So anyway, a number of years ago Bear was rode his vintage '54 Panhead for a long ride out in the valley, talking the winding road that climbs up past the observatory and then down again to return to the Island out by Crab Cove, there to look across the water at distant Babylon's string of lights and the slowly easing sunset out past the Golden Gate, easing his mind from the rough handling that sometimes life metes out.
He was remembering a friend of his named Johnny, who had gone off to Vietnam in 1972 and not come back. As for a few others of his acquaintance. For Bear, everyday was Memorial Day, and the weird national holiday had nothing to do with anything in his experience. But the media hoopla and all the photo-ops brought things up nevertheless. So there he sat cross-legged on a bench one Memorial Day, looking for all the world like some Eastern Guru. Until you got up close to him.
Bear remained the same as he always was: a swarthy man with one red tennis shoe on his left foot and one green one on his right, both diffidently fastened, equally mismatched socks of varying colors depending on what had been found in the drawer that morning or the previous. His sturdy legs sported denims that probably had seen the nineteen-sixties come and go by way of the manner stitches and patches held them together. Underneath something tattered, soiled, and disdainful which once had been a proud leather biker jacket, a tee-shirt that sometimes functioned dually as motoroil absorber and noserag adorned his ample chest above which a ferocious beard provided home for two full lips and an assortment of animal life culled from various alate species. He stored his Harley in the livingroom of his cottage next to the couch.
Some men, inhabiting life in such condition, would have found a lack of female companionship to be a bother, but Bear never had a problem with that issue. He was not without mates, but let us say those relationships tended towards impermanence. So it was largley a monastic life he had chosen and with that life he was content.
As the sun began to drop behind the striations of liquid incarnadine and gold shot with azure sky and white cloud a flash of green suffused the horizon. Just as old Orion began his thousand year hunt across the heavens a car pulled up and two people got out to amble over and gaze at the vista. All down the beach solitary individuals walked their dogs in the blue light, kicked sand in company, gazed seaward in a way only the mariner and the long-term prairie sodbuster understands, for out there is not field nor sea, but the eternal Big Sky, always worth looking at, especially when Life takes a sudden turn.
The man started up a conversation with Bear, which is no mean feat to accomplish, for you must know Bear was a man of few words, if only for the fact that Bear stored only a handful of those things within the etui of his mind. But this man was Irish, and, for all their faults, the Irish will never be at a lack of words -- it's their own response to . . . inevitabilities.
Look at the stars, said the woman. There's Orion, just like back home.
Which one is Orion, Bear asked.
The woman pointed him out and indicated the twinkling outline points. And that string there that's his belt. Or it could be his sword. Or something else.
Ok, Bear said.
Was he, Bear, an American, meaning genuine article and all that pertains?
And was that not indeed a genuine American motorcycle of the type storied and exalted in literature and film and song?
Heavens no! We're no pommies. We're Irish. From Ireland. She by way of San Diego with short hops and marriage.
Married yes. But not to each other.
Well, let me explain, said the Irishman, whose name turned out to be David. The woman was named Danielle. David had grown up in abject penury, which in Ireland is quite a harsh thing for the weather is beastly and the people sometimes worse than the weather when they are your neighbors and aware of you. But a relative had earned a fortune writing children's books about a stuffed bear and his friends and this relative had developed a great wish for David, who got sent off to school where they discovered the boy actually had talent! In music of all things! One thing led to another (this story would itself comprise a short novella) and David became quite the star in the firmament of Irish classical music, working his way, if it may be called that, to full orchestral conductor. With success comes the dutiful marriage and the wildly undutiful spouse, soon dispensed with in typical Irish fashion, with a house and income and orders never to show her face.
This was, of course, when the Republic was predominantly Catholic, and not the hotbed of liberal sin and divorce it has become.
Danielle had longed to escape the drab sandy hot dry confines of San Diego and so had cultivated her own musical abilities, soon gravitating to Ireland, as becoming a member of the Staatskappele in Wien, Berlin, Bonn, Paris, London, Tokyo, Beijin or any of the great cities involved standing in line a long time and worshipping, in turn, someone's personal Priapus.
So she was a flautist and gorgeous and people noticed. The world of performance is difficult and you do what you have to do. So she took up the harp. Easier to say, "Sorry Sir, I simply cannot do what you wish."
O the scandals of the classical music world she could unveil! The atrocious bestial habits! The carnality! The fiddling!
So she found herself in dear dirty Dublin, the Ford of the Hurdles. To stay in country as a musician she conveniently married an Irishman who turned out to be conveniently gay as blazes with the hots for Eton graduates. They never lived together and so that was that -- she got her residence card, and because divorce was illegal, she remained Irish until death, but what was a girl in the prime of life to do with all her boundless energy?
She did what all reasonable Irish did in those days: she met David who was handsome, charming, affectionate and moved in with him to make what the Church and State still could not figure out -- harmony instead of Matrimony. They had bearskin fur comforters on their bed made in Bulgaria to keep them warm. For a while fur kept them warm.
Well that story lasted only so long. There is some kind of income for the Kappelemeister of Dublin, but coming from the sort of background he had, David also wanted to do some good in the world and so David took on as a part time sort of thing this choirmaster for a boy's school in Belfield. These two occupations occupied most of his time and of course, there were in the late nights opportunities offered to the handsome Kappelmeister.
