He woke, his temples throbbing in waves.
Waves of devastation, demarcation, extrapolation.
His mind was throwing out words, mayhem, and disaster, but never mind that for the moment. His dry mouth was worse in the mornings when he couldn’t keep even water down, and his physical capacity for articulation was nothing in the scheme of his nausea.
This is a bad beginning. Not a beginning, it’s somewhere slanted, slight of center in his life. He tried committing that to memory.
A morose demarcation, devastation, extrapolation. Shit, he was doing it again. Words, marbling his vacant brain. No, not brain — mind. Brains were physical, but minds are working metaphors of the self. God, he was prosaic. Mosaic. Fuck. Now it took an effort not to rhyme. Try this one: tempestuous.
No. Yes. Augh!
This was going from bad to worse. And, down the allegorical hill he’d plunged, threatening himself. Just flung himself down. Hell, he’d pick himself up. Start again. His inarticulate self held the heavy Sisyphean stone in tow, or Damocles’ sword in sway over him.
Calling in ancient myths to analogize his current state of mind? How much worse was it going to get? He had to pull himself up, out of this fog.
Out of this fuggish, word-bled cloud. Even if he did — Auck! Last night. The sofa, the whiskey, the self-deprecating-but-silently-smug companion at his elbow. The way she’d looked at him, as if her gentle laments could break his heart open into some huge gaping wound, then attempt to heal it with a semblance of realism.
That, he remembered. Still cliché. This was all he was turning out to be.
Burn himself free of cliché.
A walk. Boots, scarf (it was brisk), phone — no. He set it on its charging station. Unplugged walks were his modus operandi. Really? Latin phrases? If he forewent them, though, he’d be walking out of his private thoughts.
Outside, he lingered only a moment (it was brisk), before heading out to the trees. Every few steps shed him of his shame. Shame at letting himself sink into cliché. Shame at wandering headlong into a conversation, a woman, an evening he wanted to erase. Nothing extraneous. Not after the hang-tag mock connection his last night’s companion offered.
But his was a different amalgam. The value of originality — depths of deliberation. When the world shouted monochromatic mockeries, he pursued the colors of quiet beginnings.
Another dozen, thirty, fifty yards in, his head was clearing.
A cultural phenomenon of sincerity could, indeed, pervade humanity, if humanity collectively dropped back from a knee-jerk obliteration of value, he told himself. Shake it off, man, this conceptual gravitas.
He shook out his arms. Better, that.
The trees, majestic: ash, alder, beech canopied around him in the dense, filtered light. He drew strength hidden in the shadows of sun; the stream beyond his sight spluttered and gurgled. Warblers high above him chattered their particular syntaxes of delight.
He felt freer with each breath he inhaled. He found more of himself the deeper in he went. And then the clearing. A meadow of blooming ravenswing and Queen Anne’s lace.
Here, he was timeless. Here, ancient gravestones framed echoes of what was never his world. But that hardly mattered at the moment. The moment that belonged to him was now. And this breath, this sun, clearing, stones, birdsong.
He began the search.
Where was it this time? Passing from one headstone to the next, he brushed each one front, top, sides, back, until his hand fell on the hilt, only a foot give or take above ground. He pulled up the dagger and wiped its blade with his handkerchief. Imperfections knotted its surface, but it was solid. A rondel.
A mind-trick he played on himself, to thrust the blade into the soil, front, back, or sides of a random grave, and, next time, try to remember which one held the dagger. The graves were so old their names and dates had weathered off, as well as each one buried deep in moss, or lichen-crusted, some rounded, others tipped in gothic arches, or maybe just broken off and wind-swept smooth — it wasn’t clear. Two dozen, maybe more, peaked out from the ravenswing and Queen Anne’s lace. Finding the blade beneath such costume was a game of tactile textures. He preferred these kinds of games, using everything but his eyes.
The rondel plunged back into the soil, he turned round, dizzying himself to distill his senses, then righting himself, strode toward the gnarled elm. Crouching low, he reached into its base feeling the rough fibers tethered to the undersides of bark until his fingers brushed the smooth leather of his rolled up case.
He pulled it free, unlashed the ties and spread it out, then unfolded the frame convincing the rolled canvas inside to straighten with the screws on either side of its frame. He worked quickly; the light threatened to disenchant the late morning image in his mind if he wasn’t careful, careful, but not overly so.
The angle, the charcoal, the light. Let it rest in his sketch, in the study of imagined lips pressed to cheek, temple, breast. A study of dichotomies, seduction, interpretation, unrequited anomalies — a sharp intake of frustration, false beginnings. Ideas on canvas invent the subtler graces, the stepping stones. Yes, add the stones behind, simple, eroded steps to the sweet-water springs of Calliope’s eloquence. Metaphors of broken beauty. A better beginning, this: a voice that annihilated ambiguous defeat.
He captured her song now. Calliope among the broken-hearted. Calliope in the ruins. His charcoal-dusted fingers worked the ideas until he lifted light from the shadows, working from tenebrific structures until a form filled the spaces outside of Memory, creating something somewhere slightly off center — eldritch and unheralded until he gave it form. This, he could hold onto. Something that spilled into unseen places — eyes from ancient depths, hands laced in dark edges half hidden from view, here. She, intending once from before time bled into light, never to be found again…
And he had brought her, through the darkness, deliberately back to life.
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