Fragments from Old Stories

There was noticeable disgust among people who had heard him. It seemed absurd someone would make this declaration in the middle of a party; the object of which was to pair off a man and woman. But, ironically, that night after the festivities he went home in the car of a young woman, who later told her friend that she had spent the whole evening talking about their work. Yes, my work, she said again. He wanted to know all about my work.

That began a chain which had continued unbroken for a year and a half.

And now he was explaining to a neighbor who had recently moved in the next apartment; explaining about the boast he had made and how young women had come through the door wall with their personal problems and how they all left satisfied. "You see my friend, for years I have been intimadated by women in my dreams who tell me what I need to know. I can even tell you how it came about it you like." The neighbor had recently separated from his wife and had moved deliberately into the most dispirited neighborhood he could find so he wouldn't be distracted from pulling the loose ends together.

He had told himself not to become involved in any way with the people of this neighborhood and keep secret as possible his whereabouts from former friends and family. He was also in the middle of changing jobs.

The women would meet him through a friend or at the various jobs he worked in and around the Bay Area and, at times, he had as many as three women come visit his one after the other, all bringing some nagging psychological problem with them or as one had put it, "the nag of the female,."

He was not handsome or even a smooth talker but rather awkward in his gestures with spent eyes as though he'd seen too much too quickly. And his personal habits were those of an impoverished animal who leaves its nest or cave to inevitable decay when it smells its own death. But always the women felt, after visiting him, that he was a special man and always defended him when some foolish or ugly rumor spread behind his back.

He lived in the flatlands of Berkeley in a building that resembled the Alamo. It was an integrated neighborhood of lower-class working people, students, drifters, artists but not a coherent neighborhood in any sense. The people lived their lives privately and few paid any attention to what was occurring around them unless it was suspicious activity.

No one knew when he had first made this boast. No one knew quite sure where he had come from; only that he appeared one time at a gathering of the Unitarian Church where a folk group had been advertised and afterwards, there had been a party and during the dancing and conversation he had mentioned to a stranger the boast which became more and more pronounced as he met more people in Berkeley.

His days had become ritual after six months. As soon as he woke up he would remember where he was and remember that he had accomplished nothing and then he felt a stream of poison-like dream remnant snake through his mind which drove him out of the little apartment and into the streets of the neighborhood. Several blocks away stood a breakfast hole where he ate his omelets with coffee and read the morning newspaper. Then an hour after he had left his apartment he walked up toward the center of Berkeley first to stop at Provo Park set in front of City Hall. He would sit on an iron bench under the sad leafed elms and look out over the browning park and uninterrupted traffic bounding around the perimeter until his mind alternated with the sound of his own voice and the drone of traffic. Then he would raise himself and go to the orange, gibbous library several blocks away to browse in the stacks and filter through the magazines in the alcove. In early morning he reversed himself and by the time night had fallen he was back in his little apartment preparing to open a can of soup.

On his table he had put a photograph of his wife and two children against several books and as he looked at them the thoughts of the day vanished. Occasionally he could hear the strains of a guitar on the other side of the wall. The guitar was playing a popular song and would continually interrupt itself as though it was trying to play something else. But always it returned to the popular song.

He had seen his neighbor now coming out of his den and had ignored him, passing him off as a wanderer of some sort. He looked half-mad to him and realized he would have to leave this place soon or he too would be crazy. He would be gone soon enough. His application had been accepted at the Tribune.

David Eide
January 24, 2014