I started at the gritty minor chords and not-quite-dulcet tones of Dave Brock singing “Paradox.” Bill reacted in kind. Without either of us noticing it, Walpole had loaded three of his pirated, home-burned CDs into the changer, and punched the “shuffle” button. Prior to reseating himself upon the couch, he switched off the overhead, remanding illumination to the yin-yang care of lava lamps, fiber-optic “fountains,” candles, and the glowing embers in the hearth. The contrast between mellow reds and oranges, and sharp, crystalline blues, greens, and purples combined with the redolence of frankincense, myrrh, pine, and cinnamon incenses to suggest Christmases past and yet to come.
Was it autumn again, so soon? Had fugitive time really gained so vast a lead on perception? Or was I – as was increasingly the case - merely indifferent to its passage?
“I think my problem,” I said, “is one of taxonomy.”
“Of classification, of scribing lines of demarcation. I’m afraid I’ve never been very adept at distinguishing past from present, or present from future. For a while – when I was much younger, and I’d rather not revisit the episode that precipitated it – I couldn’t envision a future. And I still don’t see the sense in treating it as an object, let alone an object of veneration.
“This brings me back to Veronica, and her plans, goals, and purposes. She’s always looking to the future – but never at the road ahead. For my part, even when I regained the ability to conceive of a future, I never understood – and still don’t understand -- this sick obsession with chasing it. There’s no need to: We move into it with every breath, whether we want to or not. I suppose Veronica’s distemper is what happens when one treats abstractions as concretes, and processes as objects.”
“Uh, I think I’m with you,” said Bill.
“I’ll try to clarify. She had plans for Clark – but he rendered them irrelevant by ODing on her. She started planning for her retirement when she was in her twenties, but she still text-messages while she drives, thereby significantly reducing her chances of living long enough to retire. What I most detest about her isn’t so much her inconsistency as her inability to acknowledge it.
“Bear with me. For all that I’m only fucking her -- this is to say that I have no long-term plans for her -- I don’t bear her any ill will. I’m more inclined to bear myself ill will for being attracted to a spiritual chancroid like her in the first place, but that’s beside the point. Unlike her, I do feel some measure of responsibility even to strangers – and she’s certainly no stranger. Well, we’re known to each other in the Biblical sense, at any rate.
“Strangest damned thing: except in that Biblical sense, I don’t think she’s every really known anyone. There are stretches of days during which I all I hear from her is ‘I just don’t understand you sometimes,’ and ‘What is wrong with you?’ Stupid question for a person who tries her level best to radiate an aura of omniscience to ask, by the way. Being a man, I’m a complete literalist at times, and I once answered: ‘Rapid-cycling type II bipolar disorder,’ when she asked what was wrong with me, to which she threw up her hands in disgust. How was I to know that she never meant for me to answer the question?
“I’m baffled. My life is an open book, and yet she complains that I’m impenetrable. She, in contraposition, goes out of her way to play the mysterious, private, inscrutable “secret squirrel” – as if she’s that interesting, or has any higher mysteries worth veiling against the profane and prying eyes of the uninitiated -- but she’s completely transparent.”
I fumbled through my breast pocket for a cigarette, only to turn up an empty and crumpled pack. Bill leaned forward, made an ostrich of his arm, and tossed me a carton from beneath the couch. I tore into it, nodded my gratitude, and laid a fiver upon the coffee table. He regarded the note as he might a pair of ‘skidmarked’ drawers, wadded it up, and bounced it off my forehead.
“Yer money’s no good here, Davey-O,” he said.
“I kinda wonder if it’s good anywhere, man,” Walpole noted. “He’s been spending an awful lot of time with Skeeter and Scooter lately.”
“Those two bozos couldn’t counterfeit a wooden nickel,” I assured them. “Not that their ineptitude keeps them from trying. And neither does Veronica’s. It’s one of the reasons I’m leaving her, but I’ll get into that in a bit.
