Wednesday, September 15, 2010

“Daily Walk” an excerpt from the novel "Saul’s Last Book" by Allison Fine

Saul Lerner took his daily walk down Connecticut Avenue NW with his dog Barney in tow. Barney’s just a mutt, just a mutt, just a mutt (like me), he thought in rhythm with his feet. Someone he saw regularly at the dry cleaner’s (his name escaped him) stopped and petted Barney. The guy looked like he never cleaned an article of clothing in his life. He wore wrinkled jeans and a sweater the color of egg, with stains on it. Maybe his cousin owned the Dry Cleaner.

What kind of dog is that?

Oh—he’s an Arubian Cunuco, Saul told him.

A what? He looks like a mutt to me.

Well--that breed has a mutt appearance but believe me, he’s not. I’ve got the papers. He’s all Arubian Cunuco.

That’s great, the guy said and wandered on, wrinkled jeans and egg sweater with him.

Barney looked to be a cross between Spaniel and Lab, (more Spaniel than lab), with maybe a little sadness thrown in, but he tried to act like a poodle because two gorgeous Czechoslovakian poodles lived next door (the neighbors were Czech—the poodles came from France) and Barney wanted them badly. Barney couldn’t do anything about it—they took care of that years ago, but he tried anyway. The poodles disdained him—the snobs.

Saul and Barney stared in at the familiar shops they frequented for the last twenty-five years of Saul’s life and the ten years of Barney’s life. Things looked brilliant when Saul left the house until a crow crossed his path, sat on the sidewalk and shrieked at him. A good omen or a bad omen? Saul decided to find a book on Native American animism in the bookstore and find out. He wished he could figure out what crows were saying said when they screeched. A warning, or just a crow?

Storefronts changed over the years as chains bought out the independents, while others remained the same. Special haunts he visited regularly—the bookstore, grocery, the library, Levine School of Music (where he studied Jazz piano to no avail), the flower shop, the gift shop, the Melody Record Shop (he wrangled with the owner for perfect copies of vinyl records). All along the street he knew so well.

At Luna Books he found a book in the Tarot section. It explained Animal Medicine and the connection to the “great mystery” (Saul certainly thought of everyday life, while possibly frivolous, as a great mystery).

When you call upon the power of an animal, he read, you ask to be drawn into complete harmony with the strength of that creature’s essence. We all communicate through the common denominator of the creative force of Great Spirit, which lives inside the Great Mystery. The book had a long list of animals and he turned to Crow. Crow keeps sacred law, Crow bends the laws of the physical universe and “shape shifts,” a rare and unique ability. Few Adepts exist in today’s world, and fewer still have mastered Crow’s art of shape shifting. This art includes doubling, or being in two places at one time consciously, taking on another physical form, and becoming the “fly on the wall” to observe what happens far away.

Saul closed the book at this point because he felt actively alive in two places at one time: in the bookstore reading about it and back as a child in his mother Bessie’s kitchen begging for a scrap of kindness and getting marsh mellow cookies instead. These troubled childhood memories propelled him to buy the book, get a coffee and leave the store.

There must be more to life than how we live it, he thought as he passed The Pleasure Palace, an exotic woman’s clothing store he paused to stare at many times before. He never walked in. His Neurologist wife wouldn’t be caught dead wearing this kind of clothing and he did not envision himself as a cross dresser. Maybe one of his daughters? Not Natalie, the gay one who drove a truck for UPS. Pragmatic Marissa? Never. He stood in front of the window display mesmerized by the clothes splashed with color and texture draped on the mannequins. Mannequins. How weird, he thought, inhuman, cyborgs, tall, elongated—in no way like real women—although-- (he thought of Andrea and her lovely long torso), ideas like this drifted: women, bodies, power; men, sex. It always led to the same thing.

He remembered Andrea’s tango-y scent as he kissed her goodbye at the door and walked to the car. She stood at the screen and he almost wished they were newly weds so he could go running back to tell he they had to make love at once and work could wait. Hah. Work never waited. Still, he dreamed of pouring lotion pour le bebes all over her skin.

The Great Mystery of Sex! He exclaimed to himself as he stood in front of the window. No one bothered about him on the sidewalk. The neighborhood accepted Saul and Barney as part of the usual fixtures of the landscape--most of them rushed by with no discernibly functional purpose.

