Possessed 127 days ago, 0 comments
I am restless. I have been restless before, but usually I don’t know why. Sometimes I do, like this time. This time I am restless because I can feel the story coming.
The stories come to me, streaming through the aether so fast and with such purpose that sometimes I can almost hear their passage.
When they come, it’s like being possessed. I am possessed by stories. They want – need! – be told. They come at a time of their own making, driven by some cosmic imperative they come and possess me like demons in a medieval child. I have no control over this.
The stories do not rest until I’ve told them, they do not let me rest until they have been told.
Some catharsis is achieved in the telling, some sense of completeness. When I’ve finally formed them to the best of my ability, they are exorcised, they are released. And then so am I.
Boundaries 129 days ago, 0 comments
It’s 6pm and it’s finally stopped raining, but that’s life on the West Coast. As I sit here sipping Primativo from the oversized glass you brought me earlier, I can see the sun burst through the low clouds and light the surface of the water. It looks very biblical with the visible rays of light shooting down from the grey clouds and turning the sea into a million million dazzling jewels.
I’ve been writing all day, which has been hard. I always find it hard to write on these gloomy afternoons, but when the story demands to be written, I am it’s slave. No matter how much I hate these dismal days and just want to sleep. I am a creature of the light, and it refreshes my soul to see the sun. Or maybe it’s the wine refreshing my soul. In any case, I am refreshed.
The wide expanse of windows on the water side of the cottage supply a view that can only be described as breathtaking no matter the weather. Out through the glass the water meets the mountains, and they rise up to touch the sky. I have always loved being at the edge of where things meet, at the boundary condition. Here that condition can be seen through what feels like acres of glass.
Behind me the fire crackles in an oversized stone fireplace. It’s been burning for days nonstop, heating the main living area of the cottage and drying the air. The smell of the smoke hangs in the warm room, comforting like a down blanket on a cool night.
I hear your bare feet on the floor behind me. I feel your hand caress my neck. You reach past me and refill my glass, and I can smell your hair and feel the stirrings of arousal. Your scent has always had that affect on me. You set the bottle on the table and I grab you by your waist to pull you onto my lap. I kiss the nape of your neck. You taste of salt, just a bit, and I am aroused all the more.
You turn in my embrace, rubbing your body against mine suggestively and putting a knee on either side of me to settle down on my lap. The big old chair we’re sitting in is just wide enough for this. You wrap your arms around my neck and stare into my eyes. I start to pull your camisole off. The cottage is so remote that you rarely wear more when we’re alone and not expecting guests.
I undress you, you undress me. We kiss, tasting wine and desire on each others lips. We make love there in the chair, in front of the pictures windows for all the world to see, if only there were anyone out there on the water. What a show they would have. We are good together, slow, deliberate in our exploration of each other, but burning with almost tantric intensity.
Afterward you snuggle against my chest. I pick up my glass and sip thoughtfully. We haven’t spoken a single word, but we haven’t had to, our wants and needs match so closely. Eventually you look up at me and smile, and whisper something I can barely hear.
Out on the water the sun has set behind the mountains. It is dark, both inside and out, the only visible light coming from the fireplace behind us and the slow pulse of my sleeping laptop. I am a creature of the light, but you have brought the light inside me. There in the dark I bend down to kiss the top of your head and answer.
“I love you too.”
Chemistry 139 days ago, 0 comments
The blonde woman swirled a tasteful but enormous glass of red wine in one hand, a cigarette dangling languidly from the graceful fingers of the other. Behind her the bustle of a typical Paris evening went about its way. The French did as the French did, no matter who might think otherwise. If there was anything that never changed, it was the French, thank god. Though she was quintessentially and elegantly French in appearance, she was Canadian by citizenship, a fact that only became apparent when she spoke.
“What do you know of passion, of the chemistry between a man and a woman?” she asked.
It was a teasing question and she knew it. He was a deeply passionate man, who poured his feelings into everything he did. It was this that first made her fall in love with him so long ago.
He leaned back from the small café table with a smile. The adjustment was flattering, his broad shoulders clearly defined by the crisp linen shirt he wore. What did he know of passion? Of chemistry? After toying with his own wine glass and pondering the question, he answered her.
“Ma belle, let me tell you a story about men and women.”
