Homemaking and Working, Chapter XIII

 


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Chapter XIII, The Pagoda

One cool autumn morning he stepped from this borrowed house into the blue light just before sunrise. It was faintly misty like milk glass, and silent. A blind man would not know he was in a city. He had not been able to sleep. It was Friday morning. Ahead of him hunched the weekend. It was the first weekend he would not see his children. Sunday night the owners of the house would return and he would have...his face wrinkled up like a rodent. He saw himself as a person who was able to do something. People liked him for that, respected and depended on him. That was why he went on. His feet made dark steps in the milky shine of fine dew. He was going to climb to the park and meditate. When he had first begun to feel angry with Barbara he had hoped it would calm his anger, although he had not realized what he hoped until it was too late.

He walked across the dew-bright lawn and up a stair in dark shadow to the street level above. The neighborhood was built on a hillside, some houses, like his old house and the nearby house of his difficult boss looked down on the street. His, not hers, though she lived there. The lawn looked tacky. Streets circumnavigated the hillside like cow paths, step ways covered with shrubbery like tunnels went straight up and down between them.

The light. The morning light was exquisite beyond his thought. It was the first moment he had noticed something outdoing itself since he had left Barbara. He thought of hitting her. He imagined feeling her lip spread against her teeth under his knuckles, softening and gaining texture like abalone as you beat it with a wooden mallet.

He turned up steps again. A tall deodar on one side and a redwood on the other guarded the entrance. On one side of the steps mock orange screened the neighboring lot, and on the other side pyracanthas. It was so quiet he could hear his tennis shoes on the railway ties that formed the steps. The sky was moth-wing gray above him in the cracks among the arching branches. From time to time he caught glimpses of a garden in the yards on either side. He doglegged a bit on his old street, then started up a third dark path. Part way up this second flight he heard in the air to one side a curious whistling sound. He paused and listened to it as he did not often listen. It was, in fact, three tones an octave apart in the upper registry, each with a slight wavering quality. Through the pyracanthas he could make out dimly a structure, five sided, with pillars at the corners, no walls, and a pagoda-like, tiered roof. A slight figure was sitting in the middle of the pagoda, cross-legged, in a leotard, with its back to him. It was not far away, maybe only ten to twelve feet, but the voluminous curtain of leaves made it seem further. Mark could see from the arms that the figure was performing some mechanical motion before it, and the rhythm of the arms went with the whistling sound. A ball rose above shoulder height. Mark sucked in his breath; the figure was juggling. The motion stopped, the tones lost their wavering quality, then the tones faded out one by one. Mark cleared his throat.


"I'm Angela Kaliantros," the juggler said, without turning. "People call me Nell. Who are you?"


"My name is Mark Glitten," he said, "I'm..." He paused for a moment, confused, "I'm a neighbor."


"I love your name," she said.


I've never thought of that," he said.


"You're curious about what I was doing," she said.


"Well, yes, I guess I was."


"I like your voice," she said. "Come in and see. There's a little gate a few steps down."


Mark found the gate, and came into a rather unkempt Japanese style garden. Now he could see the woman from the side. A slim woman, middle height, brown hair. Without looking at him she seemed to be waiting for him, listening, her hands open, palms up in her lap. He walked around and came to the edge of the platform; it was about a foot off the ground. She was holding three brightly colored balls, red, yellow, and blue. She put out her hand to him without looking up. They shook. "I'm glad to meet you, Mark," she said. "You have a good hand. I thought from your voice you would." She raised her face to his. Here eyes were blind.


"You're blind!" He said.


“So you see," she said.


"But," he pointed at the balls, blushed, "but how can you do that with the balls; it's amazing."


She laughed. "I suppose it is," she said, "from your point of view. It is done with sound." She pressed on one of the balls and it emitted the tone. "I can hear where it is." She threw it gently up and caught it. "Close those unknown organs...you can cheat; I won't know; and catch this." She threw it. He closed his eyes and missed. He heard it bounce away on the ground. He laughed. "That's not fair," he said. "You've been practicing." He opened his eyes to find it, but she had already picked it up again. "You won't mind if I touch your face," she said.


"No," he said, with a little question in his voice.


"Or only a little," she said. "This all right?" She put out her hand, a little low. He touched it and guided it to his cheek. She touched it lightly but firmly in several horizontal passes, like reading. While she did it she said, "Many blind people are uncomfortable about doing this, but fuck it, I say." Her fingers trembled or vibrated a little.