A down-to-earth man like me, he told himself, wouldn’t--but he immediately recognized how his mind excused itself. For so long he faked as a totally coherent man he began to believe it. In truth, his life careened along more as an experimental novel than a realistic one and for God’s sake, his consciousness roamed all over the place. His personal narrative ran toward the non-linear and life exploded daily, remarkably accidental. Maybe if he had a normal job that would change things but he doubted it. The Writer, The Professor; archetypes he felt comfortable with and knew, served as backdrops to the other stuff. The Other Stuff: more like pandemonium, he concluded. He liked the random quality of his days, anyway. He even accepted the Uncertainty Principle. The more precisely the position is determined the less precisely the momentum is known. How did this hook up with shape shifting? Saul wondered.

Looking into the dustbin of his imagination he found nothing there except excrement—the rubbish of thoughts he hoped to discard but really only stored somewhere safe for a moment such as this. The moment often required more than he had at his disposal. Sitting at the dining table every day, this morning, last night-- typing away at his latest book-- he’d been working on book after book for the last ten years-- different books but it always seemed like the same book in different shapes, sizes and colors—he pondered whether the imagination could possibly create tangible change in a writer’s reality. Can my characters leap off the page and come into my living room? The idea intrigued him. He had no desire to write science fiction, he just loved thrilling himself with his own thoughts. The horror of everyday life was that it was so uninspiring—he wanted to spice it up a bit, but he had no explanation for this kind of mental traveling, and secretly he found it impossible to consider it would find material realization. It was just a mind fuck--masturbation really, and who doesn’t need that once in a while? He had only minor medical problems, some requiring procedures, and with retirement looming in the short distance, time became vulgar, insignificant and sad, something almost fatal. He was going to live longer than he had anticipated as a young man with promise and far from filling him with joy, the stretch of life ahead of him brought a vacant feeling. Western rules of chronology did not apply to the myriad moments of Saul Lerner.

This morning, before Barney forced him to leave the house, he wrote the death scene of a woman in Rocella Jonica, Italy—a woman who has affairs secretly. This entertained him awfully, but then he feared that creating something new meant leaving the novel for a moment and doing a short story. Could he handle working on a short story while finishing a novel at the same time? Oh hell. He opened a new window in Word and sat in front of a snappish blank page.

A woman whose husband follows her, and thinks to do her in because of the shame she brings him and the family. A woman with two daughters. A woman who—
Nun sacciu, nun vidi, nun ceru e si ceru durmiv, he wrote, I know nothing, I didn’t see anything, I wasn’t there and if I was there I was asleep.

It begins with the moment of realization—no one is accountable! But from who’s
viewpoint--from the husband’s? From—her name is Florianna asserted itself in bold letters, much to his dismay. It’s on the page I can’t do anything about it now. The helplessness of the writing process, the wily nature of his imagination dismayed him. Could he control it or not? Who was God of the book, anyway?

His wife Andrea came into the room undressing as she moved through the fire of a red sunlit morning, her blouse undone revealing the tips of breasts creating a sexual gust and distracting him completely.

Why do you do that? Don’t you know men and women are different?

Re-conceive sexual arousal response, she replied.

That’s a doctor’s comeback.

I’m a doctor.

I’m a man.

Anxiety has a negative effect on sexual response.

Who said anything about anxious?

You’re so anxious you’re about to explode.

Fuck off.

Sometimes anxiety actually has the effect of enhancing sexual response to stimuli! Isn’t that intriguing? That’s why men and women fight and fuck. Cognitive processes may mediate the negative effects of anxiety.

Could you say that in Latin?

La ansiedad realza respuesta sexual.

That’s not Latin.

Spanish dear. We’re going to Ecuador in the fall.

What did you say to me?

Cojame ahora que le necesito.

He kept writing. Andrea climbed into his lap, pushing her breasts into his neck and kissing the top of his head.

I’ll never get anything done this way. He reached over Andrea’s long torso to continue typing.

Peach peaks crested every wave that came toward the shore. Clouds appeared and changed every color to its complement: pink, orange, purple, white. The cold wind threaded inside her clothes, making her wish to return inside before it turned into a cold injection—as her family often said becoming ‘gelatoso’, ice cream—when someone feels cold to the touch. The coolness she felt was more than just the wind and the water—

Ah. Saul came at the touch of her hand on his penis.

