Prose Header

His & Hers

by Bill Bowler

Part II: Hearing Voices

Part I appeared in issue 251.

Mr. Sun, rippling his winged eyebrows,
rippling his whole head,
Mr. Sun, rising on the bookcase,
Mrs. Moon, setting on the mantle wide-eyed,
the insect people stricken in the green geometric

world, watching TV in the corner of the
mirror, lodgings for the night hanging on the
brick wall near flowers and an oared boat.

The marble fireplace and lead grate
pursed their lips at what went on
but she felt trapped, couldn’t breathe,

the shadows, caused by the light,
held her hostage as if to inanimate captors.

Mr. Sun rising on the bookcase rippled
out across their narrow kingdom,
his eyes upward towards the ceiling,

his clouded mouth uncertain, apprehensive,
hoping against hope. His huge nose
sniffed for some scent, some hint that

the brewing storm might have been
overblown by someone with an unconscious
motive or hidden agenda or covert policy

or vested interest or connection or someone
in a position to make delivery or collect in advance
their spiritual arrears, balance the checkbook or
at least have outside auditors examine his excuses.

The stack of little books, little volumes of poetry
attracted the young man’s attention.
The authors crafted separately little worlds,
grasped by bookends now.

He admired the handsome row of bindings,
and thought of joining them on the shelf
next to Mr. Sun, to read by sunlight,
on a summer afternoon.

Did he really want to change? To change what?
Himself? Or was he just playing along
with the therapist? But come on!

What’s the big deal? He was just
cruising along, minding his own business, what
was the big problem, anyway?

He renounced all of his previous works.
She denounced his falseness to his own authority,
but if they moved to California,
everything would be all right.

He got home close to midnight. She
was studiously writing something, perhaps
making a list. She knit her brow, said

nothing to him, ignored his presence, in
fact, save for a quick, “How was it?” when
he walked in.

Should not that brief comment have sufficed
to defuse any potential situation, or was he
looking for a fight? In any case, he undressed,

put on his robe in silence, came into the
living room and sat opposite her. She
was eating an ice pop.

HE: What are you doing?

SHE: Nothing.

They sat in silence,

SHE: What are you staring at?

HE: Nothing.

Well, enough of this BS, he thought,
rose, and turned out the light as
he turned down the hall.

SHE: How dare you?!

HE: What? (Innocently)

SHE: How dare you just start turning out all the lights?!

HE: It’s not all the lights; it’s the dining room light.

SHE: It’s the kitchen light!
And I’m trying to read
and I don’t see well (her voice begins to crack)
and there are shadows!

He turns on the living room light.

HE: Is that better?

SHE: No.

She mutters to herself but he
can’t make out the words. At least

he doesn’t take the bait and storm back
howling, “What did you say?!”

but closes the door and goes to bed thinking
it’s time for a goddam divorce.

She bursts into the bedroom and screams,
“I want you out of here now, buddy!!!”

He storms out and slams the door,
“You’ll never see me again!!”

Of course, he came back a short while later,
the whole unpleasantness out of his mind,
exchanged for a pounding headache.

What was it they were arguing about?
Her papers, her crystal, her feelings?

His not listening to her?
His not talking, not ever expressing his feelings?

His not defending her but
siding with his sister, or her father,

or the mechanic, or the accountant,
or the bank, or the insurance company?

And his rebuttal? Brilliant.
Sulking, pouting, silent treatment, paradigms
to which he clung, thinking, “she
doesn’t love me, never supports me, just
recriminates me, bad, bad...”

How easily he trapped himself, chasing
his own tail and playing into

his own hands. In short, what prevented him
from growing up? How dramatic his suffering,

to which she paid absolutely no attention,
or so it seemed. He stalked into the kitchen and

opened a beer thinking, why not just get
drunk? Maybe he would feel better. Another
brilliant idea! But where would it all lead?

He was loathe to follow it
through to its obvious conclusion as if he
were dragging himself kicking and screaming.

