The woman disappeared one day rather abruptly, just stopped being where I had become accustomed to seeing her – which was usually on the balcony stirring drinks when I walked in the front door. We had an agreement that last names would remain a closely guarded secret, and if anyone were to address us by last name in the presence of the other, we would refuse to look in that person’s direction so as to create the illusion that the person must be addressing someone else even if there was no one else in the room to be addressed. In this way, I think we both came to know a great deal more about each other than we would ever admit, but the knowledge was next to sacred and so I have rarely spoken of it since. Once, when I had been drinking rye with Del and had begun to suspect he was messing around with his own chickens again because of the odd pock marks that surfaced on his hands and his neck, I spoke openly of that time and almost immediately regretted it. Del grinned at me with his teeth hanging every which way but straight and his eye squinted a little where it had caught the sharp part of a fence once when he was a boy. He started to comment, to tell me, no doubt, that he thought I was stupid for letting that woman go, but I held my hand up before he could get started and I think Del believed this gesture was more significant than I had intended it to be. Sometimes, when you can’t think of what else to do, moving a limb from its supine position is the only thing that will make you feel as if you have accomplished something when, in fact, you have accomplished nothing at all. You are in exactly the same position you were a few moments before, and the humiliation you’d feel should this become obvious would be too much to bear. It would be the sort of thing that might make you consider throwing yourself from a bridge if you could find one high enough and far enough removed from your present location to give the impression that you had been thinking through the implications of your decision during the whole of the time it took you to travel to that faraway bridge and find a suitable spot on it from which to throw yourself. But, of course, all of this presupposes a brooding temperament and a tendency to give in to hysterical impulses when, in all likelihood, you are not like that. You are deliberate in your decision making and prone to overthink things to such a degree any emotional upheaval is apt to dissipate itself once and for all in all the confusion. Then you are free to occupy your leisure in whatever way you see fit for the rest of the evening, including picking the cabbage shreds from between your teeth with your finger or remixing a version of Ravel’s “Bolero” on your laptop computer to make it sound as if someone were humming the whole of it while swimming underwater.
Conversational brilliance is a quality lacking in the family going back as far as the seventeenth century, though there are no actual records to consult or heirlooms passed from hand to hand like narcotics in little plastic bags. Mostly it’s just a hunch, I suspect, but those who hold it try to act as if they have been entirely circumspect and can not be held accountable for what results. The pointing of fingers at inanimate objects. The turning of ordinary notes and staffs on sheet music into indecipherable blocks of black ink. As if in response, the person watching me from the window lets out a little howl, seems to be calling out to the wolves that are said to frequent the hills roundabout, but which in all actuality were poisoned by the ranchers in the vicinity eighty or more years before we ever arrived. She (for there can be no doubt of her gender if for no other reason than it is the gender the narrator prefers to invite into the proceedings and to show around on his arm as if it were a tattoo or a bauble with diminutive emeralds sprinkled about its surface) speaks the same language everybody else does, which is a strange combination of English and something that might be a pseudo-Hakka, but she refuses to do it within earshot of anyone who reminds her of her uncle – a tall man with pouches perpetually beneath the eyes and a penchant for chewing on the ends of cigars and forever spitting the resins and the paper bits that come off in his mouth out onto the ground even if he is standing in somebody’s kitchen. This endears him to very few, as you may well imagine, but those it does look at him like someone arrived from another time and a distant place, maybe even somewhere outside our galaxy. I make one last attempt to draw her out into the open with a song that has no words, that you can play on a comb with a piece of wax paper stretched out across the teeth. You might suspect whatever tune arises from such a set up originates within the throat of the person playing, that the device is much like a child’s toy, the name of which sounds very similar to a variety of vine or the isthmus where we spent our holidays until I turned six, and that requires only the manipulation of the vocal chords to alter the tone of the breath that makes it through. But this is not the case at all. A great deal of talent is required, as well as practice, and it is this I am engaged in when the girl emerges from the shadows and walks in my direction so slowly it takes me twenty or thirty seconds – by necessity a calculation performed afterwards -- just to register that she is there, to mark some difference between the fact and the outline of her body and the fact and the outline of the mud walls of one the domiciles she has emerged from. And even then, I’m not sure I am seeing exactly what is out there for the eye to register. I suspect I am suffering visions once again due this time to chronic consumption of untreated pond water, and the ribald fever that descends upon me in shifts and turns my heart into something that operates on a wisdom not originally intended for it, and certainly not designed. A wisdom perfectly suited for other organs in the body, I suppose, like the lowly gall bladder, but seeming out of place in the company of the heart, which has an obligation to be somewhat exclusive. It must be careful who it listens to and who it pals around with so as to avoid the generation of unnecessary rumors.