And then, and then... This dream fell away slowly, not in the way one imagines the passage between worlds, but piecemeal like a caress or the end of rain or grief.
0. pondered his dream, and though he drew nothing concrete from this exertion, felt neither wasteful nor pretentious in directing his thoughts to a subject he well knew to be one of the great mysteries of mankind. Pleased with both his modesty and his equanimity, 0. lifted himself out of bed and made his way into the kitchen.
He fashioned his gaze as he crossed the hall, upon his feet which shown very white against the scarlet of his robe. When he arrived in the kitchen his attention was drawn to several things which he found out of place. They were, in descending order of proximity, two glasses, an ashtray, matches and a bottle cap. 0. sighed gently, suddenly aware that the previous night's excitement meant not only the replacement of the displaced objects on the counter, but a tiresome session of arranging and cleaning the entire apartment in a vain attempt at returning it to normalcy.
Among those tasks which now seemed awkward as they were performed in the glare of self-awareness were the following: engaging the thermostat, conveniently accessible to both the kitchen and dining room, making coffee and removing a particular engraved shot glass from a cupboard above him.
Yet 0. was capable, in the midst of his consideration of actions of which he was all too aware, of reaching across the counter to turn on his television.
At first the screen resolved itself into an eerie pattern of yellows and browns, which after a moment's concentration, became a woman's beautifully styled hair. For a moment the woman appeared to be transfixed, then she spoke, between affected pauses, into a microphone about a product she desired to sell, but which remained faintly mysterious as she held it only partially in view.
0. changed the channel.
A man in an overcoat walked ominously down a row of plum trees laid out in perfect regularity. He too spoke into a microphone, though not to praise, but to inform on the weather and especially about a "killing frost."
The weatherman paused beside a low, dark ill-defined object which spewed smoke from its top. In succession he identified the object as a smudge pot, the location of the orchard as California, and the rationale for the smoke as a defense against the frost.
Again, 0. changed the channel.
A man in a white coat ended a speech and pointed crisply to a screen to his left which, a moment later, filled the frame of the television set. On the screen was an animated figure similarly attired in a white coat who placed an animated bottle of clear liquid into a freezer. Time passed, as conveyed by an animated clock which appeared on the screen. The animated man removed the bottle and shook it and as he did so what had clearly been liquid became solid and then cracked its container. A "voice-over" narration remarked that the liquid had been supercooled.
0. turned off the television.
He made his way back into the kitchen and arrayed the shot glass on his then empty kitchen table.
From a cabinet below the level of the counter, he removed a bottle of relatively expensive scotch whiskey. He poured out a quite generous drink from the bottle, and placed the bottle a few inches from the now filled glass.
His mouth watered slightly, as the slight smell of the scotch made its way up from the table to his grateful nostrils..
As he carefully lifted the glass up to a level even with his lips, he noticed a strange sensation of familiarity in the way the light, from the window to his left, struck the engraved glass.
Slowly, a memory of light filtered through trees, muffled sounds and coolness, flooded O.'s mind. He could remember the monotony of hiking with his family as a boy and his father's voice, and his father's watch before him.
-The hour hand should point towards the sun, and half way between the hour hand and twelve o'clock is south.
0. effortlessly, instinctively positioned the several lines of refracted lights, which the position of the glass has produced, towards the window's own slanting ray of light.
He sipped his drink. And the same with a second, third and fourth.
0. lay back on the deck chair he had placed on his balcony, and drew his robe tightly round his throat. He thrust his clenched hands into his pockets, and breathed deeply. He felt the alcohol's cheery embrace rise up in his chest, and in a kind of acknowledgment of this creeping contentment, drew his robe tightly round his throat.
The images which played across his thoughts were again of sunlight. He saw an unclouded sky, green hills and flowers.
He saw the delicate petals of the lily of the field, yellow against the serpentine green of its over-arching leaves. And next to it the faded yellow of winter jasmine, encased in its woody branches and so made shy against a shadowy trunk.
He saw the green and white of the winter rose, always disquieting; and with sunlight, almost too much to bear in its gleaming contrast. And with tears welling up in his eyes, he saw the darling pea as on a stage of grass. A decoration of purple crepe above green daggers, at once menacing and mock-comical.