Jesus, Saul, it hasn’t been that long.

I know. I’m--

Your story is turning you on, not me.

God, you’re jealous of my work.

Andrea laughed, the sound sliding from his ear to his hands around her butt, hands caressing her with passion and care--not typical for ten years of marriage.

You didn’t get any pleasure out of this, he said into her armpit.

Tonight I will.

Why wait?

I’m on duty at the hospital.

She slid off his lap. Saul’s pants were wet. I’ll have to go upstairs, shower and change. Shit.

He continued typing anyway.

The Shinto religion has a Penis Day, Saul.


The Ionian Sea brought a memory of the ancient sailors who once traversed this tip of Italy, but Florianna could no more think of history as she could think of why she was there. Friday night was her husband’s night to be with the boys and their girlfriends. Wives were to stay home with family and children and not ask questions. Luca never entertained his girlfriends in Rocella because of his mother. Instead, he went to nearby Giossa. His girl, barely out of school, filled herself with dreams. She was necessarily an outsider. Her family did not have relations with Luca’s family. She knew that once she became a girlfriend she would never become a wife.

It’s a tribute to Bacchus.

A poor substitute for Dionysus.


They carve a penis out of a tree trunk and dance around it.

I bet you’d love that.

No. I’d hate it. We already live with the Great Big Penis guarding the Washington Mall for God’s sake.

What’s that?

The Washington Monument.

Oh hell. Shut up.

To make a long story short he felt deserted. The writing went on and on but yada yada yada— churning it out daily-- saying nothing exceedingly well, (or maybe not so well). Ten years, ten books, all the same book, none published, none ever would be. He had a book out when he was thirty-five but—failure is not something most men like admitting to, yet as he read the statistics, most men are failures. At least he had a beautiful wife younger than him, a decent home (she paid for) a good job teaching literature to graduates, (he wouldn’t go into that), a few first-rate friends, (they annoyed him), a great stash of wine—

You’re not reading my stuff are you? Saul asked Andrea as she came back into the dining room with her shirt on and her pants off.

You’re creating cognitive dissonance, she laughed.

I hope so. I thought you were going—

I am.

I work on the dining table while you have an office of your own.

I make more money than you do.


Who cares as long as everything gets paid for?

She left the room trailing her white blouse behind her like a kid trailing a teddy bear.

Back to Sex.

I’m losing Time.

Everything’s disintegrating.

What is Time anyway? I’m either velocity or location. Right now I am located--

As he stared at the clothes inside The Pleasure Palace window he felt himself to be both outside on the sidewalk staring at them and inside the clothes themselves. The texture of that idea struck him as the essence of insanity. Marvelous. He could shape shift into a woman.


Which brought him to the party. There were always parties and this one was no different.

Last Friday’s party consisted of his friends from the university, her friends from the hospital—a peculiar mixture of people who gathered together and stared at one another across the table as if they were gaping at a wacky dish in a foreign restaurant. After a few bottles of wine awkwardness eased and tongues loosened up. The doctors wanted to talk literature and books and storytelling and the writers wanted to talk science and medicine and biology.

There was Phil with Margo, who seemed distinctly unhappy and looking great in a pair of skintight jeans and a burgundy halter-top, Saul invited Kayla, an associate professor from the English department working on her second book and she brought her husband David, Andrea invited one of her medical students, Thomas-something from Idaho or Iowa, (Saul always got them mixed up), who brought his nineteen-year-old girlfriend looking as if she were in grade school. The girl had a nose ring and a conspicuous tattoo on her left arm and Saul wondered whether the conversation would be beyond her but he found her face during the evening frozen with a supercilious smile on it, her eyes moving from person to person, object to object around the room, taking in the Lerner’s twelve bookcases filled and spilling out with books. Saul caught her rifling through the album of photos Andrea kept on a table near the kitchen door. Maybe she had something going for her. If I were a thirty-year old med student I’d bang her too, Saul thought.

Thank God Andrea did not ask them to play charades as she threatened to do before they arrived. Saul cooked dinner—something simple. Corned beef, cabbage, tossed salad; string beans and Andrea bought a Key Lime pie from Wegman’s. They brought wine and various other drinks into the living room and sat around telling tales of medical procedures and literature, unsuccessfully playing with metaphors of ascent and descent.

