Scratch Dancing on Your Grave

and I was reading a book that was also on television at the same time. The story was about two old men who lived in apartments facing each other in a building with no other tenants. The hallways were long and gray, and wound around a square of empty rooms. Age is a cycle, you are born a fool, and you grow old into a fool, and these two fools lived off supplies in the empty building; five flights of empty rooms.

A wave came through the curtains at night, once two years back, and flooded and floated dead bodies into the ocean leaving only the two old men. These men had never liked each other, and seldom spoke pleasantries to or about each other even though they’d lived across from each other for fortysome odd years. They watched each other grow up, and grow old, and suffered alternate joys and failures and disappointments, and before long they began to see each other in the other’s face.

Each man was a hermit in his own way, and they disliked other people, horribly, the television pictured them in hazy scenes from blue tint in the beginning, grudging smiles at strangers and each other, to yellow tint ten years or so later, two middle aged men, one scene one man opens his door, hears the other turning his lock, and slams his door closed quick and frowns. A gray tint flashes through a scene of two old men, each alone in an empty apartment talking to walls and not talking to each other as they pass in the halls; finally the film tints white with sharp black outlines defining the old men passing in the halls one day and each stopping, surveying. Finally one of the men, the man who lives behind the red door, sticks out his hand and says flat: “My name is Turner.” The man who lives behind the black door takes Turner’s hand, half frowns and half grins, so his lip line looks like a breaking rollercoaster ride, and says, “Philip.”

The book has no chapters and no dividing sections, but the film chapters here into a black screen, “Two Weeks Later” in white letters; blue tint, the building flooding with the waves from the flood, washing people out of windows, screaming; the building shudders and totters like the leaning tower. Loud sound. Blackout. “Two Years Later”: white letters. Blackout.

Turner and Philip are friends, or at least as much as they can muster. Philip comes over to Turner’s apartment, enters without knocking, sits down and says: “Turner, do you live off the stuff in the rooms left by other people like I do? If so, you can tell me. We need to come up with a plan, divide the territory. Lately I’ve noticed stuff disappearing. Stuff I’d sort of planted in rooms. That worries me.”

“What kinds of stuff.”

“Nevermind that.”

“Very well. I will have the first three floors, and you will have the top two.”

“How is that fair? We should divide one floor in half, and then it is equal and fair.”

“But it is fair. Since we live on the top floor, you have the prime real estate. You’re on the fifth floor already, and the fourth is only one floor down.” Turner frowns. “I have to go all the way to the third floor for my supplies.”

“What happens when I run out?”

“We will share.”

“Now that sounds fair.”

For a while Turner and Philip live in peace. They pass in the halls, half-smile and nod. They live quiet, mysterious lives. No one ever comes by the building. The film is punctuated by long scenes of the hallways, silent, climbing around corners, and the clod, clod, clod quietly in stereo as it passes the red and black doors. The story is written in short staccato sentences. The pace slows down. Two ghosts climbing around corners; clod clod clod. Or something like that.

The film segues into scenes of the old man behind the red door, Philip, pacing the apartment one night when he hears Turner’s door close. He knows Turner went out for supplies just that afternoon. Why would he be going again, and if he’s not going for supplies, why would he be leaving his apartment? Where does he have to go? Philip leans close to his own door, and listens. A moment later he puts on a pair of soft slippers he found on the third floor, waits to hear Turner’s footsteps fall down the hall, and then he follows him out.

He follows Turner around two corners, when he sees Turner turn one way, then the other. Philip falls back into the shadow of the corner. Turner, satisfied he’s not being observed, turns back to the door, and quietly, deftly even, opens it and slips inside.

Philip can’t believe his eyes. A little moonlight is coming through cracks in the ceiling, gray rusted steel and concrete, turning the moonlight ash yellow, and pale, and seeps Turner in an eerie glow; close up on Philips’s face; eyes wide, mouth drawn back; yellow teeth in slowly browning moonlight.