His little silent treatment pouting act
was so absurd. He knew it all too well but
could not break the “mind forged manacles” he

had shackled himself with. The shameless
captive licked his chains and when they
whipped him, he cried out for more.

As he fled in mental anguish, smoking
massive amounts of dope and drinking
himself into a stupor, the obvious

question was, what was he escaping
from? What was the promulgator
of his fractured flight? Had he
asked himself?

A nightmare injected
itself into his brain like
bad drugs. His thoughts lost the
use of their legs and left arm
and crumpled to the floor, too weak
even to dial the phone, barely, barely
able to drag themselves across the floor
and somehow manage, slowly, slowly,
blacking out, trapped in a deep fog, in pain, pain,
with prodigious effort, to lift their arm and
raise the bolt and open the door and
let help in...

Papers were piling up in the Battle Zone.
He thought of Modern Poetry,
of life in America today,
family life, everything in sequence.

The light was remarkable
after the storm, a fresh breeze
blew in from across the bay
and the setting sun beamed
horizontal rays down
the avenue, which ran due
east at that stretch,
the horizontal light
illuminated the row of facades
in soft pastel colors,
clear tones as he
had rarely seen.

He crossed the street and got her
cigarettes and picked up a sixpack
of brewskies from the deli.

They had been arguing and talking and
arguing all day, the day before,
and into the next day. When he
got back, she was trying on old
clothes, dressing and stripping, dressing

and stripping in front of the mirror all
afternoon, stark naked right
in front of him! He
devoured Her with his eyes.
Her tits! Her ass! Her nipples!
He had an incredible hard-on... He

plugged into his computer, sent
the cursor hurtling through the
third dimension deep into the screen, into
the memory. He
deleted a word, moved another,
creating a blank space and the
planets swirled into oblivion.

Belonging to a group
eluded his grasp. “Lions don’t flock,”
he thought to himself as he
rode home on the subway
alone and alienated, thinking only of
hurrying for a
cold beer and a “j.” He
entertained suspicions which he
kept to himself, believing
but not revealing.

He was glad to be
in the city, though he approached
the construction site with
caution, glancing up nervously
to the 50th floor where 4x4s
dangled ominously from the
scaffold in the gusty wind.

He crossed the street hurriedly,
thinking of the poor actor he
had read about in the Times who
was struck down from behind
in front of the Federal
Express window across the
street where everybody could
see, pole-axed from the back by
a 4x4 wooden air-to-land missile which
had arced into the base of the skull
from the 50th floor.

She gabbed on the phone
with her brother’s fiancée in L.A.
at length, one hour, two hours,
switching ears, smoking cigarettes.
He was burned up at the bills.

She was angry angry angry
all the time. It was
eating her up, aging her,
draining her, yet it
burnt like a fire,
feeding her energy,
driving her like an engine
as she spun off from Wall St.
into real estate and
deep depression. She told
it all to her shrink, Dr. Moloch,
who scratched notes and occasionally

She gabbed on the phone
with her mother:

“Hello, Maah? It’s me.
Yes, I’m coming to Boston about
my car. The bastards broke
into my car and stole the tape
player. Ripped it right out
of the dashboard, the scum! So
I had to go to the precinct for
the accident report and the damn
insurance company says I have to
go to a drive-in adjuster since
it’s still running. But I can take it
to the dealer. They can deal direct
with the dealer...”

She hated the city.
He made her live there. He liked
the dirt and the crowds. She needed to
live where she could park
her car in a little garage and
have some peace and quiet and
sit outside on the porch.
Country sophisticate
would be best.
Town & Country. Not hicks.

He always spoke in metaphors,
hiding his meanings and feelings. It really
annoyed her. He adored her
golden mane, her uncombed tumbling
strawberry blond locks.

