Consider the writer bent purposefully in a favorite cafe booth, his salt and pepper hair covering a chronic ache; red eyes straining towards a computer screen. Outside the summer sun shines brightly on busy Wisconsin Avenue, in Washington DC. The shade of green trees and Starbucks parasols mute the summer glare and casts shadows in the noisy cafe. Of habit he is Zen-fully oblivious to the chatter and clatter around him. At first glance he is uncomplicated. Bereft of jewelry including his wedding ring, save for a simple gold Seiko watch which stopped ticking years ago, he is distinguishable by his strong jaw, large shoulders and dark eyes. His lightly pressed khaki slacks, long sleeve white cotton shirt loose at the collar, and hard leather sandals worn even in winter; complete a picture of a comfortable man. Living on coffee and biscuits, he types furiously from opening until closing, trying to finish a new novel.
He is not a great novelist but he has six novels and a contract with Random House; a successful novelist if that is the worst one might say about him. His subject is relationships. He believes that true love is happenstance occurring in too few relationships. He forever gives his characters hope and courage, but constantly, humbly professes “I know precious little about women and less about men. Maybe I’ll get it one day" he softly repeats during interviews, “maybe.”
As the lunch crowd bustles in he yawns, stretches, jabs the return key, and is distracted by a woman abruptly asking to share his table. A nod of assent finds the novelist looking up and connecting with a vaguely familiar face. Gently closing the lid on his laptop, he studies his unexpected guest, feeling surer of a certain familiarity. He has had three mini-strokes in the past year and does not trust his memory, but something, something, he muses. She is beautiful, he thinks; someone, I should know.
She has sparkling blue eyes that look up, away and down, but seldom at the author. Her hair is dark brown, and on her face sits a pursed set of lips that seem almost embarrassed to part. Absently, the writer thinks; a murmurers mouth. Her nose is not long, not short, but perfectly suited to her gently tanned, oval face with light freckles. She wears a long denim skirt and a modest white cotton shirt with a burgundy tube top beneath; no make-up, no jewelry; clean and conservatively poised. Her thick auburn hair is held with a worn tortoise shell comb and antique silver spike. She too wears durable sandals below an unmistakable tattoo of a thick chain around her ankle.
Gripping a worn and coffee stained cardboard “Venti” cup, she slides a book by Hegel and another by Kierkegaard onto his table, immediately recognizable as books shared by the novelist and an ex-girlfriend thirty years or so ago; books of ideas and arguments on morality and love. As he gazes at them in wonder, she slumps quickly onto the proffered chair and seems unable to take her own tired puffy eyes off the cup she now grips with two hands. The books rest like a small island between them.
Straining and agitated, the young woman haltingly begins, but is immediately off on an impassioned discussion of a breakup she has just engineered as a way to keep her boyfriend. She alternates glances between the cup and the novelist. The novelist watches her kindly, thinking she might be someone on the verge of a breakdown. He observes her warmly and initially hears her story with feigned interest. But her story and the passionate telling of it eventually catches him, so he leans in towards her with sincerity, pushing the books aside and resting a hand upon them as if preparing to take an oath. In his newfound interest, he hears that she is fighting with another woman, a “foreigner” for the sole attention of her man.
Squeezing the Venti cup harder she struggles to keep her composure. “We are meant for each other; he just doesn’t know what is good for him. He is too immature to realize it.” She comes near to tears when the novelist interjects that she might be too good for this ex of hers and further, that she might find she is better off without him. Incredulous, and with contempt in her sparkling blue eyes, she adamantly fends off the observation.
The longer they chat, the more he thinks he knows her. He is intrigued by her insistence and compelled to spend the next five hours with her. What is particularly maddening for the novelist is her familiar appearance and behavior. As the young woman speaks, she has all of the mannerisms, and patterns of speech that his ex-lover had; so much so that the novelist touches his own hand to ascertain his presence in the physical world. Weird! How could I have missed it when she sat down?
Her every expression brings him back 28 years. He shakes his head in disbelief with every confirming smile, frown, pause, gesture and word from her. Intriguingly, she could be the same woman he loved so many years ago. When he mentions this, she blushes and says, “So I have a doppelganger.” The novelist is thinking, maybe, but perhaps this could be a daughter, or sister of his old love? To gain perspective he asks her age. She answers “thirty eight”, but he thinks she looks much younger. “Where did you grow up?” She answers “Texas and the United Kingdom amongst other places.” He remembers the last place he knew his ex girlfriend to be was in Colorado and then possibly Tulane in Louisiana. Maybe Portland later, but that was another false lead perhaps; he has facetiously sought her for years; not surprisingly to no avail.