Philip’s first thought, wrapped in wrath, is to storm into the room, grab the first blunt object he sees, and strike Turner dead on the spot. He moves forward, mumbling death threats to himself, when suddenly something really troubling occurs to him.

No one ever goes into the straight jacket nicely. In the film, flashback sequence, Philip struggles against three thin men in white coats, as they fit him nicely into a backwards white jacket. Blackout.

The year is fifty five years ago, and Philip is on a ship at sea. Blue tint, sky blue sky, waves like the flood through the windows, which hasn’t happened yet. In the belly of the boat there are rows of hallways winding around corners where doors lean into the walls. Behind each door there is a living quarter, small room, a bed, a dresser, a desk, and a couple sea scattered chairs. Philip sits smoking in his room, a much younger man. His eyes are whitish green; in the film he looks out a porthole onto the sea, and can almost see the waves reflecting back a long lost stare that goes all the way back where there’s a quick cut flashback of Brooklyn streets. Gray and red buildings, black asphalt, children playing while a fire hydrant showers a sidewalk. Back to Philip’s face, looking back at the ocean looking back at him.

The book tells the story of Philip’s childhood in Brooklyn; talks about his mother. He even had friends. The film focuses on Philip’s face: his eyes and the way the wrinkles on his cheeks meet the teeth of his frown, but it gives no more backstory. Philip is alone on the sea, Childe Harold, says the author, and Philip’s face sings a lonely song on film.

Something strange is happening on the boat. Passengers disappear and reappear. Sometimes they reappear as other people. One man disappears and comes back as two: Oscar and Gary, completing each other’s sentences, complementing each other’s thoughts, sometimes getting in loud angry irrational shouting matches back and forth no one else can follow. No one else can follow: Philip tries explaining the disappearances to other people. Passengers at first. Just the quick comment over dinner: “Did Daniel disappear?”

“No. He’s right over there -,” Where Daniel would be sitting, eating dinner, only as another person.

“Is that Daniel?”

“That’s him all right. Just look at how he moves.”

&

Later on he decides to keep a notebook of disappearances. As passengers disappear, he notes the name and date. On their reappearance, he notes the date, and renames the person appropriately, as suits the person’s new demeanor: “Daniel Damien.” Or some such. It seems there is a constant rotation of seven people missing at any given time. Sometimes two people count as one, as in Oscar and Gary. There is at least one disappearance every two days. It can take from a day to a week before the reappearance as someone else. Victims have no knowledge of their disappearance. Philip deliberates this for a few days. Finally he decides to take his findings to the crew; even to the captain himself.

No one ever goes into the straight jacket nicely. We’re back to where we were before: in the film, flashback to flashback sequence, Philip struggling against three thin men in white coats, the sea blue sea and sky blue sky pan out in a view as the doctors fit him nicely into a backwards white jacket; screaming across the waves. Philips body surges like the rolling sea. Next paragraph.

Cut back to Philip, dark around the corner watching Turner go into the room. He realizes that he’s afraid to walk into the room and find Turner missing. There is a shot colored in imagination sick green, Philip walking into the room like in the green glare of night goggles, and finding it empty. No sign of Turner no where. The artifacts stuck in corners. Another man missing.

The artifacts stuck in corners compels him out of the corner, up to the door, opens it. Inside Turner turns from where he’s crouched in the corner. He’s holding one of Philip’s notebooks. He looks at Philip in a way that is both alarming and familiar. “What the hell is this?”

“Nevermind that,” says Philip. “What are you doing going into one of my rooms?”

Turner ignores the question. “What does this mean?” he demands. “Turner disappeared a few days ago, and has come back as someone else I’ve named Turner Sheisty? Who are these people disappearing in an already empty building? Who are you?”

And then something unexpected happened. Philip himself disappeared. On the screen he simply flick off the scene. For a minute there’s Turner, wide eyed in the corner, and the room sinking into imagination sick green tint, and then a loud sound. Blackout. The book is more ambiguous: “And then something unexpected happened. Philip himself disappeared. The End.”

