In the night his hands draw up into fists and his jaw works as if there is ranting but there is no ranting or any sound except the grinding down of molars and the calcifying of joints and the dog turns around three times and lays down and sighs. His wife hears him even in her meticulous and finely timed sleep and nudges him as an aside and briefly the mechanics of his anxiety changes. To relief, perhaps; but in the morning before waking fully the struggle is on. He does not know exactly when discomfort gives way to sleep or if it ever really does. The bed itself bears exhausted witness to frights that have passed in the night. Pillows are uncased, sheets askew, damp patches untraceable to any known pressure points. His wife, an exceptional woman really, is gone, her soft buffering scent lost in the updrafts of his brooding funk. He jams his hands together and uses each to pry the other open.
Every anger now in beating appliances, walls, automobiles. He has never struck a human being but this violence is available, in gestures, in everyday pattern. Thumb opposes the hand, teeth his own clipped speech. Even showering is an abrasive melee of Fels-Naptha and a pink scrubee. He spits a pink froth of toothpaste and blood. Piping coffee is held against problem gums, mixes with the gastric acid plume etching his wisdom teeth.
He is crisscrossed by a fantastic itch as of mending bones or epidermal parasites but he has neither. He does not scratch or fidget but sits with a stale calm that is equally distracting. Luz looks at him over her coffee and says nothing. At last he scratches his head violently and watches dander and tuft waft in the available light. After a moment he says It’s no longer possible to die with a full head of hair.
She looks at him. Or with a devoted wife.
Updated hair and shoes, though the revivalist’s suit is from 1910. A under the fresh clipped gardenia blossom in his lapel, put there by his wife because the irony of such flourishes always seems to amuse her. The scent of it in the warm spring morning undermining his plans; making a simple errand feel like spiteful adolescent scheming. He stops by June Ruin’s, who is storing his big National Resonator, keeping it all these years, like Guinevere, although under the stairs, and wrapped in a pea coat that smelled of Grappa and packing grease. He considers her butt on some level as she is on all fours, half in the hole of the half-closet, but is ultimately saddened. What is the point, futility on a base biological level; what’s more desolate than fulfillment?
Downtown, the inevitable. The city is saved from cliché if only by brute minutia. He has read somewhere that the future belongs to crowds but all he sees is the slinking away, the binding of encompassing ellipses of order with lapsing accountability, the restless math of chaos bringing new things into his sphere and the nagging impulse of wasting interactions altogether or at least acting on the wrong ones. He tries to prod his interest into alleyways and corner bars and furtive women but it sulls up on him, at last his expression settles into a passive hostility.
At Rootdaughter’s he buys a cigar and a newspaper and sits with August Melrose over a chessboard. August has been beating him soundly for years and gives no impression of letting up. August smokes a blue cheroot and marks every cycle of thought with a sip of Old Granddad. While he thinks Noe watches and chews his unlit Figurado, dryspits flecks of tobacco around the room. Billy, August says finally. You look like you’re already on your second roll of toiletpaper.
He feels as if his mouth opens into nothing, a big empty where there is no noise of feeling. He stretches his face, sinuses, as if to get his ear pressure just right to hear this void. He grabs both ears and stretches them. By now August has moved and is watching him. I heard your dad’s in town.
He ignores this. Who are you playing?
He nods at the passbar. Rootdaughter is leaning from the waist almost on her shoulders, her arms tucked beneath her, as if freezing. She shoots an arm out in a gesture of fend and says Queen to knight two and keeps her arm there for a while as she thinks then extracts it slowly. Her teeshirt reads Eat American! She says Billy I had to throw your dad out last night you heard it here first.
What he do?
He didn’t want to go home.
What’s wrong with that.
He can’t stay here. He said he was crashing your place.
The man’s a menace.
August is putting Rootdaughter in checkmate but she has already turned away. As Noe collects the pieces August says, What kinda game you got today paleface.
Surplus. Can we pretend it’s a challenge for you. Take some time. I’ve got nowhere to be.
August smiles. I invited Dean to jam with us some night.
What did he say? What’s he doing in town anyway?
Shit Billy he was here first. At least for a while.