Everything Stuck To Him, Part VIII
A Book of Common Prayer
Oh, the benches were stained with tears and perspiration,
The birdies were flying from tree to tree.
There was little to say, there was no conversation
As I stepped to the stage to pick up my degree.
And the locusts sang off in the distance,
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody.
Oh, the locusts sang off in the distance,
Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me.
(The Day of the Locusts, Bob Dylan)
I opened an old spiral notebook to see what he had been thinking in those days. There were five entries, in a hand that I did not recognize as Ray’s, but Lorraine had assured me it was his writing.
Having one of Ray’s personal notebooks in my hands created an odd sensation in the pit of my stomach and unease in my head. I feared another migraine episode was coming on (Please, God, not another repeat of the Portland episode) so I carried the notebook to the small writing desk near the window and sat down in the plush upholstered chair that once belonged to my father, the same chair he was seated at when he shot himself through the heart. Much to my mother’s horror and dismay, I can never get rid of that chair. It brings me great comfort, physically and spiritually. I was still in the institution when father died by his own hand; Dr. Crowell had refused a day pass for me to attend the funeral so I have the chair instead of a burial ritual to absorb my grief.
As I sat down to examine the notebook — a bright yellow cover with a brown coffee ring stain and a smudge of black ink — there appeared a dozen tiny birds, no bigger than my fist, perching in the tree branches outside my window, chirping and chattering madly, a winged symphony. It was odd, really, because the weather outside was devastating. Why had they chosen my tree for shelter from the fierce desert storm? (I stopped looking for symbolic meaning in simple things years ago. Dr. Crowell made sure of that.)
On the first page of the notebook were fragments of a poem about a Christmas tree that had been turned over, lying on its side in front of a fireplace while the children looked on in dismay. Plates and bottles were flying, a salad had been overturned from its bowl on a dining room table, and a glass ashtray become a lethal projectile that struck the family dog in the head. In the margins Ray wrote: THROBBING HANGOVER HEADACHE. I imagine the dog didn’t feel so well the morning after either.
I sipped my cold black coffee and moved on to the next page. In calm, florid scroll Ray wrote: restaurant, eating house, dining room, eatery, beanery, hash house, trattoria, cafe, luncheonette, coffeehouse, coffee shop, tavern, chophouse, grill, grill room … rubber room … rubber band … what does she expect from me? No puzzle there. I could decipher it in one word: Juditha. It was Juditha that Ray had met in the Arizona coffee shop that afternoon, the brief meeting that the waitress told me about, the waitress that Bill Dent insisted had been a prostitute in a previous incarnation. Bill Dent was a notorious gossip; malicious information had a way of attaching itself to Bill Dent’s hide like fleas to a mangy dog.
The entry on the next page I recognized as words from Joan Didion: We are uneasy about a story until we know who is telling it. Joan wrote that in “A Book of Common Prayer.” I ought to know. I have the entire book committed to memory because I typed it, word for word, on a manual typewriter. I wanted to get a feel for the flow of the writing, how she crafted the words and the plot. I had read somewhere that Hunter S. Thomson had done the same thing with the text of “The Great Gatsby” and I mentioned to Dr. Crowell that it might be a good form of therapy for me. He agreed but he balked at my suggestion that I send the completed manuscript to Ms. Didion for her autograph. Had Ray known about my thin connection to Didion and “The Book of Common Prayer”?
We are uneasy about a story until we know who is telling it.
Outside my window the birds suddenly stopped chirping and turned their heads in unison toward the west. They sensed something and immediately took to panicked flight in the storm, scattering like black ink in all directions across the gray sky. I closed the notebook and sank further into the chair, feeling my father’s embrace in the thick upholstery.