Sound crept slowly over 0., and directed his view forward with clarity and recognition. The sunlight, once white and piercing, now fell lazy and yellow across the arm of the chair and across his outstretched hand.
A knock interrupted his pleasant reverie. He arose and opened the door to see his friend L.
-You are a hopeless drunk .
The voice was flat and declarative. 0. believed it was intended to convey a mild rebuke.
-Yes, I am.
This response was equally flat, but in a rehearsed way which lent it, to O.'s ear, an unmistakable air of insincerity.
L. stepped across the threshold and made his way to the reclining chair at the far end of the room.
With his front door now open 0. could feel the cold, and observed that L's face was flushed and his eyes were tinged with red.
-Its curious how you answer the door after I've finished knocking, as though only silence draws your attention.
The words were familiar and conversational, but L. looked away as he spoke.
-I don't know what you mean, answered 0. mildly.
L.'s response was a faint cackle.
-Have you been outside?
0. did not rise to the bait.
-The snow is fairly light for this late in the season.
L.' s face remained unseen.
-Do you want to walk in the woods?
It seemed to 0. that L. was smiling but he could not be sure.
0. smiled himself. -Why not?
0. raised himself gingerly from the sofa and felt giddy with movement. He peered down at his unshod feet.
-I'll have to change.
-Sure. Take your time. L. cocked his head slightly with the last remark, as though in admiration of his appearance, but from his vantage point, unable to see L. face, the gesture struck 0. as somehow ominous.
The path they followed ran parallel to the road which ran up to O.'s apartment for the first hundred yards, then veered left into a dense patch of foliage lining both banks of a small stream.
The stream was visible only intermittently where the snow was broken, and in those places the sound of the slowly tumbling pebbles rose up as though to meet them.
0. broke the silence of their march.
-I've seriously considered giving up the bottle. He paused before finishing his remark. -It should come as quite a shock to those of you convinced of my addictive nature.
L. made a face, which 0. took as an indication of L's overwhelming fatigue at hearing this subject broached again.
-I suppose we're alike in that way, 0. began again hopefully.
L. shot back a look which seemed to forestall any further discussion of his psyche. He returned his gaze to the ground, and picked up his pace as they walked on.
Awkwardly 0. raised a different subject.
-I've had an idea recently, . . . no a vision, which I can't seem to get out of my head. It is so clear and vivid, that I can almost touch it as the image comes into my mind, but I can't recall where I've seen it before.
-A film? Television? A book? L. offered this help in an even voice, seeming to mask an intense interest.
-I don't know. In any case it comes to me like this; a well-dressed man of middle age is running through the woods. He wears a corduroy coat, turtle neck sweater and loafers. He's being chased by someone or something. He runs through a blind thicket and crashes headlong into a creek bed. The creek is dry and he rolls until he lies face up at the bottom. Just then a searchlight finds him, and it's the look he wears on his face of perfect terror, which I can't get out of mind.
0. could detect no facade of disinterest in L.'s face, as L turned sharply and confronted 0.
-What happens next?
-Nothing. That's all there is.
0. breathed in and pushed open the door leading to the suite of offices where he worked.
Arrayed in a semi-circle to O.'s right were five cubicles, within which rested a desk, a computer and a reporter.
Meekly, he pursued a path which he perceived would result in the least likelihood of encountering another person on route to the glass confines of his own office.
Buoyed by his arrival without incident, 0. cheerfully began the process of organizing the day's work, when the noise of his office door opening drew him back into the world of men.
O.'s gaze was met by the smiling visage of his co-worker D.
D. began without introduction.
-Something has been gnawing at me all morning. I'd told you sometime ago that our mutual friend had done something, which something I was sworn not to tell you.
0. knew that "our mutual friend" referred to L., however the rest struck no chord of recognition.
-It is something embarrassing, but for the life of me I can't recall what it is.
The previous day's excesses left 0. without great interest in D.'s dilemma.
-Perhaps we should forget whatever it is.
D. ignored this last remark.
-It has to have been recently, what have we done together lately?
0. yawned. -We went out a few weeks ago. Dinner and then to a night club.
D. began to grin broadly.
0., for the first time in his discussion with D., began to feel a need to remember. He felt himself caught up in a stream of memories.