A wash like the waves through the windows woke me up in a dark blue room, dark blue sky, five in the morning. The feeling, sitting up in bed was like I shed years with each increasingly acute angle. Ninety degrees in the bed, arms propped back, sweating. For a minute I didn’t know who I was. The room was unfamiliar; I had no immediate frame of reference. Running through my memory, trying to remember why I might be waking up in an unfamiliar room, I got caught in a loop in the dream: something absolutely vital to the life of the story, what it was trying to tell me. Somewhere between Philip looking out the porthole and people disappearing. And the more I tried to remember what it was, the more it disappeared. Age is a cycle, you are born a fool, and you grow old into a fool. Somewhere in those minutes of limbo, between losing my dream and groping for my memory I felt like I was losing something metaphysically essential to myself on the other side. Supposing I believed in such things. Supposing I didn’t. Supposing both at the same time.

Whit Frazier, 2007

Faith

Brenda’s calligraphy stopped strangers at the wall. The intersection sat broken buildings, cracked sidewalks and glass, and one or two stray cats came to and fro, from into and out of the earth.

In the morning she asked him to leave. He sat down and looked out at the wall and the calligraphy and he didn’t see any new patterns. Brenda said: I mean now. He stood up and walked over to the window. It isn’t cold outside anymore, he explained to her. She didn’t say anything. When he turned around there was no Brenda; only a wall.

&

Brenda’s calligraphy stopped strangers at the wall. He’d heard about it since he was a child, when his mother and father would tuck him into bed and tell him about the strange wall on Concourse and Mezzanine where strangers came and strangers went and all of them went away changed. One day, his father used to tell him, there will be a man who will stop her, but until then she writes day and night and it always stays winter. He would argue with his father: but that doesn’t make any sense. How can that be true? His father smiled, and his mother, she would always cry and leave the room. One night he asked his father, why does it make mother cry?

Father told him how mother’s father was an ambitious man, and how he had always heard about the wall. That one day someone would stop Brenda, and that mother’s father had thought he was that man. And father said: maybe he was, but if he was then the wall stopped him. Mother’s father was an alcoholic, a failed poet, a wreck of a man who worked day in day out and never had an extra penny to spend on himself. The police found him one morning, hanging. His father paced the story slow, so he knew his son could get every nuance. Hanging. They said it was a suicide. Hanging from the wall.

“Mother’s mother never recovered. She had a nervous breakdown one afternoon in a taxicab home. Mother had to stay with her grandmother who was a mean old lady named Brenda. It haunted her. And she never likes to talk about it; but she told me when we got married, that when we had children, we would have to tell our children every night about Brenda and her terrible calligraphy.”

And father smiled. And it dawned on him that evening that father never believed mother. It also dawned on him that evening that he hated father. Hated him. And that if mother had given him this strange birthright, then he must be the man who was to stop Brenda. And what’s more that it would have to be over his father’s dead body.

&

Brenda’s calligraphy stopped strangers at the wall. The night mother was committed he sat with father in the living room, each across from the other. The curtains tugged from into and out of the window, and father couldn’t look at him and he stared at father. In the background father had put on something demonic and classical. Probably Stravinsky. Father said, without looking up: I know you’re old enough now to understand. Yes, father, he said. And he felt like Damian.

The sterile cell that kept mother locked up, locked him up inside her head, but he was a young man now, and yes, mother, of course she was crazy. He saw her everyday. He hated to go see her, and she just sat there looking at him, desperate, sad and insane. Mother, he would say, there is no Brenda. Brenda is the name of your grandmother, and your grandmother was fond of calligraphy. Please recognize this, so you can come back to us. And his mother would tell him: You have been talking with your father. He loved me enough to play along, you know. But he never respected me. And he never believed me. He has never even been to the corner of Concourse and Mezzanine.

