He binged Survivor in the afternoon. He was drawn to the charm of a female castaway who reminded him of Kapitolina. He sat in a rocking chair trying to rally; the irony was unfriendly; the yoke of love always seemed like paired-magnets: the closer he got, the more he was budged away. What he knew, privately, he could not amenably share this new pathos, his disease, congestive heart failure (CHF), with Kapitolina: moving clouds, the late arrival of parcels, the untimely demise of small insects, generally, crushed her. She was an immigrant from Ukraine, and contently alone in the crowds of New York. He knew Kapitolina would not depart, simply because of his condition. He fumbled with a four-ounce package in the refrigerator; the half-life of chorizo was more promising. “I can’t do this to anyone,” he told a disappearing Gotham wall, setting in a kitchen chair, consigned, breathing his emotion, as the daylight was dispatched by the darkness of Brooklyn, in a solitary Coney flat, in a vague hour, silently.
“Five, or six years ago,” he told the sleepless dusk. He knew the date, – a Friday, June the twenty-third. He was done with the open-air jungle of dating, mating, and relationships. He told Joe, his colleague, and a close friend from Marsh College, that, like the National Football League draft, he had chosen “the best player available.” Could he ever have been that cavalier? It wasn’t harrowing to recall the Friday afternoon; it was harrowing to remember the detachment; no thundering waves, unintersecting rows of lightning, or rumbles of God; it was – probity, and just that, as if fate asked him to dissect a frog, the very stuff of Grand Central. He met Kapitolina for a first date; they had spent more than a hour circumnavigating the number of residents for his apartment, one, to complete her tasks for the U.S. Census; it was late in the week, at Lou’s Restaurant, on Alley 13. It wasn’t about Kapitolina at all. He was enjoying an adolescent summer swoon this day for the mother of one of his students; a Broadway dancer. He was stranded by Joe at Grand Central, waiting for the dancer’s touring company to arrive by train from St. Louis. Joe, whose credit was efficiently poor, met a well-dressed, “banker-type woman,” who smelled like a Fifth Avenue boutique, and, engaged in a steamy review of t-bill rates, passed him by like a stranger in the lobby. They were a group of young Russian immigrants, and found New York happily fathomless, provided a kind gent, like him, or like Joe, could help them find their ways. Kapitolina’s neighbor was a young woman, Mariya, another Russian immigrant in their group, and she relayed the message to him at Lou’s, on behalf of the Broadway dancer, another neighbor. It was terribly grating to him. Mariya was a casual, romantic pursuit for several years, but preparing to move upstate; delivering the message caused their kith to fade even more, like one of the two birds felled by a single stone. The message. The Broadway dancer’s train from the Midwest was late. Mariya promised to meet her, but she had to go to work downtown. Romance was often as simple, and spare as a maze. Mariya said he could meet the Broadway dancer at Grand Central, she had already texted her; and then return to Lou’s with Kapitolina, for a “lovely dinner.” He had never refused Mariya and, as she left, tried to recall if he had, at least one time. It was far too well-arranged to organize, or decline. He smoked a quarter-pack of cigarettes waiting for the Broadway dancer, emulating Cagney, or Bogart in the forties, at a train station. The texting plan was for Red, his elderly neighbor, to let Kapitolina into his apartment, in the meantime. Red got the call, and snapped his Jitterbug shut, and marched across the hall like a soldier, with Krakow, his macaw, who would flit around the unfamiliar flat until Red brought him to his perch at the window sill to the city of New York. The chore of sitting with the woman, Kapitolina, thus devolved to Gabriel, who was positive the woman would split in a moment, leave the building, and he would get the blame. He mused how people. faring any prospect of romance, act with efficacy of a bee hive.
