He remembers Amsterdam, when he noticed her bandaged head, when she paced in circles all night, refused restaurants, required special foods at odd hours, as if her entire biochemistry was being redesigned. She craved oranges and he found them in fruit stands, small and soft and imported from Spain and Portugal. He carried them in his pockets, globes glowing next to his hips and thought of arrows, darts, and grenades. He held them in his coat pockets, fingers wrapped tight, encircling them.
â€śI walked past the train station today,â€ť Miriam said. They crossed cobblestone town squares in wind, walking toward the red light district where women were displayed in glass cases like varieties of fruit. Or perhaps caged birds in aviaries. â€śIâ€™d walk until I found something that resembles the postcards.â€ť
â€śDid you?â€ť He wanted to know.
Thomas Boyle senses she is luring him into gaps and absences where he is expected to analyze the air, separate it into component elements and present his definition. Thatâ€™s how he fell asleep after his mother disappeared. Deriving rudimentary mathematical theorems and constants. That was the prayer that worked, the one that could be solved and replicated. That was grace.
â€śNothing ever looks like the postcards. Not Kauai or Trinidad. Jackson Hole or Juneau.â€ť She was angry. Another city that beckoned and betrayed. Everywhere, a father metastasized while he penetrated a ten-year-old. It was her fault. If Mommy found out, sheâ€™d go back to the mental ward. Then theyâ€™d lose their welfare check.
Perhaps his mother is also walking on boulevards and beaches, examining postcards, studying angles of light and shadow. Questions of dusk versus sunset, how to distill the details. Not just sun setting, lacerating the sky and waves below bluffs stitched with palms. Such a representation would be inadequate and fraudulent. It would fail to provide the periphery burning, smoky from wood cooking fires, rubber and what might be history. And the silent transitory women who look like novels. You can see their parts, their chapters. They love men with gold teeth between gaps where clouds pass. They are given tarpon and marlin and move their hips like ships in a hurricane. When his mother finds the definitive image, the one that explains everything, she will send it to him.
Miriam leans against a streetlamp. He understands this region, the threads weaving it together, the filigree across oily sherry maple leaves, swaying, caressing the air, and daring you to strike a match.
â€śDo you know what that fan leaf is from?â€ť Miriam lights a cigarette.
He takes a breath and a guess. â€śA ginkgo,â€ť he manages.
Thomas Boyle is a gambler. Heâ€™s perpetually on the line, tossing dice, on the verge of being wiped out. There goes grandfatherâ€™s farm. The dirt in the family cemetery plot. Bankruptcy, incarceration, disgrace and scandal are permanently with him. And he never asked for this.
â€śTheyâ€™re a legion of concubines. Itâ€™s a silk rebellion within the walls. It just takes a man a thousand years to notice.â€ť Her voice is soft. She is chair of Women Studies. She knows the morphology of history, how to measure and parcel it. Sheâ€™s in charge of rationing the potatoes, the rotten harvests, the last votive in the paltry hours of mourning.
Thereâ€™s so much information, he thinks, as he tries but cannot sleep that night. There are the campanile bells and how it rains and each time he wakes she is sitting up in bed, shivering, smoking, and staring out the window.
â€śItâ€™s not rain. Itâ€™s a form of glass,â€ť she says. â€śIt can slice your arm off.â€ť