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Night Raids


Night Raids

The last they saw of him was his shiny white butt as he jumped out the living room window with his pants in hand, and leaving them at the doorway where she crossed her husband’s path. Leaving them also to a suspended moment in which the only sound the man in the doorway could hear was the interior sound of a marriage whose strings of connections had just snapped. At least, that’s how it seemed to him, having for long been deaf to the less dramatic sounds of midnight loneliness. But for her the moment was different. She did not so much hear anything as she was seeing from behind her eyes how the short-cut she had taken had only circled around, brought her back to the narrowing paths she still must choose between. And so the moment of his unexpected return home passed before them with the fading crunch of twigs getting snapped underfoot, and they were left to the sovereign quiet of a hot summer night. She finally released her hold on the still frame of the doorway, and she turned her back on the light that gathered in the creases on his face from the overhead fixture. And he was left to find his way into the apartment he still couldn’t recognize as his own.

She knew he could be a dangerous man, and that he was capable of sustaining his anger. It was the berserker strain, what took him back racially to his Scandinavian, Viking origins. She knew also, and suddenly remembered, his inclinations had been reinforced by three tours in Nam. But right now she didn’t care. She had watched his anger before, she had felt the brunt of it as his ego sometimes tried to bully a world slipping out from under him, always changing and leaving him high and dry. Just as her world was doing now. And if what he wanted was fury, tonight she knew she could show him fury. She had freed herself of him, freed herself of his anger. And she could finally feel the she-bear rising up inside her. Turning around to face him in this room that was now her own, she knew she was gloriously free of everything except for her own rhythmic needs. It is all she has ever really wanted anyway. For that matter, she didn’t so much care about the boy having just flown away on the wind, leaving her much the same way as he had when flying in. And he must have been some kind of idiot child of nature, even if she still didn’t know if she should thank or curse him. He gave her what she most needed, which was an uncomplicated tumble between the sheets. But he still left her to face this man, and herself, alone. Just as she still didn’t know where she was going.

There would be time enough for that later on, she thought, and bringing all of her selves back into the room. What she had to do now was to get them through this tapering hour glass of theirs, and into its bottom half. Seeing the man still framed in the doorway, she realized he wouldn’t know how to do it.

If only the room would stop spinning, he was thinking, and if the floor would keep to its rightful plane. He would then be able to see this thing clearly. It’s what had saved him so many times before, his ability to see things clearly. And why hadn’t he seen the danger threatening his one safe-place possession? Someone was playing a monstrous trick on him, and now the whole order of things tormented him too. But why? But no, he thought, don’t be asking any questions now. He knew his perceptions were too shaky to support an enlarging of the hole through which he was almost falling.

He finally figured out this summer she was unhappy. It was partly why he wanted to surprise her with his quick visit, in spite of what she told him the last time he called. He asked her then if he should come home. But she told him, no, that it would do no good. He could see now she was right. Realizing as much was a small start for him to set the perpendiculars of this room into a familiar order. Or was it because she finally turned her bright face back around on him, even looking at him, giving him the point of reference he needed to set this room back on its axis again. And how could she still seem so beautiful? As beautiful as on that first afternoon when he saw her walking through the park. Had he really taken from her, as she could tell him in a spiteful mood, the rainbow sheen in her life? But damn it! No questions, he reminded himself. Not now. And where was his old friend gone to anyway, his clear sighted anger that had carried him through many a more dangerous doorway? And why did he feel as if his anger was seeping out through the soles of his feet, along with the rest of his vital energies? And of all the things he could be feeling, why was he standing here dumb with guilt, like some red faced boy who has surprised a woman in her most secret moment? Somehow summoning a strength that lacked all conviction, he took his first step inside the room.

“Are you OK?," she asked him when she noticed how badly his shoulders were slumped. She could guess at the quivering of his knees from his uncertain steps.

“I guess I’ve never been worse,” he muttered, “even wounded.”

“Try to sit down,” she suggested. In spite of herself, she felt she was softening towards him. This just wasn’t the scene she could have expected. And she had to goad herself a little to keep the steely edge of her disposition.

He looked around for a moment at the contents of their living room. And he knew them more by the places they occupied than by any intrinsic interest they ever had for him. He could see that nothing had been moved. He could also see that the windows were open, and that the white lace curtains fluttered nervously. Through the doorway that led into the dark bedroom, he could see the unmade bed with sheets and pillows disordered. He wondered if he would ever sleep in that bed again. And so he kept turning his gaze until he found the couch with its back to the one offending window. It was where he would sit, he decided, and where he would turn his back on as much of this thing as he could. No sooner had he dropped his overnight bag, dropping himself into the dumb cushions, when he felt how thoroughly tired he was. Tired of his strength, tired of his driven nature. But mostly he was tired of himself.

