Matters That Concern Me
by Walter Weinschenk
I’ve experienced some difficulties lately. I’m thinking of the most recent chapter of my life though that chapter may not be as recent as I suppose it to be. Hard to say, hard to think. I’m speaking of the project I’ve completed. I have built additional brick walls within the confines of my room to buttress existing walls. I had planned this endeavor for quite some time and designed it with precision and constructed it with care and, presently, the brick reinforcement that I had envisioned and needed in a dire way stands firmly before me. Though it took considerable effort, that effort is best understood as a symptom, a side-effect or manifestation of limitless need, an ever-evolving need that I don’t quite understand. It rises and dissipates, hibernates and wakes, sleeps and rouses itself in some part of me and, without hesitation or forethought, proceeds to wage war against me from within. It is an asphyxiation of sorts. The present expression of this come-and-go need, this rise-and-fall desperation is only one chapter in an endless array of chapters in my book of need and is by no means the last chapter or next-to-last chapter. It can be said that the struggle to resolve some need or all need that arises within me serves to define me, more or less. I had a need and this particular need could not be ignored and attending to it could not be delayed. The nature of that need, this time, was much in line with the way it always is though somewhat at variance with it. I have added a brick lining to the walls in my room despite the fact that the room was not very large to begin with and isn’t simply a room: it is, in a very real sense, a sanctuary, some days more than others. The old walls that defined the room (and there could not have been a room without the presence of those walls) had been in place for as long as I can remember and those walls continue to stand but, somehow, I became convinced that they were not enough. I came to believe that the walls as they existed were in need of immediate fortification and so, now, they are fortified. I was convinced that the added strength would provide longevity. There was no other possibility, there was no other way to live, it could be no other way, it had to be just so, now and forever. It’s done, at least for now and, perhaps, forever.
It took some time, I forget how much time. It was backbreaking labor though I hardly remember having been engaged in the process. The dull clay lining of brick, the color of overripe fruit, is solid and sublime. The work is complete in every way at this particular juncture. I know it, I see it and I presently experience it but the story of its construction is a dim memory, barely a memory which is, more or less, the equivalent of a dream and, like a dream, it is ephemeral and dissipates in time. A dream cannot be explained and the same holds true for memory: it cannot be explained. I have created a new reality for myself in the form of new brick walls but I am the only one who sees those walls and appreciates that reality. It is, nevertheless, a statement that I alone could make and stands as utter and absolute proof of my effort and, no doubt, I had to have made such effort to get to this point and achieve what has been achieved thus far. There is no other explanation. It is there, I am here and my new reality is confirmed by the fact that the area of my room has now been diminished by the area of space committed to, and consumed by, the additional inner wall that now stands flush against the existing wall to which it is adjoined.
The job seems to have been done rather well, at least that’s my impression. Those bricks are as straight as straight can be. They run perfectly across and around me as any horizon you might detest with all your heart as you stand upon the beach and peer out in all directions. That horizon is the only thing you see. It encompasses you like a circle of elderly trees. Detest, I say, because that horizon is perfectly straight, sharp against the sky and well-defined in a threatening manner like the edge of a razor that needs to be kept at a distance for fear of the potential that lies within it like electric current that rides within a wire and can’t be seen but threatens because it exists and is, in this way, quite inhuman, perfectly inhuman. The vertical lines are plumb, of that you can be sure. What I’m left with is a hardened insular lining. I am protected like a fox in a lair, a bear in a cave, no doubt you understand, you empathize, you’ve been there. You might even picture yourself sitting in my room in place of me, needing something, wanting something, faced with a predicament that can never be defined even if we took all the time until the end of time and back to the moment that has just passed to define that need, that predicament, that problem and you might as well spend the whole of your life seeking a resolution that is somehow satisfactory. In fact, it becomes you all at once and you find yourself doing just that, seeking something out, seeking the answer, all the while knowing there is no answer and so you let it go until it arises again. It’s a never-ending start and stop. I said that it becomes you and that is unfortunate but, after all, we are only human. It is hard to keep it all in mind because the memory of the problem and solution are crushed, one atop the other, each forged into the other so that each consumes the other, each overtakes the other, each is enmeshed and adjoined with the other in the way that a crimson meteor crashes to earth and becomes one with it so that there is only one thing left. The two become one and one is all that remains and all there is. It is an answer of sorts. The resolution has been formulated and all will be fine, at least for a while, until the problem reemerges years or months or seconds from now and, once more, it will stare you down, mock you, concern you, seek your pity or petition you for closure until you can no longer stand that state of irresolution and you feel compelled to resolve it, once again, knowing that it’s not something within your power to resolve in any effective, enduring way. For now, however, the new brick wall – my double wall – will suffice. It is a holy bulwark. It will harden until it is no longer capable of hardening and, at some particular time, it will cease to be a memory. I will have become accustomed to it and I will come to believe that there never was a time at which it did not exist.
