A Song of the Past: Epilogue
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Such upheavals may clear the air like a summer thunderstorm, but beneath the agitation, the knowing faculty remains confined. Space is full and time used up; history is an ever-heavier burden.
-- Tarthang Tulku, Love of Knowledge
Saturday, Nov. 14, 2:30 PMCaptain Muller had scoffed at her suggestion that they keep the case open and try to justify a conspiracy-to-commit-murder charge against Alvin. “We have a deathbed confession, and two murders to put in the solved column. Because the confessed murderer thinks some kid from the projects is Satan and he was possessed by him, we’re going to waste more resources on this? Can you imagine how much the prosecutor’s office will appreciate our bringing them a charge of ‘Satanic influence’? You got your man, Detective. Now let it go. I don’t doubt your word that Blaine was a part of this, but we’ve got nothing, nothing on him at all.” When she had brought up the matter of Ariel’s death, he had responded, “Fine: You present any solid evidence linking Blaine to that, and we can charge him with breaking and entering and cruelty to an animal. But his copping to the crime in a private conversation with you is not solid evidence: He’s just going to deny he said any such thing, and the charges will be thrown right out.” And Deirdre had not been able to think of any response, for she knew he was right.
She had been assigned to a run-of-the-mill domestic murder, and had gotten a confession from the husband in a couple of days. But she had worked that case running on fumes, and had requested a week off as soon as her part in it was over. Mostly, she sat in her apartment and watched movies and read; she could not even summon the energy to head out to her usual haunts and have a drink. She generally didn’t answer her home or her cell phones, but she did listen to her messages. Juanita had called once to see if they could meet for a drink, and Harrison Tyler had left a message wondering if, now that he wasn’t a suspect, he couldn’t tempt her to spend a week in Aruba. And Justin had rung her up just to see how she was doing. She hadn’t returned any of those calls.
She had slept uneasily; often, in her dreams, she felt Alvin’s hand running over her body again, and saw that crooked grin on his face. She would wake up in a cold sweat, and lie awake in bed, wondering if she would ever be able to banish the memory of having been touched by evil itself from her mind.
She was sitting on the couch, watching, with little interest, a college football game, not even sure which teams were playing, when her phone rang again. She felt a dread certainty as to who was calling: he had said he was leaving New Haven in a couple of weeks, and she knew he was just the sort of shit who could not leave without pretending to himself that he had “treated her fairly.” She contemplated not answering, but by the fourth ring, she felt a sense of inevitability hanging over what would transpire: she was just a character in yet another play, and there was nothing for it but to act out her role.
“Hi, Chuck. How are you?”
“Well, not bad. And you?”
“I’m hanging in.”
“Just hanging in?”
“Yes, just hanging in. What do you want?”
He hesitated. “I know I have no right to ask this, but… will you come see me off?”
She fell silent for long enough that he must have wondered if she was still there. “Deirdre?”
“I haven’t dozed off, I just don’t know what to say. What would be the point of this ritual?”
“I’d just like to see you once more before I go—maybe we can say good-bye as friends.”
Best walk the road to its end. “Well, why the fuck not? When are you leaving?”
“I’ll be at my apartment for another two hours.”
“Okay. I’ll be there before you have to go.”
She cast aside the clothes she had on, grabbed a towel, and headed to the shower. She lingered under the steaming spray, hoping to wash away her anxiety, but she gave up when she realized that she would miss Chuck altogether if she didn’t get moving. After dressing she again procrastinated, this time by the front door, unable to decide whether or not to bring her umbrella. She finally left it behind, and walked the three blocks to the bus stop in a drizzle too light to be of notice. Waiting for the bus, on the sidewalk alongside the convenience store, she could see tentacles of fog groping the top of West Rock. The nearly twenty minutes it took for the bus to come felt more like a tedious afternoon spent waiting for the cable TV man. She got off the bus just a mile after she had boarded it, and found herself walking down Howe through rain that had become much harder during her ride.