--and when we arrived we were already drunk. We met some girls and they laughed after we told them something...O. felt suddenly unsteady, but continued, -What we told them was a story about a friend who was caught naked in the woods with a girl. The upshot being the young woman's exclamation upon being found in flagrante delicto by a policeman, that it was, at two in the morning, "a beautiful day."
0. only half-noticed the roar of approving laughter his recollection elicited from D. Instead, he focused on the eerie sense of coincidence he now felt. Was this the image in the woods? His ears felt warm and his face flushed. And what if it was, why was he so affected by either image?
Now sullen and irritable, 0. asked his friend to leave.
It was that same evening that 0. dined with L., L.'s brother and their friend E.
As was usual, 0. steered the conversation to lives of unchecked excess, knowing full well that he faced an audience of "recovering" personalities, and thereby elicited from L.'s brother and E. stories of their own debauched past lives.
-Personally, I was completely at ease with my addictions. Offered E. in response to O.'s prompting.
L.'s brother took a long, satisfying draw from his cigarette.
-I can remember, began L.'s brother dramatically, a time when we had just begun to distribute large quantities of narcotics. A Pakistani delivered to us two pounds of extraordinarily pure heroin, and we immediately set to testing its strength on ourselves. Although we had the best intentions of turning a profit, and thereby making a business of this new source, with one injection we were reborn. I can remember wandering the streets, taking more heroin, perhaps sleeping, but to this day I could not tell you if it was all a dream. L.'s brother smiled broadly.
-Afterwards the withdrawal pains were so severe that I thought I had died. My business partner, who was less indulgent, said he found me days later, staring straight ahead, cramping intermittently and with a terrorized look across my face.
What joy this last comment brought to O.'s mind. The despondency which he felt infected the atmosphere of his every waking thought, had been miraculously lifted. How certain he now was of the course he should take with his life, and how free he was to complete it. What a fool he was to fail to read in that terrorized expression what was written there in perfect simplicity. As certainly as he knew his own name he knew this: he could live outside the commerce of human intercourse without fear or longing.
The evening wore on, and though they knew nothing of O.'s "revelation", L. and L.'s brother smiled to one another as though to say, in connection with O.'s mood, he is really especially interesting tonight.
O's sleep was restless each of the two succeeding evenings. Each night he was awakened by the same dream.
He is outside in an unfamiliar alleyway. It is night. A large Hispanic man stands a few feet in front of him, swaying slightly behind a dilapidated wooden fence. The man smiles sheepishly, showing uneven teeth.
Further down the alleyway the darkness is broken by flames, as a man with his back to 0. soaks with gasoline and then ignites the grasses grown wild in the pavement cracks.
-It's crazy tonight. I can feel it. The Hispanic man's remark is awkward, thickly accented.
0. presses a twenty dollar bill between the cracks in the fence. The man smiles and points to O.s left. O tries to follow this movement but he finds he can not turn his head.
0. looks into his hands and sees that they are empty. A sudden wall of flame rises ominously in the distance, then dies away. 0. looks up and the Hispanic man is gone.
On the third night sleep came easily to 0.
A few days later 0. arrived early to work and was surprised to find M., his secretary, in his office, her back turned towards him facing the large picture window which made up the back wall.
-Are you waiting to see me? 0. marveled at how hopeful this sounded.
-No. But we can talk if you'd like. Her voice was perfectly expressionless. Slowly she turned and lit a cigarette.
Bravely 0. initiated a conversation that he hoped would be to M.'s liking.
-Are you still seeing the man you met last week?
M. smiled with a kind of mock lasciviousness.
-Yes. We've been having a wonderful time.
They both laughed.
0., feeling the comfortable warmth of M. good spirits, pushed forward with his own thoughts.
-Its strange how you seem so much more alive when you're with someone, whereas I can never escape a feeling of anxiety which comes between me and that kind of contentment.
-Anxiety about what? M.'s face had taken on the seriousness of her tone.
-That my feelings about someone will end badly. . . or not end badly. 0. thought vaguely about the image of the terrorized man and felt a surge of self-confidence.