 


 


At noon Mark stood in the entrance hall of the Silver Apple, wearing a brown sharkskin suit and bow tie, his hands folded over his groin. The meeting was out for lunch too. It would reconvene at 1:3O; he was glad they had not decided to come here. He scanned the people coming into the dark cocktail lounge from the bright Los Angeles glarescape. He recognized Nell by silhouette. In the light you could half see her body outlined in her clothes. She was walking with a cane, moving smoothly. Mark walked to her, and touched her hand saying at the same moment, "Hi." `Hi' was his normal greeting to people, but he usually made it at a good distance. Only touching her it seemed too intimate, 'hello' seemed too formal, and speaking her name too intimate again. She said "hi" at an instant with him. She put her hand on his arm.


"Well, you wanted to tell about yourself; I'm eager to hear," she said.


He paused. He did not know whether to tell about his job or his separation. If he had still been living with Barbara he would never have mentioned her.


"I can begin," she said.


"Oh that's all right," he said.


"I was born in New Jersey; my family's Greek; my father runs a restaurant in Elizabeth New Jersey. I went to Rutgers and got a Ph.D. in psychology from The New School. I'm a psychotherapist. I'm 31; never been married. I live with my brother who is a union organizer."


"I'm impressed," he said. He thought of his own parents.


"I've worked hard all my life, as the expression goes."


"Why did you come to Los Angeles?" He asked.


"The union sent Robert here and I..... I wanted to get a new start, or something like that, be away from my parents."


He paused again.


"Where should you begin?" She said.


Mark blushed; then he made an embarrassed chuckle to show he had blushed. "I guess I should begin with my marriage...I think it ended recently."


"I knew it," she half exclaimed, then blushed.


"What do you mean?" He asked.


"That sounds tough," she said. "How do you feel about it?" "Is that what you say to people in your work, how do you feel about it?" He laughed embarrassedly but good humoredly again.


"Sometimes, yes, of course I do, but I really want to know."


"I feel relieved. I'm glad it's over with."


"Was it pretty bad before you broke up?"


"It had been bad for a long time; I just didn't know what it was."


"How long has it been?"


"It will be seven weeks Friday."


"How long were you married?"


"11 years."


"You're still raw."


"I guess so."


"Tell me about your job?"


"I do planning of advanced construction projects, and I figure out how to plan projects."


"Does it take a lot of planning?"


"Oh, yes, it makes all the difference. So many events depend on following each other. When you are ready to pour concrete, the concrete truck and the frame and the right crew have to be there at the same time, and the next day something else, and some pipes have to be in place before the concrete is poured and others after. Making the plan is like constructing a complicated building. Sometimes you have to make a scale model just to plan."


"You like your job?"


"Yeah, I think it's pretty important."


The waitress brought their salad. Nell picked up her fork and touched the heap of greens with a couple of little probing movements.


"I work with a man there, my boss, who has an image of how things can be done that will really help the world, I think."


"What is his image?" Nell asked. They discussed his boss's vision of setting up a system so people could build their own houses.


"Is he a hawk-like man?" Nell asked.


"Yes, there's something hawk-like about him, why did you ask?"


"What's his name?"


Mark told his name.


"I've heard of him," she said. Mark was surprised that anyone outside the field should have heard of him.


"My brother is a union organizer. He's in the electrical trade. I think he has been involved in organizing resistance to one of your projects."


"What's his name?"


"Robert," she said.


Mark flushed gently again. "In that project. Well, I don't see any reason why that should keep us from being friends."


"I'm glad," she said.


"That's a powerful idea," she said. They discussed whether this vision would really make men more free.


"How do you like it here?" Nell asked.


"Oh, I always like this place," he said, casually. "The food is good, their service reasonably prompt." He did not say the waitresses were attractive. "It's very dark, I can hardly see the people at the next table." He blushed again, yet he felt in a way natural saying this. She made him speak in a way that felt easy and natural.


"Do you feel at home?"


Mark laughed, "I can't say as I feel at home anywhere just now."


"I'm sorry," she laughed as well. They understood that although it was a serious matter for him, they could joke together. "I meant you seem comfortable with me?"


"Oh, I feel that way," he said.


She was silent, eating thoughtfully.


"Do you live by yourself?" He asked.