As the striking similarities begin to weigh on his memory, the novelist is existentially sweating and nearly swooning as the young woman continues. As she speaks, he imagines her pushing him to understand something of his former relationship. She reminds him either intentionally or innocently, busily talking about this boyfriend she just ex’d. She speaks of “Mario” but the Novelist hears himself being discussed. When he mentions this, she is very direct. “You never knew, because you never asked”, she insists, forcing the smallest and briefest of smiles to appear on her otherwise intense face.
He is taken aback by her pointed statement, but she continues vehemently, at times almost boiling to a tirade. Her passion makes it clear that she loved her ex and would do anything to be with him, including letting him go. “Mario. He is frustratingly ambivalent and non-committal, asking for more time alone. He refuses to discuss what I need to have him hear, and if he just would hear it , I mean really truly hear me, then he would understand why we can be together and he can actually make a commitment, and take a stand for god’s sake! By not making a choice he is making the choice mine to make.” Just as I once refused, thinks the novelist, looking quickly from her blue eyes to the soft yellow of the sidewalk outside.
The novelist hears her as if in a long empty corridor where echoes can confuse if one is not listening closely. He hears and understands that in her wisdom, maturity, and forgiveness, she is cutting the young man loose for his own good. “It’s up to him to change; it’s for the best this way.” The entreating young woman is near to tears and the novelist nods compassionately, looking at her trembling hands. In a burst of exasperation like a sinner sprinting to the nearest Church and confessional, the novelist decides to share his insights as to where Mario might be headed with his ambivalence and distance seeking behaviors, as well as what Mario might think and feel. The novelist’s own ill- fated relationship with his own ex-love, of whom coincidently, he has written in a novel is his springboard. He proceeds as haltingly impassioned as she had hours earlier; flustered at words coming too fast.
Still trying to write the positive into relationships he blurts out: “Let me tell you something that might offer perspective and hopefully will make you feel better. Okay, it’s a love story but don’t worry, I promise not to be boring; so here goes. We met in college and shared a place for a bit. You won’t believe me, but she looked much like you. Anyway, we had wonderful chemistry; actually, she was the first woman I wanted to be with, I mean, you know get married to, have kids with, the whole nine yards. As time went on though, we separated; my fault mostly. I never have stopped thinking about her. Ah well, you know the story; unrequited love, summer loves etc.”
The young woman is visibly moved by his story, but the novelist can’t help but think as he watches her expressions, she knows much of the tale already. She might be a daughter after all, he thinks fleetingly, distractedly. He rolls his eyes at the ceiling and shakes his head at such a notion. As he ends his tale, the young woman insists that he find his ex, and mentions a movie in which lost lovers reunite at a novelist’s book signing where the female character comes to get her book signed. “It could be just like that” the young woman pleads. It could be just like this he deduces.
As the afternoon wears on, the young woman coaxes, ardently using logic and philosophy and morality and quantum physics and more, as good reason for reunification. The young woman’s unrelenting fervor reminds him that she might in fact be his ex’s daughter; but maybe not. He is obtuse that way, unsure even when facts abound and overflow like an evidence room in a metropolitan police station. Ever pensive and non-committal, he walks the young woman home on the soft yellow sidewalk, gives her his business card and promises to try and find his ex. He does not ask the young woman for her contact information; typical behavior for him not to actively preserve associations.
Walking home both dazed and energized, he ponders the “links” the young woman had said exist in physics, cosmic energy, concepts of Karma, destruction meted out by Shiva, explained by fortuitousness and more. She had him drinking knowledge as if she had turned the spigot wide open into his now swirling brain bucket. She had asked if his mentioning his ex-love in his novel were a way to reach out for her; a radar wave sent out to the cosmos? Was his vilifying her in the story a way to annihilate her from his heart? Was his characterizing her as evil really the projection of his own guilt and villainy? “Fascinating” he murmured to himself looking up at the pigeons cooing on wires along the street. Tripping on the curb as he crossed the street, he remembered what the young woman had said as he admitted wondering where his ex went and what she had suffered after the break up. The young woman suggested that it “was probably way different than you imagine, and probably not that bad.” The novelist remained opaque as the sidewalk beneath his feet.
The following day the novelist began his search for his ex love, signing up for an internet service offering last known and previous addresses/phone numbers. This time he was not facetious, and even though perennially broke, he thought spending this sum justifiable. He guessed that he would spend his last dime to find this woman, not because he wanted necessarily to reunite or reconcile, he was after all married; but to solve the riddle posed by the young woman. Reuniting would be nice if just to catch up on things, but he was unsure about reconciliation and frankly more inclined to solve this mystery. Why? He wondered. His chief interest now was to reassure himself after having his memory challenged so starkly. Who was this woman and what was her meaning in his life? She had in fact tilted him and he wanted equilibrium. In his confusion, he accepted that the mind can play tricks on the senses. He also knew that memory was funny in the way it revised facts and faces; after all, he mused, it has been twenty eight years. Who was she? She had introduced herself as Caledonia.
