Dockside Ch. 02byAdrian Leverkuhn©
Within that last night on the Bay of Biscay, as storm clouds gathered along horizons unknown and distant, I dreamt of two paths in the woods. Perhaps only an affirmation of Frost's "two roads diverged in a yellow wood," this was -- I knew within my dream -- where my life stood now; but 'perhaps not' always lingered -- just out of reach. In this dream I saw two unrecognizable women standing in a wood, each standing silently, waiting, watching me. At first the woods were still, dreadfully so; warm, close air, almost stifling, and time slowed. Heat, unbearable heat gathered all around me, and yet, in the distance, these women stood in cool splendor, their gauzy gowns drifting on unseen breezes, braids of gossamer lace floating on currents born of other days, each alluring, beckoning, and relentlessly commanding my attention -- yet in the softest imaginable way.
I came to see that I was, as time drifted so lazily by, inside the eye of a hurricane. Just outside the woods, in raging winds, amid thunderous destruction, the world I had known was being torn asunder by furies recognizable -- yet subtly transformed. People I had known in my life, and loved, were embedded within the raging storm, their faces full of twisting black malevolence -- and they were the very essence of this storm. Their words lashed the landscape, anger tore homes from their foundations and scattered them as dust, hatred and betrayal spilled from wounded eyes -- yet still the two women stood in silent majesty, watching me, waiting, just in silence.
If I made as to move toward one woman the furies rose and screamed, winds ate away at the edge of my wood, howls of anguish filled the air and tore at my mind with nauseating power; if I stepped toward the other, from the very heart of the wood I could feel a desolate, wounded moan rise from the very earth upon which I stood, leaves on trees began to wilt and curl, petals fell from dying flowers, the grass beneath my feet turned brown and hard.
There was a choice to be made, yet it seemed so obvious. Why was it so hard to choose? Would the rising storm tear into these woods, would vanquished fury leave a world unrecognizable and in pain, be a world worth living in? Would the trees and the grass and the blooming flowers take root again, and grow -- in the desolate emptiness after the storm's final retreat?
I woke to the sounds of wind driven rain lashing ancient windows and growing thunder. Lightning lit the room and frenzied shadows danced across out bed. A tree bent to the storm, naked branches scraped against glass.
I rose, walked to the window and looked into the clouds for the faces of people I had once known.
Michelle flew back to London, I returned to Honfleur and my boat. A day later I sailed north across the channel, back up the Thames and locked-up into the marina. The next morning as I was waking, I felt the boat move and knew someone had boarded. I put on some clothes and walked to the galley and looked through a port-light into the cockpit.
Ted Sunderland was sitting there, a long cigarette dripping from his hand.
I slid the companionway hatch back and stuck my head up. "Coffee?" I asked.
I opened up the boat and let some fresh air in, got coffee going, and Ted stuck his head down and looked around. "Make yourself at home," I said, and he clambered down the steps.
"Cozy," he said.
"Cream or sugar?"
"Well, what's on your mind Ted, beside the obvious."
He smiled. "I've done a little checking up on you. While you were away."
"That was decent of you. How am I doing?"
"You were considered a pretty fair architect. Why did you ditch it all and leave?"
"You want to talk about my . . . architecture?"
"Why not? I'd like to know more about . . ."
"About what you're up against?"
"No, not at all. You might think me a hypocrite, and I may well be, but I think we both know the outraged husband routine has little pertinence here." He took some coffee, looked around the boat again. "Yes, I quite like it down here. I can see the attraction."
"No, well, I could understand, as an architect, if you'd been an abject failure, why you might choose to drop it all. I assume your marriage is over, was over, but you really do seem very highly regarded, and in a city well known for good architecture. It seems strange. A conundrum. I wanted to know, that's all. Thought I might get a handle on where things stand."
I couldn't decide what to do, what to say. Was he on the level? What was his angle?
"So," he continued, "you graduated from Northwestern, then the University of Chicago. Take it from there."
"Alright, Ted, I'll give you the condensed version."
"I like condensed. Fire away."
"I got out, worked for a large firm a few years . . ."
"Yes, yes, I know all that, man. Get on with it, to the meat of the matter!"
"Well, once upon a time I considered myself principled. I know that must sound rather bland and boring to you, but there you have it. I always identified with Howard Roark, Ayn Rand's architect in The Fountainhead. Familiar with it?"
"No. Never my thing, reading fiction."