She settled back, a coy half-smile on her red lips. She loved his stories, loved the way he told them. She loved the way his eyes sparkled when he was remembering something from his past. From hist stories she had learned far more about him over the years they had been meeting at this café than she ever had by searching for information about him online. “Please, do tell. I am aflutter with anticipation,” she said.
“I was, in my youth as I am today, a musician,” he said, beginning his tale.
She nodded acknowledgement of his musicianship. He was in fact quite a well known musical artist in many parts of Europe and Canada. Not a star, by any means, but certainly no penniless unknown either.
“There was a time early in my performing career, when I regularly played music in a student-frequented bar in a university town. Covers of popular music. I did this with my good friend and talented musician Gareth. I think you’ve met him once. He’s quite tall, which always made for comedy while we were on stage. People liked this contrast between him and I, his height, my lack of it. I think I was maybe 27 years old.”
He paused to sip his wine and think.
“I was still married to my first wife at the time. Back then I was still young and beautiful,” he said, then smiled, “I was also in the band, a fact that often seems to have an intoxicating effect on young women.”
She smiled at this. He was still quite handsome, and the fact that he was a musician had an intoxicating effect on not-so-young women too. He caught the glint in her eye and continued.
“At this bar, a student bar I believe I mentioned, was a bartender named Lisa. She was a beautiful woman, which helped when it came to collecting tips at the bar. The boys who frequented the bar loved her. Many speculated about her relationship to me as we were close and easy, they assumed that Lisa and I were having an illicit affair, but they were wrong. Lisa and I were close, in the way of brothers and sisters, not as man and woman. There was no attraction between us, just mutual support and well-wishing.”
As he told this story, the sun slid across the divide between evening and night, lighting the buildings across the way and colouring the clouds above like a Monet painting. He took his sunglasses off his head and placed them on the table. Then he leaned forward, so he could look more deeply into her eyes, her beautiful eyes. He remembered the first time he had gazed into those clear pools. The memory brought a smile to his face.
“But you asked about passion and chemistry, not of filial love. Lisa’s best friend and roommate was a young woman named Cordelia. She was maybe four years younger than I was at the time. Certainly no more than that. The first time her eyes and mine met I was thunderstruck. People talk about their heart skipping a beat. Mine didn’t. Mine stopped cold in my chest. I felt like I was dying, but what a happy death!”
A pang of envy raced through her but she scolded herself. This relationship had spanned more than a decade, and was as solid as the foundations of the earth. She had nothing to fear from this spectre of the past.
“From that moment on, whenever Cordelia and I were in the same room, it was as if there was an invisible bolt of lightning between us, connecting us to each other. A thing of raw energy and chemistry, almost a magical thing. When Gareth and I played our music, she danced. When we were on break between sets, her and I sat and talked, or danced if the music was good. When we sat, sometimes she sat on my lap and held my hands. There was no doubt she could feel how she aroused me. There was no doubt she was enjoying it.”
“When we danced, nothing but our clothes separated us from each other. When we danced, those dancing around us became more aroused, desperate for the attentions and affections of their partners, almost as if they could feel the wild magnetism that joined Cordelia and I. Like they were infected by it. This was very intense.”
“I remember one night,” he said, the memory bringing the smile to his face that melted her heart and made her fall in love with him all over again,” after Gareth and I had finished playing and the bar had closed. This was maybe three or four in the morning. Gareth and I, Lisa and Cordelia, we had climbed onto the top of a bus shelter, where we sat smoking cigarettes and talking. It was a warm autumn evening and the stars were blazing in the sky above us.”
“Being near Cordelia was as easy as drinking cool water on a hot summer day. Not having Cordelia was hell.”
By now the sun had set and night had come to the City of Lights, and the cafe began to fill up for the dinner hour. The magic of his story wrapped them in calmness so the two of them became an island in the river of revellers and tourists that plied the street behind her. She could tell by the sparkle in his eyes that he was close to the heart of this story, close to the kernel of truth he had carried with him since he was young.
“One night, during the break between our second and third sets, Cordelia and I were dancing along with many of the patrons of the bar. It was a slow song, something meant for lovers. I had my arms around Cordelia’s waist, and she had wrapped her arms around my neck. Her cheeks were flushed and her breath ragged. She ground against me gently, and I held her tight to me. Her eyes glistened with intensity. The sexual energy between us was almost unbearable.”