The following day at the coffee shop the Novelist is visited by a younger version of the angry lady named Caledonia. This time his memory is screaming at him, but he is still groggy from a sleepless night, still half asleep and still tilted. This is a vision of his ex-love at the age he knew her, give or take a few years. He considers the odds of this happening and tries to create plausible answers. Could they be sisters? Caledonia had mentioned she had a twin but the arrival of this younger version didn’t fit into a “twins” scenario. The younger version talked about job hunting and an academic advisor meeting at American University she was to have later in the day. The novelist was near to swooning and his head ached. For three more days the younger version of Caledonia came to the coffee shop. For three days he quizzed and listened but got nowhere. The novelist was confused, doubting now that there were two different young women at all. Only one, he thought, that is, until Caledonia arrived on a Friday.
The sad young woman named Caledonia was not so sad anymore and not so young after all in comparison with the younger version he had just spent four days with. He noticed that her mood was brighter and was relieved for that. He also noticed other differences. This woman had full adult hips, a natural athletic healthiness and a hint of crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes and mouth he hadn’t noticed before. The novelist noted that she might even dye her hair, and the eyes and teeth were distinctly different than the younger woman. So how old was she, after all? This revelation changed his tilt to a wobble; adding more questions than answers to the now deeply brooding novelist’s list. Part of him said it is her; the ex-love, she is doing this as an oblique way to see you and perhaps the young girl is her daughter. Another part of his mind was saying he was wholly mistaken and because of his current financial stress, his impending divorce and the pressure of getting the newest novel in, he was making this up as a way to torture himself. These women he spoke to were real; he was not psychotic, but he felt his logic was beginning to falter. But here she was again, in-the-flesh, and smiling at him almost bashfully keeping him tilted.
A giddy part of the novelist took over as he greeted and talked to the not-so young-anymore woman as if she were in fact his ex love, and he did not care if she was being oblique. When she spoke, he leaned forward, almost falling from his chair. He pushed his hands across the table longing to touch her. Anything she said was perfect and wise and beautiful. The conversation sped too fast, but he enjoyed it like a dog in a convertible flying down the highway. At exactly one thirty he asked her if she cared to have lunch with him. She said no, an aunt would pick her up to drive for a holiday weekend in Pennsylvania. She smiled , said goodbye and left him alone with his racing imagination.
He sat at his Starbucks station, back arched, elbows on the table, rubbing his temples and trying to remember what she had said; what he and she had said. Of course there was Mario and the breakup and how she was getting past it. They talked of circles, energy, responsibility, Kierkegaard, and Marcus Aurelius. He steered the conversation back to his own ex-love. “What should I do”, he asked; “reconnect?” Caledonia, the not-so-young woman blurted that he should go for broke, relinquishing any hold on mere appearances and let loose the emotional truth behind his love. “Find her! Who cares, jump into the abyss!” And now she was gone again; for how long he wondered wistfully.
The novelist thought he would probably never see Caledonia again; he thought about the Luna Moth story he told her regarding the transitory nature of real beauty. He smiled at his transparent reflection on the static white computer screen etched with incomplete words. As he sat wishing for a second chance to get his novel right, Caledonia, the not-so-young-looks-like-his-ex-love woman walked back into the coffee shop and said hurriedly, “I was thinking that we can do lunch but I have to do it in thirty minutes so I do not miss my ride.”
So they lunched on sandwiches at the Café Deluxe down the block from Starbucks. In the earlier conversation and especially now, faced with the rush of a thirty minute limit, the novelist was losing words, and his thoughts began to falter like a racehorse run too fast for too long. Tired and confused, he tried to tell the not-so-young-anymore woman what he might tell his ex-love, but he could not do so completely for fear of being thought insane. He reminded himself sternly that he was only assuming the scenario of an oblique ex coming back to talk to him. But, I’m not crazy, he yelled inside himself. He certainly felt it right then. Was it her or was it not, and what did in mean if it were? Either way he felt compelled to say what he should have said before.
What he might have said long ago was: I loved you more passionately than I have any woman in my life, but we were young. I wanted the child we conceived and I wanted to marry you, but wasn’t ready. I wanted to be as smart as you. I wanted to hear you say yes. What I heard was “maybe, but certainly not now.” The few occasions we had together before I finally went away for good were painful reminders that I was not good enough; maybe, certainly not at that time. When I left you in America and went as far around the globe as I could, I grew angry and callous, but still yearned to be with you. I am still that insecure. Seeing you again reminds me that I had made a bad choice by leaving you, even as I had made satisfying travel on the road I chose. You remind me that I maybe should have fought harder to keep you and this makes me feel weak.