David Burchfield, a fellow Neurologist of Andrea’s, with a large head and close cropped white hair, started off with a joke meant to break the ice between his side and Saul’s friends from the graduate English Department.

Let me tell you this story! Let me tell you this story! he shouted.

Calm down for Christ’s sake, his wife Victoria said, a pediatrician with her own practice in Fairfax. Her elbow brushed against Saul’s thigh as they sat on the couch and he felt an electric tingle of something but it could have been the wine.

It’s amazing how doctor’s want to fall all over themselves proving they can be storytellers too, Mitch Bloom said as he fingered the galley of Jasper Thorn’s new book Kicking It. Jasper Thorn graduated from the MFA program five years ago and was already up for the Penn/Faulkner award. Mitch had been a constant friend of Saul’s for twenty years. Their offices, next to each other, made it easy to kibbutz in the hall. Mostly they said hello and complained about the burgeoning numbers of “emerging writers” suddenly attacking writing programs, armed with fifty years of empowerment and accumulative anger, storming the halls and classrooms and upsetting the carefully maintained balance between power, allure and mystery and young kids worshipping faculty writers. “Emerging writers” are short on admiration for what they see as patriarchal dipshits ruining their lives, they concluded. On the other hand, the faculty really did want to ruin their lives and it was so easy to do.

So tell the joke already! Mitch’s wife Bonnie shouted. Bonnie Bloom—Saul always loved her name, but Molly couldn’t even begin to live up to his fantasy.

Mitch cleared his throat.

Ok: A Woman Who Reads. One morning a husband returns after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap. Although not familiar with the lake, his wife decides to take the boat out. She motors out a short distance; drops anchor, and begins to read her book. Along comes a game warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside the woman and says, "Good morning, ma'am. What are you doing?" Reading a book," she replies. "You're in a restricted fishing area," he informs her. "I'm sorry, Officer, but I'm not fishing, I'm reading." "Yes, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up." "If you do that, I 'll have to charge you with sexual assault," says the woman. “But I have not even touched you," says the game warden. “That's true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment." "Have a nice day, ma'am," he said, and left. Moral of this story: Never argue with a woman who reads.

Mitch laughed heartily at his own joke. Thomas and the little girl smiled politely.

Phil looked at Saul who looked at Andrea who looked at Bonnie.

Any more Key Lime pie? Andrea asked.

What’s wrong with that joke? Mitch boomed.

Nothing. Nothing. Saul had tried to salvage the moment but the moment was dead on its feet.

Nothing right with it either, Kayla said. You better stick to medicine.

So how about some cards? Or watching a movie?

This was how parties went until they all got drunk enough so it didn’t matter. Saul went to the kitchen to grab two more bottles of wine. He could see that it would take a lot of lubricant to bring this dead whale to life. Personal identity disappears after enough alcohol is imbibed and he wanted to eradicate the personal identity of just about everyone in the room, including his own.

Ah, more wine, Mitch said. I really liked that joke—I don’t see—

Stop beating a dead horse, Bonnie told him. Andrea—I’ll have another piece of the pie. Bonnie, weighing in at about 230 pounds, was the last person who needed more Key Lime, but Saul was six glasses of wine past caring and too busy checking out Victoria and wondering if he could corner her in the kitchen and ask her how her pediatrics was going. Instead he took his wine glass out on the porch and watched the longest twilight fade out on the loveliest spring day in recent memory. Everything was violet with a tinge of gold, the cherry blossoms were falling from the trees and spread out all over the sidewalk like a pink and sweet pathway—the drive glistened with last night’s rain. There was a misty glow to it all--he just wanted that blush of hope to last but he knew it wouldn’t. Barney came out on the porch to join him. Too bad dogs can’t drink wine, he thought. He never understood that saying ‘it’s a dog’s life.’ Does it mean a dog’s life is good or bad? If it’s a dog’s life there is no relief. But there are smells. He supposed that was some compensation. Forget parties.