Shortly complicating the affair was one of New York’s most fearsome situations, a power outage. Gabriel had settled Red, and Krakow, at home, and met Kapitolina, who seemed genial, and asked him to call her “Pearl.” With the outage, Gabriel hustled between the two apartments to help Red, his aging father, and the macaw, and heroically found extra candles for everyone in his closet. Blackouts in the building usually lasted for hours; the owner of the building lived in Long Island, his chief of maintenance, Midtown; both were required to sign, and authorize repairs to the building, to avoid either being buttonholed by persuasion, and famous for a general outrage about any surprise expenses. “They play tag with invoices,” Red once said, glumly. So Gabriel, and Kapitolina settled awkwardly in the Coney Island flat, anticipating his return from the Grand Central. They would have inspected the popcorn ceiling, but neither could see it. They stumbled in the dark, and therefore gave that up; using each other for bearings, they sat on the couch, which became too friendly, and politely uncomfortable. Gabriel could navigate to the kitchen table, generally, and Kapitolina followed gingerly, following a lighted candle. The wax dripped on her hand, and from the silhouette was a shriek of pain amok. He used to call Gabriel “Gabby.” The kitchen didn’t have a window, and it was dark. They decided on the couch by helpless default. “I would leave, but I’m just as afraid to go,” complained Kapitolina, more fetching in the umbra of the candle. Gabe surmised, “The lights are probably out for the whole block. That’s usually what happens.”
A white canis, the dire wolf, possessed piercing black, mellow eyes, and was no more than a foot in length. The outlaw, Yon Raulyn, known as “Sawbones,” called her “D.W.,” and often a “foot-long.” Yon was absent from The Cache, a post in outer Sombrero, Lazarus Taxa. “D.W.,” the dire wolf, and a megafauna, relaxed in the soft dust landing of the depository for Raulyn’s pilfered treasures. The megafauna’s name was Glug, and he was a frequent visitor. D.W. cautioned Glug not to lean upon Yon’s trophy gems, especially the Stanley Cup captured from one raid of Earth, but Glug either didn’t hear her, or didn’t understand, and immediately leaned upon the Cup, and it almost fell over, and down. The megafauna shrugged, as he could not speak. Glug could only conjugate his name, “Glug,” and uttered “Gloog,” about the mishap.
The dire wolf was the only one present, and let it pass. D.W, said, “I feel like taking another trip,” to Glug, who brightened about the conversation, but his vocabulary was such limited, which the dire wolf knew that; she was slightly cynical, and consequently reviewed her plans with Glug on a regular basis, possibly aware it would not invoke any controversy. “Maybe I’ll go to Earth,” D.W. wondered. “One day Yon will be stunned by his own lack of empathy, and his below-average intellect. He’ll realize I’m not here on Lazarus Taxa to watch his booty, or steal any more socks.” The dire wolf paused, unusual emotion swelling in her throat. She added, with wet eyes, “I am here for only one reason, to find my Gerald, that gray, haggard beau. And find the rest of our den! He has been gone now for a hundred light-years, But he’ll appear, reappear somewhere in our silly travels. He will reappear.”
The wolf, Gerald, had split with D.W., because she was absently passing time with a pangolin, a scaly creature from the Far East; the dire wolf’s time with the pangolin was entirely platonic. She liked how the pangolin’s voice was incredibly low, the voice of a radio announcer, and he became a perfect foil for their sport of general derision. She shared a sense of humor with pangolin bordering on scorn, and rife with one-ups-man ship. Her husband, Gerald, witnessed D.W. and the pangolin together once too often, however, and, without a word, began a slow sprint into the woods, not soon to be seen again.
Presently, the dire wolf heard a sudden crackling of leaves and snapping fir branches in the green around The Cache. Lazarus Taxa was a little-remembered moon in the orbit of Sombrero, in the Virgo constellation, not the fictive “Pandora,” as Aji liked to jest; it was quite remote. The dire wolf hustled to the top of the cave to scout the unexpected noise, but it was unnecessary, as therewith, a very tall, sturdy man, donning a vintage three-piece vested suit, a man who seemed, and possessed immense joie de vivre, a man with obvious aplomb, whose name was Vezina, emerged from the mob of trees, and stepped cautiously, and righteously, into the landing of Lazarus Taxa. The man’s face was humorless, containing only the scarcest remnants of affability. He didn’t speak, and adjusted only, in the dim, dull light, the most caterwauling glare. He was to retrieve “The Cup,” and he said, “The Cup,” and he verily stated this purpose to D.W., and to Glug, not expecting any response, and cast with his departure, having noticed they were animals, in a soupcon of pride, “They call me the Chicoutimi Cucumber!”