What he actually said was blather; exasperated thoughts diced up into alphabet string soup. He felt worse as his omnipresent headache intensified. But when he was with Caledonia the not-so-young–anymore woman, he never stopped grinning like the perfect idiot; a hound dog happy to sit by the master’s feet. But he thought how this woman also made him hate himself, even as he was happy to be near her. He remembered the marriage he had been running away from for the last four lonely years, burying himself in research, painting, and writing with an intensity of someone trying to stack and balance grains of sand. He thought of how his editor made him explore why his hero would marry a woman who could barely speak English. What was the basis for the relationship? So the Novelist rushed to understand himself, only to become more confused. He could not think anymore and slunk in his chair..
Like his ex so long ago, the not-so-young-anymore woman insisted on paying her way, and on the way out she seemed intent on nothing more than making her appointment. He did not want her to go. What if this is her, he thought? A part of him screamed, it is, you coward, you are ashamed to admit it for all that admission would convict you of; the novelist had never been so confused or scared. After they crossed the intersection, she gave him a weak one-shoulder hug and said goodbye. She said goodbye, he thought despondently. Not, I’ll see ya later, but goodbye. The novelist, crestfallen, trudged down the soft yellowing sidewalk watching the cigarette butts resting perfectly in the lines. Someone should sweep those out, he thought. A homeless man to whom he had often given money greeted him as he passed, loudly noting “ there seems to be something on your mind”, and indeed there was. Too much in fact; too much on his mind.
Back at the coffee shop the Novelist remembered he had gotten a number for the ex-love in Portland. Calling the number, he heard the familiar voice and stammered his purpose as: reconnecting and reconciling, as Caledonia the not-so–young woman had advised him, apologized for the interruption of a work day and left his number. She promised to call him back; later she called and advised him tersely that she “did not wish to go backwards, was in a good place etc. and would appreciate if he did not call anymore. There was nothing more the obtuse novelist could say.
Shuffling home in the rain, dragging his umbrella like an underline key, the novelist wondered if he would cry; he felt like crying. He was exhausted. He did cry. His forever headache was as throbbing steady as his footsteps; a lethargic pace bringing him to his hollow apartment where almost one hundred yet to be inventoried for settlement, paintings, books and papers lay stacked and balanced precariously about the room. By an easel holding a large, unfinished creation, the novelist undressed slowly as if a trance, leaving his wet clothes to puddle the floor; the thunder and lightning cracked in the tall trees outside. He flopped face down to lay quietly on his bed, thinking how this rejection today was so very well earned.
The lights he had left on glared in the house and cast mean shadows on his off-white walls and maple floor. Who rejected who in the first situation? That was twenty eight years ago and memory has a way of playing tricks. What if it is her? What if my mind is so stretched that I am fabricating this story like trying to paint across patched and dirty canvas; unsure of what is reflection and what is shadow? It’s seductive to think that a woman might go insane over unrequited love and come to me this way after so long. How vain am I to imagine this? Hadn’t Caledonia discussed narcissism and individual responsibility? What is appealing then, or believable about thinking that a woman might track down her ex-lover after almost thirty years, assume a new identity, and meet him, intentionally meet him only to ask obliquely about the novelist and his ex-love?
Upon reflection that sounded strange to the novelist, but not implausible; but what about probable? At a basic level, a story line was introduced to him by a woman who reminds him of his ex-lover. He is perplexed as to the reason he refuses to accept what in his heart of hearts, he knows to be true. Why? Perhaps, because he remains unconvinced although he is faced with certain facts? He refuses to accept that he could be vain enough to believe in such a story. The novelist remained doggedly obtuse and unexpectedly melancholy. He is not certain of things now. At fifty years old, he is agnostic about much and vacillates on issues which deserve more thought and deeper scrutiny. He refuses prognostication. He wishes to be someone who “gets it” but feels that grasping is often an empty handed affair; especially since he met the younger and not-so-young women who resemble his ex- love.