Saul snapped back into the moment and stared at the exploding colors in the window. The fashion world waits to be surprised by something new and the boredom of the rich knows no bounds, Saul realized. He thought about the meaning of colors. Some colors brought psychological depression and some brought--joy. But so what? The fashion business was all about the visual manifestation of moods placed on objects, he reasoned. The rich love moods. Oh, the rich are a moody lot. The rich (he put the phrase the rich in italics) very rarely create anything—but they willingly support mediocrity with their colossal power of preference.

Power of Preference.

Stay here, Barney. Saul bent down to pat the top of Barney’s head. Barney had been well trained to sit neatly on the sidewalk outside the door of whatever shop Saul entered. He sacrificed for the pleasure of their daily jaunts out together because he knew, he trusted, that sometime after all the waiting Saul rewarded him with a romp in the park, and the park meant the delicious smells of other dogs and the pleasures of pissing on a wide variety of trees. That was, in essence, the dog’s life.

Saul walked into the store.

May I help you? The young woman, draped in something peacock colored, flowing and just barely showing the outlines of her breasts, surprised him.

No. I’m just looking around.

He walked over to a rack of dresses and thought about clothing as he fingered the garments and felt their soft, silky fabrics on his skin. The colors tantalized him--the mystery of texture and fabric turned him on. Blue, scarlet, green, lavender, yellow, lime, orange--wasn’t that the idea--to make men feel the singular sensual Great Mystery of the Woman? High-arousal hues coupled with low-arousal hues—a form of entrapment.

Oh hell, Saul’s practical voice countered, fashion has wielded a weapon of war and aggression ever since the reversal of nature and the Fall of Adam. Those two poor souls put clothes on as a primary social factor—(particles can appear in places where they have no right to be—Heisenberg interrupted his reverie)—the first primary social factor: the moment when humankind lost its innocence by realizing the shame of its nakedness, with all the implied sexuality of power and lust and loss of control. Clothing became a ploy to control the sexual urges. Clothing begat fashion, but before fashion (if there ever was a “before”) clothing stood as the first prehistoric attempt to provide a sensory response to the world, a kind of cheap imitation of nature in all of its glorious plumage, color and richness. Clothing was essentially a ritual behavior mechanism with roots in tribal society where clothes were the way in which one identified one’s place in the tribe. Ah hah! Clothing is Shape Shifting at its most rudimentary level! This revelation gave Saul a moment of joy and he let out a little laugh, which startled the sales girl industriously straightening brilliant-colored T-shirts on a long wooden table.

I’m sorry.

That’s all right. Can I show you something specific?

No—I’m just getting off on clothes.

Oh. She smiled. Her earrings told him she understood. Ah—clothing gives out subtle signals.

Nothing has changed, he realized, as he moved from the rack of dresses to another rack of balloon-like pants with matching colored, printed shirts. We still live in tribes except the old tribes have distorted into smaller and disparate sub-tribes and sub-sub-tribes to keep the energy at a manageable level. In spite of this, the more humankind advances in civilization the more violent and warlike the tribal group dynamic becomes! This violence, subjugated, projects outwards through many artifices—fashion is one of the most trivial of these artifices--asserting itself as a pseudo-artistic portal through which humiliation of one’s fellow species finds its manifestation. Saul congratulated himself on these thoughts and held up a large pair of balloon pants. What will Barney say? Barney sat outside panting on the sidewalk waiting uncomplainingly for his master to take him to the park where he could revel in the odors of vegetation, shrubbery and other dogs. The salesgirl peered out the front window of the store to look at Barney.

Is that your dog?

Yes. He’s good. He won’t bother anyone. He’s too old, anyway.

Oh, he can come in the store. I don’t mind.

He’s probably better out there. He’s used to wandering around with me.


She went back to folding shirts.

Fashion is violence, Saul thought as he looked in the full-length mirror on the door of the dressing room with the pants held up against his body.

Could I wear these?

Fashion seeks to use the human body as a disembodied mannequin displaying the cloth and color born out of the imagination of the designer having virtually nothing to do with the person modeling the clothing, nor with the humans who may wish to adopt or modify the vision for themselves. Saul reflected that these ideas might make a good article. He took the pants into the cubicle and shut the door.