“She put her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes. We danced, and there was nothing in the universe but us. I shivered with her every exhale, feeling her warm soft breath against my neck. Then she pressed her lips against the soft skin at the curve of my shoulder. Her kiss was like an electric shock that ran through my body. For the first time, one of us had crossed the line between desperately wanting to do a thing and doing the thing.”
The blonde woman smiled and said “It’s a wonder you didn’t climax right there, with that much sexual tension built up between you.”
He laughed and answered “Indeed. It is a wonder. I don’t know how I didn’t. In my memory, the feeling of her lips against my skin is as intense as an orgasm. But I digress. With that kiss, Cordelia had changed the nature of our relationship. From longing friends to potential lovers, and then she changed it further. She lifted her head and whispered into my ear ‘Will you come home with me tonight?’ The war inside me in the aftermath of that question was fierce. My mind, my body, wanted to be with Cordelia. But you see, I was a married man.”
He looked across the street at the river, seeing the lights of the city dance across its surface. She had seen him like this only once before, when he told her about the death of his best childhood friend. Her heart ached to see that look on his face. Then he regained his composure and looked into her eyes.
“It took every fibre of my being to disappoint Cordelia when she asked me that question, every shred of energy in me. To this day I do not know how I said no. When I whispered it, she didn’t answer. She tipped her head back up and smiled at me, still looking at me with those beautiful eyes, those beautiful fuck-me-please eyes.”
The sudden harshness of his language didn’t surprise her. She had heard it before, was indeed capable of the same level of crass talk. Nonetheless she shook her head in mock reproach and waited for him to continue.
“She put her head back down on my shoulder, and we stood there for some time, perhaps forever, saying nothing. Then she bit me.”
“She… bit you?” Her incredulity was palpable.
“Yes. She bit me. Right here,” he indicated the junction between his shoulder and neck, “Very hard. It left an incredible bruise that took weeks to fade. And then she flipped her hair, her beautiful, wonderful hair, turned on her heel, and left the bar.”
He paused for a sip of wine. She could see he was digging deep to tell this story, and loved him all the more for sharing it with her, opening himself to her. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples for a moment.
“I never saw her again. The next day she had left, moved to Vancouver with no forwarding address. If Lisa knew where she had gone, she never shared that information with me. The bruise was hard to explain, so hard in fact, I didn’t even bother trying. What was even harder was not knowing what Cordelia had wanted from me that night. A one night stand? Did she want me to leave with her? I’ll never know. Can never know.”
He sat back and looked into her eyes, as he had a hundred times before.
“What do I know of passion, ma belle? Of the chemistry between a man and a woman? Maybe nothing. Maybe nothing at all.”
It was closing time. Even though the story he told was short, time seemed to have slipped away from them. He rose and circled the table to pull her chair out like a true gentleman should. She stood, excited and flushed from the story he told and her love for him. He took her arm and they stepped into the river of bustle that was typical of a Paris street on a summer evening.
It might be Wednesday, but only because it needed to be called something. Every day was the same as the last, as the next. Step out of a condominium grey building with condominium grey glass sides, walk down the condominium grey sidewalk to the condominium grey subway entrance (with a cheery red transit sign, an exception to prove the rule), and step down the condominium grey stairs with all the other condominium grey people.
Even the most stubborn optimist was eventually ground down by the monotony of the city in winter.
Max was an optimist, though the flame of this optimism was well hidden in the cold recesses of his winter heart, damped down against the polar vortex gripping the the city. He was optimistic that spring would eventually come, that he would eventually have more than his cat and his goldfish to come home to at night. That this was not the way it needed to be.
He was by his nature a vibrant and colourful person, full of love for life and colour. He was a talented and life-long student of the cello, which he taught evenings and weekends to tone-deaf children and their uniformly sexy, middle-aged mothers looking to rekindle the musical delights of their youth. He taught them the same as their children. It didn’t matter. Their music was a grey as their smiles, their coats, and their lives.
When the winter came and the temperatures dipped the way they had this year, the darkness and swirling snow and throngs of people smelling of damp wool and stale cigarettes started to get him down. Especially the morning commute on a subway line that was already overfull even without the winter coats and hats and carry-all bags. No colour. No light. No hope. He banked the embers of his optimism in his heart and, head down, trudged along with the rest of them. And so like cattle to the slaughter, Max and the rest of the denizens of the city made their way through the crowded subway system and off to work.
