Winter 2012, #18
The "EVERLASTING DELAYS" Issue
A Mate for the Soul
by Duff Brenna
Norman Ten Boom’s eighth book of poetry, a collection called Ecstasy: Love Poems for Lovers, was a thin thing containing seventy short poems exploring themes of love and violence, May/ December romance, morality and sin, war and peace, health and illness, time and death. Its cover depicted a cloudy border surrounding a blue, impressionistic flower opening its mouth as if to swallow the reader. Ray read the dedication inside to Norman’s new love: “For Annette my muse.”
“She completes me,” Norman told Ray. They were sitting in the university cafeteria, Norman quoting his own poetry when he said: “We are the same blood, breath and heart.” His chest swelling with ardor, ample chins quivering, he repeated, “Breath and heart, breath and heart.”
“Yes, I remember that poem’s spare simplicity,” Ray told him.
“Every word a gem, a nugget,” claimed Norman.
He played with his coffee cup, turning it in circles, staring into its opaque pit as he said, “Well, who knows if my book will be appreciated? But I don’t care because it brought me her. You see what I’m saying? I’m saying that without Annette, Ecstasy would never have been written. Nothing else matters.” He laid a hand on Ray’s forearm, squeezing it. “I’m saying that at sixty I have finally found my soul-mate.”
Mate for the soul. One of those.
When Ecstasy debuted Ray had blurbed:
Norman Ten Boom confirms his place as one of the most distinctive poetic voices of his generation, a man musing on love as a value system that makes its own laws, its own occasionally mystical world of morality, where we would (if we could) embroider the one we love into the very valves of our heart.
Not very inspired, but it was the best Ray could do given his limited opinion of the book. Not that it mattered anyway. To Ray’s relief, Norman declined to use the blurb. More prestigious names marked the back cover, all of them more or less putting Norman’s name in the company of Pablo Neruda and Garcia Lorca.
“You’re coming to my reading,” said Norman, pointing a stern finger at Ray.
“Absolutely. Wouldn’t miss it.”
“You’re in for a treat, my friend. You’re in for a ride. I always put on a good show.”
“Let me tell you something, Ray. This is the voice of experience, so you better listen to me. At least ninety-eight percent of the audience will be women. Every one of them will believe herself a poet. They’ll coo and swoon over what I read them. You watch, Ray, you’ll see. I know these things.” He was wagging his finger. “I’ll have them creaming their pants. Watch how they cross their legs and jiggle their feet. You know what that means when a woman crosses her legs and jiggles her foot?”
“She’s masturbating, Ray. She’s masturbating. She’s squeezing her vulva. She’s milking it. It happens all the time. I’ve seen it for years, Ray, for years. This is what my poems do to women, the love poems and the violent poems. Love and violence gets them off. You believe me?”
“Whatever you say, Norman.”
“Got to go teach my class, but let me leave you with this proverb: Sour, sweet, bitter, pungent—all must be tasted.” He wiggled his tongue as if licking a lollypop. Rising, he pulled a stack of flyers from his briefcase. “Here,” he said, “pass these copies out to your classes.”
The flyers announced:
ACCLAIMED POET NORMAN TEN BOOM WILL BE LAUNCHING HIS 8TH BOOK OF POETRY TUESDAY, MARCH 10 AT 10 P.M. THE POET’S GROOVE, BLUE NILE RESTAURANT
2027 E. FRANKLIN, MINNEAPOLIS
Even though Bobbi was having one of her bad days, she and Ray went to Norman’s reading arranged by a local writers’ group, consisting of a number of poets who got together monthly to critique each other’s work and give advice. The audience sat at dining tables in the restaurant. Inspirational Norman stood on stage, his white hair haloed, the key light intensity shimmering around him like a cape of fire.