Of course there was no corner of Concourse and Mezzanine. He had known this a long time, so of course father had never been there, but that’s all mother would say. Mother, please. And she would be silent. At school the word got out. Why is your mother crazy? children asked him. She had a rough childhood, he would say, and she lost both her parents. And when that happens sometimes you go crazy. And he would stare right at the other students and say, I can see it in your soul that it would drive you crazy, but it would make no difference to me.

&

Brenda’s calligraphy stopped strangers at the wall. His father dies when he’s twenty years old. His father was found hanging. And slowly too, so he could capture every nuance. Hanging at the corner of Concourse and Mezzanine. The police judged it a suicide. What else could it be? He stopped visiting mother. She was crazy, and to go mad was a weakness, and he had no place for weakness. He had only one weakness. Her name was Brenda. Brenda passed him daily on the stairs at the University. He smiled and she smiled, but they never said a word. Sometimes he would catch the scent of her hair in class. He loved her, but he was onto her and he knew what he had to do. He was never worried, because he knew how things worked out. He’d known the story since he was a child, and probably, so had she.

The day after he found out about his father’s death he invited Brenda to the funeral. She smiled and blushed and said she’d love to go. Great, he told her. He would pick her up at nine. She should wear her best dress. He would wear his best suit. When they lowered father into the ground he smiled. He took Brenda home, and kissed her. He told her he’d had a wonderful time, and they should see each other again. She said, yes, that was very true. He pointed across the street where the sun stopped shining and fell just short of where a kitten lurched limping across the broken glass. That’s where father hanged himself. Yes, she said. I know. I was the one who found him. The corner of Concourse and Mezzanine. Where you can find all my calligraphy.

The summer after graduation Brenda agreed to marry him. We will live in my house, she said, and you will be able to look at the wall all the time. He couldn’t get enough of the wall. The wall, where even in the summer, it was still winter. He took pictures and put them up in his house. He sat in front of it for hours and stared. Patterns developed and changed. People came and people went. Stray cats came from into and out of the earth. The patterns changed and the people changed, though he never changed and Brenda never changed, and everything stayed the same. The calligraphy was what awed him. And what awed everyone. And all the lovers Brenda took, and all the children that stopped by to play, and all the people that went away changed or hanging, and Brenda stayed and he stayed, and he knew he was going to stop her one day.

&

The day Brenda got married he went out with friends, and they all got drunk. They laughed at him and they laughed with him and they said: we told you that girl would never marry you. Look how many men came and went, and what made you think you were special? So that he smiled and laughed and said: Brenda’s calligraphy stops strangers at the wall. His friends said: you’ve had too much, and now you’re not making sense. It’s time for you to go to bed. He pushed them all off him, and he looked at them like he was in the living room alone with his father, with Stravinsky, Damian, with the curtains pulling from into and out of the window, and he said: you are all the same. Every one of you, and not one of you believes, and that’s why I’ll see you all hang at the wall.

In the morning he tore up all his phone numbers, and he walked over to Brenda’s house where he found her new husband hanging on the wall. The patterns changed, and he sat there all day and he sat there all night, and the next morning Brenda came outside and asked him did he want to come inside? He said, yes, he’d like very much to come inside, and they went in and he asked her, what happened to your husband? She told him, that’s how things happen around here, and I have nothing to do with the wall. He walked over to the window and looked out at the wall. The patterns on the wall had changed, and her husband wasn’t there anymore, there were more images, and he said: you have everything to do with that wall Brenda. Why didn’t you marry me? And Brenda said: you know why.

He didn’t say anything. He walked over to where she was standing, and he touched her lip. He put his other hand on the nape of her neck. He could feel the patterns changing on the wall behind him outside, where years ago his father had died. She slipped, catlike from underneath him, but he pushed her up against the wall, and slid up against her. He kissed her. She led him to her bed. She rolled him around and climbed on top of him. She slid her hands up his chest, and whispered hot in his ear: “Is this what you wanted? You wanted to fuck me?” He lay still and silent and sleeping, like his father.