But it is not fear of a thing that gives rise to the problem and it is not fear of a person that gives rise to the problem because, in truth, there’s nothing I seek to avoid and I have no one to fear. The problem is a bit more complex, I suppose. It begins with me: I bask in my own invisibility. I celebrate my own distance from things. I see a world that exists beyond my window and beyond my walls but I need to be decisively separated from it and I see the whole of the world through my window and through my mind’s eye and I remain far from it. I am here and there, I am in and out, I can see but I can’t be seen. I feel secure and insecure simultaneously and it is a remarkable thing. I look out through my window, I gaze, I raise my head slowly so my eyes are positioned just above the sill and I peer out at whomever walks by. I watch every move but he or she or they that I watch don’t feel my eyes upon them. They don’t feel the traction of my vision upon their backs and they fail to detect the drag of my cognizance of their existence hovering over and beside them though it feels to me that my stare is so heavy and so immensely forceful that it surprises me that no one feels the trembling weight of it or senses the heat of it or hears the drone of it. I know each who crosses the path of my vision at the very moment that he or she or they cross my path. Their presence is announced long in advance by the shuffling of their footsteps upon the pebbly pavement and I feel their presence as their presence rises and fades, much like the memories and dreams that invade my consciousness in the moments just before my eyes are scalded open in the light of morning while (and all the while) I remain untouched, unseen, unknown and this, for some reason, has given me a source of meaning and method of experience that is personal and can’t be explained but exists and takes the form of an underlying vibration that coops the space within my being and evolves into a form of problem, an unwanted noise, a throb of consciousness that claims my entire attention as I pace the inner sanctum of my room. It is, perhaps, the wriggling embryo of an enigma that lifts its head and arises unannounced and needs to be resolved and, when it yawns and wakes and pulses, it requires that I attend to it. This is my pattern, this is my purpose, this is my sequence, this is the order and character of events that comprise the ether of my experience. Those parts and participles and fragments are nothing more than pieces of problems that emerge in variant form but they coalesce, eventually, as a continuum, a unitary problem that has phases just as you and I experience the flow and confluence of day and night, wakefulness and unconsciousness though each phase has a different feel over time. Consequently, my existence can be summarized as a continuing dialectic, a quivering procession. My endeavor to resolve the problem is really my attempt to apply salve to an unending series of lacerations. Problem, resolution, problem, resolution, over and again: it is tantamount to a sweeping, desperate effort to satisfy a craving for refuge within an enclave or behind some rock or curtain or wall. I seek an escape from the eyes of others. I need to remain unseen. I reserve and effectively retain my place outside the line of sight so that others may remain oblivious to my existence while my eyes fill with theirs. I suppose there is nothing new or exciting about this. I’m no different than anyone else. I suppose we occupy ourselves in individual efforts to rectify or resolve whatever requires resolution, each in our own way, though I really wouldn’t know, will never know, can never know.