“She was talking to her mother one afternoon, and I could tell that I was the subject under discussion, despite her feeble afterthought of an effort to disguise the fact. Odd that – for all that the feckin’ crone abhors me, she’s obsessed with me. As if I could somehow compromise her darlin’ girlie’s virtue.”
My chuckle tasted vaguely of acid and bile.
“There she was, agreeing with the oul’ bitch one moment, and defying her the next – I’m well aware of the fact that I’m playing ‘Bender’ to her ‘Claire’ half the time, by the bye; just the thing to piss her ma off, never mind that Veronica’s old enough to have a ‘Claire’ of her own – and changing the subject every now and then, assuring the cailleach that the future’s well in hand, and that she’s in complete control. She paces like a caged animal when she has that idiot-box welded to her ear, without paying any mind to where she’s going, so it fell unto my directionless, goalless, live-for-today lot to brighten her immediate future by steering her in the right direction before she brained herself on the feckin’ doorjamb. How’s that for black comedy?”
If Bill and Walpole found it amusing, they kept their levity to themselves.
“To backtrack a bit, Clark wasn’t acting according to plan the day I read her the riot act, and his disobedience presented a clear and present danger to her graven self-image. I’m all for honoring thy father and thy mother, but I could understand the kid’s reluctance to hand her the reins of his life. He was honest and astute enough to see what a midden-heap hers was, even if she wasn’t and couldn’t.
“This was another occasion for the inconsistency she refuses to acknowledge to rear its ugly head. And rear it did, nasty as a pissed-off diamondback, and twice as venomous. I don’t know if you boys are aware of it, but ol’ Clarkie had a gal of his own – a gal of whom she disapproved. Now a few years back, before I started augmenting her daily protein allowance, I told Bill here that something like this was bound to happen.”
“That he did,” Bill confirmed. “Right before you come over an’ took the piss outta Hansen.”
“Was that the night you guys were wearing those wolf-skins and shit?” Walpole asked.
“The very same, brother. The very same. Ol’ Dave here did predict that somethin’ of this ilk would come to pass – even quoted Irving if I recollect.”
“There is no duenna so rigidly prudent and inexorably decorous as a superannuated coquette,” I said. “And what this coquette lacked in prudence and decorum, she made up for in petty, underhanded tyranny: over-mothering her son when she wasn’t busting his balls, picking his girlfriends for him, and such. All the working of what, in a human being as opposed to a caricature, would be symptomatic of a guilty conscience. And in the interest of fairness, I don’t fault her maternal instincts – however atrophied or deformed – or her concern for his wellbeing. I fault her for her dishonesty with herself – and him --- about herself, and for her refusal to admit to that the sins of the mother were being visited upon the child. Not that even I suspected they’d be visited upon the poor little bastard in such a horrid or permanent fashion, mind you.”
Was this guilt I was feeling? And if so, was it born of regret for past negligence – or suspicion of Schadenfreude dismissed as acknowledgement of poetic and/or cosmic justice on my part?
I made a mental note to increase the severity of my regimen of introspection, and then continued.
“One day, Clarkie-O used Veronica’s menu for an asswipe, and came home with a dish she hadn’t ordered. Now nobody knows a heartbreakin’ bitch like another heartbreakin’ bitch, and ol’ Veronica’s pillar of cloudy obtuseness burned off like so much July dew at the sight of the little ferret. Knew what she was about the moment she darkened that ostentatious doorstep of theirs, and in this case, the truth did not set her free.
“But then again, it never did. I’ve already pointed out that her brand of domestic tyranny was of the petty, underhanded sort, haven’t I? She was nothing like my old man – all fists and fury. She was more given to manipulation – which is vile enough when practiced upon adults, but inexcusable when inflicted upon a child – and of course, she had her self-image to preserve. As you might imagine, this served only to confuse the kid even more. She tried to make up for her chronic absenteeism with “quality time” – as she defined it; I don’t imagine his preferences ever carried much weight – and expensive presents; and she tried to be his “friend,” when what he needed was a mother. At the same time, she’d long since mastered the guilt-trip, the subtle innuendo, and even the black art of taking advantage of whatever latent Oedipus complex – not that I put much stock in that theory, mind you; I think Freud got it backwards – the kid may have harbored.”