&

Brenda’s calligraphy stopped strangers at the wall. When he was a child he used to visit his grandmother, and she would tell him stories. They would sit in her dusty old den where she’d hunch over her desk and write the names of their ancestry in snakes of calligraphy that changed into patterns of pictures while she told him stories about each name. The patterns of the calligraphy and the stories of the names weaved together into a strange picture, and Brenda kept a long roll of paper where she kept writing names over and over and coming up with new names and she said she traced her lineage all the way back to the story of Job.

Sometimes mother would come into the den while she was talking and writing and he was listening and watching, and mother would scream and say, Brenda you stay away from my child, stay away from my child, he’s already not well, you hear me? I won’t have you doing to him what you did. And she never finished the sentence, while snaking patterns of calligraphy and stories cobwebbed inside his head, so that each new visit to his grandmother became necessary to spin new webs.

Brenda was found dead one morning sitting at her desk rotting. She’d died alone in her study, the calligraphy pen still in her hand, and her head resting against the long roll of paper that ran snaking calligraphies of names and stories. No one had known she was dead for weeks. One day someone walked by and smelled something horrible. The police had to break into the house.

For years after she died, he used to sneak away from home in the middle of the night and creep into the old house where Brenda died. He would sit in the den and dream up the desk and the roll of paper and the strange names of ancient relatives and all the old stories. He liked to make up stories of his own in that dark little den, where all he had were murky memories of ancestors. He could try to trace them all the way back to Job.

&

Brenda’s calligraphy stopped strangers at the wall. The intersection sat broken buildings, cracked sidewalks and glass, and one or two stray cats came to and fro, from into and out of the earth.

In the morning she asked him to leave. He sat down and looked out at the wall and the calligraphy and he didn’t see any new patterns. Brenda said: I mean now. He stood up and walked over to the window. It isn’t cold outside anymore, he explained to her. She didn’t say anything. When he turned around there was no Brenda; only a wall.

&

The last time he was there he had been sitting mumbling thinking scribbling for hours, and when his mother found him in the morning, pale and shaking she started to cry. Have you been here all night? she screamed. You had us worried sick! His father stormed up and down the room furious. He didn’t know what to tell them: Don’t cry, mother; father, please don’t be angry. You were right all along Mother. I always believed you. Except I was your father, and I am your son, and I was always destined to stop her. And though it cost me my life once, you can see now that she is gone.

Correspondences

There is an old house out on the fringes of West Strawberry. It sits by itself and has sat there for as long as anyone can remember. These days nobody lives there. The windows are boarded up and the front door is barricaded. Sometimes children go by and dare each other to break inside and spend the night. Nobody even gets up the front steps to the porch. The house looks like a face, with two wide windows on the top floor looking out over the little dirt path that folks call Wendy Lane. The door in front, rectangular and lopsided looks like a crooked mouth. The house bulges out, pale blue chipping paint like overblown cheeks, and in certain moonlight, the rust against the chipped pale blue paint makes the whole place glow.

The last person to live there was a poet who worked at a small community newspaper in West Strawberry. When he disappeared he had no friends, no acquaintances and no living family. He’d grown up in Southport, and he’d lived there all his life. After he finished school he felt he needed to move someplace that would nurture his poetic vision. He traveled to West Strawberry one afternoon on a lark. He fell in love with the old houses, the small town feel, and the local community. But what he loved most of all was this large old house that was for sale way on the outskirts.

He worked and saved for two years living in Southport. When he had enough money to strike out on his own he was happy to find the house was still for sale. It was a fixer-upper, but that didn’t bother him. He could get it at a great price, and he could set it up where all day he’d look out the window and write verse.

It didn’t take him long to find work with West Strawberry Press. They were happy to have someone with his talent, youth and energy. He started as assistant editor. Every now and then they even let him slip one of his poems into the paper. Folks around town started to know his name. After work he and his coworkers would go out for a beer and a bite to eat. After that it was the long walk home back to his quiet old house.

