Sunday, August 14, 2011

Of Sounds and Blood-Red Soles

He read about it in the newspaper and decided to go.

The Boston Center for the Arts threw itself a party. A new facade brought together the three distinct theaters under a single roof, a modern and expensive looking glass enclosure, with theater-goers inside. Once, those theaters lined the street separately, creating the illusion of a disconnected artistic community along Tremont Street. Now, there was celebration because The Black Box, Cyclorama, and The Plaza theaters had joined together physically. A vibrant union of live theater venues. In addition, The Calderwood Pavillion, which contributed rehearsal halls, another theater (The Virginia Wemberly), and galleries joined the BCA. The end result was a four acre Mecca for the arts in the South End, that extended to Warren Avenue and Clarendon Street. Happy day.

The BCA invited patrons to come and enjoy the new digs, and to give money. There was a cash bar, with free food from the trendy new restaurant, "The Beehive," which was down the street. The event naturally attracted people with money, so they could give it. Even with free food, the coat check required a tip, as did the bartender, and it was strongly implied that if you were there, you should have donated generously to the endeavor at one point or another. The round-trip subway fare almost broke him, leaving him with only enough money to have his over-clothes checked, provide a tip, and buy a drink and nurse it through the evening.

The Red Line rumbled, the Green Line clattered.

Despite his lack of money, and a hint of nauseating anxiety twisting in his stomach, he confidently ascended the stairs, checked his coat and hat, and bought his one glass of white wine. He hadn't noticed the insufficiency of his clothes until he sat at a table alone, and began to consider the people around him. They were all dressed well, even the ones who chose to dress casually (all men). The women were dressed to kill, and some of their beaus and husbands rose to the occasion. Many of the men were like him, dressed neatly but not particularly well. But even they looked like they belonged somehow. He did not, and the little bit of confidence that had weakly sustained him up until that moment began to wain.

One striking young woman made him particularly self-aware. How could he reconcile his presence with hers? It was hard to imagine that they were both there for the same event. She was wearing a black, one-shouldered, knee-length evening dress with a side slit that was draped in such a way that it appeared and disappeared as she moved, and she moved a lot. Was that a bit of perfume he smelled? Could it be hers? He didn't know. As people mixed in the crowded room inside the ring of tables, she shook hands, affectionately patted shoulders, laughed, and even extended her leg to reveal her choice of shoes to a friend; 4-inch platform pumps in leather, with a sole the color of blood.

He watched her, but kept looking back at the coat-check just inside the entrance, and thought of leaving. As he tried to relax and enjoy the spectacle of this ebullient, well-dressed woman, their eyes met for a split second. It was awkward, and he suddenly felt as if he were naked. After considering the slowly warming glass of pinot grigio, and the sweat beading on his back, he thought again of leaving, and left. After tipping the coat-check with two wrinkled dollar bills, among his last, he exited and found himself standing atop the stairs he had just climbed.

The night air outside was crisp and dry, and tiny snowflakes slowly struggled to reach the ground, where they melted instantly on the warm pavement. People and cars were all about, and the sounds of the city (honking horns, the whine of a bus as it braked to a stop, shouts, laughter, and two street musicians within earshot) rose for a moment and disappeared, distinct before dying in the general cacophony. He headed home, toward the "T" station at Copley Square. The lines went green to red now.

Back in his apartment, while lying on his couch and watching television, a series of remembrances, entombed in his memory, came to him quickly. They weren't pleasant, and arrived with a rapidity that was withering. Unseen but felt, they leaped into the empty space above his head, like paratroopers sinking slowing downward toward the hedge rows of Normandy in World War II. The future of the place in which they landed was forever changed, or seemed to be, or at least should have been. Down they fell, speaking and gesturing wildly, impossible to ignore. Despite the din of sounds; from the radio, the television, and outside in the courtyard, each one was heard distinctly. Every voice was clear and discernible, like a single actor or singer performing on-stage, although what was being said was often spoken in a whisper or mumble. In the city, sounds joined together and became indistinct, but these people from his past could be heard easily and separately. The acoustics were marvelous.

The memories came, and he braced himself.

An actress he once knew in college had some things to say. He had been smitten with her, but she barely knew he existed, unless he praised her performance in a play. There were no words, although he did seem to hear something. It all came from her eyes, and this is what they whispered to him:

The play is over, goodbye gentle friend, these lips you'll never kiss. Do I dislike you? Of course not...I never think of you when you're not in the room, as you think of me.

He winced and felt stupid. It embarrassed him when he heard the translated language of her eyes, spoken softly to his soul, where they seemed to transform and pain him. She knew how he felt about her, and was rejected. The rejection, and the aloof way in which she dealt with him, said quite a bit, and did so loudly. How beautiful and effortlessly confident and interesting she was!

The open tomb spilled out countless other dead memories for him to consider; a friend who had recommended him for a job years ago and was disappointed, his mother's sadness at a cancelled wedding, losing his temper with a neighbor over a trivial matter, and on and one. Self-loathing set in, and he apologized to the air, the cat, the candle, and the wall for being alive. This went on for many sleepless hours.

In a haze of loneliness and exhaustion he let it wash upon him. His mind raced, the thoughts came, and (knowing them) let them pass through. They took an emotional toll, but it was one he had paid many times. This subtle torture was familiar. At least until about 3:30 in the morning, when she walked-in and sat on the edge of the bed, after turning off the television and radio, and shutting the window to the few sounds left outside.

He felt her there, but kept his bleary eyes shut. He vaguely wondered how she got into his apartment, which was surely locked, but he didn't think on it for long. She was there on the edge of his bed. He smelled a bit of snow and white wine and perhaps just a bit of sweat. Was that a hint of perfume? Perhaps. Yes, it must be.

Her exotic presence pierced the familiarity and comfort of his apartment like a knife, and he could see her plainly with his eyes now consciously closed to avoid a conversation. Surely, he could have been sleeping in these small hours of the morning. It was an easily believed deceit. Childish, but it was sure to work. She would sit and consider his sleeping body and then at least leave his bedroom.

But she didn't. He felt the bed move as she stood up, but heard no other movement. The only sound was the ticking clock. A minute later, he heard her inhale loudly, sigh, and then speak. What she had to say was not kind, and it was directly spoken to him as if he were wide-eyed and eager to listen, and this is what she said,

I work very hard, and rarely do I ever get to go out, and earlier tonight I tried to enjoy myself. It was so great to meet new people and to laugh easily with old friends. How wonderful I felt, after a bit of wine. Laughter came easily for me, and my worries and sadness waned. Then you showed up and you ruined it. When our eyes met, it was like a slap in the face, and it made me anxious and self-conscious. Why don't people like you leave people like me alone? I've done nothing to you.

He considered protesting, but knew better. She seemed more sad and uncomfortable than angry. What had he done? What did he do earlier tonight to deserve this? It must have been something...she isn't crazy.

A long time passed, and he kept his eyes pressed shut. The television sprang to life, then the barely audible radio. The window opened, and the soft sound of cars passing by alighted in his ears. The smell of white wine and sweat and perfume were gone, but was she? Carefully, and very slowly, he opened his left eye and scanned the room. As he did, he caught sight of her leaving his bedroom. The last thing he saw of her was a flash of color on the soles of her shoes, the color of blood.

He finally fell asleep as the sky brightened and birds began to chirp outside. He did not dream. The tomb quietly closed and the memories were quiet for now. There was peace.

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