I rarely leave. I stay within my own very well-defined perimeter that is framed by solid physical borders, now bolstered to an even greater degree by the addition of a solid brick lining with a surface so rough and real that it scrapes my skin as I brush my hand against it. Even if I wanted to saunter out on my own in the pale light of day, it would be difficult to do so. Even if I no longer savored the space between myself and others and even if I felt compelled for some reason to link arms with he or she who walks down the street, even if I wished to join the ranks of humanity, even if I felt a need to stand on some street corner and greet each passerby as each walked by and extend my best wishes with joyful words that surge out of me and flow through the medium of my raspy voice, it would be so difficult, so extremely difficult. It is difficult to leave the castle keep within which I have enveloped myself though, of course, I need to emerge every now and then because the exigencies of life demand it. One must shop for groceries, one must buy clothes, one must argue with one’s neighbor or stand still upon the stool while the tailor draws the dull chalk like a knife across the coarse fabric of one’s new suit and one must sit in the chair while one’s hair is styled as pieces of it fall past one’s eyes onto the floor and one must complete an array of tasks and indulge in various rituals and seek various allowances to accomplish the entirety of it all, the grand act of living. One needs to leave one’s home. If you wish to live, you have no choice but to leave and walk out into the world. But to get out, one must get in and this is no easy feat. First, there is the street and the doorway that would need to be opened, a heavy wood door, modern, pale like the skin of an old apple, beset by a small window that stares out warily like some cyclops eye, too small and high to be of much use to anyone and if that door were a face, it would be the blandest of faces, unknowing and apathetic. Despite its appearance, that door would open easily but only after the latch is released and, unfortunately, it is often a bit difficult to manage. It takes time to jiggle the key so that the latch turns but it becomes a habit after a number of attempts like anything else in life. As you enter you would walk and as you walk you would find that there is a steady lowering of the ceiling that looms over you, high above your head at first but drops steadily at a gradual angle and lowers to such an extent that it almost brushes against your scalp as you pass beneath it and there comes a point at which you are forced to crawl along the floor to get to where you need to be. As you proceed through the corridor, the flat blue matte walls are gradually overtaken by shadow but you navigate through it, narrow as it is, as the heat almost overtakes you and you struggle through two or three twists and turns, much like the jumble of paths and furrows that cross, back and forth, within some labyrinthine hedgerow until you are delivered into the confines of a small anteroom, not much larger than the dimensions of a Kashan rug, floral gray, onto which you step and from which you quickly step off, no larger than the top of a kitchen table, leaving it behind as you notice (and you will notice) that the room has no prominent features other than a bookshelf and lamp. You notice that these walls, unlike the walls through which you have crawled, are spotted copper much like the spotted skin of your own arms that you can still see in the dim, dull light. You sense the odor of plants and soil and moisture and, indeed, there are several wilting Philodendron set neatly on a narrow table that run the length of the wall in front of you. At this point, you have no choice but to commit to climbing the black steel spiral staircase which you enter by stepping through an open archway. You climb up and around the incremental steps that wind tight like a rubber band, your hand firm upon the winding rail as you walk in tiny, concentric circles and rise for an indefinite time and it seems like such a long time though you realize, soon, that it is but a moment until you reach the hallway, lit bright by a modest chandelier that protrudes overhead and shows you the way and guides you along but if you could only see the structure through which you have just ascended, you’d know that you’ve risen through a small white tower, a turret of sorts, which embraces a lone window with curtain drawn. If you were to study this tower from the street, you’d note to yourself that the window is framed in black. That window is my window. You’d notice as well that my tower is topped with a cone roof, a primitive hat built of slate shingles that wind around in circles, smaller and smaller, culminating in a pin-like point at the very top but you are inside, not outside, and you have now come face to face with the cedar door to my room and, if you were to enter, you would notice the lining of brick that buttresses my walls and you would see the lone black-framed window with curtain drawn, that same window you noticed while standing on the street, and you would see me sitting at my desk or standing by the mirror or lifting the curtain that hides the window in order for me to peek out of it and, having arrived, you might not remember how you got there. It may feel like a dream or a memory and, though your journey is vague like a dream or a memory, it is a reality nonetheless. You are now here and being here is proof of the fact that you came here whether or not you remember the details of how it is you arrived.
