Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fiction: Lost & Found ***Three Quicks Tales of Loss & Yearning***

"Lost & Found ***Three Quick Tales of Love and Yearning*** was published in The Antigonish Review in 1992.



In college. Wasn’t really frat. Into parties. I’d crawl out of bed each day, grump from the last night’s carousal, go to classes. Looked towards graduation with fear and relief. Only one non-student friend. This was Claudette, the sort of woman I’d have liked to marry. She was about 35. Used to be a grad student. She was blond and sturdy. “Dwight Dalton + Claudette Carr” is what I’d write in the margins of my notes.

Claudette’s boyfriend Houston, a dope, called her at one party. She murmured into the receiver, “It’s okay, I don’t mind, no, don’t worry about it,” then turned to us. “Houston’s staying in Philadelphia another week. He’ll miss my birthday.” We had big plans for her birthday which Houston knew. He was a jerk; evolved from Law into Administration. Wore silk vests. Claudette deserved better. I bit my tongue when she hung up. Had to. Unapproachable—cool, big eyes and big bones. But Sam Pink spoke out because he was a drunk then and a fool like Houston. Me and a few heard what Sam said although most were either sprawled on the living room couch watching a video or playing poker in the wood-paneled den. Sam and Claudette stood in the yellow kitchen by the salmon dip.

“I don’t like the guy,” Sam said.

“Sam Pink,” Claudette faced Sam. “Houston is just who he is. He’s an important man.”

“You gotta be desperate to stick with him. You one of those women who likes difficult men? You could probably find someone else. The guy’s a prick.”

Claudette slumped, then patted Sam’s hand, which should have been broken. You could see Claudette’s attraction to Houston wasn’t what I called love, and wasn’t what I called lust, but that was her business. I wanted a duel; I’d have fought for her, I would. I went up to her and said, “Tell Sam it’s none of his business.”

That woman smiled at me. “Don’t worry, Dwight,” she said. She put a hand on my arm. My body jolted towards Sam but she tightened her grip. “Don’t,” she pressed. “Please don’t.”

By the next day, everyone had heard what Sam said and agreed he was a jerk but everyone forgot or forgave or both. I didn’t. I wished Claudette would tell Sam off. She didn’t. Birthday party okay. Then one more party before summer. Everyone was there, including Houston and Sam. Claudette had placed lilacs in every room, along with pretzels in different shapes.

I was constantly at Sam’s side that night. “My faithful sidekick,” he joked. He didn’t know why I was following him. “Don’t tell me you’re that kind of guy, Dwight D.,” he sneered. A smile. The stereo blared on as a video ended. At a pause between tapes Sam jumped up and danced on the green shag. When the music stopped, he stopped. Finally, he was at the door with a woman on his arm. Other guests were getting ready to leave. An audience. I took a bottle of brew, shook it and let the beer spray onto Sam.

“What the goddam hell,” he said.

“What’s wrong with you?” everyone asked me.

Claudette covered. “Just too much to drink,” she announced. She gently pulled Sam into the bathroom and toweled him dry and said God knows what, because he laughed about it. He knew I’d be a foil for him for years, if he wanted. Fortunately, he forgot about it by the next day.

I was so in love with Claudette. Did she know? She led me into her bedroom; told me to stay until everyone, even Houston, left.

“He knows nothing’s going to happen,” she explained when she returned.

She meant what she said. Too bad.

Claudette told me about her life that night.

“Dwight, I wanted revenge once,” she confessed.
Waiting, eager to hear anything from her peach lips.

“This one time I wanted it with all my heart,” she continued. “I lost my great love and my great friend at the same time.”

She laid back on the ivory comforter, pulling a lacy pillow under her shining head, bending her knees up to lock her hands around her ankles. Her round ankles. Her round wrists and moving hands, beckoned to me. Nothing to do about it.

“When I was 18 I thrilled everyone, including myself, by falling in love with the heir of the other wealthy family in my small town. He was the banker’s son and I was the judge’s daughter.”

Words so soft.

“After two years of romance during college vacations we announced our engagement, and he told me the awful truth one year later.”

Wanting to hold Claudette, to stroke her curls of silk.

“He told me he was in love with someone elsea man.” She pulled herself eye level with me. Her eyes were a deep lagoon. I dove.

“My pride was hurt,” Claudette continued. “My heart was crushed. I was a little disgusted, too. But I stuck to him. I begged him to change or at least marry me. I offered him anything and everything. But no. He didn’t tell anyone else in our town. I covered.”

Who could turn her down? Her fingertips shone like the rosy dawn.

“He came home after graduation with another woman on his arm. She was stunning. To hell with that; she was alive. She was his wife. He’d married her. She came from real money. Washington, D.C. connections. She was a prize. He dumped me cold. He never explained or contacted me. She knew he was gay. He leads a double life. But what grates on me, is that he acts like he doesn’t care. He doesn’t love me.”