His dilemma is exacerbated by poor sleep since meeting with the two women who look like his ex. The good thing, he realizes is that the more he thinks, the more he becomes convinced of this or that truth. Maybe-kinda-sorta, he muses. But he is miserable, wearing the figurative horse hair undershirt of his own design and manufacture. The novelist pictured the Luna Moth in his mind. Large and soft, and pleasing to the eye, it’s rarity a beauty unto itself. I should be thankful that I got to hear her again, and maybe I saw her too. The novelist remained obtuse and melancholy. The novelist is at that place in life where he is convinced of very little although he does have strong convictions. A story line was introduced to him by a woman who reminds him of his ex-lover. He is not certain of things now. At fifty years old, he is agnostic about much and vacillates on issues which deserve more thought and deeper scrutiny. He refuses prognostication. He wishes to be someone who “gets it” but feels that grasping is often an empty handed affair; especially since he met the not-so-young woman who resembles his ex- lover.
That night, he cried, apologizing to his ex lover in a dream. Waking, he had to know why, and what for, and did he do something to be that sorry for? He thought more calling to talk to old friends about this problem of his. The calls were all the same, friends sounding not exactly pleased to hear from him after so long. In the end we find our novelist finally concluding he was once in fact an extremely thoughtless and shallow young man. And yes, he hurt women by convincing them that he was committed, only to leave by a back door of villainous excuses. When young he was unconvinced that he was worthy of love, loyalty, and longevity in relationships. He wanted to have his cake and eat it without paying for it. He was quite flatly a thief; a taker of confidences, a breaker of trusts and a destroyer of hopes.
Another old lover he called to confide in put it more plainly, when he told of his dilemma. She told him that he was “an ignorant son of a bitch when it came to women and this entire situation.” She told him that if the ex-lover had sought him out or otherwise discovered that he had written a novel, she would have been angry that the fictional character in his novel, although ostensibly veiled with a pseudonym, which could in fact be readily recognized. Why was he so dense and in his obtuseness, so hurtful? He admitted to being an ignorant son of a bitch, but he did not want to be an ass, so he rewrote some chapters to change some things and to mitigate or further veil some hurtful things. He would send these changes to his editor and ask for an immediate rewrite. What he could not bring himself to change, was that the villain still very much based on his ex-lover. It is fiction after all, he argued to himself.
What he was ready to accept, was that he had to get at the truth in increments as if removing the tar of centuries from a masterpiece. What was tar and what was paint in this dark blue landscape?
He thought about his favorite movie What Dreams May Come with actor Robin Williams, and sensed likewise he was in the painting and his ex was painting it from without.. He hoped he was not painting with tar and cursed his creative mind for that. He remembered a sidewalk calligrapher he had seen in China and chuckled because the man was applying the strokes with a brush charged only with water. The curves, slashes and dashes disappeared soon after they were created; ephemeral beauty, like a Luna Moth he thought; transitory.
Wrapped in a cocoon of self doubt, and so distracted by his rejection by his ex, that when the younger version strode in two days later he did not remember if he had even acknowledged her as she sat in the big window overlooking the green umbrellas on Wisconsin Avenue. The next day the Novelist saw her again. When she asked how he was doing he gruffly said “Just Great!” What he wanted to say was "can we talk? So she ignored him and walked away. The novelist was happy to see her again the following day and thought that increments would be “just fine” as long as she smiled at him. Again he was thankful for second chances despite his penchant for missing opportunities and losing connections. Sitting in his coffee shop booth, he thought he might have lost this very important connection to his past; she might not return at all, although he frantically hoped that she would. So the novelist worked hard, met his September deadline and sent his editor the manuscript. No sooner than he had pressed the send button on his laptop, she walked in again the younger version of his ex-lover. He smiled, she smiled, and he was drawn to her, ecstatic for second chances. He blabbered on, listened and learned some things that might help him understand even if incrementally. She seemed genuinely happy to see him and he was glad for that, given his tortured self doubt of the past weeks.
What he hoped for more was that Caledonia the older version would reappear, even if it meant jumping down the rabbit hole after her. He would speak in gibberish with her like infants on a rug for a chance to behold that face. Despondent as he was, he was not so sure of any second chances here. Thinking back on how she left ostensibly for a holiday weekend in Pennsylvania, and had said goodbye, not see ya soon, or see you next week, he dreaded that he had lost his chances and run out of luck. Freaked out and soul weary that day; he wanted to follow her and shout “wait” as she turned to walk away. Did she linger hesitantly after saying goodbye? He thought so. Why was he so dense! He thought of running down a side street that intersected her direction of travel; he instead trudged slowly, watching the yellowing sidewalk drift like a polluted skyline below his feet. Was there still hope to see her again? She did say that she could only come on the weekend and it is still Tuesday.
At least the younger version would be here during the week. He had never seen the two simultaneously. If they were together he could evaluate things, he could do that. He could assess and extrapolate. He did after all have them confused initially as if they were one and the same, or twins, but eventually realized they were in fact distinct in character and visage. He could logic things out if given enough clues. But he remained obtuse, wishing he were brighter, keener…The novelist had hope, if not much else. Hope and courage were his trademarks. He wondered if she was reading the books he brought for her. He wondered if she cried at the DVD movies he gave her. If she was his ex-she would have cried at the same parts, he did; of this he was certain.