This is how it is but this it’s not the entire picture. What’s missing are the fields and forests of experience and the tangle of gullies and gorges of thought and need and resolution that come together to form an inextricable knot and comprise the evanescent conundrum that is my essential self. What’s missing is the sublime feeling that comes over me as I find my bed at night after having jettisoned many of my preoccupations. I lie down upon a bed that is situated beside and beneath the sill of the window. It is the very same window that you saw while standing on the street and would surely recognize if you were to enter my room. I lie down and my head is so close to that window that I can feel the chill of its frame in winter and the heat of its pane in summer. I am secure in the knowledge that my window is immediately accessible and it happens to be the case that many of my concerns wash away like leaves in the rush of a river in spring and this sense of peace arises only because I realize that my window is so close at hand. The air settles around me and it is then that I hear the sounds of distant things. I hear the rolling of railroad wheels. I hear the insane drone of motorcycles on a highway. I hear the languid roll of a plane overhead. I hear all these things and, as I hear them, I feel myself drawn like a minnow into a gentle eddy of cool serenity. I revel in the sense of distance between myself and the train and the motorcycle and plane and I can almost imagine the thoughts and concerns of the people aboard trains or those who ride motorcycles or sit high in flight above the clouds. I delight in the mystery of that distance. It feels as though I can see them though they have no conception of me and have no reason to think of me but I think of them always and can practically visualize the expressions on their faces. I embrace them in my mind but they would have no reason to think of someone who thinks of them and projects a conception of them within his own consciousness and takes pleasure in that distance as he lies in bed on the verge of sleep and, in his final wakeful moments, wonders not of himself but of them. It is an aberration of intimacy. It is an elegy to the tenuous ties that connect me loosely to others as I meander through the shadows of their lives. It is life literally passing in different directions, one past the other, each and all somehow free and somehow tethered. This is how it is as I stare into the grey-black ceiling above me searching for planes and trains and motorcycles as the darkness of that ceiling becomes my own dark night and my eyelids sink into the floor of the gorges of my eyes like doors of a store that slowly close at the end of a long day.
This is how it is but it is only part of my particular picture because, like everyone else, I wake up. These matters, these sensations, this procession of thought and the long coil of longing are the remains that I gather. They are part of the whole. The dreams that cascade through the thermosphere of my sleep are forever lost within the whirlwind of my own oblivion except for bits and pieces. What’s left are fragments of thought and memories of a dream rather than the thought itself or the dream itself. Dreams fade, memories fade, the sense of things fade, it all fades so incredibly fast. No matter how hard one tries, those dreams and memories and sensations cannot be retrieved but for the edges and corners. A moment or two passes and my thinking mind returns and its quadrants quickly fill with complete thoughts, rigid thoughts, and this barrage of thought is inconsequential though some of these fleeting thoughts are worth hanging onto. There is always a category of thought that is key to survival and must be retained and developed if one is to navigate life and progress or proceed to some destination, however defined. These are the mundane thoughts, the practical thoughts that serve as markers etched onto one’s mental compass and, in fact, much of my thinking is devoted to practical things such as cooking but I soon veer from the practical and settle into a quasi-reverie that is a peculiar form of consciousness in itself. These are the moments that I spend wondering and peering out the window during the days that my eyes wish to wander like children.
In fact, my eyes have their own innate desire to latch on to those who walk by. Passersby approach from the end of the street and cross directly in front of the window through which I stare. I sit and wait and suddenly, as if on cue, I see someone, anyone, walking along the sidewalk in my direction. There appears a man, there appears a woman, there appears the postal worker making his or her rounds, there appears the delivery man or the plumber or the electrician or the person who walks for the sake of walking. If I wait long enough, I will have something that resembles an encounter, one in which my eyes are steady above the sill as I peer out, scan the street and behold some random person. I will let my eyes latch onto his or her being and I will wind up thinking very hard and wondering very hard. I gaze and theorize, I gaze and wonder, I gaze and fall into an ocean of want, a river of need. I need to know who it is that my eyes follow. I need to know the thoughts that are housed in his or her head. I need to know what lies within the inner sanctum of his or her essential self but I know that it’s impossible to know. There is no language through which that self can be communicated. This question, this predicament, can never be resolved. Conversation is inadequate no matter how honest and earnest and open a particular person might be. That is the problem, it’s a real problem: it is an unending deficit, a perpetual hiatus, an experiential nausea and it causes me to suffer from one moment to the next and, perhaps, I’m the only one who feels it and faces it and cowers before it. I cannot know anyone in any real sense and, consequently, I’ve come to recognize and realize the vacuity and tyranny of raw need that cannot be assuaged.