“Whoah! Whoah! Whoah!” Walpole exclaimed. “You wanna explain that?”
“Certainly. I think Freud got it backwards, because it’s normal to be attracted to the opposite sex. Heaven knows, I sure am, at any rate.”
“Ain’t that the truth!” Bill said. “Sure an’ I once seen this asshole stuff a week’s wages down some stripper’s…”
“No, man! I mean about Veronica. That’s a pretty heavy accusation, young Padawan.”
“Lemme finish my Freud point, O venerable stoner.”
“Sounds like one o’ them Shriner or Ku Klux Klan names,” Bill said. “Illustrious Potentate, Imperial Wizard, Venerable Stoner…”
“Out of respect for and deference to my elders, I’ll phrase this in language Walpole is likely to understand,” I said.
For reasons I didn’t care to investigate, my spirits were lifting. Walpole seemed to welcome the abrupt change of mood, for he only rolled his eyes, despite being the butt of what – for me – was a gentle joke.
“Let me, like, lay one on you,” I continued. “Dig this, and see if you can, like, groove to it.”
“Far out, man!” Bill said.
In spite of himself, Walpole grinned. For a moment, it seemed that he was enjoying this, much in the way father might enjoy an affectionate ribbing by two grown sons, or a professor the same from a pair of favored students on the eve of graduation.
“I’ve said that it’s natural to be attracted to the opposite sex, and I consider the assertion self-evident. Current population worldwide – seven billion and counting. I rest my feckin’ case. And a boy’s first exposure to the opposite sex is usually his mother. That’s why I’m of the opinion that Freud’s theory is bass-ackwards.
“Now given Veronica’s intelligence, how likely do you think it is that she’s oblivious to her effect on some men, Buckos? Ah, good. Your silence speaks volumes. And has either of you noticed how casually she dresses around the house? Shorts, T-shirts a size or two too small, and, of course, that Godawful jogging suit. I do wish she’d retire the shorts, by the way. Her legs aren’t exactly her best feature. Betimes, she looks like a feckin’ egret in a pair of Depends. Her boobs, though, are one of her best features – or were, once upon a time – and I’d imagine that explains the ratty bathrobe.
“Bear this in mind – and it’s very important. I’m not accusing her of deliberately waving the forbidden fruit under the kid’s nose. That would be completely out of character, and I’m certain that if I pointed it out, she’d take to wearing a mu-mu and a burqa. Then she’d piss away even more money on that useless therapist of hers, and perhaps even add to the cornucopia of antidepressants and mood-stabilizers she keeps in her purse.
“I do think, though, that once he was old enough to notice that boys and girls are built according to slightly different blueprints, she took advantage of his natural curiosity, and of the fact that she had his undivided attention from time to time. Once again – and I can’t emphasize this enough – there was nothing premeditated about it: she was simply responding to a feedback loop, falling back upon what, by then, had become a default program. She’s very patternistic, you know. A regular atomic clock, in certain respects.
“To continue with the clock metaphor, Staci – that was the girl’s name – jammed a hairpin into Veronica’s gears and sprockets. She had the same effect on Clark, and I don’t think Veronica’s previous approach to getting what she wanted from him helped at all. Ever read Peter Bagge’s “Junior” strip? Well, I’d imagine that Clark found himself in the same shadowland,in which the conscious and unconscious meet, and neither much cares for what it sees.The comparison ends there, though. Clark was nowhere near the loser Junior was. Much better looking, too.
“And now for the ugly part. We’ve reached the point at which I’ll concede the validity of one of Freud’s theories. But first, I gotta concede the strongly diuretic properties of ephedera sinensis.
To be continued