In his case, it was to an office in the core, where he worked as a web developer. For the rest of them he could only guess. That guy looked pretty severe, so maybe he was a lawyer. The woman over there, leaning against the subway doors as they all swayed back and forth with the movement of the train, she could be a school teacher. Or a university professor.
This was a game he played frequently, guessing what all the grey people around him were like. Almost all of them were as pale and grey as he felt. And so he looked from one to the next, always careful not to make eye contact (an unwritten rule of living in the city – never make eye contact), guessing at what it was they did once they departed the train.
He looks like a grocer. Her a ballet dancer, with her pale skin and gaunt cheekbones. That one was a stock broker, the pinstripes were a dead give-away. The two giggling teenaged girls over there in the corner, with their oversized backpacks spilling out across the floor were obviously students now, though the one on the left looked like the sort of person he’d expect to find sitting behind the desk at the veterinarian’s office. Construction worker (hard-hat), street-meat vendor, graphic designer. He went on and on, scanning the grey crowd until his eyes happened on her.
She was a flare of colour in the black-and-white world, as startling and breathtaking as seeing The Wizard of Oz was the first time. He felt his heart skip a beat in his chest even as the subway swerved and he lost sight of her for a moment. But then, as the train settled back into it’s groove, there she was again. This one, he thought, as the optimism deep inside his chest flashed into a bonfire in his heart. This one, she wasn’t in marketing, or a bank teller or a doctor. She was something more. A goddess among insects.
The subway slid into the cradle of Union station, and the doors opened to disgorge the trains occupants into the busy station. The girl slid her book into her bag and stepped off the train as Max watched. He felt his heart clench at the realization that he would no longer bask in the glow of this woman. Even though it wasn’t his stop, he pushed his way through the crowd of people stepping onto the train. He did this without thinking, as if it were a part of his nature, the way a sunflower turns it’s face to the sun.
It was tough going pushing past the people on the platform, and though he lost sight of her a few times, he swore he could almost smell her, a faint vanilla against the sea of wet woollen coats. And as he pressed on through the crowd, he gained on her. At the top of the stairs, he finally managed to touch her on the shoulder. She turned, and the scent of vanilla, still subtle, filled his mind.
“Hello!” she said to him with a smile, as if they had known each other forever.
He looked into her eyes, eyes that were mysteries he felt he had known his whole life, and heard himself answer “Hey! How’re you doing today?”
Around them the condominium grey world, full of it’s condominium grey people and condominium grey scents and condominium grey sounds ceased to be of any importance.
Beverly could feel the thump of big Stirling engine No. 6 roll through her body, and thought with excitement, The Heart of the City is actually beating in my chest!
Thirty-two thumping engines, each twenty meters tall and sixty long were ranged more or less symmetrically around the circumference of the envelope. They capitalized on the temperature difference between the air and ice outside the envelope and the steam jets originating from geothermal energy coming from deep in the ground below, where the molten rock was still hot and close to the surface.
Engineers worked hard – had in fact built entire complex systems – to keep the Stirlings desynchronized as they generated the life-giving electricity the city required. Once, when she was seven, the systems failed and the huge engines, rolling through their endless but minutely varied cycles, eventually all fired at once in a single city rattling convulsion that caused massive city-wide damage. Windows shattered all across the city, water mains broke, and a four story building had collapsed.
Most distressingly, the envelope had suffered the first of only two unplanned breaches in its 130 year history. A lot of heads rolled too, and in the intervening 12 years there hadn’t been any more failures until No. 17 had been all but destroyed when the envelope was compromised during the attack last year. It wasn’t expected to be operational again for another six months.
And there was old No. 6, affectionately known by various names, such as Old Faithful, Lady Liberty, and by most; The Heart of the City. No. 6 was the last of the original eight energy pumps created in the early days of the envelope and the city, and she pumped louder than her sleeker, more modern sisters. Stronger, somehow, like it mattered more.
Standing here atop No. 6 next to the this windows of the access airlock, Beverly could see outside to the brightly lit staging platform standing out in sharp relief against the heavy grey of the sky. But the exhilaration of being here waiting for Sam and his survey team to return from their sortie outside the envelope paled in comparison to the childish thrill of being this close to the big engine and feeling the deep, heavy throb of the mythical machine rumbling through her ribcage.
The Heart of the City is actually beating in my chest!