She wouldn’t let herself sit down, she thought. Nor would she be lulled into expecting anything but the worst of their struggles. In the time it took him to negotiate the distance across the floor, she had made up her mind on what she would do. She would be leaving this man, she knew. She had known that before tonight. But she swore to herself, as she stood across from him, that she would never again let herself be traded for a man’s career, his security, or for his sense of symmetry. And if it happened that she ever did love again, she promised herself it wouldn’t be just to see herself emptied out again. That it would be as much a gift to her as to anyone else. But in spite of her resolve, she felt herself growing concerned for the man sitting in front of her. It just wasn’t his habit to take a blow like this so mutely. She had never before seen him face a problem other than with force. And so was he in shock? Or, and the more frightening of the two possibilities suddenly, sharply came over her, was even now coming to her, was he silently reaching through the livid space between them for her pity? This last being a possibility she hadn’t prepared herself for, and one she didn’t know if she was strong enough to refuse. And she could almost hear her thoughts talking out loud, - please don’t bind me to you through my sympathies, better you destroy us both here and now. –

“Do you want some coffee?” she heard herself say instead. Maybe it was as stupid as it sounded, but she had to find a way to get them started.

“I think so,” he said, half-realizing what she was doing. “Yes,” he said again, “that would be something.”

She walked to the kitchen, and she switched on the second light of this intermittent night. She filled a kettle with water, and she began to grind the coffee beans. It was the high hum of the electric grinder that startled them both out of the bated moment having hold on them. It was the surreal quality of this most modern convenience, as it ground the beans into an oily clump, that shook them out of the moment, and that rudely set them face to face with the immediate question of what had happened.

For herself, she realized that, even before this night, she had safely kept him within the parameters of an abstract, though problematical picture. She hadn’t really seen in him the fabric of what he must feel. And, for him, with her safely out of the room where he couldn’t see her, or smell her odors that always wrapped around him like a cocoon, he understood he had never seen her, never even heard the plaintive night bird whistling to be let out. Only now, in fact, did he hear the catch in the hesitant yes of the woman he had asked to marry him. So sustained a catch it was that, five years later, it finally reached him. And he remembered her telling him, once, that the French called !@#$-to-orgasm a little death. If that was so, it seemed to him now, understanding must be death of a larger order. And why couldn’t she have said no to him, she asked herself as the water dripped into the coffee maker’s upturned half, instead of drawing out the lineaments of a lie for them both? As the dusk melted into that far off nightsky on the evening of their first love, she felt herself streaming out in rivulets through the grass underneath the weight of him. She knew even then there couldn’t be a greater moment between them, and that the really momentous ones were sometimes the shortest lived. Just as she knew there was once a time in her life when the day was always too short for so many such moments. And so when did her days start to become unendurably long, her nights less than friendly?

As she came back into the room, she saw he was finally coming out of himself. He quickened just a little at the sight of her, which must have meant his senses were coming back to him. She somehow knew he wasn’t threatening her, and that no great and hollow struggle would fall between them. She understood that the crisis was passing.

She gave him one of the two cups she carried, and she sat in the chair next to him. It was how they stayed for awhile, quietly, welcoming each other back to a home fallen down around them. And he wasn’t looking for shame in her eyes, just as she was seeing no recriminations. For the first time in his life, he couldn’t satisfy himself with an easy explanation of causal connections, just as he knew that no part of the galaxy they had created together was irrelevant to this exploding night. And she could feel something of the warmth rekindling him. It was maybe why he wasn’t reaching out to possess her as he had done so often before. She hadn’t thought it possible for this man to change, nor was she willing to set herself aside again for the ill-fitting conditions of a hand held life. But she had to admit he held himself differently. And she remembered what the five dollar fortune teller told her last night in the portable booth at the carnival. The gypsy had thrown the cards for her, telling her she will have the best fortune any woman can expect. When she asked, half-derisively, what that might be, the old woman shrugged her shoulders and said, easy change.

“Off somewhere?” she heard him asking.
“Only as far as the carnival,” she said.
“And back again?” he asked again.
“And back again,” she sighed.
“I guess not for long,” he said while shifting his weight in the sofa. “Sorry I didn’t listen to you on the phone. It looks like I interrupted something you’ll want to keep going.”

“No,” she answered softly. “It wasn’t something going anywhere, wasn’t meant to go anywhere. I just needed a rest from our bedtime politics, and maybe to reclaim a notion of what I am in there.”

“I think I can get that,” he said, saying what even she needed to hear. “I’ve thought of the same thing myself at times. But you’ve always had more courage than me when it comes to admitting your needs. I guess I’d rather choke them down then let them come out.”
“And has it worked?” she asked, wondering at his confession.
“Not really,” he answered. “They’ve always been awake before me, waiting for me every morning.”
“So why did you come in tonight?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” he began by saying. “When I talked to you, I knew something was wrong. I mean, more wrong than it has been. I think I knew you were with someone. At least, I couldn’t think of anything worse. You answered the phone, so I knew you hadn’t left home. And there was nothing else for me to fear, seeing that we’ve pretty much checked off the list. Funny, though, I still wasn’t prepared for this. Judging from the skinny silhouette I saw in the window, I take it he is my counterpart.”