"Of course. Well, I used to think Frank Lloyd Wright was the unshelled nuts, uh, the very thing I longed to be as an architect, and I drew fanciful homes and buildings, and all very true to Wright's vision. Critics soon labeled me Frank Lloyd Wrong, peers thought my work dull and pretentious, yet I continued, true to my ideas, true to what I thought most important as a designer. I made a living; not a great one, but there were enough people around wanting some connection to Wright's style . . . and well, anyway, I managed to keep us in clothes."
"Ah, you were married then?"
"Right after graduating from Northwestern. Before architecture school. I met Claire at Northwestern, in the library of all things. She was very studious, quite bright. . ."
"I know. We've talked. Claire and I."
I felt a chill of cold anger run down my back.
"Oh do go on, Jones. The excitement is killing me."
I think I may have been angry at this point; I know I was red-faced and staring at him. Ted looked at me, hastily turned away, and seemed genuinely upset.
"I'm sorry, Jones. Please. Finish."
"Yeah. Well, I guess after a time I got tired of all the Frank Lloyd Wrong stuff, sometimes the out and out scorn of my fellows around Chicago. I went out on my own then, too; started my own firm. Anyway, a client came to me, oh, about ten years ago, and asked me to design a new office building for his company up in Madison. Wisconsin. I listened to this man, a moron, really, to his ideas about design, life, all of it, and I hated myself but took the commission. I vowed to myself that I was going to design the most hideous, atrocious building man had ever laid eyes on, and of course he loved it.
It was built, and critics labeled the design a work of genius. Somehow I wasn't shocked. We live in a world that accepts mediocrity as the norm, so why shouldn't that be the case, right? But this design was conceived as a blatant affront to everything I loved about design, and people loved it. New clients came, quietly at first, then in a rush. Some begged, threw obscene numbers my way, offered any amount of money, and I forced myself to design the ugliest houses, the most terrifyingly gaudy structures I could imagine, and each new design was praised as the work of an inspired uber-architect. Kids fresh out of school came to me, wanted to join me, wanted to become a disciple to this new movement I had come to represent, hell, that I had created. The New Prairie School, they called it. I called it Fugly.
"I see. And what of Claire?"
"She went to work for a large brokerage firm after law school, corporate mergers principally, but you already know that, right?"
"She got pregnant once, miscarried, and that was the end of that. Got her tubes tied. A few years later, well, I'm not sure when, really, but I began to hear rumors she was sleeping around. A lot."
"Curious. Do you think she was sleeping around before you abandoned your principles?"
His words hit me like a hammer blow.
"I mean, Jones, did she fall out of love with you about the same time you fell out of love with yourself? When you abandoned the ideas she had always known you stood for? The ideas you had embraced as your own when the two of you met, when the two of you fell in love?"
"I don't know."
"You should ask your wife that question some day. Really, you might do that. Well, good coffee and all, but I must dash."
"Is that what she told you?" I felt hollow inside, like I had betrayed a friend.
"Sorry. Must go. Appointments and all that." He put his cup on the counter and held out his hand.
I took it. His skin was cool, dry, alien.
"I'm sure you'll do the right thing, old boy. You always have, haven't you?"
He climbed up into the gray morning, and left me standing in a pool of doubt.
Michelle came that evening. She looked unnerved, her eyes were lined with dark circles and seemed dull, lifeless.
"How have you been," I asked. I doubted I looked any better.
"Difficult. Ted is being difficult. Playing the reformed, possessive, all attentive husband. And you? I wanted to come earlier, but could not."
"He came by this morning. Ted did. We talked."
"I think he's taking a different tack on me. Trying to appeal to my sense of obligation, to my wife, to Claire. He wants to say, or implies, I think, that she still loves me."
"How on earth would he know that?"
"Well, it seems he's talked with her, so perhaps he thinks he's done his homework."
"So, what would you like to do? What would make you happy?"
"Me? Now? If I could do anything, anything at all, to be happy again?"
"Ah, well, there is a lane, a road, in the hills outside Avignon. I would walk with you down this lane, to my grandfather's house. He is very old, my grandfather, but I would talk to him, with you. And I would listen to what he had to say."
"That sounds like a good thing."
"Yes. He is a wise old man. And a smart-ass. You would love him."
"Ah, well. Shall we go?"
"Is it always so easy?"
"Isn't that what the old man said? In the dining room?"
"I don't know. I don't know anything anymore?"
She was crying now, and I held her.
"Is there one thing you know? Do you love me?"
"Yes," she said. "Always."
"Does anything else matter?"
"Then we'll go. To Avignon. Now, tonight."
It was a simple choice, to walk down a country lane in France. To be with the woman I loved, to hold her in my arms.
So simple. Such an easy choice.
And so we went.
(c)2008, Adrian Leverkuhn