He liked to sit upstairs and watch the bats flap against the windows with the moon large, and the stars aglow, and the quiet chirping of the evening. He’d light candles and write. He drank bottles of red wine and wrote late into the night, going back over and back over again the same verses, writing and rewriting until they felt perfect. Then to bed, and then back to the same verses the next night. When he was feeling too tired to write, he’d stay up late reading. Usually poetry. He didn’t have hopes of being well known. He didn’t care. He was known in West Strawberry and that was enough. All it was ever about was improving the poetry. He wasn’t prolific, because nothing was ever finished. Every night he’d edit a poem to his satisfaction, and the next night he’d go back to it. He’d revise it and revise it until his verse turned into terse, tight, compact experiments with language, sound and sensation. In the morning he’d get up with the red and auburn dawn to watch the birds plummet from his roof, dive down and swing back up. His evenings at home were his poetry, and these mornings were his poetry. He loved them both, and they inspired him. But something was missing.

What was missing from his poetry was what was missing from his life, and that was love. He didn’t know this. One night while he was out with the folks from the paper, he met a girl with hair like autumn. Auburn-gold Wendy.

“So you’re him,” she said. “I wondered what you looked like, what with all your creepy little poems.” They talked late into the night. The folks from the newspaper went home. “See you tomorrow, fella. Don’t stay out too late. We’ll talk to you in the morning.” Wendy was a poetess. She wrote much different verse than he did. Her verse was light, airy and confessional. She showed him a couple things she wrote. He was impressed. He didn’t like confessional poetry, but he was impressed. He said, “I’d like to take you out to dinner sometime Wendy.” She said she’d like that. They exchanged numbers. He kissed her quick on her little lips. He walked home. In his small orange room where the candlelight weaved to and fro he sat at his desk and watched the bats crash against the window. He couldn’t write, and he couldn’t read any of his own work. He couldn’t edit it, because it wasn’t good anymore. He couldn’t go to sleep either. All he could do was think about Wendy and that wonderful kiss. He sat in bed with a bottle of red wine and talked to the walls. He put phrases together. Rhymes and words and tried to say what he was thinking in poetry. Or even in prose. Wendy resisted poetry. He didn’t sleep that night.

Folks around the office gave him a hard time about his “new girlfriend.” It made him feel pretty good. All that day at work he smiled. He couldn’t stop thinking about Wendy. He wanted to write a poem about her, but he didn’t know how. He went home and forced himself to write. He went through sheet after sheet in his notebook. It was all too romantic. He didn’t write romantic poetry. He would write a verse and edit and re-edit. Reduce it to its most essential language. Wendy resisted poetry. He tried to write his usual stuff, but he couldn’t do that either. He forced himself to read. He needed to get to know Wendy better. His life was changing. Things like this happened to poets. In the end it would make his work stronger.

That weekend he met Wendy for dinner. He was completely himself with her. He told her about how she’d made an impression on him. He told her he’d tried to write about her and couldn’t. She was charmed. She’d written about him too, but only as an aside to a larger idea in one of her confessional poems. They went out and saw a play at a small theater. It was a beautiful summer night. They walked down the main strip. He pointed out constellations to her. They admired the small town with the people and the shops and the sparse lights running down the block. He told her how the bats beating against his window in the evening, and the swooping birds in the morning, inspired him. She told him how her childhood, her old friends and the people she loved inspired her. They stopped and had a few glasses of wine. Somewhere into the evening she flushed red and giggled and said she liked him a lot. When they parted for the evening, they kissed for a long time, like he had never done before. He walked home glowing. When he got home that night he went straight to bed. He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

The relationship blossomed. At first he only saw Wendy on the weekends, but after a while he saw her all the time. They never ran out of things to say. Her poetry blossomed and so did his. Things at the office were going well. Wendy got along well with everyone. She would come along for afterwork drinks. Everybody liked her. When will you marry that girl? they asked. He said he didn’t know. He would marry her. He didn’t know when. It would make itself known in time. He told Wendy she should move in with him. She was paying too much for her apartment. His house was already paid off.