Accompanying his recital was a clatter of dinnerware, the soft prattling of the staff, double doors shuffling as waiters came and went. At the table closest to the stage sat luscious Annette Walker basking in Norman’s glory. She kept stealing glances at Ray. He made sure he didn’t meet her gaze, even though he wanted to gawk at her, trim as she was, her dark hair cascading, her crescent eyes magnetically bright—everything about her the opposite of Ray’s overweight and unwell wife.
In spite of the setting and disturbances, Norman read beautifully-arms waving, lion’s head jerking side-to-side, mane flourishing, his silky baritone rising and falling in full command of his language.
The lines he read were mostly romantic, but romance injected with something clinging like syrup to the syntax, words seeking to pierce the heart, devastate the soul, disconnect the rational powers and go with the emotional flow; yet, like the rabbit racing the tortoise, never quite getting where they wanted to go—the elevation of love as something spiritual, a higher calling. Ray’s impression was that a love-struck, talented teenager might have written many of Norman’s poems.
He had been right about women being ninety-eight percent of the audience, many of them cooing over each rendition, their oohs and aahs exhaling rapture, audibly longing for a love as sweet and true as the love expressed in Norman’s lustrous tones. The applause at the end of each poem seemed on the verge of ovation, passionately urging Norman to give more vis-á-vis—Love deep as the ocean, wide as the sky. Ray watched them crossing and uncrossing their legs. Feet jiggledee-jiggling.
A number of his poems may have been as brilliant as Norman claimed they were. The ones exploring jazz, political chicanery, the treachery of warmongers, the lamented death of innocence at the hands of evil men, the blamelessness of children caught in the midst of unjustifiable wars—Ray thought those poems were insightful and a pleasure to hear (though doubtfully linked with the theme of Love Poems for Lovers). Ray believed that Norman would have been more impressive if he had stuck to currently crucial topics, rather than mingle the reading with mushy matters: the soul in emotional throes, romantic revelations arriving in the form of a muse named Annette Walker:
I need these ethereal transports that set the nymph
of uncontrollable cravings throbbing towards the
beacon of beauty’s passionate promises.
Ladies all around Ray and Bobbi nodded their heads knowingly. So did some of the men. Annette sat starry-eyed and trembling over a love like this seemed out of reach/ lost as I was in the slough of despond that aging brings on. Falling in love had restored Norman’s youth and made him believe that soul-mates truly existed, for he had found such a mate—
in the form of an angel
who treads so lightly upon the earth
she never leaves a footprint except in the softest sands of a summer
where waves wash in greedily caressing the slender signs of immortal
beauty passing by.
After the reading, Norman and Annette drove over to the Poe’s house for a late supper. It was a cozy celebration to honor the new book, and also to make Norman feel that Ray and Bobbi believed he was as important a poet as he said he was— “Contemporary poets rank me as one of America’s finest. Many say I am simply the best of my time.”
(At the university library Ray had looked for critical opinions and studies that might verify Norman’s statements, but couldn’t find any. All eight books of his poetry had been published by small, independent presses, most of which had come and gone, except for Purity Press based in Berkeley, California, which still advertised that they published “where no publisher has gone before.”)
The affair started with champagne toasts to Norman’s new book and to the new love of his life, lovely Annette Annaba Walker.
Ray lifted his glass and quoted Omar Khayyam. “Drink! for you know not whence you came nor why. Drink! For you know not why you go, nor where.”
“In vino veritas!"
Bobbi touched the wine to her lips. She didn’t dare drink any of it. Under a daily bombardment of prescription drugs her liver had become a liability. Medical problems hadn’t weakened her cooking skills, however. She served deep-fried shrimp and calamari hors d’oeuvres, followed by sole with lemon and caper sauce, tossed salad, saffron rice sprinkled with ground walnuts and fresh parsley, toasted sourdough dipped in olive oil. Wine and more wine. Three bottles by midnight. Ray knew he was drinking faster than usual, but he didn’t care. He loved the warmth of the wine. Loved the background music, Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, filling his ears, mixing with and muting the monologue flowing from Norman, whether his mouth was empty or full.
