H. Edward Fool
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 117 in February, 2009.
At a very early age it became apparent that Vincent had a problem with authority. By that I mean his mother was very often seen surrendering to despair, throwing both hands in the air, then bending over and, fixing his unresponsive eyes with her own unwavering glare, screaming red-faced, "What am I going to do with you?" It was a rhetorical question. Everyone pretty much knew, even at that age, that she could do nothing with him, and most guessed that, in life, he would do nothing with himself. Although, come to think of it, most of what he would do throughout his life would be done with himself (we're not suggesting self-mutilation however.) I think that's pretty much the beginning, and, laughable or sad, it's pretty much the truth. For those who place much of the blame on the fact that the poor kid was named Vincent I have to say I had an Uncle Vincent and he was quite normal in every aspect (almost invisibly normal); he had no problems at all with authority.
Years passed…as is their tendency. The passage was both agonizingly, excruciatingly slow and, Hey, where the hell did those years go? So, after the arguments for and against were carefully weighed Vincent was sent off to boarding school, where he was as much like my Uncle Vincent as I am like the twin brother that I never had, but might have. (There are rumors.) My meaning is this—to his own astonishment—Vincent fit in. In his own withdrawn, self-alienating, quietly critical, inward way Vincent fit in. And why? Because, nary a young lad there in that place, had NOT experienced his own (dear) mother throwing both hands up in the air in total despair. They'd all faced the fixed unwavering accusatory glare of the somewhat critical motherly eye. The shrill scream—What the heck is wrong with you?—was not foreign to their ears So, though they arrived from different directions, they all arrived on the trailing impetus of a swift boot in the young fundament. [Please note: There is no mention of fathers here because at a certain level of society there is almost no need to mention mothers either.] With this encouragement each of these fine young white American male-kids decided for himself, in his own way, at his own pace, that he was unique and perfect, and unwanted, and, is there a socially acceptable way to say, So, fuck it? Still something about the new kid didn't seem quite right.
The first night there, in the dorm, surrounded with renegades from every recognizable tribe, Vincent lay awake contemplating his situation. This was no dream, he assured himself. It was no dream, but, Vincent felt not the urge to bolt. He, like a hero, remained calm, remained still and pondered. He took the classic pose, hands behind the head while staring at the ceiling. Looking around in the dark, he could see by the light of a distant begrudging star, the huddled sleeping forms of his fellow cast-offs, as he considered things. "Sure, they got it made; the food, the arts, but I understand the taxes are killing them…" said a distinctly British voice, and Vincent was jolted awake. Talk about dreams. "Weeks passed and Vincent had become the most popular…" said a narrative voice, and Vincent was jolted awake yet again. Talk about nightmares.
Let me say something here. I know that this all may feel a little too real-time at this point, but the wolf is on its way and will appear at the door very soon. And, it's hungry. Believe me, I've scrapped a thousand words for every one that remains. The craft is in allowing you to think it's all just mindless goddamned drivel.
Weeks passed and Vincent was as abstract from the crowd as he had been at his arrival. He watched as alliances formed and camaraderie lead to whispered vulgarities and back-slapping friendships. There was some snorting, such was the cleverness. He stood off alone though. He stood off alone, at a distance (over there near the rusty forgotten basketball hoop mostly), forming no alliance, and whispering no vulgarities, and, slapping no one's back and snorting not at all, and, as the bible says, he understood them not. He had no craving for friendship. But, (here's hope) deep within the gurgling mess of his loins…need I say more?
We find our ways. We all find our ways. So here he is now, sneaking out the window at night. And we see him as he makes his way under the moonlight across an open expanse, as if escaping from a movie-set-prison. And here he is at the gate and, now, already he has slipped through. And now he takes to foot down a winding dusty path. And here he is now already lying beside her in a small cot with only an old army blanket over their skinny jutting frames…and, as they say, the bony bodies bumped through the night. (This is how quickly thing happen in Life. It's a wonder that upon returning from some disappointment or another we don't bump into ourselves departing with the idiot grin of expectation still upon our ever-hopeful faces.)
Though initially intrigued, he had to admit, in the light and insight of morn, that her idea of love frightened him a bit. The next step finds him back in the old corral and he has his hands laced behind his head once again and he's thinking about her as the ceiling fan wops by carelessly overhead. He's thinking that her idea of love frightens him a bit. I'm not saying that he knew anything at all about such stuff at this point, he didn't. But, later, when he did know something, he realized he was absolutely right to be frightened by her ideas about love. This is an open-ended thing where you fill in the blanks. I'll wait.
