Everything Stuck To Him, Part IV
Where She Was Calling From
On days like this, when the snow was gently flowing over Denver like a cold kiss from a gray angel, Ray would sit peacefully in the den with a cup of coffee laced with sugar and cream or strong unsweetened black tea and contemplate the awards and certificates of honor that lined the unglazed terra cotta walls and he would understand, without remorse, that it all added up to nothing. Two years ago the surgeons offered him one more year of living and breathing and enjoying. Ray defied their prognosis. He did not belong here, he knew that. He was a squatter in his own life.
He contemplated a poem that afternoon, a piece about the death of his daughter’s dog by a hit and run driver when she was ten years old, a meditation on mortality and the poet’s manipulation of reality to create art — if that was what he was indeed creating. It didn’t matter in the long run, he supposed. His publishers assured him that he would enjoy a long shelf-life after he was lowered into the grave but it was received by Ray as a cruel sort of solace.
He sat at the old, creaky oak desk, poised a pen over the fresh legal pad, and began to write. The first word had barely begun to flow from thick blue ink to yellow page when the telephone rudely startled him from his thoughts.
“Ray ..,?” It was Evelyn, his ex-wife, the third, the sole refugee from his haphazard life he was still on speaking terms with. “Is everything alright?”
Ray lit a Winston 100 with a slim gold lighter engraved with his initials, a gift from the Harvard Poets Society. “Why would you assume otherwise?”
Evelyn was hesitant, as always. “I … I got a letter from Lorraine yesterday. She insinuated that there had been some kind of incident.”
“An incident, Ray.”
Ray frowned and blew a ring of smoke into the telephone receiver. “It was an accident. Completely unintentional. It could have happened to anybody.” He swiveled in his chair to observe the snow flurries outside the window of the den. “All I tried to do was pull her up off the floor. A momentary loss of muscular coordination. I mean … a few extra pounds of energy, per second, per second, Evelyn.”
“You don’t sound like yourself.”
“I don’t?” He drew hard on the cigarette. “Maybe that’s because I was quoting Stephen King. The Shining. I can cite you chapter and page number if you want to hang on for a sec.”
“You’re quoting Stephen King? That’s not like you. Denver is doing bad things to you.”
He sipped his cold coffee from a ceramic mug. “I’ll try Wordsworth next time but I’m not sure he wrote about the subtle nuances of domestic violence.”
“So you did hurt her?” Evelyn sighed. “God, Ray …”
“The hand is healing nicely. But the bruise on her thigh. Jesus God, Evelyn, the bruise on her thigh. It fucking haunts me, every night when she pulls back the sheets in bed and I have to look at that awful, sickening bruise, all black and blue and yellow. And Lorraine doesn’t blame me, not completely, she understands the stress I’m under. How’s the old town? How’re things there?”
“Where you’re calling from.”
“I’m not in Portland anymore. I moved to Los Angeles three months ago. Ray … are you alright?”
“Right as rain.” He snubbed the cigarette in the ashtray and watched the snow drift outside the window. “Goddamnit it, Evelyn … goddamnit all to hell.”