M. arose and began again in a tone which to 0. seemed to mock her earlier solemnity.
-What it is that you need is a woman possessed of that rarest of gifts - understanding.
M. paused dramatically.
-And what I mean by understanding has nothing to do with care or sympathy, but with that elusive ability to grasp a particular man's unspoken thoughts. She does this without words, but with a nod, a look or a touch.
0. thought how much younger, how much more real M. seemed when she spoke with the earnestness she showed now.
-You sound as though you have someone in mind. Unwillingly 0. said the last without disguising his interest.
-1 have, but its not the right time to tell you whom. And with this statement, M. extinguished her cigarette and walked out of O.'s office.
Fitfully 0. attempted to work, but his mind unerringly would return to the puzzle of M.'s mysterious woman.
He would weigh this unknown entity against the unhappiness he felt certain to be the end result of involvement, and then turned over that equation to consider the unhappiness of loneliness and introspection.
Playfully 0. turned this conundrum around and around until he was lost for the moment in the most exquisite reverie.
Later, when 0. was made aware by M. of whom the woman was, he was disappointed. K. was older and not especially attractive, and each of these flaws was compounded by her shuffling and awkward gait.
And yet, she had qualities which at least engendered some interest. She was quiet and witty in a defensive sort of way, and best of all she was, herself, a former drunk.
For a moment 0. pondered whether this last attribute had caused M. to suggest K. to him, and whether M. viewed this as a means of addressing his own drinking. Although this was plausible, 0. discounted it.
M.'s romanticism was nothing if not impractical. To M. addiction to drink was not so much a psychic impairment as it was a physical malady in the realest sense. And of course to 0. drinking was simply and completely philosophical.
That same evening, a little before she would be leaving to return home, 0. told M. that he was not interested in K. romantically.
At home, alone with the shutters drawn and each door securely looked, 0. again removed the bottle from its resting place.
Calmly he poured himself a healthy drink. He thought with satisfaction of his options in connection with K., played casually with the idea of reconsidering his earlier refusal. With finality he judged that to be inappropriate. He felt pleasure in this contemplation of his decisiveness and in his mastery of the situation.
He hoisted each glass to his lips with consummate self-assurance. His consciousness became dim, and he slept.
Time passed at its usual pace, and O.'s thoughts turned only occasionally to M.'s romantic machinations.
When he passed K. throughout the day, they would smile warmly, even intimately, yet in their unspoken conspiracy lay something which 0. could never grasp.
And then one day providence placed it within O.'s reach.
Late one morning, as 0. entered the hallway from his office, he came upon M. and K. in the midst of a conversation.
Although M. appeared to be aware of his presence, K. stood with her back to 0. and thus was seemingly unaware of O.'s approach.
-...and so, began K., I've got no chance of interviewing him for an article, and he would be absolutely perfect.
0. stopped for a moment, swaying slightly as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
-Do you know him?
0. could see M. smile sweetly in his direction.
0. retreated to his office as he pondered what he had just overheard.
Who might K. be so interested in interviewing? And what would make him "perfect"?
0. knew that K. primarily reported on science, but that hardly narrowed the field at all.
M. had been smiling for a reason. That was the critical piece of the puzzle. In irritation 0. flipped through the pile of papers before him. He knew that he had only to wait and the answer would arrive.
It was a week later that 0. learned not only who "he" was, but that "he" and K. had had something of an unhappy time when they had met.
"He" was F., a botanist of some renown, who wrote popular books about the interrelation of plants and the greater ecosystem. Books which were both thoughtful and enormously popular.
0. was not surprised to learn that K. had problems in successfully interviewing F. Although F. had shown unusual attentiveness in his friendship with 0., it was widely believed that F. was difficult.
As a small child turns over a new toy and so recreates the impression of first seeing it, so 0. ran through the possibilities that the present circumstances between K. and F. had engendered.
In time 0. chose to intercede on K.'s behalf and so secure for her an interview with F., and for himself K.s gratitude. In his mind 0. quickly imagined a complete scenario for K.'s imminent appreciation of him. At first she would be effusive, and in so being only point up the smallness of her solicitude in comparison to his own. In the end she would be worn down by the difficulty of competing in his game of nuanced intercourse, and he would own her completely.