If there is an exception, if there is one person who is capable of being known, it is the blind tenant who lives across the hall. He is remarkable and astonishing but, as extraordinary as he is, I am discouraged in his presence. I may visit him or not but I am less inclined than ever to interact with him and I have purposely kept my interactions with him to a minimum since these encounters always end in a way that is debilitating and unsettling. I do visit him, however, from time to time. I cross the hall, I knock on the door and I hear the latch unlock from within. The door opens wide and the light of another world pours forth over me like shafts of sunrise. Before me stands the blind tenant who ratchets his head down to face me and his face formulates a smile as soon as he hears my voice. He is tall and heavy, his shoulders are wide and his red tussled hair falls unevenly about his neck and ears. He embraces me, he grasps my shoulders, he pulls me through the door, he ushers me around a sparsely furnished room as he begins to talk and he rambles incessantly in a voice that is both gruff and happy and pleasing. He offers wine or beer or bourbon and I take him up on it, I drink with him, I drink the beer or bourbon or wine and I ask for more and he delights in pouring. I drink until I’m drunk, I laugh at his joke, I listen to his story and he and I join in laughter. He laughs uproariously. We toast each other. We exclaim “to life!” in unison and we continue to drink but, invariably, the visit takes an odd turn. He’ll draw me over to the large living room window that overlooks a street that runs parallel to the street that is mine to look out upon. He’ll open that window as wide as he can and, as blind as he is, he’ll somehow know that someone is just then passing, close upon the sidewalk. Somehow, he will spot that person who is no one in particular. It may be some unsuspecting dog walker, for example, and he’ll yell “good morning” though its long past morning. The dogwalker may yell back “good morning” and the blind tenant and the dogwalker might then carry on animated conversation about dogs and walking and the winter to come. I can only hear one side of the conversation but I do hear the laughter that comes from each side of the window as that laughter punctuates the paragraphs of their conversation. It is at this juncture that I begin to feel distance between myself and the blind tenant and the space between us explodes in the minefield of my mind and it is at about this time that I decide to leave. Even though their conversation continues and the blind tenant and the dogwalker are happily engaged in explaining themselves and telling tales and recounting the twisting turns of their respective lives, I will feel an overpowering urge to leave, to escape, to run for my life and I will feel aching, debilitating need coalesce within me as though it were organic, soon to ferment like yeast or fester like infection. I find my way out. I fall through the door while the blind tenant continues his conversation. I stagger back across the hall, I see my cedar door and I crash into it. I open it quickly and I close it quickly and I throw myself onto my bed and I let the experience come to an inglorious end. I let it become a memory, I let it be what it is: something that I cannot quite grasp, something that evades me. I proceed to let months or weeks or days pass until the time comes, once more, to visit the blind tenant. Though it may be long, long, long into the future, that day invariably comes and, invariably, I summon the will to visit again. I always visit again.
There is more, however. There is more that I encounter, more to my reality and more to the tunnel of experience through which I pass. There is the matter of rent and there is the matter of the landlady. Rent is one of those things that one must deal with. The landlady is real and my obligation to pay rent to her is real. It is the pinion that holds the wheel in place and allows it to spin in circles. There is also the matter of the landlady’s daughter who is no longer young but, when she was young, I was young as well. When we were children, the landlady’s daughter would run in circles and I would run after her. She had heather hair and her bangs would bounce against her forehead as she ran. She would laugh while she ran and, when she laughed, two glistening teeth would ride high in her mouth and, indeed, she would laugh quite often. I would laugh as well. There was joy in running and there was joy in laughing and I recall running and falling and laughing. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we were inseparable. On occasion, she or I might sing. We would collect sticks. We would see who could jump the highest or farthest and we would march into piles of leaves with great vehemence. We would strip petals from flowers in the garden. We would dig through the dirt with our fingers. We would retreat to the steps and sit. It may have seemed as though we were waiting for someone to arrive or something to happen but, in fact, we were waiting for nothing and no one at all. Her favorite color was blue and blue became my favorite as well. Sadly, the friendship came to an end when she began having problems with her legs. She had trouble running and then she had trouble walking and there came a time at which she could run or walk no more. She sat in a wheelchair from that point on. I saw less and less of her until I hardly saw her at all.