Do we have to go through the part where she yanks him around for months on end until, one night stumbling back to school very very very goddamned 'runk, he thinks, "How much can a man take?" These were his exact words. Do we have to say, 'Vincent was about to find out'? Now you may begin to see what I was talking about when I said the lion would soon be at the door. You just didn't know the beast would be a lovely young red-haired girl.
By his third year Vincent was going nowhere, but he was going there steadily, rapidly, and she was going there with him. These two were addicted to each other. The bruises on his forehead were proof enough for anyone that they could not or would not find healthier ways to express their urges. That doesn't mean he was not content…although he wasn't. She wasn't either—though both were madly in love--and so, inevitably, one day, she stomped out of the room, leaving the door open behind her. When she returned, he stomped out. Then she stamped out and slammed the door. Soon though, she was back again, and it was his turn. When he returned several months later, looking somewhat shame-faced, it was only after being with, you know, others, none of which were as weird or as clever as she…or as frustrating…or as intriguing. One of them declared herself to be 'Eternally listening for the kind of noise that rides on the wings of nothingness', a statement which was, if anything, kinda creepy. But, that's wasn't enough for Vincent. Another ate with her mouth open, which was too much. A third wore spandex before it was popular to do so, and though not a conformist by any means, Vincent found the way the stuff emphasized her knobby knees while at the same time forming countless creases behind those knees, distasteful.
So, he returned yet again to his original torment. That is not to say he sipped once again from the ever-flowing cup of reason. It's saying something else entirely. Addiction is the word I've been looking for. They were together again. That's all that matters. That's the point I'm struggling to make. The shoes and clothing scattered about her room speaks volumes. Quickly though, very shortly after a fragmentary languid peace in his arms, she wants out or he wants out or she wants brunch and he wants travel by starlight, and what young relationship can withstand the impact of an onslaught like that?
Do we have to go through the part where they begin the endless squabble? TOO MUCH of that takes place in cafes and other public places, with people gawking or purposefully ignoring them, which ever you think worse. Let me just say this about her (not that Vincent is an angel): when push came to shove—she proved to be a highly-skilled shover. So, considerable confusion reigned when she suddenly discovered, to her great surprise, that she loved Vincent, and could not live a day without him, even if it meant being nice. That made things (I like to think) unbearable for both of them. In the movies this sort of thing happens all the time; and there is a reason for that. (I find myself snorting each time I stumble through that line…so feel free; it seems a natural response.)
But it had been a rocky beginning. Even as he hit on her that first night, he had doubts about the percentage Destiny played in the affair. That she used the phrase "my boyfriend" six times in the first two sentences she tossed his way, was not the kind of encouragement Vincent had hoped for. But, the work boot of alcohol was on his neck…who needs to say more about that?
Just an aside: Somewhere in here he became fascinated with ships—not boats, ships. Square rigged, not fore and aft. Wooden hulled, not iron. And while he devoured what he could in print on the matter his mind began to pull loose of the moorings and find itself (thankfully) adrift. But, returning to port, he always found her there; sometimes waving, sometimes fuming, sometimes impossible to fathom.
Meanwhile he was flunking out of boarding school (as one might guess)—as were, proudly, defiantly, for all intents and purposes, all the others there at that halcyon place. The Rolls Royces came empty and departed with someone smoldering, cross-armed, sneering alternatively smirking, at any rate ever defiant in the back seat, almost on a weekly basis. Vincent's mother drove a Ford, and Vincent remained. But, it's really a shame about the others because some of us could see our best and our brightest in those glistening arrogant eyes. By that I mean that, despite their resistance, many of these 'juniors' and 'the thirds' could not only quote Neitche, when pressed, they could actually spell Neitche. Where they got this knowledge I don't know. But, GOD knows they had the wherewithal (money) to launch whatever enterprise they felt might gain them the additional steadily growing wealth that no young man deserves despite surety of entitlement. Oh, and I meant to say something about the chicken incident but forgot. Only let me say this much about that: I suppose in any real kind of writing Vincent would be held responsible for the chicken incident, after all he seemed a likely suspect, always keeping to himself and a long list of similar, misdemeanors. In the best American writing he'd be wrongly accused and OH, the injustice of it all!