In fact O.'s proposed script for K.'s response bore no resemblance to reality. Her repayment of his kindness was only a smile of unending sweetness.
Where he had hypothesized dependence, and through it hope and change, she remained complacent, unmoved and free.
0. bore up against his defeat and smiled faintly in contemplation of his building rage.
0. rested comfortably on his sofa and peered slightly upward into a dimly lit corner of the room.
His drink was slowly filling his head with an easy indifference to the thoughts dancing there inside. Playfully he considered one movement of a limb, and then another, only to abandon the idea of movement altogether with a happy smile.
Although each window in O.'s apartment was closed up, the faint sound of music filtered into the shadow encircled room.
Later, when he felt ready to sleep, and slowly trod the few steps to his bedroom, 0. felt that he was at last totally free.
Again, O. found himself in a dream. He was in his own bedroom. His television was playing before him.
The screen resolved itself into objects which were generally familiar, but unintelligible when 0. attempted to understand their meaning.
On the screen two persons stood at close range mouthing sounds which 0. tried desperately to understand.
He felt his face now flush against the television screen and felt his lips now painfully open as though to mouth the sounds emanating from the television.
-From what source things arise, to that they return of necessity when they are destroyed; for they suffer punishment and make reparation to one another for their injustice according to the order of time.
A few days later 0. returned late to work, after a doctor's appointment. The doctor, in rendering his care, opined to O. that his drinking was killing him.
In the newspaper office 0. approached K. expectantly with the present of this sad prognosis. 0. did this with the certain knowledge that K. would pity him.
Yet with his expectation realized, 0. remained unprepared for the profoundly honest and serious look of distress which came over K.'s face.
Certainly it was more than he had dared to hope. And yet his triumph was unquestionably mixed with a certain unease.
Later he was made to understand that M. had informed K. of the provisional nature of Os "death sentence".
At first he was saddened to hear that K. had been freed from the uncertainty created by his exaggeration, but soon that concern was eclipsed by the recollection of her expression when she was first told this news and first peered at him.
The strength of the emotions he found there were beyond O.'s ability to analyze them, and he was left with only the false impression that K. had suddenly and perceptibly aged before his eyes.
When spring arrived 0. and K. had been seeing one another for many months.
Although such comments drove 0. to distraction, it was commonplace among O.'s friends to suggest that 0. was passionately in love with K.
M., who spoke of herself as closest to the issue at hand, if not indeed the party primarily responsible for the liaison of 0. and K., expressed a subtler view of their relationship.
Although she was never above making light of the oddness of that relationship, 0. felt he detected behind such humor, a pure faith in the triumph of the human heart. In this realm, with her cynicism magically absolved, she beamed.
Seemingly exhausted before he began, 0. pondered what thoughts might be in K.'s mind.
He saw in her uncomfortable pauses and suspicious glances, a contest between the desire to be freed from caring about what she did, and the certain knowledge that the price for such freedom was inalterably unhappiness and disappointment. In the end, 0. imagined that K. was worn down by this dilemma and so retreated into a much dimmer awareness of her plight, from which she appeared disinterested, unaffected and at last quite unattractive.
It was in these last times that O.'s remembrances of a smile or an expression of sweet quietude upon K.'s face, became for him not the canvas to his varied dreams, but a simple cipher.
It was with unbridled enthusiasm that 0. examined his own thoughts as they related to K. and himself.
With rakish abandon, he confessed his passion for K., and undercut at the same instant the truth of such feelings, as well as his own sincerity in proposing them.
At great speed and with an air of great ease, he would rise, circling upward and so create an edifice of ideas, conspiracies, plots; all intertwined with a needling uncertainty as to their correspondence to any reality.
In exhaustion he would tire of the game and choose to think instead on times far removed from the ones in which K. and he could exist together.
The lights of town twinkled impassively in the distance, as 0. sat in his darkened living room, attempting to distract himself from the onset of intermittent shaking.
He felt nauseous and light-headed, and his mind turned relentlessly to thoughts of K.
At last, tired, ill and free of care, he reached for the telephone and called K.
When he heard her voice, it was with some irony that he realized that he felt none of the irritability and ill humor, which in recent times her voice alone seemed to foster.
-It's late, were you asleep. 0. began.
