted, cobblestones stacked against the walls of black buildings. They're turning hotels into museums, letting the steam out of the sewers, putting statues behind glass; policemen are looking on, machine guns slung over their shoulders. In Rome they don't have any portable electric lights; instead they use little pots of fire that look like the old-fashioned anarchist's bombs in silent movies to warn cars of the edges, where the streets drop off into dusty pits. 

He looks across a muddy hole filled with heavy machinery at a museum. Closed for renovation, the sign says. 

A whole street in the center of Florence has been ripped up; the exclusive shops face each other across a dank pit of reddish earth, and the walls of green-shuttered windows seem to close in on you as you look up. A little rain slips into the narrow streets as Persey hurries home carrying groceries. Other Americans and the well-to-do Florentines pass slowly, laden with colorful brand-name shopping bags. In Paris, between snow flurries, he watches them pouring out cement sidewalks in long strips down the Boulevard St. Michael; they were laying out the streets of Europe that winter. People pass in a hurry, nobody watching the police frisking some Arabs up against a wall.

It's the international students that he meets first. They're living at the tops of old apartment buildings, in the single rooms that once housed family maids and nannies. They're living in the workers' districts, watching out windows--people passing, snow falling on other rooftops--and boiling spaghetti in dented pots. They're studying, making statements to him about the real Europe and listening to the latest crazes, listening to French radio. At night sometimes they take their bodies to the sweat box to dance--and that's very expensive in Paris. They move on, at different times; they all want to travel more. "It's not so much how it's different here," his friend Jay warns him, "but how it's the same." They live in a hurry, not thinking of themselves as being in any way old yet.

Her boyfriend drives too much, for too long, and gas is so expensive, he complains. Others live in the Métro. They have no time, they carry briefcases. Selling drugs is a living in Les Halles; if they're African or Arab the police are checking their papers, rounding up the usual suspects. Others call it "Mètro boulot dodo" in passing. Everyone who can gets out in August.

He meets a man who wears a trench coat and carries a briefcase, and who buys him a beer at a café on the Place Contescarpe. He does odd jobs. "I live in Berkeley for a time, working az a waiter." He seems to enjoy speaking English, explaining to him how beer is only just now catching on in Paris and how it is still more expensive than wine. To the young American he speaks of "Zi French" as if he were not one of them.

"I 'ave come to the Left Bank," he explains, "to make reservations for me and some of my friends at the bowling alley." It's in the basement of a building on the nearby Rue Mouffetard. "It is very small, you see, because property in Paris is so expensive." He lives in a little town outside of the city now. He says, "Why not?" about his latest job; driving a car for an old friend who's struck it rich as a lawyer. "Paris is so expensive," they all say sooner or later. He doesn't have any cigarettes, no, sorry.


The loggia dei Lanzi is full of flowers. "It's not usually like this," Persey tells him. They come out of the aisles and meet in the center of the galleria. She walks off again and he sees Max looking after them. Max shrugs. Persey shows him the Rape of the Sabines; "it's a shame they never clean the statues."

"It doesn't affect the bronze ones." He points across the way at Judith and Holofernes on the porch of the Palazzo Vecchio.

"Oh, that one's a copy," Persey informs him.

It's a huge funeral rite, he thinks, stepping out into the square, just for us. She'll never even notice. He looks up at the flat gray sky above them. He remembers: her self-portraits are from the inside out. Can we really not have come together after all this? Because of all this? He's watching her now, wandering through the flowers and plants crowded in-between the statues. She weaves between the arches and down the aisles of the galleria distractedly towards the river. He wonders how they must look together. It's probably just impatience. He's got too much time on his hands now not to be this affected by her retreats.

"It's the time of the year," she'd told him, "some kind of festival."

At the end of the galleria he comes up behind her and puts his arm around her waist as they wait to cross the street. She steps away again, crossing in front of him. He turns, feeling Michelangelo's David watching them from behind, and Hercules, his club dangling and some poor bastard under his knee.

Then, when they're on the Ponte Vecchio, it starts to rain. She's talking with her friend Ben who's selling the jewelry he makes from a blanket spread out on the pavement in front of the closed-up shops that line the bridge.

She's already told him that she's afraid of hurting him again. Fear makes her feel trapped. She's going back to the States in less than a week.

"I'm going to the park"--he's gone then--"I'll see you later this afternoon." He follows the road up to the Palazzo Pitti, goes through its courtyard and climbs the hill into the Boboli gardens.

It'll take him the whole day to figure out that this is how it's going to be between them this time.

She'd been happy to see him walk away, even though she knew he was mad. I can't live with him again right now, she decides. (They'll talk the next day and she'll tell him that he won't be the third roommate in the house that she and Julie have rented for the summer.) She talks with Ben for a while on the bridge, finally relaxing. Ben understands, or seems to. He doesn't take anything from her--maybe he isn't really listening, doesn't care what she thinks or does. How can they take anything seriously in a place as unreal as this?

He writes a letter in the park, sitting on a damp stone bench under an arbor. The vines drip, slowly, on him, the rain having stopped. There are worn statues, faceless and green, in the rain along the deserted pathways. When he gets up, there's a dark wet circle on the seat of his pants. He writes—


"Another fragment splinters. I've been waiting... Now I see delicate bone, flesh of your arms. Touching is mute, words opening to separation at morning--to write down the it of you and I.

"Delicate bone and flesh, white to be dotted by freckles, remembering birth and the light coming into your bedroom this morning as I watched you sleep. You're alive still and the breathing fascinates me. Touching this warm, white haloed arm. You move: the silly jumping to settle the coat that protects your flesh from the rain, and the cloth you forgot to put on before. I move: running off in directions I never thought of before and my old clothes tear. Buttons falling, my pockets lose their lining, but it doesn't matter anymore. I'm giving it all away.