The first day she moved in, Wendy turned into a ghost. She was consumed by the presence of the house. The giant face, with its rectangular mouth swallowed her up and her presence disappeared. He was drinking red wine every night. They stopped going out as much. Sometimes at work he said he didn’t believe Wendy existed; when he went home every night she was there.

Wendy stopped working when she moved in because he asked her to. She’d sit at the downstairs table and write confessional poetry that became more and more about the house. Her long sprawling lines shortened, like his. They became terse and focused. Always about the house. Never about herself, the confessional poet. The birds swooped down in the day and the bats flapped at night and the sun never broke through the windows. She lost weight and turned pale.

His poetry was getting stronger. The folks at the office were impressed. He compressed language into vital blocks of words, like music. The tones were dark, but they were effective. In the evenings he sat up all night drinking red wine and writing poetry. She would sit with him. They would write together. Neither of them could remember being more in love, or being more fulfilled by the presence of another person. When they made love, they made love all night, the sweetest, strangest lovemaking ever made. He would stand up from his desk, where his wine and poetry sat orange in the candlelight. Pale auburn Wendy would look up, and she would smile. “Wendy.” Her hand in his. Silent, violent sex where the bed groaned and the house glowed and the bats flapped crashing against the window with the night chirping silent on and on and on.

All around the house a deep quiet grew nightly. It grew within Wendy’s disappearing voice and in the strange wonderful lovemaking and in the isolation from the rest of the world. He loved Wendy and Wendy loved him with an intensity that made it more and more difficult to speak to each other. They couldn’t bear to be out of each other’s company. He was withdrawn at work. He didn’t have anything to say to anyone. He was less friendly. He never went for an afterwork drink. He hurried up the long worn path to the house where Wendy sat waiting, writing poetry sinking in on itself. He unlocked the door and she stood up. They didn’t speak. The house whispered, “Wendy.”

They spent evenings outside where the bats circled overhead and the stars blinked bright and the moon grew red and the clouds dark. Seasons passed and each season transformed the setting. Beneath the full weeping summer trees, and the brisk ghastly autumn color and the skeletal, white murdered winter, and the always too precious spring, he did not change and Wendy did not change and their love did not change, not for each other and not for nature. His poetry continued to improve, but it mattered less, because Wendy was the only thing that mattered. Her poetry disappeared. In the end she stopped writing, maybe because somewhere in all this silence she’d finally found just the voice she’d been looking for. The silence droned its own romantic tune. The stars went out and so did the moon.

He woke up one morning, and something had changed. Wendy slept dead ghostly poetess on the unmade bed and the birds swooped down from the roof in the orange dawn. These were facts. He opened the window and the fall came cool through the window, and the little road ran quaint off where before he used to sometimes smile in the mornings. These were facts. Morning coffee brought him little to no joy. Once outside the trees were banal. Inane red and gold testaments to their own mortality. He went upstairs to where Wendy lay sleeping. She was beautiful maybe, but dead like the trees. He drank a glass of red wine hoping to recapture the past, but the transformation was stronger. Back outside the day sank black bright orange morning blue skies nothing. Work was worse. He went out for afterwork drinks, but he ended up regretting it. Why stay? There was nothing to say.

He came home listless. Wendy stood up from the table where before all her old notebooks used to be. He didn’t say anything. The house whispered, “Wendy.”

He kept walking. The sun was going down like it does everyday. Wendy said, “let’s watch the sunset.”

Outside the sun went down like it does everyday. Wendy didn’t speak and neither did he. He couldn’t stand how she sat there and felt when it was just everything the same as always as everything else. He said to her: “I need to go inside and write.”

The pages of poetry in the notebook were competent music. He read them over a couple times and wondered why he’d bothered. He wrote a few more verses. Tight, terse, enigmatic words strung together, phrases rephrased in strange music, neither harmonic nor discordant; indifferent. Outside the twilight gave in and it was night. The bats flapped idiotically against the windows. He drank wine until the stars came out and Wendy came trembling up the stairs. She said, “there’s something changed about you.”