Not love Claudette? The dimpled crease of her downy arm called for my lips. Which could not respond.

“So here I stand. Lay.” She giggled. “That man is the villain of my life. I’ve wanted revenge all these years.” She kissed my cheek.

Hating this man.

*The End of Dwight’s Yearning for Claudette* I stopped going to Claudette’s parties. Ashamed? For her or me? No one knew what I knew. I’ve never seen her since then, and didn’t talk about her until two years later. First the end of her story, then the end of mine.

Two years later. I’m in a tavern after our Thursday night softball game with Betty Bailey, the pitcher. The hand of Fate loosens a valve in my mind: The waitress reminds me of Claudette. Maybe it’s the way eyes shine. Maybe it’s the pretzels. I mention to Betty that the waitress resembles Claudette Carr. Turns out Betty knew her.

“You bet. She was going with my cousin years and years ago, back in our home town, and it busted. I heard he was gay. I always thought he was.”

“You knew Claudette Carr?”

“Sure. She was pretty. A little tense. Years older than I am.”

“Is she dead?”

“No. She’s married. I went to her wedding a few months ago. Her husband’s name is Hank. They looked okay to me. For an older couple.”

I wait to hear more.

“My sister helped with the plans,” Betty offered. “Claudette told her everything.”

Now. *The End of Claudette’s Yearning for Her Lost Love* Claudette goes to Washington, D.C. Show down. First thing, runs into her home town love at restaurant. Sees him at the salad bar. Funny stuff. The arch enemy of her life, the man who turned her down, dumped her cold, turned his back on her, made her ache with the agony of lost love made more cruel by his not caring: at a salad bar! Like every other poor schmuck who’s out for lunch. So Claudette forgives him. Goes to his table to tell him. Minute he sees her, grief in his eyes. Then cool again. Enough for Claudette. Back home, dumps Houston the Texas oiler, meets Hank. *Claudette Finds a New Love*. Happy. For a time.

Finally: *Dwight Finds a Love* I talk to this waitress who looks like Claudette. I say, “Hey.” She tells me she’s pre-med. I say, “Great.” I ask, “Name?” “Rosie Pink,” she responds. “Sam Pink’s sister?” I ask. “That I am,” she tells me, “You know him?” “I squirted beer on him,” I admit. “Lots of people have,” she says. Not impressed. I take her home. Date her. This and that. Now putting her through med school. Sam Pink and I talk sometimes. Family gatherings. I have to apologize, don’t I? So, I do. He squints.

“I guess I remember,” he says. I wait. Don’t hear anything, don’t feel bad vibes. He doesn’t care. It doesn’t bother him. What the hell, I think. After all, Claudette’s no longer in my life, I sigh to myself. I get a brew for Sam and myself.


A few years later, in the same dark tavern where Dwight found Rosie Pink, Rosie (now married to Dwight) sits talking with her brother Sam. Sam and Betty Bailey, the pitcher, are lovers. Claudette, along with her found and lost love, will be in final quick tale #3.

“No one should have to suffer,” Sam Pink insists. “But what gets me, is that Betty likes to.”

“I don’t think she likes to suffer.” Rosie takes quick sip of wine. “She’s dramatic and she likes gossip.”

“What do you mean?”

“Which? Drama or gossip?”

“Drama, I already know. She should have gone into acting.” Sam scrapes the salt off a pretzel with his thumbnail. “Of course lately she’s mad because I said I wouldn’t commit.”

“You don’t commit to anything.” Rosie blurts. “It’s true, Sam. I’m your sister. I can say it.”

Sam’s face is blank. “I can understand her being upset. But all this being depressed and crying. Isn’t there anything else she can do with her feelings?”

“You’ve got to sweat it out.”

“You have to suffer and you have to bleed? Is that your medical opinion?”

“Lay off. When Dwight and I have troubles, I go to the movies and cry in the dark.”

“That’s not what Betty said.”

Rosie looks at her curly-haired older brother, wishing she could learn to anticipate his moves. “Sam.”

“Skip it.”

“Sam, finish what you started.”

“Listen. I don’t know. Okay. So Betty said you and Dwight fought, she said it was about the amount of time you spend at the hospital, and you got mad and stepped out on him.”


“With the Medical Director.”

Sam half grins.

“Sam, I don’t cheat, you should know that. I hope you told that to Betty.”

“I did. I know she was lying.”

“So that’s how Betty gets through hard times.” Rosie smirks.

“Well, what does Dwight do when he’s upset?”

Rosie shrugs her slight shoulders. “Escapes. He daydreams. I think he dreams about Claudette, the woman from your college days.”

Sam lights up. “Claudette.”

“What was she like, Sam?”

“Not of this world, Rosie, soft, like a Southern Belle.”

“Well, that’s where Dwight escapes to, to life with his Southern Belle.”

Sam’s eyes are dancing.