The image was just too ridiculous for them both not to laugh. And so they saw again the silliness of the tell-tale window frame, maybe knowing there wasn’t much left for them to see together.

“But you said you weren’t sure,” she prompted.

“No, I’m not,” he began again. “That’s what I thought I was doing. It’s what I told myself in the daylight hours of the boat ride back to shore. But I haven’t slept for two days, working on bringing another oil well in. And when I arrived back in town, I felt how tired I was. More so than I think I’ve ever been. And then I realized, in one of those clear moments when your nerves are tingling with tiredness, how my tiredness was going back to before I can remember. Tired of everything and mostly tired of myself. I saw then what I was really wanting, wanting for you to hold me for awhile. Just hold me. And maybe let me hear your heart beating in my ear.”

They let the silence come back around them when he finished. There was nothing either of them could say to alter the features of what they had mis-created, or forgotten about in the hurry of their half-creations. She could see from his hands, limp as they were on the couch by his sides, he hadn’t been lying, or reaching for something no longer his for the asking. And she was surprised to find that she was feeling for his unspoken sorrow without any fear of losing again the very thing she had always put aside. She never before considered the titans that must be constantly doing battle in a big man, or how the struggle of being strong would eventually wear him down. And she never before realized how he must always be reaching outside of himself for something that wasn’t his by birth. This last problem, at least, being one that was not knocking at the door of her own nature.

“If it’s still what you want,” she said quietly, really tenderly, “I could hold you for awhile. I’ve never hated you, never wanted to hurt you. I’ve just not wanted to live through you.”

He looked at her and he saw again the kindness in her eyes. He knew too well, with the lump rising in his throat, how long it had been since he last saw the kindness shining in her eyes.

“I’ll be returning to the rig tomorrow afternoon. If I stay for the rest of the summer, I’ll have enough money for another year of school. That should give you enough of a start to plan what you need to do. And I still would like that for awhile.”

In the bedroom of the apartment that had become her room, and her apartment, she laid him down beside her on the bed. She let the rhythm of her body spread out around them, smoothing out the creases, the knots, and the folds that had come to describe them. It wasn’t long before he was floating on the waves of a sleep as easily as she had ever known him to sleep. And lying there herself, fully awake to the most familiar details of her nighttime lullaby, she was quietly sure of what she wanted. She was wanting to be awake, in her turn, to the smallest, most distant echoes of her life.
May/15/2013, 9:26 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Night Raids


Hi Tere,

I finished reading your story last night and much enjoyed it. I think the rhythm/pacing in this piece is very strong, i.e., the way the story moves back and forth between the male and female character's POV and the way the narrative moves back and forth in time. I think this is well, darn near seamlessly, done and makes the piece feel very balanced. Beyond that, there are many of what I'll call small moments, small observations in the story that make it ring with authenticity and remind me of why one of the reasons why I loved novels growing up: the insights into human nature the best ones provide.
May/19/2013, 12:05 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Night Raids


Glad you read the story and thank you for your remarks. Likely you've figured out I put the piece in the thread devoted to women portraits, copied it to here for crit comment as I've done several times already. This is one of those stories I can say wrote itself. I wasn't much more than a medium. I can almost see the light on in that apartment late into the night and hear what I imagine to be a charged quiet. As for the 'small moments,' I don't much make stories like this anymore. When I did what I realized is that the themes are few. There are only so many stories to tell. What matters, wherein the real work lies, is in what I call the glorious detail. That's what makes or breaks a story. Thanks again.

Tere
May/19/2013, 1:54 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Christine98 Profile
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Re: Night Raids


hi tere,

I just finished reading this and agree with Kat; seamlessly told. For some reason reminds me of this:

"Gazing upon him now, severe and dead,
It seemed a curious thing that she had lain
Beside him many a night in that cold bed,
And that had been which would not be again.
From his desirous body the great heat
Was gone at last, it seemed, and the taut nerves
Loosened forever. Formally the sheet
Set forth for her today those heavy curves
And lengths familiar as the bedroom door.
She was as one who enters, sly, and proud,
To where her husband speaks before a crowd,
And sees a man she never saw before--
The man who eats his victuals at her side,
Small, and absurd, and hers: for once, not hers,
unclassified."

from, Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Something about surrendering a person and what you were together creates a kind of clarity--allows you to see them "unclassified."

Anyway, enjoyed the read. Thanks for it,

Chris
May/20/2013, 2:25 pm Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Night Raids


Thanks, Chris. Thanks especially for the Millay poem. I can see why you thought of it. More, I can see why you like it. Always the after-moment of reckonings, right?

Tere
May/25/2013, 12:09 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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