After the four of them retired to the living room, the guest of honor sat cross-legged like a pasha on one of the great cushions near the fireplace, Annette by his side. He told them he was going to get her first collection of poetry published. He was going to write the forward and arrange some readings. The book would be out in seven months, at which time Ray and Bobbi could give a dinner in Annette’s honor.
“Yes, of course,” they both agreed.
Annette’s smiling eyes sparkled with gratitude. She stared at Ray and childlike stated, “You would do that for me?” He noticed a slight cast in her left eye and found it curiously alluring.
“I’d love to read some of your verse, Annette.”
“Oh no, not yet, Ray,” she demurred. “I’m still working on it.”
“She doesn’t need to work on it, it’s perfect,” said Norman, Annette looking down modestly, Norman stroking her cheek. “She writes like an angel I tell you. Don’t you think she’s beautiful? Have you ever seen such delicate cheekbones? Look at her eyes. How they always seem to be smiling. She could have been a model. No, no, I’m serious. Let me tell you something—I know these things! She and I met in another life and she was the model for Iphigenia in my Cymon and Iphigenia, 1848. No, I’m serious. Take a look at it sometime. It’s her! Annette Walker to the core. Just hers is a darker complexion.
She’s Moroccan, you know. Aren’t you, Annette?”
“Moroccan and French,” she replied.
“You're Iphigenia?” quizzed Bobbi.
Norman raised an arm, pointing godward and declaring, “I was the Pre-Raphaelite John Millias in one of my other lives. Do you know how I know this?”
No one could say. Ray heard Annette whispering, “Reincarnation.”
“Transmigration of the heart the instant I saw a Millias’ painting,” insisted Norman. “It was Christ in the House of His Parents. I recognized every detail. The carpenter’s shop, the open door looking out on the sheep in the field, the figures of Mary and Christ that I had drawn. The very wood shavings on the floor were intimately familiar. That was just a year after I met the 1848 Annette and had her pose as Iphigenia. Later I used her in my Ophelia. Different hair, but the same face. Didn’t I tell you that you and I were old souls, my darling?”
“That’s what he said,” she said.
“And I took her straight to the painting in Nineteenth Century Paintings. Didn’t I, my darling? Didn’t I just stick my finger in and flip the book open to the exact page?”
“It was uncanny.”
“Preordained,” said Norman. “And there you were. Wasn’t it you?”
“If you say so.”
“But the point is we are eternal lovers. Remember when we turned over the Tarot cards and we both got the Sun as the last card? We did! It’s true! These are phenomenon we can’t ignore. A higher power. It’s spiritual! What else could it be?”
Bobbi’s stare shrieking at Ray: This man is woo-woo!
(Ray, a mite tipsy, was thinking: But how do we know these things? Maybe there are special beings that can see into the occult, see the Beyond where our many lives litter the scene like beads of dew waiting for sunrise. Hmm, maybe I should write that down.)
He looked above Bobbi’s head at the print hanging on the wall: The White Calico Flower. Beneath the snowy flowers was an epigraph: If winter comes can spring be far behind? Ray had written the epigraph to remind himself of Percy Shelley’s indomitable spirit. Whatever life threw at him, he took it and went on with his work. That’s how Ray wanted to be, a doer, a survivor, and a believer in the mission of art and artists.
“Shelley believed that artists were the higher power,” Ray offered.
“The unacknowledged legislators of the world!” said Norman, his finger a rigid wand. “The artist mirrors the future. He’s often not conscious of what he is doing, he’s a medium. I’m a medium, a clairvoyant who expresses the beauty of the earth by what I create. My words on paper outlast pyramids. Even if you bury my words they will rise again and conquer. You see what I’m saying? My words are immortal. Oh, my friends listen to me, listen to Norman Ten Boom saying yes to the universe, yes to life, yes to his desires, yes to the adrenalin rush of being in love. Yes to withering and rebirth.”