Fashion has de-feminized the woman by extolling masculine characteristics in a feminine body, (the skein of thoughts unwound in his head) by performing a lobotomy on the personality of the models who show the clothes, by demanding that models have no hips, no breasts; no flesh! Saul took off his jeans and slid the multi-colored balloon pants on. The celebration of a primary male homosexual fantasy, (which also expresses itself in the Ballet and other art forms), turning young girls into little boys-- disembodied corpses! The result? A wave of revulsion toward the natural body of a woman that, quite logically carries over into a social revulsion against women and their bodies in general. All men are homosexuals! Saul discarded that thought. Ach, Mien Gott! He heard the voice of his childhood Rabbi; Frankel the Frank, they used to call him.

With the pants on, Saul turned to the side to see how they looked. He wished for a mirror so he could see himself from behind, but he didn’t dare ask the girl for one. The pants fit but he wondered if the ballooning effect made him look a little hippy. Would Barney recognize him? And what happens when I walk out into the street?

Since women’s bodies go through so many changes in the course of a lifetime from girlhood to puberty to motherhood (for some) to menopause to death—death! At this Saul looked away from the mirror and shape shifted himself into a dead corpse lying inside a coffin. Imagine death! Forget it. He felt a sudden heart palpitation but it could have been the coffee.

Group loathing towards women’s bodily fluctuations produces in young girls and pre-pubescent girls a sense of failure, self-hatred and disorientation. Saul contemplated whether he ought to buy the pants or not. He could always give them to Andrea (who would never wear them) or give them to the Salvation Army or something. But he wanted to wear them! What taboo was keeping him from doing this? The successful woman who learns early will display a gross imitation of male behavior, body movement and dress, thus further alienating herself from her Woman power. This violence against women--a form of social aggression--does not originate in fashion but finds its most obvious expression there. The media prevails upon the consciousness of all and sundry through television, radio, film, advertising, magazines and computer ads—the violence spreads everywhere like a plague, an insidious form of bio-germ warfare that cannot be seen, felt or smelled but permeating every pore of the organism—the bio-warfare of fashion! Saul thought of the title of the article: The Vast Right-wing Conspiracy of Fashion—no--The Vast Left-wing Conspiracy of--

I am going to take the pants.

He walked out of the dressing room wearing the pants.

What do you think? He asked the girl.

Well, they look—interesting.

I like them. How much are they?

$250. They’re on sale.

What? So this is sticker shock. Could he pay $250 pants that would advertise him as crazy, eccentric, gay or was he just plain out of his mind?

With Globalization, even girls in Mongolia want to look like Tyra Banks, he thought. Until the human animal comes to peace with the Archetypal Feminine we’ll engage in social, political and emotional war in the increasingly tighter and spatially smaller Global Village we call the world. That would be the concluding sentence.

I’ll put them on my Visa, Saul said, jeans draped over one arm and wallet in hand.

Do you want to wear them out? she asked.

Why not? Barney’ll understand. He pulled his visa out of his wallet.

I need to remove the tags. She came around from the counter with a pair of scissors and delicately cut the tags off the pants.

Will there be anything else?

Not right now.

Can I put your jeans in a bag?


Saul walked out of the store with a Pleasure Palace bag and the Luna Book bag and realized that there was no place to put his wallet. The pants had no pockets. Barney looked up at him expectantly. Park now? his eyes said. Saul dropped his wallet into the bag with his jeans and they proceeded to the park.

At the park Barney ran around sniffing life while Saul sat on a bench and pulled the book out.

Crow medicine people master illusion, the book said, human law creates a mandate of acceptable behavior within the context of worldly affairs. I hope nobody I know comes walking by, he thought. Human law is not the same as Sacred Law. Crow sees the physical world and the spiritual world as humanity interprets them as an illusion.

It makes no damn difference what I wear, Saul concluded. Saul listened to bird sounds and watched Barney snuffling and hunting around pissing on trees. He felt the cold, hardness of the bench underneath the flimsy fabric of the pants. Women feel the world with their asses, he reflected. An expansion of time passed as Saul watched Barney and sat on the bench, thinking of zilch, screening the whole thing, in motion and at rest simultaneously. From somewhere far he heard a train and experienced concurrently: the train window with life whizzing by at dizzying speed—trees, houses, buildings sliding past; the earmarks of civilization minus the potential causal relationships, without reference to events—an eventless moment of pure release because it was the moment with no other moments to consider--and sitting his ass on a park bench in NW D.C watching Barney explode with joy. He sucked air in two places at the same time and both places made about as much sense as the voices of children heard in the distance or the memory of joys and desires that hung together in the intelligent dominion of his mind.

