Cyril Latchaw slouched on the patio chair all steel and vinyl and laid his head on the tight edge of the frame feeling smooth as the glaze on its rigid back, he gazed at the wispy clouds in the mostly clear earlymorning sky, small clouds visibly dissipating that would soon be gone, one resembling a sheepdog running, one a galaxy swirling, one a craterdotted piece of land surrounded by a periwinkle ocean seen through the camera of a distant satellite. He heard car doors slam at short regular intervals, pickuptruck engines and schoolbuses that rumbled like old semis, the constant rush of rubber on asphalt, beeps of service trucks backing up, the occasional call of a crow, the song of a robin when nearby traffic lightened, an abrupt cough in a neighboring yard, he heard these things and he sat up and saw two young women pass by pushing strollers soundlessly, a slender dark cat with brown stripes gliding ribbonlike through the young pines and rhododendrons, a thick dark halfsmoked cigar in repose on the edge of the low deck his chair and steeledged glass table rose from, the chesthigh arborvitae surrounding three sides of it save for the three steps that led down to the still grass. Inside his head no thoughts either rumbled or slid, his lungs were clear the air they sucked in light and cool and gentle, his liver was still and painfree, his intestines at rest. Today was his birthday, his tenth, it started early and quietly, it looked to be a day of rest, green as the lilac leaves and the hanging spruce boughs, sweet as the tchips of the cardinal peering at him from the far edge of the deck.
He expected nothing from life anymore, no longer searched for any meaning in its vagaries beauties or shabbiness, he swallowed his antidepressants twice a day and though he still felt cross occasionally, vexed at times, there no longer was any sign of rage and especially no slippage into that roiling noontime darkness that alone of all possible afflictions and conditions he still feared. The past for him was a fiction enclosed between lurid covers and set aside on a shelf, he could take it down open it up to any page read it maybe reflect then simply shake his head in wonderment and set it aside. No greater luck than this has any man that he lay down his life for some peace, Cyril thought with an aimless smile, it’s been good he thought, that is the last ten following his fifty shuttlecrashed years.
He rose, strode inside his remodeled centuryold farmhouse standing grandly on its urban corner lot, he refilled his coffee cup returned to the deck and heard the electronic melody on his cellphone, ah shit it’s inside he thought, should he go back in and answer it or check it at his leisure, then he thought of friends he’d witnessed casually and contemptuously dismissing calls even from other friends, oh hell they’d say, we’ll call them later or they can call back, and he knew he was at one time or another one of the neglected multitude, so he returned to the kitchen found the cell and answered. Cyril a familiar feminine voice questioned — he preferred his full first name, only those who knew him intimately called him that, he’d had other names, the shortened Cy and Sparky and Sweet among them, all given to him by others — he recognized the smoky contralto of Elaine his exwife and he felt an exhilaration like the rush during a good workout. I wanted to wish you a happy birthday she said. Ten years.
Ah thank you Cyril answered, he closed his eyes tilted his head back and inhaled slowly as if smelling a subtle attar, I’m so proud of you Cyril, ten years. You’re the only one who has an idea he said. Much more than an idea, she said, much more. Oh god he thought his eyes still closed, he saw in the blankness a history throbbing with elan and vomit, tears and sunflowers and cold clear tarns and purplish mottles, how I love that voice, the growls she made at night, the howls, like making love outdoos on a piney floor, resin and musk, moonlight dew, his greatest sin was losing her, can’t think about sin now it’s long ago over, yes yes you’re right he said, it’s not an idea, you of all people know, maybe more than I ever did, she’s remarried now, to a gentle man, I started gently too.
You going to celebrate? she said. I’ll go to a meeting and get a coin. She hesitated, ten years, can I have it? Of course he said, I’ll wrap it and box it and send it to you, I’ll take a photo and keep it for myself, maybe frame it, it feels good Elaine, these last ten years have been the best in my whole life, Yes I know she said. I started out an infant in a neonatal ICU and went through all the stages of growing up and here I am, I can’t say how good it feels, I know she said — gray now he thought, a bit softer, still smooth, lithe, same sharp nose and smart eyes, full lips, the image slipped by quickly, I lost a lot he thought, can we meet for a workout and dinner he asked. Of course, next Tuesday four p.m.
He hurried the conclusion at the sound of Candace’s footfalls on the stairway. No matter, the time was always too short, it belonged to someone else always, the succession of events, the appointment meetings schedules the accumulation of details all of it, all an intrusion sometimes happy others unfortunate into the twodimensional tableau, the unified field that constituted the past ten years of his time. As he listened to the padding of Candace’s bare feet and then the breathing — she’s sneaking vodka again he thinks — and wet kiss on the nape of his neck, his eyes strayed to the window and the cardinal out there on the bright lawn and longing arose for the bird’s little tchips to mask the odor of distilled betrayal spreading like a fog around him.