SONJA LARSEN


Witnesses



Dynamite of The Spirit in "Reverse Ready-Made" Major

The lovers sit nearly naked on the bed in the hot summer night, drinking wine and telling stories. They are new and still telling stories, still taking inventory of each other. The closest that he probably came to really dying, he tells her, was the night he was riding home from a party on his bike. It was late or early, four in the morning, and he was drunk. He took a shortcut through a vacant lot along the waterfront. The old warehouses were just beginning to be torn down that year, making way for the new condos that are there now.


It was like being in a movie, he says.  The early morning light and the smooth panning motion of his vision as he rode along on his ten-speed through a landscape he knew was already past-tense. And then he saw the men, four or five of them, standing beside two late model sedans in the lot and they were like something else you might see in a movie: guys in suits making secret deals in deserted places.


One of the cars had the trunk open and he rode towards it, zooming in, not even thinking until he was riding right by, breathing in the smell of the men's musky cologne, that he was being movie-stupid to get so close. He pedaled home, pretending he was in the Tour de France, trying to outrace the fear and the memory of their scent and the glance inside their open trunk. Guns. Maybe guns. 


In a way, he says, everything changed after that summer. The waterfront became a wall of mirrored glass, and he lost a certain kind of arrogance he'd had, or maybe he just no longer felt young in quite the same way. It occurred to him that he'd been pretending to be a director in that sunrise movie when he was only an actor, a bit player who's gone by the end of the first scene. And years later he had not quite shaken that feeling or stopped wondering what he’d really witnessed.


In the bedroom the curtains are drawn, but the windows are wide open. From the busy street below her second floor window, they hear fragments of conversation, smells of cigarettes and food. Sometimes in the middle of the night when she hears the sound of yelling or crying she goes to the window and looks, but mostly she just lays in the dark, listening, waiting for a cry to be repeated, waiting to decide if what she's heard is fear or joy.


She tells him about the summer her father was dying; about sitting beside her father as he lay propped up by pillows, the morphine drip in his arm. The pillows and blankets still smelled like pipe tobacco, although it had been months since the last time he’d had a smoke; sitting in what had once been their dining room, where she had eaten dinner for years among the trinkets of their old country, their old life. 


The story of her family’s arrival in Canada was that they had given up everything to come here. They'd been rich in the old country. There were stories about the cars and the dresses and a villa in the mountains. There was a story about an actual lion cub, given as a gift and kept on a silver chain. Stories she could hardly believe, let alone remember. These were stories she knew by word, and even by gesture, by the wistful droop of her mother's hand as she itemized everything they had left behind. 


Then, not long before the death of her father, her mother had a rare glass of wine and told here there had been a man. A man. What did she mean?


We left for many reasons, her mother said, and gave a small shrug.


Was the story of her family's brave sacrifice for the children actually a story about a man?  What kind of man? Dangerous like the guns and bombs that had driven so many people out of the old country? Or dangerous like champagne, like the golden fur and expensive chains on an almost wild creature? 


She could have asked her father. In his morphine haze he might have told her the truth, whatever it was. By not asking she would always be between two worlds, two different versions of reality, and she would never be at home in either. She knew that but still she kept silent. 


The couple finish the wine and peel off the last of their sweaty clothes. In the middle of making love, she thinks she hears a woman call for help, and they lie perfectly still, chest to chest, listening. In the dark, as they hold their breaths and wait for the sound of voices outside, she imagines him on his bike riding through the early morning streets, his heart pumping only a little heavier than it is right now. Had there actually been guns? Even the reality of this naked moment between them might turn out to be something completely different in the end. The start of something, the end of something, a lie made out of a thousand true memories. And at this thought she gives a long sigh, which he takes to mean that the danger is over and that they can begin moving their bodies in rhythm once again.




photo: Derrick Tyson via Flickr



Issue Home