Without a first line you have nothing.
(That’s not true, but it sounds good.)
What could go wrong?
(Lots of stuff.)
You sit on the porch of an old house in a college town and the stuffy air fills your lungs. The sound of cicadas drives the dream even hotter. Texas withdrawing into a July day. Distant shafts of sun cut low across the lawns and the threads of red and gold weave their way through the trees and you wonder as you look at the carpet of light and then you wonder still as the colors enrich themselves in the way of all things immortal. Summer school is in session and the students are in a state of perpetual picnicking, lying around on the grass underneath spreading oaks hoping to levitate with pot and wine, praying for a good breeze to carry them up into the evening. Some of them fall asleep and become as silent as the unseen dead in the church cemetery.
The sun will be gone in thirty minutes.
A guitar is in your hand and you are writing a song for the owner of a bar. He headlines a house band and has asked you to write something. You call it, “My Rusty Pickup Line”. Across the street, through the thick molecules, you notice a young male student sitting on a low rock wall in front of the church. He rises and walks toward the edge of the road. He stops on the sidewalk and looks at you. His expression is very serious and you are certain you don’t know him. Never seen him before, you think.
Cars usually drive over the speed limit on your street and then in an instant the student steps off the sidewalk and stands directly in front of an oncoming car. You hear the sound of the brakes and the tires. You see everything in time lapse photography, click, click, each frame hanging upon a wire, developing, one after the other and your brain lags behind the sounds and sights and slowly it becomes clear that the student has stepped in front of a car. He stands with his head tilted back and his arms outstretched. You watch as the two people in the front seat, a girl and a boy, fly forward and hit the steering wheel and the dashboard. The car stops inches from the student. He’s crazy, you think. You now notice he has on a blue tee-shirt. The two people in the car don’t seem hurt and then the crazy guy jumps up on the hood and stomps down with each step as he reaches the windshield, he kicks it a few times and then steps up on the roof and stomps as he walks toward the trunk. He steps down upon the trunk and jumps up and down a few times and finally leaps onto the street and crouches down like some sort of animal. The car slowly drives away with a dented hood, roof, and trunk.
The guy in the blue-tee shirt stands upright and calmly walks toward you, but he’s not coming for you, something else, and then he breaks into a slow trot and dives head first into a line of shrubs that run along the edge of the yard. The hedgerow is at least five feet tall, thick and gnarly. He disappears for a moment, but you can see the limbs and leaves violently moving about like somebody being murdered and then he emerges and cries, why? He dives back into the shrubs and twists and fights with the plant until he falls out onto the lawn, breathing heavily, weeping for forgiveness. He lies for a minute or two and then you walk over to him and tell him to get up. His arms and face are covered with cuts and he is bleeding from his forehead. Follow me, you say. The cops will be here in a few minutes.
He trails like a hungry dog and you take him next door where you live with Mrs. Mansky, the widow of the man who created the famous Mansky Roll. You have about a third of her house and she ignores your drinking and drug use and the girls who come and go from your place. You steal olives from her refrigerator and gin from her cabinet and you sit with her at night watching TV shows and she tells stories of Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw and how the governor died in front of her house.
You take the guy in the blue tee-shirt, who evidently wants to die, into the back bedroom and he sits on the one good chair you have in the whole apartment. You ask him not to bleed on the arm rests and you go into the bathroom to get wet towels. Here, take these and clean yourself up and I’ll be back, you say. On the next door front porch, you start working on the song again. You can see how this incident might make a good lyric. As the sun goes down the cop arrives. He parks and comes up to you and asks if you saw somebody jumping on a car? You tell him, yes, it was a hell of a thing and the guy ran down the street toward campus. What did he look like? You give an inaccurate description since you live by the maxim, he lies like an eyewitness. The cop thanks you and leaves searching for a man in shorts, checkered shirt and carrying a baseball bat.
You return to your apartment. The bleeding has stopped. You ask him if he’d like a beer and a hit of pot. He says, thanks and you share a couple of beers and a joint and he tells you a story.
It’s all about love, man, the love of the greatest girl in the world. My name is Dale and I live in Austin. I work for a tile wholesaler. Do you know Trudy?
Yeah, you know her. She’s thin, white like paper, with purple blood veins webbing across her arms. She’s part bird and looks like a victim emerging out of a long kidnapping and the two of you hardly ever speak. She lives in the house next door where you were playing the guitar when Dale attacked the car and the hedgerow.
You’re an atheist, so what follows makes perfect sense.
Dale tells you he’s a Lutheran and Trudy has recently decided to become a Catholic and wants to join a nunnery after graduation in August, with an MEd in Special Education. Dale says she wants to begin the purification process and abstain from sex and entangling relationships.
He tells you that Lutherans really dislike Catholics and you say, all of this sounds like a problem. Dale gives you his thoughts on love and sex and purity. You continue to drink and smoke and finally you ask Dale how he’s getting to Austin and he says his car is in the church parking lot. He gives you his telephone number and asks you to call him when Trudy’s home, since she won’t return his calls. He wants to tell her how depressed he is, how disappointed he is in her, about his funny thoughts. You tell him sure and follow him outside, you shake hands and then he drives away in an old pickup truck.
Of course, you never call Dale and a few nights later as you’re lying in bed with all the windows open, Trudy comes home with a man you’d seen her with before, but since he was so old, you’d assumed he was her father or uncle. They pull into the drive way and go up on the porch. It’s after mid-night and the lights are off and you can only see them in a haze of the moon, but it’s enough to watch them kiss as he fondles her and then he lifts her up on a little table and they seem to make love in the dark. It doesn’t last too long and then she goes inside and he leaves.
Trudy moves out one day in mid-August. The old man is helping her with boxes and clothes and you walk over and ask if they need some help. Trudy doesn’t answer and she goes inside, but he says no thanks and then he adds, I’m just a friend of the family. She’s moving to Houston. I helped her get a job.
Trudy is about twenty-five or so, while the man is pushing sixty. You watch them drive away in the U-Haul.
You aren’t a king and that’s too bad. Life would be easy if you were a king. For example, you could save Dale, you might even save Trudy. The old guy would end up in a tower hanging from the walls with the rats. But maybe not, maybe he isn’t so bad. Now that you think, it isn’t any of them, but rather the cop.
You started dating his wife when they separated. He threatened to kill her and he’d drive by her house when you were in bed and you’d both lie paralyzed listening to his motor run. Yeah, he was the bad one.
Love and sex, the confusion of it all. You like to extend your hand and touch everyone and everything and they are in front of you and the partners are young and alive, but forever doomed, just like the beating heart of your life as it fights against the slow, barely audible monotone.
Yes, you would have been a great king dancing in the moonlight on those hot July nights.