He was willing to consider
their whole conflict
as his own projection. He

was willing to adopt that point of view
and examine it from that angle.
She, he felt, was unwilling to

do as much. When he suggested it,
she outright rejected the
idea, and yet, were he

still to take that tack, to
view the conflict as a projection
of his own inner turmoil

and not as emanating
from her, where
did that line of analysis lead? Inevitably

to the conclusion that he in fact
was frustrated and angry. Not
she, he. And yet consciously

he did not feel himself to be
an angry, frustrated person. No
more than the next guy. Whereas

she seemed to be boiling mad about
everything. She went from one
incident to the next without

let up. Virtually any little thing could
set her off. The checkbook, a chipped
plate, a comment.

What he felt, what
drove him to smoke and drink, was
the deep disappointment, the schism between

his aspirations and the reality for which
he had to settle, his sense of failure, his inability
to reconcile himself
with his modest circumstances in

light of his grandiose expectations.
He admitted none of this to himself,
let alone to her or anybody else.
And God forbid he should ever mention any of this
to a therapist.

Her abrupt transformations from
adult to child and back
were a rhythm suggesting
the waves on the rocks
and on the fine black sand
at Ragged Point in Big Sur.
Lying there like a fat seal
he waddled on flippers
into the water and
darted under and away.

Of he and she
expecting the objective, or
perhaps just the name, instead of
he presupposing the antecedent,
the object and mood
determined by the preceding.
And of she, Her,
the female one,
soft warm fragrant
moist alluring,
with the curves, receptive,
her tongue in his ear.

The aggravation quotient
was rising towards
total hostility. But why?

Why seek it out? He had been
asking himself the same question
for the past year, over and over, his

every move, slow motion
in the spotlight of her expected

They sat at opposite ends
of the couch in silence.
“Yes, it’s me, Prince Myshkin, me
The Idiot, me,” he thought, “me
Jesus, Don Quixote, Jean Valjean,
you name it, you
know who I mean.”

It was never far
beneath the surface,
even from the peak
it was not far,
it lurked nearby always
ready to erupt
from under pressure
(not to mention the heat)
and the end? Not a
bang, a whimper, as the
poet said.
She just left.
Got up one night
after an argument
while he was sulking in the
bedroom, she just
rose from the couch,
got her keys, and left
locking the door behind her.

He thought she had gone
out for cigs, then, as
time passed, he imagined her
standing in line at the ice cream
store (she was fond of dessert
at that time of night) but
more time passed. He wanted
to ignore it, but after a
half hour, 45 minutes, an hour...
two years later?! Hell!
When did he first realize
it? Or did he ever?
With his big ears,
from the bedroom
he overheard her
entire exit.

Of course she came back,
she had just struck up a
conversation with the newspaper

stand guy, a Moslem
from the Punjab. They chatted
about art history, architecture,

geography. An hour
flew by before she realized
and she went back up to the

apartment. He had been
pacing anxiously, forgetting to
sulk, wondering where she could

have gone so long? On a train
to her folks in Boston? To
her sister and brother-in-law’s in

Nutley? It seemed kind of
late for that. She wouldn’t arrive
until two or three in the morning. And

she hadn’t taken her tooth brush
or any of her things.

All lies, he swore to himself, all
lies, the heart-rending flash
of pain, his true feelings

in a brief wave betraying
his vain “self-control,” igniting
the straw to which he clung.

In a way, it’s a matter of deciding
what you think you’re entitled to.
And what did he think
he was entitled to?
Entitled to something,
that’s for sure. And
where the hell was it?
He wanted more money.
He wanted to make his wife happy.
He wanted to confess to the world
which looked upon his entreaty
as an unrequested solicitation
from an indigent stranger.

What if there’s a crash?
What if the Stock Market goes south?
A lot of people could get wiped out,
could lose their jobs from the ripple effect,
a lot of people could be out of work,
feeling the pressure. Banks could fail.
The whole system could collapse
like a house of cards! Economic
pandemonium would ensue.
Of course, a few would prosper
amidst the general decline.
These few would comprehend the
significance of events seen otherwise
as anarchy by most. You could
get robbed, too! (What the
hell was she doing?! Washing the
goddamn rug in the bathtub? Now?!)

Copyright © 2007 by Bill Bowler

Home Page