He must have been waiting near the front door when she rang his doorbell, for he flung it open so quickly that she was startled and involuntarily took a step back. There she paused briefly, trying to fix in her memory of the image of his face hovering in the shadows just beyond the threshold, aware that today might be the last time she would see it. Although his skin had broken out and was blotched with red, although his eyes were tired looking, although his wet hair was plastered to his head and so more clearly showed his scalp where his hair had thinned on top, still she felt a tenderness for him, felt the fire of a human soul, lonely and struggling to cope with the imperfections of the flesh. She wanted to slip her arms around him and softly kiss him, feel his moustache beneath her lip, the hardness of his stomach against hers. She stiffened herself and again stepped backwards, this time almost teetering off the landing.
Chuck looked bashfully down at the doorsill, as if to indicate that he, too, was nervous, and gently said, “Hi there, lady. Don’t be worried—I promise I won’t bite you, or do anything else upsetting.”
“I’m sorry I’m a little tense. Can I come inside? It’s a little wet out here.”
He nodded and she followed him into his living room, where they stood among the clutter of a move. Two suitcases stood by the door, while stacks of cardboard shipping boxes lined the walls.
“How are you getting the all of this stuff out to Seattle?”
“I’m leaving some furniture behind, and a moving company is going to collect everything else but those suitcases on Tuesday.”
“Ah—in such a hurry to get away from here that you couldn’t even wait for the movers?”
Although her gaze had been fluttering around the room, carefully avoiding his, she now pointedly fixed it on him as if issuing a challenge, which he sought to meet by returning her attention without flinching. What is being spoken in these conversations that the eyes keep private from the verbal mind? She neither could grasp in words the entreaty that his eyes seemed to making to hers, nor the message that she sensed her own gave in response.
At length, he broke, while still not breaking eye contact, the looming silence, saying, with a wistful shrug, “This may be a fool’s errand, but even if that turns out to be true, I’ve realized that I won’t be able to fully commit to a new relationship if I’m wondering whether a little more effort would have made my marriage work. Until I’m certain I’ve done everything possible to fix things with my wife, I’ll always suspect myself of being ready to run when times get hard with another woman.”
“Who am I to stand in the way of your personal sensitivity development program?”
"Deirdre, this doesn’t have to be bitter. I really have strong feelings for you. But Harriet—that’s my wife’s name—and I have a lot of history—I can’t pretend it isn’t real. Maybe if I’d met you first…"
“Well, I’m in no position to declare that you shouldn’t let history control your life. But for myself, I’d rather focus on the future than on the past."
“Deirdre, I suspect you and I might be great together—but still, we hardly know each other. I know Harriet better than anyone else in the world, warts and all—and in any relationship, you’re always going encounter warts. If I can’t face hers, why should you think I’ll be able to deal with yours once the thrill of new romance no longer blinds me to them? Relationships are always work, and I have to make sure I’m not just trying to dodge that fact.
“When we first went out, I wasn’t playing any trick on you—I was sure my marriage had ended. But things changed—it turned out that some time apart gave both Harriet and me some perspective on our own roles in our problems, instead of just pinning all the blame on the other person. Each of us is expressing a real willingness to be open to the other’s issues and to change our own behavior when it’s causing friction. Although when we agreed to this separation we both thought it was final, it may have been exactly what we needed. These things happen for a reason.”
“Hey, I’m just glad I had a bit part in your Deepak Chopra infomercial,” Deirdre said.
She turned away from him and stared at a circle of deeper-toned paint on the wall where she assumed a clock once had hung. The Sunday morning they had met on Chapel Street—had almost a month really passed, or was this just the dreary afternoon of a long day? She was going under, sinking into a sea of loss and parting. She struggled to stay above water, her mouth working to say what she felt, but what she felt was a numbness like she was sitting on a block of ice.