Gabriel was speaking about one of Red’s favorite subjects, an ambulance service for pets. Kapitolina was “confused,” but admired him, nonetheless, as Gabriel did not have pets. Just the macaw. They were ensconced in the frustrations of the power outage. He began in the middle, and explained it, although Gabriel did not know the actual details. He believed the truth was mundane. The power outage was the work of a gang of recreational dousers who hung out in Gravesend, and remained fugitives of the law. They hit the building several times before; one of the perps was known for hacking and splicing cable TV, the other for yanking electric wires for no special reason in Bath Beach; one incident almost fried two of them, which Gabe said would have been “decent justice overall,” and it brought them to temporary justice, and to public scrutiny; regardless of their sparse abilities, this current effort blacked out every floor. “Nothing else to do,” he said, capriciously. Kapitolina was ready to leave, but it was hopeless without lights. It was an old building. She wavered to the apartment doorway. She bruised her shin on the coffee table, and cursed in Russian, about the second injury, bedamning her agility in the dark with the names of Russian cities, and what Gabe thought was “Minsk,” and “Belarus.” Gabe recalled a bottle of aging Scotch in a cabinet nearby, with a wan notion of brushing her shin with alcohol, acquired it, and took Kapitolina’s hand to soothe her. He showed her the Scotch bottle, and she nodded at it, relieved of some irk.
“I’m sure the lights will be back up any minute,” eased Gabriel, pouring Scotch into clean glasses. “He’s on his way from the station.”
Kapitolina could view distortions of Gabriel’s face in the candlelight. The whiskey amused her, and the wide swaths of light, muting the color of Gabriel’s torso, creating odd paths of changeable darkness; then, in the passing minutes, it unnerved her. She was not gladdened by her irresolute state, her relationships, and, in general, all Broadway dancers. She emigrated to New York with a group of Russian women, and they had been thrilled by the incredible opportunity. Kapitolina kept apartment in Minsk, and it cost her funds; her father, a minister, would surely refuse to pay for it too much longer, and force her to rethink her vitae. She felt the couch with the palm of her hand, more confident with the dash of memory of her hometown, and Minsk, and its streets. She approached the candle to cup it, sat too close to Gabe, and glowered, unsure how to explain, or apologize. She confessed, “I’m afraid of the dark.”
He pronounced. “All New Yorkers are afraid of the dark.”
“It’s a false hope,” Aji told Bud Adorjan. “Orison.”
The tale of Orison was a rumination without basis in fact, she said, like a primitive religion. Bud said Orison was real, and told her, “There is evidence of the existence of species believed to be extinct. Lazarus Taxa. But it isn’t native. It is only possible, if there is a place like Orison.”
This was not sensible, and Aji doubted the evidence was any more than rumor. For example, it could be simply a result of dijection. She noted the stubbornness in Bud’s reply, and heard the quixotic devotion of pagans, not the calm reasoning of science. Bud said Orison was probably an anomaly, a quintessential haven in the yet uncharted reaches of the Deep Vast. It had to be found, and documented in Laniakea; the whole schema was unknown. Aji asked why Nature would ever shroud such a place.
“Lots of reasons,” said Bud. “I’m sure you can think of a few?”
Then, hoisting the heart, if not his mind, as was his august habit, Bud converged upon a brief soliloquy. “I have this recurring nightmare of a dark outline, a silhouette in black, and white,” he told Aji. “I don’t believe in Orison, rationally. Somehow, I have seen it!”
Kapitolina, a stranger, at the far end of the couch, smoothed her skirt, and conversed quietly in the dark. “I’m from Belarus. The nights were dark, too, in Belarus, when I grew up? Horrific, really.”
“How, horrific?” Gabriel asked.
“My father’s a minister of the Orthodox faith,” she said. “This was as breakaway happened. Russians are socialist, as you already know, and many truthfully are, socialist, much more than here, I realize that, coming to New York. More than here. First we were forbidden the holidays, because ministers were not popular. Then no Sundays. Of course. We were supposed to work Sundays, the sabbaths, which really didn’t make any sense. No Saturdays, or Sundays. They were a minority of the people, but not really; see, many, they were raised to be socialist; you could not endure them, their cackling, their hackling, always commanding to everyone. We were young. Then they said we could have no more nights. And they laughed. They turned the lights off in some people’s houses. Including ours. At night. We could switch the breaker, but – many other things. We wanted to be liked, to be popular.”
