The looming clouds didn’t seem to bother him. He stood by the lamppost, his puffy navy blue coat hanging from his shoulders, his eyes blinking slowly behind the round glasses. A gasp of wind blew up the avenue, catching up scraps of paper and sending them wisping through the air. His hair stood on end. The cars shook and shivered in the cold; their headlines stared out into the quickly-falling dusk. He still stood.
He stood still as a class of freshmen let out from the building behind him, swarming the sidewalk, jostling and joking in oblivion. He stood still as a homeless man lurched past him; the man shook his gnarled locks and glanced only once at the stubborn academic. It was over now; what was there to be stubborn about anymore? He stood still as the bus slowed and swayed close to the curb. The doors wheezed open, and the man stepped stiffly onto the bus. The doors clanged behind him; the bus jerked forward, and, without a glance backward, he rode away for the last time.
“At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.”
Even though they stood at opposite ends of the room, they were conscious only of each other’s presence. The whole room was conscious of their presence — their united existence, the invisible, connecting thread strung between them, affecting each other’s smallest movements, slightest thoughts, with an intangible twitch. He, with his coolly unimpressed air, stood by the window, tossing off well-worn puns to the gaggle of women who made their way, consciously or unconsciously, through the crowd to congregate in that very spot. She, on the other hand, was judiciously helping the hostess hand out drinks to those members of the party gathered by the bar. She turned her back, and he straightened his; he coughed, and she twitched her nose; when either’s laugh rung out across the crowd, the other grew silent and still, as if a song had been put on mute. They did not make eye contact; they merely breathed in sync. They could hear snatches of each other’s separate conversations, and the call-and-response became apparent to even the least observant.
One of the gaggle, a particularly peckish type named Linda, broke away from the flock momentarily to forage from the snack table. She bumped into another woman scraping the sides of the potato salad bowl. Linda apologized with a giggle. “What a party! I love people watching. And this *charming* man — he’s enchanted every woman in the room.”
“Yes,” said the woman, without looking up. “That’s my husband.”
Whether it was the pale transparency of her face, or the icy touch of her hand, or her sharply pointed nose, anyone who met her was struck with an unexpected chill. She was not unkind; she was not aggressive or disdainful in her demeanor; but the questioning glint in her eye and the gentle lift of her shoulders when she breathed were the only indications that she was not a perfectly molded wax figure. She glided across the room like an iceberg; when she spoke, each word that fell from the sedentary line of her lips floated gently to the ground, spinning with its fellows in a cascade of crystals. “Excuse me,” she said, and the room shivered. The man in the back corner, with the furrowed brow and over-sized trench-coat, sneezed.
There she sat, facing him across the bright green lawn. There she sat, her golden curls as so many daffodils waving in the breeze, her face reflecting a golden marigold; she sat, as an evening primrose, basking in the pink and purple hues of the coming night. The royal blue canopy above cast uncertain shadows across her face, shrouding her in an aura of sanctity. He took another step; he had reached her throne. He glanced down at the hem of her gown, trailing across the cold white marble. He knelt before her and held her hands, and looked up to meet her eyes, but they were not there to greet his. The red leaves left the trees above their heads and landed despondently at his feet. There was no wind; there was no sun. He felt the stifling air envelop him, close in and pressure him from every side. While her ruby mouth spat words of welcome, her eyes, previously his alone, now searched above his head for another. His face fell. Surely … he saw her eyes light up and he turned around to follow their gaze. There stood an image of himself, a shadow of a reflection of him. Dressed in the best of finery, leading a pearly white horse, the newcomer advanced and came to stand before the lady – his lady – and grinned at the brown-clad figure kneeling at her feet. “Welcome home, brother.”
He cut, as they say, a striking rather than handsome figure: tall, without the required chiseled proportions; icy blue eyes, which shifted rather than stared; lips too full, face too pale, nose too round for a female’s fancy; with a great shock of salt-and-pepper hair, more fitting to a well-seasoned philosophy professor than an idealistic thirty-something trying to be taken seriously. His physical appearance was made irrelevant, however, when he opened his mouth and began to speak. The stereotypically Irish gift of gab had passed in abundance from his ancestors, to settle, nay, ignite in his own personality. The warm, round brogue of — County resonated as strongly and fervently as his words. He spoke of people, politics, morals and men, in terms of absolutes, ambitions, ideals, and principles. His absolutes were divine absolutes of God and reality; his ideals those of a patriot-martyr; his ambitions, the ambitions of a romantic or transcendentalist; his principles, the principles of a man with no practical application or experience whatsoever. Unlike the kindly Protestant or the diplomatic atheist, who base their lives on the virtues of skeptical reason and irrational skepticism respectively, this man based his life on the unshakable belief in his Faith — with the emphasis on ‘his.’
As a wistful whispering planet whirls
Alone along an overwhelming ring
Around a wide trajectory, a-swirl
The effervescent sun — a-shimmering
At center of the universe — and no
Reliance thus upon another star,
But solitary in its spinning slow,
Content to sing is canticle afar —
So I, in inky ilk, attempt to trace
Some semblance of your grand reality,
To gather glimpses of your hidden face,
To follow far, from fen to furthest sea.
My words, I fear, fall short of all I mean,
Although I follow with my steps unseen.