When she arrived he learned more, like the fact that the younger version was accepted to two programs in DC, George Washington and American University. She merely had to choose which she like best. She lamented an inability to get settled, socialized and employed. He wished he could help her more and promised to get her some contacts. He learned she was ostensibly from Atlanta but went to school there and Birmingham Alabama. As the afternoon turned to dusk, she packed her computer into her backpack and smiled saying she would be back in the morning.
The novelist started to realize that he was acting like both the anti-heros in Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground and Knute Hamsun’s Hunger. He smiled at that, knowing every situation and person has a story. He wondered how this one would develop. He was certain it would be incremental. Unconvinced and obtuse, he waited, knowing he would dream more of his ex and torture himself until he confessed.
And what was it the not-so-young version had said about doing what it took to be with someone you deeply cared for? Jump into the abyss. The novelist knew how to jump. What question had prompted that? Was it, “What would it take to stay?” or "What if someone got hurt in the process?” “Ah”, she had said, “allow yourself to be imperfect” That was brilliant he thought. Was that it? And where was she now? Was she okay? What was she feeling? Maybe the Mad Hatter had the answer, maybe-kinda-sorta. Somewhere down the Rabbit Hole there was an answer. The novelist leaned an ear towards the ground and cursed his obtuseness.
Ever since the Novelist had finished his novel edits and had sent the manuscript, he had nothing but time on his hands as he waited for his CoOp to sell; the economy had crashed and it had been nine months on the market. Now he obsessed about the new story he was currently living. He had a brilliant subject for a new novel. It was a mystery, a love story, and a morality tale. The excitement was getting to him though; he started having heart palpitations and chest pains. Maybe its the stress, the coffee, the poor sleep, he complained. He had to accept his limited time left to get any of it right, however he chose to write it for he would be leaving soon.
As a mystery the not so young woman could be in the CIA, a witness protection plan, or just plain over the moon (the why of that would be the real mystery). Another twist could involve a relative of his ex-love with similar features and mannerisms who found him for an unknown reason, perhaps by sheer coincidence.
As a love story, any one of the above scenarios could be used to explain how someone with a new identity wanted to speak with him . The love story would involve unconditional acceptance of whatever the situation turned out to be. If an identity needed protection, then he would honor that. If the identity was madly concocted and meant she was “over the moon”, he would join and comfort her there, and he would be the big bear and let her ride a long, long way. The novelist remembered a card his ex-love had given him once; the card had such a line and such a bear. She had also given him a wooden handled calligraphy pen, he still used. The novelist was drawn to the love story angle, but his style demanded the hopeful and courageous, not the tragic side of love. He. wasn’t sure if he could write this new story without tragedy, Obtuse again…
The family relative scenario is appealing, he thought. My hero could take it as a duty to help the person hiding from whatever as best as he could. In the “she’s gone batty” scenario I could write in the hope and courage I write so well. If she is in fact over the moon, I could go there with her and see if I could help her lasso a passing Zen meteor or teach her to paint. I would rescue her from madness and all would be well; The End. I would do this as if it were in fact my ex-love. My karmic path brought me here and I am not ready to leave anyway. He thought about the path he had taken to get here.
Long ago when he was a child the novelist saw a Luna moth that his father explained as being “untouchable.” The rareness of this species gave it a special place in the lives of man. These infrequent visitors were to be viewed but not touched. Later when he was a twenty year old college student, he saw the Aurora Borealis and met a woman as bright as the North Star, who challenged him in many ways but gave him her all. Like a pagan worshipper he fell down at her feet. He did not know how to keep her interest so he studied harder and went from C student to A student over night. He tried to steal her ideas on philosophy, but she shamed him into trying harder. The novelist followed her to a far away place and thought he might go through life with this woman. When his dream became complicated, he flew far across the seas like an Albatross missing a mate. Or something like that. He could work out the details later. He could get them incrementally. The novelist wanted and needed to write this story but, he needed more details. By bits and pieces he got more. The woman named Caledonia visited again and spent an entire day with the novelist. They sat beneath large green parasols while the bright sun slanted its beams in to warm them. They walked to his house where a photographer came to retake some pictures of him for a magazine article. They talked and he showed her his hollow home. He was happy to be near her again, hoping to further unravel the mystery he had written in the pages of his cranium.