“They harassed you.”
Kapitolina said, “Yes, we were the minister’s family. Religion. Still dubious enough. There weren’t any popular people, if some people were not popular. They wouldn’t stop. If you were not a socialist, you could not have a ‘social’ life. Nothing. My father just told us, my mother, from the Bible, ‘the wage of sin is death.’”
“You couldn’t be one of them,” observed Gabe.
“No, we couldn’t, bottom line,” she nodded. “We couldn’t live.”
“What did they want?” he asked.
Kapitolina answered, “Whatever they wanted.”
The door to the apartment was closed, but Gabriel saw it was not secured by deadbolts, and choosing safety, he tripped his way towards the door, locked it quickly, and he returned to the couch. It had been an hour of outage; one man had been knocking the doors and the hallway walls, including their wall, and their door. Gabriel knew the door-knocker, an alcoholic who lived with his mother, two floors beneath them, who habitually wandered around the building on the wrong floors. It comforted him to think about the door-knocker, but it spooked her. She was pale, more insecure, and then she whispered, “Sit near me?”
Gabriel shuffled wordlessly in the cushions to sit closer to her, and generously stretched his arm around her shoulders. It wasn’t clear if sudden noises in the power outage were magnified by darkness, or by the creepy lack of noise of any kind, the lack of normal commotion; the parody quiet in the dark street in Coney Island; or perhaps the contume tick of the clock, the Miller chimer. Kapitolina rose gruffly, after a while, suddenly, and Gabriel, who was dozing a little, heard the sound of her heels, a different knock, on the wood of the kitchen floor; behind him on the couch, Kapitolina told him, with a sigh, “I am a virgin.”
He was nonplussed, and truly blank. He raised his eyebrows, his forehead was impassive. He resisted saying a word, when Kapitolina sat nimbly on the sofa, for fear he may stammer. He made a decision: He was muted, because it was not a moment to speak. Kapitolina felt the abrupt clench of his hands upon her ankles, and she didn’t resist. Her mind was aglaze. Gabriel took Pearl’s shoes, and pulled her calves towards him on the couch. Kapitolina’s silence was his alibi, his permission; she was lost in a strange place, her mind raced wildly in the dark: She saw Gabe’s hair, his head, him below her neck, his shirt partially removed, and then writhed at the sensation of his tinging the nipples of her unveiled breasts. There was the sound of cotton, and denim sliding on the upholstery, the cushions of the couch, but she didn’t really hear it; it seemed to be happening somewhere else, not here, or anywhere near her. Was it? “No,” Kapitolina said mildly, reassured by it, but there was not the slightest reaction from him. In fact, Gabriel freed her from her skirt, unfastened the zipper behind her, and it caused her hips to surge; her skirt felt loose, upsetting, unwieldy.
“No!” Kapitolina responded, forcefully, only vaguely aware of the situation. It was a daydream; she waited for her senses to respond in reality, but they did not.
She elbowed away from Gabriel’s grasp, and she rose, sideways, and grabbed her wayward clothing from the back of the couch. Her hair flowed annoyingly in her eyes. She gasped for breath, glared at him, and tread uncertainly toward the kitchen. He didn’t hinder her, but he poised in a moment. She would need a candle in the kitchen. He arose, and put a candle on the countertop, a foot away from Kapitolina. They were silent. She said, finally, about the candle, “Oh.” She heard more voices, more obscurely, and maybe her own voice, crying both “no,” and “ahh-hh.” ◊
¤ Juke Box ¤
Theme: “Back 2 Good,” MatchBox Twenty | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 1-50,” a myopic vaile (No. 29)
“The Echo By Seas” is one of three works by SODA TOM.
“The Echo By Seas,” by Soda Tom, Vol. II of III.
Copyright (C) 2018, 2017, ff., by the author.
All Rights Reserved.
Created by Soda Tom