“Yes to the risen Jesus,” said Bobbi beatifically. “We die to be born in the bosom of God.”
There was an awkward pause.
“Listen to me,” Norman continued. “The desire to live or die moves in cycles. If over time the cycle to go on living doesn’t return to possess your heart, you are done for. You’ll die and that will be it. Snuffed out completely. Your soul floating nowhere. That is why you must never commit suicide, you see? It’s an irrevocable denial of life. It sweeps you out of the cycle forever. Annette and I, in our many lives, have always said yes to life. Yes, yes, even as we were dying. Isn’t that right, Annette? We say yes we will, yes!”
When she glanced at Ray he fancied the cast in her eye was signaling a cross-eyed apology. Were his own eyes rolling? Be serious, he counseled himself. Nothing is pure humbug. Truth as evanescent as snowflakes. Truth variable. Truth dependent on the true cause, vera causa. Today’s fiction: tomorrow’s truth. And who was it that said there is no science so hard as to know how to live this life well? Maybe Norman knows best. Say yes to withering and rebirth.
“We read each other’s thoughts all the time,” insisted Norman. “We finish each other’s sentences. We are so in tune that if I have a panic attack from missing her so badly, she will always call me and say, ‘What’s wrong?’ And one way or another she’ll get out of the house and come over. Isn’t that right, Annette?”
“Sometimes it’s hard. My kids and my husband don’t approve, of course. My kids call me bad Mommy. Mommy’s bad!" She grimaced. Looked away. “Well, never mind about that.”
“They’ll grow out of it,” said Norman. “Right now they’re behaving like selfish brats. They want their mother to stay with their father, but the man is a brute. Isn’t that right, Annette? He has no respect for you as a persona, my darling.”
“He has no respect for me as a persona,” she echoed.
“He cheats on her. He’s a doctor and he cheats on her with his patients. He uses her like his personal slave. She’s everyone’s personal slave. Those two kids clinging to her apron strings. Isn’t that right, Annette? They want to own her body and soul. They don’t want her to have an identity of her own. Isn’t that right, Annette?”
“To them I’m only a wife and mother,” she said, voice hollow, the thin line of her smile expressing martyrdom.
“I want to give her freedom!” cried Norman. “I want her to live with me and let me make her into a great poet. I’m her truest lover, friend, and mentor. Isn’t that right, Annette?”
“He’s helping me realize my potential,” she said.
After a clumsy moment Norman added, “You know, I wake in the night and feel like I’m having a stroke. And I have to call her. But one night she didn’t answer the phone.” His eyes accused her.
“I turned my phone off by accident. It’s an old habit,” she explained.
“Tell them about your heart monitor.”
“I had to wear a heart monitor,” she said. “I was having pains in my left arm. My blood pressure is dangerously high and so is my cholesterol.”
“See what I’m saying?” said Norman. “It’s stress. She needs to get out of there before they kill her. They’re killing you, my darling. That husband! You should hear some of the things he says to her. I won’t repeat it, but if he ever said those things in my presence I’d break him in half!” His eyes narrowing dangerously, “I can be dangerous,” he said.
Ray believed him. Corpulent bearish Norman could probably do it, snap that husband like a piece of kindling. But another part of Ray was saying beware of a bragger, beware of braggadocio. As Norman stared at Annette, his eyes swimming with hunger hope uncertainty, something else was revealed-hatred? fear? a mixture? And what for? Because she wouldn’t leave her family and move in with him? He was terribly lonely he had told Ray. He hated the silence at night in his apartment. Lying in bed, the silence. Waking at three. Staring at the ceiling in silence.