"No, I live with two other people, my brother Robert and a friend of ours."


"What does your friend do?"


"Sally, Sally Kempton, she teaches pottery at UCLA."


"Do you work from an office?"


"I told you," she said, "I have an office in my house. It's a room near the front with a separate door."


"What kind of clients do you see?"


"Mixed, some outpatients who have been hospitalized, I do some work with low income people, some who are not Wasps, though transportation is a problem, as well as money, some ... people who are troubled with their lives ...Mostly they are friends of other clients... I find it hard to categorize. Some referrals from the court system. Some referrals from Robert's work. Some marriage counseling."


"You're not an MD," he asked.


"No," she said, "it's very hard for a blind person to become a doctor. I thought of it, but it did not seem worth the trouble."


They fell silent for a moment. They had been served their main course. Mark watched her movements were deft, yet differed from the eating of a sighted person. He looked at her face. It was attractive, with a clear complexion, marked features. Yet there was a certain unattractive slackness in it; years of not looking in a mirror, he thought.


"Tell me about your family," she said.


"Well, my father is a lawyer. He does corporate law, has an expensive office on Wiltshire Boulevard. My mother is an architect, has a small practice, mostly houses. You see her houses in expensive magazines. My sister was a lawyer, passed the bar, but she is handling investment counseling. I used to hate them because they were cold, but now I'm beginning to feel more comfortable with them"


"Why aren't you a lawyer?" She asked.


He laughed. "Well, I always loved numbers as a kid. I majored in math in college."


Then she asked, "Do you want to talk again about your separation?"


"No ... but yes, oh, I don't know."


"What happened?" She said.


"I was cheated," he said. "I thought ..." he paused. He could not put it into words. His anger tied his tongue. "I found out it was a pile of shit."


"You mean your wife went out with other men?"


"No, but I feel I'd like to....


"You let your anger take you over."


"Why the fuck shouldn't I." He felt suddenly as if he were talking to an unknown, old friend. The old friend Barbara had never become. "Do you understand what I mean? Now, why the fuck shouldn't I."


"I understand," she said.


"So why shouldn't I let it take me over?"


He looked around. He was glad of the obscurity where objects were lighted and faces hidden.


"How were you cheated?" She asked.


"I thought I was going to have a marriage, and didn't," he said.


"What did marriage mean to you?"


"The usual things," he said.


"What's that?" She asked.


"If you'll pardon me," he said. "I'm tired of hearing all that kind of stuff from educational television programs."


"You know, that is a little weird for me," she said. "I do hear these things from clients. Each one is different, but it is the same kind of thing. And I'm objective. I don't need to try."


"I suppose there are always two sides," he said.


"Sure, and always arguments, for the sake of killing one, or destroying the other, humiliating, wearing him down, eradicating him, hurting her. But when I hear you it is if I had not heard all that. I believe you were cheated. I'm on your side."


"Do you like to go to concerts?" He asked.


"I love to," she said.


....

 

 


In the car Nell said she had dreamed about him the night before. She explained that she always liked to tell people dreams. He laughed and said he did not often dream. This was her dream: "I was walking with you in a woods. We were with a fire lynx and a blond little girl. Of course I don't see colors in dreams, but I knew that she was `blond' and that the lynx glowed like coals; I could feel he was glowing very hot. We came to a chasm. I could hear by the way our voices diminished, and also the heat from the lynx, that it was very wide and deep. I was frightened. My frightening dreams are often of chasms or huge pits or whirlpools. I was afraid that it would widen and or somehow reach for us. You explained that you had a flashlight and you would shine it across and we could walk across the beam. I said I was afraid I could not walk across it because I could not see it, but actually I was afraid that I would get halfway across and you would turn it off."


"Oh," he laughed, embarrassed.


"Anyway, you turned on the flashlight. I was wondering who would go last and how we would get the flashlight back. You explained that to prove how easy it was the little girl would go first. I said I didn't want her to go, and you said okay, the lynx would go first. I knew when he was across when I could feel his heat on the other side. Then I woke up."


He wanted to ask her what it meant, she was a psychologist, but he was embarrassed to.


"That's quite a dream," he said.


"Yes," she said, "it was very vivid. Tell me about where we're going."


 


When they got back the night was half mist, half gentle rain. Her house was between streetlights, so they were in a shadow of dark gray between pearls.