At Cafe Deluxe they ate lamb and the sun shown even more brilliantly through large red parasols. They talked through lunch and by four o’clock they left for the coffee house to talk until it closed. He walked her home and they talked relentlessly. The crickets were chirping as returning college students parked and unloaded cars beneath the glare of streetlamps up and down Massachusetts Avenue. The theme and intensity of her conversation had not changed; there was still the negative harping on Mario the ex-lover, but the Novelist was glad to find Caledonia’s mood brighter and spirit fresher.
When she came to the coffee house on the next occasion, he immediately noticed with relief that she appeared rested. She had a new shirt and a new bra and perhaps a new denim skirt. She also smiled easier this time, her new haircut seeming to have taken a weight off her head. Throughout the day he let her do most of the talking because as he told her, she was “writing my new novel for me.” It was true. He hung on her every word even as much of the litany regarding her exasperation with her ex, was wearing on his nerves. But her intensity and need to hammer these points as if a coppersmith creating a weather vane was not lost on him. Her vigorous passion was the story after all. A story he should have attended to twenty eight years earlier, about parting and pain. In fact he had now gotten closer to the heat of her pain as if leaning over the rim of a bubbling volcano. So he listened on, not wanting to get this story wrong under any circumstance.
As he listened with all his heart, the novelist was learning the depths of despair a young lover had caused the woman he had made a promise to. Caledonia had been wise and understanding and mothering when she punished her ex. She had cut Mario off and was prepared to wait for him to understand what he really wanted. What Mario had said was that he wanted time and she was giving it to him. Darkly, she mentioned in passing that this might be the “end for her, if he did not come back. She wanted someone to have a child with and be with lovingly and in love throughout the years; she was running out of time. But, the entire time he listened to her the novelist kept thinking that Caledonia could be his ex-love, pleading with him to return. This was the fantasy he was turning in to a great story in his mind.
Caledonia stated very clearly that if Mario would return, he would not have to apologize; he only need say that he loved her and never cheat again. She repeated that her high standards meant not sharing him. She could forgive his youthful dalliances. She never said she did not want him in fact, just that she was bowing out of a threesome that Mario the philanderer had created. She wanted him to be a man and to behave and to want her as much as she wanted him. What after all had the last three years been about if not love? How could anyone throw that away?
She spoke of how she grew to love him discussing Nietzsche. She visited him in his country and he shared the boyhood village and his favorite hiding place. She took two intense years of language study to know his native tongue and hopefully to get at nuance and depth in their conversation. She had dedicated herself to him, was loyal and treated him well, in the way a comfortable married couple might do. So how could he not see that she loved him? How could he not get that she would fly over the horizon of hell on a gasoline soaked carpet to be with him. How could he not see that she was more worthy than the “whore”, he had taken up with? What was wrong with him? It had been a month now since the break up and she wondered how long it would eventually take?
Caledonia was working during the day at the World Bank and finishing her second masters degree in economics at night. She only needed to get through the next couple months and her life would be ostensibly better. The novelist considered how Calvinistic she seemed to be as she flogged herself over the decision to cut Mario loose. She ran incessant logic checks on the “what-the-fuck?” center of her brain. She desperately wanted to make sense of this insensible man who would dare leave her after all she had invested in him. Like crunching numbers or deliberating strategic economic answers she was hard at work, solving the puzzle.
The novelist had his own logic puzzles and had been having restless nights and many wild dreams since he met Caledonia. He dreamed that he grabbed her ankle and felt it, because that was a clue which would sort things out for him. His ex had an extra joint in her ankle or so he remembered. A request to touch her ankle reminded him of Dostoevsky’s Underground Man and his oft ridiculous notions. He had also stared at the familiar looking scar on Caledonia’s eyebrow and had even asked her how she got it. He swore to himself that his ex-had the exact scar, but being the man that he was, remained obtuse.
On a warm autumn day the novelist sat in the coffee shop as usual, chatting with all newcomers and wondering of purpose, design, machinations and the lot. He was leaving DC soon to go back to the life he had left behind and knew he could at least for today, be as carefree as he desired. As he was talking with another novelist who was teasing him about the meaning of sodomy, Caledonia arrived looking extremely sad and nearly frantic, even as she tried to hold her composure The novelist thought about introducing her, but ignored his table mates and mumbled the shortest of greetings to Caledonia instead. “Hey.” He could see immediately that she needed his solitary attention, and after quickly excusing himself, whisked her out to the sidewalk as curious eyes made quick opinions about him and her. Caledonia paused momentarily to look at him in the doorway when tears welled up in her eyes.