But, Vincent had his own problems—chickens aside—and it's about time we gave her a name. Margaret. Her name was Margaret. I guess that comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever known a Margaret. She was standing outside a bar, smoking a cigarette, looking many more than her 18 years when he wobbled drunkenly by and asked,
"Are you alone?"
"No, my boyfriend is inside."
"Wow," said Vincent, "He must be some kind of an idiot."
"My boyfriend is no idiot," she said blowing a smoke ring. "My boyfriend is 26 years old, and he could crush you with one hand, and he's definitely not an idiot."
There seemed to be nothing Vincent could say to that and so he took the opportunity to say nothing. It was only about 2 AM and the night still lay ahead.
"But," said Margaret after a casual puff or two on her cigarette, "why did you say that?"
"Why did I say your boyfriend must be an idiot?"
"Yeah, you know…" she whispered encouragingly.
"Because, if you were /my/ girlfriend, I wouldn't leave you standing around out here by yourself where someone like me might come along, scoop you up, and carry you off."
(There was no doubt about it, at 2 AM under the neon bar-light glow, Margaret was a beauty.)
So, you already know the rest. Twenty minutes later they were at Margaret's dorm room and she was nicely, barely-clothed, and had just finished reciting poetry to him. I wish I could think of a more creative way to say that. So, it looked like a good beginning. I mean, the clean film-noir pick-up, the sneaking up the squeaky dormitory steps without being caught, the rolling seduction of recitation, the candles, the suppressed giggles of delight under the blanket, and, ultimately, the discovery by Vincent that he was skilled at something he had never done before, which coincided perfectly with Margaret's discovery that Vincent had more natural skill than her 26 year old abandoned and now almost forgotten boyfriend… who was not an idiot.
So, where is this going, you must certainly ask, and that seems like a reasonable question.
It's going here:
One rainy afternoon, a few days before Christmas, Vincent found himself crouching behind a stone retaining wall at the corner of Harrison Street and Monument Avenue. Through the drizzle he watched as a huge man, short and broad, in a very black, nicely made suit carried cardboard boxes down a slippery brick pathway to the open trunk of a large, old, Rolls Royce. Behind him, following slowly, head down as if in mourning, was a girl Vincent recognized. The man placed the boxes in the trunk, opened the back door for her (Vincent expected to see a little bow of some sort, but there was none). The man closed the trunk as he went around, brushed his gloved hands together, slid in behind the wheel and drove off smartly. There was something very sad about this ceremony; maybe it was the rain, the girl's demeanor, the way the huge shiny car disappeared in silence down the street without her ever turning to look back.
Vincent stood up. He didn't know quite what it all meant. Once he was sure they were truly gone, he emboldened himself to walk around the corner and up that same slippery brick pathway to the apartment door where it lead. He knocked. A girl he'd never seen before came to the door.
"Is Margaret here?"
"Nope. Are you Vincent?"
"This is for you." She handed him a tasteful envelope. He tore it open, took out the tasteful note within, and read these words: "I will never forget you. I will always love you. Margaret"
"She's gone?" he asked while folding the thing and shoving it into the back pocket of his jeans.
"Yeah," sighed the girl, perfectly bored. "She's rich, and now she's gone." She started to shut the door, but Vincent put up a hand to prevent it.
"Is she coming back?" he asked. He had to ask. He had to know.
"I hope not."
"Her house burned down." The girl sounded burdened by having to relay such news, but, at the same time, just a shade elated. She put the back of one hand to her brow and tilted her head back and fluttered her eyelids like a heroine in a silent film. "Margaret's tragedy," she said, "Tra-la-la-la-la."
"Her house burned down?"
"Right to the ground. Her brother's in the hospital," she said, leaning one hip against the edge of the door and rolling her eyes.
"Is he OK; I mean, I don't know the guy but…"
She sighed. "He's OK. It's the house they're upset over."
"But, Margaret—she's…not coming back?"
"Well, she took all her stuff, what does that tell you?"
"Wow," Vincent said.
"Yeah, bummer. Now they have to all fly off and live in their place in Europe somewhere until their mansion here can be restored to its former glory."
"Wow," he said again.
"Yeah, wow." She said and closed the door.
Vincent stood there in the rain for a very long time.