They climbed out of his car. "The cool is wonderful," she said. They walked up the driveway and he stumbled in the darkness. She took his arm as they went into the deeper misty darkness near her door.

 

"Thank you," he said.

There was a door to the left of the porch that in houses like this normally led to the utility porch. She gestured toward the door. "That's my waiting room. Robert made it." She guided them to it. There was a glint of a brass nameplate above the bell. She opened the unlocked door, and closed it behind them. He could see nothing. She touched another door. "Of course," she said, "it's locked from the inside." She touched his arm. He sensed the whole position of her body. He put his arms around her and kissed her. She was more slender than Barbara, softer on the surface, but wiry beneath. Her mouth was fuller; she held him firmly and they clung to each other for a moment, feeling their touch from top to toe. Then she lowered her mouth and moved her lips over his neck. Full lips. Then she said, "I'll go in and open it from the inside." With a little laugh she left him.

Well, he had done it: fondled a woman. He stood in the dark with his weight on the balls of his feet and his knees locked. So that was what it was like again. He felt a moment's anger at her, a flash of anger. She should not have let him do it. He had told himself this was not him. "Well," he heard himself saying, "uh...would you like to..." She would know what he meant. She was a psychologist. She would know what he meant. He stiffened with anger and resentment. That was not him. That was Barbara. He figured that Barbara had just waited until the separation to sneak off with some creepy second rater. The fingers of his clenched hands dug into his palms. He thought of his children waking one morning and going in their, her, bedroom and some hung over, second-rate stranger was in bed with their mother. The inner door opened. She was evidently pausing in the doorway.


"What's wrong?" She asked.


He wanted to say `nothing.' He wanted to laugh in a friendly manner. He would not. "I feel tense," he said.


She stepped forward, put her hand on the small of his back without touching him anywhere else. He began to cry helplessly. He turned away to hide his tears. She grasped his shoulder and held him facing her.


"Don't turn from me," she commanded.


"Oh, shit," he said.


"Come on," she said. She led him through the office into the living room. He cried as he walked. She set him down on a couch. He began to sob. She held his hand. He felt chagrined and furious. He shook loose his hand, and struck the side of the couch. She drew back. "Oh, Go," he said, full of guilt, as if to say, `I drive you away too.' "It's okay," she said. He pounded his fist several more times against the back of the couch, then struck it more, time after time, feeling mortified. His heart pumped tears and blows.


After time he felt better, stopped, looked up in the dark. She was still there.


"Could you turn on a light somewhere?" He said.


"Sure," she said. She got up, turned on built-in ceiling lights. It was a plain living room, ceiling and walls mudded plasterboard, painted off white. The furniture was rather rough-hewn pine.


She touched her hand to her stockinged knee. "I flatter myself I'm as moving as the next woman, maybe more," she said. "But I don't know when I've had that effect on a man."


He laughed, "It wasn't you...I mean..." He found himself embarrassed.


"I understand," she said. "Can I get you a drink?"


"I'd like a glass of milk," he said. She nodded, got up and went into the kitchen, returned about ten minutes later with a cup of warm milk. He felt better and better.


"What happened?" She asked.


He felt very good. She blushed. "I thought of propositioning you," he said.


"Give me your hand," she said. He reached out and she took his hand. She half felt, half massaged at the muscles and tendons. "I don't know about you," she said.


"I don't think I know about me either?" he said, surprised to hear himself saying it.


"You're just trying so hard," she said.


He felt better and better. He felt on top of things again, maybe high than that. "I guess I better be going." He laughed.


"Maybe," she said. She put her hand on his arm. They walked together to the door. He seemed to be reminded of something.


"Would you like to see me again?"


"I would," she said. He noticed that she did not lower her face to avoid eye contact. "But I'm not sure when."


"What about next Friday," he said, manic.


"No, listen, I'm serious," she said.


"Or sooner?"


"Listen, I'm serious," she said.


"Love to," he said, "love to listen to you."


"I see something between us. There's ... heat in us that wants to emerge. But you are on the rebound. You've hardly begun to rebound."


"Oh, I'm not..." He didn't know what to say he wasn't. Her blank pupils and slightly slack facial tone made her words seem even more confusing.


"If we got involved now ... it's too soon now. You're not ready to do anything graceful."


"How do you know?" He said.


"I know," she said.


"So you don't want to see me?"


"I want to see you after you and Barbara have settled custody and visitation of the children and ownership of the house."


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