The Autumn Circuit
The moon was out for the three weeks it took for us to fall in love. I honestly, in some strange, megalomaniacal fashion felt that I was the one doing it. Like the moon and I were old drinking buddies and he was just popping around to see how I was getting on. I actually had the audacity to think that I was the emulsifying force between man and nature. That I was the last conduit of the Autumn Circuit, itself the most important part of the universal schematic.
Here I was, too short for my weight, kissing a beautiful girl and standing in the late September breeze like a demi-god, commanding the moon to appear over the parking lot outside her apartment building. An audacious, tender, glowing moment. And so this fossil romantic and this sweet young thing joined hands and fused the autumn moon with the soul of mankind.
That’s probably what went wrong. It was doomed from that moment because everything was perfect. Too perfect. The way the fog lay close to the ground, as if it were listening for buffalo. Running through plummeting rain. The exaggerated shadows thrown by street lights that first night in a town that wasn’t ours. Everything. Every single moment, tailor made for two people to fall in love. What else were we to do?
Maybe, and this is just a thought, if our first few dates had sucked, esthetically at least, we’d still be together. We threw ourselves into this boxing ring and expected to talk our way out. But that’s me. Everything bass-ackwards. Growing together was skipped like some unpronounceable name in an Anton Chekhov play because we, as logical, right-brained people, could logic our way out of anything that would crop up.
I quoted facts, read articles, took classes. I made declarations about what we wanted out of life. All the while she sat there and let me lead in this self-destructive waltz. Loving me and hoping that was enough. Apparently she thought I knew what I was doing. I asked her to marry me in off-handed conversations and tested the water by talking about kids. I became her housekeeper. Her guru. Her best friend and eventually, it seems her jailer.
But this warm, glowing cancer that poets call love grew into two different entities for us. My entity was like my own personal prophet, whispering little predictions of the wonder to come in my ear. Her entity was apparently a rude monkey on her back. She didn’t mind the monkey, it was just slightly heavier than she was prepared to carry then. She would have been perfectly happy if it had crawled off her and just walked beside her. Just the two of them, walking. But the monkey insisted on staying.
The moon didn’t show its face for a month before it all crumbled. Fair weather friend. Cowardly, celestial bastard. The inevitable was whispered to me in my prophets dying words.
“This love thing,” it said. “It’s all messed up. It’s like shaking hands in the dark. It takes forever and when you finally find each other, you’re not even agreeing to the same thing anymore. Stick to fish. Stick to jazz. Yeah, jazz. The jazz is the life, Chip. It’s the way things ought to be. A basic thread that binds us all but so many variations and tangents that it’s immense and amazing. And never ever boring. Does she like jazz,” it wheezed.
“Yes she does,” I answered as a put a pillow behind its head, just to ease my prophet’s suffering.
“Jazz. Let her take her solo. It’s still the same piece of music, her interpretation is just a little different, that’s all. Maybe you’ll both come around to the bridge and be together at the encore.”
The prophet laughed. “It’s jazz. You’re never sure.” then my entity, my prophet, returned to whatever rent-to-own place in the sky it came from. I looked up at the faint halo of the moon in the sky and it looked the way Thelonius Monk sounds. My old drinking buddy coming back.
“Thanks,” I said. “I think I can take it from here.”
It ended quietly, without fanfare, in a Laundromat, somewhere between soak and spin.
The conversation had dried up, the draft was killing me and the peanuts that I munched on tasted like what I expect Death would taste like if you kissed him on the hand. She looked at me and smiled. A genuine, warm smile.
“Thanks for coming along,” she said and took my drink from my hand and hoisted it to her lips.
“No problem,” I chuckled as I watched her beautiful round face glimmer in the white/green fluorescent light. She got up and moved to transfer her clothes from the washer to the dryer.
I watched her carefully, like this was the last thing I’d ever see her do and I wanted to capture every moment. We both knew, somewhere in these moist organs we call brains, that this was it. I shut my eyes to hold back the water that was going to cascade. I opened them. The Laundromat was still the same. Not surprising, but all the same I had hoped in some deep, eight-year-old way that this was all a rotten dream. Not a nightmare, just a rotten dream. A dream full of irony and sarcasm and a vicious streak as wide as the world.
But it wasn’t. It was as real as the salty sting on the outside corners of my eyes. It was like baptism. I knew that nothing I could do could change the course of events that were about to unfold before me like a magicians cloth. It scared the hell out of me but at the same instant exhilarated me. It held me in check but kept coaxing me to make a move.
She looked at me as she shut the dryer door. I had never seen her face like that before. Like an old friend that the years hadn’t touched. Like the moon. I wanted to throw my arms around her and hold her until the planet crumbled around us. I wanted to shake her because of what she was doing to me. I wanted to scoop her up into my arms and carry her home. And I realized... that was it. It took me all this time. All these nights listening to her sleeping breath. All these movies. All these wise cracks. Here, now at the end I finally realized... she was home to me. Just home.
I smiled through flushed skin as the thought washed over me like an autumn breeze. Strangely, a leaf, brown with autumn, tumbled end over end through the door and came to rest on my shoe. I lifted it and twirled the brittle thing in between my fingers and watched as she raised fifty cents to the dryer. She dropped the coins into the slot and pushed the start button.
Her solo had begun.