Once home, Barney raced next door to tell the poodles all about his latest excursion and sniff their hybrid excitability while Saul deleted everything he had written that morning. The moment of realization in the park became obliterated with the gestalt of his daily existence—a sink full of dirty dishes, one of Andrea’s ubiquitous household lists tacked up on the refrigerator, a pile of short-story submissions to read, an article that he had to write--it became obvious to him that in spite of the fact that he considered writing his vocation, his real vocation was reading the rotten work of other people who considered writing their vocation. Years of reading rotten work had eroded his self- confidence: he worried about the deleterious effect on his own work. He wondered if the years of reading stories of awkward desperation filled with clumsy sentences of bad writing had invaded him at some subliminal level and made him into an even worse writer than he was. But that was probably just an excuse he used to justify the fact that he hadn’t created anything worth publishing in so many years that most people referred to him as a great teacher, a great reader, a great writer of articles, a great reviewer—everything but a great writer. And, he asked himself at terrifyingly honest moments, would he ever be a great writer? At what age does promise sink into self-delusion? Could a man be promising in his sixties? How long was he going to live? He began to worry he wouldn’t live long enough to find out. He realized the absurdity of this and didn’t care. At moments such as this, Saul roamed his memory for the women who had humiliated him or loved him or both—recent memories of women (in their twenties) who often flirted with him until they discovered he really was that old, older than their fathers, (even though he could disguise all this with a certain, shrewd liveliness in his eyes) older, (especially in the paunch) than any man they had ever flirted with, and yet they found themselves flirting with him anyway. He hadn’t lost his touch. The packaging was a little frayed around the edge, but that was not the problem. The trouble was that he had not really addressed his essential weakness: he was a pagan, a vain diva filled with coldness and a wicked sense of humor, having no money, (or not enough) and a wife much more empowered than he was. In short, he was an old man weary of it all. By now, the balloon pants had begun to really irritate him. Barney was happy, why shouldn’t he be happy too? If he could get happy by sniffing around young girls life would be perfect.

The richness of the freedom conferred by the mask of fiction forced him to try, against the repeated feeling of failure, against the words of his editor written at the top of his novel: a flickering, barren, depressive perfectionism, against the memory of the stern moral code of his father; against the demanding, whining, devouring presence of his mother, to write sentences, phrases, moments, scenes, characters, dialogue into something—he wanted to be remembered. Hiding behind those wonderful invented masks gave him the option to play at reality, change it, mold it, shape it, move it, scare it into doing exactly what he wanted—the imagination was so much more pleasurable than life! But--(he opened the book he had just bought hoping for some clarity), let’s face it, he’d had a good day, he looked ridiculous in these pants, and fairly soon Andrea would be home to make him experience the momentary pleasure of pretending to be happy. Was that it? Are we are just pretending to be happy?

You have forgotten to ask for help when you needed it, the book said, thus you will not be able to receive abundance when you want it most. This is characteristic of those who are ungrateful for the blessings, abilities, talents, health, family and friends in their lives. Ungrateful humans often walk with inner pain rather than with peace in their hearts.

Saul closed the book feeling cheated and angry. Perhaps he was pushing himself too fast in the physical world—I need a Reunion with something deeper and the pants didn’t do it. He wished he really had the ability to shape shift, move time somewhere else or move himself into another time, experience another body not his own, but isn’t that what marriage is about? Experiencing Andrea’s body as if it were his own? The imagination of her body brought her energy into the room just as if she were actually there and for a brief second Saul actually thought she might be—but it was just Barney scratching at the door wanting to be let in. He went to the door and there stood Barney, with the two Czech poodles beside him, happiness complete. Saul would have let the poodles in but they didn’t really belong in his house. Barney came in alone and went right for the new bone Saul had set near his bowl of water. Saul discovered if he made the boundaries of his life smaller and smaller, dissected the days into minute divisions--moments, he could stop feeling like a doormat. He realized that Barney was his only teacher and all the rest of it was just routines he wanted to get through in a hurry. Next year is next year, Saul thought, believing in his lost youth.

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