There is also the matter of the landlady’s son who lives somewhere nearby and visits his mother on occasion. I don’t know his name though, perhaps, I should. He is thin and his arms dangle as he walks and he wears a fedora and I find him repulsive. He doesn’t comport with my conception of what a landlady’s son should be. He doesn’t fit the model. He is overly confident and self-assured, he is loud, he is argumentative, he is petty and you can tell that he tries not to smile. He walks as though he owns the ground. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem because, in truth, anyone can be loud or crude or narcissistic in some way, to some degree, at any particular time though some people more than others. In this case, however, his presence is a problem. Those who walk in my direction are forced to change direction to avoid walking into him. He stands upon the sidewalk as if it were a conquered nation and his presence is enough to force those who pass by – those who I claim as my own – to avoid me, leave me, disengage from me. The landlady’s son forestalls the only opportunity I have to behold the miracle of some other person, some stranger, some being who has a personhood all his or her own. He repels all those who would otherwise enter my life and command my attention and serve as points of wonderment. He destroys those possibilities. He trespasses upon my psychic space as well: though the silence of the evening doesn’t belong to him, the thought of him is enough to disrupt the delicate stillness and quiet harbor of my own inner peace. He upsets the panorama of light and air and stars in the night that comprise my universe and he upends the reverie in which I may be immersed. If he were to stand below my window and laugh or scream or berate his mother, his life would thereby be imposed upon my own – and so it is: he disrupts both her life and my life in this fashion. He imposes himself upon my personal eternity, he upsets the array of opportunities that are open to me at any given moment and, as he does, he folds my life into smaller and smaller dimensions. Because of him, I cannot contemplate or confound myself with the mystery of trains or motorcycles or planes that I might otherwise hear in the distance. I am prevented from contemplating or understanding those who happen to be walking along the sidewalk or rolling down the tracks or passing through the clouds or speeding down the highway as the sound of wheels and engines split the night. My mind is pulled like a moon caught in gravity’s grasp so that it circles about him and is bombarded by his statements and exhortations. The space we share is thereby sliced to shreds by his razor-edged voice. Simply stated, I am dislodged from my world through his presence and I’m hurled into his. My incessant effort to come to terms with my own world is upended.
There is another matter of concern and that matter is the dream that recently visited itself upon me. I had a dream, most of which I can remember, and it was truly a memorable dream. I dreamed that I looked down upon the street and noticed someone who slowly tilted her head, up, up, up until she was looking straight up, searching for me, patiently waiting for me to appear at my window. When I lifted my eyes above the sill, I spotted her and, as I spotted her, I saw a smile that I think I’ve been waiting many years to see and I lifted my head so that I was standing tall by the window and gleefully yelled “how are you?” in as loud a voice as I could muster. I didn’t care the hour and didn’t care if I upset the entire neighborhood with the sound of my voice. I dreamed that she saw me and received my greeting and yelled in as loud a voice as mine: “how are you?” and it went on from there. It was as happy an occasion as I can recall and it was a beautiful thing and I cried in my sleep and felt the drip of a tear as it ran across my cheek and jumped over my nose into my pillow. At that moment, I woke up and remembered my dream in minute detail and this was quite unusual because I rarely remember my dreams. I retained her image in my head and even though she was a creation of my own mind as it swam in sleep, I nevertheless thought of her as if she were real. I thought about her often and I can’t help but think of her often. Though her visit was not real, I spend time wishing she’d reappear. I want her to search for me and find me. I need to hear her cry out “how are you?” as if it were a statement and, if I were to hear those words, I would respond “how are you?” and I would luxuriate in her words and she in mine.
