He wasn’t anything like the mental image she’d created. Listening to his voice on the phone – confident, friendly – she saw a long, lanky guy, with long, straight black, and lanky-to-match hair. What made him sound long? An image of a casual stance? You have to be tall to stand a certain way, and he spoke as if comfortably casual. And lanky? What quality gave this idea of overflow, excess everything, angles and drooping postures spilling over? An eagerness to give, to please?

He didn’t match, in any case. The easy humour and stories didn’t conjure up the short, round, sandy-haired guy who walked in her door two weeks later. Not only the wrong colour, his hair was anything but lanky, bound in tight coils all over his head, not falling anywhere. Marlene saw him and was disappointed and relieved at the same time. Her fantasy, begun much earlier, had gone from imagining looks to declaring him “the next man I’m going to be involved with.” She’d said it jokingly, she thought, but nevertheless underestimating completely the determination of her own mind, not to mention need. So when his appearance popped her bubble, she mourned only fleetingly, preferring the solitude she knew, feet firmly on earth; preferring to just work together. Little did she know that a tiny set-back like loss of lank means nothing to a desperate soul.

Souls can be quietly desperate, as has already been observed, or they can be charmingly so, throwing off with nonchalant ease a sure-footed and well-spoken persona which fools the world. Desperate and confused, souls will link people and events, see signs in innocent coincidence, read meaning into words or gestures, hoping, dreaming. They make the bits and pieces into a kaleidoscope for their own magical viewing. They work alone, never asking. Desperate souls hate the sound of their own voice.

Marlene refined her creation with inconscient happiness. She adjusted, ignoring or magnifying as necessary, and moved her raw material along to incorporate the deviations in corporeal and psychic realities to fit her mold of silent longings. She appeared to him like a laughing font of good will and pleasure. He went along for the ride.

It was an easy ride for both at the beginning. She was determined and sure of success; failure was not an option, no more than her behaviour was conscious. Garth for his part was interested in her plans – what he knew – and excited by her eagerness; he gamely appeared as required, talking, laughing, playing. A summer’s aria: light abounding, flowers proliferating, insects buzzing, ants marching, heat rising. Is it possible for there to be too much sensation? Can it throw a body off course? Make it stall like a flooded car engine? Non-functioning vehicles cause us to panic, become blind to the mechanics, the necessary parts to the chariots that could carry us away. Desperate souls will not see an imperfect chariot.

“You have a spot on your eye.” She looked into the blue, daring to move so close, seeing the smile that was there. He didn’t know, he said, where the little blood spot came from. They had been meeting for a few weeks, rehearsing music for their planned performance, maintaining a polite, if light-hearted, distance. The spot was gone the next week.

Once, early on, Marlene rebelled enough against her driven spirit to awaken briefly and determine that she would not give in to that child running fearfully through the maze of her memories. She would be her own self, the one she could like. So she went to his house in her old clothes and sang while he played, and drank beer and tea, and relaxed. She was surprised to find herself sinking into a warmth and familiarity that almost made her forget herself. Little did she know that desperate souls steal such moments for their own, claiming proprietary rights even to thoughts and plans made to foil them. They hoard the secret fragments, building their own order out of them later.

Gradually she became aware of wanting to be with him, and her internal process, once begun, became irreversible and unstoppable. He seemed part of her, a part denied for so long that even she hadn’t known it. Now she was shocked by the intensity of her feelings for this relative stranger once the underworld activities forced the inevitable bodyquake. “Come to Garth’s,” he intoned darkly one time in mock hypnotism of her. He joked readily, craved laughter, pulled her to his need to escape. “Come to the lake.” And he leaned into her car window and kissed her. The sun made a read aureole around his head and she willingly let the soft tissues of her eyes seep the radiation inwards, to fluids, cortex, hypothalamus. He fed her at the lake, introduced her to his family, walked. He showed her where he camped over, felt her breasts, then drove her back to the parking lot where she’d left her car. All day long the rain had started and stopped, started and stopped over the small lake.

When they finally made love – frantically, badly, all the reasons why she shouldn’t screaming in her head – all their actions were deformed, mutilated from a beauty which should have sprung to gain its natural terrain into a grotesquely crippled and sad little dance. And all through it she heard her own voice whisper his name over and over as if purposely burning it into the night of her mind, writing it onto her pathetically exposed psyche. There are times when a soul demands recognition.

How could she possibly survive? Be herself with another name misidentifying her? Her creation, which she mistakenly assumed to be her own making, subject to her will, now shot out of control, shaming her by its lacks. It was a child’s construction – unsafe, unrecognizable, impractical, worthless – but it roared its babble through her skin and limbs, her eyes. It stilled her voice.

