I came back to the house to read Proust, but the neighbors were home. I read a little, savoring parts of a long paragraph before their thumping music waylaid me and my project. I pulled the purple shade closed and waited, trying to recognize the decade, but surely The Steve Miller Band is a banner for the 1970s. I avoided work, or should I say, thinking, or can I say, reminiscence. The neighbors were offloading items from the Ford F-150—bags with boxes, bags of ice. Fireworks went off in the distance. 3pm.
I laid on the floor and suction-cupped my ear to it, though nothing was in the basement, except a dehumidifier. The same one was located inside my childhood home’s dungeon, a few feet from the large tubs where my family washed their hair, rather than using a small bowl in the bathtub. I often filled the right hand tub to near the top and played incredibly unsophisticated naval games where my boats quickly sank. I studied them under the graying water, fascinated at the endpoint of my creation.
I never went back home. I never understood the concept of home. I heard someone’s ugly laugh.
In my youth I wanted to be an art historian. I took the classes, I went into the libraries and pulled out oversize books with old prints. I went to museums but did not take notes, though I tried to look serious. I wanted someone to fall in love with me—I knew they could if they tried hard enough.
The landlord came by and saw all my open notebooks and journals, though he knows not to ask. I would not want to be a landlord when I’m seventy-five—I’m seventy-four. Why would you keep trying to pretend to please people at that age—feigning rescue? You’ve got to love money too much—the greatest soul error. Then I turned it around—why would you try to write something at seventy-five? Why not sit in and out of the sun and watch it all fade away while so much is still vibrant, though about to explode. Your grandson doesn’t care what you know, he only cares about having someone to play with him. It’s not that you’ve wasted your life, it’s that you’ve wasted a great portion of it and now you are fooling yourself about developing a “late style.” So many people are dying—your grandson looks at you sideways and will eternally remember a picture of your head pointed at a book, not that you often gave him what he wanted.
We’d gone to the Vermeers at the Met—we’d gone to many things together. We laughed and talked over years, and then the incident, or was it a season of incidents—unknowable, the wrong clues to examine—the recipe for our destruction embedded in our beginnings, metered in those wild tangents we both trafficked in, though they served more as invitations for the other to be astonished.
Twenty years of cooling—a postcard or stray email here and there—then he died. You don’t take it on until it bursts over you, coming full upon—judge, jury, executioner. That happened in my bathroom when I looked sideways at the sink. Off to the Met the next day—to stand where we stood. The lute player, the milkmaid—light pressing in from the left, an essence underlining the single sun we all sweat under. A woman whose legs were spiral-staircases of tattooed and translated Rilke wandered over and touched her black hair, her neck. No room for him in this scene, so I stood aside—Enter Ghost. Why does Vermeer gleam and glitter more than anything else in this museum? he had asked.
Be careful—any more words will interfere.
Greg Gerke has published See What I See (Zerogram Press), a book of essays, and Especially the Bad Things (Splice), a book of stories. He edits the journal Socrates on the Beach and can be found at http://www.greggerke.com/ and @Greg_Gerke.