In addition to the matter of the landlady’s son and the matter of my recent dream, there is the more pressing matter of the landlady herself and the rent which lies at the core of our relationship. In the absence of my obligation to pay rent, there would be no landlady and there would be no landlady’s son. She exists, of course, and has a place in my life and has had a place in my life for longer than I can dream or remember. If she did not exist, I would have some other reality to cope with. I might live somewhere else, in some other town or city or in some other room or attic or cellar. I might not spend most of my day peering out a window and, in that event, my eyes might not have the opportunity to lock onto the back of some unsuspecting stranger and I might not lie in the bed in which I presently lie while lost in the sound and mystery of the noise of trains and planes and motorcycles as the sound cascades into the plasma of the night. I might live somewhere else and, for all I know, I might be someone else. I might be well connected, socially adept, well-liked, sought after, loved. I might owe rent to someone else and might have to answer to someone else but in a different way than at present or I might own my own home in which case I would answer to no one. The possibilities are limitless but my reality, my only reality, is one in which I am bound to a person who has been my landlady for as far back in time as I can remember, to the extent I am able to remember. Her need for me to pay rent emanates from her core and that need is palpable and endless. In order to extract a check from me, she seeks me out and listens to me and cajoles me and soothes me and encourages me and insults me and this has been the case for countless years. She can be kind, she can be understanding, she can be demanding, she can be disagreeable but she doesn’t know me and doesn’t seem to want to know me but I sense, in her case, that there is more to the story than her overriding need for me to pay rent. She has tired eyes. She draws her brown-red hair into a bun one day and lets it fall upon her shoulders the next because, perhaps, she lacks the strength to twist it. There are times at which she seems lost as when her voice is weak and her eyes are red and the glistening edge of a tear appears beneath one eye, then another. I can determine for myself that she feels defeated as when her left shoulder sinks lower than her right and her cheeks appear pale and the laces collapse upon the tops of her shoes with every step she takes, over and again, as if those laces share the burden of her defeat. I think I can tell when she is sad though I say nothing and firmly believe that I shouldn’t say anything. I’m tempted, during the course of her visits to ask, “how are you?” but I hold back. It feels wrong or ill-timed or inappropriate or all of these at once. I wish not to take the chance because, if I were to ask, “how are you?”, she may not answer and that would be devastating. I won’t try, I just can’t, I know how it may go and it terrifies me. The question that I could ask is a question that can’t be asked. I have a strong sense that she has a multiplicity of needs that shroud themselves within a panoply of selves that cohabit within her but all this is based upon conjecture and the bits of things I’ve observed that I think I remember. It is all part of my experience and it feels like dejection.
There is, however, the approach that I devised in my own mind based, to some degree, upon memory and dream and an element of hope which is a small raft in a large sea, difficult to cling to but the only thing one can hope to hold onto if one wishes to avoid drowning. That hope will become a reality because I see it in my mind’s eye. I am certain of it and I can say with utmost assurance that the event or experience I contemplate will happen as though it has already happened. It cannot refrain from happening. It is bound to happen. Reality bends in my direction, it has no choice, it can be no other way just as history has no other option but to be whatever it is, at least to the extent that it can be retrieved or remembered or dreamed. What will happen is this: I will peer out my window and see a blue dot at the end of the street and that featureless blue dot will grow and advance in my direction. That blue dot will define itself and come closer and take on the features of a human being and, before long, I will not see a blue blur but will see, rather, the landlady’s daughter once again. She will approach in her wheelchair from far, far down the street and I will recognize her and find comfort in her familiar image. I will remember her, to the extent that I am able, in the form and manner of the person she is and I will recognize the array of bits and pieces of her that have lingered in my memory. The woman I see will be the same person as the girl I once knew. I will realize that she’s been gone, long absent, deeply missed and I will suddenly realize how much I’ve missed her. I will realize her as a person, here and now, in the course of this new time, this new immersion, this new day. She will come from the far end of the street toward my window, closer and closer, and I will hear and feel the dull vibration of the steel silver wheels of her wheelchair as they screech and moan until that screech and moan ceases. She will sit upright in that chair and I will see her situated directly below the sill of my window and she will allow the wind to lift grey tufts of her hair so they float like feathers above her head as the wind lurches past her in spasms and her hair will rise just so high as to reveal bright earrings, each laden with glassine diamonds that light electric, energized by the spears of the sun’s light that land like arrows and those glistening targets will fire like twisted lightning against the coral sky. I will slowly lift my head above the windowsill and slowly stand and I will feel the gentle push of the airstream against my face and under my hair and around my shoulders and my features will be clear and evident for her to see and she will ask “how are you?” and I will respond “how are you” and I will let those words fly in the air in a manner in which they can be heard and felt and understood and they will be heard and felt and understood as a statement and they will mean and can only mean “I need you.”
Walter Weinschenk is an attorney, writer and musician. Until a few years ago, he wrote short stories exclusively but now divides his time equally between poetry and prose. Walter’s writing has appeared in a number of literary publications including the Carolina Quarterly, Sunspot Literary Journal, Cathexis Northwest Press, Beyond Words, The Closed Eye Open, The Write Launch and others. His work is due to appear in forthcoming issues of The Courtship of Winds, Ponder Review, The Raw Art Review and Iris Literary Journal. Walter lives in a suburb just outside Washington, D. C.