“What are you thinking?”
“That I feel stupid, really, really stupid.”
“Why?” For the first time since she had arrived, Chuck looked at her with pity.
“I told myself not to get involved with someone caught in his past.”
“But aren’t we all?”
“This was different. You just needed to convince yourself you had choices before you went back to her, and I felt that. I was just too stupid to believe it.”
“Don’t feel stupid. That means I’m stupid, too.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Chuck shrugged, as if even he had no idea. They sat in silence for a minute, then, glancing at his watch, Chuck said, “I have to go. The taxi will be here in a minute. Will you come with me to the station?”
“Might as well: in for a penny, in for a pound,” Deirdre said.
They slipped into the back seat of the taxi that was waiting for him outside his door. Deirdre silently watched car lights paint the wet roads with glistening yellow stripes, yellow snakes that hissed when their vehicle drove over them. The rain, falling harder, beat down on the roof, drumming its dense rhythm insistently into the cab. When they reached Union Station each of them grabbed one of his suitcases and carried it inside. He purchased his ticket and then looked at the board. Six minutes, track eight.
The long futuristic tunnels leading out to the tracks were nearly empty. Cimarron lights reflected off of the metal walls. Deirdre sought surcease in syllables that would break his heart and force him to stay, but found nothing.
He looked over at her and smiled. “It’ll be okay.”
Anything, anything to pull him back from the clouds through which he would soon fly away. She wanted to tell him that she feared not so much the loss itself, as living with the thought that she might have saved him from his history, but, through a lack of resolve, had failed. This vain thought broke her heart in a way that the pain of losing him could not. But they were emerging from the tunnel into the feathery gray light above: in a few minutes he would vanish.
Raindrops thudded incessantly against the corrugated plastic roof that hung over the platform. Tiny waterfalls cascaded through the troughs of the corrugations and past the train’s open doors. Two conductors took shelter underneath the roof, smoking cigarettes and chatting. When they saw Deirdre and Chuck one of them said, “Just made it. Hop aboard.”
Chuck dropped the bag he carried inside the door, and Deirdre did the same with hers. He opened his arms. She grasped at him as though he were already receding.
“I’ll miss you,” he said.
“But not enough to make any difference.” She tensed, holding back her tears until he was gone. He stepped over the gap between the platform and the car, vanishing from sight for a moment, reappearing in a window that was smeared with dirt, through which she watched him pick a seat and lift his bags onto the luggage rack above it. As he sat down the train doors closed, and the hissing of the air brakes being released cut through the staccato of the falling raindrops.
He turned to face her and through the blurred glass he waved briefly and then looked down towards the carriage floor, as if some matter there required his prompt attention. When the train began to move he raised his head a final time and pressed his palm against the windowpane. After a second, unable to watch him passing slowly from view, she stared down at the concrete at her feet.
When she looked up again the train was curving away along its track, mirroring the smooth arc of the power lines above. At the far end of the yard it penetrated the dark orifice of a brick tunnel which swiftly swallowed it up. Deirdre turned her head up towards the sky. She felt that the space around her was filled with the reverberations of countless wanton angels, the beating of their shadowy wings adding to the turbulence of the air. Time itself swirled around her like a chill fog. Ten thousand streams of water flowed downward, splattering, running in rivulets over the concrete platform, glistening on the idle machinery in the yard, sheathing the leafless trees on the other side of the tracks, and pooling around sodden piles of garbage lying between the rails.
Their currents carried away the remains of those who were now only memories, of Ben Moore, of Jacob and Evelyn Tyler, and of Chuck, who was no more among the living of her world than were the others. Even the mocking voice of Alvin Blaine soon enough would be drowned in the vast sea towards which those waters flowed. She closed her eyes, but that did not dispel the image of a cold, gray flood rising on every side of her. She reopened them and searched the clouds, desperately seeking the source of the fading light still dimly illuminating her world.