-No.Her response's abruptness was undercut by a nervous laugh.
Indifference bred great courage, and O.'s thoughts flowed in a torrent.
-We can't go on the way we have. Our being together makes me feel foolish and angry. 0. grimaced at the truth of this.
-And I'm hounded by feelings which make talking to you, thinking about you, irresistible. For me, for my peace of mind, it has to be broken cleanly and completely. Do you understand any of this?
O.'s mind seethed with ideas.
-And you. I know that you want only to be left alone, in peace. And you will be. But now, today, I'm simply not capable of that. We can only choose things as they are and deal with them unmercifully.
There was a pause and then K.'s soft sigh.
-I know I'll suffer.
0. had no reply for this and thought of hanging up the receiver, but did not. He began again, almost without intention.
-We all suffer. All I can offer is a kind of truth. Not pleasant, not what we want, but real. Perhaps that is all any of us can ever offer.
K. laughed strangely, as though she had all at once understood some long forgotten joke.
-How real will it be? 0. was unsure whether K. meant to be ironic. He pressed on.
-We will treat one another as though we were strangers, and so never speak.
K. made a small crying noise, as though startled.
-Its funny, I only wanted us to be friends. I have so many friends. For the first time K.'s voice seemed strong and sure.
Now with everything settled, 0. felt very secure.
-We won't ever be friends. Do you understand that?
A slight pause, and then a whisper.
0. had only been at his desk a few moments the next day, when M. slipped into his office, closing the door silently behind her.
She stood for a moment examining his face, searching, he imagined, for some trace of remorse. He felt certain he betrayed none.
She began slowly.
-I had breakfast with your "little angel" this morning.
0. winced at the reference to his ironic pet name for K.
-How was it?
M. ignored him.
-She was in tears. Do you know why?
0. felt himself to be on unsure ground and said nothing.
-She has the idea that not only do you want to end things between you and her, but you want her to leave here as well. M. underlined her final remark by pointing abstractly at the ground.
0. turned to look out the window, at the day becoming gray and drizzling, and suddenly felt weakness in his arms and legs.
-Perhaps I'll be the one to leave. He said this with great effort.
0. glanced at M. and saw her face flush with emotion.
-You don't believe that. 0. thought dimly of how tiresome M. had become. Nonetheless he forced himself to make a supreme effort and faced her fully, leaning closer across his desk.
-Everything I have done and will do was necessary.
Uncharacteristically, L. and 0. had been quiet throughout the better part of their lunch, when 0. broached the subject which had been at the forefront of his thoughts.
-I'm leaving work. I don't believe I can go on with K. the way I have.
L. smiled slightly, and playfully pushed a morsel of food onto his fork with his knife.
-Although I have no feelings for K., I plan on leaving work, too. What do you make of that?
0. frowned at what he considered L.'s wholly inappropriate flippancy.
-No. I'm serious. It's an enormous coincidence. Perhaps we have even taken the same offer for new employment!
0. stared steadily at L., taken aback by L.'s vibrant good spirits.
0. began again in a quiet, even tone.
-I don't have another job.
L.'s eyes seemed to be dancing now, in a face awash with merriment.
-More fool you. You're only half-way to a new life, a better life.
L.'s comment puzzled 0., and as he pondered it he barely noticed the peels of laughter L. let forth.
Stubbornly 0. recited his own litany of obsession.
-My leaving is only tied up with my feelings for K., you know that.
-Your leaving is principally an excuse to be free of everyone and everything, and K. has very little to do with it. I know that. No longer laughing, L. smiled prettily.
For the first time 0. smiled at L.
-Youre right. I'm not miserable, in fact I'm not even unhappy. I'm extraordinarily happy.
-But why? Asked L. in mock astonishment, not bothering to conceal a knowing smile.
-You think your happiness is perverse, unnatural? Not at all! No one has anything to do with your happiness or unhappiness. That is exclusively the province of living one's life freed of passion.
Such joy filled O.'s mind. Tears filled his eyes, which he quickly wiped away lest L. see them.
L. and 0. sat in silence for a long while, at last L. spoke
-I'm happy for you. 0. thought vaguely how odd it was that L. now seemed to resemble the man with the terrorized expression.