“All I want is what is best for her,” he told them, stroking her hand, gripping it, kissing it. “It’s not for myself that I do what I do. I do it all for her. I wrote Ecstasy for her. I didn’t know it at the time, not until I hired her to edit it for me. The instant I saw her, I fell in love and the poetry started pouring out of me. Didn’t it, Annette? Don’t tell me about Romeo and Juliet or Ferdinand and Miranda. Did we not exchange eyes that first day, Annette? We looked at each other and I knew I had found her once more in the halls of time. But I didn’t say anything. Not right away. I’ll tell you this from my heart: a voice inside me kept saying, ‘Your eternal lover has returned.’ But I didn’t act on it because I was married. Right, Annette?”
“He changed the title and completely rewrote the book. All these love poems were pouring out, and as I’m editing them I’m thinking how lucky his wife is.”
“It wasn’t until weeks later I pulled out the book and showed her Millias’ Ophelia,” said Norman, “and beautiful bare breasted Iphigenia.” He laughed hugely, his chins shivering. “The hairs on Annette’s arms rioted as if those paintings were full of electricity. Or maybe it was my standing over her. I saw my breath playing with her hair. I’ll never forget it. She looked at me like I had popped out of a bottle. Poof, I was her genie.” Norman threw his head back and roared. Then he pointed his finger and said, “Ah, but I knew. I knew!”
“What about you, Annette?” asked Bobbi. “Did you feel like he had popped out of a bottle?”
Annette massaged her lips with her index finger. Her eyes searching Bobbi’s eyes. “I can’t say exactly how I felt. Except I was confused. I remember thinking, did he really say that? Had he told me he painted the Ophelia when he was John Millias? We were sitting there flipping through the book, and Norman is pointing out painting after painting he had done. I think one was a Titian?”
“Venus of Urbino!” bellowed Norman. “I defy anyone to look at it and my Ophelia & Iphigenia and tell me they are not the same woman.
“You were Titian?” said Bobbi.
Norman’s eyes protruded. Shiny as stainless steel. “Of course you don’t believe me. But there is more in heaven and earth than found in your suffering Christos, Bobbi.”
“No, no, I don’t mean to doubt you,” Bobbi protested.
“Eternal lovers know nothing of time. Annette and I have had countless lives together, and that’s all that counts. Right, Annette?”
Annette flexed her fist. “My hand keeps going asleep.” She shook the hand. Norman grabbed it, rubbed it between his palms.
“So cold,” he said, “for someone so beautiful and young. Hold it in front of the fire. It’s those BP pills she takes. They make her hands and feet cold all the time. She’s only thirty-five. This shouldn’t be happening to her. It’s the stress of her home environment this past three years, no doubt about that. She’s been married fourteen years to that monster. This is what it’s done to her. Broken her heart. It’s criminal. Criminal! A philandering husband who accuses her of having a fling with the neighbor next door. He even said he wasn’t sure their son is his! That’s how twisted the bastard is. She’s so cold, Ray. Build the fire, will you?”
The room was already overheated, but Ray put another log on and stirred the flames with the poker.
“It’s really hard,” whispered Annette, her voice almost choking. “My children have turned totally against me. They don’t understand I fell out of love with their father when I was thirty-two and caught him having an affair. I stay in the marriage because I don’t want them to be products of a broken home. I don’t care what feminists say, children need both parents. Fathers are as important in their own way as mothers. I stay for my babies. I want so much to create a—”
“All he does is take advantage of her,” blurted Norman.
“He never helps around the house. She cooks and cleans and buys the groceries. She does everything. All he does is sit on his fat ass giving orders.”
“Actually, his ass is thin. He’s thin all over.”
“The kids are the same way. A pair of parasites still sucking
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? Metaphorically speaking.”
“They’re young, they don’t know anything yet.”
Norman’s eyes shifted as if looking for enemies. His round face was flushed, his jaws grinding. His heavy lips petulant and wet. His white hair falling forward like a ghostly curtain.
