by kathleen maher
pictures by rhoda penmarq
Okay, so not every minute of every meeting is that sublime. Certain gestures and set arguments can dominate. Not to mention the ego rush: For now, I am very hot. Very high on my ordinary body. Who wouldn’t be? Everybody rushes in already stoked. Before they even sit down, they’re half lit with the Ray of Light they need so bad, and that I’m so famous for giving so, so well!
I open my mouth and they’re ready to lie down, open up, no holds barred. We’re naming abstractions, “spiritual enlightenment,” “enduring faith.” Hard to know how much is real, how much a mass hysteria.
But what if I’m faking it? Even though I am on guard all the time! Watching for tricks of light, layered space, even as I’m getting off. Because everyone else flies into delirium as if never before.
“Faking it,” I tell Carlos, “only has to happen once. Then it’s part of the entire texture. The whole thing would be over.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What scares me. You know, act euphoric and you feel euphoric.”
“Malcolm, I’ve waited all my life for this! Don’t get squeamish. Take a pill.”
“If I wasn’t a little scared, I don’t think I could do it, Carlos.”
“Where’s Maggie?” he asks. “Talk to her. Because right now, I’ve got to work.”
“Sure, but what you’re setting up, the big financial picture, et cetera, scares me, too. What’s happening with your projections, Carlos?”
“Oh please. I understand every factor here and I am not going to blow it.”
“I want some idea, though. I want to meet the accountant.”
“The accountant!” Carlos scoffs. “You are defining a sacred, transcendent realm—which four nights a week you share with all kinds of people, and you want to spend your days talking incomes and outlays with Herb Plochman?”
“Herb Plochman? That’s a real guy?”
And Carlos steps back, holds his chin, grinning with delight. “Do you have any idea how much I love you, Malcolm?”
“Filled with grace and as paranoid as ever.” And then Carlos drapes his forearms over my neck. As enthralled as I’ve been, he hasn’t run his hands down my back in weeks. If he was ever going to kiss my lips like he needed them to survive, you’d think he’d do it now. But oh, he does more. He sinks to his knees and slips his head under my gown. Suddenly, Carlos is all mouth and rough tongue.
5) scary young
Mad Mike and his bleary, bad-tempered crew are on their eighty-eighth coffee break. They’re all bloated and grizzled, except one, Tyler, who’s young and beautiful. Hauntingly beautiful. Scary-young.
Huddled in the corner, the crew smokes hollowed out cigars filled with home-grown. The beautiful Tyler doffs his beret, releasing a cascade of dark curls. He slinks and turns, feigning a movie star’s scowl as his hammer-heavy belt slips down his hips.
The other guys spit and scratch. I can’t believe how they act! As if oblivious to him! My beloved shop, meanwhile, is a bombed-out shell of pulverized plaster. Layers of smoke undulate in the air. My eyes burn. My throat hurts. I can’t stay here and I absolutely can not leave. Have I mentioned how much more weight I’m losing? Lately it seems everything of substance makes me gag. I am chronically nauseated and ravenous, both.
6) the crux of the matter
Just before he left today, the boy Tyler sauntered over and offered me a hit of home-grown. I said no thanks, and he leaned closer, asking if I minded. The soul of concern, of sweetness, light, peace, joy and hope, he asked: was it okay with me? I shrugged and he rocked back in his shiny rubber boots and gave me a smile that made me start as if I’d scalded my tongue. Burning with alarm, I raced up here and jumped in the shower, which, because of plumbing work was ice cold. But cold water was not enough: I needed noise and distraction. So, I sang old hits at the top of my lungs.
An inner voice, however, does not need to shout. It’s got a volume all its own. I twisted and turned, trying to hold it back. But the voice was already broadcasting my every thought, deeper, louder inside my head. So what choice did I have? Name it and tame it. Say it out loud. Here goes: Up close and smiling, this boy Tyler reminds me a little of my long-dead, first-and-only-one-who-counts lover Colin. More than a little. A lot. (“Why all the uproar?” Colin asked once. “It’s so futile.”) “Because they’re wrong and I’m right. Give me a minute and I can prove it.”
“No, you can’t,” Colin had said. “And besides, you don’t get a minute, ever. No one does.”
Why the fuck isn’t he here? He jumped off a roof as I watched and I need him more now than ever. Young and rash, we basked in more love than anyone else could possibly fathom. I’m not exaggerating. As a spiritual leader, I recognize typical human limits. The way Colin and I worked? We were so far there, you can’t know. Imagine perfect unity and give up. Maybe you can come up with the barest shadow of a shadow of what we felt. Colin and I were beyond the world. Beyond life and death, which is why, so what if he died six years ago? I need him and anything as ultimately mundane and inescapable as death is no excuse! The guy’s abandoned me. At least, apparently.