As for Danielle, she was quite a hot pistol coming to dear dowdy Dubh Linn after traveling all over the world. O she did the charity work for the Magdelenes in their laundries and she took on the troubles of the wives living close by and sheltered them during the times of red devils in the bed and all hell breaking loose and all regarded her as the saint and soul of all things good.
They lived together in a large house set up above some peaty woods with a gameskeeper's cottage down below they sometimes put out to let for students. And for a while, everything was just tops.
Well you know how it goes. The brief infidelities. The shouting and the recriminations. The loud arguments of which the Irish are surely the champions. Then comes the dreadful moment when there is the handslap to the face. The overt threat. Shouting and worse. Screaming and shattering of things. The common recognition that Life does not go according to plan. Public insults. Door slams. Anger swells in the close rooms fueled by peat fires in the once homey hearth and requirements. How could you. You ass. Her voice, once the delight of sopranos turning into a shrill harpy's shriek. Smashing crockery. The mild-mannered Choirmaster of a boy's school found himself raising his angry fist to strike. The bestial . . .
Danielle found herself traveling down the hall with a large cleaver in her hand to enter the amber-lit room to find David sobbing with his head in his hands.
The pistol lay on the bed beside him. His hands looked tired and old as they held his bearded head, heavy, so heavy. How had things come to this?
Now was the time for a vacation. Perhaps their last together. Trying to figure things out. Looking for a sign.
So there they were at the ends of the world, their common law marriage falling apart and Orion wheeling overhead from where the arrowshot had put him with his mysterious belt. Everything was finished, everything ruined.
And there sat Bear, listening. I know hard people.
Yes. Of course, David said.
You aren't like that. I see two good people. You describe two strangers. Ask your friends -- is this you? No. Everybody knows. How did you get here?
Uh, said Danielle. We flew.
Uh I think we changed planes in . . . Chicago. Was it Chicago?
I think it was Chicago, Danielle said. It was an airport.
So you come all this way sitting together and here you are. You don't want to break this up do you?
Go home. Meet again. Move. Start over. Talk about those bad people you knew that did bad things. Those other people.
Well, David said. Well.
That wasn't him, was it, Bear said to Danielle. You know him. That was someone else.
Righ', Danielle said.
Look out there for a while, Bear said, meaning the darkening bay
with the constellations marching overhead. You came a long way. And he got up
and started up his motorcycle and before leaving them there he said, Go home.
Become omething else other than what you became.
Then he left the couple there and they were silent a long time. Eventually they got back in their rental car and drove away and continued their trip up the California coast, not saying much to each other, thinking. When they got back to their place on the outskirts of Dublin they moved out of the big house and put it up for rent, taking lodgings in a cottage down the path that had once been a gamekeeper's lodge. It was smaller, snug, and the piano filled what passed for the diningroom/livingroom. They changed their names to names which are not recorded here. Before moving out though they had a short courtship. The man who had been David showed up on the doorstep ringing the bell.
The woman who had been Danielle opened the door and exclaimed, "What on earth! Did you lose your keys?"
"Hello," the man who had been named David said. "My name is ---------. Would you like to come live with me?" And he gave her a spray of gorgeous flowers.
"Well . . . I don't know you very well. Perhaps we should go on a date and get to know each other first," the woman said.
And so it began. The two people went out to a restaurant, and
the next night to a movie, and then to a play. And after a few restaurants and
seeing a few plays and which featured a sleep-over in the latter days, their
The woman who had been Danielle quit her job, snipped a few loose ends, employed different tradesmen, and became the other person that was herself, her real self. A person passing on the street might call out a name, but she kept on, and if they persisted, it was "I am sorry, do I know you from somewhere?"
And so that is how the story went. Friends were very puzzled and of course for a while telephones and such things were a tremendous problem. You see those people, well they were aweful and we do not deal with them anymore, or as little as possible. The school took things in stride. The man who had been David told them that a dear relative who had written children's books about the adventures of a stuffed bear had passed away and he had taken on the man's name for sentimental reasons. Well with reasons like that, you can go far in Ireland to be sure.
After a courtship that lasted nearly a year, Danielle moved in with David to a little cottage that had once been a gamekeeper's lodge on the grounds of a big house owned by a couple who were reputed to be very bad to one another, but who nobody ever seemed to see out and about. The cottage was small, snug, and the piano filled what passed for the diningroom/livingroom. The big house had been put out to let by artists and musicians.
It's not easy assuming a new life; you don't just don one like an overcoat, but in this case it was worth it. Everyone who met them commented what a lovely couple they were. As for that other couple that used to live in the big house up the hill, well. We don't talk about them. We just know they are still there.
The Editor walked about turning off the lights in the office, now past one A.M. and stepped out to look at Orion, now leaning a bit over the Old School building, thinking about this week's issue and its ambiguities. Orion's Belt. Could be one thing. Could be another.
The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water, across the dark blue waves of the estuary , and wavered across the waving grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the old Beltline as the locomotive glided past the dark and shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off beneath the gaze of Orion parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
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