In sympathetic tones, he told Annette she was absolutely right. “And I will do everything in my power to help those two make their way in life. I can snap my fingers and get them into any number of first-rate universities. I know famous political and literary figures all over the world, and they will know you and your children because you’ll be connected to me. A letter or phone call will open any number of doors, my darling. I’ll take care of them just as lovingly as I’ll take care of you. But the thing you’ve got to do is make your decision to live, not just exist. Pack your bags and come to me. Everything else will fall in place. I know these things! You’ve got to believe me. Do you believe in me, Annette?”
“This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.”
“It will kill you to stay there. It will kill both of us. I’ll die.”
“No, I mean it! I don’t want to live without you. I can’t!” Norman grabbed his left arm, rubbed it. “You see?” he said. “Sympathetic pains! You see?” He dug in his shirt pocket. Pulled out a bottle of pills. “Some water!” he ordered.
Bobbi rose painfully. Waddled to the kitchen.
“Bring me an aspirin too,” he said.
“What are you taking?” said Ray.
Norman was taking a blood pressure pill and Prosac. Bobbi brought him the aspirin. Annette hovering, her lips pinched with worry.
“I had a mild stroke,” he said almost blissfully. “When my marriage was breaking up I was going cuckoo. I was dizzy all the time. I couldn’t walk straight. I was walking into walls. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I’m telling my wife that maybe I’m having a stroke and she’s telling me to get out of her house. The look on her face said she wanted me dead. You never know, you understand what I’m saying? You never know who you can count on! I mean I hadn’t done anything wrong. Sure, I might have been attracted to Annette, but we hadn’t done anything, had we, Annette?”
“I was editing his manuscript,” she said. “We were together a lot.”
“Well, we had to be! But the wife got jealous and started accusing me of having an affair. She said she wanted me out of her life. She said I had driven her crazy for five years. And here I am having a stroke and she won’t lift a finger. I had to get the guy next door to drive me to the hospital. Have you ever heard of such a thing? A hard woman. A cold-hearted woman. Cold as ice cubes let me tell you.”
“She’s throwing you out and you’re having a stroke?” said Ray.
“Lucky for me it was very mild. They fixed me right up. I’ve been exercising like mad ever since. Don’t you think I’ve lost weight?”
“I can see that.”
“Except for these poetic chins. I’ll need surgery to get rid of them.”
“He has such a sense of humor,” said Annette. “My husband is just the opposite. No humor at all. He was raised on a farm. Farms are dour.”
“I love life!” shouted Norman. “God, I love living. I want to live forever. Every day I wake up wondering what wonderful thing is going to happen to me. Yes, yes, and one wonderful day it was wunderbar!” He pointed at Annette.
“I had no idea what answering his advertisement would mean,” she said. “I just wanted to get out of that miserable house and do something. And look how it has changed my life. Everything used to be so … so predictable. Now it’s like I’m riding a whirlwind.”
“Their life a storm whereon they ride,” Norman quoted. “But what I was saying is... when are you moving out, Annette? We’re getting old. We don’t have time to waste.”
Annette pulled back. Her finger stroking her mouth as if zipping it. “It’s so hard,” she murmured. “So hard it seems impossible. I wish you wouldn’t pressure me, Norman.”
“But what can you expect, my darling? I’m a poet. Every fiber of my being throbs with love of you. I’m like an over-wound violin, an E string ready to break. I feel it right this moment getting tighter and tighter. Can’t you hear my soul shrieking?”
“I can. It’s driving me cuckoo. Listen, my darling, all I want is to protect you and nurture your talent. If it were possible I would take you to some island and keep you there writing poetry, while I waited on you hand and foot.”
“No! I mean it! I wouldn’t hesitate a moment, not a second.” He turned to Ray, his eyes imploring. “Do you see now how I love her? Do you see?”
“No ordinary love,” Ray admitted.
“Shattering,” Norman answered.
Annette closed her eyes. The fingers of her left hand kept flexing.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of that house,” said Norman. “If it’s the last thing I do.”