“Sam, it’s time to go.” Rosie reaches for her sweater and purse.

“I wonder how she is. She got married, I heard that. I bet it’s wonderful.” Sam sits, transfixed.

Rosie leaves a dollar for the tip.

*She Finds that Life Goes On*

“I’m calling the police!”

“Go ahead!”

Hank walked away from the locked sliding glass doors with their view of Claudette, his wife, on the lawn.

“That’s it, run away! You wimp! Hide in the bedroom! I’m not scared of you! You’re scared of me!”

Hank didn’t leave the living room. He took his hand off the phone.

“Dammit, you know you’re just trying to hurt me!” Hank screamed.

“You bet I am!”

Claudette started crying. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She sobbed.

Hank unlocked the patio door and raced to Claudette. They were anchored in embrace for a long time, anchored; not allowed to float away.

They moved to the rocker and sat, holding hands. “This’ll just keep happening for a while,” Claudette said. “It gets better. We haven’t talked for a week. No talking and no fighting.”

“Couples break up without all this fighting. Not everyone fights, Claudette.”

“I’m in pain. Don’t you feel anything? Or do you use your new woman to talk to?”

Hank swallowed and gripped her hand. They stayed like that for an hour. Then Hank went to bed and Claudette went to the den. She slumped onto the floor, by her bookcase. She needed inspiration, knew it and sought it. Poetry and drama reminded her that to feel deeply was more human, than being cool. Look at Medea. Agreed, she killed her kids when jilted, but Jason was a louse. Okay, she killed her kids. Not good. But passionate.

Claudette pulled out a paperback Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, and read the lines about Portia’s suitors. To win Portia’s hand, they had to guess which box held a ring. The Prince of Aragon guessed wrong. Claudette always wondered how he could bear to comply with Portia’s father’s rules for the losers. He had to leave Venice, not discuss his guess, and never marry. Claudette poured a glass of wine, found an half-used notebook in a desk drawer, and wrote a:

Journal for the Prince of Aragon *Who Yearned for Love*

I lost Portia. Instead, I got a triumvirate of a booby prize - exile, the single life and silence about this riddle. She hooked me like a toggle bolt of bright and shining metals that will remain in me. Well, I accept this new life. Patiently, I walk in the desert.

Claudette thought of Hank in the big bed, alone, and she imagined him with a beautiful woman. She remembered Houston, and then her first love residing in Washington, D.C. and wrote more of the prince’s thoughts:

My fantasies of loving her great body are mere fantasies, still my love for Portia endures. I can’t send this letter I write, so I’ll think it. Intense feelings reach their target along cosmic trajectories.
Dear Portia: When I sat next to you on the bench in your father’s garden, I felt a rush of love for you. My love didn’t need body, beauty, or pleasure to survive. I felt you could leave, turn away, love another, and I’d still love you always. You’ve been loved, dear Portia, and you don’t even know it. You don’t care.

I ache for Portia.

Again, Claudette laid down her pen to stare at emptying memories with a shadowy heart. She continued writing.

I yearn for something I never had. I have seen many things but I remember the small ones. A black crow on cypress. A cat walking in life and dreams. My love grinding itself in me until I am hollowed to receive God/Goddess. This is what I have. This is my life - in a desert always walking toward a forest.

“God damn, I’m mad.” Claudette was suddenly sputtering. “God damn, I’m furious. This is my life—in a desert always walking towards a forest. And now I’m even thinking like some hyper romantic character.”

Claudette stopped, wrote this addition to the prince’s journal, as a footnote:

Portia found her love. She doesn’t much remember the me, Prince of Aragon. She lives in a small and happy circle. The suffering prince lives in a larger circle, concentric to Portia’s, containing hers. We are in parallel worlds, sometimes overlapping, more often far apart.

Claudette’s notes: I think that when we love we are ripped apart and eaten alive, like Prometheus. We also get to heal, but only after scarring. Some of us ache more than others. Life isn’t always fair. I’ll bear my rage and hurt and remember what good I can, have fun when I can, and continue in my faith that life—a mystery in its structure—will comfort me in it the simple living of it, and that learning is one of life’s solaces.

“God damn, I’m mad. God damn, I’m hurt.”

Still, life in itself is solace.

Claudette put down her pen, adjusting its position several times so it didn’t roll off the table. She ran her finger around the rim of her wine glass. “What next?” she asked. Claudette asked this of herself. She was alone in the room. She cried, dabbed at her tears with a Kleenex, then shuffled through a stack of library books: mysteries and suspense novels. She finally selected a John LeCarre she’d never gotten around to reading. Claudette settled in for the rest of the night, turning pages of The Little Drummer Girl with sadness and some anticipation. She anticipated finishing the book over the next few days. And then what, she wondered. Was life in itself a solace? She anticipated she’d find out.
Sarah Sarai, The Antigonish Review. St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia. Summer 1992.


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