0. made to respond, but his throat filled with emotion and he found he could not speak.
He turned to face L. anew. Yet, in place of L.'s face he found himself looking at the blank wall immediately adjacent to his own bed. At breakneck speed the dream faded away, until it seemed as completely unreal, as it had seemed only moments ago to be everything.
0. lay back and caught sight of the sun now rising, with spectacular brightness, into view.
As it happened K. was not at work, when 0. arrived at his office.
Before 0. reached his desk, he was approached by G., his and K.'s immediate supervisor.
-I've just finished your feature story, can we talk about it in my office?
0. felt vaguely uneasy.
In G.'s office, G. lit a cigarette and gestured with it towards a single chair before his desk. 0. sat down, and G. began immediately.
-I was a little disappointed by your work on this piece. It's full of mistakes. Uncharacteristic mistakes, I might add. Is something bothering you?
0. felt lightheaded. The concerned image of G. seemed to sway and became grainy. 0. licked his lips.
-I'd like to give notice that I'm leaving the newspaper.
0. felt better, but could feel his body bathed in sweat.
0. could detect no movement from G., as the latter sat pondering O.'s statement. His expression suggested to 0. the idea that if he waited long enough the meaning of O.'s words might take on a more acceptable cast.
At last G. spoke.
0. thought languidly about his conversation with K., and although he vaguely recollected some admission he was unsure of what, and by whom.
Mechanically he responded.
-I've found that I can't work with K. any longer.
0. watched impassively as G. first made to argue some point, but then appeared to think better of it.
-What if she were gone?
0. could hardly contain himself as he felt delicious pain rush through his body.
-I've always enjoyed working here. How agreeable his own voice sounded in O.'s ears.
-Let me see what I can do about this.
0. felt his interview to be at an end and rose to leave. As he turned to open the door, O. caught sight of his own reflection in an adjacent window. It seemed even more familiar than usual.
It was a few days later that 0. cleared out his office and left the newspaper for the last time. As he told his colleagues that morning, he had decided to begin a new career in public affairs.
The change from winter to spring and again to summer, was masked by a steady rain and wind which blew coldly from the North.
In the time since he had left the newspaper, 0. had grown a beard, purchased a new car and begun piano lessons. He had also stopped drinking completely. All of these activities left 0. with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
It was also true that over that period of time, O.'s relationship with M. had changed. And this fact was not only the unremarkable result of their having become merely social acquaintances; O. felt something more underpinned this change in the nature of their friendship. It was as though their affection for each other was so intertwined with K., that her removal had excised the better part of all three sets of feelings.
It was a function of this change, that the news M. brought about K. seemed to mean almost nothing to her.
-Ive heard that your "little angel" has finally succeeded in writing her novel. Rumor has it that it will be quite the little success.
O. smiled to himself, but did not look up from his lunch. He felt no impatience, and calmly waited for M. to continue.
-Ive also heard that youve been seen with some regularity with a certain young woman. True or false.
O. smiled yet again. O. felt no need to respond to what he judged to be a kind hearted balm for his ego, certain that K. well knew that this last remark was completely untrue.
Later, when their lunch was finished, and as O. made his was home, his unguarded thoughts drifted to K.
He sighed and remembered once again the great cruelty and injustice he had visited on K. Unhappily, he watched the passing landscape out the windows of his car. The day showed gray, but the wind had died and the world seemed very sad.
Unable to lift his spirits, O. turned on his cars radio in the hope that he might chase away the sadness of his memories and the vexing idea which came again and again into his head; that like the day he had become moribund.
For some time after that first year, O. would think of K and regret that he had not the courage to pursue his happiness in her. Later still he would simply be reminded of her when he would see their mutual friends and even when he passed her ex-husband's business on the highway, but the knowledge of what he had lost began to fade.
Before long he had forgotten even what she looked like and for this reason the idea of their love became completely unreal. And in remaining like a dream, could only be summoned to his thoughts when he would hear bits of music or a certain kind of laughter. Sounds which strangely represented to O. an affirmation of everything he had done.
About the author: Adrian Smith is a balding Romanian haberdasher whose latest hobby is hanging out in teen chat rooms. His parakeet Mort recently transcended to a higher plane.
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