Outside in the summer sun she fidgeted with her blouse hem and announced to him flatly that she “could bear no more”., because she thought, the novelist was “too much like her ex.” She continued with a flurry of words about “the end” and “waiting” and “uncertainties,” but all he could do was focus on the pain contorting her beautiful face and wanting,- wishing he could help her somehow. Finished and crying fully now, she spun on her heal and strode quickly away down the yellowing sidewalk. He stood pondering her retreating image and he considered going after her. To what end he thought. He went back inside to more stares and knowing expressions. He sat down, and looked at his coffee obtusely before mumbling “she has a lot of stress in her life,” in an effort to answer the questioning looks of his tablemates. His blurred image floated in the cup, quiet and pensive.
Chapter Five (the End)
When the novelist awoke, he looked at a green liquid crystal display in a dark bedroom reminding him he was late for something. He had grown thicker in the past few months. His mind was useless to him and his memory like a rumpled paper airplane thrown in a dusty corner. He had not written, or worked, in fact he had stopped almost everything that required energy. Conversations with his editor were as rewarding as the ones he had with the persistent IRS case manager. Money needed which he did not have. Something more than finances nagged him though. He was late for something. Scratching his growing whiskers, he stretched, yawning painfully, and then trudged off to make coffee.
Throwing open the shades on his otherwise dark home; he noticed the frost on the Oleanders by his wall out back. She said she would stay in DC until December 27th. She had also intimated she had promised Mario she would stay another year. She had said she was unsure if she would keep that promise. The novelist pondered this as his ringing phone reminded him of a number he had locked into it. He remembered then that he had promised himself to call that number by the 27th of Dec.; today was the 28th of Dec.; he was late.
Being late was his legacy. Late to responsibility, late to respond in a meaningful manner to issues big and small. Mostly he was late at “getting it”. Comprehension for him was always a long recipe with careful measuring of ingredients, slow trips to the farthest store for missing items, maddeningly executed mixing of complex ingredients (no less than a thousand stirs), languid oiling of the pan, gradual pre-heating of the oven and then waiting for the right moment to decide whether what he created was thoroughly baked or half baked. He never trusted his logic and so everything was deemed a bad idea, unworthy of his further consideration. Half baked. He was nothing if not obtuse.
He thought of Caledonia as a winter sun rose in his desert city. DC was far away, but she said she would be there at least until the 27th or longer as her promise to Mario was stated. The DC coffee shop had brought him Caledonia and a fantasy or perhaps a real possibility that he had a beautiful daughter who was attending school there. He had asked Caledonia “why, when faced with bold facts would someone deny a certain reality.” She had said that perhaps the pain of such a realization was too much to bear. “I can endure no more” is what she said. "You remind me too much of my ex.” There was truth in that. “You too” he should have said.
He looked at the phone sitting mutely on the kitchen counter. He looked at his wavering visage in the dark cup of coffee. He hated his thickheaded soul as he looked out the window where ice was melting from the Oleanders. Then he remembered his cell phone. Just when things seem settled and the last chapter was closed on an ostensibly finished novel, the writer still pines for Caledonia. He constantly looks at his cell phone and the number he locked in there but refuses to call. He is working on another novel and is distracted to the point of hypertensive fits bordering on rage. The interesting thing is that these tantrums only come while he sleeps, leaving him haggard and sagging the next day.
The fits come when he is soaring as he often does at night, wingless and weightlessly visiting the space between the moon and terra. At some point he loses flight and begins to plummet down, but he doesn’t worry, knowing he can stay aloft if he just relaxes and gets on with the business of flying. What irks him is that he is trying to fly “somewhere” but if he leans in that direction, the weightiness comes and then down he goes spiraling like a poorly constructed paper airplane. Maddened and distracted he stays flying above familiar topography yearning to go farther, knowing he can’t, and trying not to be pissed off about it. But annoyed he remains, and hence does not sleep well. At some level he knows where he is going, but in thinking it, he becomes weighted yet again. The mere thought of Caledonia creates a buffeting in his flight like strong winds on a mountain pass.
He thinks about the wobbling; is that in my mind? If this is just a dream, I should be able to control it; I usually fly with ease. What gives now? There are more unanswered questions and I need to find my way to the answers. I should be concentrating on my new novel but instead I think of the coffee shop and Caledonia. What is the big deal that I am reminded so intensely of a past love? Why is this becoming an obsession? What was it that she said? “Allow yourself to be imperfect?” She was the one so seemingly obsessed. But: There was the surreal way I reacted to the almost uncanny series of meetings at the coffee shop. Is obsessing contagious? Try not to think of Caledonia? I can’t, she is too much like my ex.
A writer of love stories meets an old flame (or so he thinks) in a coffee shop. He doesn’t recognize her but then he does. But he becomes confused thinking he is mistaken, all the while creatively dissecting his meetings with her as novel fodder. He is shaken to his core and will never be the same.