“Yes.”

The next morning was the same or worse. The stupidity of everything even more annoying. The birds in the morning made him angry. The trees made him angry. The colorfully fallen fall leaves made him angry. Work was okay. The enthusiasm of his coworkers made him angry, but work was okay. He avoided everyone. There was nothing to say.

Going home was worse. Wendy loved him. She felt compelled to say so. He didn’t say anything. He went upstairs and tried to write poetry, but what was the point of writing poetry if there’s nothing worth saying? He went downstairs and opened a bottle of wine without saying anything. He poured a glass and drank it, but it was foul. He left the glass on the table and went back upstairs. The twilight was setting in and the last orange blue rays of sun were running back up behind the clouds. He went back downstairs and outside. He walked a few feet down the path, turned around and looked at the house he’d loved so much. It looked like a face, looking right back at him, and looking right back just as angry, detached, and indifferent. How come he hadn’t seen it like this before? The house was disturbed, but everyone needs a face.

When he went back inside Wendy was sobbing.

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” he said. “Maybe it will just be a matter of time and everything will be the same again. For now I don’t know if you should stay here. You can always go back to your mother’s house.”

After Wendy left her ghost remained. He worked all day and paced all night. He walked from the front door, to the upstairs bedroom, downstairs to the kitchen, through the hallway, back upstairs, downstairs to the kitchen over and over again while Wendy’s ghost followed him and kissed him and they made love and he’d wake up sweating in his bed in the middle of the night. He didn’t drink and he didn’t write. The stairs and the floorboards creaked with his pacing while the bats clattered up against the window where the moonlight fell just short of the floor, always outside. The candle spat orange, weaving the same spells, scents and memories of Wendy where she followed him, dressed white, ghost white in a wedding dress, sometimes stopping on the stairs he’d kiss her where her hair, red-brown like autumn leaves fell auburn from the meaningless trees.

Work was work and the evenings were ballets with spirits. Every object transformed into every object. Doorknobs shook his hand going from room to room. Wendy’s ghost followed him, kissed him, they had silent, violent sex and he was always pacing from room to room. Up the staircase and back down again. The candle and the house and the bats and the birds and Wendy’s ghost and the house and himself silent, everything the same. He looked for answers in his old notebooks of poetry. The words ran together like one, like how everything was one. Wendy stopped him on the staircase.

The house whispered, “Wendy,” over and over. He turned and hurried down the stairs into the kitchen where he poured himself a glass of wine, which was Wendy. Wendy followed him through the kitchen, into the foyer, out of the foyer where the doorknob was Wendy’s hand. He went back up the stairs, where her ghost still followed. In the bedroom the bats crashed against the window, and the little orange candle weaved Wendy on the walls.

The walls whispered, “Wendy,” over and over. The din of whispering ran together like lines of poetry, like how everything was one. He walked over to the windows, and pulled them open, one by one. The moon came crashing through in a crescendo where the bats blackened the glow and blew out the candles and circled into the bedroom. He stood in the middle of the room, and listened to the house. The house sank dark music in on itself like lines of poetry, like how everything was one, like how he stood in the middle of the black bedroom with a glass of wine in his hand and hordes of bats circling him and the walls whispering “Wendy,” and Wendy in her wedding dress, ghostly dead poetess.

&

There is an old house out on the fringes of West Strawberry. It sits by itself and has sat there for as long as anyone can remember. These days nobody lives there. The windows are boarded up and the front door is barricaded. Sometimes children go by and dare each other to break inside and spend the night. Nobody even gets up the front steps to the porch. The house looks like a face, with two wide windows on the top floor looking out over the little dirt path that folks call Wendy Lane. The door in front, rectangular and lopsided looks like a crooked mouth. The house bulges out, pale blue chipping paint like overblown cheeks, and in certain moonlight, the rust against the chipped pale blue paint makes the whole place glow.

(Whit Frazier, From Strawberry Press Magazine, October 2003)