“What can I say to this wild man?”
“Between us there is no need for you to speak,” he said. “It’s always been obvious that you understand everything I say. I see things! And I know far more than what I see. All that matters is that we love each other. The rest can go to hell.”
“I can’t wish that for my kids, Norman. Don’t ever ask me.”
“Annette, listen to me. This will never come again. There is only now and the two of us. He who hesitates is lost!”
“Oh, can’t we talk of something else? We’re monopolizing everything.” She looked at Ray, her eyes apologizing. “Poor you and
Bobbi having to listen to this.”
“No problem. What are friends for?”
“We make good sounding boards,” said Bobbi.
Norman’s finger was in front of Annette’s face, admonishing. “Life breeds excuses,” he told her. “Rationalizations. And we miss our chances and they never come again. A hundred years from now no one will remember anything about us except the art we’ve left behind. With me you’ll become an artist. Without me your family will pull you back into servitude. You’ll be dying an inch at a time and as you’re dying you will know that you’ve never really lived at all.” He paused. Words hanging. Fire crackling.
Annette stared at Ray again and said, “I suppose he’s right.” She glanced at the books lining the shelf behind the couch. “I’ve read your books,” she told him, “all three of them. They’re amazing. So Much Heroism. I think that’s my favorite. The one about your father. The war and that stuff.”
Norman said, “Ray had to be selfish to write them. He didn’t let anyone get in his way. Isn’t that right, Ray?”
“I guess so.”
“A writer who doesn’t live for his art is no artist.”
“Is that how you feel, Ray?” said Annette.
Ray looked at his novels and wondered if they were products of selfishness. He decided they were.
“He’s selfish,” said Bobbi. Quickly adding, “But he has to be. Art comes first. Then his teaching. I’m somewhere down the line, God knows.” She chuckled, her fat cheeks wiggling, her mildly warped fingers covering her mouth, her eyes sad slits nesting within orbs of what appeared to be aching flesh.
“That’s all I have to say,” said Norman. “Let’s talk about something else. The reading went well, don’t you think? I had them in the palm of my hand.” He gazed at his palm serenely.
Annette was leaning forward, rubbing her belly round and round. Her other hand covering her mouth as she brought forth a burp. “Oh, excuse me!”
“As good an opinion as any,” said Ray, chuckling.
“Take a Tums,” said Norman. “You got any Tums, Bobbi?”
“Do I have Tums!” Bobbi reached in her pocket and pulled out a roll. “Keep it, honey, I’ve got plenty.” Smiling wistfully Bobbi looked at Ray.
He knew what she was thinking. She was wishing he would say to her what Norman said to Annette. All that matters is that we love each other. The rest can go to hell. Ray loved dear Bobbi. But not the way Norman apparently loved Annette. Norman’s way of expressing his feelings was far beyond Ray’s unreliable heart. At times he wished he were different, wished he could let himself go the way Norman and Annette were letting themselves go, letting themselves have this passionate affair that didn’t take their ages or marital status into account. But it wasn’t possible for Ray. He was who he was. They were who they were: Norman and his poetry—his ego its own universe; Annette and her abusive husband, her ambitions bleeding outside the boundaries of a house that had become a prison; Bobbi and the numerous ailments that her cruel god refused to cure; and himself trying to find a raison d’étre in the life of the mind, in the life of art. No one can be other than what they are. Everyone plagued by separation, everyone groping blindly, never making anything other than dreamy connections. Stay warm. Bless your reveries. Be humorous. Be cynical. Be decent. Be kind while you can. Keep babbling. Babbling gets us through, thought Ray, inclining towards Norman, waiting for him to pick up where he had left off. His volubility faltering, making him instantly old now, chins hanging, lips hanging, cheeks hanging, hair hanging. Vulnerable—vulnerable. Ray nudged him, coaxing him gently while saying, “You had them in the palm of your hand.”