"We toss each other up into the open with our arms. I turn away again, wanting just to be a coin at the bottom of your sea, but you know me and that look is love, the finger pointed at me all night long. Around again: I have to be and can't not. This is the terrifying now I kept waiting for.

"Good morning. Don't predict a future. Held each other, heads facing forward over each others' shoulders. This is surely the moment counted down to. Sight and vision split; we should leave something on each others' bodies to remind us. Catches up these thoughts and I understand it then, the parting after. I'll stumble up those stairs later to where you lie, catching up the day in a dream. I laid down too and dreamed of this woman I know who's been beaten by her lover. Her eye, knocked out of place, rolled up into her head. We were talking. She moves and, like a doll, the eye rolls back into place, the two halves of her face come together again in one expression and I ask if she can see now. 'Yes,' she says, and then the lid bulges forward. I wake up screaming as the eye reaches out for me.

"Take all my gifts, my eyes take so much of you and, despite death, I will try to find a written word to open up our love and, moving, splitting us off in directions we never thought of, to be the new state every minute until we're lost in it. Delicate white bone that I saw in your flesh as you slept this morning proves it. The logician works his way out of the matrix, outside of it finally and then maze-ridden again. I look at others and they tell me I love you.

"Good morning, midnight, you've waited for me, sleeping. I saw the bone-white flesh of your arm across your belly. Even in this darkness. I hear the garbage trucks of Florence that wake you up, as if I could ever be here. How did I so accidentally arrive? Who invited whom? This letter claims a world of you and I, the possible lying all around us as we sleep."



It feels like morning when he wakes up and hears the ocean on the sand, opens his eyes and sees the beach, remembering then that it'd been Persey who'd first brought him here. Two, maybe three years ago, he thinks. Three years? Had they really known each other for so long? He raises his head up out of the sand and pushes his fingers through his hair, realizing that it's the sunset he's seeing and not the sunrise, even though he's just now waking up. He remembers the night Persey brought him out here on the back of her moped after they'd had dinner somewhere in Chinatown, all those years ago, right at the start of their relationship. That was when he still lived out in the suburbs with his parents and was commuting to the university. Then, not long after that, he'd started staying at her apartment most weeknights because it was easier than going all the way back across the bay. Those were the first nights they'd spent together, their first times together, getting to know each other. They'd gone into the suburbs on the weekends and taken long picnics on the slopes of Mt. Diablo where he'd wandered and played all the time he was growing up. 

He sits up and brushes the sand off his jacket. Then, later, when he'd lived in the city for the first time himself, in the little two-room studio just above the Tenderloin with his old best friend Jim, he'd come out to Baker Beach on lots of cold evenings. He'd taken long walks after dinner and homework to be alone and give himself time to think. He'd walked all the way down to the Marina from Nob Hill and then up into the Presidio through the trees and all the way out here to the beach. That was the last period in his life that he could remember feeling this lonely all the time, like he'd been feeling these last three weeks. That was after the thing with the blind girl and before he and Persey'd gotten back together.

That first night they'd come here they'd run down to the water, written things in the sand, walked all the way out to where the beach ends in rocks underneath the Golden Gate and back, attempting long romantic kisses, the wind coming in off the ocean biting their faces the whole time. She'd told him that she didn't come down to the beach all that often; she liked it better up at the very tip of Land's End, on the cliffs near the museum.

He stands up now, brushing the sand off his pants down his legs to his shoes and looks up at those cliffs. From here it looks like it's all pointing out towards the sea, like he's still in the sheltered alcove of the bay. She'd told him that she liked to go there late in the afternoon when the shadows were long from the Monterey cypresses, that she liked to walk along the cliffs after looking at the pictures and Rodin sculptures in the museum, sit on one of the benches and just feel the wind, all the land behind her, right on the edge of the whole United States. "From up there you can see a long way out to sea," she'd told him.

He turns his back on the sea and starts trudging up the beach towards the parking lot. Okay, he admits to himself, it is more beautiful and exhilarating up there above the world than it is down here on the beach, but it's too far to walk just to have a bench to sit on.


The old lady that they saw was so far gone she didn't understand cars anymore. She wandered into the street holding a flower at the end of her outstretched arm, pleading with the oncoming traffic in high-pitched Italian. It sounded to them like a liturgy. She made it down to the park after a while, near the tables of the tiny outdoor café. She sits down on the wet grass carrying on a conversation while the kittens of the Domus Aurea creep out of the closed-off ruin and surround her.

"The homeless thing in America has really gotten out of hand. I couldn't believe how many people I saw on the streets of New York this winter," Persey tells him, watching the old woman digging in her bag for food to give the kittens.

On the other side of the Colosseo, up on the Celio, they'd begun burning the leaves in big piles. He and Persey could smell the wet, clean grass in the park and then the leaves burning when the wind changed.

"There was a temple up there on the Celian hill built for Carna, the Roman version of Kore, who gave birth to the Latin alphabet," he tells her.

That was the day the real spring came. All weekend it had rained off and on with the sluggish thunder coming down from the mountains around the city. They sat in his apartment on Monday and it rained very hard in a quick flurry while he made coffee and she took a shower and then it was spring. They didn't really believe it until they were dressed and outside and saw that the clouds had all been blown away. They walked past the giant tenements in his neighborhood, just below the piazza Vittorio, across the via Merulana and towards the zona archeologica, the center of ancient Rome, to the Domus Aurea and into the little park that's grown up on top of it; there it was obvious. They sat on the red wire-mesh chairs of the café under the dripping trees and Persey's confidence came back. It's spring, she felt, and now they could do whatever they wanted to do.

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