Later, small signs appeared to her. On occasion she saw his rebellion against duty. His nature, – soft, almost unformed – was engulfing when he willed it, gentle and compelling as moonlight. His need was as guileless as an infant’s and shared as such. But then it was snatched back without a word, as sudden re-assertion of his sculpted individuality: trendily flip, requisitely au courant, and resolutely unaccountable.

Marlene crawled on her belly to pick the wild strawberries. Walking outside meant crushing them, each footfall releasing their sweet scent. She stretched her arm forward and plucked them, dropping them into a cup, planning her breakfast of French toast, yogurt, berries and tea. Black flies bombarded her screened face, safe inside the bug jacket. She listened to the birds of the morning and worried about the music’s progress. She knew Garth could play; he was talented, and she loved the way he loved the guitar and got into the music. Plus he seemed OK with her choice of material. But the waves of dread that came over her lately were too familiar, and she lay her head on her arm, smelling the dirt and grass. Now in charge, her creation floundered and flipped, hopelessly inadequate and running in fear. Desperate souls sweet talk like crazy, take the money, and run.

“I can’t talk,” he said to her once during a rare and brief referral to relationships. “What do you mean you can’t talk?” she countered, refusing to listen. “You talk good.” She was pretty adept herself at glibly avoiding things, and the quiet desperation in her sat back then, smug in its banishment, knowing full well how dismal her performances were when it came to communication, and that before long she would be struck dumb by the raw, mute, and hateful need. But in the meantime, the music gave them both voices and let them escape their limitations, wandering and stumbling around each other for a long time. Happily, they created their concert, weaving into it unawares the soundless utterings of their souls. Foolishly, they made this new song, a noise, however small; they didn’t see it enter their inner silence, dislodging emotions like an avalanche in the mountains. “Under the planets’ careful turn, dance in the cool wet flowers; spinning your fearful soul to learn the wisdom of eon’s hours.” She woke in the middle of the night, her mind replaying over and over again all the unspoken feelings, fear and passion colliding within her like waves against a rock. The music of their disability was washing over her with no distinctive notes, no recognizable motifs, and no titled movements to identify or own. Marlene left the turmoil of her solitary bed (why was he not with her?), and slipped outside under the light of the full moon, letting herself move to this symphony of sadness. She returned to sleep only after releasing her emotions, bound to her and stopped like the milk of a mother of a stillborn child, into a new song, crafting all the violence and tender humiliation into one contained form.

The next day she was with him again, ever hopeful, believing beyond hope that things were alright. Desperate souls will choose the comforting closeness of quicksand over the stinging exposure of panicked solitude. Though she broached the subject, she did so sideways, unable to recognize her own private road signs to danger. He asked to hear her composition, but the paltry verses were barely a pebble in the oceanic distance between her tentative moon-born spirit and the lover she longed to see. She scuttled like a crab on the shore of a vast sea of separation that she suddenly felt, and her song died in her heart. Desperate souls play and replay their favourite sad melodies until the grooves are permanent.

They walked the grooves, each on a solitary venture; they were lovers on the unknown landscape of their own desires. Left with the snake oil of her dreams, a looming deadline and an abandoned heart, Marlene insisted on talking. Garth agreed, and admitted he wanted to go. She felt her spirit begin the preparation for departure from the body. “We can still do the music,” he said. But as the evening turned to hot summer night, chords and voice tones floating on the air, her spirit slipped silently away, exiting bit by bit until by the rehearsal’s end there remained only the unmasked, desperate soul. Three weeks later, the raspberries were overflowing their branches, dropping to the earth even when she picked them every day. Red and lush, the berries were unusually huge for a wild strain. Marlene dutifully placed them one by one on cookie sheets for freezing. It was the one homemaking skill to which she submitted, only because she knew the glory of tasting summer’s burgeoning in February. She went to the freezer door, seeing the array of photos, the ad for an art show, a quote about poetry “taking life by the throat”, a drawing of a superhero, and another quote about “the trace of a man on a woman” being one of the most short-lived things in life.

She opened the freezer door, traded the fresh berries for a sheet of frozen ones, shut the door. She deposited the frozen nuggets into a plastic bag, squeezed out all the air, and put a twist tie on it. Then she sealed that bag in a second one and closed it the same way. She returned the solid package to the freezer and went outside to the warm air to pick more fruit, thinking about the coming winter.

Zoe Chilco


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